Friday, 9 October 2015

Peter Vukmirovic Stevens’ suite of six works for solo viola Feral Icons is revealed as music of great strength and invention by violist, Mara Gearman on a new release from Navona Records

Following on from Paige Stockley’s very fine performance of Peter Vukmirovic Stevens’  large, five movement August Ruins for solo cello (2010-2012) comes a similarly large scale work for solo viola, Feral Icons also released by Navona Records

NV 6008
Written for Seattle Symphony Orchestra violist, Mara Gearman , who performs it on this new disc, Feral Icons is a suite of six works for solo viola intended to capture the instrument’s rich and haunting quality.

The title track Feral Icons sets the scene for a musical journey, bringing a decisive theme full of fine, gritty textures and lovely double stopped sonorities. As it moves forward, one can hear the theme emerging from within the rich textures of the viola.

Sovereign is a slower piece, where the viola weaves a fine melody that works its way through a texture of often rich harmonies. It soon picks up a little with a rhythmic theme but soon returns to the opening tempo. Later it rises in passion before returning to the slower pace, this time with deeper, richer textures. It is another passionate passage that brings the end.  

Sanctuary brings a plaintive melody that becomes a little more passionate before textures are built in. The viola rises higher with the melody, through some richer textures, using the full tonal range of the viola and developing some terrific overlaid textures.

Ex Nihilo takes its title from the Latin phrase meaning ‘to create out of nothing.’ It opens with a repeated rhythmic staccato motif over a longer theme. The repeated theme is brought to life through a fine variation of textures. Centrally the music rises a little as the lower, richer timbres are contrasted with the upper line.  Eventually the music grows more passionate as the upper line is weaved around before the opening theme returns with the little staccato phrases. Richer textures are overlaid as we lead to the end.

The viola develops a rich theme for Bloodlines bringing some lovely lower tones and some attractive little variations of tempo. The viola rises higher in the register becoming a little anxious. The lower tone is retained as a kind of drone around which develops some terrific dissonant chords. There are some really unusual and inventive harmonies here. Later one can hear the drone like sonorities again but soon the music rises higher, becoming passionate before falling to a richer coda. At just over fourteen minutes, the longest piece in this suite, this is a tremendous tour de force by composer and soloist.

Black and Gold brings a fine flowing melody that is taken forward alternating between double stopped passages and those of a richer texture. It moves through some fine passages as it rises and falls with fine textures and sonorities often creating the effect of two voices communing in a broad landscape of sound. 

Stevens does not give us details of the exact ideas behind the titles but treated as pure music this is a very fine achievement. So much here depends on the soloist’s tonal qualities. Mara Gearman proves to be an impressive violist.  This is music of great strength and invention.

My download revealed a recording that is close but very detailed, revealing clearly the viola’s various tones and textures.

See also: 

Thursday, 8 October 2015

A performance to treasure from Kathryn Stott on her new recital of French works for BIS

British pianist Kathryn Stott was born in Lancashire and studied at the Yehudi Menuhin School and the Royal College of Music. Her teachers have included Nadia Boulanger, Vlado Perlemuter and Kendall Taylor. She was a prize-winner at the Leeds International Piano Competition 1978 and is now a visiting professor at the Royal Academy of Music in London and was recently made an Honorary Member.

A regular visitor to international festivals both as soloist and chamber musician, she has recently performed at the Kennedy Centre, Washington DC and the Tonhalle, Zurich as well as making a welcome return to the BBC Proms performing with the BBC Concerto Orchestra. In 2014, she also toured the UK with cellist Giovanni Sollima and performed for the first time with JP Jofre and his Hard Tango Chamber Band in New York. This year began with a highly successful tour of New Zealand and, this autumn, she will undertake an extensive solo tour of Australia before continuing her concert schedule in the Far East. 2015 also celebrates her 30 year partnership with Yo-Yo Ma.

Kathryn Stott’s repertoire is vast and includes a particular interest in contemporary music. She has had many works written especially for her and, in particular, her close musical relationship with the composer Graham Fitkin leading to seven world premieres. She is a remarkable exponent of Tango and other Latin dance music, reflected in her collaboration with Yo-Yo Ma and leading South American musicians.  She has been the artistic vision behind several major festivals and concert series.

Kathryn Stott’s great affinity with piano music, particularly Fauré is well known, indeed following her Hyperion recordings of Fauré’s complete music for piano she was appointed Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres by the French Government.

Now for BIS Records she has recorded a recital of works by the French composers Jehan Alain, Henri Dutilleux, Maurice Ravel and Olivier Messiaen entitled Solitaires, reflecting the radiance and elegance of a solitaire or single mounted diamond and as a description of 20th century French music.

BIS 2148
Organist and composer Jehan Alain (1911-1940) was from a musical family. His father, Albert Alain (1880–1971) was an organist, composer and organ builder who had studied with Alexandre Guilmant and Louis Vierne. His younger brother was the composer, organist and pianist Olivier Alain (1918–1994) and his youngest sister the organist Marie-Claire Alain (1926–2013). Here Kathryn Stott brings us his Prélude et fugue (1935). She brings a remarkable clarity to the opening flourishes and scales of the Prélude before the music settles to a slow steady melancholy theme. There are further flourishes before the music continues its slow forward tread. There are some very fine, lovely little details, rising more forcefully before the quiet conclusion.

There is a tonally free flowing Fugue that wanders all over the keyboard, Stott bringing a fine forward flow as well as some subtle dynamic variations.

Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013) was seemingly unaffected by many of the developments of 20th century music, forging his own style with a lovely blend of harmony and colour. His Piano Sonata (1946-48) opens with an Allegro con moto to which Stott brings a fast, gentle forward flow with a tremendous fluency. The music builds in dramatic strength, Stott finding a fine contrast between the gentler passages and the more dramatic. There is such a wonderful freedom and, indeed, feeling of spontaneity here. The music becomes even fiercer before falling back slowly. Stott displays some powerful playing in the more intensely dramatic episodes with some thrillingly fast and fluent passages. Her playing has a fine evenness of touch with wonderful control of all the varying moods, dynamics and tempi.

There is a slow, quiet, thoughtful opening to the Lied. Assez lent where Stott finds a hauntingly beautiful, withdrawn quality. She brings a subtly steadier forward motion, providing a lovely continuous flow. The music falls to a pause before a rippling, flowing series of rising and falling scales appears, creating a lovely passage as it increases in strength before resuming a gentle flow. The music becomes even quieter as it gently makes it way forward to find its way to the hushed coda.

Forceful chords sound out with a bell like clarity in the opening of Choral et Variations, contrasted by some richer chords. As the theme is developed it quietens momentarily but the louder chords return. A fast descending scale introduces the Vivace variation with a pulsating, rhythmic theme building through some terrific passages of the variation marked Vivo with staccato chords and fast rippling passages again with a terrific freedom. Stott’s intricate touch is terrific with passages that have fine rhythmic bounce. When the third variation, Calmo, arrives it brings slower, quieter rippling phrases that move beautifully forward in a leisurely way. The music picks up for the fast rhythmic Prestissimo variation and, as the coda is reached, the bell like chords return bringing a sense of completion.

This is a tremendous sonata given a marvellous performance

Towards the end of the First World War Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) was in poor health.  However his creative urge was still there and he was working a piece for piano, Le tombeau de Couperin, parts of which were later arranged into an orchestral suite. It may well be that he had already written some of the music earlier as the score is dated ‘July 1914, June-November 1917). It was intended as a tribute to Couperin and eighteenth century music in general. The original piano version is in six movements opening with Prelude. Vif . Here Kathryn Stott is impressively fast and fluent, again with a brilliant clarity as well as lovely, subtle rhythmic inflections. This is intoxicatingly played. There is a fine delicacy in the following Fugue. Allegro moderato with this pianist allowing the music to rise naturally before the quiet coda and always with a natural freedom of flow.  Stott brings a light rhythmic skip to the
Forlane Allegretto, exquisitely played with some delightfully light and delicate phrases. She brings a jewel like quality, so sensitive to Ravel’s sound world.

Rigaudon Assez vif provides a real contrast, full of life and energy with some terrific dynamic passages and a central section that brings back a quieter and slower rhythmic pace. The Menuet Allegro moderato is beautifully paced with a rather nostalgic air, Stott catching Ravel’s distinctive atmosphere perfectly before rising majestically in the central section. Again Stott’s seamless flow is impressive. With the concluding Toccata Vif Stott’s rhythmic clarity is fully in evidence. Centrally there is a lovely delicately flowing section before this pianist builds later stages formidably to lead to a terrific coda.

This is a performance to treasure.

It was towards the end of the Second World War, in 1944 that Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) wrote his Vingt Regards sur l'enfant-Jésus (Twenty Contemplations of the Infant Jesus). From this Kathryn Stott has taken the fifteenth of these pieces, Le baiser de l'enfant-Jésus (The kiss of the infant Jesus). Stott brings a hauntingly beautiful opening, finely phrased and controlled, slowly laying out Messiaen’s lovely harmonies. The music develops through some crystalline, more flowing passages before rising to a stunningly fine dramatic section, eventually finding a gently rippling coda. 

I have been lucky enough to hear a number of very fine recital discs in recent months. This must rank as one of the very best. The recording is exceptionally clear and detailed, even by BIS’ high standards. There are informative booklet notes.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Attractive orchestral works by Finnish composer Toivo Kuula receive fine, idiomatic performances from Leif Segerstam and the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra on a new release from Ondine

The Finnish composer, Toivo Kuula (1883-1918) was born in Vaasa on the west coast of Finland. He studied in Helsinki, Bologna, Paris and Germany before becoming a conductor in his home country. Unfortunately he seems to have had a somewhat volatile temperament resulting in his death by shooting during the celebrations to mark the end of Finland’s Civil war.

His compositions range from choral works and songs to chamber and orchestral works including an unfinished symphony.

A new recording from Ondine features orchestral works by Toivo Kuula with the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra  under their Chief Conductor Leif Segerstam

ODE 1270-2
Kuula wrote his Festive March, Op.13 whilst in Paris in 1910. Horns and timpani open the work as a distinctive melody is revealed. It has a seriousness of purpose, though shot through with longer flowing passages as well as a lovely central section, full of folksy charm.

The five movement South Ostrobothnian Suite No.1, Op.9 was written between 1906 and 1909, some of which is based on folk music collected by the composer. However, Song of Dusk was written in Italy and Landscape in Paris.

Landscape has a gentle flowing opening with a lovely cor anglais that conjures up a rather Sibelian mood. Indeed there are many fine individual instrumental moments, full of atmosphere before rising in power but falling for the gentle coda. Folk Song is for strings only and brings a lovely little folk tune at times with an intense yearning.

Ostrobothnian Dance is another attractive folk based piece, light and buoyant with attractive local inflections and some fine instrumental details. Devil's Dance sets off with a light forward rhythm but soon becomes a little heavier and darker. Soon brass overlay the orchestral texture leading to a slow, broader passage of more depth and feeling. The music picks up to move, with the opening theme, to the lively coda.

Song of Dusk opens slowly with a thoughtful theme before rising slowly in a beautifully orchestrated melody that really blossoms. The music falls back with another lovely cor anglais melody as the music gently flows ahead. It swirls up in a very fine passage before calming with timpani signalling a slow, quiet coda.

The South OstrobothnianSuite No. 2, Op.20 dates from between 1912 and 1913 and again much of it was written in Paris.

A horn call opens The Bride Arrives before being echoed and leading to a light and buoyant theme, pointed up by harp then pizzicato strings. The simple theme is worked over several times with varying instrumental detail before brass bring a slower stately pace to the music as it leads to a resolute coda with cymbal clashes.  

Rain in the Forest brings a roll on a side drum and a hushed scurrying orchestra. Here Kuula conjures up another of his fine atmospheric pieces with the mystery and sounds of the forest. A cor anglais brings a melancholy theme as the delicate sounds of rain and wet are conjured. The music builds in drama before a bassoon brings about a slow quieter passage, again developing the feel of a dark forest and leading to a lovely mysterious coda.

Minuet is for strings alone with a cello leading in a melody that is eventually developed, though remaining rather repetitive until it finds the coda. A gentle horn introduces Dance of the Orphans, a light footed theme led by an oboe and shared around the orchestra. This is a lovely melancholy little dance.

The final movement, Will-o'-the-wisp finds a cello weaving a motif before the orchestra rises to take the theme tentatively forward. Here Kuula conjures some lovely distinctive sounds in his effectively atmospheric orchestration, all based around a little rising motif. The music rises up dramatically with a deep, heavy orchestration before the quizzical rising motif re-appears quietly and mysteriously. Soon the music moves ahead with a more joyous lively feel with bass drums and brass sounding out as the music drives forward. A bass drum, then a horn call followed by scurrying woodwind and strings lead to a falling away where a solo violin plays the theme interspersed by instrumental flourishes before arriving at a hushed coda.

When Kuula attended a conducting course in Leipzig in 1909 he used his own fugue as a conducting exercise. He later wrote a prelude to go with the fugue thereby creating the Prelude and Fugue, Op.10 (1908-1909) that concludes this disc.

Pizzicato strings underline a woodwind theme in the Prelude, soon shared by the upper strings and brass and soon achieving a fine flow with many of Kuula’s by now familiar traits before leading to a quiet coda.

The Fugue opens with a string theme that soon reveals itself as a fugue, Kuula bringing in added layers from different section of the orchestra, achieving a fine fugue. The music moves through some fine passages as woodwind weave into the fugal lines with, towards the end, brass joining to bring a terrific longer line. For all this the lead up to the fugue is shot through with a thoroughly Finnish sound world. 

It is good to have these attractive works available in such fine, idiomatic recordings especially as Leif Segerstam and the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra receive a first rate recording. There are excellent booklet notes.

Monday, 5 October 2015

A spectacularly fine recording of John Taverner’s Missa Corona spinea on a new release from Gimell Records

Over four decades the Tallis Scholars directed by Peter Phillips have done more than any other group to establish sacred vocal music of the Renaissance as one of the great repertoires of Western classical music. This has been achieved through their award-winning recordings for Gimell Records as well as performances in churches, cathedrals and venues all over the world including the Royal Albert Hall; the Sistine Chapel; the Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, New York; the Philharmonic Hall Berlin; Saint Mark's Venice; Seoul Arts Centre Korea; Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, London; Concertgebouw Amsterdam; Wigmore Hall; Beijing Concert Hall; Megaron, Athens and the Opera House, Sydney.

Amongst their wealth of recordings the Tallis Scolars have already recorded works by John Taverner (c.1490-1545) including his Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas and Magnificats and Western Wind Masses .

On the 30th October 2015, Gimell will be releasing a recording of Taverner’s Missa Corona spinea together with two Responds Dum transisset Sabbatum made in the Chapel of Merton College, Oxford the venue for so many fine Gimell productions.

Taverner’s Festal Mass setting Missa Corona spinea (Crown of Thorns) is based on an unidentified plainchant and is thought to have been composed for the discontinued Feast of the Holy Crown of Thorns, a feast of some importance in the 16th century. The disposition of the six voices is unusual in that, instead of the usual treble, mean, two altos, tenor and bass, Taverner changes an alto for an additional bass.

After a tenor sings the plainchant Gloria in excelsis Deo the female voices enter creating a glorious sound in the fine acoustic of Merton College Chapel. Soon the rest of the choir join, bringing a fine layering of textures with Peter Phillips’ pacing spot on, creating a natural flow. Qui tollis brings some fine textures especially from the lower voices over which the trebles rise. It is lovely the way the choir allows the music to flourish so naturally as it rises, gaining in tempo and intensity as the conclusion is reached.

Credo in unum Deo is announced by a tenor before the choir joins with the upper voices soaring over the male voices, weaving a terrific sound. Certainly Taverner’s choice of an extra bass is telling here.  Et incarnatus est takes a slower, flowing pace allowing the various lines of the music to emerge beautifully, the ear following every line, later rising and subtly speeding to create a feeling of uplifting ecstasy.

The choir open Sanctus and Hosanna I at a steady pace, the female voices weaving around a static male line, an inspired idea from Taverner. They soon generate a fine flow as all parts of the choir weave the mellifluous choral sound.  Taverner brings so many different ideas to this section of the Mass, finding so many different blends of voices. Male voices bring a rich opening Benedictus to which the treble adds a fine contrast. There is some fine blending of voices with Taverner packing so much into this short section. There is a finely paced Qui venit bringing such feeling, a glorious part, quite mesmeric. Hosanna II rises beautifully out of the Qui venit, the music blossoming out in all its glory with lovely rising sequences.

Agnus Dei I is taken at a lovely slowly unfolding pace, Phillips’ careful blending of vocal lines is very fine. Agnus Dei II follows the same pace but develops through some wonderful vocal textures bringing a slightly gentler feel, before rising later with some fine blends of individual male voices against the mean and treble voices. Agnus Dei III really flourishes, rising up spiritually, Phillips holding the steady pace and allowing the voices to rise beautifully.

Dona nobis pacem brings faster flowing, intricately woven music, this choir revelling in the challenge of Taverner’s fast and fluid lines.

This is a very fine performance indeed with this choir achieving many fine varied textures and sonorities as well as carefully chosen tempi that bring much variety to this setting.

Dum transisset Sabbatum is the Respond to the third lesson at Matins on Easter Sunday. It was also used on other occasions during Easter week and on subsequent Sundays up until Ascension.

Here we have Taverner’s two settings beginning with Dum transisset Sabbatum II. A tenor opens on the words Dum transisset (When the Sabbath was over) before the choir gently enter with such a well-balanced blend of voices, perfectly paced. They weave around each other creating the most wonderful textures before arriving at a very fine Alleluia.

In the better known Dum transisset Sabbatum I the choir rises beautifully after the tenor’s initial plainchant with a wonderfully gentle flow, a slow outpouring of feeling before increasing in passion. There is a further plainchant statement before the choir leads on and we arrive at a glowing Alleluia that really takes off.

Those who know and admire this wonderful choir will need no encouragement to acquire this new disc. Those who don’t should give themselves the pleasure of hearing some of the finest singing they are likely to hear. 

The recording from the Tallis Scholars’ regular producer, Steve C. Smith is spectacularly fine with great care given to the silences between tracks. There are full Latin texts with English translations and excellent notes from Peter Phillips. This is a spectacularly fine new release.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Mr McFall’s Chamber prove to be versatile and terrifically accomplished musicians on their new disc from Delphian Records entitled Solitudes: Baltic Reflections

A new release from Delphian Records features an ensemble of musicians called Mr McFall’s Chamber . The core line up consists of Robert McFall (violin), Brian Schiele (viola), Su-a Lee (cello) and Rick Standley (double bass). they are joined by Cyril Garac (violin)  and Maria Martinova (piano)

DCD 34156
Although it is the tango that is billed as the main part of this new disc it is only part of the story. It is effectively a collection of works by composers from the Baltic region including Olli Mustonen, Aulis Sallinen, Erkki-Sven Tüür, Kalevi Aho, Pēteris Vasks and Sibelius that bring more than just a tango rhythm but longing, sadness and a heightened sense of nature.

The first work, Toccata is by the Finnish pianist, conductor and composer, Olli Mustonen (b.1967) and opens with a reflective, gentle melody for strings, underpinned by a deep double bass note. The piano enters with repeated chords as the music increases in drama and passion eventually arriving at an insistent motoric toccata for the strings showing just a hint of Bach. The piano joins in this terrific section before the music slows to recall the opening complete with the rhythmic repeated piano chords. The music falls to a slow reflective pace before a pizzicato double bass brings a darker hue.  The music rises and falls through a quite mesmeric passage eventually leading to a firm chord from the piano that brings a passionate outpouring from the strings. The pace picks up with the strings pushing ahead in the motoric toccata theme with strong chords from the piano before all weave around each other as they move quickly to the coda.

Zita Bružaitė (b.1966) is a Lithuanian composer whose Bangos for Solo Piano is performed here by Maria Martinova. Written in 2010 it has a fine fluid, rippling melody that moves through shifting harmonies, rising and falling in intensity. This is a thoroughly lovely little piece that comes to a sudden halt before a chord ends the work quietly.

Aulis Sallinen (b.1935) is one of Finland’s most distinguished composers. His Introduction and Tango Overture is scored for piano quintet or small string orchestra and opens with a slow, faltering rather melancholy piano theme before the cello surreptitiously enters, rising up and bringing an element of passion to the music. The whole ensemble joins to bring a lovely sonority and, as it develops, one is aware of a subtle underlying rhythmic pulse, especially when a passage for pizzicato cello arrives, the piano keeping the broader theme. This is music of some strength and depth particularly when it falls to a quieter, slower section. However, it soon picks up again with the cello and piano weaving the theme before arriving at a magical moment with cello harmonics and gentle piano line. The music picks up dynamically and rhythmically as the tango theme that has been underlying the music becomes more obvious. Sallinen provides a wonderfully imaginative use of a tango rhythm in this terrific work that is played with much style and musicianship.

Next on this new disc comes the Estonian composer, Erkki-Sven Tüür’s (b.1959)  Dedication for Cello and Piano played here by cellist Su-a Lee and pianist Maria Martinova. It rises up on the cello before sharp sounds from the piano strings are heard. The piano continues to move the music slowly forward, the cello eventually bringing a fine melody. There are further sharp sounds on piano strings before the melody again proceeds with a rippling piano accompaniment. The tempo suddenly picks with both cello and piano hurtling ahead. There are more string chords clashing against a held hushed cello note before the cello develops the melody with gently flowing piano accompaniment. There are moments of passion for the cello before all quietens, there are more string chords strummed as the hushed cello slowly moves forward to the hushed coda.

Kalevi Aho (b.1949) is another eminent Finnish composer who is represented here by his Lamento for Two Violas. Here Robert McFall changes to the viola to join violist Brian Schiele in this short but terrific work that opens quietly and slowly with one viola bringing the theme and the other playing pizzicato. Both then weave the flowing melody around each other providing some lovely textures before moving through some quite anguished passages. There is some absolutely fabulous playing by these two violists before the sad little coda.

The Latvian composer, Pēteris Vasks (b.1946) wrote his Little Summer Music (Mazā vasaras mūzika) for violin and piano in 1985 and is played here by Cyril Garac (violin) and Maria Martinova (piano). It is in six movements opening with Broad, resonant where the piano is quickly joined by the violin in a theme with a kind of ‘Scotch snap’ with Vasks creating some lovely little decorations. Unhurried is a slow folk style tune that soon rises in dynamics before falling to a quiet coda.

Energetic brings a fast, repeated piano theme with pizzicato violin before both push the theme forward quickly into Sad, a slow drawn theme for violin to which gentler piano chords are added. Both instrumentalists develop the theme as it becomes more animated before leading to a reflective melancholy coda.

A sudden rapid downward scale from the piano opens Joyful with the violin taking the melody quickly forward, joyfully but with a nostalgic edge. There is some terrific playing here from both these fine artists. With the final movement, Broad, resonant the piano brings a broad chord to which the violin adds a flowing melody. The ‘Scotch snap’ appears in both instrumental lines before the music builds in intensity, falling for the quiet coda.  

Arvo Pärt (b.1935) must surely be Estonia’s most famous composer. He wrote Für Alina for piano in 1976 especially for an Estonian girl living alone in London. It opens gently as the theme is slowly picked out with a jewel like clarity. This is a short, simple yet very effective piece. Quite lovely.

Finnish composer, musician, music producer and arranger, Toivo Kärki (1915-1992) was one of the biggest names in Finnish tango. His Täysikuu (Full Moon) is arranged here by Robert McFall. The strings bring a slower reflective opening before very soon launching, with the piano, into a tango. This is a light and flowing tango melody with no pretentions to any depth but no less attractive for that. Certainly the players are adept at catching the style of this music.

Robert McFall has arranged Einsames Lied (Solitude) from Belshazzars Feast by Finland’s greatest composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957). This is a wonderfully atmospheric and accomplished arrangement with the sonorities created by this combination of strings really rather fine providing some lovely textures and harmonies.

Finnish songwriter and musician, Unto Mononen (1930-1968) is best known for his numerous tango compositions including the famous Finnish tango song Satumaa here arranged for strings and piano by Robert McFall. It brings another lively tango melody, these players showing such fine musicianship in this lighter yet wholly appealing piece.

Finally we return to Jean Sibelius and his famous Finlandia Hymn but not as anyone is likely to have heard it before. It is arranged here by Robert McFall for the remarkably unusual combination of musical saw and piano quintet. Su-a Lee swops her cello for the musical saw to join the ensemble in this light-hearted  conclusion to this attractive collection of Baltic Reflections.

Mr McFall’s Chamber are versatile and terrifically accomplished musicians who receive a first rate recording. There are excellent booklet notes from Ivan Moody.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

A valuable new release of piano works by the Polish composer Roman Statkowski played by Barbara Karaśkiewicz on a new release from Divine Art

Composer and teacher, Roman Statkowski (1859-1925) was born in Szczypiórno near Kalisz, Poland.  He was born into a musical family, studying piano from an early age, but gave up music for law studies at the University of Warsaw. However, he soon gave up his law studies in order to enter Warsaw's Music Institute (now the Warsaw Conservatory) to study composition under Władysław Żeleński. He later moved to St. Petersburg where he studied composition with Nicolai Solovjov and instrumentation with Nicolai Rimski-Korsakov at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. After obtaining his diploma he travelled to Germany and Belgium before returning to St. Petersburg where he worked at an agency of the Warsaw Herman & Grossman piano storehouse.

In 1903 Statkowski won the first prize for his opera Filenis at an international competition in London. A year later in Warsaw he won the first prize for his opera, Maria. The opera was first staged in Warsaw in 1906 to favourable reviews and remained popular thereafter.  He was respected by his fellow composers but his style was considered more conservative than the neo-Romanticism evident in the works of Szymanowski, Karłowicz, Różycki and Fitelberg. In 1904 he became a professor at the Warsaw Conservatory, initially teaching the history of music and aesthetics but later the composition class. Statkowski composed several symphonic works, six string quartets, some violin pieces and nearly sixty piano works, many inspired by Polish dance traditions.  

It is a number of these piano works that pianist Barbara Karaśkiewicz has recorded on a new release for Divine Art Recordings

dda 25129
Statkowski’s lively Toccata, Op. 33 is played with a fine light touch by Karaśkiewicz with moments of much virtuosity in the broader passage that follows. The lively opening returns but it is the broader theme that takes the music to the coda.

Six Preludes, Op.37 take the listener through a wide range of moods with a slow thoughtful opening to No. 1 in C major through a livelier moment before returning to its gentler nature. No. 2 in A minor is quite volatile with a fine forward rolling drama before No. 3 in G major picks up on the forward rolling movement though with a much gentler quality.

Forceful chords open No. 4 in E minor before the music rushes forward, concluding with a calmer coda. No. 5 in D Major has a most affecting little opening before the music slowly finds its way forward with more lovely moments before the end. There is a lovely, lightly dancing No. 6 in B minor with Karaśkiewicz bringing a lovely lift to the music before it broadens and richens as it is developed. This is a particularly fine piece.

The Four Mazurkas, Op.34 open with a gentle No. 1 in E minor with this pianist subtly picking up the rhythm in the opening before it develops into a true mazurka. A more deliberate passage emerges with more forceful chords before the end. The gently rhythmic No. 2 in F minor has a light and reflective theme given a lovely fluent, yet crisp performance. It occasionally rises to passages of more drama before the calm coda.

No. 3 in A minor brings some lively rhythmic phrases as well as more flowing passages before the quizzical little coda and the set concludes with a joyful No. 4 in G flat major, full of fine ideas and flowing through some beautifully developed passages.

Barbara Karaśkiewicz brings us six of Statkowski’s Immortelles, Op.19 (Immortal or Everlasting). It seems that these may be the only surviving pieces from the whole set, the others possibly lost during the Second World War.

The first, B major has a lovely freedom as it slowly reveals itself and develops through more complex passages before a gentle coda. The calm gentle C major moves ahead at a gentle pace with some lovely harmonies midway as the music starts to rise in drama and dynamics before concluding gently. There is a tempestuous rocking motion to the F sharp minor before the music becomes more rhythmic with this pianist showing a fine subtle rubato. 

The E flat major has a fast flowing theme with a lovely ebb and flow before a quiet coda followed by the calm delicate little E flat minor that has a rather nostalgic feel. With the A flat major a longer theme overlaps an insistent motif for the right hand with moments of lovely freedom and flow in this attractive piece.

The final work on this disc is the Six Pieces, Op.16 that opens with a jaunty Capriccio full of good humour and played quite brilliantly here with a lovely crispness and some very fine intricate, fast passages before a terrific coda. There is a lovely rhythmic flow to the following Impromptu that leads through some thoughtful passages caught nicely by this pianist. The fast moving Valse is given a terrific fluent rhythmic lift by Karaśkiewicz as it moves through some rollicking passages. This is a terrific work, full of rhythmic bounce with another great coda.

All'antico is full of varying rhythms, light and dexterous with a lovely central, quiet and delicate section before a lovely coda. The Alla burla takes off at a great pace, the composer bringing some fine sonorities and textures in his writing, drawn out finely by this pianist. There is a slower passage before the music rushes to the coda. There is a lovely rippling opening to Aupres de la fontaine, the final piece in this set with some fine fluent, rhythmically fast moving passages.  

This is a valuable new release of music that deserves to be heard. Many of these pieces would sit well in any recital. The recording is close and detailed with a fine piano tone. The booklet is well up to Divine Art’s usual high standards with excellent booklet notes from Barbara Karaśkiewicz. 

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

A new disc from Capriccio gives an opportunity to hear the some of the music that was being written by Alexander Mosolov in the early days of communist Russia

Alexander Vasil’yevich Mosolov (1900-1973) was born in Kiev and studied under Reinhold Glière (1874-1956), Nikolai Myaskovsky (1881-1950) and Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) at the Moscow Conservatory. Initially he was very much an arch-modernist but later adopted a more conventional style, drawing on central Asian folk music.

A new release from Capriccio concentrates on Mosolov’s earlier works from the 1920’s. The Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester, Berlin  is conducted by Johannes Kalitzke  with Steffen Schleiermacher (piano) , Ringela Riemke (cello)  and Natalia Pschenitschnikova (soprano)

The most famous of all Mosolov’s works is the Iron Foundry, Op. 19 (1926-27) from his ballet Steel. For many this will probably be the only work of this composer that they are aware of. Johannes Kalitzke and the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester, Berlin build a swirling mass of pseudo industrial, repetitive sounds, something which must have sounded pretty modern and outrageous even in the 1920s.  It is a raucous piece that, after just over three minutes, just stops.

The Andante lugubre (Lento) of Mosolov’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No.1, Op14 (1927) opens quietly and brooding as a plaintive melody appears. The music rises up as the piano is heard in the orchestral texture, underpinned by percussion before it strides forward rather in the manner of Prokofiev, becoming ever more fractious. Soon a solo limpid, slow passage for piano arrives that becomes increasingly strident. The orchestra re-join to push the music forward to a jazz like slow section for orchestra, a rather curious episode where the music grows in vacuous, rather sleazy sounds. Eventually the music moves stridently forward, again recalling Prokofiev, before quietening only to suddenly start up again to dart to the rumbustious coda.

Brass introduces the Tema con Concertini (Lento sostenuto) as the piano is accompanied by a heavy clumping orchestra. Soon a skittish orchestral section moves around the piano theme before a wild violin is heard as the music tries to slow, but a raucous orchestra pushes the music ahead. Often the music sounds as though it might break down with Mosolov reaching a very modernist style. The piano enters to help regain a coherence and forward drive soon leaping into a manic, wild episode, rushing ahead. There is a languid moment for piano and orchestra before the music again speeds and a trivial little tune for piccolo is heard. The cadenza slowly works over the material, building into some formidable passages, brilliantly executed by Steffen Schleiermacher. The orchestra re-joins to lead with the piano to a dynamic and formidable coda.

The orchestra leaps in to open the Allegro. Molto marcato before falling in order to slowly build the music with piano through more raucous and skittish passages running madly forward with continual orchestral outbursts. Eventually the piano takes the lead to hurtle forward, with all of the orchestra having a say, to a massive coda.

This piano concerto has the feel of a more garish Bartok or Prokofiev concerto. Structurally it is a little rambling but is teeming with wild ideas.

Surely only a Soviet composer could write a piece of music with such a name Tractor's Arrival at the Kolkhoz. It is, like Iron Foundry from his ballet Steel. It opens with an unexpectedly tranquil, gentle theme, cleverly pointed up by lovely instrumental ideas. The music soon gains a flow with the strings bring some fine sounds. There are many fine, unusual instrumental details before the music suddenly takes off leaving all tranquillity aside, the brass section pushing forward, Mosolov finding his usual bright, colourful raucous sound. There are more moments of lesser drive before the orchestra plays what sounds like a popular song to drive to the end.

With Legend for Cello and Piano, Op. 5 (1924) one might hope for a gentler piece. It does open with a quiet yet lively theme for the piano to which the cello joins and soon slows to a melody for cello with a flowing piano accompaniment. However the music soon picks up the tempo with a percussive piano part. The cello brings slow harmonics before a slow melody, rising a little in passion. The piano part becomes more strident building with some large chords and scales for piano to a sudden end.

It certainly is a more thoughtful, if rather schizophrenic piece. It receives a very fine performance here.

With his Piano Sonata No. 1, Op. 3 (1924) Mosolov slowly lays out a motif, each time separated by a chord. The music suddenly speeds up as the motif is developed with some pretty formidable passages, terrifically played here by Steffen Schleiermacher. This is a thoroughly modernist piece but of much more interest than perhaps the other works on this disc. Soon the music falls quieter in a delicate, thoughtful section. The theme is developed through a more quiet and thoughtful passage before building with a dynamic downward rushing motif and strident chords. The way Mosolov structures and builds his material is much more impressive, even though it is the earliest work here. The music moves through some formidable passages to a peak before slowing with heavy chords to end.

Four Newspaper Announcements, Op. 21 must constitute the oddest work on this disc. Mosolov sets four very ordinary texts or ‘announcements’ for soprano and piano yet brings much feeling and drama to the piece. With such texts as ‘Watch out all: excellent leeches can only be purchased at modest prices from Dr. Ralph Mutschelknaus’ this piece is by turns full of dissonance, declamatory and excitable as well as thrilling and sinister. Soprano Natalia Pschenitschnikova gives a superbly characterised performance brilliantly accompanied by Steffen Schleiermacher, bringing out Mosolov’s intended irony.

On the evidence of this disc Mosolov was not the subtlest of composers yet there are moments, particularly in the piano sonata, where he is well worth hearing. Certainly this new disc gives an opportunity to hear the type of music that was being written in the early days of communist Russia. 

The performances are excellent and the recording is immediate if rather dry. There are informative booklet notes together with German texts and English translations.