Friday, 22 May 2015

Whilst Gerald Trimble crosses many boundaries on his new disc for MSR Records, Uncharted - A Viola da Gamba Adventure, his natural and fine musicianship brings performances that are often quite intoxicating

Viola da gamba player, Gerald Trimble www.msrcd.com/catalog/cd/MS1523 was born in 1957 in Kansas City, Missouri, USA. His early musical experience began with guitar and singing. He studied jazz theory with the late John Elliott, Indian classical theory and technique with sitarist Acharya Roop Verma and Indian vocal technique with Pandit Pran Nath, Hema Sharma and Nirmal Singh. Under the tutelage of Bora Özkök, he began years of travel and study in Turkey and became proficient on numerous Eastern lutes, including the saz, lavta, tar and setar. His introduction to bowed instruments began with the kemanche, a skin-covered gourd-shaped spike fiddle, an instrument that prepared him technically as a viola da gamba player.

Gerald Trimble’s new release for MSR Music www.msrcd.com entitled Uncharted - A Viola da Gamba Adventure finds him playing a large variety of instruments, an anonymous English 6 string bass viola da gamba c.1680-1700, a 6 string bass viola da gamba by Hans Christof Fleischer of Hamburg c.1680’s, a 6 string bass viola da gambaby Pieter Rombouts of Amsterdam from 1708, a 5 string bass violin by Barak Norman of London c.1714, a 6 string pardessus de viole by Michel Colichon, Paris, 1685, a quinton de viole by Nicholas Chappuy, Paris, c.1745 and a viola d’amore 7/7 by Louis Guersan of Paris, 1762.

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Trimble is joined on this disc by Webster Williams playing a 6-string bass viola da gamba by Barak Norman, London, c. 1690 or 1722, Eliot Wadopian playing a double bass by Abraham Prescott of Deerfield, New Hampshire, USA, c.1820 and River Guerguerian playing just as wide a variety of percussion instruments including Middle Eastern frame drums, Doumbeks and riq tambourines, African djembes and rattles, Brazilian pandeiro drum and caxixi shakers, Peruvian cajon, Indian kanjira drum, Persian daf drum, Latin American congas, bongos, Chinese gongs and Turkish cymbals.

I rather wondered what to expect when I received this disc with the only clues on the outside of the wrapped disc being A viola da Gamba Adventure and titles on the rear insert such as The Black Nag and Crockery Ware. Looking further I found that Trimble’s performances are said to combine Celtic, Eastern and Early Music influences with modern techniques and improvisational skills that span several centuries – from Baroque to jazz. That is certainly what is provided here in the most spectacular fashion.

Gerald Trimble opens this disc with Argiers, a tune that apparently dates back as far as 1651. Changing from bass viola da gamba to viola d’amore and quinton de viole he brings the most unusual timbres as the music rises, with something of a folk music feel.  River Guerguerian adds some fine percussion sounds as this music moves forward with its terrific rhythm in this intoxicating performance.

Trimble’s bass viola da gamba alone brings a more Eastern feel to Parson’s Farewell, a tune that appears under different names around Europe. He extracts some terrific sounds from his instrument, soon rising to a terrific rhythmic with great panache and it must be said, an entirely believable performance style.

Greensleeves to a Ground brings a theme that is surely known to all even though its origins are unknown. Trimble’s bass viola da gamba rises up from a terrific opening to reveal the well-known theme in a freely moving performance with something of a swing, pointed up by a drum.

Dokumaci Kizlar Yalelli is a Turkish tune meaning ‘weaving girls’ played by Trimble using a bass viola da gamba, pardessus de viole and quinton de viole. It opens with shifting Turkish harmonies as Trimble slowly develops the theme. A rhythmic passage arrives, driven along by percussion with some fine harmonies and textures as this piece moves forward. There are some terrific freely improvised moments including an Eastern style vocal contribution before building to a climax before the end.

The Lunatic Lover or The Young Man’s Call to the Grim King of the Ghosts for a Cure is said to date back to the last quarter of the 17th century and is played here on a bass viola da gamba and quinton de viole. The vocal contribution from Trimble does have a rather modern feel and is not perhaps the most successful arrangement here.

The Duke of Norfolk or St. Paul’s Steeple follows with Trimble using bass viola da gamba and pardessus de viole to bring some terrific timbres to the intricate opening. He adds a Moorish sound to this English tune, soon moving ahead with a terrific rhythm before providing some jazz style improvisations complete with vocal additions from the players.

Antalyanin Mor Üzümü (The purple grapes of Antalya) again bring the bass viola da gamba and quinton de violeas. Iit moves quickly and rhythmically forward in another Turkish theme to which, later, there are subtle vocal harmonies added as well as a fine contribution from the double bass of Eliot Wadopian. 

Gerald Trimble plays just a bass viola da gamba for Sylvie, bringing a quite different sound with simpler harmonies and a vocal contribution as the song assumes a folk character, quite appropriate to the music.

The Black Nag is another tune that dates back to the 17th century, played here on the bass viola da gamba and quinton de viole with drums opening rhythmically before Trimble’s bass viola da gamba enters in an intoxicatingly forward moving theme, absolutely terrific, developing with quite a jazz swing.

For MacKenzie’s Farewell Trimble uses a 5 string fretted bass violin, playing pizzicato to pick out the theme believed to have been composed by John Bsan MacKenzie and published in 1875. It develops with a distinctive Scottish lilt that expands into a quite lovely melody, a fine lament with some especially fine musicianship here.

Crockery Ware is said to be a song from Britain and Ireland. Here Trimble plays a bass viola da gamba bringing a folksy, rhythmic buoyancy before moving into another of those pieces that it is impossible to resist. Soon Trimble brings his own vocal sounds which give a sound that seems to recall early America as much as Ireland before launching into a ground on John Come Kiss Me Now from the 1684 The Division Violin.

The Moor’s Revenge (Abdelazer) will bring to mind for many Purcell and his incidental music to the play, indeed in part 2 of this arrangement it is a jig by Purcell that appears. In Part 1 - Laylat Al-Qadr a Moorish tune is slowly woven together with subtle wordless contributions providing some very fine textures from Trimble’s bass viola da gamba and Juan Camillo Reyes’ palmas before moving into a Jig as Part 2 arrives with clapping from the players as the well-known tune is taken ahead in a terrific rhythm.

Hijaz Taksim is an improvisation on the Hijaz mode, Taqsim being Arabic for an improvised instrumental solo. Playing a bass viola da gamba Trimble brings a particularly brilliant improvisation with many Eastern intervals as the music develops, rising to some terrific moments as this fine musician soars up in a spectacular fashion to the heights.

La Chercheuse d’Esprit and Danse de l’Ours are two dance tunes known by different names throughout Europe, the latter dating from as early as 1700. Again playing a bass viola da gamba, Trimble moves swiftly ahead in a fine dance rhythm, bringing some very fine textures and timbres and moving through some terrific moments of fine improvisation before fading out.

Gerald Trimble’s free and natural style brings its own authenticity to these old tunes. Whilst Trimble crosses many boundaries, his natural and fine musicianship manages to bring performances that are often quite intoxicating. The recording is fairly close but provides much fine detail. There are useful notes and full instrumental details.  


I do hope that this new release will gain an equally enthusiastic response from music lovers across the spectrum. 

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

With a vivid recording, Julian Lloyd Webber and the English Chamber Orchestra bring one of the finest discs of English Music for Strings currently available on a new release from Naxos

It has recently been announced that cellist Julian Lloyd Webber www.julianlloydwebber.com  has been appointed the new Principal of the Birmingham Conservatoire. I can think of no better musician to help ensure the future of musical education in Britain, thus making his appointment the ideal choice.

Since a neck injury forced his decision to retire as a cellist it is to be hoped that this new post will give Lloyd Webber opportunities to forge a new career. However, it is not only as the Principal of the Birmingham Conservatoire that this fine musician is forging new paths.

A new release from Naxos www.naxos.com  features Julian Lloyd Webber as conductor of the English Chamber Orchestra www.englishchamberorchestra.co.uk  in a collection of English Music for Strings entitled And the Bridge is Love. This new recording includes no less than four world premiere recordings.

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The strings of the English Chamber Orchestra really bite into the opening bars of Edward Elgar’s (1857-1934) Introduction and Allegro, Op. 47 (1905) before the music slows. Julian Lloyd Webber brings some particularly fine moments of hushed repose, so sensitive and thoughtful. The ECO provide a very fine string tone in some beautiful passages, offset by the most intense emotional moments. There is a beautiful care of dynamics, particularly when leading into faster passages. This is tip top string playing with terrific ensemble. Lloyd Webber pushes the music ahead with great drive before the glorious broad sweeping passages which lead towards the coda.

This is a particularly fine performance that must rank among the very best on record.

This conductor brings his fine musicianship to Elgar’s Sospiri, Op. 70 (1914) in a performance that draws the most exquisite playing from the ECO, subtly drawing moments of intensity and a richness of string texture that is really quite lovely.

Julian Lloyd Webber gives the world premiere recording of his father, William Lloyd Webber’s (1914-1982) The Moon (1950). This lovely little piece has a quintessential Englishness that fits perfectly into this programme; a lovely, subtle rise and fall with some lovely string playing.

Howard Goodall’s (b.1958) And the Bridge Is Love (2008) is another world premiere recording that gives this disc its title. This performance features Lloyd Webber as conductor and cello soloist. The title is a quotation from a Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Thornton Wilder (1897-1975) http://thorntonwilder.com and was composed in memory of a young cellist, the daughter of a close friend of the composer.

The piece opens quietly on lower strings together with harp before Lloyd Webber brings a cello melody that arises, slowly becoming firmer and supported by an increasingly richer orchestral string sound. The music moves through some lovely passages, at times very much in the English tradition yet with a contemporary feel. Lloyd Webber finds much beauty as well as some terrific little phrases for cello that add interest to the music. There is a poignant coda, especially so if this is the last recording we are likely to have from this great cellist.

Ralph Vaughan Williams’ (1872-1958) The Charterhouse Suite began life as a Suite of Six Short Pieces for Piano published in 1921before being orchestrated by James Brown in collaboration with Vaughan Williams and renamed The Charterhouse Suite, after his old school and published in 1923. Here we are given just the short Prelude. It has a buoyant, jolly theme played here with crisp precision.

A lovely rhythmic buoyancy opens the Allegro Piacevole of Elgar’s Serenade for Strings, Op.20 (1892) bringing a subtle orchestral rubato and beautifully judged tempi. There is a beautifully shaped Larghetto with Lloyd Webber again finding lovely sonorities and beautiful, natural flow. The Allegretto - Come prima brings a lovely lilt, a gentle spring to the music as well as some fine string details.

It was Frederick Delius’ (1862-1934) amanuensis, Eric Fenby, that arranged the composer’s Two Songs to be sung of a summer night on the water (1917) for wordless unaccompanied chorus as Two Aquarelles (1917/1932). Here No.1: Lento, ma non troppo is beautifully done, just the right amount of ebb and flow with lovely string sonorities. No.2: Gaily, but not quick has a nice rhythmic lift, such a fleeting nature before it rises only to fall to a lovely coda.

These two lovely miniatures are beautifully played.

Violinist, leader of the London Symphony Orchestra and friend of Elgar, W. H. (Billy) Reed arranged the composer’s Chanson De Nuit and Chanson De Matin for string orchestra in 1939. Lloyd Webber and the English Chamber Orchestra bring a calm, gentle stateliness as Chanson De Nuit, Op. 15, No. 1 (1897/1939) unfolds, before subtly allowing the music to rise, nicely shaped, beautifully phrased and wonderfully controlled. Chanson De Matin, Op. 15, No. 2 (1899/1939) is, again, beautifully shaped and phrased with fine flexible tempi.  

William Walton’s (1902-1983) Two Pieces for Strings from Henry V (1944) are taken from his music for Laurence Olivier’s film of Shakespeare’s Henry V. Passacaglia: Death of Falstaff achieves a fine, dark opening, hushed and mysterious and with a depth that is often missed. The music opens out exquisitely before the hushed coda. To follow there is a lovely Touch her soft lips and part, gentle, exquisite and finely controlled.

John Ireland (1879-1962) wrote his A Downland Suite for the National Brass Band Championships in 1932. In four sections, Ireland later arranged the second and third sections for string orchestra, Geoffrey Bush arranging the first and fourth sections. Here Julian Lloyd Webber and the English Chamber Orchestra play No.3. Minuet: Allegretto Grazioso (1942) in a lovely performance that is beautifully paced and shaped, bringing some very fine playing from the orchestra.

With a vivid recording from Watford Colosseum, Watford, England this is one of the finest discs of such repertoire available. There are informative notes from Peter Avis and Howard Goodall.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

The Backman Trio should be congratulated for bringing together a premiere recording of Finnish composer Erik Bergman’s Piano Trio with works for piano trio by Ireland, Sibelius and Bridge in such fine performances on their debut recording for Fuga

The Backman Trio www.backman-trio.com/The_Backman_Trio/Home.html was formed in 2009 with their first season commencing with a summer tour of Finland before concerts in London and across England.  In 2011 they performed in the Erik Bergman Centenary Concert alongside Sakari Oramo and in the Emäsalo Music Festival. In 2012 they toured with their Young Composers programme, playing youthful works by Ireland, Debussy, Rachmaninoff, Bergman and Sibelius at the Sibelius Museum in Turku and the Camerata Hall, in Helsinki’s world renowned new Music Centre.

The Backman Trio comprises Finnish violinist Frida Backman, British cellist Ruth Beedham and British pianist Marcus Andrews.

Their new recording for Fuga www.fuga.fi entitled Fantasia: British and Finnish Piano Trios includes the premiere recording of Erik Bergman’s Piano Trio Op. 2 together with works for piano trio by John Ireland, Jean Sibelius and Frank Bridge bringing a culmination of their work to promote Finnish and British music over the past four years.

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Erik Bergman’s (1911-2006) Piano Trio, Op.2 (1939) http://composers.musicfinland.fi/musicfinland/fimic.nsf/WLCBND/bergman+erik opens with an Allegro con fuoco that has a fast flowing, tonally free theme for piano before the strings soon join.  The music drops to a slower section as the violin and cello weave a melody over the piano as we are taken through some fine passages, bounding from phrase to phrase before falling to a slower, quieter section. The music soon resumes its rhythmically lively tempo, then slows again before leading to a bracing coda.

The violin leads over the piano in the opening Tranquillo before the cello joins in this thoughtful, melancholy melody. There is a lovely section part way through where  the string players weave some very fine sonorities over a piano motif before the piano alone leads on, joined by the strings to lead to the tranquil end.

The Finale: Allegro con brio has a bright and breezy opening to which the Backman Trio bring some fine, fluent, detailed playing in the intricate opening. There are moments of gentler, almost playful, repose as well as passages of light-hearted fun picked up brilliantly by these players before rushing with great gusto to the coda.

What an attractive work this is. We need to hear more of this fine composer.

John Ireland (1879-1972) was around the same age as Bergman when he wrote his Phantasie Trio in A minor (1908). This early work brings some finely sensitive, characterful playing from the Backman Trio. They pace the second subject beautifully, weaving some exquisite moments with a subtle rubato before moving quickly and deftly to the coda.

The Fantasia, JS 209 (1887) by Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) is from his Piano Trio in D major, ‘Korpo’. There is a slow sonorous opening before the piano introduces a faster motif picked up by the cello over which the violin brings a longer melody. Soon a dance like rhythm appears, still flowing, to which they all join. The music here has something of the feel of a salon piece. It moves through a myriad of variations to which these players respond with brilliance. There is a slow, measured piano passage before a strange section full of unusual ideas, with fine string sonorities. A particularly lively, yet hushed section arrives out of which rises a rhythmic passage before the music rises in passion centrally. This is rather sprawling piece even for a Fantasia with too many fascinating details to enumerate before the music flows forward, confidently, to the coda.  It is brilliantly played by the Backmans.


Frank Bridge’s (1879-1941) Phantasie Piano Trio in C minor (1907) is again an early work written when the composer was in his late twenties. The Backman Trio bring a fine panache to the opening. The music slows, becoming darker and is sensitively conveyed here. They slowly develop the music, bringing some fine ensemble and much passion. There is a fine broad, rather languid passage before a slow, quiet, sensitively drawn section, exquisitely phrased.  The theme is taken by the cello in a fine solo before being taken up by the violin after which they all take the melody, rising in subtle passion. These players move the music ahead, full of energy, bringing much beauty and freshness to this music. After a more restrained section with fine sonorities from the strings and a lovely piano accompaniment the music rises up to a fresh and buoyant coda.

Lasting just under one and a half minutes, Jean Sibelius’ unassuming little Andantino in G minor, JS 43 (1887-88) is finely played before his Allegro in D major, JS 27 (1886) which arrives full of rhythmic drive with these players really throwing themselves into it. There are some very fine individual moments in the central section before moving quickly to its conclusion.

The Backman Trio should be congratulated for bringing together these works, particularly the rare Bergman, in such fine performances. They are nicely recorded at the City of London School and there are excellent booklet notes.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

A first rate Bach recital from organist Luca Guglielmi that includes works from the collections of Friedrich Wilhelm Rust and Padre Giovanni Battista Martini on a new release from Vivat

The Vivat www.vivatmusic.com home page refers to their ‘recordings of exceptional artistic merit and outstanding technical quality.’ On the evidence of the releases I have heard so far, they are more than living up to expectation.

Their latest release brings an outstanding organist, Luca Guglielmi www.lucaguglielmi.com  in works by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) some of which formed part of the collection of Friedrich Wilhelm Rust (1739-1796) and Padre Giovanni Battista Martini (1706-1784) entitled Bach in Montecassino

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Friedrich Wilhelm Rust visited the Abbey of Montecassino www.abbaziamontecassino.org/abbey/index.php  in 1766 where he played the organ and presented the Abbey’s organist, Padre Giovanni Battista Martini, with a number of priceless manuscripts from his collection of Bach’s compositions. Rust’s grandson, Wilhelm Rust was among the most important contributors to the Bach-Gesellschaft www.neue-bachgesellschaft.de .

Sadly the Abbey of Montecassino came under tremendous bombardment during the Battle of Montecassino in 1944. The loss of life was massive with the Allies losing 55,000 soldiers and an estimated 20,000 killed and wounded German soldiers.

Prior to the start of the Battle, German officer Captain Maximilian Becker and Austrian officer Lieutenant Colonel Julius Schlegel had arranged for the majority of the abbey's artefacts, library archives and documents, and numerous other priceless treasures to be moved for safe-keeping at the Vatican City in Rome. After the war Abbot Ildefonso Rea headed the project to rebuild Montecassino in all its former glory as well as repatriate all the valuables and documents that had been held at the Vatican during the war. The rebuilt abbey was re-consecrated in 1964 by Pope Paul VI.

The organ of the Abbey of Montecassino, built in 1696 by Cesare Catarinozzi, that Padre Martini and Friedrich Wilhelm Rust would have played was, of course, destroyed.

For this recording, presenting works by Bach that were circulating in Italy around the decade of 1760-1770 that could well have been performed in the Abbey Church when Rust visited, Luca Guglielmi plays the organ of Chiesa di San Nicolao, Alice Castello, Italy built by Michele Ramasco in 1749 and Giovanni and Giacinto Bruna in 1802. It was restored by Italo Marzi and Sons in 1999-2000.

Bach’s Fantasia Chromatica in D minor, BWV 903a brings a fine fluency from Luca Guglielmi with a lovely flexibility of tempo as the music rushes forward. There is some terrific playing here, beautifully phrased with the organ of Chiesa di San Nicolao proving a fine choice.

Guglielmi sets a fine pace in Fuga sopra il Magnificat in D minor, BWV 733, allowing all Bach’s musical lines to be revealed as this fine fugue unfolds.

Duetto I in E minor, BWV 802 has a lovely choice of registration bringing a fine texture, with Guglielmi finding his way beautifully around all of Bach’s little twists and turns. The Duetto II in F major, BWV 803 is beautifully done, combining flair, fluency and dexterity. Again Guglielmi finds just the right registration, tempi and, most importantly, flow in the beautifully played Duetto III in G major, BWV 804 before Duetto IV in A minor, BWV 805 rises up brilliantly, with this organist pushing the music nicely forward, allowing every line to unfold with a feeling of momentum.

Guglielmi brings a suitable gravity to the opening of Fantasia pro Organo in C minor, BWV 537/1 providing playing of fine transparency with some particularly magical moments. There is a glorious Chorale Prelude Jesu, meine Freude, BWV 753 showing this organ off so well before the Fantasia super Jesu, meine Freude, BWV 713 where again the pacing is just right, never hurried, a natural outpouring of Bach’s invention with fine choice of registration and a lovely coda.

The Chorale prelude Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten, BWV 668a also receives a rather magical performance with a lovely gentle opening; this organist bringing a fine sensitivity with a restrained, gentle forward flow.

The Preludio di Bach in C per il Padre Martini, BWV 870b has a magnificent opening again with such a fine, flexible tempo, bringing so many colours and textures from the San Nicolao organ.

The lovely little Kyrie, Gott Vater in Ewigkeit, BWV 672 is revealed here as a little gem whilst the equally attractive Christe, aller Welt Trost, BWV673 moves ahead with a lovely forward flow. The Kyrie, Gott Heiliger Geist, BWV 674 is beautifully paced, finely transparent before the (Gloria) Allein Gott in der Höh’ sei Ehr’, BWV 675 which brings some lovely little phrases revealing Bach’s fine invention, this organist knowing just how to lift the smallest piece and reveal something special.

The (Credo) Fughetta super Wir glauben all’ an einen Gott, BWV 681 brings some terrific textures as Guglielmi brilliantly tackles Bach’s intricate phrases before the (Pater noster) Vater unser im Himmelreich, BWV 683 that opens with a clear penetrating flauto note before broadening out with lovely textures. Bach’s (De profundis) Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir, BWV 687 brings a more stately pace again with a lovely choice of registration bringing much clarity combined with fine textures and developing wonderfully throughout.

There is a lovely light textured little Fuga di Bach in C per il Padre Martini, BWV 846/2 given such a captivating performance before the concluding Fantasia und Fuga, BWV 904 where Luca Guglielmi reveals a gentle Fantasia before leading to a very fine Fugue, beautifully paced and phrased, developing wonderfully, making a fine conclusion to this disc.

Luca Guglielmi is a very fine organist indeed. By choosing works by Bach that have a connection through Friedrich Wilhelm Rust, Padre Martini and the Abbey of Montecassino he brings together a fascinating collection of organ pieces.

Guglielmi receives a very fine recording that brings a great clarity to the music as well as subtly revealing the pedal lines.

The booklet and presentation are well up to Vivat’s usual very high standards with excellent notes from the organist and a full organ specification.


All in all, this makes for a first rate Bach recital. 

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Noriko Ogawa brings all her exquisite sensibility, understanding, fine touch and lovely technique to works by Yoshihiro Kanno on a new release from BIS

Yoshihiro Kanno www.ykanno.com/profile.html was born in Tokyo in 1953 and graduated from the Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music with a Master's Degree in 1980. In 1979, he won the Prince Pierre of Monaco Musical Composition Award for his String Quartet and, in 1994, his Les Temps de Miroirs--L'Horizontale du Vent for ryuteki, sho, and electronic music was the recommended work of International Music Council sponsored by UNESCO.

His ballet Mandala was premiered in Tokyo in 1987 and performed at the Edinburgh International Festival in 1988 before being toured in New York and Washington, D.C. in 1991. Among his recent works are Moon Phase for Gagaku orchestra, performed in Tokyo, Germany and Spain and A Lunar Note for Japanese traditional ensemble, performed in Tokyo and several cities in the United States.

Kanno's compositions are founded on Western orchestral music, Japanese traditional instruments, and computer music.

A new release from BIS Records www.bis.se  entitled Light, Water, Rainbow… brings together a number of works for piano and accompanying instruments dating from 1985 to 2012 performed by pianist Noriko Ogawa www.norikoogawa.co.uk

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Since achieving her first great success at Leeds International Piano Competition, Noriko Ogawa has worked with leading orchestras and conductors, such as Charles Dutoit, Osmo Vanska, Leonard Slatkin and Tadaaki Otaka. Ogawa is also renowned as a recitalist and chamber musician and regularly commissions new works. She has performed premieres of works by Fujikura and Kanno.

Ogawa is an exclusive recording artist for BIS Records, her discography including Takemitsu’s Riverrun (Editor's Choice - Gramophone Magazine) and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (Critics' Choice - BBC Music Magazine). Ogawa has recently concluded a complete series of Debussy recordings that has won considerable critical acclaim. She also completed recording a new Mozart disc for BIS Records in 2011.

The Remains of the Light III, Angel's Ladder for piano and computer (2006) was commissioned by the pianist Noriko Ohtake and marked the tenth anniversary of the death of Tōru Takemitsu. Angel's Ladder depicts so called crepuscular rays, rays of sunlight streaming through gaps in thick cloud.

The piece opens with an ostinato on the lower keyboard interspersed by rippling phrases higher up the keyboard. Slowly the upper phrases develop creating exquisitely delicate music to which computer generated sounds emerge creating a kind of echo over which the piano builds its line. We are told, in the composer’s excellent booklet notes, that musical ‘messages’ uttered by the piano are made to rise by means of computer processing. The piano builds in dynamics, adding little decorations as the music broadens, the lower phrases now developing against the upper line. The music gains slowly in tempo, Ogawa moving across the expanse of the keyboard to fine effect. The computer sounds return as the music slows, providing little points of sound that echo around before the piano and electronics seem to chase each other in a speedier section. Glacial, sharp sounds interact with a delicate piano theme before a more flowing, rising and falling section arrives to which the computer eventually adds a roar of sound, like the wind, increasing in power and dynamics as the piano ascends the Angel’s ladder.

This is an impressive work played quite brilliantly by Noriko Ogawa.

The Particles of Piano series consists of three pieces, A Particle of Light, A Particle of Water and A Particle of Rainbow. The pianist plays not only the piano but also the Nambu bell, a Japanese wind chime made of iron; Myochin hibachi, metal chopsticks made by the Myochin family of master swordsmiths and Kabuki Orgel, a set of metal bells of the type used in Kabuki performances. The series was commissioned by Noriko Ogawa and the MUZA Kawasaki Symphony Hall.

A Particle of Light for piano and Nambu bell (2009) imagines the moment when a light can be seen through the wind and opens with three tinkles from the Nambu bell before the piano joins tentatively with a slow, gentle rising motif with continued bell tinkles. The music very slowly develops the rising and falling motif, becoming ever more florid with Kanno developing his material impressively, creating, with apparently simple means, layers of tremendous colour and dynamics. Ogawa reveals many fine sounds through passages of more restrained, keenly felt, flowing harmonies. Later the Nambu bell can be heard tinkling again as the piano brings a little rising motif before leading to a hushed, delicate coda with the Nambu bell sounding at the end.

This is another exquisite work performed with such sensitivity by Ogawa.

A Particle of Water for piano and Myochin hibachi (2010) takes a haiku (traditional Japanese poem) by Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694) that depicts a frog leaping into water with the tiny splash seeming to create an entire world. It opens with a piano theme that has distinct connections to the previous work, little insistent phrases and intervals that subtly recall Messiaen. It develops exquisitely; the Myochin hibachi soon heard adding their delicate sounds as the piano continues to weave its delicate theme. Later the music slows with more delicate sounds from the Myochin hibachi before moving through some lovely little rhythmic piano motifs. A faster moving section develops, gaining in tempo with some terrific playing from Ogawa until cut off with a piano chord dying away and the sound of the Myochin hibachi.

A Particle of Rainbow for piano and Kabuki Orgel (2011) depicts the seven colours of the rainbow. Deep piano chords open with the Kabuki Orgel gently sounding. The piano continues the deep chords before developing a passage higher on the keyboard, combining beautifully with the Kabuki Orgel. Soon the piano moves to a more settled flowing pattern, developing in richness. A florid rising and falling theme develops into a very fine, rather intoxicating theme, played wonderfully by Ogawa before slowly falling to a passage where the piano picks out the theme with the Kabuki Orgel adding its little notes. The music rises in a dramatic passage, leading to a massive falling scale for the coda.

This work makes a very fine conclusion to the Particles of Piano series.

Lunar Rainbow for piano, toy piano and computer (2012) depicts a rainbow appearing on a moonlit night, with faint light emitting pale colours, its light diffusing into darkness. It was commissioned and premiered by the pianist Noriko Ohtake. Here the pianist plays both the piano and the toy piano. The sounds of the toy piano are captured by microphone and transformed by computer, generating a layer of light that envelops the piano.

Both piano and toy piano open in a delicate passage before the piano slowly leads forward with the computer generated toy piano sounds wavering around. Slowly the music becomes more animated before quietening with the most lovely sounds from the toy piano. The music builds, in rising and falling phrases for piano, before quietening again. Later the piano gently picks over the rising and falling motif surrounded by lovely toy piano sounds, so delicate and entrancing. There is a passage for the toy piano alone before the piano boldly re-enters but the toy piano still adds its unique sound as it brings another solo passage using the rising and falling motif. Soon it slowly increases in tempo, creating a fine texture of sound before the piano re-enters in a gentler flowing passage, rising in animation to the end, where the toy piano has the last say.

Anyone put off by the idea of a toy piano used in this work will be surprised at how beautiful the computer generated toy piano sounds are. Ogawa is absolutely terrific in how she plays both instruments.

The earlier Prelude for Angel for piano (1985) was written for an experimental animated film. It opens with a simple descending series of phrases that lead to a gently flowing melody, with dissonances, yet quite beautiful. The music slowly increases in tempo then develops, becoming more agitated before slowly moving to the gentle coda.

Noriko Ogawa brings all her exquisite sensibility, understanding, fine touch and lovely technique to these beautiful works that reveal a composer with a fine ear for colour, texture and sheer beauty. Anyone who has followed the progress of music from Debussy through Messiaen and Takemitsu should find much to delight here.


BIS give Noriko Ogawa a first rate recorded sound and there are excellent, informative notes from the composer.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Naxos release Hans Werner Henze’s 1996 BBC recording of his Violin Concerto No. 2 coupled with a new recording of Il Vitalino raddoppiato in authoritative performances with Peter Sheppard Skærved as soloist

When Hans Werner Henze www.schott-music.com/shop/persons/featured/hans-werner-henze died in 2012 he left behind an extraordinary body of compositions embracing full-scale grand opera, chamber opera, comic opera, ballets, concert works, radio works, incidental music to stage plays and films and other theatrical forms. He wrote a large number of concert works including ten symphonies, numerous concertos and other orchestral works, five string quartets and other chamber, instrumental and vocal pieces.

He was born in Gütersloh, North Rhine-Westphalia, the eldest of six children to Margarete Henze and her teacher husband, Franz. He studied at the Braunschweig state music school. After the Second World War, following studies with Wolfgang Fortner, he became a repetiteur and conductor as well as producing a number of short ballet scores and his first operas. When his publisher offered him a large advance on royalties in order that he could devote himself entirely to composition he made his way to Italy where he made his home in Marino, south-east of Rome. Henze succeeded in fusing a style both radical but acceptable to modern audiences. 

Naxos www.naxos.com has just released recordings of two important works from the 1970’s, Il Vitalino raddoppiato for solo violin and chamber orchestra and the Violin Concerto No. 2 for solo violin, tape, bass baritone and 33 instruments.

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Peter Sheppard Skærved (violin) www.peter-sheppard-skaerved.com directs Ensemble Longbow in Il Vitalino raddoppiato and in the Violin Concerto No. 2 we have an important BBC recording from 1996 where the composer directs the Parnassus Ensemble, London with Peter Sheppard Skærved (violin) and baritone Omar Ebrahim (speaker) www.rayfieldallied.com/artists/omar-ebrahim

Il Vitalino raddoppiato (1977) is described as a ‘chaconne on a chaconne’ based on Tomasao Vitali’s (1663-1745) Chaconne in G minor for violin and continuo. In two parts, the first, Il Vitalino raddoppiato opens with short sharp string chords before an oboe sounds a motif, soon developed by the solo violin in a fine Italianate melody. Here is an apparently baroque style work full of warmth with Peter Sheppard Skærved bringing some lovely timbers. The soloist as director achieves a chamber clarity and accuracy from Ensemble Longbow. As soloist he brings a brightness, joy and panache, at times reminding one Tippett’s Corelli Fantasia as it builds to a peak weaving its way through a multitude of variations with layers of Vitali overlaid by Henze’s own unique invention.

There is some terrific playing from the soloist in the more complex passages, becoming more and more fragmented and wild towards the end before a more conventional baroque melody tries to return as we are led to the second part Cadenza (and conclusion), a quite brilliant cadenza with Skærved drawing some spectacularly fine sounds before the ensemble join to conclude this terrific piece.

There is first rate sound from All Saints Church, Tooting, London.

Peter Sheppard Skærved goes into some depth in his authoritative booklet notes concerning the basis for Henze’s Violin Concerto No. 2 (1971). Here I will just mention that Henze placed the work at the boundary of theatre and concert stage. The soloist walks onto the stage dressed as the character Baron von Münchhausen but is prevented from playing by the conductor, a conflict that continues throughout the work.

It is in six sections opening with Presentazione where the orchestra sound out in a frenzied manner with a dominant role for piano. The brass rise up before another part for piano after which the strings take the theme leading to a languid piano melody to which baritone Omar Ebrahim adds his spoken passages about the Baron often rising in a wild Sprechgesang manner. There is a scattered string motif before the speaker enters again and we are led into Teorema by the solo violin before the violinist recites from Kurt Friedrich Gödel’s Theorem commencing with the words ‘In any fixed system of axioms, propositions exist which cannot be proved or disproved…’.

If the meaning of the text in the context of this work is difficult for the listener to fathom then he is not alone. The violin continues against the speaker, causing the speaker to fragment his speech. There is some especially fine solo playing here. The ensemble join the violin in a virtuosic passage before the instrumentalists rush forward frantically providing some remarkable textures, full of drama and anticipation showing just how radical and, indeed, fine an orchestrator Henze was for all his radical ideas. The violin soloist then presses on in some more highly virtuosic and complex passages with Henze building a remarkable tapestry of instrumental sounds.

We then move straight into Fantasia I where strange harmonies and instrumental sounds create a distant sound world into which the soloist is cast, drawing some fine textures and timbres as he moves around the instrumental players in this quite remarkable section.  The music rises to some very fine higher notes from both soloist and instrumentalists with Skærved and the Parnassus Ensemble quite brilliant.  Ghostly sounds emerge as speaker Omar Ebrahim recites further text. This section is full of fine sensibility and feeling for its strange qualities. There is more inventive use of instrumental ensemble as the speaker enters again and the soloist and instrumentalists weave the way forward before we are thrust into Divertimento, a rather baroque sound world to which the soloist brings an overriding modernist line. The music presses on with strength with Skærved providing passages of terrific virtuosic solo playing.

When Fantasia II arrives we return to the distant, strange sound world of Fantasia I. This doesn’t last long as the soloist soon brings thrilling playing as the speaker returns and the soloist weaves around him, taking us out of the sound world of Fantasia I.  Ebrahim partially sings the text as Conclusione arrives with the ensemble ruminating in the basses, creating more distinctive, strange harmonies. The slowly shifting harmonies move forward out of which the soloist emerges only to be hit by instrumental outbursts to which he responds with a passion. There is a solo passage for violin where he continues to play passionate intervals with three more outbursts from the ensemble before the solo violin rises ever higher in a spectacularly fine coda from the soloist.

This is a strange, puzzling, yet at times very fine work in an authoritative performance from Peter Sheppard Skærved, Hans Werner Henze and the Parnassus Ensemble. The sound quality of the 1996 BBC recording is top notch, with fine detail.


This new release is surely a must for all devotees of Henze and 20th century adventurous music.  There are authoritative booklet notes from Peter Sheppard Skærved, including source references. The full texts for the Concerto are not provided in full but there are extracts within Skærved’s notes.

Friday, 8 May 2015

With Felix Woyrsch, CPO have found a composer who is well worth exploring particularly in performances that cannot be faulted from Thomas Dorsch and the Oldenburgisches Staatsorchester

Felix Woyrsch (1860-1944) was born in Troppau in the Austro-Hungarian (now called Opava and in the Czech Republic). He lived in Dresden and Hamburg while young, studying in the latter under the Hamburg choirmaster and music teacher, Ernst August Heinrich Chevallier (1848-1908).

Woyrsch held posts as a conductor and organist in a number of German cities before he was elected to the Prussian Academy of Arts in 1917. His music reveals the influence of Brahms, Schumann, Grieg and Mendelssohn though he states that his studies of the music of Bach, Palestrina, Lassus, and Heinrich Schütz as well as Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn taught him counterpoint and composition.

His own compositions include seven symphonies, five further works for orchestra, three operas, songs and a violin concerto.

CPO www.jpc.de/jpcng/cpo/home  have already recorded Woyrsch’s Symphony No. 2 in C Major, Op. 60 coupled with his Hamlet Overture, Op. 56. Now from CPO, again performed by Thomas Dorsch www.thomasdorsch.de  and the Oldenburgisches Staatsorchester www.oldenburg.de/nc/startseite/kultur/kulturprojekte-und-preise/kulturdatenbank.html?tx_citkoculturedb_pi1%5BDetailGroup%5D=368  comes Woyrsch’s Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major and orchestral work, Drei Böcklin-Phantasien.

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Woyrsch’s Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Op. 70 was first performed in 1928 in Altona in north Germany. In four movements the first marked Bewegt, doch nicht uübereilt opens with a melancholy theme, lit by brass before the strings, then woodwind take the melody slowly and gently forward. The orchestra soon pick up the pace more incisively and dynamically bringing moments of great forward momentum interjected with poetic passages. The music, at times, is quite stirring and very much in the mould of late19th, early 20th century music. It certainly carries the listener along as Woyrsch skilfully handles and develops his material before a coda that is more relaxed.

Strings open Mäßig schnell Decsive, soon broadening to move ahead decisively, though soon falling to a woodwind passage of some beauty, before gently leading ahead in the orchestra. The music rises up purposefully in swirls before suddenly moving to a quieter, faster moving section, full of orchestral detail. Eventually the music increases in dynamics for the coda.

The third movement, Langsam brings a fine, slow moving melody for strings. Brass intone, then woodwind as the music develops, gaining in tempo and dynamics before the brass bring back the opening tempo.  There are quietly swirling orchestral textures before the music rises in some fine dramatic moments, pointed up by brass and very finely orchestrated. There are moments of much interest with subtly shifting textures.

The finale, Lebhaft und feurig, doch nicht zu schnell rises up incisively with brass dominating as it leads forward in its confident theme. There are some delightfully playful little interludes but it is the forward drive and confidence that overall affects this movement. Part way through there is a quieter, slower section, full of fine instrumental detail before rising up again led by brass. There are many changes in mood and dynamics before we are led to a gloriously confident coda.

The Drei Böcklin-Phantasien, Op. 53 (Three Böcklin Fanatasies) were composed two years after his first symphony. It is surprising to be acquainted with the fact that around twenty composers have been inspired by the painting of Arnold Böcklin (1827-1901). I was aware of Reger’s Four Tone Poems after Arnold Böcklin, Op.128 and, of course Rachmaninov’s better known symphonic poem, Isle of the Dead, Op. 29 (1909).

Woyrsch was able to see a number of Böcklin’s paintings at an exhibition in Hamburg, drawing on three pictures to compose individual musical paintings. They were gathered together as Drei Böcklin-Phantasien, publishing them in 1910.

Die Toteninsel (The Isle of the Dead) rises slowly and quietly from the gloom, Woyrsch developing his material impressively. The music soon gains a lighter, brighter texture with a cor-anglais plaintively intoning a motif against quietly agitated strings. A greater flow and forward movement is gained though still with a sense of impassioned sorrow before rising to a peak and falling back. The succeeding gentler section is full of lovely instrumental detail with the cor-anglais and a clarinet appearing before the music disappears quietly into the gloom.

Der Eremit (The Hermit) has a lighter string opening, a fine melody drawn from a single interval before a solo violin brings a lovely theme above a hushed orchestra. As the music moves ahead in little surges an organ is heard then the theme is picked up by a cello, with some more fine individual instrumental details. Later there is a livelier section as the strings scurry forward, rising in more dramatic moments with a rather Wagnerian motif appearing. The organ underpins a lovely melodic moment that leads to the coda.

Im Spiel der Wellen (Playing in the Waves) opens buoyantly with the theme shared around the orchestra before swirling through some very fine passages, maintaining a forward flow even in the quieter sections. The music is often exquisitely and delicately orchestrated but later develops a rhythmic spring in its step with playful moments leading to the understated coda.

The question arises as to whether there any obvious influences in Woyrsch’s music. I would say that the only obvious influence is the shifting Wagnerian harmonies and textures.

Many forgotten composers lack the substance to remain of much interest but with Woyrsch we have a composer that is well worth exploring. The performances from Thomas Dorsch and the Oldenburgisches Staatsorchester cannot be faulted.


The recording is excellent and there are informative booklet notes as well as a detail from Arnold Böcklin’s painting The Isle of the Dead on the front cover of the booklet.