Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Lyrita’s Itter Broadcast Collection brings wonderful new finds with William Wordsworth’s First and Fifth Symphonies gleaned from BBC Broadcasts

The British composer, William Wordsworth (1908-1988) was born in London and studied harmony and counterpoint under George Oldroyd (1887-1956), later continuing his studies with Donald Tovey (1875-1940) at Edinburgh University.  He lived in England until 1961 when he moved to Inverness-shire where he helped to found the Scottish Composer's Guild. He was a descendent of Christopher Wordsworth, brother of the famous poet.

Wordsworth’s compositions include concertos, chamber works, vocal and piano works as well as eight symphonies.

Of the symphonies, Lyrita have previously released a recording of the Symphony No.2 in D, Op.34 and Symphony No. 3 in C, Op.48 (SRCD 207) with the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Braithwaite.

Now in their Itter Broadcast Collection comes recordings of Symphonies 1 and 5 coupled with Wordsworth’s Conflict Overture.

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Founder of Lyrita Recorded Edition www.lyrita.co.uk , Richard Itter had a life-long fascination with recording, acquiring professional equipment for disc and tape recording for his own private use. From his home, where he was able to receive a good signal, he made domestic recordings from BBC transmissions of Proms, premieres, operas, symphonies and chamber music totalling more than 1500 works between 1952 and 1996. Initially recording on magnetic tape particularly important performances were transferred to acetate disc. These fragile discs were never played and have remained in excellent condition, as have the majority of the tapes which make up the bulk of the collection. In 2014 the Lyrita Recorded Edition Trust begun to transfer this priceless archive and has put in place formal agreements with the BBC and the Musicians Union to enable the release of items from it to the public as the Itter Broadcast Collection.

James Loughran conducts the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in a live mono recording of the Overture 'Conflict' for orchestra Op.86 (1968) broadcast by the BBC on 17th January 1971. It opens purposefully with a steadily increasing forward pushing theme, rising to moments of drama with cymbal clashes and a variety of instrumental interventions. A xylophone and a myriad of percussion and instrumental sounds achieve a real brilliance in the orchestra. Soon the music falls to a quieter moment for clarinet, passed through the orchestra as the music rises again, the xylophone again heard, finding a terrific forward momentum, reaching a passage of immense force. The music gives way to a swirling of woodwind over a string layer before rising again with timpani and percussion making a terrific noise, full of violence. Later there is another quieter passage, this time for strings before quickly moving forward.  Brass appears and there are ripples from the harp heard over a shimmering orchestra over which the woodwind flow before rising to a brilliant coda.

The live mono recording is a little boxy but reveals a surprising amount of detail. Applause is kept in at the end.

Wordsworth’s Symphony No.1 in F minor Op.23 (1944) was first performed by the BBC Northern Orchestra (later renamed the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra, now the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra) conducted by Julius Harrison in 1946 in a studio recording broadcast by the BBC.

In four movements, a series of orchestral chords herald the opening of the Allegro maestoso before leading forward through some rather angular phrases. The music soon slows to a gentler passage for strings with occasional brass, through a meditative, brooding section with pizzicato basses before finding more of a flow as the theme is developed, with sudden little dynamic outbursts. The music rises and increases in tempo with a dominant part for brass. There is a pensive passage with some lovely woodwind phrases before a lone trumpet brings an affecting moment over a hushed orchestra before rising with plenty of brass to lead to the end.

In the Adagio ma non troppo there is a slow melancholy opening for woodwind, soon taken forward by strings before woven between brass and woodwind. The music slowly rises only to immediately fall back to a ponderous passage in the basses, full of brooding intensity. It manages to rise up again with cymbal clashes and brass as the emotional cork is finally let out of the bottle before finding its way back to its brooding nature. Individual instruments take and weave the melody before almost faltering to a standstill, only to move slowly and sadly on to the grief stricken coda.  

The Scherzo. Allegro con brio moves forward in a rising and falling motif before rising up as the theme is woven through the orchestra. Again there are cymbal clashes before the music subsides into a steady forward drive. Soon the music slowly gets quieter but rises to push forward with intensity. Wordsworth often achieves a great brilliance of orchestral sound. Again a hushed forward motion is found before rising to forge ahead to the coda.

The concluding Andante largamente – Allegro opens gloomily in the basses before soon rising up through the orchestra in a slow melancholy theme, with some very fine woodwind and brass passages in this intensely brooding music. Later the strings lighten the mood, increasing in tempo, though keeping a feeling of anxiety, expanding through the orchestra as more of a sense of momentum increases. There are some attractive runs through the woodwind as the music subsides to a hush. The strings slowly and sadly move forward, brass join to add to the deep melancholy before the music speeds through brass passages of greater strength with the orchestral sound finding a greater momentum and impact. There are cymbal clashes and much brass as the music defiantly heads forward to a hard won triumph.
This is a symphony of some power and emotion. The mono recording is more spacious though there is a little background hiss.

The Symphony No.5 in A minor Op.68 (1960) was also first performed in a BBC broadcast concert by the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult.

In three movements the Andante maestoso opens with a slowly flowing, rather earnest theme that soon rises. An oboe, then cor-anglais, bring a wonderfully gentle theme, shared by the two instruments over a pulsating orchestra together with harp. The music rises through some fine moments with the cor-anglais again heard, Wordsworth weaving some magical sounds. There is a haunting, flowing, passage for the higher strings, of great emotional depth, that is soon shaped into a more dynamic passage for full orchestra, pointed up by timpani and brass. Later the music finds a subtler undulation with the oboe bringing a gentler, slower moment, again shared with the cor-anglais. There are delicate phrases with harp as the flute takes the theme, later woven through the strings, the composer creating some quite wonderful orchestral sonorities. Eventually there is a violin solo with woodwind woven around in another wonderful passage. Wordsworth had some wonderfully fine ideas bringing a rather luminescent sound as the orchestra rises out of the smaller ensemble, the violin weaving through the woodwind to find a lovely coda.

Wordsworth finds a remarkably individual, delicate, quietly rhythmic opening for percussion, pizzicato strings and celeste in the Allegro, soon taken up by the rest of the orchestra as the music rises. Soon there is a more flowing, forward drive with many fine little instrumental details. A xylophone adds spiky rhythmic phrases before a flute leads over a lovely string layer in a dancing staccato passage in a delicate little tune. The music picks up in force to drive forward, timpani adding weight before woodwind flurries take us back to a quieter, delicate moment for harp and percussion. The music again moves quickly ahead only to find a quizzical, delicate conclusion, though not without a final loud orchestral chord.

The Andante largamente – Allegro opens darkly in the basses, slowly rising through the strings, very reminiscent of the opening of the andante largamente of the first symphony. The music soon gains in angst and intensity until the brass and timpani declare the reaching of a plateau as the orchestra moves resolutely forward. Brass fanfares are heard but the music continues to head forward. A fast moving skittish passage arrives, pointed up by percussion and there are moments of broader, slower music for brass as well as passages of flowing strings. Centrally there is a calmer moment for brass and percussion before speeding ahead in the strings with brass adding colour and brilliance. A broad, confident string led passage occurs before the woodwind bring a slower passage but the orchestra soon rises to a resolute coda, wonderfully coloured by percussion.

This is, perhaps, the most impressive and individual work here. The stereo recording is full and detailed, if a little top heavy.

We are lucky to have these fine works in recordings that belie their origins. We should thank Lyrita for all the work they are doing in bringing such neglected works to our attention.

The performances are first rate and there are excellent, very full booklet notes.

I wonder if there are any more of this composer’s symphonies hiding in Mr Itter’s collection. I do hope so.

See also: 

Monday, 25 July 2016

Celebrating the 60th birthday of Alexander Baillie, Somm release a recording from the cellist, partnered by pianist, John Thwaites of Brahms’ two cello sonatas in performances that prove to be rather special

Alexander Baillie www.baillie.de is internationally recognised as one of the finest cellists of his generation. He began playing the cello at the comparatively late age of twelve having been directly inspired by the late Jacqueline du Pré (1945-1987). He went on to study at London's Royal College of Music with Joan Dickson (1921-1994) and Anna Shuttleworth (b.1927) and with André Navarra (1911-1988) in Vienna. He later studied with William Pleeth, Pierre Fournier (1906-1986) and Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007), and with Jacqueline du Pré herself.

Since then his career has taken him all over the world. He has appeared with many British and European orchestras, has worked with Sir Simon Rattle and Sir John Eliot Gardiner and appears regularly as soloist in concertos, recitals and festivals. He has given notable first performances at the BBC Proms of works such as ‘Sieben Liebeslieder’ by Hans Werner Henze, Takemitsu's "Orion and Plaiedes" and Colin Matthews' First Cello Concerto, which is dedicated to him.

Recordings include the Tippett Triple Concerto with the composer conducting and the Shostakovich First Concerto with Benjamin Zander and the Boston Philharmonic. His version of the Britten Cello Suites achieved the highest acclaim in the New York press.

He features in Jan Harlan's film ‘Dvorak...who?’ about the motivation for young people falling in love with classical music. He is Professor of Cello at the University of Bremen Hochschule für Künste, founder member of ‘Gathering of the Clans’ Cello School and Honorary Doctor of Music at Hertfordshire University. His own cello festival at Carteret, Normandy recently celebrated its 10th year.

His recordings include Elgar's Concerto on Conifer, the Tippett Triple Concerto on Nimbus with Sir Michael Tippett conducting and the Gordon Crosse Concerto with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Martyn Brabbins on the N.M.C. label. His recordings of the Britten Cello Suites and the Sonata achieved the highest acclaim in the New York press.

To celebrate his 60th birthday Somm Recordings www.somm-recordings.com  have just released a new recording featuring Alexander Baillie and pianist, John Thwaites www.johnthwaites.org.uk in Johannes Brahms’ two cello sonatas coupled with a transcription of Brahms’ Four serious Songs.

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For this recording John Thwaites has chosen three different pianos, a Rönisch grand piano c. 1860, an Ehrbar grand piano c. 1877/78 and a rare Streicher concert grand dated from 1878. It was a 1868 Streicher that Brahms owned from 1871 until his death, a gift from the maker.

What a wonderfully rich cello tone Alexander Baillie brings to the opening of the Allegro non Troppo of the Sonata for Cello and Piano No.1 in E minor, Op.38, soon finding a wistful feel with John Thwaites’ Rönisch grand piano bringing a lovely delicate fluency. They rise through passages of great passion, finding much poetry as well as moments of great anguish revealed by Baillie’s fine tone. Baillie provides some wonderful textures and sonorities with moments, when this cellist reaches the higher range of his instrument, of immense emotional depth before a lovely gentle end.

They bring a fine, rhythmic lift to the Adagio - Andante con moto proving to be a terrific duo, shaping the music wonderfully. There is a lovely flow in the Andante, a fine rubato with some lovely, subtle little surges. This is wonderfully controlled playing, Baillie often bringing a wonderfully rich and resonant tone.

This fine duo again prove to be an intuitive partnership in the finely shaped opening of the Allegro bringing much energy and revealing many subtleties before finding more energy to hurtle forward with tremendous agility and strength, through stormy passages, to the fiery coda.  

What a terrific opening to the Allegro vivace of the Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 2 in F major, Op.99, full of volatility before the music slows and Baillie finds a richer, sonorous tone. Stormy emotions abound with this cellist bringing some terrific emotional thrust, backed no less by Thwaites who reveals the Ehrbar piano to have a fuller tone. Midway there is a moment of hushed expectation before they rise through some fast and fluent passages to a crisp resolute coda.  

The Adagio affettuoso brings some terrific pizzicato cello phrases, rich and deep over a lovely piano line. Soon Baillie brings a heart rending tone, developing through some quite wonderful passages, finely structured, paced and phrased before rising suddenly to some very fine pizzicato passages. Thwaites does a fine job shaping the piano part with Baillie later bringing some strong, resonant pizzicato phrases that increase the tension before an exquisite conclusion.

John Thwaites opens the Allegro passionate with a surging, rhythmic instability immediately joined by Alexander Baillie in a passionate outpouring. These two show their instinctive feel for this music with incredible volatility and a terrific forward drive. Thwaites keeps an underlying volatility in the gentler central section with Baillie adding a subtle emotional pull, a volatility they retain right through the varying passages, later picking to surge forward again with tautly rhythmic phrasing to the tightly controlled coda.

Baillie and Thwaites find a sunnier, though no less energetic Allegro molto, moving through moments of broader sonorities, beautifully shaped before rising through some incisive passages of great strength to a terrific conclusion.

Brahms was in a sombre mood as he approached what was to be his last birthday in 1896. Clara Schumann was lying seriously ill following a stroke and the composer had lost many of those closest to him. It was then that he wrote his Four Serious Songs, Op.121, a setting of biblical texts from Ecclesiastes and Corinthians.

These songs work extremely well in the transcription made by the great Russian cellist, Daniil Shafran (1923-1997), a transcription that Alexander Baillie has built on in this performance. The first text observes that man is no different to the animals in that ‘as the one dieth, so dieth the other.’ The text of the second song laments the world’s injustices. The third text speaks of the bitterness of death for one still in his prime and the final text reflects on Christian charity

John Thwaites’ Streicher piano brings some deep sonorities to Denn es gehet dem Menschen to which Alexander Baillie adds his own rich tone, running through passages of dark hued emotion with a faster moving, fleet central section before the more sombre music picks up to move quickly to the coda.

Baillie brings a lovely singing tone to Ich wandte mich before finding moments of exquisite beauty and poetry with an increasingly passionate tone.

O Tod, wie bitter bist du opens with passionate phrases for cello over which are gentler piano chords before finding a forward moving stance, moving through a gently flowing passage that rises in drama with these two finding every little nuance.

Baillie and Thwaites bring an exhilarating opening to Wenn ich mit Menschen - und mit Engelszungen redete with a fine rubato and phrasing, rising through moments of greater passion. Midway Baillie finds some lovely sonorous tones with Thwaites’ piano bringing some fine, rich textures in these slower passages, exquisitely shaped before a gentle coda. 

This is one of those rather special discs that one will want to return to for the special qualities these artists bring.  Alexander Baillie provides playing of great emotional depth and is wonderfully accompanied by John Thwaites. They receive a good recording though the instruments are set back in the rather resonant acoustic of the Gert Hecher Klavier-Athelier, Vienna. There are excellent booklet notes from John Thwaites on the music and choice of pianos and performance practice. The nicely illustrated booklet has a painting of the two performers by artist and musician, Christel Baillie www.christelbaillie.com  on the cover.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

A new recording of David Bednall’s Stabat Mater from the Benenden Chapel Choir directed by Edward Whiting, with Jennifer Pike as violin soloist and the composer as organist, brings music of strength, beauty and passion

English Composer, David Bednall www.davidbednall.com was born in 1979 and studied in Sherborne and then at The Queen’s College, Oxford where he was Organ Scholar. In 2000 the Chapel Choir toured Paris under his direction, singing at Notre Dame and other venues. That year he was appointed Organ Scholar at Gloucester Cathedral under David Briggs and Ian Ball. As Acting Director of Music and Acting Assistant Organist, he was closely involved in the Three Choirs Festival.  

He is Organist of the University of Bristol, Sub Organist at Bristol Cathedral and conducts the University Singers. He studied with Dr. Naji Hakim and David Briggs and between 2002 and 2007 was at Wells Cathedral, initially as Sub Organist and then as Assistant Organist. As well as the daily services he accompanied the choirs for concerts and on radio and television broadcasts. He also made a number of recordings with the Cathedral Choir and Chamber Choir on the Hyperion, Regent, Lammas and Priory labels.

He was a prize-winner in Improvisation and Performance at the examination for Fellow of The Royal College of Organists in 2002, and has given recitals at L’Église de La Trinité, Paris, Westminster, St Paul’s and many other cathedrals. Additional engagements have included recitals at Westminster Abbey and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.  In June 2008 he gave a recital at Notre-Dame de Paris.

David Bednall is recognized as one of the leading choral composers of his generation and studied for a PhD in Composition with Professor John Pickard at the University of Bristol. As a composer David Bednall has featured on a number of recordings from Regent Records www.regent-records.co.uk including his Requiem that was Gramophone, Editor’s Choice in May 2007.

His 40–part motet Lux orta est iusto closed the Bristol Proms 2015 and he has been commissioned by the Finzi Trust to write a Gloria and Nunc dimittis to accompany Finzi's setting of the Magnificat for the Three Choirs Festival 2016.

His Stabat Mater was premiered in New York by violinist, Hayley Lam and the Benenden Chapel Choir with the composer as organist. Its UK premiere came in June this year when it was heard at Holy Trinity in Sloane Square, London.

David Bednall’s Stabat Mater has been recorded with Jennifer Pike www.jenniferpike.com  as violin soloist with the Benenden Chapel Choir www.benenden.kent.sch.uk/2404/trust/music-cantemus-chapel-choir  directed by Edward Whiting and the composer as organist for Regent Records coupled with his Marian Suite for violin and organ and his setting of Ave Maria.

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David Bednall’s Stabat mater is in eleven parts. The solo violin of Jennifer Pike opens the Prelude with a long theme that evokes the feel of anguish, bringing a rather Jewish inflection. The organ joins with gentle chords before the violin rises through some passionate passages. Soon the organ introduces a more resolute theme which the violin takes ahead over the organ, rising to a peak for both instruments in an impressive moment before the violinist finds a penetrating hush over the organ to lead into the next section.

The organ moves quietly and gently into the Stabat mater dolorosa with a remote, isolated quality.  The Benenden Chapel Choir enter with the words Stabat mater dolorosa juxta crucem lacrimosa (The grieving mother stood beside the cross) never disturbing the atmosphere of mournful isolation. These fine young female voices are excellent, so appropriate to this theme of a mother’s suffering. The organ suddenly rises up dramatically to lead the voices ahead in a passionate section. The music moves through moments that bring a real tension, the organ and choir weaving lovely sonorities yet with an underlying strength before leading to the coda over soft pulsating organ phrases.

With O quam tristis the organ brings a gentle theme over which the violin adds an exquisite line. The choir join in a gentle, sad Q quam tristis et afflicta (O how sad and afflicted) with the violin weaving a lovely line over the organ. The violin adds some sudden shimmering chords before the music rises up for choir, organ and violin. The violin leads forward over the organ with choir joining in a quite lovely conclusion.

The organ brings an anxious opening to Quis est homo to which the choir joins, bringing a sense of gently urgency. Later the violin joins to bring richer phrases, adding to the tension, rising to a fine climax before falling as the violin plays a mournful melody over the organ as we are led into Vidit suum dulcem where the violin holds a hushed note as the choir sing a quiet and gentle Vidit suum dulcem Natum (She saw her sweet Son).

The mood lightens as the organ introduces Eia, Mater, fons amoris the choir soon entes,r bringing a lovely flow, finely phrased. The violin adds occasionally wistful moments before the solo voice of Olivia Wollaston appears, bringing a lovely purity. The choir continues, rising to a peak before some quite lovely choral singing finds the coda.

The organ introduces Sancta Mater with a sense of gravitas and drama, rising slowly and speeding to a dramatic passage where the choir enters, full of strength and drama with Sancta Mater, istud agas, crucifixi fige plagas cordi meo valide (Holy Mother, grant that the wounds of the Crucified drive deep into my heart) through a section that is in the finest tradition of English choral writing, moving through moments of intense passion and drama before falling as the organ plods to a conclusion.

In Fac me tecum Jennifer Pike’s violin enters alone with a slow, rather mournful theme that is developed through some lovely passages. The organ joins, quickly joined by the choir who bring Fac me tecum pie flere (Let me sincerely weep with you) over a held organ note.  The violin returns to weave its sad tune over the organ line before the choir continues over a deep organ chord. The choir and organ find some lovely choral harmonies, expertly sung by this fine choir before the violin is heard over a stronger organ line, leading to the end.

The choir alone bring Virgo virginum, finding a lovely pace, wonderfully phrased, developing some very fine part writing to which this choir brings a lovely clarity before a finely controlled conclusion.

The organ leaps in with a tremendously energetic and dramatic opening to Fac me plagis vulnerary. The choir enters on the words Fac me plagis vulnerary (Let me be wounded) providing a fine rise and fall. The organ continues to bring moments of drama and tension, wonderfully played by the composer. Soon the solo violin joins immediately followed by the choir as all three develop the tension, rising to a peak. There are many moments of drama in this fast moving sequence before suddenly reducing to a slow mournful solo violin, a moment of stunning contrast. The solo voice of Flo Rivington enters to which the choir joins, then violin. In a most affecting moment a hushed single violin note leads to a hushed organ passage. Bednall, as both composer and organist finds such poetry and feeling here before leading to the conclusion and into the final section.

The organ quietly continues with a gentle pulse to go into Christe, cum sit hinc exire with the choir gently entering in a quite lovely Christe, cum sit hinc exire da per Matrem me venire ad palman victoriae (Christ, when Thou shalt call me hence, may I through your attain the palm of victory). The violin brings a rich sonorous, melancholy line to lead ahead over the organ. The choir re-joins, rising a little before an extended Amen leads with violin and organ to the lovely gentle coda.

All in all this is a remarkably fine work full of poetry, passion and deep feeling. It is most wonderfully sung by the Benenden Chapel Choir under their director Edward Whiting with very fine playing indeed from both Jennifer Pike and David Bednall.

The Marian Suite for violin and organ was written for the soloist here, Jennifer Pike who is joined by David Bednall (organ). The first and last movements are paraphrases on the Gregorian chants Ave Maria and Ave maris stella. The organ brings a gentle opening to Ave Maria over which the solo violin lays a gently flowing melody, bringing a rather contemplative quality. It later increases in passion before the organ and violin find an exquisitely gentle end. The organ introduces a lovely Mary's Lullaby with the violin soon joining to add a timeless, very English sounding melody with a lovely, subtle rocking pulse. The music moves through stronger, richer moments before finding a lovely hushed coda. In Ave maris stella the solo violin finds a more dynamic, faster moving theme with the organ bringing some lovely passages as this section all but dances ahead, full of vigour. There is some excellent playing from Jennifer Pike and David Bednall as we are taken through some impressive passages. Towards the end there is a terrific organ passage, before the violin and organ find a vibrant coda. 

Ave Maria was composed for the Benenden Chapel Choir for this recording. The organ opens gently, soon joined by the violin to weave a lovely melody. The choir joins in this rather lovely setting, in many ways an encapsulation of Bednall’s choral style and a lovely way to conclude this fine disc

There is music of strength, beauty and passion here showing that the English choral tradition is alive and well, yet with such originality. 

The choir and soloists are beautifully recorded in the fine acoustic of the Chapel of St. Augustine, Tonbridge School, UK. There are excellent booklet notes from the composer as well as full Latin texts and English translations. The booklet is nicely illustrated. 

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Impressive piano works that show Australian composer Grant Foster to be a distinctive voice on a new release from Melba Recordings

Composer, Grant Foster www.grant-foster.com was born in Sydney, Australia and studied piano with Alexander Sverjensky (1901-1971) at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music before studying with Marcel Ciampi (1891-1980) in Paris. He began composing at an early age and wrote his first opera, Dark Love, at the age of fifteen.

Eventually, his music was heard by producers in London resulting in his composing of incidental music for Peter Pan directed by Sir Robert Helpmann. The show was a big success and ran for seven consecutive Christmas Seasons.

On his return to Sydney, Foster recorded his first major classical piano work, Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra: War; Peace; Love, for EMI Records. Classical music reviewer in Melbourne, Bob Crimeen, wrote of the Rhapsody: ‘He has written a composition that could in time, be regarded as one of the most significant contributions by an Australian to classical music.’

March 2009 saw the premiere of the Ballad for Two Pianos in France and later that year premiere performances of the Piano Sonata and Overture La Paolina and a recording of Songs of Love and Loss. His Piano Concerto in C Minor was premiered in London in 2010. Foster’s The Pearl of Dubai Suite was recorded in 2011 followed by a recording of his three songs set to poems by Oscar Wilde and the Ballad of Reading Gaol.

A previous recording for Bel Air Music www.belairmusic.com received an enthusiastic response from Gramophone reviewer Andrew Lamb ‘This is amazing! Where has Grant Foster been all these years? The Celebration Overture simply blew me away! I really haven’t heard anything as striking as this for a long while.’ (Gramophone March 2008).

Melba Recordings www.melbarecordings.com.au have now released a recording of piano works by Grant Foster entitled When Love Speaks featuring the composer as pianist.

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Grant Foster opens his recording with his Romance in C sharp minor, written in 2015 and adapted from a song by the composer, bringing forceful chords before relaxing and expanding into gentler bars. This music is shot through with the nostalgia of Rachmaninov yet wholly original, showing Foster’s fine gift for melody. Foster himself proves to be a very fine pianist, shaping and structuring the music beautifully before rising to more dynamic moments, then to find a gentle coda.

His Romance in C, written like the Romance in C sharp minor in 2015 and based on a theme from his Second Piano Concerto, opens gently and tentatively as a descending theme is slowly set out. There is a rather haunting atmosphere before the music finds a gentle forward movement, always with a little hesitant catch to the flow.

Foster’s Piano Sonata, written in 2012 and revised in 2015 is a personal response to war. It is in three movements. The Adagio passionato, molto espressivo opens with a forceful series of chords before further, broader chords underpin the theme. The music moves through some rather beautiful harmonic changes before speeding through some quite wonderful, virtuosic passages played with tremendous assurance, with the theme still heard running through the more complex writing.

The Lento, molto espressivo opens quietly with an underlying feel of tragedy. Foster slowly develops the theme through some wonderful, sensitively formed moments, finding a lovely gentle refined section of exquisite beauty. Occasionally there is a Beethovenian sense of depth and tragedy in the way Foster brings slow, deliberate chords. The music subtly turns to a brighter atmosphere, rising through some beautifully controlled passages before slowing and falling back in the most melancholy of moments to lead to a finely shaped coda.

There is an underlying turmoil as the Allegro vivace slowly increases in tempo and dynamics, running quickly through constantly changing passages as the theme develops. Soon the music slows to bring a rather lovely, slower, more relaxed section. Again it is the way Foster shapes and phrases every detail that is really quite wonderful. The music suddenly speeds through a fast moving varied passage that rises and falls all over the keyboard to the sudden coda.

Elegy: In homage to Sir Robert Helpmann (1986) slowly emerges into a beautifully conceived melody that gently finds its way through some lovely passages. There is a really lovely left hand counterpoint that adds so much to the main theme that constantly changes in its tempo and rhythm before rising in drama and passion through the most impressive moments with some fine rippling phrases. There are lovely little harmonic twists and turns before finding the exquisite delicacy of the opening.

Bydlo is dedicated to the artist, Geraldine van Heemstra http://geraldinevanheemstra.com and was inspired by an etching by her that is reproduced in the CD booklet. There is a fine billowing of sound in the opening before moving through passages of more gently rippling, insistent ideas over which the theme develops. There are many little subtleties that run through this fine piece before a sudden coda.

Foster’s Six Preludes were written in 2011 and all but the first inspired by and dedicated to friends. Prelude 1 has a simple little theme which is delicately set out before being gently developed. It has a rather sad, haunting quality with moments of often aching emotion before rising a little in dynamics to fall back for a gentle coda. Prelude 2 has a gentle flow with Foster finding a subtle forward propulsion before a gentle coda.

Prelude 3 brings a gently trickling flow of melody before finding a greater flow with a forward rhythmic pulse, slowly adding decorations around the melody. Prelude 4 has a lovely undulating melody, full of nostalgia, rising through passages of increased passion before a gentler coda.

Prelude 5 opens with a rather darker feel as it slowly moves ahead before finding a lighter character. It weaves a lovely theme through ever changing ideas. Prelude 6 brings some rather lovely harmonies as this fine theme finds its way forward through the most lovely of passages with the lovely harmonies adding so much.

Ballade (2009) rises out of slow, lower phrases to reveal a theme in the right hand that continues over the opening left hand motif. Slowly little variations occur as the music travels through some exquisite moments, always retaining a melancholic air. The music slowly increases in tempo in some varied rhythmic passages, rising more forcefully through passages of great strength, with some lovely playing from Foster, virtuosic, powerful and wonderfully phrased. Later the music falls through gentler, more delicate bars that ripple wonderfully over the keyboard before finding slow chords that bring a hesitant flow before rising dramatically for the coda.  

This is an impressive work in a collection of very fine piano pieces. Here is a composer well work investigating. Whilst there are occasional influences that show through Grant Foster is a distinctive voice in his own right. 

He receives an excellent recording and there are brief but useful notes on the music by the composer.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

A recording from RCO Live made in the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, brings a performance of Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony that is unsettled, stormy and full of restrained emotion

Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943) made cuts to many of his compositions, often feeling that they were too long or needed tightening up structurally. He did this with his Piano Concerto No.4 in G minor, written in 1927 and revised in 1941. His earlier Piano Sonata No.2 in B flat minor written in 1913 was again revised in 1931. Again his Symphony No.3 in A minor written in 1935 was tinkered with during 1936 with a full revision in 1938  

Whilst many, including myself, prefer the uncut version of the Second Piano Sonata it is probably the cuts that were made to his Symphony No.2 in E minor that have been the most unfortunate. It was Andre Previn when touring Russia and the Far East with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1971 who was asked by a Russian, after thanking him for the concert, why they had not played all of the symphony. It seems that they had always played the original version in Russia, the cut version being made later during the composer’s exile in the west. Following the first performance of the symphony in St. Petersburg in 1908 a critic wrote ‘After listening with unflagging attention to its four movements, one notes with surprise that the hands of the watch have moved forward 65 minutes.’

Previn had already recorded the cut version with the LSO for RCA and it was this experience that sent him looking for the original version which he eventually recorded with the same orchestra for EMI. Comparing the two, one is always struck by the beauty of the development and bridge passages that were excised. Rachmaninov had been concerned that the length of the symphony, approaching an hour, was too much for modern audiences. Now, thankfully, it is only the original that is performed.

RCO Live www.concertgebouworkest.nl/nl/webshop has just released an SACD live recording of Rachmaninov’s Symphony No.2 in E minor with Mariss Jansons www.opus3artists.com/artists/mariss-jansons and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra www.concertgebouw.nl 

SACD
RCO 16004

Mariss Jansons takes the brooding opening of the Largo - Allegro moderato of Rachmaninov Symphony No.2 in E minor, Op.27 (1907) at a slow pace, allowing the music to unfold. The listener soon finds that the tempo has subtly increased without any awareness, achieving a forward momentum and rising emotionally through some really passionate passages. It is Jansons’ fine pacing and structuring that provides a completely natural arch like form.  When the cor-anglais introduces a fast moving passage there is some particularly fine playing from the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, taut in all the dynamic surges that occur, with the woodwind providing some fine moments. Jansons brings a very fine, natural orchestral rubato, finding many lovely moments, little points where he just holds back, subtly, finding a flexible tempo. He builds the music to moments of real heft and in Rachmaninov’s lovely developed passages, finds a lovely natural flow.  The RCO’s brass sound through as the music is brought to a terrific climax before falling back, so many little instrumental details showing through. Jansons finds a rumbling, unsettled passage before heading to a crisp decisive coda.

Despite the marking Allegro molto Jansons provides a steady yet flexible tempo, revealing a glistening orchestration. He is never rushed moving through some beautifully shaped string passages, always keeping shy of overly luscious textures, never sentimentalised. There is a great clarity of orchestral texture. There is a trio section that scurries ahead in contrast to the steadier pace around it.  Jansons brings a fine weight to the orchestral sound in places, with sudden fierce outbursts as the orchestra is unleashed.  When the romantic string theme returns it is allowed a little more head, more passion before a finely judged coda.

In the Adagio Jansons allows the clarinet to slowly unwind its lovely theme beautifully, set nicely within the orchestra.  There is a lovely pulse in the orchestra behind the clarinet and when the orchestra takes over the melody they are careful not to rush their fences, slowly and naturally building in strength and tempo. Jansons’ pacing never allows sentimentality to appear. There are exquisite woodwind passages as the theme is woven between them. The rubato here is terrific. Again passages that used to be cut are wonderfully developed before rising to a really fine peak. There is a lovely moment for the leader before the theme is shared around various instruments of the orchestra in a particularly fine section.  When the strings bring back the clarinet theme it is quite lovely, particularly with the brass and woodwind appearing through the texture. There is such beautifully nuanced playing right through to the magically wrought coda. 

The orchestra leaps up brilliantly in the Allegro vivace, galloping forward as if to brush aside all thoughts of melancholy and nostalgia. The music falls through some wonderfully controlled bars before being allowed to slowly build again. There is a lovely string passage revealing Tchaikovskian influences, Jansons keeping a tight reign as the music develops through some subtly quiet moments. The pulsating brass in the bass has a lovely pulse. Later Jansons allows the music to relax and fall away with a lovely woodwind passage before leaping up to bound ahead through some fine passages as the various strands are woven. There is a moment of tension with a bassoon heard before the music rises majestically with cymbal clashes and drum strokes to move quickly ahead. This conductor finds so many of the composer’s little details as the music quietens only to slowly and steadily grow to a peak, wonderfully controlled. As the music flowers into the main theme, full of confidence and forward flow, it arrives at a glorious peroration before rushing into the dynamic coda. 

This is a conductor who is fully in tune with Rachmaninov bringing a performance that is unsettled, stormy and full of restrained emotion. The SACD recording, live from the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, is finely detailed with great depth. There is no audible audience noise but applause is kept at the end. There are informative booklet notes. 

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Peter Seabourne’s Symphony of Roses is given a triumphant world premiere by the Biel Solothurn Theatre Orchestra, Switzerland conducted by Kaspar Zehnder

I have had immense enjoyment reviewing the recordings of works by British composer, Peter Seabourne www.peterseabourne.com which I have found to be ‘compelling’ (Steps Volume 5: Sixteen Scenes before a Crucifixion) and ‘powerful and emotional’ (Pietà for viola and piano) (see links below for reviews).

The Sick Rose No. 5
by Azadeh Razaghdoost © www.azadehrazaghdoost.com

Following on from the world premiere of his Piano Concerto No. 2 that received a tumultuous reception at Prague’s Martinů Hall (view at: https://youtu.be/T0mLc2MNenM) Peter Seabourne’s Symphony of Roses received its triumphant world premiere on 18th May 2016, performed by the Biel Solothurn Theatre Orchestra, Switzerland www.tobs.ch/de/home  conducted by Kaspar Zehnder  www.kasparzehnder.com , the composer called back to the platform many times.

Peter Seabourne’s Symphony of Roses was written between 2011and 2014. Lasting around thirty minutes, its first two movements were influenced by William Butler Yeats’ poems, The Rose of Battle www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/rose-battle  and The Rose of Peace www.bartleby.com/336/667.html . It was a painting by the poet’s brother, Jack Yeats, A Rose Among Many Waters, www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/yeats-a-rose-among-many-waters-t12918 that gave inspiration for the third and last movement.

Woodwind and brass weave a motif around bell chimes in the opening of The Rose of Battle before pizzicato strings join. The music pulls itself up into a longer breathed theme for strings with the Biel Solothurn Theatre Orchestra under Kaspar Zehnder providing a fine tautness of phrasing. The music seems to hover between pensive and more expansive passages, full of drama and increasing emotional heft. Soon there is a slackening of tension as a passage of intense sadness arrives. The music develops through a passage for woodwind, brass and pizzicato strings before gaining in weight in the lower orchestra. Bells are heard whilst a cor-anglais takes the melody, rising to a tremendously dramatic peak only to find a more relaxed gentle sad passage out of which a glorious melody emerges. The composer pulls together so many strands with pizzicato strings and bells appearing, before a side drum is heard. There is a wonderfully conceived passage where a myriad of instruments feed through the orchestral tapestry. The music increases in agitation, pointed up by side drum, finding much power before arriving at a series of incisive chords. The music suddenly lightens, there is the briefest of rests before a wonderfully glowing passage arrives where the cor anglais is heard, hushed bells then appearing in the in the coda.

A lone clarinet opens The Rose of Peace with a little questioning motif before the orchestra moves with the celeste adding a gentle line in music of intense yearning.  A cor-anglais weaves through the strings in this lovely theme, finding some exquisite moments with beautifully shaped ideas. Soon the music finds a strength as it rises, only to fall back with intense melancholy.  A little string ensemble weaves a lovely passage, shot through with woodwind before a lovely moment when a trumpet appears over the strings. The clarinet appears with its opening motif with a harp accompaniment as we are led to a quite wonderful hushed coda with chiming of bells.

There is an unsettled nature to the final movement, A Rose Among Many Waters, which opens with fast moving, vibrant pizzicato strings. These are soon joined by woodwind before the orchestra takes the theme in a more flowing passage. The pizzicato strings return before brass enter as the music increases in strength. There are pounding outbursts as the orchestral weight increases but soon the music falls to a melancholy passage for strings out of which woodwind bring some lovely phrases. A trumpet brings a heart rending theme over anxious strings before brass rise up bringing stabbing phrases. The strings lead quickly ahead, the orchestra getting increasingly dramatic with bass drum strokes. Bells chimes appear in a luminescent moment before the orchestra takes us to the sudden coda on a bass drum stroke.

This symphony is a tremendous work, full of drama, strength, poetry and intense tragedy, wonderfully structured. It is a work that reveals even more with repeated listening. It received a remarkably fine performance from Kaspar Zehnder and the Biel Solothurn Theatre Orchestra.

The whole symphony can be heard as part of a complete concert broadcast by SRF

The second movement can be seen in a video available on YouTube at:

See also:



Monday, 11 July 2016

Saxophonist, Harry White and pianist Edward Rushton record a disc of 23 vocalise-etudes for BIS written by a cross section of 20th century composers on a disc that is full of great variety and interest with some terrific little gems that will bring much enjoyment

Vocalises are, traditionally, textless vocal exercises sung to one or more vowels, but in 1906 a voice professor at the Paris Conservatoire, Amédée-Louis Hettich (1856-1937) commissioned contemporary composers to write vocalise-etudes that would raise such pieces from mere exercises to works of art in their own right.

Over a period of thirty years he persuaded composers ranging from Paul Dukas to Olivier Messiaen to write vocalise-etudes that were used as examination pieces for voice students at the Conservatoire. It was not just French composers who provided these works. Such figures as Bohuslav Martinů, Carl Nielsen and Heitor Villa-Lobos also responded to commissions. Over 150 of the vocalises were published in fourteen volumes entitled Répertoire Moderne de Vocalises-Études. Several of the vocalise-etudes have been arranged for various instruments.

Saxophonist, Harry White www.harrywhite.net and pianist Edward Rushton www.edwardrushton.net/pianist.html have recorded 23 of the vocalise-etudes arranged for alto saxophone and piano on a new release for BIS Records www.bis.se/index.php

BIS - 9056

With Paul Dukas’ (1865-1935) Vocalise-Étude ‘alla Gitana’ (1909) the piano chords bring a rather Iberian feel before the alto saxophone joins in a fine melody, the two weaving some rather wonderful lines.  There are moments of reflective poetry with a variety of tone from the saxophone, often finding a lovely warm tone but with moments of brilliance. Georges Auric’s (1899-1983) Vocalise-Étude (1926) has a nostalgic charm of its own with the piano running a lovely line alongside the saxophone melody.

There is a firmer touch to Francis Poulenc’s (1899-1963) Vocalise-Étude (1927) with rather a deliberate theme, the saxophone rising to moments of intensity, developing some strong chords from the piano as well as moments of gentler reflection. The Belgium, Joseph Jongen (1873-1953) brings a rhythmic skip, with a sense of fun to his Vocalise-Étude ’Sérénade’, Op. 83 (1928), the saxophone weaving some lovely passages before finding a more leisurely flow midway, all the while the piano accompaniment providing a wonderfully light touch.  

Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) is the most recent composer on this disc to provide a work for this collection. The piano introduces a rather oriental sounding theme for his Vocalise-Étude (1935) which the saxophone gently takes forward over a rising and falling, rippling piano accompaniment. This is a quite haunting theme with both these performers finding much sensitivity. The music rises centrally with later, occasional subtle dissonances. This is a little gem full of Messiaen fingerprints.

Arthur Honegger (1892-1955) was Swiss by parentage but born in France. With his Vocalise-Étude (1929) the piano lays down a line over which the saxophone brings a melancholy melody. There are some particularly rich saxophone sonorities in this very fine little piece. Albert Roussel’s (1869-1937) Vocalise-Étude ’Aria’ (1928) has a fine rhythmic lilt for piano over which the saxophone weaves some terrific passages, rising in dynamics at times, these two players revealing an instinctive rapport.

Joseph Canteloube (1879-1957) will be known to most people for his collection of orchestrated folksongs from the Auvergne region of France, Chants d'Auvergne. His Vocalise-Étude ‘en forme de Bourrée’ (1927) has a boisterous opening for the piano to which the saxophone joins to take us on a jolly journey, full of freedom and spirit. The saxophone brings a lovely melody over a piano accompaniment in Darius Milhaud’s (1892-1974) Vocalise-Étude ‘Air’, Op. 105 (1928), weaving forward, full of harmonic shifts.  

Pierre de Bréville’s (1861-1949) Vocalise-Étude’ Maneh’ (1907) has a delicate, very French opening for the piano to which the saxophone brings a tranquil, quite beautiful melody. Both players provide wonderful phrasing, rising in little dynamic moments, through a short solo passage for saxophone to a gentle coda.  

Florent Schmitt (1870-1958) was born in the Lorraine region of France bordering Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany. His Vocalise-Étude pour Erik Satie, Op. 130 (1906) has a flowing piano accompaniment as the saxophone takes the theme slowly ahead with some long melodic lines, increasing in tempo and dynamics occasionally yet retaining a fine flow.

There is a typically gentle, thoughtful opening for piano to Maurice Ravel’s (1875-1937) Vocalise-Étude ‘en forme de Habanera’ (1907) with the saxophone bringing a quite lovely theme, full of flourishes and scented Iberian flavour. Louis Vierne’s (1870-1937) Vocalise-Étude à Monsieur A. L. Hettich (1907) moves forward with a fine melody for the saxophone, underlined by an insistent piano motif. Later both performers weave the melody, with some lovely decorations from the saxophone.

A chord from the piano introduces a slow, quiet theme for saxophone in Jean Huré’s (1877-1930) Vocalise-Étude (1922), the piano adding fine chords intermittently to accompany the melody. This is music full of nostalgic charm, very French, with almost Ravelian moments. Jacques Ibert (1890-1962) opens his Vocalise-Étude ‘Aria’ (1927) with a leisurely, rising and falling piano motif before the saxophone brings a lovely melody with some lovely sonorities, this player always finding new timbres and subtle colours.

The Hungarian composer, László Lajtha (1892-1963) provides a lively, rhythmic Vocalise-Étude (1930) with both performers weaving and chasing through varying tempi and dynamics with beautifully controlled playing from both. Alexander Labinsky’s (1894-1963) Vocalise-Étude ‘Ferveur’ (pub. 1931) is revealed as a gently undulating melody, very much in a lighter vein.

Russian composer, Alexander Gretchaninov (1864-1956) was in France when he composed his Vocalise-Étude (pub. 1929), later settling in the USA. Sudden dynamic piano phrases open the piece with the saxophone adding a long held note before bringing a theme over the piano. The saxophone rises around the piano before a decisive coda.

Nikolai Tcherepnin (1873-1945) was another Russian composer and father of the composer and pianist Alexander Tcherepnin. In 1921, he moved to Paris and lived there for the rest of his life. His Vocalise-Étude (1927) has a quizzical little motif for piano that is taken up into a theme for the saxophone and developed through some atmospheric passages, finding a slightly eastern flavour. This is a rather mesmerising piece.

The Czech composer, Bohuslav Martinů (1890-1959) was living in Paris when he wrote his Vocalise-Étude, H. 188 (1930). It has a lively theme introduced by the piano, with the saxophone soon joining to dash ahead, full of life and good humour, through a jazz inflected passage reflecting the influences on the composer at that time.  

The Italian composer, Francesco Malipiero’s (1882-1973) Vocalise-Étude (1928) has a slow little motif for piano, which the sax unfolds to reveal as a beautiful haunting melody. It rises in dynamics before finding a quiet end with some absolutely lovely saxophone sonorities and timbres.

Danish composer, Carl Nielsen 1865-1931) wrote his Vocalise-Étude (1927) late in his career after his sixth and final symphony, Sinfonia semplice (1924-24) and Flute Concerto (1926). The leisurely melody that opens soon finds some unusual intervals with many twists and turns before picking up in a rhythmic, faster moving section before slowing to wander gently forward, the piano keeping a gentle rhythm.

The Brazilian composer, Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) stayed in Paris in 1923–24 and 1927–30 where Parisian concerts of his music made a strong impression, certainly sufficient to encourage a commission for his Vocalise-Étude (1929). Sudden piano chords open the work immediately followed by a fast moving theme for saxophone over insistent piano chords. There are sudden little dynamic piano chords as the saxophone pushes the theme forward. Sudden little descending piano chords arrive as the saxophone finds a languid coda.  

Saxophonist, Harry White and pianist, Edward Rushton prove to be a first class duo. Indeed, White is one fine saxophonist who, together with the most sensitive of accompanists brings such a variety of tone, textures, sonority and colour not to mention panache.

There are some famous names from 20th century music here on a disc that is full of great variety and interest. Indeed there are some terrific little gems here that will bring much enjoyment. 

The two artists are well recorded at the SRF Radio Studio, Zurich, Switzerland, giving a nice balance between instruments. There are notes about the background to these works from Harry White.