Sunday, 28 June 2015

Vladimir Ashkenazy shows his natural empathy for Scriabin in his new recording for Decca, a composer he has not recorded for 30 years

Is it really 30 years since Vladimir Ashkenazy last recorded a Scriabin album? Decca tells us that it is.

All the more reason to be grateful to Decca  for their release of a new album from Ashkenazy entitled Scriabin: Vers La Flamme marking the centenary of the composer’s death.

This new recording takes us from Scriabin’s earlier romantic works chronologically through to his mystic modernist works, a terrific journey that also provides a very satisfying recital.

478 8155
Vladimir Ashkenazy has been a lifelong champion of Alexander Scriabin (1872-2015) . In his Introduction to Faubion Bowers’ 1973 book, The New Scriabin, Ashkenazy writes ‘I consider Scriabin one of the greatest composers. Of course, it is not easy to support such a statement about anyone. But it is my opinion. He had a unique idiom which is full of meaning, at least to me, and I, for one, am convinced of Scriabin’s greatness.’

The early Etude in C# minor, Op.2 No.1 is beautifully shaped by Ashkenazy and makes the perfect opening before three of the Mazurkas, Op.3 (1889). This pianist brings such energy and flair to the odd little Mazurka No.6 in C# minor (Scherzando) following all of Scriabin’s mood changes and, indeed, changes of tempi and dynamics. No.7 in E minor (Con passione) brings some lovely subtle inflections that add so much. No.10 in E flat minor (Sotto voce) has a beautifully dreamy opening before we are led through some moments of great passion, always with a fine subtle rhythmic undertow whilst revealing some lovely introspective moments.

 Ashkenazy follows up with five of Scriabin’s Etudes for Piano, Op.8. No. 5 in E major (Brioso) has a lovely breadth, Ashkenazy always finding a great strength, a lovely touch, subtly sprung. No. 7 in B flat minor (Presto tenebroso, agitato) is also wonderfully sprung before Etude No. 10 in D flat major (Allegro) that is full of rhythmic drive, given a terrifically concentrated performance. No. 11 in B flat minor (Andante) unfolds beautifully and naturally with a perfect poise, Ashkenazy shaping every note beautifully. Ashkenazy shows how he can really whip up a storm in the Etude No. 12 in D sharp minor (Patetico) full of assurance and power.

This is great Scriabin from Ashkenazy setting concentration and power against moments of supreme personal reflection.

With the 4 Preludes, Op.22 No. 1 in G sharp minor (Andante) unfolds beautifully with a lovely poise. After a wistful Prelude No. 2 in C sharp minor (Andante), No. 3 in B major (Allegretto) has an exquisite delicacy. No. 4 in B minor (Andantino) is gloriously done.

8 Etudes, Op.42 follow with No. 1 in D flat major (Presto) revealing a feeling of impetuosity, brilliantly executed here. Ashkenazy reveals the subtle complex rhythms of No. 2 in F sharp minor (= 112) before providing some terrific quicksilver playing in No. 3 in F sharp minor (Prestissimo) where some amazing little details are revealed. With Prelude No. 4 in F sharp major (Andante) this pianist reveals so many nuances within its lovely flow.

Scriabin’s complex textures in his Prelude No. 5 in C sharp minor (Affannato) are finely done with Ashkenazy showing his feel for overall structure. Absolutely superb. After the lovely subtle rubato of No. 6 in D flat major (Esaltato) Prelude No. 7 in F minor (Agitato) brings a certain restraint, subtle, but enough to add a tension. No. 8 in E flat major (Allegro) has a lovely ripping forward drive with a beautifully conceived, thoughtful central section.

Next in this exceptionally fine recital comes Scriabin’sTrois Morceaux, Op.45. No.1 "Feuillet d'Album" in E flat major (Andante piacevole) has a lovely breadth and freedom. With No.2 "Pòeme Fantasque" in C major (Presto) Ashkenazy has the feel of Scriabin’s distinctive rhythms and textures in this tiny piece before a really lovely little No.3 Prélude in E flat major (Andante).

Ashkenazy reveals Scriabin’s Quasi Waltz, Op.47 to be a fantastical, really individual waltz. With Trois Morceaux, Op.52 we move further into Scriabin’s later style especially with No.1 Poème (Lento – Più vivo – Tempo 1), Ashkenazy revealing many subtle details and harmonies. He brings a lovely, limpid light touch to No. 2 Énigma (Étrange, capricieusement) before the languorous No. 3 Poème languide (Pas vite).

Ashkenazy shows 2 Pièces, Op.57 to be real gems, the fleeting No.1 Désir containing so much feeling and a beautifully light and delicate No.2 Caresse dansée.

Ashkenazy allows the strangely beautiful Feuillet d'album, Op.58 to unfold beautifully before 2 Poèmes, Op.63 with the fleeting No.1 Masque (Allegretto. Avec une douceur cachée) wonderfully caught and No.2 Étrangeté (Gracieux, délicat) where Ashkenazy brings his light, delicate touch.

More poèmes follow with 2 Poèmes, Op.69. No.1 Allegretto. Tendre, délicat has a subtle ebb and flow with exquisite phrasing before a fleeting, light footed No.2 Allegretto. Aigu, capricieux.

With 2 Poèmes, Op.71 Scriabin brings a greater focus to No.1 Fantastique, his strange harmonies perfectly caught here. No.2 En rêvant, avec une grande douceur is beautifully built as it subtly increases in strength and power, almost as though a mini sonata, such is its power in this performance.

The apt title piece for this disc is Vers la flamme, Op.72 (Toward the Flame) in which Ashkenazy slowly builds this initially brooding piece gradually allowing light to enter. An absolutely terrific performance.

The final works by Alexander Scriabin on this disc are the 5 Preludes, Op.74 tiny gems, opening with a very fine No.1 Douloureu, déchirant, beautifully formed. There is an exquisite Prelude No.2 Très lent, contemplatif before a perfectly formed little No.3 Allegro drammatico. Ashkenazy finds his way through the meandering Prelude
No.4 Lent, vague, indécis wonderfully in this quite lovely performance before concluding with a tumultuous Prelude No.5 Fier, belliqueux.

An unusual addition to this disc is the inclusion of Yulian Alexandrovich Scriabin’s (1908-1919) Preludes, Op.3 - No.1, written when his son was just 10 years of age. It brings many of the characteristics of his father’s late style, his intervals, sonorities and harmonies, though with a coda that suggests an independent spirit.

Ashkenazy has a natural empathy for Scriabin, bringing many subtleties. He has the ability to capture the fleeting beauties of Scriabin’s later works to perfection. This is a beautifully structured recital finely recorded at Potton Hall, Suffolk, England. There are informative booklet notes.

Whatever new recordings are released this centenary year Ashkenazy’s contribution is very fine indeed.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

A masterly live 2011 performance of Schubert’s Great C major Symphony from Claudio Abbado just released on Deutsche Grammophon

Recordings continue to appear of the great conductor Claudio Abbado who sadly died last year. Thankfully we can remember him through the recordings that he left, not the least of which are those live concerts that are finding their way on to disc.

Deutsche Grammophon have just released a recording with his Orchestra Mozart drawn from concerts in September 2011 at the Bologna Auditorium Manzoni, Bologna, Italy and the Bozen Konzerthaus, Bolzano, Italy. The single work on this disc is Schubert’s Great C major Symphony D.944

479 4652
The opening horn bars of the Andante bring a rather nostalgic feel before the orchestra join to bring a beautifully shaped theme.  As the music rises in dynamics to lead into the Allegro ma non Troppo Abbado draws his usual taut playing from his orchestra. There is such fine care of rhythm, phrasing and dynamics; nothing is ever routine, Abbado finding so many points of interest to reveal. This relatively small orchestra really delivers the goods in the broader, more dynamic passages with this conductor beautifully developing the movement throughout.

There is some terrific woodwind playing in the opening of the Andante con moto with Abbado drawing some punchy orchestral playing in the orchestral dynamics. The strings of Orchestra Mozart provide some fine moments, a beautifully silken sound yet with a firmness. There are many fine hushed passages with Abbado revealing all the orchestral lines. He allows the movement to breathe, building centrally and revealing some lovely details.

The Scherzo Allegro vivace – Trio is terrifically paced with Abbado’s subtle flexibility of tempi, his beautiful shaping of phrases as well as some lovely dance like episodes. He really drives the music forward in the long phrases with a gorgeously controlled trio section with so many subtleties revealed.

The Finale Allegro Vivace opens full of dash and energy, pushing ahead. As the movement develops Abbado reveals so many little details, always subtly adjusting the tempo and dynamics. There is spot on playing, taut and full of verve, really pulling the listener along.  There is such fine control in the quieter moments before he moves through some terrific passages as the music develops. Abbado builds the music to perfection showing just how naturally Schubert’s symphony develops over its glorious length. The hushed section towards the end brings a fine tension before we are slowly led to the coda.

This is another recording to treasure. Abbado always seems to bring something special to a performance and in this newly released recording he does so in spectacularly fine fashion. There will always be arguments over tempi and timings for recordings of this great work. Abbado’s performance, longer than many, shows just how to pace this work naturally.

This is a masterly performance from the hands of a master.

I should not forget to mention what a fine orchestra Orchestra Mozart are.

The live recording is first rate, very detailed and clear in a lovely acoustic. There are booklet notes on Abbado, Orchestra Mozart and Schubert.

See also:

Thursday, 18 June 2015

A new release by Somm featuring pianist Simon Callaghan brings rewarding works by Roger Sacheverell Coke that deserve to be heard

Not a lot has been written about British composer Roger Sacheverell Coke (1912-1972). He was born in Alfreton, Derbyshire, England to an upper middle class family. His father was killed during the First World War when Roger was only two years old. He studied with John Frederic Staton and Alan Bush (1900-1995). Mental health problems seem to have played a part in his failure to establish himself as a composer yet he wrote a considerable amount of music including chamber works, a large number of songs, six piano concertos, three symphonies and an opera.

It is no wonder that Rachmaninov became such an influence on Coke. The Russian composer stayed with Coke in Derbyshire and returned the compliment by inviting his fellow composer to stay at his house Senar on the banks of Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. Coke dedicated his Second Symphony to Rachmaninov.

In the absence of other sources, I am grateful to the excellent booklet notes by Robert Matthew Walker included in a new release from Somm Recordings  of Coke’s Preludes, Op.33 and Op.34 coupled with his Variations, Op.37 featuring pianist Simon Callaghan

Somm Celeste
Last year EM Records issued Roger Sacheverell Coke’s Sonata for Violin and Piano No 1 on a disc of similar works by Granville Bantock and Cyril Scott So little has been available of this composer’s music that this new Somm recording is most welcome.

Of his Preludes, Op.33 (1938-39) No. 1 Appassionato is very much in the grand manner, full of stormy drama. Prelude No. 2. Andante brings some rather Chopinesque descending phrases before developing in a more advanced direction. No.3. Andantino reveals more of Coke’s distinctive style, rising from a thoughtful opening, through a rather sterner section to a subdued coda. It is hard not to hear the influence of Rachmaninov in Prelude No.4. Molto maestoso but in a wholly engaging manner with distinctive touches, particularly in the coda. No.5. Andantino has a looser feel, a free moving forward motion, again distinctive in character despite the descending phrases part way through that again recall Rachmaninov.

After a stormy, unsettled Prelude No.6 Presto agitato, the Prelude No.7. Grazioso has some lovely harmonies, a gentle dissonance and a lovely hushed coda. No.8. Lento maestoso has gentle, rippling phrases as well as moments of hushed, suspended beauty. Callaghan gives Prelude No.9. Leggiero scherzando a lovely rhythmic lift, beautifully paced and phrased. No.10. Vivace has a fine forward, rippling flow, beautifully played here with this pianist bringing a lovely persuasive touch. The most substantial of the Op.33 set is the Prelude No.11. Andante cantabile, a gentle, finely phrased work with moments of exquisite feeling. Scriabin comes to mind a little as the music builds, Callaghan revealing it as a particularly fine piece.  

The 13 Preludes, Op.34 (1941) make up the total of 24 Preludes. No.12. Allegro scherzando brings an energetic opening before a very Rachmaninovian fall to a quieter section. When the music regains energy I detected a rather more desperate feel to Coke’s imagination. Coke brings some individual touches to the nevertheless rather Rachmaninovian Prelude No.13. Cantabile before No.14. Allegro assai  where Callaghan brings a finely articulated flow, quite lovely. Prelude No.15. Andante cantabile has a rather withdrawn, thoughtful atmosphere before No.16. Andantino pathetico continues with a rather thoughtful, slowly developed idea, oddly distinctive.
The limpid, gentle harmonies of No.17. Moderato bring another distinctive piece, very engaging.

Prelude No.18. Presto agitato fairly hurtles ahead with some very fine fluency from this pianist. In the Prelude No.19. Allegro comodo it is lovely how Coke overlays the stormier motif with the flowing theme of the right hand. Broad phrases allow the gentler Prelude No.20. Languido e rubato to find its way slowly forward, beautifully developed. Prelude No.21. Amabile brings more of Coke’s distinctive harmonies and dissonances whereas No.22. Andantino has broader phrases that bring a more dramatic feel with some fine sonorities. Prelude No.23. Amabile brings some lovely harmonies, again so typical of this composer before No.24. Maestoso brings this cycle to a tempestuous conclusion with a dramatic descending motif showing this fine pianist in some terrific passages.

The Variations, Op.37 (1939) were dedicated to the Russian pianist Prince George Chavchavadze. The opening Theme: Lento sounds like a variation itself, such is its spacious, loosely held theme. It leads quickly into the brief Variation 1: Più Mosso before the rippling, beautifully developed, Variation 2: Allegro. Variation 3: Lento assai, doloroso seems to draw on the variation style of Rachmaninov, here finely phrased and paced. The shifting harmonies and freely felt construction of Variation 4: Allegretto  brings more of Coke’s distinctive personal style before broad, firm phrases lead Variation 5: Moderato maestoso  ahead.

There is a terrific Variation 6: Presto scherzando, fluently and brilliantly played and a Variation 7: Chorale - Andantino cantabile where Coke brings more of his personal touch with a hauntingly felt nostalgia.  Callaghan displays a lovely touch in the rippling Variation 8: Andantino before a lovely, glowing Variation 9: Moderato, a really fine piece. Variation 10: Allegro molto energico is full of energy Coke bringing some unusual harmonies and sonorities, quite individual and finely played, full of brilliance and virtuosity.

Variation 11: Intermezzo - Andante rubato is equally distinctive with a carefully, gently picked out theme and just a hint of Scriabin. Variation 12: Andantino semplice e grazioso brings more attractive and distinctive harmonies, finely nuanced by Callaghan before the brief stormy Variation 13: Moderato appassionato. A fast fluent
Variation 14: Allegro risoluto with some exceptionally fine playing leads to the final
Variation 15: Largo doloroso where the Dies Irae plainchant, much loved and used by Rachmaninov, seems about to emerge, bringing a darker, brooding nature. The
Finale: Tempo di Tema suddenly lightens the mood as it rises up confidently before the quite coda.

For all the references that there are to Rachmaninov and Scriabin, one should not lose sight of Coke’s personal style that does emerge. These are rewarding works that deserve to be heard. This composer could not have a finer advocate than Simon Callaghan who receives an excellent recording from the Old Granary Studios, Suffolk, England. There are useful and informative notes by Robert Matthew Walker as well as a nicely illustrated booklet. 

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

I defy anyone not to be entranced by Christopher Guild’s premiere recording of Ronald Stevenson’s A Rosary of Variations on Seán Ó Riada's Irish Folk Mass, just one of a number of fine performances on Volume One of a new series from Toccata Classics

The sad news was announced in March this year of the death of the pianist-composer Ronald Stevenson, aged 87. Ronald Stevenson (1928-2015) was born in Blackburn, Lancashire of Scottish and Welsh ancestry. He studied at the Royal Manchester College of Music and later at the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia in Rome. From 1962 to 1965 he taught composition and piano in the University of Cape Town. He was a visiting Professor at the Shanghai Conservatory in 1985 and also performed and gave seminars at the Julliard School, New York. Stevenson was a Fellow of the Royal Manchester College of Music.

Ronald Stevenson was a prolific composer having written orchestral works, concertos, choral music, chamber music, song cycles and a large number of works for piano. Many of his works for piano take the form of transcriptions, arrangements or variations on themes of other composers. Indeed Stevenson’s longest work is his Passacaglia on DSCH, the personal musical motto of Shostakovich. Stevenson has never made a distinction between transcription and original composition, perhaps following on from the practice of composers such as Bach.

I only recently acquired Stevenson’s own 1964 recording of his Passacaglia on DSCH which shows just how phenomenal a pianist he was (still available on the Appian label)

Now from Toccata Classics comes Volume One of a series of recordings of Ronald Stevenson’s piano music. This first release, entitled A Celtic Album, brings works inspired by the music of Scotland itself and includes a number of first recordings. The pianist here is Christopher Guild

TOCC 0272

A Wheen Tunes for Bairns tae Spiel: Four Scottish Pieces for Piano (1964) (A few Tunes for Youngsters to Play) opens with Croon to which Christopher Guild brings a lovely simplicity. In Drone left hand repeated chords provide a drone over which a tune appears as well as some attractive dissonances. There is a fast moving Reel played with a fine, even flow and clarity before the brief yet attractive Spiel concludes.

A Scottish Triptych (1959-67) is more substantial with deep chords announcing Keening Song for a Makar: In Memoriam Francis George Scott (1959). Soon an undulating left hand theme arrives, over which a melodic idea is laid. The music builds in power before a more introspective passage, freely developed. When the music builds again there are some tremendous passages, played by Guild with great precision with lovely phrasing and finely judged tempi. The quiet, introspection returns before a more dynamic coda.

An unusual staccato theme opens Heroic Song for Hugh MacDiarmid (1967) before progressing into a longer breathed melody. The music builds through some tremendously powerful passages, played by this pianist with terrific fluency and panache before leading to a lovely slow, melancholy section. There are some finely judged dissonances before the staccato phrases of the opening return in the coda.

Growls from the lower keyboard open Chorale-Pibroch for Sorley MacLean (1967) before a lovely dissonant Pibroch arises. Guild brings some fine, powerful playing here with some beautifully delicate moments where plucked piano strings conjure up the Celtic harp. As the music develops there are some really impressive passages before strummed piano strings, as the coda arrives. Hushed plucked strings conclude this quite magical coda.

South Uist (Hebridean) Folksong Suite (1969) was not published until 1995. The source of the folksongs used is the book Folksongs and Folklore of South Uist by American folklorist Margaret Fay Shaw (1903-2004). Sailing Song: Lively, jolly, robust brings a lively little melody before the contrasting A Witching Song for the Milking: Allegro that has a beautiful melody, given such subtle harmonies by Stevenson. Guild brings a lovely bounce to the rhythmic and fast moving A Little Mouth Music: Allegro alla danza before handling the varying tempi and rhythms of
A Waulking Song: Moderato beautifully, bringing just the right degree of fantasy.

The overarching tune of Spinning Song: Allegro corrente is light and buoyant yet there is an underlying sadness shown here. A Tired Mother's Lullaby: Andante stanco brings another lovely melody, slow and thoughtful and given a lovely ripping flow by Guild before the melancholy poise of The Christ Child's Lullaby: Andante semplice.

A Rosary of Variations on Seán Ó Riada's Irish Folk Mass (1980) takes themes from the music of the Irish composer Seán Ó Riada (1931-1971) in whose memory the work was written. Guild brings a lovely freedom to his playing as a fine melody is revealed, providing some fine control of dynamics and beautifully phrasing. There are so many wonderful moments to mention in this beautifully played piece. I defy anyone not to be entranced by this work, especially as played here in this premiere recording – and what a terrific coda.

Ten of Stevenson’s numerous Scottish Folk Music Settings (1956-1980) were gathered together in one volume and published by the Ronald Stevenson Society in 1999. The first John Anderson, my Jo (1961) (Lento con moto) opens with a lovely, rather tentative theme that soon develops a flow through some fine passages. This is a little gem, exquisitely played. Waly, Waly (1959) (Andante) shows how Stevenson had the ability to develop a simple melody bringing such fine harmonies and textures. With its subtle Scottish inflections A Rosebud by my Early Walk (1961) (Allegretto) has moments of heart-rending beauty whereas Lang hae we Pairted Been (1961) (Andante) has a thoughtful opening that leads to a flowing section with some lovely decorations. Guild’s fine sensitivity reveals a lovely timeless feel in From an Old Pibroch (1956 rev. 1965) (Allegretto/Andante).

Some beautifully overlaid lines bring a strange beauty Ca' the Yowes (1965) (Andante) before the lovely breadth of Jock o' Hazeldean (undated) (Andante fluente) which combines with a melancholic edge, not to mention some fine dissonances. There is a beautifully paced The Hielan Widow's Lament (1965) (Lento com moto) before Hard is my Fate (1980) (Moderato stoico) with its beautifully heart felt Scottish melody and a leisurely Ne'erday Sang (1962 rev. 1963) (Andante ardente) that develops beautifully and subtly in Guild’s hands.

Christopher Guild proves to be a fine pianist who really has the feel of these pieces. The slightly reverberant acoustic is nevertheless very detailed. There are excellent booklet notes.

I await Volume Two with keen anticipation.

Toccata Press have published a highly regarded volume of the composer entitled Ronald Stevenson - The Man and His Music - A Symposium

See also:

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Alexander Walker and the New Russia State Symphony Orchestra provide very fine performances of works by Ignatz Waghalter on a new release from Naxos

Ignatz Waghalter (1881-1949)  was born in Warsaw into a musical yet poor Jewish family.  Ignatz’s eldest brother, Henryk, became one of the most important cellists at the Warsaw Conservatory with two other brothers, Joseph and Wladyslaw, achieving prominence as musicians.

Waghalter displayed musical talents at an early age, performing publicly in local music halls, the circus and for wealthy Polish aristocratic and bourgeois families when he was only six years old. At the age of seventeen Waghalter travelled to Berlin where, after a brief period of study with the composer Philipp Scharwenka, he met the great violinist Joseph Joachim who helped him gain admittance to the Academy of Art in Berlin where he studied under Friedrich Gernsheim (1839-1916).

Waghalter’s compositional abilities soon became clear with Joachim giving high praise to his early String Quartet in D major and his Sonata for Violin and Piano receiving the Mendelssohn Prize. Other works from this period were a Violin Concerto, a Rhapsody for Violin and several song cycles.

In 1907 Waghalter secured a post as conductor at the Komische Oper in Berlin, assisting Arthur Nikisch This was followed by a brief tenure at the Stadttheater in Essen before the appointment as principal conductor at the new Deutsche Opernhaus in Berlin established his position as a major figure in German music. Three of Waghalter’s own operas received their premier at the Deutsche Opernhaus.

Waghalter spent some time in the USA in the 1920s where he became musical director of the New York State Symphony for a season before returning to Germany, where he accepted the position of Generalmusikmeister of the film company UFA.

During this time he composed the film score for Hann Walter Kornblum's Wunder der Schöpfung. He also composed several operettas and appeared as a guest conductor. Waghalter was later appointed musical director at the National Opera in Riga, Latvia but, after his return to Berlin his position under the Nazi regime became increasingly difficult forcing him into exile in 1934. After moving to Czechoslovakia, then Austria, Waghalter and his wife fled to the United States.

After his arrival in New York, Waghalter established a classical orchestra of African-American musicians. However, funding was difficult and the project could not be sustained. He occasionally appeared as a guest conductor but died in relative obscurity in New York at the age of sixty eight.

Naxos issued a recording of Waghalter’s Violin Concerto, Rhapsodie, Violin Sonata, Idyll and Geständnis with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Alexander Walker with Irmina Trynkos (violin) and Giorgi Latsabidze in 2012 (piano) (8.572809).

Now from Naxos comes a new release with the New Russia State Symphony Orchestra conducted by Alexander Walker featuring Waghalter’s New World Suite, the Overture and Intermezzo from his second opera Mandragola and Masaryk’s Peace March. All are listed as world premiere recordings.


Waghalter’s comic opera Mandragola (1914) is based on a satirical play by Italian Renaissance philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli. Its successful Berlin premiere was attended by Richard Strauss, Ferrucio Busoni and Engelbert Humperdinck. The Overture: Allegro moderato, fliessend opens with a burst of energy before moving quickly forward in a buoyant theme. There are some textural and harmonic subtleties when the music calms but overall this is music of light-hearted joy. The Intermezzo: Allegretto grazioso brings a rather pastoral feel with a lovely cor anglais contribution before a clarinet shares the melody over punctuated strings. There is some distinctive orchestration, particularly in the use of brass, with some lovely instrumental touches.

Waghalter had already met such prominent American composers as Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern and George Gershwin during his earlier visit to the USA. These influences most certainly found their way into his New World Suite (reconstructed by Alexander Walker) (1939/2013) where he includes jazz, vaudeville and cabaret elements.

In ten movements Intrada: Allegretto moderato, fliessend has a lively rhythmic opening, again with some attractive instrumental contributions, before moving through some lovely and, indeed, very American sounding passages. A piano can be heard as a syncopated rhythm appears before the end. In the Intermezzo: Moderato pizzicato strings herald another rhythmic section with brass and woodwind weaving an attractive melody.

The strings bring a flowing melody to Hymn and Variations: Moderato assai before a cor anglais adds its texture. Other woodwind combine to take the melody as does the piano before developing into another rhythmic theme for strings over which the woodwind bring flourishes. With the Promenade: Allegro vivo a string rhythm jogs along, over which brass bring the melody, before it is shared around the orchestra. Again there are many attractive details for various instruments including the piano.

Horns open the Idyll and Hornpipe: Andantino before strings join and the melody moves ahead with a muted trumpet and cor anglais taking the theme. There is a staccato string passage with piano before a slow, broader version appears. The tempo picks up with a rhythmic trumpet theme to which the rest of the orchestra join sounding almost like Gilbert and Sullivan operetta such is its light hearted rhythmic, forward moving nature. The Pastorale: Larghetto opens in a rather serious vein but soon lightens as the orchestra weaves around the theme. A cornet brings a lighter, more buoyant theme before moments of thoughtfulness and melancholy contrast with lighter sounds of the brass.

Waghalter brings the same distinctive brass and woodwind sounds to the City Dance: Tempo comodo as the music quickly moves through a number of variations until the strings take the music forward to a rich coda. Vaudeville: Allegro vivo launches a fast moving, rhythmic theme, full of light and jolly instrumental details.

Berceuse: Andante con moto brings a mellow, flowing theme with piano accompaniment that is soon shared by various instruments. Waghalter brings some attractive orchestral textures in this lovely piece, light yes, but very attractive. A trumpet brings a very American sound to the Finale: Allegro.  Waghalter appears to have perfectly assimilated the American popular sound in this lively piece, ranging from rhythmic to flowing with an important piano part before a grand orchestral coda.

Masaryk’s Peace March (1935) was written after Waghalter had fled to Czechoslovakia and was commissioned for the official celebrations of the occasion of the retirement of 1st President of Czechoslovakia, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1850-1937), an opponent of Fascism. At over ten minutes it is a substantial, very fine occasional piece that shows Waghalter’s talent for providing a longer, more varied work that, nevertheless, is kept within the confines of a rousing march. A really enjoyable piece.

The CD booklet speaks of Waghalter’s desire to write approachable, lively music. That is exactly what is to be found on this new disc.  Alexander Walker and the New Russia State Symphony Orchestra provide very fine performances and are nicely recorded. Music in a lighter vein this may be but it is thoroughly enjoyable.

See also:

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Gilbert Rowland completes his six CD series of Handel’s Suites for Harpsichord for Divine Art. Sometimes with a project of this kind everything comes together as it does magnificently in this series. At mid-price these discs should be snapped up without delay

Gilbert Rowland’s previous volumes in his series of Handel’s Suites for Harpsichord for Divine Art  have proved to be superb, something I found when reviewing Volume 2 back in April 2013

Now with Volume 3, Rowland completes this series in a release that is just as impressive. Again Rowland plays a copy of a two manual French harpsichord after Goermans (Paris 1750), built by Andrew Wooderson in 2005.

dda 21225
Of Handel’s works for harpsichord HWV426-455 (Händel-Werke-Verzeichnis ) Gilbert Rowland excludes only HWV446, a Suite for Two Harpsichords of which only the music for one instrument survives and HWV455 that, whilst listed as a harpsichord suite, is in fact a keyboard arrangement of Handel’s orchestral Ouverture HWV336 and Suite HWV354. All of Handel’s 27 Suites for Harpsichord are here in this series including Handel’s the Suites de Pièces (1720) known as the Eight Great Suites and Suites de Pièces known as the Second Volume (1733-34), as well as the Chaconne in G major HWV435.

It is the first of the so called Eight Great Suites, the Suite in A major, HWV 426 published in 1720, that opens Volume 3 with a Prelude that reveals some beautifully rich sonorities, expertly laid out with some lovely flourishes as well as a fine expansive sound. There is a beautifully poised Allemande with a great clarity of line before Rowland brings some fine energy to the Courante, extracting more fine sonorities. The Suite concludes with a terrific Gigue, full of rhythmic bounce, a true dance rhythm.

The Suite in D minor, HWV 447 along with the Suite in G minor, HWV 452 is one of a pair written in 1739. Both are the last such pieces that Handel wrote. The Allemande has a lovely, relaxed quality, exquisitely drawn with a Courante that has a natural flow, again with a lovely transparency of line. The Sarabande is particularly attractive before a nicely sprung Gigue to conclude.

The Suite in G minor, HWV 452 also opens with an Allemande but this time with a great forward impetus. With the Courante, Rowland again brings a fine flow, a lovely overlaying of musical lines. The leisurely Sarabande is quite lovely before a Gigue that is full of energy and spirit with Rowland bringing some fine textures and sonorities.

The Allemande of the Suite in B flat major, HWV 440, from the Second Collection of 1733-34 is beautifully paced with Rowland bringing subtle little tempi variations. There is a nice steady pace to the Courante allowing every line to be revealed, always a fine momentum. The Sarabande brings some quite exquisite variations with some phenomenally fine playing from this harpsichordist before the Gigue that has great rhythmic bounce.  

The Ouverture of the Suite in D minor, HWV 448 brings a fine full tone showing this to be a really grand overture before dashing off in a terrific theme. The Allemande has a poise and delicacy that contrasts well, not to mention occasional beautifully rich deeper sonorities.  The following Courante moves forward quickly with a great fluency and terrific phrasing before Sarabandes I and II bring a leisurely flow, beautifully laid out with a lovely poise. There is a lively Chaconne to end this Suite with Rowland bringing a terrific forward drive, great panache and a terrific conclusion, so fluent. This really is fine playing.

The second disc of this set opens with the Suite in D minor, HWV 449. As with the Suite in D minor, HWV 448 it is another of the Miscellaneous Suites probably composed before Handel left Germany in 1707. It is a substantial piece in seven movements, beginning with a terrific opening Prelude where Rowland really grabs the attention, finely paced and phrased with great fluency before an Allemande that has a fine natural forward flow and some lovely details. It is Rowland’s fine phrasing and sense of momentum that makes the Courante so fine before the gently flowing Sarabande. The Aria of the Aria and 7 Variations brings a lovely little theme that is taken through a great series of variations with a non-stop flow of great fluency, beautifully controlled with varying tempi, drawing lovely sonorities. The Giga has some very fine rhythmic subtleties brought out by Rowland before we reach the lovely, rather gentle Menuet.

The Suite in G minor, HWV 453 takes us back to the earlier compositional life of Handel, c.1705-06. This four movement work opens with an Ouverture, stately and beautifully laid out with lovely decorations before arriving at a fine forward flow. The Entrée is wonderfully lively, full of joy before the poised Menuets I and II that receive some lovely subtle changes of tone and sonority. The Chaconne has such well-chosen tempo allowing the music to unfold beautifully.

The incomplete Suite in C minor, HWV 445 was also written around 1705-06 and  consists of just three movements, a lovely expansive, florid Prelude before a gently flowing Allemande with lovely phrasing and lovely decorations and a Courante that really draws the ear with its lovely harmonies.

Suite in G minor, HWV 451 is another incomplete Suite, this time consisting of just two movements and dating from c. 1703-06. The Allemande is thoughtfully presented, again with such lovely variations of sound drawn from this lovely instrument. The remaining Courante has a lovely buoyancy.

Another work from around 1703-06 is the Suite in G major, HWV 442. It opens with a short, sparkling Preludio before launching into the Chaconne and 62 Variations. The stately chaconne precedes a tremendous outpouring of variations. If you are not already bowled over by Rowland’s playing by now, this will surely captivate the most jaded ear. Gilbert Rowland brings spectacularly fine playing as Handel’s marvellous invention pours out. Absolutely terrific.  

Gilbert Rowland draws so many lovely phrases, colours and textures to add to his terrific fluency, joy and sheer panache. He also brings natural authority and command. The recording again made at Holy Trinity Church, Weston, Hertfordshire, England is absolutely first class and there are excellent booklet notes by Gilbert Rowland.

The combination of Handel, Gilbert Rowland, Wooderson’s fine harpsichord, the recording venue at Holy Trinity Church, Weston, Hertfordshire and the recording engineer John Taylor is unbeatable providing, as it does, a collection of these wonderful suites that I will return to again and again.

Sometimes with a project of this kind everything comes together as it does magnificently in this series. At mid-price these discs should be snapped up without delay.

Also available:

dda 21219

dda 21220

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Naxos bring a very welcome addition to the catalogue with their new release of Penderecki’s Magnificat and Kadisz, works of great power and emotion in very fine performances from Antoni Wit and his forces

Krzystof Penderecki (b. 1933)  became very much a part of the musical avant-garde in the 1960s with such works as Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima (1960) and his first opera The Devils of Loudon (1968/69) but, from his First Violin Concerto (1976-77, revised 1987), he made, in his own words, what was a ‘synthesis’ of his earlier more radical style with traditional forms. 

Penderecki’s St Luke’s Passion (1965-66) was a landmark piece counted by many as among the most significant compositions in new music. Other choral works followed, but by the time he wrote his Magnificat in 1973-74 he had begun to formulate a style that combined his earlier avant-garde techniques with a more traditional post romantic idiom.

A new release from Naxos  couples Penderecki’s Magnificat with his more recent Kadisz highlighting the fact that, despite his move away from his earlier avant-garde style the composer has maintained consistent underlying fingerprints. 

The Warsaw Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra , Warsaw Philharmonic Male Choir and the Warsaw Boys’ Choir  are conducted by Antoni Wit with Wojciech Gierlach (bass) , Olga Pasichnyk (soprano) , Alberto Mizrahi (tenor) and Daniel Olbrychski (speaker) and a male vocal ensemble consisting of tenor Jakub Burzyński, Mariusz Cyciura and Tomasz Warmijak; and basses Marek Wota and Przemysław Żywczok.

In six sections, the first part of the Magnificat (1973–74), Magnificat anima mea, opens on a sustained note before the orchestra develops a gently expanding passage before returning to a single note as the choir enters on the word Magnificat. The orchestra broadens before the choir again intones Magnificat with the orchestral textures and instrumentation developing more richness and colours as the choir lead on with some lovely dissonances; Penderecki at his brilliant best. Deep timpani beats over double basses lead into the second part, Fuga. Quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae where the male vocal ensemble and choir bring some disturbing, yet very fine harmonies and dissonances in this spectacularly written piece.  The voices rise and fall in wails before an instrumental section where a myriad of instrumental sounds mingle in a riot of orchestral colours. The choir continues over wailings from the male vocal ensemble, with interjections from brass, woodwind and strings. The layering of vocal and instrumental textures are wonderfully, if unusually, done. Towards the end there are some spectacularly fine choral passages before a beautifully hushed coda.

The sounds Penderecki achieves from his strings and high woodwind are truly lovely in the Et misericordia eius, bringing an other-worldly sound. The choir enters with some very fine controlled singing in Penderecki’s exceptionally difficult intervals and phrases, beautifully done before unsettled strings lead into the fourth section, Fecit Potentiam, where bass, Wojtek Gierlach arrives bringing a fine depth of tone as the orchestra rises in drama. There are moments of extreme intensity with Antoni Wit holding a fine balance of emotion and drama.  

Deep chords from double basses open the Passacaglia. Deposuit potentes de sede over which other strings add textures. The chorus enters bringing their own fine textures over the rhythmic basses before the music falls to a hush. It rises again in the orchestra with the choir coming in over them. Wit keeps the anticipation all the time as orchestra and choir bring sudden interjections, lightened a little by the children’s choir. However, the chorus soon bring some thrillingly alarming sounds before speaking the words et divites dimisit inanes (and sent the rich away empty-handed). The music falls quieter underpinned by lower strings and timpani as the choir leads forward but it is the hushed strings and quiet timpani that lead into the final section, Sicut locutus est where the chorus enters alone in a hushed magical passage on the words Sicut locutus est (As he spoke), slowly adding layers.

Here Penderecki provides some beautifully subtle vocal textures and colours before the children’s choir brings some especially fine moments. There is a terrific outburst on the words Gloria Patri (Glory be to the Father) with some brilliant outpourings of choral sounds. Later the male vocal ensemble add some fine textures before the orchestra rises up full of terrific colours and textures. The chorus rejoin as do the vocal ensemble in a swirl of textures leading to a loud tonal outburst for chorus and orchestra. The orchestra and choir heads dramatically forward until all falls to a hush and a rather anxious Amen ends the work quietly.

What a wonderful work Penderecki’s Magnificat is. Just as with their previous recordings of this composer’s works, Antoni Wit and his forces provide very fine performances. 

Kadisz (Kaddish) (2009) was commissioned to mark the 65th anniversary of the liquidation of the city of Łódź’s Jewish ghetto and was premiered there on 29th August 2009 conducted by the composer. Szła śmierć od mogiły do mogiły: Tempo di marcia funebre opens with a rather menacing slow orchestral plod before soprano, Olga Pasichnyk enters on the words Szła śmierć od mogiły do mogiły (Death walked from grave to grave). This soprano has a fine voice full of intense feeling. An orchestral passage follows bringing a subdued drama before leading to a less tense, more flowing section to which the soprano joins. Penderecki’s orchestration is wonderful as he conjures such melancholy. Soon the orchestra sounds a note of caution before the soprano rises on the word Odejdź! (Go away!) before moving, full of intense emotion, to a climactic coda, brilliantly sung. 

The orchestra introduces a dramatic second movement, Leży na ziemi po ulicach dziecię, i starzec: Grave, senza misura (The young and the old lie on the ground in the streets) soon joined by speaker, Daniel Olbrychski who brings an intensity, character and impact to the part, over a dramatic orchestral accompaniment. Such is the emotion that one hardly notices that he is not singing. The Warsaw Philharmonic Male Choir add to the impact before the music falls to a plaintive clarinet passage with hushed timpani beats. 

Male chorus alone opens Prosimy cię, abyś nas na wieki nie wydawał: Molto tranquillo (Deliver us up for ever, we beseech thee) bringing some fine overlaid textures in this hushed, withdrawn sequence. One can hear the connection with Penderecki’s earlier choral works, with subtle dissonances now rather than the overtly dissonant music of his earlier works. It rises in power before falling to a beautifully hushed coda.

Jitgadal wejitkadasz szmeh raba. Amen: Senza misura (May His great Name become exalted and sanctified) brings tenor, Alberto Mizrahi, opening as Cantor over a static, hushed orchestra with occasional choral interventions before rising in passion at the words and in the lifetimes of the entire Family of Israel. The chorus take over before Alberto Mizrahi brings some beautifully controlled singing in this lovely section moving through some moments of fine emotional impact before leading to a more settled Amen. 

This is a very welcome addition to the catalogue bringing works of great power and emotion in very fine performances from Antoni Wit and his forces. They receive a very fine recording from the Witold Lutosławski Concert Studio of Polish Radio, Warsaw (Magificat) and at Warsaw Philharmonic Hall (Kadisz). There are informative booklet notes as well as full Latin and Polish texts and English translations. 

See also: