Sunday, 28 February 2016

An impressive release from 2013 Van Cliburn Gold Medallist, Vadym Kholodenko with Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra of Prokofiev Piano Concertos No’s 2 and 5 on a new release from Harmonia Mundi

Winner of the coveted gold medal and all special prizes at the Fourteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 2013, Vadym Kholodenko is forging an international career throughout Europe, Asia, and North America to great acclaim. Born in Kiev, Ukraine, he studied at Kiev’s Mykola Lysenko Special Music School under Natalia Grydneva and Borys Fedorov. He made his first appearances in the United States, China, Hungary and Croatia at the age of 13. In 2005, he moved to Moscow to study at the Moscow State Conservatoire with Vera Gornostaeva. Under her tutelage, he won top prizes at the 2011 Schubert, 2010 Sendai, and 2010 Maria Callas International Piano Competitions. He currently resides in Fort Worth, Texas.  

Vadym Kholodenko’s previous two releases for Harmonia Mundi  have been enthusiastically received. Now Harmonia Mundi have issued his live recordings of Prokofiev Piano Concertos No’s 2 and 5 with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra  under their music director Miguel Harth-Bedoya

HMU 807631
Right from the nicely phrased orchestral introduction to the Andantino – Allegretto of Sergei Prokofiev’s (1891-1953) Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op.16 (1913) it is clear that much care and thought has gone into this performance. Vadym Kholodenko  brings a nicely paced breadth to the piano part with Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra developing some fine moments. Soon finding Prokofiev’s spiky rhythmic quality they build this movement slowly and subtly. There is no barnstorming here. Kholodenko’s technique and phrasing bring a great clarity. He is not afraid to slow down and find a mystery and poetry often ridden roughshod over by others. His approach reveals much that is often lost in more overtly virtuosic performances. He ensures that the bolder, more dynamic passages receive due weight bringing a restrained virtuosity of his own. The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra add some powerful passages as the coda is reached.

There is a terrific freedom of rhythmic flow from this pianist as he hurtles around the keyboard in the Scherzo: Vivace, sustaining a constant forward drive in a formidable demonstration of his pianistic agility. Harth-Bedoya and his Fort Worth players bring a tremendous weight to the opening bars of the Intermezzo: Allegro moderato. When Kholodenko enters he adds a fine breadth to the chords, building again with a fine subtlety as Prokofiev’s clipped phrases appear. There are some lovely little moments as he shapes various phrases as well as some superbly phrased rhythmic passages, developing with increasing weight from both soloist and orchestra.

When Kholodenko and the orchestra arrive at the Finale: Allegro tempestoso they find the force and drive that they have been carefully heading towards all through. There are some well thought out quieter, reflective moments with this pianist and conductor pacing the development of the finale superbly.  The cadenza is equally well thought out displaying a terrific breadth, finely phrased and rising through some wonderfully fluent passages. When the orchestra rejoin they move through some particularly powerful passages, though always with an ear to the poetic, before finding a terrific impetus as they move quickly to the coda. 

This is a really musical performance that is all the more revealing for its carefully restrained virtuosity.

During his final illness, Prokofiev insisted on dictating a list of seven final works to complete his catalogue of opus numbers, showing that the creative spark was there to the end. His projected Op. 133 was to be Concerto No.6 for two pianos and orchestra in three movements. Alas it was never written as were not the other six works. Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No.5 in G major, Op.55 (1932) is, therefore, his final essay in the medium.

Vadym Kholodenko brings a very fine rhythmic, spiky quality to Allegro con brio with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra bringing a fine sweep, revealing the composer’s two sides, the lyrical and the brittle. The ability of this partnership to build a carefully constructed whole is again evident. Throughout all of Prokofiev’s changing ideas they never allow the music to meander, building to a forceful coda.  

There is a finely accented opening to the Moderato ben accentuate before finding a jaunty flow. There are some terrific moments from this pianist as he provides some fine pianistic flourishes, a lovely fluency, subtly letting the opening rhythmic stance return with a jazz like freedom.

The Toccata: Allegro con fuoco brings some formidable passages as it delivers an unstoppable forward propulsion before a beautifully languid Larghetto from Kholodenko and the orchestra. They move through some lovely fluid passages, rising in drama, this pianist making more sense of Prokofiev’s sprawling creation than many. He finds an impressive strength as the music develops as well as passages of crystalline beauty before a particularly lovely coda.

The rhythms of the Vivo are well handled as soloist and orchestra seem to chase each other with some spectacularly fine playing from this pianist, finely supported by the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. The strange central section brings a magical moment before dashing to a great coda.

This is an impressive release from this partnership. Fortunately there is a recording of Prokofiev’s Piano Concertos 1, 3 and 4 in preparation. 

The SACD recording from the Bass Performance Hall, Fort Worth, Texas is first rate and there are informative booklet notes 

Friday, 26 February 2016

Oehms Classics have captured a live performance of Franz Schmidt’s oratorio Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln marking the conclusion of Simone Young’s term as Artistic Director of the Hamburg State Philharmonic Orchestra

Austrian composer, Franz Schmidt (1874-1939) was a pupil of Anton Bruckner and Robert Fuchs at the Vienna Conservatory. He was cellist in the Vienna Hofoper orchestra for much of the time under Gustav Mahler before teaching at the Staatsakademie and the Musikhochschule. Though influenced by Schoenberg, Debussy and Hindemith he continued to compose in the grand tradition of Austro-German music.

His works include four symphonies, chamber music, organ works, two operas and the oratorio Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln (1935-1937) on themes from the biblical Book of Revelation of Saint John. It was completed in 1937 and first performed in Vienna in 1938.

Oehms Classics have just released a recording of a special performance by Simone Young and the Hamburg State Philharmonic Orchestra When Simone Young laid down her baton on 15th June 2015 after a performance of Franz Schmidt’s The Book with Seven Seals, it was the 45th programme in the 90th Philharmonic concert that she had conducted within the ten years of her term as Hamburg Artistic Director during the period from August 2005 to July 2015.

On this live recording Simone Young and the orchestra are joined by the NDR Choir  and the Latvia State Choir with soloists Klaus Florian Vogt (tenor) , Georg Zeppenfeld (bass) , Inga Kalna (soprano) , Bettina Ranch (mezzo-soprano) , Dovlet Nurgeldiyev (tenor) and Volker Krafft (organ).

Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln (The book with Seven Seals) (1935-1937) comprises of a Prologue and two parts. The principal soloist is Saint John sung here by tenor, Klaus Florian Vogt who, as narrator, opens the Prologue with words of devotion to God the eternal and to Christ the Redeemer. The voice of the Lord God sung by bass, Georg Zeppenfeld, announces that He is the Alpha and Omega, and will show what must come.

There is a brief buoyant orchestral opening to Gnade sei mit euch (Grace be with you) before Saint John enters before the music falls to a hush as a fine melody emerges in the orchestra around the basis of the opening theme. The orchestra gently, yet rather mournfully, ruminates on the theme before leading into  Ich bin das A und das O (I am the Alpha and the Omega) where bass Georg Zeppenfeld and orchestra lead forward bringing a depth and firmness all the while the sound of a hushed bass drum heard underneath the orchestra.  

The orchestra rises in a happier theme for Saint John to enter with Und eine Tür ward aufgetan im Himmel (And a door was opened in heaven) a fine piece with the orchestra adding many lovely instrumental touches, rising through some fine flowing passages. The vocal quartet of Klaus Florian Vogt, Georg Zeppenfeld, Inga Kalna (soprano) and Bettina Ranch (mezzo-soprano) bring a fine combination of voices that blend extremely well. They bring moments of fine drama to Heilig, heilig ist Gott, Der Allmächtige (Holy, holy is God, the Almighty) before a section for male chorus who are on fine form in some beautifully blended textures. Soprano Inga Kalna is really rather fine as she rises above the chorus, soon joined by the others soloists for a lovely Amen.

Und ich sah in der rechten Hand (And I saw in the right hand) brings a sombre feel as Saint John sings the narration but the brass add a brighter texture over the orchestra in the shifting harmonies of this section. Inga Kalna, then Georg Zeppenfeld enter blending wonderfully before some fine woodwind passages as the music gently finds its way ahead.

Nun sah ich, und siehe, mitten vor dem Throne (Now I looked, and behold, in the midst before the throne) opens with a most lovely melody to which Saint John joins bringing some beautifully phrasing. When the chorus enter they are really very fine, finding just the right nuances with organist Volker Krafft adding a rather ecclesiastical sound as the chorus rise to a vibrant, spirited Amen.

Erster Teil (First Part) concerns the opening of the first six seals and tells the history of Mankind and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. In the Orgel solo the organ rises out of the depths in a rather sinister way, slowly expanding and developing Schmidt’s theme, revealing Schmidt’s shifting harmonies before falling back.  The solo voice of Saint John is heard alone in the opening of Und als das Lamm der Siegel erstes auftat (And as the Lamb opened the first seal) before the chorus and orchestra respond. Klaus Florian Vogt brings a fine buoyancy as do the chorus in this faster moving, vibrant section.

Tere is a solo for Vogt again in the opening of Und als das Lamm der Siegel zweites auftat (And as the Lamb opened the second seal) with shifting, wayward instrumental sounds joining to add drama. The brass add further anguish before the chorus join to add a rising intensity. The orchestra rises to a peak of drama and intensity before falling back, yet the tenor continues the drama with an insistent orchestral accompaniment point up by a side drum.

Und als das Lamm der Siegel drittes auftat (And as the Lamb opened the third seal) again provides a lone tenor solo to which a lovely orchestral accompaniment is added. Bass, Georg Zeppenfeld brings ‘Ein Maß Weizen und drei Maß Gerste für euch alle’ (A measure of wheat and three measures of barley for you all) followed by a fine woodwind section. Mezzo-soprano, Bettina Ranch is soon joined by Klaus Florian Vogt and Inga Kalna in ‘Mutter, ach Mutter’ (Mother, oh mother) before the chorus bring a wonderfully controlled section in ‘Schwestern und Kinder.’ (Sisters and children).

Saint John is heard against the dripping of percussion sounds in Und als das Lamm der Siegel viertes auftat (And as the Lamb opened the fourth seal) as groaning brass create a terrifyingly strange section. Bass, Georg Zeppenfeld joins adding a suitable terror together bringing a terrific sense of anxiety with a moment of stillness before Saint John and the voice of the Lord God continue in a slow melodious tune over a hushed organ.

Und als das Lamm der Siegel fünftes auftat (And as the Lamb opened the fifth seal) is a brief section with Vogt bringing a really strong emotion to the text before the chorus sound out in Herr, du heiliger und wahrhaftiger (Lord, you are holy and true) with a quieter organ accompaniment. The music soon rises in dynamics and tempo in a fine overlay of voices with some terrific descending organ scales.  

Tenor, Klaus Florian Vogt brings a particularly lovely Und es wurde ihnen einem jeglichen gegeben  (And it was given to every one) soon joined by Zeppenfeld in a really fine melody with the orchestra adding a lovely texture. This is a particularly lovely piece, so finely sung. Saint John sings Und ich sah, dass das Lamm der Siegel sechstes auftat (And I saw when the Lamb opened the sixth seal) with an increasing sense of dread before the chorus leap up against the orchestra and bass drum strokes adding more anxiety and drama. They drop to hushed moments before rising each time, the orchestra providing a great swirl. There is some very fine part writing here expertly done by this choir. A succession of rising and falling passages occur for choir and orchestra in a particularly distinctive section before arriving at a terrific climax only to fall to a hush before a sudden orchestral outburst to end part one.  

The second disc of this set brings Zweiter Teil (Second Part) which tells of the opening of the seventh seal and a great silence in heaven. The ensuing narrative is an allegory for the history of the true believers and their Church, from the birth of Jesus Christ, of their struggle against the followers of the Devil and his false teachers, and of the ultimate victory of the righteous. It opens with Orgel solo, a climactic organ passage introducing Nach dem Auftun des siebenten der Siegel (After the opening of the seventh seal) a long narrative for Saint John where the organ drops to a quieter accompaniment to Vogt’s beautifully shaped narration. There are some quite beautiful orchestral moments, finely orchestrated. When the tenor re-joins there are some lovely flights of fancy before he leads on in a flowing melody with lovely woodwind passages and a slowly increasing in sense of emotion.

Vogt brings a fine drama to Im Himmel aber erhob sich ein großer Streit (But in heaven, a great controversy arose) with the orchestra adding some fine layers, almost dissonant in harmony. Later there is an orchestral passage that rises dramatically to a peak before the tenor re-joins. The brief Und als die große Stille im Himmel vorüber war (And when the great silence in heaven was over) has a quiet orchestral opening before Saint John enters with a gentle yet emotionally charged, shifting melody. Brass slowly open Die Posaune verkündet großes Wehe (The trumpet announces great woe) before the mezzo-soprano, Bettina Ranch joins followed by the chorus. Aanother passage for brass ensues before a vocal quartet weave a fine melody interspersed by a longer choral line and brass murmurings. Later there is a fine choral fugal section before they rise to some very fine choral heights, full of rhythmic pulse, strength and forward thrust to a thrilling climax.

Saint John returns with the orchestra for Vor dem Angesichte dessen (Before the face of Him) in which this tenor phrases and shapes beautifully, soon increasing in anxiety with the orchestra revealing Schmidt’s constantly shifting harmonies. Und ich sah einen neuen Himmel (And I saw a new heaven) brings hesitant, quiet orchestral phrases that surround the tenor as the emotion increases. The music falls back as Vogt continues with Zeppenfeld joining, bringing such a strong authoritative voice along with some fine sonorities from the orchestra.  

There is a slow entry into Hallelujah!  that almost immediately rises for choir and orchestra in a tremendous section. There is a distinctive upward moving string motif as the choir sing the Hallelujah, often at ever greater heights, the organ joining to add weight. Wir danken dir, O Herr (We thank you, O Lord) is given by a hushed a capella male choir in the form of a chant, wonderfully done before the brass open Ich bin es, Johannes, der all dies Hörte (It is I, John, who heard all this) soon taken by the orchestra with Klaus Florian Vogt as Saint John joining in a bright and sunny section that brings back the opening theme of the oratorio before rising in a grand Amen.

This performance has much to offer that often only a live performance can give. There is a strong line up of soloists and a first rate chorus combined with expert direction from Simone Young. This is a fine record of a special occasion that stands up well to repeated listening.

The live recording from the Laeiszhalle, Hamburg, Germany is clear and well balanced though the acoustic, that provides a fine depth of sound, brings a slight brightness to the voices. The applause is cut out which does make the end sound rather sudden. 

German texts are provided but the lack of an English translation and no synopsis is a drawback. There are notes in German and English and the set is nicely presented in a card box containing the two CDs in cardboard sleeves and the booklet.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Pascal Rophé and the Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire provide first rate performances with baritone Vincent Le Texier proving to be a terrific soloist in this rewarding disc of Dutilleux works from BIS

Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013) studied with Jean (1878-1959) and Noël (1891-1966) Gallon, Henri Büsser (1872-1973) and Maurice Emmanual (1862-1938) at the Paris Conservatoire where he was later appointed professor. From early influences of Debussy, Ravel, Roussel and Honegger he developed his own style in a relatively small output of works that include two symphonies, orchestral pieces, piano music, a string quartet and songs.

It is a number of early orchestral works and song cycles by Dutilleux that appear on a new release from BIS Records featuring Pascal Rophé  and the Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire  with baritone Vincent Le Texier The works on this new disc all date from the 1940s and 1950s and include some premiere recordings.

BIS 1651
Le Loup (The Wolf) complete ballet score (1953) was composed between Dutilleux’s two symphonies and was first performed at the Théâtre de l’Empire in Paris in March1953. A variation on the theme of Beauty and the Beast, Premier Tableau open with percussion before the orchestra rises in a vibrant fast moving rhythmic theme with a rather 1930s French feel. Woodwind have their moments and a piano is heard in an often swirling orchestral sound. Soon the music falls quieter and slower to a little passage for woodwind before moving forward through ever changing, always vividly orchestrated, fresh ideas. This music is sometimes rhythmic, sometimes flowing often with moments of drama. Later deep brass appear in a wonderfully conceived passage. Dutilleux finds some really fine instrumental colours.  

Deuxième Tableau is a beautifully soft, textured section, flowing forward with a wonderful weaving of instrumental ideas. The music rises up but soon falls to a quieter, rather mysterious flowing passage, always keeping a fine narrative line, an ever changing and developing flow of ideas. The music moves through passages of more incisive drama with a steady rhythmic drum beat over which wind rise. There is a faster rhythmic section with dynamic brass, rising to a gong stroke which leads us into the final tableau.

Troisième Tableau brings a flowing romantic melody, rather wistful in nature, Pascal Rophé and the orchestra finding a lovely flowing lilt before a bounding rhythmic pulse to lead forward in some rather Stravinskian passages. The more flowing theme re-appears but with a rhythmic pulse, soon building even faster until the gong cuts the music off with a rather sinister passage emerging. However, the music finds its gentle poise to move slowly to the coda which picks up a rhythm to end more dynamically on a drum beat.

It is difficult not to get drawn along by Dutilleux’s ever changing ideas and colourful orchestration.

Baritone Vincent Le Texier joins Pascal Rophé and the Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire for Dutilleux’s Trois Sonnets de Jean Cassou (1954) beginning with a first recording of the orchestral version of Éloignez vous (Stay away). There is a dramatic, striding opening as this rich baritone enters bringing a strong delivery to this setting, the orchestra again providing many colours in the flowing, atmospheric orchestration. Brass and woodwind in a rhythmic theme open Il n'y avait que Des troncs déchirés… (There were only torn trunks…) to which Le Texier adds a finely shaped text, full of carefully controlled emotion, adding much drama as he rises to an intense peak. This is very finely sung. J'ai rêvé que je vous portais entre mes bras… (I dreamed that I carried you in my arms…) is a subdued, often dark song that slowly weaves its way forward with some particularly fine instrumental moments and this baritone bringing the most lovely control and emotion, often conjuring a haunting atmosphere.

These are very distinctive songs, beautifully scored and wonderfully performed.

The extracts from Dutilleux’s score for the film, La Fille du Diable (The Daughter of the Devil) (1945-46) released in April 1946, receive their premiere recording on CD. A crime story by Henri Decoin, the lively Prélude rises up with the sound of the Ondes Martinot as the music sweeps forward before finding a rhythmic pulse soon overtaken by a romantic flowing melody. It rises to a peak before falling at the end.  

Une promenade qui finit mal (A walk that ends badly) has a gentle yet fast moving rhythmic theme around which various instruments weave adding a transparent, light texture. Dutilleux brings some quite unusual ideas, textures and colours.  

Pastorale is unexpectedly light and fast moving, bringing some beautifully woven instrumental textures. A beautifully done piece.

With Une fête au château. Valse (A party at the castle. Waltz) Dutilleux provides us with, as its title implies, a gentle waltz, again finely orchestrated.

Une poursuite dans la nuit (A lawsuit in the night) finds the waltz speeding to a point when, with a harp, the music falls to a sinister marching tune underpinned by side drum and ending on a bass drum.  

Épilogue opens with a rather funereal slow march that slowly rises up, maintaining a steady rhythm to the coda with the Ondes Martenot heard behind adding a sinister touch.

It is apparent here that even in his film scores Dutilleux always adds some especially fine, unusual ideas, colours and textures.

Quatre Mélodies for voice and orchestra (1941-43) is heard here in the first recording of its orchestral version. Quatre Mélodies brings together settings of four poets beginning with Anna de Noailles’ Regards sur l'infini (Glance infinity) that brings a slow, mellow orchestral opening to which Baritone Vincent Le Texier adds a very fine vocal line. The music slowly rises in its gentle anguish, always retaining its gentle flow, underpinned by a pulse in the basses. After rising to a peak it falls to a lovely orchestral coda.

Féerie au clair de lune (Fairyland moonlight) is a setting of Raymond Genty. It has a playful orchestral opening before this baritone shows his versatility by bringing an equally spry playfulness. At times the orchestra find some rather jazzy inflections with Pascal Rophé, the orchestra and Vincent Le Texier responding together perfectly. This is an exquisite setting.

Le Texier brings a deeply felt account of Dutilleux’s setting of Edmond Borsent’s Pour une amie perdue (For a lost friend) rising in passion through its short duration, the orchestra bringing a sense of desolation.

Funérailles de Fantasio (Funeral of Fantasio) lighten the mood with both orchestra and soloist finding a buoyant, light-hearted quality to the humorous text ‘Snatched by death while in fancy dress, Poor Fantasio…buried on a carnival night’ a setting of a poem by André Bellessort. A terrific end to this set.

Trois Tableaux Symphoniques (1944-46) are drawn from Dutilleux’s music for a stage adaptation of Emily Brontë’s novel Wuthering Heights staged at the Théâtre Hérbertot in Paris in 1945. Receiving is premiere recording on CD it opens with Dans la lande (On the moor) rises in a pensive theme through which the cries of the Ondes Martenot are heard, the orchestra weaving a drama until a cymbal crash. The Ondes Martenot is then revealed more clearly bringing its strange melancholy aura through passages of increasing drama. An oboe joins in a slower, sad passage, Dutilleux achieving some wonderful textures and colours as he leads us to the coda.

La marche du destin (The march of fate) open with a slow plodding march out of which there are orchestral flourishes and wild cries from the Ondes Martenot. At times the Ondes Martenot almost imitates a live creature in this quite extraordinary piece. All the while the lower strings maintain a steady beat over which the rest of the orchestra weave their drama with the cries of the Ondes Martenot, until just the plodding lower strings are left to fade away.

Épilogue (Mort de Cathy) (Epilogue - Death of Cathy) also has a rhythmic pulse but gains a faster tempo with orchestral swirls and an increasing feeling of tension. As the music builds on dynamics the Ondes Martenot is heard again bringing a strange flowing motif. A flute takes over to lead ahead, soon joined by a solo violin. Low strings and piano remind us of the darker pulse, over which woodwind weave their theme before finding a gentle coda as the Ondes Martenot rises up.

Pascal Rophé and the Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire provide first rate performances with baritone Vincent Le Texier proving to be a terrific soloist in this rewarding disc of Dutilleux works.

The recording from the Auditorium Brigitte Engerer, Lycée Mandela, Nantes, France on SACD is excellent. There are excellent booklet notes as well as full French texts and English translations.

See also:

Friday, 19 February 2016

The Spektral Quartet wear their musicianship lightly, bringing just the right touch to bizarre and humorous works by composers as diverse as Sky Macklay, Dave Reminick, Joseph Haydn and Chris Fisher-Lochhead on a new release from Sono Luminus

Since its inception, the Spektral Quartet has become known for its forward-thinking ideas including the Mobile Miniatures project, which drew together more than forty composers from across the US including David Lang, Augusta Read Thomas, Nico Muhly and Shulamit Ran to write ringtone-length pieces for download to mobile devices. In addition to finding vehicles for bringing classical music into everyday life, the Spektral Quartet has a preference for close-proximity seating and delivers the majority of its Chicago concerts in vibrant, unconventional venues in order to maximise inclusivity.

The Spektral Quartet whose members are Clara Lyon and Austin Wulliman (violins), Doyle Armbrust (viola) and Russell Rolen (cello), are ardent advocates for composers within their home city. The group recorded its debut album, Chambers, in 2013 featuring works by Hans Thomalla, Marcos Balter, LJ White, Chris Fisher-Lochhead, and Ben Hjertmann.

That same season saw the release of the South American jazz and tango-themed From This Point Forward with bandoneon and accordion virtuoso Julien Labro and saxophone luminary Miguel Zenón. Spektral Quartet appears on Swiss violin soloist Rachel Kolly d’Alba’s 2015 record, Fin de siècle, performing Ernest Chausson’s Concerto for Violin, Piano, and String Quartet.

January 2016 saw the release of the group’s fourth full-length album, Serious Business for Sono Luminus , an illumination of humour in classical music including Josef Haydn’s The Joke quartet and inventive new commissions from Dave Reminick, Sky Macklay, and Chris Fisher-Lochhead.

CD and Blu-ray Audio disc
DSL - 92198
New York-based composer and oboist, Sky Macklay builds cadence on cadence in her humorous work, Many Many Cadences (2014) The Spektral Quartet open with a descending motif, incisively and dramatically played and repeated, eventually interspersed with decorative ideas that slowly change the overall nature of the cadences. She has created a surprisingly engrossing and entertaining work, cleverly taking a simple, though buoyant idea and finding much that is different, especially when a slow drifting figuration is developed around the theme. The motif slowly falls and rises, bringing a playful feel to the music, as if to say ‘look at all this, see what the theme can be made to do.’  The music later re-finds its faster more strident nature as the theme scrambles ahead, repeating the descending motif, ever more over the top, before quietening to scramble to the coda on pizzicato phrases.

This is a hugely entertaining work that would be extremely popular in a recital.

David Reminick is a composer and performer living in Chicago who is singer and guitarist for the Chicago-based post-punk band Paper Mice. The Ancestral Mousetrap (2014) is described as ‘for singing string quartet.’ It features poems by the “godfather of the prose poem in America,” Russell Edson (1935–2014) whose idiosyncratic body of work is populated with strange and intriguing ideas.

Killing the Ape opens on a slurred rising motif, right up to the higher register of the instruments where it hovers before introducing fragmented ideas. The music moves through some hard edged dissonant passages before slowing to a single repeated pizzicato note. A voice adds words against hard edged string sounds bringing a bizarre, humorous edge.  The rising motif re-appears at the end.

A group of voices bring the text for The Old Woman's Breakfast over a rhythmic expressive string theme in this short bizarre movement.  

For Oh My God I'll Never Get Home staccato voices declaim the comic text against equally fast moving strings that bring discordant sounds.  

Pizzicato strings open Bringing a Dead Man Back Into Life in a fragmented theme over a deep cello line, soon finding a terrific, rhythmic nature. A voice enters with the text ‘It’s beginning to smell…’ you need a well-developed sense of humour here. There is a rhythmic string theme with rhythmic stamping of feet before the voices lead on against an astringent theme. Later the strings of the quartet bring a quivering almost like a shiver.

The Ancestral Mousetrap opens with a hushed string motif but soon rises up with unison voices that are accompanied by sliding string phrases. There are some finely written string passages between vocal contributions that themselves are more lyrical here. Again a sense of the ludicrous is evident with the music creating a sentimental feel to point up the odd text, before rising high up to disappear.

There are no texts provided in the booklet but this is a very bizarre and often hilarious work for those with a suitable sense of humour.

Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) was not the first serious composer to bring humour to his music but is certainly the most famous. His set of six string quartets that make up Op.33 were completed in 1781. In the Allegro moderato of the String Quartet in E flat, Op.33 No. 2 ‘The Joke’ there is a sprightly opening with the Spektral Quartet raising a smile in this finely shaped performance, alive to Haydn’s every dynamic and rhythmic change, bringing a brightly lit buoyancy.  These players bring a really infectious, playfulness to the Scherzo: Allegro. The trio section is really quite hilarious in the way the slurs are shaped and handled as well as the momentary rests. There is a beautifully done Largo e sostenuto with this quartet not digging too deep, keeping a sense of overall proportion, an overall lightness of mood. The Presto moves ahead with a lightly phrased, rhythmic joyousness. The Spektral Quartet’s timing in the false endings is perfect, leaving one never quite sure when the end will arrive. Their light touch and timing in this work is wonderfully spot on.

Chicago based composer and performer Chris Fisher-Lochhead’s focuses on collaboration, humour, experimentation and tradition. His work for string quartet, Hack (2015) is built around the comic cadences and delivery of a number of comedians – not all will be universally known. In four sets, Set. 1 opens with Lenny Bruce in a strangely off beat, sliding motif with pauses and sudden forward rushes. Sarah Silverman brings a slightly gentler theme with strange little phrases over a held note before the lively pizzicato phrases over sudden fragmented bowed ideas bring Dave Chappelle along with creaking string sounds and a sudden repeated pizzicato idea.

George Carlin opens Set. 2 with sudden dynamic surges along with strident chords.
Robin Williams 1 brings a slightly melancholy yet bizarrely fragmented theme as well as sudden manic rushes forward. Strange melancholy slides again feature in Dick Gregory a less driven section with a rather wistful nature before the music moves almost seamlessly into Professor Irwin Corey with melancholy, slightly out of tune dissonant melody.

Rodney Dangerfield 1/2 leaps in with a scramble of ideas to introduce Set. 3 before
the gritty textures of Sam Kinison appear, punctuated by bounced bows and slides. There is a brief quizzical motif to Rodney Dangerfield 3 before we roll into Redd Foxx with a sudden series of strident phrases leading to a more flowing idea before the almost machine gun delivery from the strings. Rodney Dangerfield 4/5 brings another brief sudden outburst before the fragmented, pizzicato points of sound of Kumail Nanjiani before increasing in intensity.

Another sudden outburst and series of little surges takes care of Rodney Dangerfield 6/7 to make way for the delicate, dissonant phrases of Mort Sahl that slowly find their way forward. Rodney Dangerfield 8 brings the briefest of little flourishes before Susie Essman reveals a rather sad little idea, slowly developing and bringing faster, more dynamic phrases. This set concludes with the sudden darting phrases of Rodney Dangerfield 9.

Set. 4 opens with Richard Pryor, a dissonant melodic theme with a quizzical little idea on higher strings. It develops some lovely moments, melancholy and with little slurs. Robin Williams 2 has forward rushes to little peaks or climaxes, punch lines perhaps, sometimes astringent and manic. Ms. Pat is a riot of overlaid lines with a pizzicato cello line before we move to the final piece Tig Notaro with gentle little phrases, ephemeral in nature and gently using sudden little surges creating a strange quality that just fades.

This wonderfully inventive work is cleverly put together and stands well as a whole.  And just when you think the disc is over there is a very brief glimpse of the conclusion of Haydn’s quartet – which makes you wonder if it’s actually finished yet.

This new release will not be for everyone. You need a certain kind of humour, sometimes black humour. But why shouldn’t classical music raise a smile even a resounding laugh?  The Spektral Quartet wear their musicianship lightly, bringing just the right touch to these works.

The talented Spektral Quartet are brilliantly recorded in HiRes sound made at Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia, USA on CD and Blu-Ray. 

Notes on the music are equally laid back and humorous. 

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

An impressive release from Wergo of String Quartets by Latvian composer, Pēteris Vasks in intensely committed performances by the Spīķeru String Quartet

Composer, Pēteris Vasks was born in 1946 in Aizpute in Latvia. The son of a Baptist pastor, he began his musical education at the local music school in Aizpute lster studying double bass at the Emīls Dārziņš Music School in Riga. Vasks continued his double bass studies with Vytautas Sereika at the Lithuanian Conservatory in Vilnius, later commencing an orchestral career as a member of various symphony and chamber orchestras, including the Latvian Philharmonic, the Lithuanian Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra and the Latvian Radio and Television Orchestra From 1973 to 1978, Vasks studied composition with Valentin Utkin at the Latvian Music Academy in Riga becoming a music teacher in Salacgrīva, Zvejniekciems und Jelgava. He has also taught composition at the Emīls Dārziņš Music School in Riga since 1989.

During the Soviet period, Vasks suffered under cultural doctrine of the time but his works that include vocal and choral, orchestral including symphonies and concertos, chamber, instrumental and electronic  have achieved widespread recognition during the past few years. Vasks's compositions incorporate archaic, folklore elements from Latvian music and place them within a dynamic and challenging relationship with the language of contemporary music.

Pēteris Vasks was appointed as the Main Composer of the Stockholm New Music Festival in 1996. The same year, he was awarded the Herder Prize from the Alfred Toepfer Foundation and the Baltic Assembly Prize. He has received the Latvian Great Music Award on three occasions and was created as an honorary member of the Latvian Academy of Sciences in 1994 and a member of the Royal Swedish Music Academy in Stockholm in 2001. In 2002, the composer became an honorary senator of the Latvian Cultural Academy in Riga. In 2005, he received the Cannes Classical Award for recordings of the Violin Concerto ‘Distant Light’ and the Second Symphony. Vasks was Composer in Residence at the Presteigne Festival (2006) and Vale of Glamorgan Festival (2006, 2016), the Usedom Music Festival (2010), the Zurich Chamber Orchestra (2011/12) and the Canberra Music Festival (2012).

Wergo have just released a recording by the Spīķeru String Quartet on Pēteris Vasks’ String Quartets No’s 2 and 5.

WER 7329 2
It is the two movement String Quartet No. 5, written in 2003/04, that opens this disc. The movements have poetic titles revealing the duality of images and moods expressed. being present opens with a series of chords that feel much like an announcement, especially as they subtly lead into a fast moving theme. The music soon reduces to pizzicato phrases out of which harmonics bring the music back to a staccato statement of the theme. The music moves through passages that are often intense and impassioned with these players extracting much feeling. A longer, lyrical, heartfelt passage continues before the incisive staccato phrases return to disrupt the flow, heralding a faster rhythmic section.  The longer breathed phrases return, full of intense melancholy, before slow, separated staccato phrases lead to an intense coda that is unresolved.

so distant...yet near brings a more resigned, slow melancholy theme, something of an antidote to the angst of the opening movement. Nevertheless there is an emotional edge that rises as the music progresses. Surely this is a movement of great personal significance. The music moves through some exquisite moments of reserved emotion, music with a genuine depth of feeling before a little rhythmic figure is added and the hushed coda arrives.

Vasks’ String Quartet No. 2 'Summer Tunes’ was written in 1984 and reflects the composer’s love of the natural world. In three movements, the first, coming into bloom appears quietly out of silence with little twitterings and shifting motifs that very soon gather into a fine rising melody. The opening motifs re-appear before a rhythmic version of the theme arrives, regular and repeated, over which the longer theme runs. The music increases in intensity, bringing textures that are more intense, creating almost a drone effect. Eventually the textures broaden as the rhythmic pulse is removed, rising all the while in intensity until running into the next movement, birds.

Here there are strange little sounds as a motif is shifted around with subtly heard bird like chirrups from the strings.  The music slowly and subtly finds its way forward, the bird like calls return and there are many fine subtleties as little details emerge, finely brought out by these players. At times it is as though the bird calls are developing their own flow. The music reaches a static point midway before falling with bird chirrups over a held violin note, as though the birds evoked by each instrument have a conversation. The music slowly grows in complexity and intensity to a swirling combination of strings before falling back. It rises in intensity again but fades to little bird sounds only to rise up yet again. Towards the end the music finds more of a flow, yet with the bird chatterings still remaining, moving to an intense coda out of which the music falls into the final movement.

The elegy full of intense, lyrical passion is cut off when the cello holds a chord over which the other instruments recall the bird sounds. An intense melody is revealed over the held cello line alongside bird calls. This is a quite remarkable creation with moments of exquisite hushed detail beautifully achieved by the Spīķeru String Quartet. The first violin soars high up at times as the strings weave a wonderful tapestry of emotional feeling with the bird sounds weaving through.  Later the music suddenly increases in dynamics and intensity as though rising to a peak but is cut as the bird calls are heard alone. Soon a deeper richer passage arrives with drooping phrases that leads to a gentle passage over which the bird chirrups are heard, their rather mournful cries fading at the coda.   

This is a quite remarkable work of much beauty. 

The Spīķeru String Quartet provide intensely committed performances and are vividly recorded at the Lutherische Kirche, Sesava, Latvia. There are informative booklet notes. This is an impressive release of music that deserves to be widely heard. 

Saturday, 13 February 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Stereo SACD
PRD/DSD 350 068

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 12 February 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See also: 

Thursday, 11 February 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I would like to hear more from this fine pianist.

See also Solaire Records first release: 

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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