Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Tonight’s Prom featured performances from The Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra under Sascha Goetzel with a world premiere of Gabriel Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto from Daniel Hope

Tonight’s BBC Promenade concert www.bbc.co.uk/proms  (6.30pm Tuesday 29 July 2014) in many ways was a microcosm of all that the Proms stand for; a world premiere; a visiting orchestra, in this case from Istanbul; a top ranking soloist, violinist Daniel Hope; and a program that was both varied and well thought out.


The Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by Sascha Goetzel www.saschagoetzel.com in works by Balakirev, Holst, Gabriel Prokofiev, Mozart, Handel and Respighi. The Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra www.borusansanat.com/orkestra/bifo_bilgi.aspx  grew out of the Borusan Chamber Orchestra, becoming one of Turkey’s leading philharmonic ensembles. It gave its concert premiere in May 1999 and has since become a prominent element of Istanbul’s cultural scene. The founding of the orchestra was one of the first ventures in the field of culture and the arts by Borusan Holding, a leading industrial conglomerate in Turkey. For the 2008/09 Season Austrian conductor, Sascha Goetzel, was appointed artistic director and principal conductor of the orchestra.

The orchestra opened the concert, a classical celebration of the Orient, with Balakirev’s Oriental fantasy: Islamey (1869) in its orchestration by Lyapunov in a performance where Sascha Goetzel achieved some very taut dynamics from the orchestra, though individual sections were, at times, a little ragged. There was a characterful slow, middle section full of sultry atmosphere and colour with these players really throwing themselves into the coda.

Gustav Holst’s Beni Mora: Oriental Suite dating from 1909/10 brought many fine moments with distinctive brass and woodwind textures and, again, a very atmospheric sound. This was a very enjoyable performance, very well shaped and what the players lacked in absolute polish they gained in character and orchestral colour.

Daniel Hope (violin) www.danielhope.com joined the orchestra for the world premiere of Gabriel Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto: 1914 http://gabrielprokofiev.com, a BBC commission that commemorates the centenary of the First World War. Gabriel Prokofiev, the grandson of the composer Sergei Prokofiev, says that he wanted to convey a broad picture of what was happening in 1914, a year he describes as ‘the end of the old world, the old ways, the old hierarchies.’

Hushed strings and percussion opened the work out of which the soloist rose with a passionate melody. The background orchestral sound slowly rose up until a sudden halt after which the solo violin introduced a marching theme, dissonant and ironical in nature, occasionally becoming rather manic and caustic before changing rhythm to a faster, more fragmented passage out of which the soloist attempted to keep the marching rhythm. Various instruments took the fragmented, syncopated theme but the violin led the music on, ever more frantic.

The second movement opened with a side drum followed by interventions from various instruments before a rhythmic pulse was taken up underscored by a drum beat. The soloist entered with a little theme taken by the clarinet then the orchestra as the theme grew. The soloist took over against a mechanical sounding accompaniment. There were sudden drum beats as the soloist scurried around with scurrying strings stopping and starting in sudden bursts reinforced by percussion before the soloist brought a wistful little melody to end.

The third movement grew slowly out of a gloomy silence with military sounding drum strokes before the soloist entered in a wavering motif that slowly developed over the orchestra with an affecting little melody full of emotion and sorrow that collapsed into drum beats punctuated by wind instruments. As the music subsided the soloist introduced the wavering theme before the orchestra rose determinedly with the soloist, drums driving the rhythm faster and more chaotically before the solo violin reached high fluttering notes.

Finally brass and percussion opened tentatively with drooping brass. The soloist entered in little short phrases that developed and slid around as though trying to develop into a march, pointed up by a drum rhythm. High string harmonics were heard with woodwind and percussion over which the solo violin played a passionate theme that ended on an ethereal high note and quiet drum taps.

Gabriel Prokofiev has a fine ear for textures and sonorities in this fitting tribute to centenary of the First World War finely played by Daniel Hope and ably supported by Sascha Goetzel and the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra.

After the interval the orchestra returned for Mozart’s Overture: Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio) where they produced an almost period instrument clarity, demonstrating again how these players really put their all into their playing producing lithe, dynamic results. Yet in the slower sections there was plenty of poetic feeling and subtlety as well as a terrific percussion section adding colour and sparkle

Handel’s The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba from his oratorio Solomon in the arrangement by Thomas Beecham brought rhythmic poise with a fine string texture and some particularly fine woodwind contributions in this finely turned reading.

Ottorino Respighi’s Suite from his ballet Belkis, Queen of Sheba (Belkis, Regina di Saba) (1931) is a wonderful showcase for an orchestra with the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic showing all the strengths mentioned above coming into their own in the scented, intoxicatingly atmospheric The Dance of Solomon. There was some exquisite woodwind playing and fine string passages. War Dance brought some incisive playing and a real feeling of spectacle whilst in The Dance of Belkis at Dawn the orchestra revealed a languid, sultry nature with lovely woodwind arabesques. The Orgiastic Dance brought a riot of colour and spectacle and, though the rhythm was initially a little rigid it developed into a freer flowing interpretation with a spectacularly colourful coda.

The orchestra gave us a substantial encore of music from the Bosphorus played with a directness and passion with some lovely quieter sections.

The Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra brought enthusiasm, sparkle and colour, giving performances that were extremely characterful and enjoyable.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Pianist, Ivan Ilić, gives a tremendously cohesive recital of Scriabin, Cage, Wollschleger and Feldman that surprises and enlightens at every turn on a new release from Heresy Records

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) was an American essayist, lecturer, and poet, who led the Transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century declaring ‘we come to look at the world with new eyes. It shall answer the endless inquiry of the intellect.

The movement was a protest against the general state of spirituality and intellectualism and promoted the idea that people, men and women equally, have knowledge about themselves and the world around them that ‘transcends’ or goes beyond what they can see, hear, taste, touch or feel.

It is an extract from an essay by Emerson that is printed in the booklet to a new release from Heresy Records www.heresyrecords.com of works by Scriabin, Cage, Wollschleger and Feldman played by pianist Ivan Ilić www.ivancdg.com/menu.php entitled The Transcendentalist.

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Though the term transcendental was used by Liszt to reflex the extreme technical difficulty of his Twelve Transcendental Études, suggesting that a level of sensibility can be reached by the expansion of playing technique, Ivan Ilić has taken the term to make a conceptual link that connects this repertoire.

This leads us to the music itself which opens with Alexander Scriabin’s (1872-1915) Prelude, Op.16 No.1 in B major where Ivan Ilić brings a Debussian flow and charm in an entirely beguiling performance, beautifully judged with a fine touch. He continues with Scriabin’s Prelude, Op.11 No.21 in B flat major where his phrasing highlights the rather elusive quality of this prelude.

Transcending the often perceived gulf, Ilić brings us John Cage’s (1912-1992) Dream (1948) showing how perfectly it follows, making it an inspired choice after Scriabin’s Preludes. Those who think they don’t like Cage’s music will surely be persuaded by Ilić’s sensitively exquisite performance, as the music gently rises and falls, mesmerizingly beautiful and with such fine use of pedal.

Ilić makes another perfect link as he takes us into Scriabin’s more advanced Guirlandes, Op.73 No.1. Again it is this pianist’s phrasing that does much to draw parallels as well as bring out the advanced harmonies of Scriabin’s creation.

Returning us to Scriabin’s earlier idiom, Ilić continues with the Prelude, Op.31 No.1 in D flat major, yet still there are those subtle harmonic shifts that glimpse the future Scriabin.  Ilić manages to give the music a gentle forward pulse, using a fine sense of phrasing and rubato, something he also brings to Scriabin’s Prelude, Op.39 No.3 in G major where he brings out Scriabin’s further advance in harmonic language, with a lovely flow. Scriabin’s Prelude, Op.15 No.4 in E major has a directness, a simplicity, that Ilić draws upon in the way he pushes forward, with a natural flow but never losing the pulse.

Scott Wollschleger’s (b. 1980) Music Without Metaphor (2013) has a languid opening that makes one momentarily believe we are into a more advanced work by Scriabin. With his rippling textures, Ilić makes the connection of this piece strangely close to that of Scriabin. Centrally there is a more dynamic phrase that alerts the attention before we are gently taken back through to a quiet coda.

Scriabin’s Rêverie, Op.49 No.3 restores a little Romanticism, offset by Scriabin’s unsettling harmonies, with this pianist drawing out this work’s more advanced aspects. Scriabin’s – Poème languide, Op.52 No.3 seems to embrace the sound world of Wollschleger, though obviously, the reverse is the case. This is a beautifully phrased performance that slowly builds before ending quietly. Ilić’s choice of works has one constantly re-assessing what is modern.

John Cage’s In a Landscape (1948) initially sounds more conventional than Scriabin’s Poème languide. Certainly there are more modern harmonies here, beautifully realised by Ilić and the slightest hint of minimalist principals. But Cage gives us a gentle, subtle, beautiful work that constantly varies, leading at times to a Debussian soundworld. A terrific piece.

Just when one is expecting to return to Scriabin, Ilić confounds our expectations again, giving us the most extended work of all, Morton Feldman’s (1926-1987) Palais de Mari (1986). It opens tentatively and quietly thus connecting with the subtleties of, not only Cage, but of Scriabin. As Feldman slowly works out his material there are some lovely intervals, dissonant yet attractive. This is a beautifully structured work and, when certain chords return they have a lovely familiarity.  Ilić’s phrasing, sense of dynamics and fine sense of overall form adds so much. Feldman slowly pulls his themes and motifs together towards the end, though he concludes on an unresolved note.

This is a tremendously cohesive recital that surprises and enlightens at every turn. I would encourage people to get this disc, not only for Ilić’s fine performances but to challenge their ideas on modern music.

In addition to an extract from Emerson’s lecture on The Transcendentalist, there are notes on each composer, a note by Eric Fraad on the connections made between the featured composers and notes by the pianist on the music. The recording made at the Salle Cortot, Paris is excellent.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Anyone with the slightest interest in English song should acquire this new release from Metier of songs by David Dubery, coupled with his very fine string quartet

Just occasionally a new release comes along that highlights a very special talent. This is the case with a new release from Metier www.divine-art.co.uk/index.htm  of songs by David Dubery that are very much in the great tradition of English song.

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David Dubery (b.1948) http://uk.linkedin.com/pub/david-dubery/79/8b3/8a2 was born in Durban, South Africa but returned with his family to Manchester, England where he studied piano with Eileen Chadwick and Kendall Taylor at the Northern School of Music. He went on to study composition with Dorothy Pilling. As a baritone, singing with the Halle and as an accompanist, song has been a major part of his life.

This new release, entitled Observations, brings together four collections of his songs as well as a string quartet and features tenor, James Gilchrist www.jamesgilchrist.co.uk , mezzo soprano, Adrienne Murray www.northernvoices.co.uk/adrienne_murray.html , flautist, Michael Cox www.ram.ac.uk/find-people?pid=506  and the Cavaleri Quartet http://cavaleristringquartet.co.uk .

Three songs for voice, flute and piano were written in 2012 and set poems by Douglas Gibson (1912-1984). This poet is something of a discovery, someone whose poetry I will seek out.

Swans in flight opens with a flowing melody for piano and flute before James Gilchrist enters. Dubery’s setting is sensitive to the natural flow and metre of the poems with Gilchrist in fine voice, adding to the sensitive use of the texts.

Dubery’s falling melody catches the feel of the poem, Lizard beautifully, as do the little piano inflections played here by the composer.

Piano and staccato flute open the upbeat setting of A memory.  This is very fine word setting indeed, driven forward by Dubery’s use of piano and flute.  

Written when the composer was just 16 years of age, Full fathom five: for alto voice and piano sets words by William Shakespeare. The piano introduces a melancholy theme before mezzo soprano, Adrienne Murray, enters in this wonderfully effective setting, beautifully sung. Once again the piano contribution adds so much to this striking setting. How Dubery draws from the texts so well, especially so early in his career. No wonder it won the composer a composition prize at the Northern School of Music.

First performed in 1982, Time will not wait: Three songs for tenor voice and piano were Dubery’s first setting of the poems of Douglas Gibson. James Gilchrist returns for these songs; the first of which is Winter journey that has a fast, forward moving piano part that sets the pace, conjuring up the atmosphere of a snow covered Cotswold journey.

There is a lovely opening to Cloud shadows, a gentler setting that exquisitely evokes the words Cloud shadows on the Hills, moving like ghostly sheep…’ especially in Gilchrist’s fine performance. Dubery’s feel for the words is so fine.

Time will not wait has a powerful opening for piano with Gilchrist capturing perfectly the ecstatic appreciation of Spring. David Dubery’s very fine playing is something that must be mentioned, so full of passion.

Night Songs: for voice, flute and piano are intended to be individual songs despite their mutual theme of the seasons.

One night in December takes the traditional words familiar as the carol Away in a manger. Dubery’s music also has a traditional feel as the flute and piano open before the familiar words appear in Dubery’s lovely setting, finely sung by Adrienne Murray.

Evening in April (2010) returns us to the verses of Douglas Gibson with a gentle, tentative opening from flute and piano. Adrienne Murray brings her full, beautiful toned voice to this setting that rises passionately in the central section. Dubery’s instrumental accompaniments add substantially to the lovely feeling of this song.

June evening (2010 rev.2013), another Douglas Gibson setting, again opens tentatively on piano before the flute enters with a slow, gentle melody.  Adrienne Murray is the soloist who enters on the inspired words ‘…There is genius here, in the delicate hand. That traced these exquisite pastels across the sky…’ And exquisite is exactly the word for this song, exquisitely sung by Murray. Surely this is one of the finest of English songs in recent times.

An August midnight (2010) a setting of Thomas Hardy has an almost Debussian flute opening. James Gilchrist returns for this last song of this group, remarkably fine verses so finely set by Dubery who brings out so much feeling and atmosphere.

Written in 1979, Observations: Six songs for voice and piano sets poems by Walter de la Mare and demonstrates Dubery’s lighter side with de la Mare’s entertaining texts. The barber’s has Dubery judging just the right feeling for this song that is finely sung by Adrienne Murray whose voice is so musical in The old sailor, full of lovely tones, in this curious little character picture.

The rhythmic setting of Esmeralda is again finely sung by Murray with a terrific ending. Yet for all the lighter side of these songs Dubery catches the fleeting nature of The window exquisitely, as does Murray in her beautifully judged performance. Pathos and humour are subtly combined in a finely judged setting Done for with a fine piano part.

If The old sailor was a character study then there is a more general observation of passing individuals in The promenade 1880, with de la Mare’s curious verses expertly set at a brisk walking pace with Adrienne Murray brilliant in the often tricky word settings. Again there is such a fine piano contribution from the composer.

The Cavaleri Quartet bring a particularly strong performance of David Dubery’s

Cuarteto Ibérico: Los fantasmas de los tiempos pasados (Ghost of times past) for string quartet, written in 2005 and recalling memories of Spain.

El bailarin en la plaza (The dancer in the square) is a sunny, vibrant movement that opens with Dubery passing his theme between the players. Soon a slower, more thoughtful passage arrives that has a particularly languid, Iberian flavour that grows richer in tone in a slow dance rhythm before regaining its momentum to lead to the coda.

En el Parque de Maria Luisa, Sevilla (In the Maria Luisa Park, Seville) opens with pizzicato decorations around a theme that grows and develops. Shimmering strings appear in this rather quixotic movement before a very Iberian melody for unison strings is heard, exquisitely played.

El mendigo en el Barri Gòtic, Barcelona (The beggar man in the Gothic Quarter, Barcelona) has a melancholy feel bringing more of Dubery’s fine ear for sonorities, well brought out by the Cavaleri Quartet. The music becomes rather passionate with little surges of energy before brightening at the last in a scamper to the end.

Carnaval has a slow opening that seems to lead out of the mood of the preceding movement, before attaining a vibrant mood, full of Iberian atmosphere with strummed strings, building through some lovely moments to the vibrant coda.

Throughout this fine quartet one is aware of Dubery’s fine ear for texture and sonorities. The Cavaleri Quartet give a first rate performance with fine ensemble, sensitivity and panache.

This new disc came as a real find. Anyone with the slightest interest in English song should snap it up, coupled as it is with a really fine string quartet.

The recordings made at the Carole Nash Recital Hall, Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester, England are excellent and there are informative booklet notes from William Ferguson and the composer.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Andrew Manze and the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra provide first rate performances of orchestral works by Lars-Erik Larsson in volume one of CPO’s Larsson orchestral works series

Lars-Erik Larsson (1908-1986) was born in Åkarp, Sweden. He studied with Ernst Ellberg at the Royal Academy of Music, Stockholm and with Alban Berg and Fritz Reuter in Vienna and Leipzig before working for Swedish Radio. Larsson taught at the Stockholm Conservatory and, later at Uppsala University where he held the position as Director of Music.

Though influenced by late romanticism, Larsson absorbed twelve tone techniques, later adapting them to his own use whilst never losing his own natural lyricism. His compositions include choral and vocal works; orchestral works, including three symphonies, concertos, chamber and instrumental works and works for piano.

CPO www.jpc.de/jpcng/cpo/home have now released volume one of Larsson’s orchestral works with Andrew Manze www.intermusica.co.uk/artists/conductor/andrew-manze/biography conducting the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra  www.helsingborgskonserthus.se .

  
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The opening of the Allegro moderato of Symphony No.1 in D, Op.2 (1927-28) seems to just bubble up into a flowing melody which the brass point up. The melody soon gains in momentum as the music rises before falling back to a pastoral sounding section, where the principal cello has a say, as do the woodwind and horn as they take the melody in a lovely hushed section. The music rises and falls a number of times before a final climax and a relaxed coda.

The Adagio features a lovely melody for woodwind taken up by the strings as it gently flows, full of warmth, with little rises in dynamics only to fall to a quiet coda.

A little timpani roll opens the Scherzo. Allegro vivace before the woodwind, then full orchestra move ahead in a lithe, dancing melody which is beautifully orchestrated. There is a gentle, flowing trio section before the dancing theme returns to make its sunny way to the coda.

The Finale. Allegro con spirito – Allegro festive opens buoyantly with a brief cymbal clash. There are moments of more tranquil melody but overall the mood is of confident joy. Many lovely little woodwind phrases appear occasionally reminding one of Larsson’s fellow countryman, Kurt Atterberg. Slowly and imperceptibly the music builds toward the end with a sweep of strings, then a brass chorale before rushing headlong into the Allegro Festivo coda.

This is a thoroughly beguiling symphony that never flags in this fine performance from Andrew Manze and his Helsingborg players.

Fyra vignette till Skakespeares ‘En vintersaga’, Op.18 (Four Vignettes to Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale) (1937-38) were taken from Larsson’s incidental music that he wrote for the play. A gently rocking theme from the oboe against a gentle orchestral accompaniment opens Siciliana. Andantino before a flute takes over and the melody slowly reveals itself. Larsson subtly adds orchestral textures before the oboe returns with cor anglais and flute to lead to the coda.

The Intermezzo. Allegro leggiero, a lovely, joyous little piece, skips along as the theme is shared around the strings. A harp joins the orchestra in the hushed opening of the Pastoral. Allegretto pastorale. A flute joins, then other woodwind, as the melody grows in dynamics before the woodwind lead to a gentle coda.

Epilog. Andante has a warm, mellow flowing melody which eventually quickens before slowing for the hushed coda.

These four pieces deserve to be heard more often. They are as attractive as any of the short orchestral works Grieg wrote.

Musik för orkester, Op.40 (1949) marks a change of voice from Larsson. Written to a commission for the 25th anniversary of the Stiftelsen Malmö Konserthus, it was first performed in January 1950.

Strings emerge from silence in the opening of the first movement, Andante teneramente – Tranquillo – Allegro molto, swirling atmospherically and freely tonal, before the woodwind join. This sounds a much more advanced Larsson with a slightly darker element and subtle dissonances. There is a greater depth of expression here. Soon the music slows to a quieter, darker passage as the strings quietly ruminate with woodwind contributions. The timpani arrive to pull the music forward as the orchestra becomes more animated, taking the music on with a rollicking theme. Eventually the music slows with rather sinister, pizzicato passages before the rather demonic dance rhythm leads to the coda.

The Andante elegiaco opens with gentle timpani taps that introduce a glowing orchestral theme. A horn appears with its melancholy tune, followed by a flute. Despite the marking, this is less elegiac than moody and grim faced. The music soon tries to build in power with brass intoning but loses its power and falls to a quiet, anguished string passage. Again the music tries to become more passionate but quietens with timpani taps and flute arabesques.  Eventually the music rises to a climax with brass and some wonderfully written wind textures before slowly quietening to end with the beating timpani pulse and a mournful cello.

Brass bursts out to open the Allegro before the orchestra takes the music rapidly forward, dusting off the gloom with infectious brass and woodwind motifs that are then pushed around the orchestra. As the music quietens there is a sense of a troubled atmosphere but the music soon rises forcefully to the coda.

Certainly Larsson had developed his harmonic language by 1949 adding a greater depth.

The short Pastoral för liten orkester (1937) opens with a happy theme driven by pizzicato strings and lovely woodwind, rarely rising above its gentle flowing course. This is a beautiful, exquisitely written but slight work.

The last work on this disc is Larsson’s Lyrisk fantasi. Op.54 för liten orkester (1967). Marked Lento – Andante – Lento, shimmering strings provide the opening, soon followed by a subdued trumpet theme. There are exquisite woodwind passages with the music rising in brilliance before the woodwind lead to a gentle coda.

It is striking to hear the difference between Larsson’s earlier works and his more mature compositions. Given that his second and third symphonies date from 1937 and 1944-5 it will be interesting to hear how such works advanced in musical language.

Larsson is an interesting composer who never lost his melodic roots. Occasionally other composers show their influence, not least Sibelius in some of the rapid string motifs.

Andrew Manze and the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra provide first rate performances and receive an excellent recording from the Konserthuset, Helsingborg, Sweden. There are excellent booklet notes.

I look forward to future releases in this series.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

The winning combination of Raphael Wallfisch and John York brings works by Schumann for cello and piano as well as a string orchestra version of the Cello Concerto on a new release form Nimbus

Raphael Wallfisch www.raphaelwallfisch.com  and John York http://yorkpiano.co.uk  have proved to be something of a winning combination www.raphaelwallfisch.com/duo.html with their recordings for Nimbus Records www.wyastone.co.uk/all-labels/nimbus/nimbus-alliance.html . They return with a new release of works by Robert Schumann, mainly from the year 1849.
 
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But first on this new disc is a work from 1850, Schumann’s Concerto in A minor for cello and string orchestra, Op.129 (1850). If a concerto for cello and string orchestra doesn’t seem familiar that is because it is a version of the original concerto made for string orchestra by Arthur H. Lilienthal (2008). The Südwestdeutsches Kammerorchester, Pforzheim www.swdko-pforzheim.de  is conducted by Niklas Willén www.kdmueller.eu/en/artists/60-willen-niklas-a

So why make this version in the first place? It seems that Schumann offered his publisher, Breitkopf, a version with string quintet and a piano reduction. Though these two versions were not taken up, it raised in Raphael Wallfisch’s mind the tantalising idea of a string orchestra version. Wallfisch asked the Swiss composer, Arthur Lilienthal, to undertake the task, the result of which is recorded here.

From the short orchestral opening of the first movement, Nicht zu schnell, the sound of the string orchestra sounds entirely natural, the cello blending beautifully as it enters. It is only as the movement progresses with an extended orchestral section that the loss of bass weight and orchestral texture is noticeable. Raphael Wallfisch brings his lovely tone and many moments of passion and intimacy to bear. Indeed there is an intimate quality to the playing all round, a transparency of sound and, at times, a chamber quality to this performance with some lovely string sonorities from the orchestra.

In the Langsam – Etwas lebhafter, both soloist and orchestra find a gentle, mellow quality, with a beautiful warmth.

There is some beautifully crisp orchestral playing with taut, flexible playing from Wallfisch in the final Sehr lebhaft – Schneller, following every nuance. There is a playful quality to his playing with the string orchestra so lithe and flexible. It used to be one of the criticisms of this concerto that, in order not to submerge the soloist, Schumann’s orchestration was rather lean. The string orchestra certainly provides all the clarity you could wish for.

Raphael Wallfisch is a fine advocate for this version and the Südwestdeutsches Kammerorchester provides excellent support.  

Wallfisch and the orchestra receive a fine recording from St Laurentius-Kirche, Amthof, Oberderdingen, Germany.

John York (piano) joins Raphael Wallfisch for a number of Schumann’s works for cello and piano, though having said that, some are arrangements of works originally for other instruments.

Schumann’s Fünf Stücke im Volkston, Op.102 (1849) was written for cello and piano, though a version for violin and piano exists. Raphael Wallfisch and John York bring a somewhat characterful feel to ‘Vanitas vanitatum’ Mit Humor, full of peasant rhythms. A lovely mellow Langsam is quite hushed, with some especially fine playing from these players who provide a lovely rhythmic lilt to Nicht schnell, mit viel Ton zu spielen. There is such taut ensemble between these players, who obviously understand each other. There are lovely textures and some exquisite higher cello passages. Tight ensemble is given in Nicht zu rasch with terrific attention to dynamics and some lovely cello timbres. More characterful playing comes in the final piece, Stark und markirt, making one wonder just what Schumann had imagined when he wrote it, being so full of curious twists and turns.

Drei Romanzen, Op.94 (1849) is an arrangement of the original for oboe and piano, though a version for violin or clarinet also exists. This version sits especially well for the cello with Wallfisch and York gently rising from a softer opening of Nicht schnell before some rather skittish passages and a gentle coda. Einfach, innig flows forward beautifully with a lovely, simple melody. The way these players bring out the subtle little beauties around the passionate central section is exquisite. They bring a sense of propulsion to the Nicht schnell by holding back before letting the music move forward. A more flowing central section also sees them finding many lovely details.

Phantasiestücke, Op.73 (1849) was originally for clarinet and piano but versions for violin and cello with piano exist. There is a lovely flow in the opening of Zart und mit Ausdruck with these players bringing so much gentle warmth as well as every little nuance. This is a particularly beautiful piece, especially in these hands, full of sensitivity. The beautifully Schumannesque piano part to Lebhaft, leicht is played so well by York, with Wallfisch light and lithe in the wonderful cello part. Rasch und mit Feuer races forward in some of this disc’s finest playing with a terrific, taut coda.

The Adagio und Allegro, Op.70 in A flat major (1849) originated as a work for horn and piano before versions for violin or cello and piano. The marking, Langsam, mit innigem Ausdruck – Rasch und feurig – Etwas ruhiger – im ersten tempo – Schneller. (Slow, with heartfelt expression – Fast and Fiery – Somewhat calmer – In the initial tempo – Quicker) gives some idea of how much emotional variety Schumann crams into this short work. The slow, heartfelt opening is exquisitely played and the ‘fast and fiery’ section is full of panache with almost a swagger, before the calmer Etwas ruhiger and the Schneller finale.

John York has arranged two of Schumann’s Liederkreis, settings of Eichendorff, for cello and piano. They work wonderfully well with Wallfisch bringing some fine emotional pull and York providing extremely sensitive accompaniment in ‘Mondnacht’ Liederkreis, Op.39 No.5 (1840). The little ‘Frühlingsnacht’ Liederkreis, Op.39 No.12 (1840) is full of joy and passion.

These artists receive an equally fine recording from Nimbus’ Wyastone Leys venue, Monmouth, UK. There are excellent booklet notes from John York.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Sir Andrew Davis brings a terrific opening concert to the 2014 season of the BBC Proms with a performance of Elgar’s The Kingdom

 
 
The First Night of the Proms www.bbc.co.uk/proms opened the season this evening (Friday 18th July) in fine style with a very fine performance of Elgar’s great oratorio The Kingdom, Op.51 with Erin Wall soprano (Blessed Virgin), http://www.erinwall.com/ Catherine Wyn-Rogers contralto (Mary Magdalene) www.askonasholt.co.uk/artists/singers/mezzo-soprano/catherine-wyn-rogers , Andrew Staples tenor (St John) http://www.ajrstaples.com and Christopher Purves baritone (St Peterhttp://christopherpurves.com/ with the BBC National Chorus of Wales, BBC Symphony Chorus and BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Andrew Davis. http://sirandrewdavis.com/

The Kingdom, part of a planned trilogy with The Apostles and the never completed The Last Judgment; is often overshadowed by Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius. This is a pity because, in many ways, The Kingdom is a very cohesive work that is so full of beautiful moments. Sir Adrian Boult once recalled a great friend of Elgar saying to him ‘My dear boy, beside The Kingdom, Gerontius is the work of a raw amateur.’ A rather strong comment on Gerontius, perhaps, but a valid endorsement of The Kingdom.

Completed in 1906 and first performed at the Birmingham Festival in October of that year, The Kingdom is in five parts and tells the biblical account of the events after the crucifixion of Jesus, with the story of Pentecost, the arrest of Peter, his release and the final Breaking of the Bread with Elgar’s fine setting of the Lord’s Prayer. The text was compiled by Elgar assisted by conversations with his parish priest in Hereford, Canon Dolman.

The Prelude acts as a wonderful introduction, containing so many of the works main leitmotifs or representative themes, here receiving a very dynamic opening that contrasted so well with the more reflective moments. The large forces of these two choirs and the BBC Symphony Orchestra gained so much from the spacious acoustic of the Royal Albert Hall.

Part I: In the Upper Room produced some lovely singing from the choirs, so well blended. Christopher Purves (baritone) as St. Peter brought a performance that was full of expression, though occasionally a little unsteady. Andrew Staples (tenor) as St. John was strong and firm. Andrew Davis moulded the music so well, bringing out some lovely orchestral textures with the Royal Albert Hall organ pointing up the bass textures.

Erin Wall (soprano) as the Blessed Virgin and Catherine Wyn-Rogers (contralto) as Mary Magdalene combined so well in Part II: At the Beautiful Gate with Wall showing a very fine, strong voice and Wyn-Rogers particularly fine in her richer lower textures.

Andrew Staples proved to be very fine again when he sang ‘When the great Lord will, we shall be filled with the Spirit of understanding’ in Part III: Pentecost. Erin Wall really threw herself into the dramatic solo, when the Holy Spirit descends, ‘and suddenly there came from Heaven a sound as of the rushing of a mighty wind…’

Christopher Purves brought a great sense of humanity in his fine solo ‘I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.’; for me one of the most beautiful melodies in this work, leading to the fine conclusion of Part III.

When we arrived at Part IV: The Sign of Healing, Catherine Wyn-Rogers was in fine voice, tender and expressive and Andrew Staples sang beautifully in ‘Unto you that fear His name’, full of power and expression. Indeed both Andrew Staples and Christopher Purves blended wonderfully in the following duet.

In Part V: The Upper Room, Elgar seems to weave so many more of his leitmotif through the music, gloriously played by the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Soloists, choirs and orchestra brought a terrific final section, not a climax but perhaps the most beautiful setting of The Lord’s Prayer to end this great work.

This was a full blooded performance yet with so many subtle, beautiful moments from one of our finest conductors of Elgar. This was a terrific opening concert to the 2014 season of the BBC Proms.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

A first rate, thoroughly researched biography of Sir George Dyson by Paul Spicer, published by Boydell Press, gives a detailed insight into his life and music, as well as covering many other related subjects

Sir George Dyson’s (1883-1964) www.dysontrust.org.uk music was still very well known in Choral Society circles right up to the post war period before a decline in interest set in. It was the record companies, particularly Chandos Records www.chandos.net/searchresults.asp?zoom_query=dyson&x=26&y=14 , that started a revival of interest with recordings of his Symphony in G and Violin Concerto as well as two major choral works, the Canterbury Pilgrims and Quo Vadis all conducted by the late Richard Hickox.

Back in 1983, the late Christopher Palmer provided a small volume published by Thames Publishing. This modest book was valuable in that it went some way in providing a basic insight into Dyson’s life and music. However, a much larger biography was needed, a gap more than filled by Paul Spicer www.paulspicer.com whose large and expertly researched book Sir George Dyson – His Life and Music has recently been published by Boydell Press www.boydellandbrewer.com 
 
Published: 15 May 2014
ISBN: 9781843839033
Pages: 480
Size: 23.4 x 15.6
Binding: Hardback
Imprint: Boydell Press

This new book takes us from Dyson’s humble origins as the son of a blacksmith in Halifax to Director of the Royal Academy of Music by way of a Mendelssohn Scholarship to the RCM; the Royal Naval College, Osborne; Director of Music at Marlborough College and Rugby School; the First World War as a Brigade Grenadier Officer; his commission as a Major in the Royal Air Force just after the war, organising military bands; and Director of Music at Wellington College and Winchester College.

It was his Mendelssohn Scholarship, awarded for the years 1904-1907, that enabled Dyson to travel to Italy, on Stanford’s advice, where he visited Florence and Rome before heading to Vienna then Berlin, where he met Joseph Joachin and Richard Strauss. It was this travelling that brought forth his Three Rhapsodies for String Quartet www.hyperion-records.co.uk/find.asp?f=dyson&vw=dc

Sir Hubert Parry encouraged the young Dyson to take a post at the Royal Naval College, Osborne to develop musical activities for the Naval Cadets, something of an innovation in those days.

Typical of Spicer’s attention to detail are the insights he gives into other personalities such as the writer, Beverley Nichols, a pupil at Marlborough College in Dyson’s time. Dyson’s sudden move to Rugby School, in 1914, following a likely scandal over a relationship at the school, possibly with a staff member’s wife, comes as something of a surprise, though it seems likely that it was a one sided attraction, with Dyson the innocent party.

Dyson’s well known writing of the first manual for grenade warfare, a publication that received widespread circulation, is covered in depth, together with a reproduction of the title page and a diagram from its contents. But Spicer gives us much more about Dyson’s war time experiences and subsequent shell shock. There are interesting asides such as Dyson’s opposition to conscription. He himself had volunteered before being commissioned. Spicer quotes AJP Taylor who wrote that conscription ‘…was not due to any shortage of men, on the contrary, more volunteers were still coming forward than could be equipped. Parliament and the politicians wanted to give the impression that they were doing something…’ This may be a revelation to many, particularly on this centenary of the First World War.

Dyson had met his future wife, Mildred Atkey, before the war and, on his return, married her after ‘proposing’ to her in a rather indirect and vague way. She was the sister of a Marlborough friend, Freeman Atkey and the daughter of a solicitor and thus cemented Dyson’s position amongst the middle classes.

In 1920 Dyson took the post of Director of Music at Wellington College leading to a fruitful time for composition which brought The Canterbury Pilgrims, St Paul’s Voyage to Melita, The Blacksmiths and Nebuchadnezzar. Spicer gives us much about Dyson’s busy life organising, teaching, lecturing and writing as well as composing. He goes into depth about such activities as Dyson’s Presidential address to the Conference of Educational Associates with a typical Dyson topic Broadening of Education to take account of skills as well as academic subjects, giving an insight into Dyson’s character and views; and his involvement with the Rural Music Schools Association.

1938 saw Dyson taking up his appointment as Director of Music at the Royal College of Music in succession to Sir Hugh Allen. Dyson was the obvious choice for this post, though its challenges didn’t stifle his creative urge, composing, in the first six years of his time at the RCM, his Symphony in G, Part I of Quo Vadis, the Violin Concerto, the Overture to The Canterbury Pilgrims and At the Tabard Inn.

Dyson was Director at the RCM during the difficult period of the Second World War with this volume giving fascinating insights into the war damage to the RCM as well as the destruction of the Queen’s Hall in London including a plan for a possible New Queens Hall, something that we know didn’t occur.

To some, Dyson could be a rather forbidding personality yet, as his daughter Alice explained ‘…you see these grim photographs and you have no idea how amusing he was. He was a great and amusing talker.’ Malcolm Arnold, who could often be pretty forthright, thought he was ‘…a marvellous man. He was a great friend to me.’ A photograph reproduced in this book on page 286, showing a relaxed, smiling Dyson at the 1946 Hereford Three Choirs Festival, perhaps gives an indication of this other side to the man.

During the Second World War he reduced his own salary by half when, due to a lack of students, it was believed the College might have to close. His modernising of the RCM took some curious twists such as, in 1938, when he had just arrived, at his second council meeting announced that £2,000 was required for new lavatories and other internal improvement and £3,000 for extensions and re-arrangements of the professors’ and students’ dining rooms, later commenting on the ‘queer new Director you have got, who seems to be so inartistically concerned with wash basins and food.’

Spicer’s book is peppered with extracts of Dyson’s letters and writings. One such is Dyson writing, during the war, ‘ There is no doubt that some of us older people sometimes feel tired, bothered and occasionally fretful under the responsibility of trying to carry on our normal activities under quite abnormal circumstances…’ perhaps recognition of how his exterior demeanour was perceived. 

Spicer acknowledges that Dyson was ‘a complex and controversial person …’ He was certainly unpopular with many over his apparent attitude to the College’s library and valuable collection of musical instruments and portraits. Dyson wanted to develop a lending library to complement the reference library, a laudable idea that would help students. Sadly, this led to many valuable books and manuscripts being moved to the lending library and their subsequent loss or damage.

Other aspects of Dyson’s personality are shown by the RCM’s 1948 centenary tribute to Parry. Apparently Dyson’s address didn’t even mention Parry but talked about economics in relation to the state of the country’s finances, rationing etc. Dyson, ever the practical one, thought it would be more useful for students.

His concern for the students seemed to be paramount, particularly the most talented such as the guitarist, Julian Bream to whom he showed much understanding over Bream’s choice of instrument, even though during the 1940’s the RCM had no guitar teacher.

Dyson’s music is well covered with analysis and numerous musical examples of a vast number of his works. There is a complete list of works, an index of texts set by Dyson, a list of the performances of Canterbury Pilgrims conducted by Dyson, a select bibliography, an up to date discography, index of Dyson’s works and a very complete general index.

I could go on at great length about this first rate, thoroughly researched biography. It is the best kind of musical biography in that it not only gives a detailed insight into Dyson’s life and music, but covers so many other related subjects.

I cannot imagine any Dyson enthusiast or lover of British music wanting to be without this fine volume.