Sunday, 29 November 2015

JoAnn Falletta and the London Symphony Orchestra’s new recording of Jack Gallagher’s Symphony No. 2 for Naxos should gain many new admirers of this composer’s music

American composer, Jack Gallagher (b.1947)  studied composition with Elie Siegmeister, Robert Palmer and Burrill Phillips. He participated in seminars with Karel Husa, Thea Musgrave and Ned Rorem and masterclasses with Aaron Copland, George Crumb and William Bolcom. He holds doctoral and master’s degrees in composition from Cornell University and a bachelor’s degree cum laude from Hofstra University.

His works have been performed or recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra, the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Chamber Symphony Orchestra, the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra of Krakow, the Kiev Philharmonic Orchestra and the U.S. Air Force Band of Flight.

His compositions include orchestral works, works for symphonic band, chamber works, vocal and choral works, instrumental and piano works.

His debut recording for Naxos  of his Diversions Overture, Berceuse, Sinfonietta and Symphony in One Movement: Threnody with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by JoAnn Falletta (8.559652) was highly praised.

Now from Naxos comes World Premier Recordings of Gallagher’s Symphony No. 2, ‘Ascendant’ and Quiet Reflections, again performed by the London Symphony Orchestra  conducted by JoAnn Falletta


Jack Gallagher’s Symphony No. 2, ‘Ascendant’ was composed between 2010 and 2013. In four movements and lasting just over an hour it seeks, in the composer’s words, ‘…an expansiveness of discourse possible, perhaps, only to an extended work. Thematic connections link material among the movements.’

Whoops from brass open the lively Boldly, a bubbling orchestral theme with a fast forward motion. The music falls to a quieter yet equally forward moving section with many attractive individual instrumental contributions before gaining a subtly sprung rhythmic pulse. A second subject arrives, a gently nuanced melody woven through various sections of the orchestra.  Soon the pace picks up in the strings before swirling through the orchestra with percussion and brass adding colour as the music rises in dynamics. There are rising and falling string swirls and a harp arpeggio before quietening as the theme weaves a tapestry of instrumental detail. Surges of string theme occur before the music rises in dynamics through a terrific orchestral flourish.

I thought here that I detected a string sequence that recalls Benjamin Britten of the Sea Interludes. A quieter section follows, carefully pointed up by percussion before a repeated motif for brass that is taken forward by the orchestra. A rising brass motif appears over an increasingly dramatic orchestral layer leading through varying tempi, moments of exquisitely hushed orchestra with woodwind running through and of fast, quicksilver orchestral passages.  Later there is a slow theme for bass clarinet soon leading to an exquisite passage for various woodwind. A harp, percussion and scurrying strings lead on before rising with brass fanfares to a climax. There are moments of violent syncopated rhythms before the strings and brass lead on with a rising and falling string motif to the dynamic coda. 

A phrase for horns quietly leads to a rhythmic woodwind theme in the second movement, Playfully. This is a lovely light playful theme that has a flow and charm but also a depth. Soon lower strings take the theme forward and develop it, around which a myriad of instrumental details are heard. There are sudden sharp little woodwind and brass outbursts before the music rises through a very fine, longer breathed string melody. Drums add drama as the music increases in dynamics, horns sound over the orchestra as do other brass and swirling woodwind. A bass tuba followed by double basses lead on in a quieter passage that is taken by the strings, through dramatic passages pointed up by drums. A mellow string passage with rhythmic element is heard before a terrific forward propulsion leads to a lovely little passage for woodwind and the more subdued coda.

Horns quietly open Slowly before a gently undulating orchestral theme slowly moves forward with a quite beautiful orchestral texture and lovely shifting harmonies out of which the most lovely passages emerge. There is a beautiful tapestry of orchestral sound before the music subtly gains in flow with a real outpouring of orchestral beauty. There are some spectacularly fine woodwind arabesques with a plaintive oboe melody that weaves its way through the orchestral tapestry. Soon a flute takes the melody, then a clarinet all laid over a lovely string layer. Later the music suddenly becomes dramatic as drums help develop a swirling passage. The music suddenly quietens with strings and a harp phrase as woodwind take the music slowly back to its gentle nature, falling to a slow deep bassoon passage. Strings lead on with a wonderfully discordant theme around which the woodwind slowly swirl, through some most glorious orchestral textures as the music slowly increases in dynamics. Horns and a quieter orchestra bring the gentle coda.

The marking of the finale, Slowly - Energetically - Fast – Moderately - Fast seems to indicate a bringing together of preceding material. Quiet shimmering strings open, over which the brass soon quietly bring a theme that soon leads to a slow, shimmering, rich orchestral passage. The pace picks up in a fast moving passage before a drum heralds a quieter fast moving string theme around which an orchestral tapestry is woven. There are many individual instrumental passages including clarinet, flutes and percussion that appear briefly as the strings continue to maintain their forward flow. Later there is a slower, restrained, quieter section for woodwind over lower strings in music that is full of shifting harmonies. A hushed section for strings and harp arrives over which flute arabesques appear. Brass intone and  drums sound out as the pace quickens, moving through woodwind then brass passages before the strings move ahead. There is a rise in dynamics, through a rhythmically syncopated passage over which brass eventually sound out. Drums pound as the orchestra strides ahead with horns, swirling strings, woodwind and cymbals. The syncopated string theme re-appears over which brass and woodwind are heard before timpani thunder out and the riotous, energetic coda arrives.

This is a symphony of major proportions and content, one of the finest to come out of America for a long time. Gallagher has a strong sense of form as well as a real ear for instrumental colour.

Gallagher’s orchestral work, Quiet Reflections (formerly, A Quiet Musicke) was completed in 1996 and composed for the 80th anniversary season of the Wooster (Ohio) Symphony Orchestra under its Music Director, Jeffrey Lindberg. Following Gallagher’s previous work, Proteus Rising from the Sea, the  composer wished to write a work that ‘… aspires to inhabit an entirely different sound world… endeavours to evoke a sense of longing for past tranquillity, calm and serenity.’

Tubular bells chime as a horn brings a gentle melody. The strings take over, soon leading to a woodwind passage where an exquisite tapestry is woven. Richer string passages appear around which the woodwind flow through passages of fine introspection with an intensely American sound. There are little orchestral surges as a lovely woodwind passage weaves its way over the strings. Later a reflective rich string passage arrives before the music slows and achieves a lighter string texture. Bells toll again as a horn overlays the orchestra and rich strings lead with woodwind and tolling bell to the quite wonderful, hauntingly beautiful coda.  

This is a most lovely work. JoAnn Falletta draws first class performances from the London Symphony Orchestra who receive a very fine, detailed recording that reveals all of Gallagher’s fine orchestration.

There are excellent booklet notes from the composer. 
This excellent new disc should gain many new admirers of Jack Gallagher’s music. 

With a superb line up of soloists and a very fine accompanist Somm’s first volume in a complete recording of Parry’s English Lyrics looks set to be a major contribution to recorded English song

Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (1848-1918) was a huge figure in British music around the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. In addition to his role as Director of the Royal College of Music and his popular choral works, Jerusalem, I Was Glad and Blest Pair of Sirens his output encompasses, a large number of other choral works, orchestral works including five symphonies, one completed piano concerto, church music, music for the theatre, chamber works, piano works, organ works, and an impressive number of songs.

A major part of his song output consists of twelve sets of the English Lyrics, written between 1874 and his death in 1918. Somm Recordings  have begun an undertaking to record all of Parry’s English Lyrics in three volumes.

Volume 1 of this new series has just been released featuring an impressive line-up with soprano, Susan Gritton ; tenor, James Gilchrist  and baritone, Roderick Williams  with pianist Andrew West

Arranged to provide a varied recital this new disc opens with all four songs from Set 1 (1881-85) commencing with My true love hath my heart a setting of a poem by Sir Philip Sydney that brings a beautifully expressive Susan Gritton with some very fine accompaniment from Andrew West. Good Night, a setting of Shelley, is a particularly fine song with lovely rippling piano accompaniment and Gritton bringing some fine shaping and phrasing. There is a lovely flowing rise and fall as well as some particularly sweet toned phrases.

Sir Walter Scott provides the verses for Where shall the lover rest that has a beautifully paced piano opening with some lovely long phrases from Gritton. This is another particularly fine song with nothing routine about this soprano’s performance, rising to moments of fine passion with some beautifully pure upper notes. Susan Gritton maintains a strong sense of emotion in Willow Song, a Shakespeare setting, bringing a lovely fluency.

Set 2 (1874-85) of the English Lyrics, all Shakespeare settings, follows with a livelier O Mistress Mine with James Gilchrist providing a fine sense of urgency. There is a more leisurely piano introduction to Take, O take those lips away with Gilchrist bringing some fine textures as this song weaves its way with some beautifully controlled power. With No longer mourn for me this tenor keeps a fine forward movement as well as a strong emotional pull with really sensitive accompaniment from Andrew West. Gilchrist and West give a terrific rhythmic lift to Blow, blow, thou winter wind, full of expression. Some lovely piano rhythms occur in When icicles hang by the wall with Gilchrist beautifully shaping this song.

Three songs from Set 3 (1895) follow, firstlyTo Lucasta on going to the wars, a setting of verses by Richard Lovelace, with West providing a real breadth as Roderick Williams brings his rich tones, full of strength, passion and sensitive control. Williams brings a real feeling to his performance of To Althea, from Prison, another Lovelace setting, drawing as much depth as possible from this song. West provides such a well-balanced accompaniment with spot on precision. Williams delivers a terrific characterisation to the setting of John Suckling’s Why so pale and wan full of wit and wry humour.  

What fine control and sensitivity James Gilchrist brings to the fourth song from Set 4 (1885-96), Weep you no more a quite lovely setting of an anonymous text, exquisitely sung. Another song from Set 3 follows, Of all the torments, beautifully paced with a fine flow from Roderick Williams in this setting of William Walsh.

Susan Gritton returns for the fourth song from Set 5 (1876-1901), Lay a garland on my hearse a slow, sad setting from The Maid’s Tragedy by Beaumont and Fletcher, beautifully sung, rising in moments of passion and so well shaped. There is then a slow mournful Why art thou slow from Set 11 (1910-18) where Roderick Williams brings a fine gravity with subtle emphases to define the text.  

There are five songs from the six that comprise Set 7 (1888-1906) with On a time the amorous Silvy finding Roderick Williams bringing a terrific characterisation with so many little subtleties despite the levity of the song. A brilliant performance of this setting of anonymous text.

Both Andrew West and Roderick Williams catch the fleeting nature of the lovely song Follow a shadow on verses by Ben Johnson. Thomas Heywood is the source of the text for Ye little birds that sit and sing. It brings a lighter style with Williams finding every little nuance and providing such fine agility.

With O never say that I was false of heart, a setting of Shakespeare, Williams and West find much to enjoy, despite its rather Victorian emotional thrust. The lighter Robert Herrick setting, Julia is lifted by Williams’ and West’s vibrant and fluent phrasing.  

Susan Gritton returns for the sixth song from Set 10 (1909), One silent night of late, a more unusual setting of Herrick where this soprano brings fine phrasing and suitably youthful characterisation of the text. She receives a perfect accompaniment from West.

There are two songs from Set 12 (pub. 1920), firstly To blossoms where Andrew West brings a lovely pianistic flow and Susan Gritton some exquisitely shaped phases in this fine Robert Herrick setting. James Gilchrist returns for Rosaline, bringing a real passion with some beautifully refined phrasing drawing as much as possible from this setting of verses by Thomas Lodge before a particularly fine coda.

Next there is another song from Set 5, a Shakespeare setting, Crabbed age and youth where Susan Gritton delivers the most beautiful phrases, as does Andrew West. She later brings some very fine higher phrases and moments of sensitivity.
Under the greenwood tree is from Set 6 (pub. 1903) with Roderick Williams bringing a beautifully rich, strong performance of this Shakespeare setting, finding just the right way to handle such a text.

After these English Lyrics James Gilchrist sings Parry’s setting of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 32: If thou survive my well-contended day (1874) with James Gilchrist bringing a lovely flow with fine phrasing and beautifully subtle dynamics. Andrew West gives fine sensitive playing in this beautifully done song.

Gilchrist and West also bring us four of Parry’s settings of Shakespeare’s sonnets (1873-1882) that were translated into German by Friedrich Bodenstedt. He brings an urgency, a real ebb and flow to Sonnet 29: When in disgrace, a fine setting. Sonnet 87: Farewell, thou art too dear brings an equally strong performance with beautiful phrasing, sensitive to every nuance of text. West provides a lively rippling piano accompaniment to Sonnet 18: Shall I compare thee to a summer's day as James Gilchrist brings a real sense of passion and forward drive. Superbly sung. There is a lovely restraint to Sonnet 30: When to the sessions wonderfully shaped and sensitively characterised rising to moments of passion, making a terrific conclusion to this recital.

With a superb line up of soloists and such a very fine accompanist this series looks set to be a major contribution to recorded English song. They receive an excellent recording produced by Siva Oke at the Turner Sims Concert Hall, University of Southampton, UK and there are first class notes from Parry biographer, Jeremy Dibble as well as full English and German texts and English translation. 

This makes this an auspicious start to this series. 

Friday, 27 November 2015

The Byrd Ensemble proves to be an impressive choir with their new recording of Music of the Tudors for Scribe Records

The Byrd Ensemble is a Seattle-based vocal ensemble specializing in the performance of chamber vocal music. Since 2004, the ensemble has performed medieval, renaissance, baroque, and modern music on an international stage. They are Artist-in-Residence at St. Mark's Cathedral, Seattle, Washington State, USA.

The Byrd Ensemble’s artistic director, Markdavin Obenza is also Director and founder of Seattle-based chamber choir, Vox16. He is an active singer and has performed with the Tudor Choir and members of the Tallis Scholars. He is currently the Director of Choral Music at Trinity Parish Church, Seattle, Washington State.

They have made a number of recordings for Scribe Records  covering the music of William Byrd, Arvo Pärt, Peter Hallock and English sacred choral music from the Peterhouse Partbooks .

Now from Scribe Records comes a new recording by this choir of Music for the Tudors featuring music by John Sheppard, Thomas Tallis and Robert White.


The Byrd Ensemble brings some finely mellifluous vocal sonorities to John Sheppard’s (c. 1515-1559/60) Media Vita as the sopranos rise over the choir. They bring a fine flowing tempo with different sections of the choir flowing through the texture creating a wonderful musical tapestry. They provide a really fine control of tempo and dynamic changes, bringing many lovely touches. 

The opening of Thomas Tallis’ (c. 1505-1585) Videte Miraculum is beautifully woven as individual voices enter and combine. They bring an intimate, rather contemplative feel with a gentle tempo. There are some plaintively beautiful higher voices with this choir allowing each individual voice to shine and be heard. In the plainchant in Maec speciosum there are some really special textural moments, an exquisite blend of individual voices.

Female voices glide in at the opening of Thomas Tallis’ Salvator Mundi I before the rest of the choir join to weave a beautifully nuanced flow. This is as fine a performance as you could wish for.

Robert White’s (c. 1538-1574) Christe Qui Lux IV opens with a tenor slowly joined by the other male voices in the plainchant Christe Qui Lux es et dies before the choir brings the glorious textures of this piece. There is such well controlled balance of voices as they flow over each other to lovely effect. The beautifully recurring plainchant is repeated three times throughout before a final Amen.

The glory of Thomas Tallis is fully revealed as this choir bring In Manus Tuas with lovely pacing and fine glowing sonorities.  

The choir rise, wonderfully in Thomas Tallis’ Lamentations I slowly adding voices, creating a glorious blend. Again individual voices are allowed to rise and glow revealing the distinct character of each of these fine voices. They find a lovely tempo before a soprano sings a lovely Jerusalem, Jerusalem as the end is reached.  

The brief Salve Radix by an anonymous composer rises magnificently at the opening before taking a steady flow through its distinctive harmonies, finely revealed by this choir.

Thomas Tallis concludes this disc with his Gaude Gloriosa dei Mater where this choir provide a lovely weaving of vocal textures. Again it is the clarity of the individual vocal lines that is impressive. They rise up in certain passages quite gloriously and, centrally, there is a particularly fine Gaude Virgo Maria for female voices before a bass adds a fine layer. There are moments when the lower voices weave a lovely texture and, again later they suddenly rise up wonderfully before a sustained, beautifully done Amen. 

This is an impressive choir that brings many delights. They are well recorded in the Holy Rosary Church, Seattle, Washington State, USA. The booklet notes take the form of an interesting conversation between Markdavin Obenza, Joshua Haberman and Greg Skidmore. The CD booklet is beautifully produced. 

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Spectacularly fine performances from the Swiss Piano Trio in their second volume of Beethoven Piano Trios for Audite

Surely one of the finest piano trios around today is the Swiss Piano Trio whose members are Angela Golubeva (violin), Sébastien Singer (cello) and Martin Lucas Staub (piano).

They have already made a number of major contributions to the CD catalogue with recordings for Audite of trios by Mendelssohn, Clara & Robert Schumann, Tchaikovsky and Franck. Earlier this year they released the first in their series of complete piano trios of Beethoven.

Now from Audite  comes Volume II in their Beethoven series that features the Piano Trio No.2 in G Major and the Piano Trio No. 5 in D Major ‘Ghost’.

CD and HD Download

This trio bring a beautifully shaped opening to the Adagio - Allegro vivace of Piano Trio No.2 in G Major, Op. 1 No.2 bringing just the right amount of dynamic stress on the forte and fortissimo chords. They provide a beautifully controlled rubato before rising into the allegro, full of brio and spirit, catching Beethoven’s youthful exuberance. These players bring playing of superb precision, wonderfully intuitive playing with some particularly fluent passages and incisive but beautifully toned string playing. They weave a long flowing line right through this movement bringing much characterful playing.

The Largo con espressione brings a lovely gentle piano opening, so thoughtfully shaped by Martin Lucas Staub before the strings enter to provide a gentle, flowing undulating melody, forming a lovely, intensely poetic vision. There is some exquisite hushed playing as they bring an often plaintive beauty to this movement with little surges of stronger emotion. Beautifully done.

There is a fine rhythmic pulse to the Scherzo. Allegro, again beautifully shaped with fine precision between these players and more of that lovely rubato. There is a real joy in their playing with a quite lovely trio section and a beautifully shaped flow throughout right to the gentle coda.  

The Finale. Presto shoots off with some absolutely superb, fast and brilliantly fluent playing. There are so many fine little string details revealed, some lovely hushed piano phrases as well as much spirit. 

This is a spectacularly fine performance.

There is a brilliantly incisive opening to the Allegro vivace e con brio of Piano Trio No. 5 in D Major, Op. 70 No.1 ‘Ghost’ before the music gains a flow, these players still finding all the stormy quality.  They bring some moments of restrained energy, a feeling that the music is always trying to burst.  There is playing of great power, fire and drive, capturing that Beethovenian spirit with remarkable accuracy between players. They reveal almost schizophrenic changes between quieter withdrawn moments and the more fiery passages.  There are some lovely hushed little string tones before rising to peaks of more joy. It is lovely the way they lift the music in the little climaxes before the most exquisite piano phrases lead to the coda.

The Largo assai ed espressivo brings lovely, long drawn hushed string phrases over which the piano brings its gentle motif before the strings take up the theme, the piano adding terrific bite and drama. There are passages of lovely, thoughtful, quiet reflection with a terrific dialogue between players. They build certain passages superbly as the music slowly and steadily increases in dynamics before a rather questioning coda.

This trio bring a crispness to the opening of the Presto with lovely little phrases before taking off, full of energy and power. As they alternate with passages of more repose they find perfectly Beethoven’s changeable moods, through the most fiery, brilliantly played passages bringing a real volatility. This is tremendously impressive playing, bringing some fine sonorities before the resolute coda.

This is another impressive performance.

This Beethoven series promises to be an exciting venture. The recording, made at the Kunsthalle Ziegelhutte, Appenzell, Switzerland, successfully used for this trio’s Mendelssohn disc, though having a slight resonance, is still very good.

There are excellent booklet notes.

See also:

Monday, 23 November 2015

Very fine works for strings by Nigel Clarke played phenomenally well by the string ensemble Longbow directed by violinist Peter Sheppard Skærved on a new Toccata Classics release

Nigel Clarke studied composition at the Royal Academy of Music in London, UK with Paul Patterson, winning the Josiah Parker Prize and the Academy’s highest distinction, the Queen’s Commendation for Excellence. He gained his Doctor of Musical Arts from University of Salford, UK. Clarke was co-nominated in 2006 World Soundtrack Awards in the `Discovery of the Year' category.

He has previously held positions as Young Composer in Residence at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts; Composition and Contemporary Music Tutor at the Royal Academy of Music, London; Head of Composition at the London College of Music and Media; visiting tutor at the Royal Northern College of Music; Associate Composer to the Black Dyke Band; Associate Composer to the Band of HM Grenadier Guards; Associate Composer to the Royal Military School of Music; Associate Composer to Brass Band Buizingen in Belgium and Composer-in-Residence to the Marinierskapel der Koninklijke Marine (Marine Band of the Royal Netherlands Navy). In 1997 Nigel joined the United States International Visitor Leadership Program sponsored by the US Information Agency. He is currently Visiting Composer to Middle Tennessee State University Bands.

Whilst there has naturally been an emphasis on music for brass and wind bands, Clarke’s compositional output is varied including orchestral works, concertos for violin, clarinet and euphonium, chamber works and piano works as well as music for films.

It is his Music for Thirteen Solo Strings that feature on a new release from Toccata Classics with the string ensemble Longbow directed by violinist Peter Sheppard Skærved who are joined by Sébastian Rousseau (flugel horn) and Malene Sheppard Skærved (speaker).

TOCC 0325

Parnassus for Thirteen Solo Strings (1986-87) was written for the ensemble Parnassus founded by Peter Sheppard Skӕrved and was premiered at the Purcell Room, London, UK in 1988.

It leaps into action with a flurry of dissonant strings before a brief pizzicato section. A passage for sonorous lower strings soon arrives over which the upper strings bring a terrific edgy swirl of sound. The music builds in intensity before falling to a quieter section with pinpoints of texture and more swirling string sounds. Clarke creates some marvellous string sounds as the music moves through quieter moments of delicate pizzicato strings and anxious lower strings over which higher strings bring light fleeting textures. Later the basses lead forward in a slower section to which other strings slowly add some absolutely lovely textures. There are slowly drawn light high sounds, exquisitely done with some lovely little details as the high strings conjure strange little motifs. Clarke slowly develops the textures, increasing subtly in dynamics until reaching a flurry of swirling strings in a tremendous moment before the music curls in on itself for the hushed coda with lovely little string phrases.

This is a very attractive work that receives a very fine performance here.

The Scarlet Flower for Flugal Horn and Thirteen Solo Strings (2014) was written as a memorial for Edith Cavell with the solo part acting as the voice of Cavell.

The flugal horn opens with a bright and buoyant theme that moves around cadenza like displaying some tremendous solo playing before the strings enter alone to develop the theme with some fine textures. The flugal horn re-joins as the music soon falls quiet as the opening theme is developed, pointed up by string accompaniment. The music leads through passages that are a test for any brass player with some terrific playing from Sébastian Rousseau. Later there is a hushed section for strings and muted flugal horn providing some lovely subtle touches. The soloist rises over the hushed strings as he leads into a mellow flowing section for livelier strings.  Eventually the soloist rises out of a softer, slower string passage for a fast, wonderfully played section. There is a short section with a rather romantic feel before the music becomes livelier leading to a lovely section for hovering strings over which a gentle melody is played. The music falls to a hush before, after a sudden pizzicato outburst, the music fades.

Nigel Clarke writes in his CD booklet note of the importance of collaboration. With the next work, Dogger, Fisher, German Bight, Humber, Thames, Dover, Wight for Speaker, Thirteen Solo Strings and Sound Design (2012-14) that is especially true. Writer and poet Malene Sheppard Skærved has provided the text for this work and is the speaker on this recording. It is performed by Longbow whose artistic directors are Peter Sheppard Skærved and Nigel Clarke.

It was commissioned from Nigel Clarke and Malene Sheppard Skærved by Dover Arts Development as part of their War and Peace project, exploring Dover’s history and including recorded sounds from Dover beach.

The work opens with the speaker, Malene Sheppard Skærved reciting the words ‘Dābras Dubris – waters – Dufras Douvres Cinque Ports – Dover Sandwich Hastings Romney and Hythe Dour River ‘There is something special in the waters…’.’ Around eight minutes in, seagulls are briefly heard behind the speaker as she reaches the words ‘Captain Webb (an English gentleman) used breast stroke…’. Soon there are sounds of water trickling out of which waves and strings are gently heard as the narration concludes leaving just the waves crashing onto shingle.  Gulls, then strings and the sounds of water lead forward as a gently undulating melody is heard that perfectly takes the atmosphere of the preceding text. Here Clarke brings some lovely string sonorities and phrases, so much appearing out of the texture in this fine string writing. The most exquisitely shaped phrases are conjured out of the texture by individual instruments before both the textures and tempo become ever more complex and impassioned. There is playing of superb virtuosity through which a longer theme can be heard. Eventually the music falls to a quiet, static section out of which a little violin motif appears that soon flourishes. Basses rise, up through the other strings as the seagulls and waves return with quiet static strings phrases. The strings fade leaving the waves and sounds of water to lead very slowly to the coda.  

This is a very fine work which perhaps will only be prevented from having future performances due to the length of the unaccompanied text. This would be a great pity given the great beauties that lie within.

Pulp and Rags for Thirteen Solo Strings (2012-15) again arose from the War and Peace project. The work takes its inspiration from the old, now closed, Buckland Paper Mill near Dover particularly in its rhythms, sonorities and fingerboard slaps.

Rhythmic fingerboard slaps and hushed vocal sounds open before pizzicato descending string phrases slowly take over and shards of sound from the strings can be heard. This is terrific pizzicato string writing and playing, bringing such variety and forward propulsion, occasionally pointed up by fingerboard slaps.  The music falls quiet before a faster, furious swirling theme appears leading to passages of softer whirling string phrases as the music dances and moves around at a pace. There are passages of rhythmically leaping and buoyant strings before fingerboard returns and the strings quieten. Hushed vocal sounds are heard before a final quiet string chord.

This a terrific work that no string orchestra should ignore when planning a concert

Epitaph for Edith Cavell for solo violin (2015) is a reworking for muted violin of the flugal horn solo that opens The Scarlet Flower. It was first performed at the National portrait Gallery, London, UK in 2015.

Peter Sheppard Skærved weaves some very fine textures as he takes this piece forward, a rather plaintive melody that, nevertheless, has a textural strength. It travels through some beautifully controlled, quieter passages before the hushed coda is reached. This is a particularly lovely and moving work.

This new release contains some very fine works for strings played phenomenally well by these players. As a string player himself Peter Sheppard Skærved extracts the very best form his players. They receive a first rate recording and there are excellent notes from Nigel Clarke and Peter Sheppard Skærved.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

There are some strikingly wonderful moments in Arthur Gottschalk’s Requiem for the Living recently released by Navona Records

Composer, Arthur Gottschalk has had a varied career in the music world. He was born in California but raised in the North Eastern United States. He attended the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor as a student in the Honors College and in Pre-Med. After two years he switched to music, studying with William Bolcom, Ross Lee Finney, and Leslie Bassett, receiving a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Composition, a Master of Arts degree in Music Composition and English Literature and his Doctorate in Music Composition.

He is currently a Professor of Music Theory and Composition at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music where he chaired the department until 2010. In 1986 he co-founded Modern Music Ventures Inc a company which held a recording studio complex, a record production division, four publishing firms, and an artist management division, and for whom he produced records for PolyGram and Capitol.

In 1998 Gottschalk abandoned these pursuits, in order that he might devote himself more fully to music composition. Gottschalk's teaching specialties include music business and law, film music, music theory, music composition, and counterpoint. As a film and television composer he numbers six feature films, twelve television scores, and numerous industrial films and commercials among his credits.

He is a recipient of the Charles Ives Prize of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, annual ASCAP Awards since 1980, and has been a Composer-in-Residence at the Columbia/Princeton Electronic Music Center and the Piccolo Spoleto Festival. He has recently been honoured with the First Prize of the Concorso Internazionale di Composizione Originale of Corciano, Italy for his Concerto for Violin and Symphonic Winds, a First Prize from the Bassoon Chamber Music Composition Competition, and a First Prize from the Ridgewood Symphony Orchestra. He was recently awarded a prestigious Bogliasco Fellowship for continued work and study in Italy.

Having written nearly two hundred works, his music is performed regularly in Europe, Asia, and Australia and has been recorded by many record companies. His book, Functional Hearing, is published by Scarecrow Press, a division of Rowman & Littlefield, and will soon be released in its second edition.

The latest recording, from Navona Records features his Requiem for the Living performed here by the St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra and St. Petersburg Chamber Choir  conducted by Vladimir Lande with Lauren Snouffer (soprano), Alberto Mizrahi (tenor) , Daniel Mutlu (tenor) , Andrea Jaber (alto) and Timothy Jones (bass)


Phillip Kloeckner tells us in his very useful booklet notes that Arthur Gottschalk’s Requiem for the Living uses the traditional Latin text from the Mass of the Dead (Missa pro defunctis) combined with a wide variety of texts and, indeed, musical styles in order to illustrate the variety and texture of our common diversity. It is intended to be a commentary on life whilst re-evaluating the many facets of death and the afterlife.

The first movement includes the traditional Hebrew prayer for the dead (Yizkor), the second movement a verse from the Qur’an, the third the wisdom of Buddha, the fourth Duke Ellington’s conviction about the nature of the Divine, the fifth words by George Eliot, the sixth Muhammad’s prayer for light and the seventh movement two American folk idiom, Bluegrass Gospel and Blues Spiritual.

In eight movements it opens with Introit - Yizkor – Kyrie that leaps up in a dramatic Requiem aeternam before an impassioned plea from tenor, Alberto Mizrahi ‘God, remember the souls of our beloved…’ moving around in the manner of a Jewish cantor before the choir bring back the Requiem. The music becomes quieter as the Kyrie arrives with some finely overlaid choral voices, Gottschalk showing a very light touch with the orchestra.

Dies Irae - Night of Power - Rex tremendae brings staccato choral phrases for the ‘Dies Irae, dies illa…’ often surprisingly restrained in both the choir and orchestra, more with a sense of foreboding. Soprano, Lauren Snouffer and alto Andrea Jaber appear bringing a sense of anguish before Snouffer takes the text with ‘Those who believe in God and the final day…will not grieve’ bringing a sense of hope and light. The chorus return with increasing passion and drama and later the ancient Dies Irae plainchant appears more openly. Gottschalk finds some fine variety in the dramatic presentation of this section with a magical moment as the alto returns for the final ‘Dona eis requiem.’

There is a lighter, more buoyant Offertorium - Buddha – Canzonas that opens orchestrally with some distinctive woodwind textures. The choir enter in ‘Domine Jesu Christe…’ before soprano Lauren Snouffer enters with ‘The thought manifests as the word.’ The orchestra then lead on as the choir join with the soprano rising up on ‘And habit hardens into character.’ Later the choir bring a lovely mellifluousness in ‘Tu suspice pro animas illis…’ before a terrific coda.

The fourth movement, Sanctus - Ellington - Benedictus – Hosanna finds the chorus rising out of the lower strings in the Sanctu, a particularly fine moment. Soon the music finds a lovely forward flow, beautifully orchestrated before rising up on ‘Gloria.’ The music then adopts a vibrant jazz style for ‘Hosanna in excelsis’ with bass, Timothy Jones bringing a bluesy, fast and rhythmic ‘Every man prays in his own language…’ to which the choir respond with an equally racy ‘Benedictus’ with the orchestral delivering a real big band sound to the coda.

With George Eliot - Agnus Dei the soprano and alto join for ‘May I reach that purest heaven…’ bringing a lovely blend of voices before the choir sing the Agnus Dei. The orchestra bring dissonant and drooping orchestral phrases as the strings swirl and there is a sense of unease pervading. The music slowly builds in drama and intensity before finding a more peaceful end with female voices in ‘Dona nobis pacem’

In Lux Aeterna – Mohammad the chorus open with a beautifully conceived ‘Lux aeterna’ which has a slightly swaying motion. Bass, Timothy Jones enters to sing ‘O God, Give me, I pray Thee Light on my right hand…’ followed by soprano, Lauren Snouffer and alto Andrea Jaber, then tenor, Alberto Mizrahi as they all weave the text most effectively. The chorus return for the gentle ‘Cum santis tuis aeternum…’ but rising before ‘Requiem aeternum dona eis, Domine’ and a quiet coda pointed up by harp.

There is a lovely orchestral opening to Gospel - Spiritual - Libera me that soon reveals a gentle gospel swing. The music soon picks up for a really fast orchestral gospel style ‘Libera me…’ before falling for a gentle lead into ‘Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on…’ a spiritual for choir and orchestra that works really effectively. The orchestra picks up for the choir to enter in ‘Quando coeli…’ again in a gospel style, full of energy and feeling. There is a slow, bluesy orchestral passage before the music builds in strength only to lead to a hushed coda on ‘Libera me, Domine’ – a wonderful conclusion.

Brass open in the Fanfare - In Paradisum weaving some lovely textures with the full orchestra eventually joining in a spectacularly fine culmination. The chorus enter with ‘In paradisum…’ where there is a breadth of choral and orchestral sound that brings a visionary quality of something to come before a tremendous conclusion.

The last track in an alternate version of the Introit - Yizkor – Kyrie, with timpani and orchestra then chorus bringing a dramatic Introit. Tenor, Daniel Mutlu joins for ‘God, remember the souls…’ bringing a lovely flow with the orchestra and later weaving the text in the fashion of a Jewish cantor. There is a lovely Amen before the chorus continue with ‘Requiem aeternum …’ full of fire and drama before a gentler Kyrie that leads to a more resolute conclusion.

There are some strikingly wonderful moments in this Requiem. If there are times when one finds a certain lack of coherence in this work it is surely because of our natural tendency to be wrong footed by unexpected musical styles. The orchestra and choir are excellent with the soloists bringing some effective singing in this varied work. They are well recorded.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Some quite stunning playing from Natalia Lomeiko on her new disc of Prokofiev’s Violin sonatas for Atoll

Violinist Natalia Lomeiko was born into a family of musicians in Novosibirsk, Russia. She studied at the Specialist Music School in Novosibirsk with Professor A. Gvozdev, at the Yehudi Menuhin School in England with Lord Menuhin and Professor N. Boyarskaya, at the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music with Professor Hu Kun. 

She has since established herself internationally winning numerous prizes in the Tibor Varga, Tchaikovsky, Menuhin and Stradivari International Violin competitions. In 2000 she received the Gold Medal and 1st Prize in the Premio Paganini International Violin Competition (Genoa, Italy) and the 1st prize in the Michael Hill International Violin Competition (Auckland, New Zealand) in 2003. Natalia Lomeiko was appointed a Professor of Violin at the Royal College of Music in London in 2010.

Since her debut with the Novosibirsk Symphony Orchestra at the age of seven, she has performed as soloist with many orchestras around the world under many distinguished conductors. Her recordings for Dynamic, Fone, Trust Records and Naxos have received an enthusiastic response.

Natalia Lomeiko’s latest recording of Prokofiev’s Violin sonatas for Atoll  has just been released. She is joined by violinist Yuri Zhislin  and pianist Olga Sitkovetsky

ACD 513
2 CDs
Great care and thought is given by Olga Sitkovetsky to the opening of the Andante assai of Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 80 before Natalia Lomeiko brings some fine violin textures.  These two players develop the music through some passionate passages bringing intense emotion. Lomeiko provides superb textures with bold, dynamic piano accompaniment and later some exquisite little rapidly rising and falling decorations.

There are razor sharp short phrases with pinpoint accuracy from both soloists in the Allegro brusco where they find an intuitive response to each other. This violinist provides some extremely fine tone in the more flowing central section before some intensely dramatic passages. In the quieter moments they bring some fine poetry with Lomeiko finding a very fine, spontaneous delicacy.  

There is a whimsical opening to the Andante before these players slowly reveal the melody.  Lomeiko provides some lovely gentle, rather withdrawn harmonies, Sitkovetsky adding an equally haunting accompaniment. This is an exquisite performance of one of Prokofiev’s most lovely movements with a continuous flow of invention before the strange little coda.

These players launch quickly into the Allegrissimo - Andante assai, come prima with some terrific, free flowing, brilliantly phrased and shaped playing, really catching Prokofiev’s rather brittle ideas. They move through passages of relentless development and flow with some quite stunning playing before returning to the rising and falling motif of the first movement as the andante arrives before leading to the resigned coda.

Natalia is joined by violinist Yuri Zhislin for Prokofiev’s Sonata for Two Violins in C Major, Op. 56. There is a lovely sweetness of tone in the Andante cantabile as Lomeiko enters, soon joined by Zhislin as they weave a lovely melody together, both bringing a fine tone and some lovely interplay of lines. Their individual tones complement each other wonderfully, each finding quieter moments of fine detail.

Short staccato phrases from both players open the Allegro before we are taken forward with these two players finding a terrific rapport, rising through some wonderful passages before the coda.  

There is a slow, finely paced Commodo  (quasi allegretto) which finds these players revealing much quiet, intense emotion. There are some exquisite higher textures as well as perfect control and restraint.

They bring much wit and playfulness to the opening of Allegro con brio with fine phrasing as well as lovely textures and harmonies. There are many moments of exquisite detail with some lovely little phrases, finely shaped before a lovely coda.

There is a beautifully relaxed, flowing opening to the Moderato of the Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 in D Major, Op. 94a, Lomeiko bringing some lovely little decorations before the music picks up in energy momentarily. The music soon finds its poise to flow forward, Lomeiko and Sitkovetsky revealing an underlying disquiet that seems to hide under the quieter passages between the short outbursts of energy. The music subtly gains in intensity as the movement progresses before regaining the more relaxed nature for the gentle coda.  

A spiky piano motif opens the Presto - Poco piu mosso del – Tempo 1 soon joined by the violin with Lomeiko helping to push the music forward through some tremendously fluent passages.  These two fine musicians always find the poetry in this music with Lomeiko providing exquisite violin textures and sonorities through the gentler, quieter, thoughtful Poco piu mosso del with some rather quixotic phrases before picking up again with the opening theme to drive forward, both bringing some fine rhythmic phrases, finding a terrific buoyancy before the sudden coda.

In the beautifully conceived Andante Lomeiko and Sitkovetsky bring a wonderfully controlled flow, a subtle ebb and flow, with wonderful phrasing and some subtle dissonances that are rather fine. The Allegro con brio – Poco meno mosso – Tempo 1 - Poco meno mosso - Allegro con brio brings a buoyant, determined theme for violin and piano to which these two bring a fine rhythmic bounce. They weave some fine phrases around each other as the movement develops as well as moments of quite lovely beauty, Lomeiko always finding variety of textures and timbres. They later pick up the pace to move rhythmically and buoyantly to the coda.

This is another terrific performance. 

The poetic side of Natalia Lomeiko and Olga Sitkovetsky is to the fore in Prokofiev’s Five Melodies for Violin and Piano, Op. 35 that is on the second disc. There are some lovely gentle phrases from both violin and piano in the Melody No. I. Andante yet these two players always find the subtle increases in passion. There is a lovely gentle, forward pulse from the pianist in No. II. Lento, ma non troppo over which Lomeiko lays a free flowing melody before briefly picking up rhythmically and moving to the relaxed coda. They move into No.III. Animato, ma non allegro with a passion before slowing and finding a gentler nature, reflective and restrained with exquisite violin phrases and a most sensitive piano accompaniment. There are some lovely violin harmonies towards the end. They bring some lovely shaping to the delightful No. IV. Andantino, un poco scherzando, a light and attractive piece with a super coda. Finally there is a lovely flowing No. V. Andante non troppo that soon picks up with some spiky rhythms so typical of this composer before finding a flow. These two players provide a lovely tempo and phrasing before Lomeiko brings the most exquisite phrases in the quiet coda.

These are absolutely terrific performances from all concerned. They receive first rate recordings from Andrew Keener made at the Concert Hall, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, UK and Henry Wood Hall, Southwark, London, UK. The booklet notes are confined to a personal view from Natalia Lomeiko.

The one oddity with this release is that the 80’ 54’’ total playing time for both discs would surely have fitted on one CD. Indeed, the tracking information on the rear insert shows these works as on one single CD. 

However, for all the confusing tracking problems this is a most beautiful new release that is available from Amazon for the price of one CD. 

Since reviewing this disc, distributor's Nimbus have informed me that the tracking information on the rear insert of the CDs will be corrected on all existing stock.