Saturday, 25 June 2016

A piano concerto and a selection of solo piano works by Stanford superbly played by Benjamin Frith for Champs Hill Records

Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) was born in Dublin, Ireland into a well-off and highly musical family. He was educated at Cambridge where he was appointed organist of Trinity College.  He continued his musical education with Carl Reinecke (1824-1910) in Leipzig and Kiel in Berlin. He succeeded George MacFarren 1813-1887) as Professor of Music at Cambridge and taught at the Royal College of Music, later Director.

He counted among his pupils some of the great names in early 20th century British music including Gustav Holst, Ralph Vaughan Williams, John Ireland, Frank Bridge and Arthur Bliss.

Stanford was prolific as a composer writing operas, choral works including a very fine Requiem and much music for the Anglican Church, seven symphonies, numerous concertos, six Irish Rhapsodies, songs, chamber music and works for organ and piano. His numbered works total 194.

Champs Hill Records www.champshillrecords.co.uk have just released a new recording of Stanford’s Piano Concerto No.2 in C minor together with a number of works for solo piano with pianist Benjamin Frith www.rncm.ac.uk/people/benjamin-frith and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales www.bbc.co.uk/bbcnow/events  conducted by Andrew Gourlay www.andrewgourlay.com

CHRCD 042

Stanford wrote his Piano Concerto No.2 in C minor, Op.126 in 1911 at the time of a visit to England of the Russian pianist and composer, Rachmaninov. Indeed, there are moments in Stanford’s concerto that recall a degree of Russianness. The new concerto was tried out at the Royal College of Music in September 1911 but, despite interest from Moritz Rosenthal and Willem Mengelberg was not premiered until 1915 when, through the efforts of Horatio Parker it was included in the Norfolk Music Festival, Connecticut, USA played by Harold Bauer with Arthur Mees conducting. Stanford and his wife could not be present. They had booked to travel to the US on the Lusitania on 15th May but the ship was torpedoed off the coast of Ireland on 7th May. 

The Allegro moderato bursts forth, full of energy, horns rising over the piano arpeggios through some rather Brahmsian passages with Benjamin Frith providing such wonderfully assured playing, weaving effortlessly around the orchestral accompaniment. Soon there is a particularly lovely quieter, stiller moment, beautifully shaped by Frith and the orchestra. For all the Germanic influences Stanford reveals his own voice. There are some decisive, more powerful moments as well as a lovely moment for cello and woodwind over a rippling piano motif which the piano takes forward with the woodwind, weaving a lovely melody. Frith draws out so much beauty from these quieter passages aided by a quite lovely orchestral accompaniment. The music rises through some fine, sturdier passages which for all their fine flow have an underlying tautness. Later there is another gorgeous moment of great poetry before pianist and orchestra rise through some quite thrilling bars that lead to the coda.

Frith brings some memorable moments to the Adagio Molto - Piu mosso, opening with lovely little ripping phrases as the theme is gently revealed. There is a wistful orchestral accompaniment before the music rises subtly in dynamics. An oboe joins the ripping piano theme and, as the melody flows gently forward, there are occasionally Brahmsian intervals that Stanford seems to have unconsciously absorbed and made his own. A trumpet is heard over a hushed passage for piano and orchestra before gaining in forward movement in the orchestra, the piano providing lovely decorations. Occasionally there is a Russianness that, to me, recalled Rachmaninov or, indeed, Medtner. The rippling chords rise up before falling and leading to the coda which is especially fine.

Frith and the orchestra leap into action in the Allegro molto, soon moving ahead quickly in a crisp staccato theme for piano. Here, there are hints of Stanford’s Irish roots with some very fine slower passages before regaining a fast flow through some terrific rising and falling scales for piano. The second subject returns with all its Irish flavour before gathering pace to rush with terrific fluency to a rigorous coda.

Benjamin Frith, with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Andrew Gourlay, moulds the music wonderfully, keeping a taut reign where necessary, finding all the poetic moments.

The Concerto has a first rate recording at the BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff, Wales.

Important to this new release are the works for solo piano that haven’t received much attention from record companies.

The three Dante Rhapsodies, Op.92 were written for Percy Grainger who, as a pianist, much impressed Stanford. Grainger gave the premiere of No’s 2 and 3 at the Bechstein Hall, London (now Wigmore Hall) in February 1905 and performed the whole set the following month.

No. 1 'Francesca' opens gently and thoughtfully, Frith gently shaping the fine theme before building through rolling phrases. This pianist is quite captivating in the way he shapes and moulds this piece revealing a Lisztian breadth. There are passages of sustained restraint and poetry before slowly lightening in mood through delicate passages, exquisitely drawn. The music rises through more dramatic moments with an almost Schumannesque sense of fantasy before falling to a darker hue and a sad little coda that, nevertheless, ends on firm chords.

No. 2 'Beatrice' opens with a gentle forward flow, rising subtly through bars of more intense emotion, beautifully controlled here. Frith’s phrasing and attention to dynamics, the lovely ebb and flow, is wonderfully done. The music leads through some wonderfully conceived passages, again with all the fancy of Schumann and revealing Stanford’s gift for rhapsodic invention. Later the music rises powerfully through a most dramatic section before some lovely light and fleet passages in the lead up to the hushed coda.

No. 3 'Capaneo' moves forward with a strongly characterised theme, running through passages of varying nature, with a fast and fleet variation alternating with a broader theme, somewhat Brahmsian in feel. This pianist reveals a wonderful ebb and flow, wonderfully taut. Eventually the opening returns to be quickly varied before rushing forward to the lovely coda.

Stanford’s Six Characteristic Pieces, Op.132 come from 1912, a year in which the composer produced very little in the way of new works. Benjamin Frith chooses two of these pieces opening with the quite beautiful No. 3 – Study that rises from a delicate opening through firmer yet equally attractive passages with the fine melody running over the more intricate line. This is a lovely work, beautifully played. No. 4 – Roundel (In Memorium, R. Sch. June 8.1911), in memory of Robert Schumann,  opens with a questioning little theme before quickly and gently moving forward, full of melancholy and nostalgia, rising centrally in drama and emotion before gently moving to the hushed coda where there is a sense of resignation.

Five Caprices, Op.136 date from 1913. Frith has chosen to play No. 5 - Tempo di valse for this recording, opening with a lovely little motif that quickly rolls into a waltz theme, full of lovely, often more dramatic moments with a contrasting central section. There is some terrific fluency form Frith, as well as rhythmic vibrancy.

There are some fine moments in these very attractive pieces played superbly by Benjamin Frith. The recording, made at The Music Room, Champs Hill, West Sussex, England, is tip top. There are excellent booklet notes. 

Surely Benjamin Frith is the ideal pianist for Stanford. Is it too much to hope for more - perhaps a complete disc of Stanford’s solo piano music?

Friday, 24 June 2016

BIS brings recordings of violin concertos by Henrik Hellstenius and Ørjan Matre, two very fine Norwegian composers who have both developed their own distinctive ways of creating works that are full of the finest textures, harmonies and colours and at times much emotional impact

A new release from BIS Records www.bis.se features violin concertos by two Norwegian composers, Henrik Hellstenius and Ørjan Matre performed by violinist Peter Herresthal www.peterherresthal.com with the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra www.sso.no conducted by Rolf Gupta http://kdmueller.de/kuenstler/dirigenten/rolf-gupta

SACD
BIS 2152

Henrik Hellstenius (b.1963) http://hellstenius.no studied musicology at the University of Oslo and later composition with Lasse Thoresen at the Norwegian State Academy in Oslo. He later went on to study with Gérard Grisey at the Conservatoire Superieure in Paris as well as computer-supported composition at IRCAM in Paris.

Hellstenius´ output encompasses a large range of works: chamber music, orchestral works, opera, electroacoustic music and music for theatre, film and ballet. His music is frequently performed in concerts and festivals around Europe. His compositions explore sound, rhythm, and movement yet with an emotional force. He is professor of composition at the Norwegian State Academy of Music in Oslo.

Ørjan Matre (b.1979) www.orjanmatre.no was born in Bergen and studied composition at the Norwegian Academy of Music with Bjørn Kruse, Lasse Thoresen, Olav Anton Thommessen and Henrik Hellstenius. He has become a distinct voice in Norwegian music, receiving many commissions from leading performers, ensembles and orchestras. The recent years have included premieres at Ultima Festival, Warsaw Autumn, Sound Scotland, Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik and Darmstadt Ferienkurse.

He has written works for a variety of ensembles, from chamber music to full symphony orchestra. For all his use of new techniques one can still hear elements of tradition in Matre’s music.

This new release opens with an orchestral work by Henrik Hellstenius, his Like Objects in a Dark Room for orchestra (2007, rev. 2014). The composer writes that ‘I had this image of composing sound objects that really have the presence of physical objects…my image was a merry-go-round, with the different objects circling around at different speeds.’

The work opens tentatively with snare drums taps against a hushed orchestral idea. Soon there are sudden little outbursts as the drum taps continue, strings bring scurrying phrases with brass interventions. A shunting sound appears before a piano is heard in a fast moving, short lived motif. The music bubbles up in certain passages, Hellstenius finding surprises at every turn. There are more percussion sounds added to the side drum before the brass rise up. There are a myriad of bubbling orchestral ideas that emerge before the shunting sounds are heard more clearly. The music moves ahead through passages of wild images in the orchestra before falling to a quieter passage with a side drum rhythm in the coda.

Hellstenius’ In Memoriam (Violin Concerto No. 2) for violin solo, string orchestra and percussion (2012, rev. 2013) is dedicated to his father and arose out of a close creative relationship with violinist, Peter Herresthal the soloist on this disc. Reflecting his father’s Alzheimer’s disease, the composer writes ‘the way the world blurs and becomes less present…is a kind of model for the piece…and, of course, there is a lament from my side…’

Strings open high up with astringent little phrases before soloist Peter Herresthal joins to continue the phrases. Hellstenius brings some remarkable, delicate little phrases out of which dissonant chords appear. There are hushed, deep timpani rolls as the soloist develops the music along with the strings of the orchestra in some beautifully formed delicate harmonies. This soloist brings a tremendous clarity to the fine textures with percussion adding colour and texture. Soon there is a remarkable section for soloist, with fast staccato notes over descending percussion that leads forward quickly in a sparkling passage. Later there is a sturdy orchestral theme, stepping forward over which the soloist brings a faster, anxious line. There is some spectacularly fine playing from soloist here, finding every little detail, colour and texture with the orchestra and percussion dovetailing wonderfully. There are some lovely harmonies as the theme is developed, becoming ever more passionate as well as moments of reflection as the soloist slowly works out ideas over a hushed orchestra.

There are lovely colours that appear out of the orchestral texture as the soloist slowly moves forward developing the theme through some terrific passages. There is a thunderously dramatic section for orchestra that gives way to a haunting violin line over a deep mournful orchestral layer. Bells chime in the hush as the soloist brings an exquisite passage before the music is gently and delicately developed over a very spare hushed background. Here the composer has created a quite haunting atmosphere as the soloist weaves ahead with the orchestra, laden with heavy emotion and becoming increasingly anxious. The music becomes laden with weight and emotion in the orchestra as the soloist brings an anguished, astringent solo line before sailing up to the heights over the slightest orchestral accompaniment to find the hushed coda.

Ørjan Matre has also worked closely with Peter Herresthal whilst writing his Violin Concerto (version for solo violin and orchestra) (2014).

In two movements, the orchestra launches straight into a forward moving, vibrant opening of Movement I. The soloist soon joins to bring a slower, calmer, longer line in a lovely theme that is overlaid by gentle orchestral textures and colours. Soon the orchestra brings a darker, more intense idea with deep timpani strokes, percussion adding much texture and colour, out of which the soloist brings a rather melancholy little theme that is developed with some really fine harmonies over an exquisitely textured orchestral backdrop. Matre creates moments of great luminosity contrasted with fuller orchestral passages. The soloist develops some lovely phrases over a delicate orchestral accompaniment before a rhythmic theme arrives but soon the music slows to its former tempo. There are richer orchestral phrases over which an oboe appears before the soloist enters to move ahead through more fine passages of luminescent orchestral textures over which the soloist weaves a lovely line.

Eventually there is a faster, more dramatic section for soloist and orchestra pointed up by drums with some very fine fast moving phrases from the soloist. The orchestra rises in a passage of greater drama, bringing some very individual orchestral sonorities and colours before the soloist enters again, high up on a sustained note as delicate orchestral textures are heard with hushed timpani rolls. Slowly the music works towards a hushed, atmospheric coda, full of the most lovely textures.

The soloist and orchestra bring transparent textures as Movement II opens, soon gaining in tempo as the theme is developed with an underlying rhythmic motif slowly becoming more apparent. The music increases in drama before the soloist weaves his line through a more intense orchestral accompaniment. The way that this soloist weaves in and out of the orchestral texture is really quite wonderful. Later there is a slower, more relaxed section with the soloist developing fast, delicate phrases, through a faster and more urgent passage with a fine development of orchestral colours and textures before quietening in the coda.

The disc concludes with an orchestral work by Matre, his PreSage for orchestra (2013, rev. 2015). It was written as an orchestral opening piece for a concert by the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra that featured Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and uses an idea from that work as a basis for the new piece.

It opens quietly and slowly with gossamer textures, slowly developing the most lovely delicate, shimmering textures and soon rising through the most finely orchestrated passages, full of fine details. It finds a forward pulse through which orchestral ideas bubble up. Matre’s use of the orchestra is terrific, subtly conjuring the most lovely phrases. Drums join as the music gains in drama and intensity through passages of dynamic power with varied instrumental ideas that bring the feel of a concerto for orchestra with a myriad of orchestral ideas before the orchestra subsides into a less dramatic vein. The music still finds moments of more drama before falling to a hushed coda, ending on a drum tap.

Here are two very fine composers who have both developed their own distinctive ways of creating works that are full of the finest textures, harmonies and colours and at times much emotional impact. These are works that bring fresh rewards with repeated listening. 

The performances are first rate and the SACD recordings from the Stavanger Concert Hall, Norway are up to BIS’ finest standards. There are excellent booklet notes.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Strikingly original and often quite beautiful choral works by Latvian composer, Ēriks Ešenvalds on a new disc from Ondine featuring Sinfonietta Rīga, the Latvian Radio Choir and soloists conducted by Sigvards Kļava

Latvian composer, Ēriks Ešenvalds (b. 1977) www.eriksesenvalds.com was born in Riga in 1977 and studied at the Latvian Baptist Theological Seminary before obtaining his Masters degree in composition from the Latvian Academy of Music under the tutelage of Selga Mence. From 2002-2011 he was a member of the State Choir Latvija. In 2011 he was awarded the two-year position of Fellow Commoner in Creative Arts at Trinity College, Cambridge University, UK.

Ēriks Ešenvalds has won multiple awards for his work, including the Latvian Great Music Prize (2005 & 2007). The International Rostrum of Composers awarded him first prize in 2006 for The Legend of the Walled-in Woman, he was made a laureate of the Copyright Award in 2006 and was The Year's New-Composer Discovery of the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2010, the same year he was nominated for the British Composer Award. In 2011 the Kamēr Youth Choir's CD O Salutaris featuring choral music exclusively by Ēriks Ešenvalds won the Latvian Music Records Award as the best academic music album of the year. In 2014 the State Choir Latvija's CD At the Foot of the Sky featuring choral music exclusively by Ēriks Ešenvalds won the Latvian Music Records Award.

Ēriks Ešenvalds’ compositions have been premiered by ensembles including the Britten Sinfonia, the Choir of Trinity College Cambridge, the Holst Singers and Imogen Heap, Polyphony, the Choir of Merton College Oxford, the Latvian Radio Choir, the State Choir Latvija, the Kamēr Youth Choir, Sinfonietta Rīga, the Bavarian Radio Choir, the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra, the Liepaja Symphony Orchestra, the Netherlands National Children's Choir, the Swedish Art Vocal Ensemble, Salt Lake Vocal Artists, Temple University Philadelphia, The Crossing, Portland State University Chamber Choir, the Choir of the West at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, and The University of Louisville Cardinal Singers, and The University of Mississippi Concert Singers. In 2007 the Latvian National Opera staged his first opera Joseph is a Fruitful Bough.

Ondine www.ondine.net have just released a recording of Ešenvalds’ St Luke Passion coupled with three other choral works, A Drop in the Ocean, The First Tears and Litany of the Heavens with Sinfonietta Rīga www.sinfoniettariga.lv , the Latvian Radio Choir www.radiokoris.lv/lv/koris  and soloists conducted by Sigvards Kļava www.radiokoris.lv/lv/koris/sigvards-klava

ODE 1247-2

Having already written Passion and Resurrection, an oratorio for soprano, mixed choir and string orchestra, in 2005, it was the conductor on this recording, Sigvards Kļava, that suggested to Ēriks Ešenvalds’ that he should write the Passion according to St Luke (2014).

On this recording of the Passion Sigvards Kļava, the Latvian Radio Choir and Sinfonietta Riga are joined by soloists Ieva Parša (mezzo-soprano), Jānis Kurševs (tenor) and Daumants Kalniņš (baritone). 

A roll of timpani dramatically takes us into Espressivo with an outburst of ‘Crucify Him, They All cried’ from the chorus and orchestra before tenor, Jānis Kurševs calls ‘Why…’ all the while Ešenvalds maintains a terrific sense of drama and impending catastrophe. Kurševs brings a fine sense of anguish with the chorus reaching a plateau before falling away for a wonderful woodwind passage we run into Misterioso a quiet, rather static section where mezzo Ieva Parša introduces the words ‘Behold the timber of the cross is a carpenter's work’ a beautifully flowing form of recitative underlaid by the choir with the soloist keeping a beautifully woven line with lovely little decorations.

We are taken straight into a gently rhythmic third section, also titled Espressivo where baritone Daumants Kalniņš sings ‘And there followed him a great company of people’ with the choir chanting a staccato line behind, slowly but inexorably rising in drama to a violent outburst with timpani.

The Adagio opens with an intensely dramatic hush as the mezzo brings a Jewish flavour to ‘Shema Yisrael’ creating the effect of an intense lament. The orchestra hold a wonderfully hushed drama as soloist and orchestra weave the most wonderfully evocative ideas. Later the choir join to raise the temperature as they rise in drama, vocalising with the mezzo and rising to a peak.

Another section marked Espressivo arrives with percussion taps as though we can hear nails being hit. Tenor, Jānis Kurševs enters with a desperate plea ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.’ The mezzo joins for the recitative before the female voices of the choir bring ‘If thou be Christ, save thyself and us’ in an ethereal manner over high static strings. This alternates with the recitative for mezzo in a strikingly wonderful section. ‘Verily I say unto thee’ is sung by the tenor who rises over the choir and orchestra dramatically before settling gently into ‘Today thou shalt be with me in paradise …’ a particularly wonderful moment with Jewish inflections from the choir that take over.

Part VI is marked  = 56 with mezzo and baritone weaving a lovely section on ‘ And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.’ Again the music is full of Jewish inflections, rising in drama for the baritone as they argue over the raiments in a wonderfully characterised section, finding a rather maniacal feel. They build over the choir and orchestra to a peak of intensity before soloist walks away with a final shout.

Percussion provide a jumble of sounds evoking bustle and chaos for Part VII  = 69 before the mezzo and baritone enter dramatically with ‘And the soldiers mocked him, offering him vinegar’ still with percussion adding a disturbing background. The bustle falls away for the mezzo to sing ‘But as they sailed, he fell asleep…’ over a beautifully flowing choral layer with a repeated harp motif as accompaniment. The music builds suddenly for ‘Master we perish…’ a passage of great flowing breadth for chorus and orchestra, dropping suddenly for the baritone to sing ‘Then he arose and rebuked the wind and the raging water…’

The final section, Cantabile rises gently on hushed strings and harp motif where the choir distantly sing  ‘Does that lamp still burn in my Father's house’ out of which the tenor rises to continue, wonderfully controlled as the music surges forward and recedes, Jānis Kurševs showing his strong voice. There is a sudden timpani stroke followed by a hush before mezzo, Ieva Parša enters over static choir and orchestra with ‘Can you hear the One who is calling…’ , a quite lovely moment leaving the mezzo alone as she reaches ‘the One who is love?’

This is a strikingly original and exceptionally beautiful Passion quite wonderfully performed.

A Drop in the Ocean (2006) was commissioned by the Rīga Youth Choir Kamēr and first performed by them at the IV World Choir Games (Xiamen, China in 2006.

For mixed choir the work opens with the sounds of wind before alto, Līga Paegle joins to chant the Pater Noster. Soprano, Ieva Ezeriete joins to bring the Prayer of St Francis, ‘Lord, make be a channel of your peace.’ The choir join to bring a drone like layer of hushed murmurings of the words ‘sadness, darkness, doubt, injury, error, discord, despair, hatred’  as soloists continue the Pater Noster and Prayer of St Francis creating a terrific feeling of mystery. Later the chorus rise out of the hushed murmurings to arrive at a climax with ‘I may bring light’ soaring forward with some fine dissonances.  There is some quite special choral writing here, brilliantly sung by the Latvian Radio Choir. The soloists are heard through the choir before the soprano leads with a song of the Sisters of the Calcutta Mission of Mother Teresa ‘Jesus, You are my God…’ There are some beautifully shaped phrases for soprano and choir before leading gently to an exquisitely controlled, hushed coda where the opening sounds can be heard.

The First Tears (2014) for mixed choir, drum, campanelli, jaw harps and recorder is based on an Inuit folk tale. The Latvian Radio Choir opens alone with a repeated ‘…it was Raven…’ followed by a repeated ‘…who created…’ then ‘…the world…’ slowly expanding as they repeat the text. Individual voices continue with ‘One day, Raven was out on the water in his kayak …’ bringing richer choral sounds before rising in power in a lovely swirl of sound at the words ‘It wasn’t an island at all, but an enormous whale.’ There are female voices over a sustained male voice layer in ‘Raven followed the light and went further inside the whale...’ again increasing in power and tempo. A recorder enters bringing a folk style melody with lovely little inflections over a choral backdrop. The chorus sound out over jaw harps in ‘Raven followed the light …’ weaving alternative male and female voices through some wonderful choral passages. Later there is a fine moment when the choir hum the melody over delicate, hushed percussion sounds. The music rises in drama to a fine dissonance that drops at the words ‘The girl then stopped dancing…’ through some remarkable fine choral writing to a peak on the words ‘The Raven flew higher and higher…’ before dropping quiet. The recorder returns to lead through a lovely passage for choir and delicate percussion, rising to more moments of drama before jaw harps add their strange sounds, as the recorder glides over a hushed chorus, creating a most unusual, quite beautifully hushed coda.

This is an atmospheric and quite wonderful evocation of the tale.

Litany of the Heavens (2011) is for mixed choir, water tuned glasses, chamber orchestra and tape. A characterful solo male voice opens, a recording of an old Kyrie eleison chant made at a Catholic church in Latvia. The choir rise over the chant creating a fine effect, gently pointed up by harp. The music moves ahead with the most lovely choral sonorities and beautifully controlled dynamics. There are some gorgeous choral and orchestral harmonies and sonorities as the music slowly moves forward with a lovely ebb and flow. The chant is heard again before chorus rise up to achieve a tremendous climax for choir and orchestra that soon finds a lovely glow. Later there is a quiet, gentle passage with exquisitely delicate ringing sounds over a lovely orchestral backdrop before moving through further wonderful climaxes to a most distinctive orchestral passage as the solo taped voice is heard again, chanting before fading into the coda.

This is a most remarkable and beautiful work.

This is a composer I want to hear more of. The works on this disc are strikingly original and often quite beautiful. The performances are excellent as are the recordings from St. John’s Church (Sv. Jana baznica), Riga, Latvia. 

There are informative booklet notes together with full texts and, where necessary, English translations.

Monday, 20 June 2016

A new release from Prima Facie Records of piano and chamber works by Douglas Finch reveals a composer who has developed his own distinctive language with impressive results, creating landscapes that are elusive yet intensely enveloping

The Canadian pianist and composer, Douglas Finch www.douglasfinch.com was born in Winnipeg and had his initial musical training with his mother and later Winnifred Sim and Jean Broadfoot. He continued at the University of Western Ontario with William Aide and then at the Juilliard School in New York with Beveridge Webster. After winning a Silver Medal at the Queen Elisabeth International Competition in Brussels in 1978, he began to perform extensively throughout Canada. He also devoted much of his time to composition, with a number of his works being broadcast on CBC Radio.

In 1993 Finch settled in London, UK and soon afterwards co-founded The Continuum Ensemble with conductor Philip Headlam, premiering over 40 new works and recording for Avie and NMC. He has been artistic director of several acclaimed events in London, including In the MOMENT, a festival of dance and music at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.

As a composer, he has written works for piano, chamber ensemble, orchestra and theatre as well as the soundtracks for four feature-length films by British director Jon Sanders. He is known for his innovative and imaginative approach to performance and for helping to revive the lost art of classical improvisation in concert.

Douglas Finch is Professor of Piano and Composition at Trinity Laban, and a regular guest teacher at Chetham’s School of Music as well as Chetham’s International Piano Summer School in Manchester.

A new release from Prima Facie Records www.primafacie.ascrecords.com features pianist Aleksander Szram www.aleksanderszram.com , flautist Lisa Nelsen www.lisanelsen.com , violinists Toby Tramaseur https://uk.linkedin.com/in/toby-tramaseur-0a83ab9 and Mieko Kanno www.rcs.ac.uk/staff/mieko-kanno  and cellist Caroline Szram www.facebook.com/caroline.szram  in piano and chamber works by Douglas Finch entitled Inner Landscapes.

PFCD040

The landscapes on this new disc range across Canada, Germany, North Wales and New York yet reveal an inner landscape of solitude, mourning and spiritual longing. Finch draws on the paintings of the Canadian artist, Emily Carr whose works often bring a feeling of ‘loneliness and quiet rapture.’

Ruins (1984) is for flute, violin and piano and is a collection of five short pieces written whilst the composer was staying in Brussels and Cologne, the title reflecting the idea that these fragmentary pieces are, in the composer’s words ‘like ruins of grander and more expansive thoughts’. Gently flowing opens with a wavering theme for flute, violin and piano before the motif is gently developed through some very fine textures, these players sensitively finding many lovely moments. The piano of Aleksander Szram opens Calm, deeply and thoughtfully with  flautist Lisa Nelsen joining immediately followed by the violin of Mieko Kanno to take the music forward with sudden little outbursts from the violin, then piano, creating an intensity and foreboding which the flute tries to lighten at the end.

The piano suddenly enters with a loud chord to introduce Quick march, followed by a rhythmic staccato theme as the trio takes the music forward, the piano holding the staccato rhythm over which the violin and flute play, later quietening for a short gentle coda. Slow march brings slow, spaced chords from the piano with a repeated note from the violin. The flute enters over violin chords, bringing a subtly dissonant theme before rising up. The piano chords alone return for the coda.

Gently flowing brings a richer, slow and fluid undulating theme for all three players interrupted by an agitated phrase before slowly and gently moving forward again. Soon the undulating theme returns with the flute and violin weaving a fine texture over the piano. There are some exquisitely shaped passages before the piano brings repeated chords. The flow resumes but the piano chords again interrupt.  The violin and flute become increasingly anxious before a hushed conclusion.

These are distinctive miniatures that catch some lovely moments.

The idea for piano work, Lyric (1984) came to the composer during an autumn evening walk near Leaf Rapids, Northern Manitoba. A rising chord opens before a theme is slowly and thoughtfully revealed in the right hand over deeper chords. The theme is slowly developed in both hands with broader gentle chords appearing, soon finding a haunting atmosphere. The music moves through some lovely passages with occasional dissonant phrases and more dynamic rippling phrases to a faster moving passage that evokes the sound of trickling water. Aleksander Szram finds much delicacy and moments of contrasting drama before slowing to a hushed moment. There are sudden loud ripples but it is a series of gentle phrases that follow before the music finds its peaceful conclusion. This is a really evocative work.

Finch describes his approach to phrasing, development and form as neo-romantic in Fantasy on a Russian Folksong (1989). Although based on a Russian folk song this work, for violin, cello and piano was inspired by the landscape near Pwllheli in North Wales. The strings weave a rising and falling dissonant motif to which the piano adds its own stabilising line before developing through some impressive passages. Violinist Toby Tramaseur, cellist Caroline Szram and pianist Aleksander Szram weave some terrific lines and textures with gentler moments and later the strings weave lovely individual lines around the piano. These players find many little details that add so much. Later there is a passage that brings a great hushed intensity, rising later only to fall back as the music is thoughtfully worked through. A gentle, quietly repeated chord from all the players preludes another rise through a lovely passage of fine string textures and a florid piano passage as the fast final section arrives, bringing an intense forward moving variation, music of determined strength before a sudden end.

It is remarkable how much Finch has managed to develop out of the material of a simple folk song theme, finding so much variety, feeling and atmosphere.

Summer (1993) for cello and piano was inspired by North Wales and the Welsh poet Daffyd ap Gwilym www.dafyddapgwilym.net . It brings a lovely contrast, a slow deeply felt melody that is slowly subjected to rather more dissonant textures before finding a peace to conclude. It is wonderfully performed by cellist Caroline Szram and pianist Aleksander Szram.

There are three piano works on this disc that bear the title Choral, originally inspired when the composer was listening to César Franck’s (1822-1890) Three Chorales for Organ. A two note motif opens Chorale I (2003) soon developing through firm, thoughtful chords. The two note motif appears again higher up and refracted through a dissonance before moving through delicate phrases to find a slow, reflective coda.

This piece is a quite exquisite jewel that receives a lovely performance from Aleksander Szram.

Landscape III (1998) for violin and piano is the third of a series of musical landscapes which the composer tells us are ‘pre-occupied by aspects of proportion, colour and layering meant to produce a kind of inner architectural ‘domain’ for the listener. There is a tentative pizzicato motif from the violin of Mieko Kanno, soon joined by pianist Aleksander Szram to develop the motif through some long drawn phrases. There are so many little details and textures as well as outbursts that bring a stridency, illuminating this landscape as striking images appear. There is a delicate pizzicato moment before gently we move forward through passages of exquisite detail. Later there is a striking outburst with gritty textures from both soloists with dissonances to disturb the landscape as passages of intense anguish appear. Eventually there are hushed harmonics from the violin over a gentle piano line before the violin finds pizzicato and lightly bowed phrases as the piano follows a gentle and delicate line. There are further dramatic outbursts but it is the hushed delicate phrases that end.

This is a quite stunning landscape full of contrasts.

The Ucluelet Peninsula is on the west coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada and means ‘people of the safe harbour’ in the indigenous Nuu-chah-nulth (Nootka) language. Ucluelet (Landscape IV) (2000) for piano opens with the pianist laying out a slow, quiet, gentle theme, slowly gaining in strength as it slowly moves forward, developing all the time. Some very fine phrases, intervals and harmonies are subtly developed. Midway the music reduces to a hush as the theme is very slowly continued. There are some lovely spacious phrases and intervals that feel and sound atonal in character. Later the music suddenly develops a more forceful stance whilst keeping a fine rippling feel. Finch creates some complex intervals, textures and phrases before the music falls quieter again to find a hushed, delicate coda.

Chorale II (2013) opens quietly with a right hand theme over lower left hand chords. Finch achieves the most attractive harmonies and dissonances, slowly developed through a momentary more forceful passage to a gentle, hushed coda. These chorales prove to be impressive forms for Finch’s fine invention.

Lamentations (2001, rev. 2007) for alto flute violin and piano expands on a melody used in a theatre piece by the composer, Transplant, where the chorus lament the bringing out of bodies after a fictional shooting.

The combination of Lisa Nelsen’s alto flute and Mieko Kanno’s violin make a lovely texture and colour over which Aleksander Szram’s piano notes appear as they weave ahead. The piano takes the theme over the flute and violin with Finch, again creating a lovely atmosphere with little droops and so many details. The theme rises up through the flute joined by violin, then piano in this ascending theme. There are the most exquisite dissonances before the music grows steadily more dynamic and intense. Soon there is a plaintive little flute passage along with so many lovely little moments. Later the piano brings a rather ominous, low plodding passage to lead the music inexorably upward in dynamics. The flute and violin draw some very fine textures and harmonies moving through a strikingly beautiful passage with a slow, repeated, meandering piano motif over longer drawn phrases for violin and flute to the quiet coda.

This is another impressive work finely performed.

Chorale III (2013) brings a deep rippling theme in the bass, quickly overlaid by chords that increase in strength. Soon lighter, dissonant chords appear with bell like declamatory phrasing before falling back to reclaim the opening rippling motif underlaid by deep resonant bass chords. Firm chords take us to the coda where the notes are allowed to fade to silence. Aleksander Szram reveals this chorale to be a work of real depth.

Douglas Finch is a composer who has developed his own distinctive language that brings impressive results, creating landscapes that are elusive yet intensely enveloping. 

The performances are all first rate and the recordings from the Blackheath Concert Halls, London are excellent. There are excellent booklet notes from the composer as well as colour photographs of a painting by Emily Carr.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Strong and fresh interpretations of works by Beethoven, Czerny and Mendelssohn, from pianist Gwendolyn Mok using a variety of instruments on a new recording for MSR Classics, makes for a terrific disc on all counts

Gwendolyn Mok www.gwendolynmok.com was born in New York and studied at the Juilliard School of Music, Yale University where she completed her undergraduate studies and State University of New York at Stony Brook, where she gained her Doctorate. The winner of several piano competitions, Vlado Perlemuter chose Mok to be the last student to whom he would pass on his knowledge of Ravel with whom he had studied and played the composer’s entire oeuvre.

In 1994, the French Ministry of Culture awarded Ms. Mok a grant to study with Perlemuter for one year. Since 1995, Mok has been performing Ravel's works in recital and was invited to teach these works at the Royal College of Music, Welsh College of Music, The Dartington International Summer School in Devon, and The San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

In 1996, Mok made her official London debut in two concerts of Ravel in Somerset House, on a restored Erard grand piano of 1875. She was also featured in broadcasts of Ravel on BBC Radio 3, Music Matters, Woman's Hour and the World Service.

Mok has appeared in many of the world's leading concert halls including The Barbican, Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, Avery Fisher Hall, Alice Tully Hall, and The Hong Kong Performing Arts Center. She is also frequently invited to play and record with major international orchestras most notably The London Symphony, The Philharmonia, The Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, The Beijing Philharmonic Orchestra and The Residentie Orkestre of The Hague.

She is currently the Coordinator of Keyboard Studies at San Jose State University School of Music and Dance. She has made a number of recordings for Nonesuch/Elektra, Musical Heritage Society, Cala Records and EMI. Her highly acclaimed debut CD with The Philharmonia of Ravel's Piano Concerto in G Major Cala Records) was nominated for an Alternative Edison award in the concerto category.

MSR Classics www.msrcd.com has just released a recording by Gwendolyn Mok entitled Legacy – The Spirit of Beethoven where she plays works by Beethoven, Czerny and Mendelssohn on instruments of the period from the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies and the School of Music and Dance at San Jose State University  www.sjsu.edu/beethoven/collections_exhibit/historical_keyboard

MS 1590

For Ludwig van Beethoven’s (1770-1827) Piano Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op.2, No.2 (1795) Gwendolyn Mok has chosen a reproduction of a Louis Dulcken fortepiano of 1795 built by Janine Johnson and Paul Poletti www.sjsu.edu/beethoven/collections_exhibit/historical_keyboard/replica_jeanlouis_dulcken_fortepiano/index.html

The Allegro vivace brings a lively crisp articulation from Mok, her fine fluency bringing out some lovely textures from her fortepiano, finding so many little details and nuances that show the instrument to the full.   

The Largo appassionato is really wonderful in the hands of this pianist with passages of fine dexterity set against restrained, poetic moments. In the second movement she brings a lovely lightness of touch to the scherzo through a fluent trio, Mok’s phrasing and dynamics finely judged.  

The concluding Rondo (Grazioso) has a lovely flow, Mok revealing some lovely textures and sonorities, revealing the fine lower register of this instrument. She brings intense feeling to the faster, dramatic section with some lovely fluid moments.  

Mok switches to an 1823 Broadwood and Sons fortepiano made in London www.sjsu.edu/beethoven/collections_exhibit/historical_keyboard/broadwood_sons_grand_fortepiano/index.html for Carl Czerny’s (1791-1857) Erste fantasie auf motive aus Beethoven’s werken (First fantasy on motifs works by Beethoven) (1835). She brings a dramatic opening that is finely developed through slower, delicate passages of quite wonderful beauty, bringing out the lighter texture of the Broadwood fortepiano. She moves quickly and fluently through some terrific passages full of fine textures. The bolder Beethovenian chords come out well on this instrument, which is a fine choice for this music in which, throughout, one hears so many of Beethoven’s themes. Mok shows tremendous fluency and fine phrasing. It is great fun as all the themes appear (listed in the booklet) before a coda full of tremendous panache.

Beethoven’s song cycle An die ferne Geliebte, Op.98 (To the distant beloved) was transcribed for pianoforte by Franz Liszt (1849-1850) and is played here on the same Broadwood instrument. The Andante espressivo reveals a richer side to the Broadwood, full of warmer, lower tones, with Mok providing some beautiful phrasing. There is a lovely little Poco allegretto, finely shaped before a rhythmically buoyant Allegro assai that, nevertheless, is allowed to show moments of more introspection. There is an Allegro non tanto, con grazia e sentimento that has some lovely delicate, light phrases before leading into the opening trills of the Vivace that soon picks up a pace with a terrific theme that later finds a lovely flow. The concluding calm and gently flowing Andante con moto, cantabile, andante espressivo, allegro molto e con brio brings some quite exquisite phrases before a strong coda.

On returning to Carl Czerny, Gwendolyn Mok turns to an Erard of 1868 (Paris) www.sjsu.edu/music/discovering_music/academic_programs/instrumental_performance/keyboard_studies/historic_keyboard  for his Nocturne in E flat major, Op.647 (1841) a gently flowing piece that reveals the Erard has a less bright sound. The music has a lovely rise and fall with this pianist bringing considerable fluency with a steady underlying rhythmic flow. The music rises through more passionate passages as well as bars of limpid fluidity. Mok provides a lovely performance that reveals so many aspects of her instrument, richer phrases as well as lighter more delicate moments, surely influenced by Chopin. 

Gwendolyn Mok concludes her recital with Felix Mendelssohn’s (1809-1847) Variations sérieuses in D minor, Op.54 (1841), again using the 1868 Erard. She sets out the opening theme wonderfully before developing through the seventeen variations that follow. This is an ideal way to reveal aspects of the Erard instrument with a variation 2 that is fast and light on its feet, a variation 6 that brings staccato phrases with an anguished intensity, a variation 7 that is fast and furious and fleet of touch, the slow richer variations of variation 9 that bring a real depth, a vibrant variation 11 with its well sprung phrases, the lovely textures of variation 14 before a rollicking variation to end.

This is a terrific disc on all counts. Gwendolyn Mok not only reveals many fine aspects of the instruments she has chosen to play but, more importantly brings strong and fresh interpretations. 

The detailed recording is well-nigh perfect, bringing the different tone and texture of each instrument.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

An unbeatable disc from Somm Recordings brings masterly performances by Peter Donohoe of Prokofiev’s 6th, 7th and 8th sonatas with many insights and subtleties as well as power, authority and impressive musicianship

Silver Medal winner of the 7th International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1982, Peter Donohoe www.peter-donohoe.com has gone on to establish himself as one of the world finest pianists.

Peter Donohoe studied at Chetham’s School of Music before studying composition with Alexander Goehr at Leeds University, where he studied, and piano with Derek Wyndham at the Royal Northern College of Music. He then went on to study in Paris with Olivier Messiaen and Yvonne Loriod. His prize-winning performances at the British Liszt Competition in London in 1976, the Bartok-Liszt Piano Competition in Budapest in the same year and the Leeds International Piano Competition in 1981 helped build a major career in the UK and Europe.

Since then his he has built an extraordinary world-wide career, encompassing a huge repertoire and performing with the world’s finest conductors and orchestras. He is a keen chamber musician, performs frequently with the pianist Martin Roscoe and has made recordings with the Maggini Quartet of several great British chamber works.

Peter Donohoe is vice-president of the Birmingham Conservatoire and has been awarded Honorary Doctorates of Music from the Universities of Birmingham, Central England, Warwick, East Anglia, Leicester and The Open University. He was awarded a CBE for services to music in the 2010 New Year’s Honours List. In June 2011 he returned to Moscow as a jury member for the 14th International Tchaikovsky Competition.

He has made many fine recordings on EMI Records, which have won awards including the Grand Prix International du Disque Liszt for his recording of the Liszt Sonata in B minor and the Gramophone Concerto award for the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto no. 2.  For Naxos he undertaken a major series of recordings aimed to raise the public's awareness of the British piano concerto repertoire including composers such as Alan Rawsthorne, Sir Arthur Bliss, Christian Darnton, Alec Rowley, Howard Ferguson, Roberta Gerhard, Kenneth Alwyn, Thomas Pitfield, John Gardner and Hamilton Harty.

His recordings of Messiaen with the Netherlands Wind Ensemble for Chandos Records and Henry Litolff for Hyperion have also received widespread acclaim. His recording of Brahms’ 1st Concerto with Svetlanov and the Philharmonia Orchestra was voted best available recording by the US magazine Stereo Review.

Peter Donohoe’s latest release for Somm Recordings www.somm-recordings.com  is the concluding volume of his series of recordings of Prokofiev’s Piano Sonatas. This new disc includes all three of what are known as the war sonatas, No’s 6, 7 and 8.

SOMMCD 259

Prokofiev’s piano sonatas form an important part of his compositional output spanning the whole period of his adult life. Indeed, a few days before his death, his creative spark still undimmed, he asked his wife to write down the titles of the seven last works in his complete catalogue. This included Concerto No.6 for two pianos and orchestra and a cello sonata, both left as sketches; new editions of his fifth piano sonata and second symphony; Piano Sonata No. 10 and Piano Sonata No.11. His tenth sonata was left incomplete and the eleventh unwritten. It does, however, indicate his continued interest in the piano sonata form right to the end.

Donohoe bring a real musical strength to the opening of the Allegro moderato of Piano Sonata No. 6 in A major, Op. 82 (1940) shading and moulding the theme through the more thoughtful passages, always showing his innate musicianship as he gently develops the music. As the music climbs through Prokofiev’s dissonances, Donohoe just hints at the more powerful opening bars. Prokofiev’s insistent rhythms are subtly evoked slowly building through some formidable moments, this pianist finding a terrific clarity of texture, building a superb tension in the coda.

The way this pianist phrases the opening staccato chords of the Allegretto is impressive, finding subtle power before building a terrific rhythmic drive that is pure Prokofiev. He is quite superb bringing a lovely tone and finding a real forward flow before the opening phrases return, leading to a subdued coda.

There is a restrained strength to the Tempo di valzer lentissimo, building in power through some fine passages. Donohoe’s phrasing and clarity of line is wonderful. Centrally he brings a wonderfully fleet and fluent section that leads to impressively powerful chords before some very fine rhythmic changes lead to the quiet coda.

There are some superb fast and furious passages in the opening of the Vivace over which Donohoe reveals a longer line. This pianist’s touch and fluency are superb with a fine clarity in the fastest of passages. He controls the tempo and dynamics superbly, allowing hints of the opening motif of the sonata to appear in the later, thoughtful section before hurtling forward to a spectacularly virtuosic coda.
Donohoe brings a great lucidity to the sprawling opening bars of the Allegro inquieto - Poco meno – Andantino Piano Sonata No. 7 in B-flat major, Op. 83 (1942) underlaid with a rollicking rhythmic pounding motif, bringing a sense of underlying uncertainly. As the music moves through quieter passages there is a sense of impending trauma before finding a nervous energy to move quickly forward. Donohoe brings a terrific weight, superbly judged rubato and so many little subtleties, finding a little more serenity before driving rhythmically to the coda.

Again it is Donohoe’s attention to phrasing and the longer line that allows the Andante caloroso - Poco più animato - Più largamente - Un poco agitato to develop with a flow and strength. He moves the music through some subtly shaded passages, finding moments of impressive power and strength before arriving at some impressively powerful moments. As the music falls away there is a quite wonderful moment of restrained hush but still with a sense of uncertainty.

The Precipitato is fast and finely controlled with subtle phrasing and dynamics, finding every little inflection as the music insistently drives forward through some thundering bars to a tremendous, volatile, insistent coda.

The opening of the Andante dolce Allegro of Piano Sonata No. 8 in B-flat major, Op. 84 (1944) brings a calm and breadth, conjuring up some very fine details over the flowing melody. A variety of moods are subtly developed by Donohoe who finds a sense of impending drama before speeding into the following Allegro moderato through some formidably fluent passages, all the while finding a longer line with the main theme. There are passages of great strength as the music develops to peaks of tremendous power. As the music falls away in Andante dolce Donohoe reveals a tolling motif that creates the feeling of some great tragedy. He finds a calmer flow to ruminate on the main theme before hurtling forward to a coda that finds a little quietude.  

The shorter second movement Andante sognando seems to bring a false calm with Donohoe subtly building the simple /theme, hinting at something more sinister. It is this fine pianist’s insight into these subtleties that is impressive here. He develops the music through some quite wonderful moments with a lightness of touch to a gentle coda.

He brings a light touch to the opening fast and delicate Vivace before adding strength as the music develops. His subtle rubato and tremendous fluency in the ebullient rippling phrases is wonderful. He creates a tension through the restrained staccato phrases that follow, rising to passages of terrific power and precision whilst retaining subtle elements. Eventually he finds a plateau of gentler calm in the Andantino underneath which the storm boils quietly before moving through gentle, slower passages of wonderfully poetic breadth. The music hurtles forward with the arrival of the Vivace, come prima, quicksilver and fleeting in mood, to some very fine rolling, fluent phrases as we are led to a quite stunning coda, full of bravura and exceptional virtuosity.

These masterly performances by Peter Donohoe are a formidable achievement bringing many insights and subtleties as well as power, authority and impressive musicianship.
The recording is very immediate and there are excellent booklet notes by Robert Matthew-Walker that set these sonatas in their context. 

This is an unbeatable disc. 

The first two volumes of Peter Donohoe’s Prokofiev sonata cycle are available from Somm Recordings on SOMMCD 249 (Piano Sonatas 1-5) and SOMMCD 256 (Piano Sonatas 9 & 10, Sonatinas and Cello Sonata).

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Naxos bring a spectacularly well sung Requiem by Randall Thompson, full of many fine moments

Randall Thompson (1899-1984) was born in New York and studied with Archibald Davison (1883-1961) and Edward Hill (1872-1960) at Harvard. He also spent some time working with Ernest Bloch before receiving a fellowship from the American Academy in Rome.

He spent most of his working life teaching at various colleges and conservatories. His compositions include three symphonies, two operas and a variety of instrumental and chamber music as well as major works for chorus, a field in which he particularly excelled.

It is surprising that Thompson’s Requiem, written in 1958, has not been recorded until now. Naxos www.naxos.com has just released the World Premiere Recording featuring The Philadelphia Singers www.philadelphiasingers.org  directed by David Hayes www.newschool.edu/facultyexperts/faculty.aspx?id=83271

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Randall Thompson’s Requiem is not a traditional Latin Requiem but draws on a variety of other biblical sources revealing the composer’s personal statement on life and death. It was commissioned by the University of California, Berkeley at which the composer had previously taught. Lasting nearly an hour, it is in five parts and uses a double choir.

Part I: Lamentations brings a distinctive, rapidly undulating theme where both choirs overlay the text, growing in intensity as it progresses and descending as the words and mourning and weeping? are reached. The music continues to rise and fall before the beautifully gentle coda.

Part II: The Triumph of Faith opens with Why make ye this ado and weep? With the choirs making terrific use of fast moving phrases that are finely woven, subtly bringing drama through dynamics, this shows just what this terrific choir can do.

There is a declamatory opening to What man is he that liveth and shall not see death? but the choirs soon fall to a sonorous texture. The declamatory and sonorous contrasts alternate between choirs, beautifully controlled making a fine juxtaposition.

Good tidings to the meek is nicely sprung, with a rather Christmassy feel with a lovely, gentle rise and fall in this beautifully shaped performance, with a little chant to end.

In Part III: The Call to Song, Be filled with the spirit has a beautifully simple opening yet the responses of ‘None answered’ are darker. There is a particularly lovely touch to the final ‘…answer.

The tenors lead off quickly in O let the nations be glad before the rest of the choir overlay the vocal lines to fine effect, rising brilliantly before a subdued ‘But they hearkened not.’

There is a vibrant, fast moving Sing unto Him with the feel of a round before Utter a song brings some lovely long lines that gently fall away at the end of each phrase, rising in dynamics to a finely blended choral texture before continuing with quickly overlaid lines.

Part IV: The Garment of Praise opens with a rich, dark sonority from the choir in the beautiful Sing with the spirit before Let everything that hath breath rises up suddenly, dynamic and vibrant, full of joy.

Let them give glory unto the Lord shows this choir’s show terrific flexibility, finding their way around all the changing tempi rhythms and dynamics, Thompson providing some striking ideas.

With Praise Him all ye stars of light the two choirs bring some very fine effects, vibrant in and all the sons of God shouted for joy and hushed over a wordless accompaniment for The morning stars sang together.

I am their music is beautifully rich and sonorous with some gentle and affecting moments. I will praise the Lord with my whole heart is subtly woven into the choral texture, gloriously sung.

Ye were sometimes darkness that opens Part V: The Leave-taking is equally finely sung, with a gentle opening, gaining in strength with subtle little rhythmic changes and fine harmonies, rising particularly towards the end.

The Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light flows ahead full of confidence and light before falling at the conclusion with and thy God thy glory. There is a finely controlled Return unto thy rest, O my soul, full of little subtleties, gently rising centrally before an exquisite coda.

The gentle Thou hast given him his heart’s desire follows perfectly, beautifully controlled with lovely sonorities and a lovely rich coda with The Philadelphia Singers’ basses sounding through. The whole work concludes with a finely woven Amen and amen, alleluia, rising and falling through some very fine, vibrant passages to a gentle coda. 

This is a spectacularly well sung Requiem, full of many fine moments. This excellent choir receive an equally fine recording from the Gould Rehearsal Hall, Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia, PA and there are informative notes and full English texts.