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  of songs by David Dubery that are very much in the great tradition of English song.

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David Dubery (b.1948) 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 , mezzo soprano, Adrienne Murray , flautist, Michael Cox  and the Cavaleri Quartet .

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 have now released volume one of Larsson’s orchestral works with Andrew Manze conducting the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra .

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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  and John York  have proved to be something of a winning combination with their recordings for Nimbus Records . 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  is conducted by Niklas Willén

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 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), Catherine Wyn-Rogers contralto (Mary Magdalene) , Andrew Staples tenor (St John) and Christopher Purves baritone (St Peter with the BBC National Chorus of Wales, BBC Symphony Chorus and BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Andrew Davis.

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) 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 , 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 whose large and expertly researched book Sir George Dyson – His Life and Music has recently been published by Boydell Press 
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

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.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Violinist, Adam Kostecki, directs the Polish Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra in brilliantly played performances of two violin concertos by Jacques Loussier on a new release from Naxos

The French pianist and composer, Jacques Loussier (b.1934) started piano lessons aged ten, soon discovering the music of Bach for whom he developed a lifelong passion. He began composing music while studying at the Conservatoire National de Musique, under Professor Yves Nat.

After six years' study, he left to travel the world, where he experienced sounds of the Middle East, Latin America, and Cuba, where he spent one year. In 1959 he formed the Jacques Loussier Trio with legendary string bass player Pierre Michelot and percussionist Christian Garros. They used Bach's compositions as the basis for jazz improvisations, making many concerts, tours and recordings.

Loussier continued to compose, writing over sixty soundtracks for films and television series. In 1978, the trio was dissolved with Loussier setting up his own recording studio in Provence, where he worked on compositions for acoustic and electric instruments. He also worked with musicians like Pink Floyd, Elton John, Sting, and Yes. In 1985, Loussier reformed the Jacques Loussier Trio for the 300 anniversary of Bach’s birth this time with new members, double bassist Vincent Charbonnier and percussionist André Arpino, with the bassist Benoit Dunoyer De Segonzac sometimes replacing Charbonnier. More recent recordings have included interpretations of compositions by Erik Satie, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Antonio Vivaldi, and Robert Schumann. A 2005 recording entitled Take Bach, made by the trio along with the Pekinel sisters, features adaptations of Bach's concertos for two and three pianos.

Loussier’s compositions include a Mass Lumières (1986), a suite for strings Tableaux vénetiéns, a ballet Trois Coulers (1989) a trumpet concerto and two violin concertos.

It is world premiere recordings of the two violin concertos that appear on a new release from Naxos , in time for Loussier’s 80th birthday this year. 


Violinist Adam Kostecki directs the Polish Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra  with percussionist, Piotr Iwicki in the two concertos and is joined by pianist, Gunther Hauer for the coupling on this disc, Paderewski’s Sonata in A minor for Violin and Piano, op.13.

The first question that might arise is whether there are any hints of Bach to be found in this music. The answer is no but there are plenty of jazz inspired moments.

Loussier’s Concerto No.1 for Violin and percussion (1987-88) is in four movements and is scored for groups of woodwind, brass, strings and partially improvised percussion.

At the opening of the first movement, Prague the orchestra jumps straight in with a syncopated rhythm, which the soloist soon joins. The solo violin soon broadens the theme and allows it to flow whilst the orchestra and percussion provide a rhythmic base. Loussier never lets the momentum drop providing some terrific moments for the soloist, freely expressive and becoming ever more jazz influenced as the soloist plays against a variety of percussion, with both sounding improvised. Adam Kostecki plays brilliantly whilst directing the orchestra.

Shimmering strings open L’homme nu against which the soloist enters in a lovely melody in which the orchestra soon joins. There is quite an outpouring of feeling before the sudden close.

Buenos Aires Tango opens with the orchestra playing a tango rhythm which the solo violin joins, flowing around, sometimes joining the rhythm, sometimes soaring above before concluding with a short high note.

The orchestra opens with percussion in the quiet, atmospheric opening of Tokyo. Soon the soloist plays a number of chords that slowly lead to a rhythmic theme to which the orchestra respond. The soloist brings a jazz style to his playing, again sounding as though improvised, with the orchestra and percussion providing a rhythmic backdrop and almost giving the sound of a small jazz group. The music drops to drumming out of which the orchestra rises and the violin joins. There is a short section for the soloist and percussionist before a decisive coda.

This concerto will appeal to many for its directness of utterance and jazz influenced style brilliantly played by Kostecki, Iwicki and the Polish Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra.

The much more recent Concerto No.2 for Violin and Tabla (2006) was commissioned by the Menuhin Festival and, perhaps as an acknowledgement of Menuhin’s interest in Indian music, features a tabla (small Indian hand drum).

There is an incisive orchestral opening to Movement I soon joined by the tabla, then violin, in a decidedly rhythmic theme with little upward swoops in the orchestra. There is also something of a Latin American feel. Soon the violin brings a real swing to the theme with the tabla and orchestra joining in.

Movement II brings a hushed orchestral opening as the orchestra washes around. Soon the orchestra brings a rhythmic orchestral motif, joined by the soloist who plays a flowing, wistful melody over the rhythmic pulse of the orchestra. Eventually the soloist develops a more rhythmic element as jazz inflections appear with the orchestra providing some interesting textures before they move off with the soloist in a more flowing section.

The Cadenza starts tentatively, working over the material before developing with some upward flourishes before the orchestra joins to lead straight into Movement III a frantic movement, much in the style of Hungarian gypsy music with Kostecki displaying some breathtaking playing.

This concerto is a definite showpiece for the soloist played here with terrific panache and with a fine contribution from the Polish Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra as well as Piotr Iwicki (tabla).

Ignacy Jan Paderewski’s (1860-1941) Violin Sonata makes an unusual but interesting coupling from a composer known for his virtuoso skills as a pianist as well as being Prime Minister of Poland in 1919.

In the Sonata in A minor for Violin and Piano, op.13 (1882) violinist Adam Kostecki is joined by pianist Gunther Hauer.

The piano opens the Allegro con fantasia in a rippling, fast moving theme to which the violin soon joins with a more flowing melody that soon builds in passion and texture. Soon a slower, gentler section arrives before a rhythmic second subject makes an appearance. The opening theme returns for the soloist over the fast moving, rippling piano motif and, after a repeat of the rhythmic second subject, both themes are freely developed in a section often rhapsodic in character. Kostecki provides some fine playing, often with exquisite sensitivity. Gunther Hauer provides adept accompaniment, often virtuosic in his own right, before the subdued coda.

The violin opens the Intermezzo: Andantino with a melancholy theme where the two instrumentalists respond to each other. Soon a more extended melody appears with some longer piano phrases and some beautifully passionate violin passages before leading to a lovely coda.

The Finale: Allegro molto quasi presto opens full of energy but soon falls to a gentler, flowing section. Soon the energetic theme returns, alternating with the gentler theme. Paderewski develops his material, allowing the piano to take the main theme against a pizzicato violin as the music heads forward, full of energy, with some extremely fine playing form Kostecki and Hauer, concluding with an energetic coda.

This is an attractive rarity that receives a very fine performance.

The recordings, from two venues, are very fine and there are informative booklet notes.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Chamber works by Margaret Brouwer receive first rate performances on a new release from Naxos

The award-winning composer Margaret Brouwer (b.1940) has earned much critical acclaim with a continual demand for new works. Indeed, recent commissions have come from Dallas Symphony, Detroit Symphony, Rochester Philharmonic, American Pianists Association, CityMusic Cleveland Chamber Orchestra, and the American Composer's Orchestra.

In August, 2011, Brouwer was a composer-in-residence at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music where Marin Alsop led the Festival Orchestra in a performance of Brouwer’s Pulse on the opening night concert. Her Concerto for Viola and Orchestra, commissioned by the Dallas Symphony, was premiered by them with Ellen Rose (viola) in January 2010. 

Brouwer received a Meet The Composer Commissioning/USA award to compose Path at Sunrise, Masses of Flowers and received an Award in Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2006. She was named a Guggenheim Fellow for 2004, and was awarded an Ohio Council for the Arts Individual Fellowship for 2005.  She has also been awarded grants from the Ford Foundation and the John S. Knight Foundation.

She served as head of the composition department and holder of the Vincent K. and Edith H. Smith Chair in Composition at the Cleveland Institute of Music from 1996 to 2008.   Residencies include those at the MacDowell Colony where she has been a Norton Stevens Fellow and Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center. 

Brouwer’s compositions range across most genres including vocal and choral, orchestral, including concertos and a symphony, works for brass and wind ensemble, chamber works and piano works.

Her chamber music ensemble, Blue Streak , continues to tour throughout the USA performing their innovative and eclectic programs. It is Blue Streak that appear along other artists on a new release from Naxos


Shattered Glass (2007) was written for and dedicated to MOSAIC, Cleveland State University and is intended to be a musical kaleidoscope. Here it is performed by the Blue Streak Ensemble with Madeline Lucas (flute), Maaike Harding (cello), Nathan von Trotha (percussion) and Shuai Wang (piano).

Little tinkles of percussion soon joined by drums and piano open before the flute and cello join in this fast moving, glittering piece. The piano is often used percussively along with the percussion instruments, thereby adding sharp details of sound. A falling motif for cello and piano leads the music forward to a melodic flute solo, joined by piano, then percussion and creating a distinctive atmosphere. The cello weaves a strange motif before the music picks up again, with a joyful feel, rhythmic and colourful. Soon there is a shimmering, quiet section that leads to a piano solo, with a motif quietly picked out. When a hushed section appears it is strange territory with odd percussion, piano and cello sounds. The flute enters over these strange sounds. Staccato rhythms for flute and cello and a rising piano motif lead the music faster to a percussion passage before the instruments share the dynamic material around and the music moves to its assertive coda.

This is an incredible tapestry of sounds from this small ensemble that do the utmost justice to this piece.

The Quintet for Clarinet in A and String Quartet (2005) was commissioned by the clarinettist in this performance, Daniel Silver and the University of Colorado. The clarinettist is joined here by the Maia String Quartet. Reflecting the increasingly troubled world situation at the time of composition, the composer explored new compositional methods, multiple techniques and layering.

The Maia String Quartet opens the Allegro before the mellow tone of Daniel Silver’s clarinet enters, the Quartet repeat the opening statement before clarinet and quartet move the music forward, developing it. There is very much the feel of bursts of energy breaking out. After a brief lull the music gains in momentum, rising dynamically before quietening, with an attractive motif for clarinet, developed by the quartet around the hymn All creatures of our God and King. But the music soon lets the energy return, though falling towards the end, with strange string sounds combining with the mellow clarinet  until the strings fade out.

My white tears broken in the seas takes the melody of one of Brouwer’s songs. It has a beautiful melodic line for the clarinet and quartet that is developed with the clarinet and instruments of the quartet weaving around each other. The strings provide translucent, high harmonies responded to by arabesques from the clarinet, often high in the register. Soon the melody appears in a richer textured form before leading to a slowly quietening coda.

The clarinet opens the Scherzo alone, in a theme that is reminiscent of Rautavaara, but the strings soon enter in cascades of falling then rising phrases before the Moderato, Vivace arrives, opening vibrantly.  This is the most dissonant movement of the quartet using dodecaphonic techniques. The movement keeps its momentum all the way through, often becoming quite raucous in its feeling, hurtling in all directions to a sudden end.

Daniel Silver and the Maia String Quartet are absolutely terrific in this hugely demanding work.

Soprano, Sandra Simon  is joined by Laura Shuster (viola) and Alijca Basinska (piano) in Whom do you call angel now? (2005), the song from which the theme of the second movement of her Clarinet Quintet was drawn.

Piano and cello provide an introduction before Sandra Simon enters and the instrumentalists quieten to a background drone. Simon has an attractive, pure, youthful sounding voice in this lovely setting that occasionally has Arabian inflections. The instrumentalists provide a more florid accompaniment as the song develops.

The Blue Streak Ensemble return for Lonely Lake (2011) inspired by the idea of summer camps on Lonely Lake in Canada. Madeline Lucas (flute), Maaike Harding (cello), Nathan von Trotha (percussion) and Shuai Wang (piano) are joined this time by Amitai Vardi (clarinet) and Sharon Roffman (violin).

Hovering, staccato strings and little percussion sounds open this piece, creating the sounds of nature. The strings slowly rise in long drawn melancholy chords as the nature sounds from flute and percussion continue. Slowly a melody appears leading to a wildly varied development as the instruments become more animated with percussion outbursts. Later the music quietens with some exquisite melodic sounds. Eventually the pace picks up with percussion driving the rhythmic momentum until the strange atmospheric sounds return before the hushed coda.

This is another brilliantly descriptive piece expertly played by this ensemble.

The Arrangements for Blue Streak Ensemble (2011) are for the same forces as Lonely Lake, flute, cello, percussion, piano, clarinet and violin. In Debussy’s: Clair de Lune Brouwer achieves some very lovely textures from her ensemble in this exceptionally fine arrangement. Her arrangement of Bach’s Two Part Invention in F major is a sheer delight as Brouwer moves the theme around the various instruments.

Margaret Brouwer has an ear for creating some exquisite sounds and textures that listeners will find beguiling. The performances are first rate as is the recording made at Clonick Hall, Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Ohio, USA.  There are informative booklet notes from Margaret Brouwer.