Saturday, 13 February 2016

Praga Digitals release a fabulous Claudio Arrau live recording of Brahms’ First Piano Concerto with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra under Rafael Kubelík coupled with the Variations and Fugue on a theme of Handel

The great Chilean pianist, Claudio Arrau (1903-1991) was a child prodigy, apparently able to read music before he could read words. At the age of four he was reading Beethoven sonatas and he gave his first concert a year later. By the age of eight Arrau was sent on a ten-year-long grant from the Chilean government to study in Germany, travelling with his mother and sister. He studied at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin where he became a pupil of Martin Krause, who had studied under Franz Liszt. By the age of eleven Arrau could play Liszt's Transcendental Etudes as well as Brahms's Paganini Variations. After the death of Krause, Arrau did not continue formal study.

Highlights of his career included a celebrated performance of the entire keyboard works of Johann Sebastian Bach over twelve recitals in 1935 with the following year bringing a complete cycle of Mozart keyboard works over five recitals. Complete Schubert and Weber cycles followed as did the complete Beethoven piano sonatas and concertos in Mexico City in 1938. Arrau repeated this several times in his lifetime, including in New York and London. In 1941 the Arrau left Germany for the United States, eventually settling in New York City. Arrau died on June 9, 1991, at the age of 88, in Mürzzuschlag, Austria.

Amongst many fine recordings Arrau’s Brahms Concertos with Bernard Haitink and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra for Philips were a highlight.

However, Praga Digitals have just released a fabulous live recording of Brahms’ First Piano Concerto recorded in Munich in 1964, with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra under Rafael Kubelík coupled with the Variations and Fugue on a theme of Handel recorded in Lugano in 1963.

Stereo SACD
PRD/DSD 350 068

Kubelik and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra give an opening to the Maestoso of Brahms’ Piano Concerto No.1 in D minor, Op. 15 hewn from granite. When they soon slacken the intensity, there is still a remaining underlying storm out of which they rise again. When he enters, Arrau brings a concentrated powerful authority, rising to passages equally granite like. Arrau and Kubelik are clearly in control of the overarching structure of the music bringing a natural rise and fall. There is something that is just right about this tremendous performance. Set with the power and strength are moments of lovely repose, Kubelik drawing some fine, quite special orchestral playing and Arrau finding much poetry. Arrau finds a youthful vigour and power as well as a fine sense of the longer line before a formidable coda.

Kubelik brings a pensive, beautifully shaped opening to the Adagio to which Arrau adds a beautifully withdrawn touch, a reflective look at the drama that has gone before. They rise to little moments of greater intensity with Kubelik drawing some quite exquisite playing from the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. Arrau brings such a fine poise, a gentle rise and fall, beautifully paced and phrased. As the movement progresses this pianist seems to find greater solace, though still without losing moments of power and anguish before arriving at the hushed coda.

Arrau leaps into the Rondo: Allegro non troppo with the orchestra chasing, providing some formidable scales.  Arrau and Kubelik bring a ray of light to this movement with some particularly deft orchestral playing with a great rhythmic forward flow. There are some fine dynamic forward surges as the movement develops before a wonderfully fluent and well-shaped cadenza.  There is a terrific clarity to later passages that lead up to the coda where Arrau brings some formidable moments.

This is a phenomenal performance in every way. The enthusiastic applause at the end of this live recording is retained but otherwise there is little evidence of a live audience.

Praga have done a terrific job of re-mastering this recording for SACD. If you love this work then don’t miss this.

Arrau brings a lovely poise to the opening of Brahms’ Variations and Fugue on a theme By Handel, Op. 24 with such fine little decorations before leaping into the variations. After the D minor concerto Arrau’s sense of fun is terrific. As he works his way through the variations there are passages of freely flowing breadth, dramatic power where he finds a terrific fire, passages that bring a great sense of freedom as well as some wonderfully rhythmic moments. It is Arrau’s ability to change mood so suddenly that is impressive. At times he brings an unstoppable forward motion, a wonderful breadth of phrasing, tremendous fluency and a fine poise and poetry. There is lovely phrasing and often a sense of sheer audacious fun, all forming an organic whole. A tremendous achievement.

If anything the recording of the Variations and Fugue is even finer. 

This will be an unmissable release for many. It is listed as a ‘limited edition’ so better snap it up while you can – just in case. There are useful booklet notes about the music, Arrau and Kubelik. 

Friday, 12 February 2016

For Mahler enthusiasts Maasa Nakazawa and Suhrud Athavale’s world premiere recording of Bruno Walter’s 4 hands piano reduction of Mahler’s Symphony No.2 ‘Resurrection’ from Naxos will be a must

Back in March 2014 I reviewed a new recording by the late Gilbert Kaplan with the Wiener Kammerorchester of Rob Mathes’ arrangement for small orchestra of Gustav Mahler’s (1860-1911) Symphony No.2 in C minor ‘Resurrection.’ An initiative of the Kaplan Foundation, one of the leading institutions in Mahler research, Rob Mathes made the arrangement in order to provide an opportunity for chamber orchestras, small community orchestras and regional opera orchestras to perform this work.

Whilst bringing this work to smaller ensembles the recording of the arrangement was not universally welcomed in that it was hardly likely to replace the original version for which there are many fine recordings. I was rather more enthusiastic, enjoying the greater transparency that revealed aspects of Mahler’s creation sometimes missed.

Piano transcriptions of orchestral works were popular in the 19th century when, in the absence of recordings, not everyone could get to hear major works. One only has to think of Liszt’s transcriptions of Beethoven’s symphonies.

It was in 1898 that the great conductor and Mahler disciple, Bruno Walter (1876-1962) made his reduction of Mahler’s Symphony No.2 for piano four hands. If anyone was going to undertake this task then there was surely no better choice. It is for Walter’s involvement, if nothing else, that a new recording of this reduction will surely be welcomed.

Pianists’, Maasa Nakazawa and Suhrud Athavale, new recording of Bruno Walter’s piano four hands reduction of Mahler’s Symphony No.2 for Naxos  is a world premiere.

Maasa Nakazawa and Suhrud Athavale hold together the sometimes faltering musical line and slow tempo of the Allegro maestoso very well. As the movement progresses there are some fine, rhythmically sprung passages with this reduction highlighting many details. They bring some pretty volatile moments and, in some of the slow development sections, hold the attention surprisingly well, building to some moments of intense drama before an extremely effective coda. One, of course, remembers and misses so many orchestral aspects.  

These two pianists pick out many fine little details in the Andante moderato, displaying some terrific ensemble in the faster passages as well as a fine rubato. There are some beautifully shaped passages with crisp playing of great precision.

They bring a very fine rhythmic opening to In ruhig fließender Bewegung creating a fine forward flow, weaving some lovely musical lines, crisp and rhythmically sprung. The lyrical central section is quite beautifully done before they reach a fine climax from which the music falls away perfectly.

In the Urlicht: Sehr feierlich, aber schlicht we should, of course, have an alto voice. However, in this reduction there is much care to bring out the melancholy poetry of the original with some beautifully limpid, delicate passages, never overdoing the little surges of urgency.

But when we arrive at the Finale: Im Tempo des Scherzos there is a terrific surge of energy. Where the off-stage trumpet should sound, Maasa Nakazawa brings a suitably haunting feel. These players bring many fine moments that elucidate the detail, building a suitable tension. When we arrive at ‘O Glaube’ one obviously misses the voice and text which is so much of Mahler’s expressive vision and, of course, when the hushed choir should enter there is a natural loss of atmosphere, but these two fine pianists bring a real sense of drama and wonder, extracting some intense feeling as the music develops. They bring some fast buoyant passages where they provide a terrific rhythmic, forward bounding drive as well as some hauntingly hushed moments. The cry of a bird that appears part way has a particularly eerie quality before we are led funereally forward. Here Nakazawa and Athavale reveal a most poetic moment bringing a fine atmosphere. Normally a soprano would rise out of the orchestra but these pianists make up for this, in part, by fine detail and poetry. These two pianists create a great feeling of stillness before building in grand chords to the final climax.

This is an intriguing and fascinating piano reduction that receives a very fine performance, revealing aspects of the music that may be lost in full scale performances. To make too much of the losses caused by the absence of soloists, choir, orchestra and organ is to miss the point of hearing this fascinating reduction. Mahler’s publisher was obviously keen to share this work with a wider audience through Walter’s reduction, something no longer needed. But for Mahler enthusiasts this new recording will be a must.

The recording made in the Fanny Hensel-Mendelssohn Hall, University for Music and the Performing Arts, Vienna, Austria is excellent.  There are useful booklet notes.

See also: 

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Truly impressive performances from pianist Sandro Ivo Bartoli on a new release from Solaire Records entitled Liszt: The Franciscan Works

Sandro Ivo Bartoli , a graduate of the Florence State Conservatory and the Royal Academy of Music in London, collaborated privately with Russian piano legend Shura Cherkassky. In the early 1990s, with Cherkassky’s encouragement, Bartoli began to rediscover the Italian piano literature of the early twentieth century, soon establishing a trend and becoming its leading interpreter world-wide. In addition to the concertos of Casella, Malipiero, Pizzetti and Petrassi, in 1995 he gave the first modern performance in the United States of Respighi’s Toccata for piano and orchestra in an historic concert that was broadcast by PBS in the series ‘Great Performances’. In Europe, he toured extensively with orchestras such as The Philharmonia, the Hallé, the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, the Stockholm String and the Max-Bruch Philharmonie, working with conductors such as Peter Stangel, Nicolae Moldoveanu, Michele Carulli, Simon Wright, Vladimir Lande and Gianluigi Zampieri among others. He has performed alongside such giants as Martha Argerich and Rodion Shchedrin.

Recent engagements have included Rachmaninov’s Second Concerto in Dresden, Liszt’s Malédiction concerto in Munich, Chopin’s Second Concerto in Grosseto, Mozart’s ‘Jeunehomme’ Concerto in Milan, as well as appearances on Radio Nacional Clàsica Argentina, Radio Nacional Española, the Icelandic Radio and Radio Muzical Romania.

Bartoli has recorded the complete concertos of Gian Francesco Malipiero with the Radio Orchestra of Saarbrücken (CPO, winner of the Diapason d’Or 2008), works for piano and orchestra of Ottorino Respighi with the State Orchestra of Saxony (Brilliant Classics, 2011), the First Piano Concerto of Erik Lotichius with the Academic Symphony Orchestra of St. Petersburg (Navona, 2013) and solo albums devoted to the music of Alfredo Casella, Gian Francesco Malipiero, Percy Grainger, Frédéryk Chopin, Ferruccio Busoni, and ‘The Frescobaldi Legacy’ (Brilliant Classics, 5 de Diapason, 2013).

Sandro Ivo Bartoli now features on the second release of Solaire Records, the new label by Berlin-based producer Dirk Fischer, entitled Liszt: The Franciscan Works.

The 1860s saw the death of Franz Liszt’s (1811-1886) 20 year-old son Daniel and his 26-year-old daughter Blandine.  After years of travelling Liszt announced that he would retreat to the solitary life. He found an apartment in Rome where, in 1865, he took minor orders in the Catholic Church.

Liszt wrote a number of works inspired by St. Francis of Assisi which Sandro Ivo Bartoli gathered into a recital programme. It is this programme that he has taken into the studio to record for Solaire.

Deux Légendes, S.163 date from 1862-63. Bartoli brings a fine delicate fluency to Saint François d'Assise: La prédication aux oiseaux, nicely phrased, revealing so much of Liszt’s poetic vision. He moves through some rich, broad Lisztian phrases with such well controlled dynamics that when the peaks arrive they have all the more impact. Saint François de Paule: Marchant sur les flots brings such a change of character yet still with a sensitivity that reveals so much. There are some wonderfully fluent, billowing phrases with this pianist bringing the feel of a live performance such is his sense of freedom. There are passages of tremendous fire and passion. This is a truly impressive performance

Bartoli brings a fine power and assurance to San Francesco. Preludio per il Cantico del Sol di San Francesco d'Assisi, S.498c as well as some beautifully well-shaped poetic passages in a well-judged performance. He also brings a formidable power to the impressive opening of Cantico di San Francesco, S.499. However, it is his fine phrasing and understanding of the dynamics allied to a fine sense of poetic vision that makes this such a commanding performance.  

Alleluia et Ave Maria, S.183 dates from 1862 with this pianist finding a fine clarity of line in the richly dense opening passages of Alleluia showing a formidable technique allied to a fine overall vision. Ave Maria d'Arcadelt brings some particularly lovely, gentle passages where Bartoli is sensitive to every dynamic and nuance.  

Bartoli brings a rippling fluency to Les Jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’este, S163/4 from Années de Pelerinage (Third Year) (1867–77), finely controlled and shaped, revealing an almost Debussian flavour. There is a lovely delicacy in the most exquisitely turned phrases whilst rising to moments of great passion.

Miserere d’après Palestrina, S.173/8 has a most wonderfully conceived opening before moving through delicately shaped phrases and some fine moments of increased passion. Ave Maria Die Glocken von Rom, S.182 brings a gentle balm, Bartoli’s fine sense of structure bringing a fine cohesion to this beautifully shaped performance that rises in drama briefly before falling to a gentle coda.

These are truly impressive performances from this fine musician. He receives a first rate recording. There are interesting booklet notes concerning Liszt and The Franciscan Connection by the pianist and notes on Aspects of religion in the work of Liszt by Tobias Fischer as well as many colour photographs.

I would like to hear more from this fine pianist.

See also Solaire Records first release: 

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

A very recommendable recording of cello concertos by Haydn and CPE Bach from Marc Coppey and the Zagreb Soloists on their debut recording for Audite

French cellist Marc Coppey was winner of the two highest prizes at the 1988 Bach competition Leipzig, first prize and special prize for the best interpretation of Bach.  He studied at Strasbourg and Paris Conservatoires as well as at Indiania University, Bloomington. Lord Yehudi Menuhin discovered Marc Coppey’s talent at an early age and subsequently invited him to make his Moscow and Paris debuts by performing the Tchaikovsky Trio with himself and Victoria Postnikova, a collaboration documented on film by famous film director Bruno Monsaingeon. In 1989, Mstislav Rostropovitch invited Coppey to the Evian Festival and from that moment on his solo career took off.

A frequent soloist with the leading orchestras of today, Marc Coppey has collaborated with many distinguished conductors such as Eliahu Inbal, Emmanuel Krivine, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, Michel Plasson, Yan-Pascal Tortelier, Jean-Claude Casadesus, Theodor Guschlbauer, Pascal Rophé, Yutaka Sado, John Nelson, Raymond Leppard, Erich Bergel, Alan Gilbert, Lionel Bringuier, Kirill Karabits, Paul McCreesh and Asher Fisch.

He has performed across Europe, North and South America and Asia and in some of the most prestigious concert halls of the world and as a chamber music player has performed the cello repertoire with such renowned artists as Maria-Joao Pires, Stephen Kovacevich, Nicholas Angelich, Aleksandar Madzar, Michel Beroff, Peter Laul, François-Frédéric Guy, Mikhail Rudy, Augustin Dumay, Victoria Mullova, Liana Gourdjia, Tedi Papavrami, Ilya Gringolts, Laurent Korcia, David Grimal, Gérard Caussé, Janos Starker, Marie-Pierre Langlamet, Michel Portal, Paul Meyer, Emmanuel Pahud and the Prazak, Talich or Ebene Quartets. From 1995 to 2000 he was a member of the Ysaÿe Quartet, performing at the most prestigious international concert venues. Marc Coppey is a professor at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris and gives master-classes all over the world. He performs on a rare cello by Matteo Goffriller (Venice 1711).

Marc Coppey’s many recordings have received critical acclaim worldwide. As artistic director of the Zagreb Soloists Coppey has recorded Cello Concertos by Joseph Haydn and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach as his debut recording for Audite

A short video about this recording can be found on the Audite website )

The Zagreb Soloists were founded in 1953 as an ensemble of Radio Zagreb, under the artistic leadership of the renowned cellist Antonio Janigro and have since gained recognition as one of the world’s most outstanding chamber orchestras. They have given concerts on all continents, in all the major cities and the most famous concert halls such as the Musikverein (Vienna), Concertgebouw (Amsterdam), Royal Festival Hall (London), Berlin Philharmonic Hall, Tchaikowski Hall (Moscow), Santa Cecilia (Rome), Carnegie Hall (New York), Opera House (Sydney), Victoria Hall (Geneva), Teatro Real (Madrid) and Teatro Colon (Buenos Aires).

The Zagreb Soloists bring a spirited opening to the Moderato of Joseph Haydn’s (1732-1809) Cello Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Hob. VIIb:1 (1761-5) providing a great clarity that only a small ensemble like this can achieve.  When he enters, Marc Coppey digs deep bringing some rich incisive, expressive tones.  As the movement progresses Coppey’s cello really sings. The ensemble between soloist and ensemble is extremely taut both bringing a beautifully created long musical line topped by a nicely proportioned cadenza.

The Zagreb Soloists bring an exquisitely shaped opening to the Adagio. When the soloist enters he finds a lovely balance with the gentle orchestral line. This is a really poetic conception with a fine rubato and a lovely tone that isn’t without moments of more intense bowing. There is some beautifully controlled playing from both soloist and orchestra.

The Zagreb Soloists bring a really lithe orchestral opening to the Finale. Allegro molto with Coppey bringing some exceptionally fine, fast and fluent playing pointed up by some occasional rich deep chords. Again his cello really sings as he provides a performance of real panache, finding a fine rapport with the ensemble.  

The Zagreb players bring a lovely gentle opening to the Allegro moderato of Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 2 in D Major, Hob. VIIb:2 (1783) with nicely pointed dramatic phrases. Marc Coppey brings a fine emotional edge when he enters, moving from rich mahogany passages to singing higher phrases in this thoughtful, well-shaped performance, full of emotional thrust. There is a wonderful precision as well as a finely played cadenza from which the soloist extracts some fine textures and timbres from his instrument.

Marc Coppey brings a lovely wistful feel to the opening of the Adagio reflected by the playing of the Zagreb Soloists as they move through some exquisite softer passages where this soloist brings a lovely hushed tone before a gentle coda

The Allegro brings a lovely lilting sway as soloist and orchestra take this music forward with a gentle rhythmic impetus. There are some fine, fast passages from Coppey as well as some incisive passages, though with this soloist always extracting a fine tone.  

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s (1714-1788) Cello Concerto in A Major, Wq. 172 dated from around 1753 having appeared in versions for harpsichord and strings and flute and strings. There is a bright and buoyant opening to the Allegro from the Zagreb Soloists. When Marc Coppey enters he brings some really finely shaped phrases and a lovely tone, weaving some fine musical lines as the music progresses. There is some lovely rubato from both soloist and ensemble.  

The Largo con sordini, mesto brings a subdued, dark hued orchestral opening to which Coppey adds an intense emotion. Though this cellist eases the tension to move ahead there is still much pathos. Coppey provides some very fine tone from his instrument, weaving a fine melancholy with the ensemble with a lovely, beautifully shaped solo passage just before the gentle coda.  

The Allegro assai immediately throws off the melancholy as the Zagreb Soloists bound ahead, punctuated by little gentler pauses. Coppey maintains the joyous element as he brings some fine, fluent playing with moments of longer, flowing, singing cello line as well as some fine textures

This performance could secure a whole new following for this fine cello concerto.

Marc Coppey and the Zagreb Soloists deliver a freshness that brings this music alive. They gain so much in terms of clarity and ensemble with this small orchestra.
Coppey may only have been directing the Zagreb Soloists for two years but it is obvious that they have already found a very close working relationship.

This really is a fine release nicely recorded at Lisinski, Small Hall, Zagreb, Croatia. The booklet notes take the form of an interview with Marc Coppey. 

All in all, a very recommendable recording of these works.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

First violinist, Edward Dusinberre provides a wonderful and revealing account of the life of the Takács Quartet combined with insights into Beethoven and his quartets in his book Beethoven For a Later Age: The Journey of a String Quartet published by Faber and Faber

Edward Dusinberre first violin of the Takács Quartet, was born in 1968 in Leamington Spa, England. He studied with the Ukrainian violinist Felix Andrievsky at the Royal College of Music in London and at the Juilliard School with Dorothy DeLay and Piotr Milewski. In 1990 he won the British Violin Recital Prize and gave his debut recital in London at the Purcell Room, South Bank Centre. Upon completion of his studies at Juilliard, Dusinberre auditioned for the Takács Quartet, which he joined in 1993.

His book, Beethoven For a Later Age: The Journey of a String Quartet, was published by Faber and Faber in January 2016 and will be published by the University of Chicago Press in May 2016.

ISBN 9780571317134
Published 21/01/2016
272 pages
The title of Dusinberre’s book is taken from Beethoven’s comment of his Opus 59 quartets 'They are not for you but for a later age!' Originally the idea of Edward Dusinberre’s agent, this volume takes the reader inside the life of a string quartet, melding music history and memoir as it explores the circumstances surrounding the composition of Beethoven's quartets and the Takács Quartet's experiences rehearsing and performing this music.

Each chapter relates to a stage in Dusinberre’s life with the Takács Quartet as well as to a Beethoven quartet, bringing some fascinating insights. The list of members of the Takács from their inception in 1975 until the present time indicates that despite a number of changes to the their line-up, they have maintained a continuity with founder members, second violinist, Károly Schranz and cellist András Fejér remaining to this day.

Prologue: Opus 131 is a fascinating and detailed account of what it is like to be on the platform of the Wigmore Hall, London to play Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 131, from the anticipation of the concert through the opening bars taken by Dusinberre, the interaction between players, the decisions in rehearsal as well as some detailed description of Beethoven’s Op.131 from a performer’s perspective, all encompassed within the scope of this account of a performance.

1 Audition: Opus 59 No.3 reveals Dusinberre’s light and humorous side when he goes back in time to talk of his visit at the age of 23 years and fresh out of the Julliard School, to Boulder, Colorado to audition with the Takács Quartet (where they are undertaking a residency at the University). Talk of his practice for his audition reveals further information about Beethoven whilst mentioning the Takács move from Budapest to Boulder and their families’ difficulties adjusting to a new country. He reveals how the Quartet manage difficulties in finding agreement on performance issues with much detailed description of working with the Takács towards a second audition performance. Finally there is the phone call from the Quartet inviting Dusinberre to join them as a member.

2 Joining the Quartet: Opus 18 No.1 it is the same detailed description of working with the Takács on Beethoven and extended information about the composer that reveals so much. Whilst he talks about the quartet and their families on a personal level he intersperses with more about Beethoven and his personal life as well as his own first concerts with the Takács Quartet and foreign tours.

3 Fracture: Opus 59 No.2 opens with a glorious mishap that occurred whilst the Quartet were reaching the end of Beethoven’s quartet Opus 59 No.2 before moving on to Beethoven life when he wrote the Opus 59 No.2 quartet. He reveals the Takács selection of instruments, in particular a ‘new’ instrument for himself, as well as more about how the Quartet develops a performance. Finally there is the terrible news of violist Gabor Ormai’s terminal cancer, so sensitively written.

4 Re-creation: Opus 127 covers the fascinating aspect of the Takács recording their Beethoven quartet cycle. New violist, Roger Tapping joins and there is much about their changing interpretation of Op.127, about Beethoven and Op.127 and the late quartets, interspersed by the recording of Op.127 and all the inherent problems. Interestingly, Dusinberre talks of the stress of listening to their CD that appears a year later, together with Roger’s announcement that he will be leaving the quartet.

5 Convalescence: Opus 132 brings more health concerns when founding cellist András Fejér is found to have a blocked artery. Happily he is still with the Quartet today but the members, on lawyers’ advice, take out life insurance policies on each other – just in case.  Geraldine Walther joins as violist and it is revealed that  ‘after ten years of working together we find ourselves continuing to examine basic questions of character and pacing , a debate perhaps more easily inspired by a new player, but also essential amongst four players who may become too accustomed to working together.’ There are tiring tours, more about Beethoven and Opus 132, arguments over their interpretation of Op.132 and humour that overcomes the stress.  Dusinberre talks humorously of the occasion they had a heckler as well as arriving at interpretative solutions.  A 2014 concert at Harris Hall just north-west of Aspen, Colorado brings back memories for Dusinberre of his own time at Aspen twenty-four years previously and even a little history of Aspen.

Finally in 6 Alternative Endings: Opus 130 Edward Dusinberre ruminates at length on the difficulties of the Grosse Fuge and the history of Op.130. He covers problems at the Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society concert when playing Beethoven’s new ending to Op.130 rather than Grosse Fuge, performance discussions and decisions for further concerts including Wigmore Hall, concluding with how he often recalls the early days of the Takács Quartet saying ‘I imagine them on a small field at the side of the Autobahn – four Hungarian men in their early twenties, revelling in the chance to stretch their legs after many hours’ driving…’ 

This is a wonderful and revealing account of the life of a great Quartet combined with insights into Beethoven and his quartets.  What shines through above all is the commitment and continued striving by the individual members of the Takács Quartet to bring interpretations of the highest order. 

Monday, 8 February 2016

Works by contemporary composer, Emily Doolittle and Mendelssohn and Beethoven feature in the English Symphony Orchestra’s very fine concert at Hereford’s Shirehall under their Principal Conductor Kenneth Woods and featuring violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky

Composer Emily Doolittle was born in Nova Scotia in 1972 and educated at Dalhousie University, the Koninklijk Conservatorium in the Hague, Indiana University and Princeton University. From 2008-2015 she lived in Seattle, where she was an Associate Professor of Composition and Theory at Cornish College of the Arts. She now lives in Glasgow, UK.

She has written for such ensembles as Orchestre Métropolitain (Montreal), Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra (Toronto), Symphony Nova Scotia, the Vancouver Island Symphony, Ensemble Contemporain de Montréal, the Motion Ensemble and Paragon as well as a number of prominent solo performers.

Emily Doolittle has an ongoing research interest in zoomusicology, the study of the relationship between human music and animal songs. Other interests include the traditional music of various cultures, community music-making, and music as a vehicle for social change. From 2011-2015 she played fiddle in the Seattle-area French Canadian traditional music and step dance band Podorythmie.

It was Doolittle’s orchestral work green/blue that opened the English Symphony Orchestra’s concert under their Principal Conductor, Kenneth Woods at Hereford’s Shirehall (UK) on Sunday 7th February 2016 as part of a program that included Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E minor, with Alexander Sitkovetsky as soloist and Beethoven’s Eroica  Symphony.

Emily Doolittle’s green/blue was written for the Oregon East Symphony in 2003 and based in part on an earlier work, green notes, written for the Canadian baroque orchestra, Tafelmusik and taking advantage of the transparent textures of a group specialising in early music.

green/blue opened with bold, colourful chords before a solo violin took the theme with the other strings and the rest of orchestra joining to create a lovely harmony, pointed up by the woodblock. It had a distinctive North American rhythmic quality showing the composer’s interest in dance and traditional music. The music reached richer chords before rising to a peak with a myriad of orchestral colours. The rhythmic nature of the music increased before reaching a tremendous brilliance high in the orchestra. For all its repetition this was music that was constantly changing and evolving, perhaps in this sense reflecting nature. There were some fine moments for brass, before quietening to a brief pause to allow an oboe to bring a plaintive theme over the orchestra creating a quite wonderful texture. The other woodwind wove the theme around the oboe, before a sudden orchestral outburst, after which the theme from earlier in the work tentatively returned, building in tempo and dynamics throughout the orchestra and rising to a climax before another pause and a final chord.

This is an impressive work full of colour and ever evolving ideas.

Alexander Sitkovetsky immediately revealed his beautifully sweet tone in the Allegro molto appassionato of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64. Both orchestra and soloist brought a great energy and forward momentum to this spirited performance. The orchestra demonstrated its ability to bring weight yet with great transparency.  Sitkovetsky brought great control of dynamics, a fine rubato and a powerful edge to his lovely tone with some wonderfully fleet passages as well as a beautifully shaped cadenza with moments of fine purity of tone and a beautifully affecting lead up to a quite thrilling coda.

There were some lovely instrumental textures from the orchestra as the Andante opened.  Sitkovetsky brought a real singing quality to his tone as he entered, always finding the longer line, beautifully drawn and with the most sensitive accompaniment from Kenneth Woods and the English Symphony Orchestra who allowed the music space to breathe.

Sitkovetsky brought a great feeling of freedom and impetuosity to the opening bars of the Allegretto non Troppo – Allegro molto vivace before dashing ahead through some scintillating passages, full of sparkle. There was a fine rapport between soloist and orchestra with Sitkovetsky bringing moments of wit and charm before a terrific coda.

This was a very fine performance from this brilliant young soloist with Kenneth Woods and the English Symphony Orchestra on fine form.

Kenneth Woods drew a fine vigorous opening from the orchestra in the Allegro con brio of Beethoven’s Symphony No.3 in E flat major, Op.55 ‘Eroica’ with a crisp incisiveness and a great sense of panache and spirit, a real allegro brio. They provided a fine tautness and rubato combined with a great flow.  There were many passages that brought a real Beethovenian incisiveness, a fine sweep and some lovely details. The Marcia funebre: Adagio assai was finely done with a real funereal weight over which the woodwind flowed. They brought a rather pastoral feel to the lovely central section whilst later showing how they can really let rip in the more dynamic passages.

They achieved a light textured, fleet Scherzo: Allegro vivace with finely controlled dynamics and a terrific forward drive, with some fine contributions from the three horn players and the woodwind section before leading quickly into the Finale: Allegro molto – Poco Andante – Presto with a beautifully phrased opening before finding a lovely flow with some very fine individual instrumental contributions. The orchestra soon whipped up real forward drive leading to some really fine climaxes before a finely wrought lead up to the coda.

This was a performance of great life and character which brought a real freshness to Beethoven’s vision. Kenneth Woods is clearly achieving fine results with the English Symphony Orchestra.

I was particularly pleased to hear the Emily Doolittle work in this concert and shall be shortly reviewing chamber works by this composer performed by the Seattle Chamber players on a new release from Composers Concordance Records

See also:

Kenneth Woods

Alexander Sitkovetsky 

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Jordi Savall has gathered together a terrific collection of music on the latest release for AliaVox to which he and Le Concert des Nations bring life and buoyancy, colour and great textures

Jordi Savall and Le Concert des Nations  can always be relied on to bring something new and exciting with their recordings. Their new release from AliaVox  entitled Les Eléménts: Tempêtes, Orages & Fêtes Marines explores the forces of nature vividly depicted by composers at the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries, bringing together Jean-Fery Rebel’s Les Elements with Matthew Locke’s Music for The Tempest, Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto La Termpesta di mare, Marin Marais’ Airs pour les Matelots et les Tritons, Georg Philipp Telemann’s Wassermusik and Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Orages et tonnerres.

Recorded live on July 19, 2015 at the Abbey of Fontfroide, France this concert opens with Jean-Féry Rebel’s (1666-1747) ballet, Les Eléménts (The Elements) (1737). Striking discords open Le Cahos: L'eau - L'air - La Terre - Le Feu through which a flute can soon be heard bringing a plaintive melody. All through there are striking moments with Le Concert des Nations weaving some wonderful sounds with lovely textures and harmonies, particularly towards the end.

Loure I: La Terre picks up a stately rhythmic pulse in the strings through which a flute weaves its melody. Chaconne: Le Feu is even more lively as the various instrumental strands are woven with some particularly agile playing from the ensemble in this fast flowing section. Ramage: L'air brings a small group of strings and flute in this lovely section, beautifully done and quite charming. The small ensemble expands for the lively Rossignols, equally charming in its delicate nature.

Le Concert des Nations weave some fine instrumental lines with a gentle rhythmic pulse in Rondeau: Air Pour L’Amour before Loure II brings the fine sound of natural brass who deliver a terrific texture, raucous and gritty, the whole ensemble finding a terrific swaggering rhythm. There is a gentle lilt to Sicillienne with some wonderful individual instrumental timbres showing through.

Brass return with drums to announce Caprice bringing a marshal feel with some very fine string playing as the music darts around before developing a terrific sweep. An oboe opens Premier Tambourin: L'eau before developing quite a hectic pace with strings and percussion pointing up the music and leading into Second Tambourin, a slightly more restrained part with mellow woodwind contribution. We run straight into Premier Tambourin: L'eau which briefly brings the return of the faster theme before ending suddenly.

When Matthew Locke (c. 1621/23-1677), wrote his music for Thomas Shadwell’s version of The Tempest (1674) he used, for the first time in English music, directions such as ‘soft’ and ‘louder by degrees’ and included tremolos for stringed instruments. There is a grand Introduction from Le Concert des Nations, pointed up by bass drum before they spring into the buoyant, rhythmic Galliard, again with percussion pointing up and colouring the sound. There are some particularly fine rhythmic string passages as well as a fine sweep to the music.

There is a brightly lit Gavot, full of life with terrific rhythms and again marked by percussion to add rhythm and colour before a Saraband that has a lovely gentle lilt with the strings of Le Concert des Nations bringing a lovely texture with the theorbo sounding through. Lilk brings back a boisterous rhythmic section with a terrific pace.

A wind machine opens Curtain Tune before the drums bring rumbles of thunder, soon followed by a slow mellifluous melody for strings, nicely decorated by the theorbo. The music picks up in tempo but there are further slow, beautifully textured passages before the wind machine appears at the close.

A bright and lively Rustick Air follows, rhythmically pointed up by drums with lovely woodwind contribution before the woodwind open Minoit soon alternating with the whole ensemble. Corant has a fine buoyant rhythmic spring with these players finding a terrific texture. A Martial Jigge has a lovely transparent light texture, beautifully sprung before we arrive at The Conclusion: A Canon 4 in 2 where Jordi Savall and Le Concert des Nations bring a terrific weaving of instrumental lines with something of a stately air.  

Jordi Savall and Le Concert des Nations whip up some terrific textures in the Allegro of Antonio Vivaldi’s (1678-1741) Concerto in F La Termpesta di mare (The Sea Storm) per Flauto solo e Corde (1729) before the flute enters in this fast moving movement. There are rich harmonies from the lower strings as well as some terrific agility from the flautist.

The lovely flowing Largo has seamlessly drawn phrases from the soloist before a crisply phrased Presto where there is more tremendous fluency from the flautist.

Together with Sémélé, Alcione (1706) is the only opera composed by Marin Marais (1656-1728). Gathered together from Alcione are the Airs pour les Matelots et les Tritons (Airs for Sailors and Tritons) with rich sonorities opening the Prélude where Le Concert des Nations provide a terrific sound, full of individual instrumental detail. There is a really attractive rhythmic Marche pour les Matelots I & II with percussion to add colour, texture and rhythm before Air des Matelots I & II which brings more forceful, rich striding rhythms, later speeding up for a very fine section.  

Wind machine and drums open Tempête in a wild sequence before the strings join to hurtle forward through the storm, creating an intensely dramatic piece. Woodwind and theorbo bring the gentle and beautifully shaped Ritournelle before the concluding Chaconne pour les Tritons where the full ensemble provides a fine subtle rhythmic pulse and some wonderfully French sounding woodwind harmonies in an impressive conclusion to this work.

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) wrote his Wassermusik, Hamburger Ebb and Fluth (Water Music, Hamburg ebb and flood) (c. 1740) to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the Hamburg Admiralty. There is a slow introduction to the
Ouverture (Grave - Allegro) with long held woodwind phrases over strings before the allegro brings a lithe, lively tempo, full of forward propulsion and with terrific textures and sonorities. There are some fine woodwind sounds in the gently flowing Sarabande: Die schlafende Thetis before a lively Bourrée: Die erwachende Thetis with a particularly fine section for flute and bassoon.  Loure: Der verliebte Neptunus has a fine poise, Jordi Savall achieving a subtle rhythmic lift from his players and carefully controlled dynamics followed by a terrific little Gavotte: Die spielenden Najaden so light footed.

Harlequinade: Der Scherzenden Tritonen brings some lovely instrumental textures and timbres and a fine rhythmic pointing. The wind machine appears again in Der stürmende Aeolus before strings enter to drive this section ahead with some impressive fast and incisive string playing. There is a lovely, nicely phrased Menuet: Der angenehme Zephir with the lovely woodwind of Le Concert des Nations sounding through and adding a rather special contribution. Gigue: Ebb Und Flut rises up full of joy and energy before the jaunty concluding Canarie: Die lustigen Bots Leute.

Orages et tonnerres (Storms and thunders) (1735-1749) draws on orchestral extracts from a number of operas by Jean Philippe Rameau (1683-1764). A solo violin opens the Air pour les Zéphirs (Les Indes Galantes) (1735 rev. 1736) soon joined by flute and theorbo as they weave a slow melody quite beautifully with some quite lovely sonorities. Orage et air pour Borée, from the same opera brings back the wind machine and drums, whipping up some tremendous sounds before the strings bring a fast moving theme over which winds soar through passages of lively buoyancy.

Even more dramatic drums and wind machine open Tonnerre (Hippolyte et Aricie) (1733 rev. 1742) before fast and furious strings join, bringing a fine drama. The opera Zoroastre was written in 1749. Here we have lovely, crisp Contredanse from that work, pointed up by tambourine and drums before another extract from the same opera Contredanse très vive that acts as a finale as Jordi Savall and Le Concert des Nations hurtle ahead full of joy, with rhythmic clapping and some lovely, distinctively French sonorities before the audience break into an enthusiastic applause. This would go down well at London’s BBC Proms.

Jordi Savall has gathered together a terrific collection of music to which he and Le Concert des Nations bring life and buoyancy, colour and great textures. 

They are vividly recorded on SACD and there are excellent notes by Jordi Savall in the lavishly illustrated booklet full of colour photographs.