Wednesday, 30 September 2015

A new disc from Capriccio gives an opportunity to hear the some of the music that was being written by Alexander Mosolov in the early days of communist Russia

Alexander Vasil’yevich Mosolov (1900-1973) was born in Kiev and studied under Reinhold Glière (1874-1956), Nikolai Myaskovsky (1881-1950) and Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) at the Moscow Conservatory. Initially he was very much an arch-modernist but later adopted a more conventional style, drawing on central Asian folk music.

A new release from Capriccio concentrates on Mosolov’s earlier works from the 1920’s. The Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester, Berlin  is conducted by Johannes Kalitzke  with Steffen Schleiermacher (piano) , Ringela Riemke (cello)  and Natalia Pschenitschnikova (soprano)

The most famous of all Mosolov’s works is the Iron Foundry, Op. 19 (1926-27) from his ballet Steel. For many this will probably be the only work of this composer that they are aware of. Johannes Kalitzke and the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester, Berlin build a swirling mass of pseudo industrial, repetitive sounds, something which must have sounded pretty modern and outrageous even in the 1920s.  It is a raucous piece that, after just over three minutes, just stops.

The Andante lugubre (Lento) of Mosolov’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No.1, Op14 (1927) opens quietly and brooding as a plaintive melody appears. The music rises up as the piano is heard in the orchestral texture, underpinned by percussion before it strides forward rather in the manner of Prokofiev, becoming ever more fractious. Soon a solo limpid, slow passage for piano arrives that becomes increasingly strident. The orchestra re-join to push the music forward to a jazz like slow section for orchestra, a rather curious episode where the music grows in vacuous, rather sleazy sounds. Eventually the music moves stridently forward, again recalling Prokofiev, before quietening only to suddenly start up again to dart to the rumbustious coda.

Brass introduces the Tema con Concertini (Lento sostenuto) as the piano is accompanied by a heavy clumping orchestra. Soon a skittish orchestral section moves around the piano theme before a wild violin is heard as the music tries to slow, but a raucous orchestra pushes the music ahead. Often the music sounds as though it might break down with Mosolov reaching a very modernist style. The piano enters to help regain a coherence and forward drive soon leaping into a manic, wild episode, rushing ahead. There is a languid moment for piano and orchestra before the music again speeds and a trivial little tune for piccolo is heard. The cadenza slowly works over the material, building into some formidable passages, brilliantly executed by Steffen Schleiermacher. The orchestra re-joins to lead with the piano to a dynamic and formidable coda.

The orchestra leaps in to open the Allegro. Molto marcato before falling in order to slowly build the music with piano through more raucous and skittish passages running madly forward with continual orchestral outbursts. Eventually the piano takes the lead to hurtle forward, with all of the orchestra having a say, to a massive coda.

This piano concerto has the feel of a more garish Bartok or Prokofiev concerto. Structurally it is a little rambling but is teeming with wild ideas.

Surely only a Soviet composer could write a piece of music with such a name Tractor's Arrival at the Kolkhoz. It is, like Iron Foundry from his ballet Steel. It opens with an unexpectedly tranquil, gentle theme, cleverly pointed up by lovely instrumental ideas. The music soon gains a flow with the strings bring some fine sounds. There are many fine, unusual instrumental details before the music suddenly takes off leaving all tranquillity aside, the brass section pushing forward, Mosolov finding his usual bright, colourful raucous sound. There are more moments of lesser drive before the orchestra plays what sounds like a popular song to drive to the end.

With Legend for Cello and Piano, Op. 5 (1924) one might hope for a gentler piece. It does open with a quiet yet lively theme for the piano to which the cello joins and soon slows to a melody for cello with a flowing piano accompaniment. However the music soon picks up the tempo with a percussive piano part. The cello brings slow harmonics before a slow melody, rising a little in passion. The piano part becomes more strident building with some large chords and scales for piano to a sudden end.

It certainly is a more thoughtful, if rather schizophrenic piece. It receives a very fine performance here.

With his Piano Sonata No. 1, Op. 3 (1924) Mosolov slowly lays out a motif, each time separated by a chord. The music suddenly speeds up as the motif is developed with some pretty formidable passages, terrifically played here by Steffen Schleiermacher. This is a thoroughly modernist piece but of much more interest than perhaps the other works on this disc. Soon the music falls quieter in a delicate, thoughtful section. The theme is developed through a more quiet and thoughtful passage before building with a dynamic downward rushing motif and strident chords. The way Mosolov structures and builds his material is much more impressive, even though it is the earliest work here. The music moves through some formidable passages to a peak before slowing with heavy chords to end.

Four Newspaper Announcements, Op. 21 must constitute the oddest work on this disc. Mosolov sets four very ordinary texts or ‘announcements’ for soprano and piano yet brings much feeling and drama to the piece. With such texts as ‘Watch out all: excellent leeches can only be purchased at modest prices from Dr. Ralph Mutschelknaus’ this piece is by turns full of dissonance, declamatory and excitable as well as thrilling and sinister. Soprano Natalia Pschenitschnikova gives a superbly characterised performance brilliantly accompanied by Steffen Schleiermacher, bringing out Mosolov’s intended irony.

On the evidence of this disc Mosolov was not the subtlest of composers yet there are moments, particularly in the piano sonata, where he is well worth hearing. Certainly this new disc gives an opportunity to hear the type of music that was being written in the early days of communist Russia. 

The performances are excellent and the recording is immediate if rather dry. There are informative booklet notes together with German texts and English translations. 

Monday, 28 September 2015

Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra deliver a performance of Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony that ranks with the very best on a new release from Deutsche Grammophon

On 26th January 1936 Stalin, accompanied by high ranking government officials, attended a performance of the Bolshoi’s production of Dmitri Shostakovich’s (1906-1975) opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. Despite an enthusiastic reception from the audience, Stalin and his dignities left before the end. Just two days later Pravda ran the infamous unsigned editorial ‘Muddle Instead of Music.’

Thus came the first crisis in the composer’s career resulting in the withdrawal of his Fourth Symphony and an extremely difficult and dangerous time for composers generally. In 1948 Shostakovich, along with Prokofiev, Khachaturian and many other composers, suffered further condemnation when Andrei Zhdanov issued his famous decree against formalism in music.

Deutsche Grammophon  has recently released a live recording from Andris Nelsons  conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra entitled Shostakovich Under Stalin's Shadow. This new disc features a live recording made in Symphony Hall, Boston, USA in 2015 of the Passacaglia from Act 2 of Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk coupled with the Tenth Symphony.

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The Passacaglia from Act 2 of Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, Op.29 comes at the end of Act 2 Scene 4 where Katerina has just poisoned her brutal husband Boris. Andris Nelsons brings much intense drama to the opening of the Passacaglia creating a terrific impact from the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In the following passages he draws dark, tragic gloom, an intense brooding with very fine pacing as he allows the music to slowly rise and develop. As the music rises again to a climax, the power and weight of the orchestra is tremendous, before disappearing in the gloom.

When Shostakovich’s Symphony No.10 in E minor, Op.93 was written is a matter of some conjecture. There is a suggestion that he was at work on a tenth symphony as early as 1947. The pianist and close friend of the composer, Tatyana Nikolayeva was convinced that Shostakovich had completed the symphony by 1951 stating later in her life that he interrupted composition on his Twenty Four Preludes and Fugues to play her an extract from the symphony. Shostakovich gave the date of composition as summer and autumn of 1953. Given that Stalin had died on 5th March 1953 it certainly proved to be a safer time to bring forth a new symphony.

The opening Moderato uncannily seems to rise out of the same gloom as the preceding Passacaglia. Nelsons gives us a true moderato, allowing the heavy weight of the music to unfold without being hurried. The plaintive clarinet theme, when it appears, brings a real sense of withdrawn grief. Nelsons reveals so many of the shifting textures that underlie the music whilst crisply pointing up the lower string phrases. There is subtle tautness to the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s playing. The slower pacing, particularly when the bassoon brings a meditative passage, adds to the tension and, as the music opens out to embrace all of the woodwind, it comes so naturally, the music billowing up with more strength than would otherwise be apparent. As the music increases in power and angst, subtle tempi changes push the music forward bringing an unstoppable force until it tips over the peak. Nelsons holds the tempo, keeping a reign on it, superbly done at this critical point. As the horns cry out there is a real anguish and as the music quietens there are passages of quite wonderful, tender calm with a fine rhythmic pulse in the basses. Nelsons brings an uncertainty towards the coda as timpani gently roll. The hushed coda with flutes sounding brings an uneasy hush.

All the more does the Allegro take off purposefully, building the driven theme with a real spite and deliberation creating a terrific impact with the feel of a faceless, unstoppable force – perhaps less Stalin than the unbridled force of a totalitarian state.

The Allegretto pushes ahead at another fine pace, Nelsons bringing a subtle rhythmic lift. Soon an urgency appears in the woodwind, then strings with the rhythmic lift giving an unsettled, nervous quality. There is a sinister quality to the bassoon theme that appears before the music rises, horns call out and the music drops to a gloomy withdrawn character, the composer’s personal DSCH motif lurking around every corner of this nervous, anguished drama. There are moments of intense, tragic beauty from the woodwind and strings before the music picks up for a curious little woodwind passage, a glimpse of optimism found. A dance like rhythm appears as the music suddenly pushes forward more dynamically, seemingly brushing aside any such thoughtfulness. When the horns sound out again they are louder, this conductor finding so much more passion. A softer horn call brings a pensive coda pointed up by a staccato flute.

Andante – Allegro opens heavy in the basses, weighed down with emotion. An oboe sounds a tragic, motif picked up by a flute, the BSO woodwind really are superb. The basses lead on forlornly before the music becomes passionate as the oboe cries out and a lone flute sounds. The strings rise up from the depths and a clarinet introduces the allegro in which the strings hurtle around the woodwind. There is a complete change of mood, not so much of optimism but wild energy with swirls of woodwind and strings as the music develops a manic, driven propulsion. Nelsons’ timpani bring a terrific roll as the music suddenly drops to a slow, quiet sad reality. The strings gently bring a sense of tired uncertainty. There is a terrific passage for bassoon, followed by a clarinet, then all of the woodwind as the momentum is regained. As the coda arrives there is a sense of shrill anxiety in the orchestra with Nelsons leaving us to decide whether the conclusion is triumphant or merely a sham.

The enthusiastic applause is retained in this stunningly well recorded live performance. This, perhaps the greatest of Shostakovich’s works, is given a performance that ranks with the very best – a superb achievement. The Boston Symphony Orchestra is on wonderful form.

I do hope that Nelsons and the BSO bring us more Shostakovich.  

Pianist, Alessandro Viale shows consummate skill whilst never losing sight of the inner voice that runs through Peter Seabourne’s compelling piano work, Steps Volume 5: Sixteen Scenes before a Crucifixion, a new release from Sheva Contemporary

British composer, Peter Seabourne was born in 1960 and studied at Clare College, Cambridge and York University, reading music, composition with Robin Holloway and then a doctorate in composition with David Blake.

Two national prizes and several selections by the Society for the Promotion of New Music  led to festival performances and a London's South Bank performance. However, Seabourne came to dislike, not only his own work but also the wider contemporary music world with which he found less and less common ground.

After 1989 Seabourne stopped composing altogether until twelve years later when he began to write again, finding a new sense of direction and voice. Since 2001 his work has received awards in Finland, Bulgaria, Ireland and the USA. His music has been played widely in Europe and the Americas with commissions coming from Brazil, Germany, Italy, UK, Norway and the Czech Republic.  

Sheva Contemporary, a subsidiary label of the Italian record company Sheva Collection have recorded a number of discs of Seabourne’s music including volumes 2 and 4 of his series of piano works entitled Steps.

Now from Sheva Collection comes Peter Seabourne’s Steps Volume 5: Sixteen Scenes before a Crucifixion featuring pianist Alessandro Viale.

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Italian pianist, Alessandro Viale (b.1986) studied piano, composition and orchestral conducting under Walter Fischetti, Claudio Perugini, Francesco Vizioli and Enza Caiazzo. He studied chamber music at the Music School of Fiesole with N.Gutman, P.Vernikov, A.Lucchesini and B.Canino and now carries on an intense activity of chamber music in various formations, performing in major concert halls and seasons.

The Passiontide painting of Caravaggio provided the catalyst for Peter Seabourne’s Steps Vol. 5: Sixteen Scenes before a Crucifixion. However, Seabourne states that this piano cycle was never intended to be directly related to Caravaggio’s painting or specifically refer to the Christian passion story. More it is a general examination of the suffering of all those over whom hangs some future threat of pain.

In sixteen short movements this work, which lasts well over fifty minutes, opens with a movement marked Numb - tolling – distant, where a tolling in the right hand is underlaid by chords. A dissonance is developed as the music is developed with occasional little questioning phrases. Soon the music becomes more dramatic, eventually reaching a climax with harsh resonant chords. However, it returns to its original nature with the distant tolling of bells around which the left hand plays a line, before the tolling is allowed to fade.

II is marked Driving - relentless with Viale immediately bringing a fierce, dramatic, driven theme, weaving some fine lines around the insistently driven motif. Eventually the music quietens a little, though still driven with the music weaving some terrific passages, angry chords bringing about the end.

III Gentle - berceuse-like comes as balm after the second movement, as a gentle theme is picked out with some very fine harmonies. Again little quizzical phrases gently disturb the flow before a gentle coda. IV Flightly - enigmatic - delicate - fragile has a forward rolling nature, occupying the upper register with trills and flights of fancy, bringing a sense of lightness and freedom. Seabourne creates some lovely textures, quite florid at times with occasional hints of Debussy.

Short phrases open V Grave - ominous marked ‘very dry’ bringing a feeling of expectation. The music very slowly develops breaking out dramatically but soon returning to its short phrases which now become more dramatic. The music rises again but quietens to a slow hesitant end. VI Dancing - hesitant brings a little staccato dancing motif, a nervous dance that still seems unsure of itself due to an underlying anxiousness.

With VII Mesto – semplice – cantabile, a melancholy theme slowly moves ahead, not without hesitance, becoming occasionally quite introverted and later a little impassioned before quietening. VIII Troubled - rhapsodic might just sum up the duality of Selbourne’s writing here, a fast moving piece shot through with a melody that is often almost hidden in the texture. It retains a feeling of uncertainty before it slows for the coda.

IX Vicious - brutal opens with a dramatic motif interrupted by staccato phrases. It develops into a complex dense texture, increasingly violent and dynamic before quietening a little with short phrases. The music soon takes off again with an incessant motif before a violent sudden end. X Lento semplice brings a slow melody that seems to pull itself wearily forward with the use of pedal adding to the rather hollow textures. It builds centrally to an impassioned peak before falling back to a melancholy section and a coda that seems to give in to quiet resignation and hopelessness.

XI Lightly dancing but demonic is exactly what the marking describes though with more than a touch of menace. This brilliantly written movement pulls the listener along, rising and falling in dynamics as the lighter theme seems to dance around the more dramatic theme. It is the lighter dancing theme that brings about the coda. XII Meandering - lamenting - increasingly crushing opens with a simple theme against which there are occasional growling chords.  This is a slow but determined theme that slowly increases in forcefulness with harsh dramatic chords in the left hand. The forward moving melody tries to fight back but the piece ends on a lower chord.

XIII Slightly hurried - uneasy moves ahead even faster, another seemingly unstoppable theme, yet is interrupted by more hesitant moments as well as rhythmic changes as it progresses, causing a kind of unsettling effect. XIV Subdued - murmuring brings a tense, insistent theme with a slightly rocking motion. Again there is that intense feeling of expectation, as though something dreadful is about to break out. The music rises higher with a sense of hopeless pleading before the rocking theme leads to the quiet coda.

XV Violent brings the climax of the whole work as a violent passage erupts around which a repeated motif is played with more fortississimo chords often offset to create instability.  Soon a quieter, yet frantic, staccato motif appears around which the main theme runs. More chords are hammered out before suddenly the last heavy chord is allowed to fade slowly away. With XVI Very still - spacious – questioning a tremolando theme is underlaid by deeper mournful chords. This is music of desolation and hopelessness. Soon a sudden fierce chord heralds a more violent, desperate passage. The music soon falls back before building again, violently. All quietens to a rather uneasy passage, with the tremolando motif predominating over low chords which end the work – unresolved.

This is compelling music. So effectively descriptive is this music that I found myself using the same descriptive words that I later read in the composer’s notes. Alessandro Viale tackles the often extreme virtuosity of this work with consummate skill whilst never losing sight of the inner voice that runs through it.

This new release is very well recorded at the Sala Casella, Accademia Filarmonica Romana, Rome, Italy and there are informative notes from the composer.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

An exciting new release from Meridian of impressive chamber works by Elena Firsova that are full of expression, emotion, passion, poetry and not a little virtuosity

Composer Elena Firsova (Елена Фирсова) (b.1950) was born in Leningrad into a family of scientists. The family moved to Moscow in 1956. She made her first attempt at composition at the age of eleven going on to study at music school and college before entering the Moscow Conservatory where her teachers were Alexander Pirumov (composition), Yuri Kholopov (analysis) and Nikolai Rakov (orchestration).

She came into contact with composers Edison Denisov (1929-1996) and Philip Herschkowitz (1906-1989), the pupil of Anton von Webern. In August 1972, she married the composer Dmitri Smirnov and went on to have two children, artist Philip Firsov (b. 1985) and pianist and composer Alissa Firsova (b. 1986)

Since 1979 she had many performances in Europe and the USA and received many commissions including BBC, PROMS, and WRD and has been published by Boosey & Hawkes, Sikorski, Schirmer, Schott and Sovetsky Kompozitor.

She has been composer in residence in Bard College, USA (1990), in St John’s College, Cambridge, UK (1992) and later in the same year at Dartington Hall, Devon. From 1993 to 1997 she was visiting professor and composer in residence at Keele University. From 1999 until 2001 she taught composition at the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester. The premiere of her major work Requiem took place at the Berlin Konzerthouse in 2003. She has written around a hundred compositions in many different genres including operas, oratorios, cantatas, orchestral works, concertos, chamber works and instrumental works.

An important new recording has been released by Meridian Records featuring chamber works by Elena Firsova played by the Marsyas Trio whose members are Helen Vidovich (flute), Valerie Welbanks (cello) and Fei Ren (piano). In some of the works they are joined by violinist Patrick Dawkins, violist Morgan Goff, soprano Maacha Deubner and mezzo-soprano Hannah Pedley.

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Homage to Canisy, Op.129 for Cello & Piano refers to the Château de Canisy in Normandy, France where the composer stays each year. It was premiered in 2010 by the cellist Anatole Libermann and pianist Alissa Firsova at the castle’s music festival Fête de la Musique.

In the opening the cello brings a deep, rich theme interrupted by drooping and pizzicato notes. Soon the piano enters around the cello line that becomes ever more expansive and emotional before pizzicato notes on the cello bring a quiet moment with a delicate piano passage. Out of the hush, deep piano chords and a slow rhythmic pizzicato cello theme appear. A rising piano motif leads to plaintive harmonics from cello as the coda arrives.

This is a strikingly effective piece that receives a particularly sensitive performance.

Lost Vision, Op. 137 for Piano Solo expresses the composer’s anxiety at a sudden vision impairment, incorrectly diagnosed as permanent. It was written in 2012 and first performed by Alissa Firsova in 2013. It opens with a gentle, hushed theme, gently finding its way forward, rising up the keyboard, slowly offset by firm lower notes. Soon a bold, dynamic, fast moving theme is introduced, building on the substance of the initial motif.  Chords are left to resonate before the music is slowly and gently picked up again, rising slowly to the upper reaches whilst lower chords are gently played. As the coda is reached the music fades to the depths.

Fei Ren brings much poetry and not a little virtuosity to this piece.

A Triple Portrait, Op.132 was commissioned by the Marsyas Trio and premiered in London in 2012. The title reflects the idea of three individuals who enter one after the other before trying to communicate, playing together.

The Andante rubato is for flute alone. It brings a beautiful theme with Helen Vidovich providing a lovely characterful tone as the melody rises with some lovely trills and textures.

The piano enters at the beginning of the Adagio, slowly laying out a theme before rising to a momentary flourish. The cello then enters bringing a slow rich deep melancholy feel to which the piano adds its lovely, slightly dissonant accompaniment. The cello rises up as the end arrives.

A piano chord announces the Andante as the cello adds a little rising motif to which the piano soon joins. Flute enters to delicate piano accompaniment before a remarkably fine duet between flute and cello over which the piano provides a delicate accompaniment. The tempo suddenly picks up with some terrific passages for each player, these fine artists weaving some tremendous sounds around each other.  A moment of intense passion is reached before the music drops to a sombre cello passage. Eventually a delicate piano line is added with the flute also joining, finding a plaintive melody as though bringing balm to the cello’s anguish. The cello plays a quiet, sad little theme accompanied by a delicate piano motif as the longer line of the flute leads to the coda, the cello having a final say with pizzicato chord.

The Marsyas Trio must have been thrilled to receive such a fine work, full of wonderful ideas and beautifully written for each player. They give this work a terrific performance finding out all of its depth and emotion.

Night Songs, Op.125 for Mezzo-Soprano, Flute & Cello sets poems by Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938) who died in a Stalinist camp. The songs reflect the fear and anguish of the texts. Written in 2009 it was premiered in London in 2010.

The Andante con moto opens with flute and pizzicato cello. Mezzo soprano, Hannah Pedley soon enters to sing the strangely evocative text around which flute and cello weave, complementing the mezzo’s fine tone. The way these performers carefully blend the textures and timbres is terrific.

In the Vivace the cello brings a fast moving theme to which the mezzo adds a passionate voice, the flute providing lovely textures. The interplay of instruments and soloist is remarkable, particularly as they move to the coda.

Mezzo, Hannah Pedley opens alone in the Andante but is soon joined by the cello above which the flute soon adds its sad plaintive theme. Here is a song full of sorrow, with some lovely instrumental moments and Pedley in superb voice. This is a most affecting song with moments of extreme passion. It rises to a climax before falling back with surely a hint of the ancient Dies Irae plainchant, flute and piano now providing a spare accompaniment before a flute flourish brings about the conclusion.

These are remarkably fine songs given a very fine performance.  

Spring Sonata, Op.27 for Flute & Piano (1982) expresses the feelings associated by the coming of spring. It was written for and dedicated to the Russian flautist, Irina Lozben first performed by her with pianist Vassili Lobanov in Moscow.

A delicate piano motif followed by the flute opens the sonata. The flute and piano both develop trills and decorations, developing a fast dialogue between each other before rolling piano phrases bring more of a flow. The piano brings more trills and delicate accompaniment as the flute plays a lovely melody, the piano part often having the flavour of Messiaen. The piano builds on the trills, soon joined by the flute as the music rises up. Some really terrific dialogue again ensues before a solo passage for flute arrives, bringing little staccato phrases before the return of the melody. The piano joins and the music leads on and it is trills that lead to the coda, ending on a flute motif.

This is a particularly impressive piece where melody sits comfortably with more unusual ideas. Again the performance is terrific.

Elena Firsova had a long association with the great cellist and conductor, Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007). For Slava, Op.120 for Solo Cello (2007) was written as an emotional response to Rostropovich’s funeral.

There is a rich, deep, resonant opening with pizzicato phrases before some lovely mournful harmonies appear, full of anguish. This is a piece one could imagine Slava playing so much does it seem to suit the man. Here Valerie Welbanks proves to be a terrific advocate of this virtuosic yet passionate work, one in which Firsova seems to have poured all of her feelings. Eventually pizzicato resonances are heard before a mournful, hushed harmonic melody appears. There are hints of Shostakovich before the coda arrives.

This is a wonderful tribute to a great musician.

Meditation in the Japanese Garden, Op.54 for Flute, Cello & Piano (1991) was commissioned by and dedicated to the flautist Aurèle Nicolet. Originally for flute viola and piano is was transcribed by the composer for the Marsyas Trio in 2011. The title refers to a small Japanese garden in Dartington where the composer completed the piece.

A long held flute note leads into a flowing melody. Soon the piano adds a delicate accompaniment before both build the melody. The cello arrives to add a richer tone to the music with Firsova brings a hauntingly Eastern feeling of mediation. Soon the tempo becomes livelier as the Marsyas Trio weave a lovely tapestry of sounds, building to an excitable passage full of dynamic phrases with more terrific playing from this trio. Eventually the concentrated contemplation returns as they weave the exquisite theme gently towards the coda.

Three Poems of Osip Mandelstam, Op.23 for Soprano & Piano was written in 1980 and premiered by soprano Lydia Davydova and pianist Rusudan Hunzaria in Moscow in 1981. It takes poems by Mandelstam written in 1909 and 1930.

The Andante con moto opens with soprano Maacha Deubne’s fine soprano voice, with some exquisitely decorated passages from pianist, Fei Ren. There are moments throughout where there are plucked and strummed piano strings adding texture and atmosphere showing Firsova’s fine ear for texture and sonority.  

There is a limpid piano introduction to the Adagio before Deubne enters bringing superb feeling to the words ‘More tender than tender is your face...’ There is a wonderfully spare and simple beauty to this song.

Maacha Deubne and Fei Ren give a spectacularly fine performance of Lento. After an initial outpouring of feeling there are some lovely little piano details accompanying the passionate singing of the soprano. It rises to a peak before the sad conclusion.

The Marsyas Trio are joined by violinist, Patrick Dawkins and violist, Morgan Goff for the final work on this disc Tender is the Sorrow, Op.130 for Flute, String Trio and Piano. Written in 2010 it is dedicated to the memory of the composer’s aunt. It was commissioned by the Greek Ensemble Idée Fixe and first performed in Thessaloniki, Greece in 2012.

Piano chords open together with a hesitant string motif before a fluttering flute joins.  The music develops some strikingly fine string textures as the music rises, the flute taking the melody gently on. It builds in tempo and anxiety until a solo flute passage weaves the melody further. Strings enter alone with subtle piano chords, building in passion until the flute takes the theme and recalls the fluttering phrases of the opening to lead to a hushed coda.

This is another really fine work that receives a first class performance from this ensemble.

This is an exciting new release with impressive works that are full of expression, emotion, passion, poetry and not a little virtuosity. They are full of wonderful ideas and beautifully written, often quite affecting, sometimes haunting, with a fine ear for texture and sonority.

The recording is clear and detailed and there are useful notes from Helen Vidovich as well as full Russian texts and English translations. The booklet and disc have striking artwork by Philip Firsova.

See also:

Saturday, 26 September 2015

The Taiwan Philharmonic under Shao-Chia Lü are on great form in works by Gordon Shi-Wen Chin on a new release from Naxos

Born in1957 in Taiwan, the composer Gordon Shi-Wen Chin  is one of the most prolific and sought after composers in his native country. Chin earned his doctoral degree from Eastman School of Music studying under Samuel Adler, Warren Benson and Christopher Rouse. His compositions include four symphonies, a cantata, an opera, three violin concertos, a triple concerto, a double concerto, a cello concerto, a piano concerto, numerous choral works, chamber works, five percussion quartets, and various works for solo instruments.

Chin has received numerous commissions from major ensembles and institutions in North America, Asia and Europe. In 2008, Chin’s opera The Black Bearded Bible Man was premiered with the Taiwan National Symphony Orchestra under conductor Chien Wen-Pin and director Lukas Hemleb. In the season of 2009, Chin’s Romance for Cello and Orchestra was premiered by Santa Barbara Chamber orchestra with cellist Felix Fan and conductor Heiichiro Ohyama. Also premiered in 2009 was a single movement clarinet concerto A Clear Midnight. In 2010, Günther Herbig premiered Chin’s Piano Concerto No.1 with the National Symphony Orchestra of Taiwan and pianist Ms. Jia-Hui Lu. Another large scale work for soloists and chorus Running Memories was premiered by Taipei Philharmonic Chorus and Taiwan National Symphony Orchestra in 2011. In 2013 Chin’s Clarinet Quintet was premiered by the Japan Euodia Ensemble and his Triple Concerto was premiered by Taiwan National Symphony Orchestra.  

Chin currently serves as Music Director of Yin-Qi Symphony Orchestra & Chorus in Taipei, and is a faculty member of National Taiwan Normal University.

Following on from their 2007 release of Gordon Shi-Wen Chin’s Formosa Seasons and Double Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra, Naxos have followed it up with a recording of his Cello Concerto No. 1 and Symphony No. 3. The Taiwan Philharmonic is conducted by Shao-Chia Lü with cellist Wen-Sin Yang.


Cello Concerto No. 1 (2006) was commissioned by the Chi-Lin education Foundation and premiered by cellist Felix Fan with the National Symphony Orchestra of Taiwan conducted by Ohyama Heiichiro at the National Concert Hall in Taipei, Taiwan.

Sudden orchestral chords open the Allegro before the soloist soon joins in an impassioned theme. There is subtle use of percussion that adds colour as the music builds to a climax. The cello and orchestra move forward creating a dialogue with each other. There are moments of intense passion and rapture offset by passionate outbursts out of which intensely lyrical episodes appear. There are further moments of dialogue between soloist and orchestra in a dramatic fast moving passage with cellist, Wen-Sinn Yang drawing some exceptionally fine tone from his instrument. A passage of orchestral drama arrives, running throughout the orchestra, before the mood suddenly lightens as the cello re-joins. There is a hushed, gentle, thoughtful passage before the tempo picks up to carry the music forward through passages that are passionate and often tender before leading to a dynamic coda. Overall the mood of this movement seems torn between sadness, passion and energy.

The second movement, Dreams trapped inside the Mirror opens with a fast driven, frantic theme for the orchestra. Woodwind take the lead in a swirling motif as the cello joins with a series of chords out of which a slow gentle theme emerges, first for orchestra, then cello. The opening re-appears with a variety of orchestral sections hurtling around as if looking for a way out. Soon the cello introduces a slow melody accompanied by orchestra with subtle use of woodwind evoking a Chinese flavour. 

Chin creates some lovely translucent sounds form the orchestra before Wen-Sinn Yang reaches a cadenza that is both virtuosic and full of passion and depth. The orchestra slowly and quietly joins with some exquisite moments from cello and flute before the soloist leads passionately on. There are little woodwind motifs before the music descends into a fragmented passage where the cellist brings an array of techniques including taps on his instrument. A whip crack precedes a hushed coda where gentle woodwind breaths can be heard.

Brass open After Great Pain with a light textured staccato motif to which the cello joins full of intense passion, pushing the music ahead, music that is full of anxious intensity. Soon there is a desperate orchestral passage pointed up by timpani followed by a slower melodic passage, full of deep sentiment.  This cellist brings out all of Chin’s strange subtle little details. The orchestra pushes the music ahead again, with the soloist joining in music of great anxiety and emotion, leading to an orchestral climax full of power and orchestral colour. A slow mournful cadenza arrives with drooping cello phrases to which a flute joins, flowed by other woodwind as the cello continues its mournful way.  The orchestra, pointed up by timpani rolls, suddenly brings an eruption. The cello joins with frantic phrases to bring about the sudden end.

There is much beauty and drama in this distinctive work. Wen-Sin Yang and the Taiwan Philharmonic under Shao-Chia Lü give a terrific performance.

Symphony No. 3, Taiwan was commissioned by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and premiered in 1996. In three movements, the symphony reflects Taiwan’s trouble history.

Timpani and side drums open Plunder as the orchestra moves quickly ahead. There are short, clipped phrases as well as a myriad of percussion to colour the orchestra. Chin conjures up a tremendous sense of uncertainty and drama before the music arrives at a dramatic, broad climax. This is brilliantly orchestrated music. The orchestra leads itself forward, slowing and quietening all the while. A flute motif appears as well as other sudden little instrumental motifs including one that is repeated like a bird call. Timpani bring back the dramatic orchestral theme but all quietens again. A horn sounds out followed by a myriad of woodwind before a steady rhythmic beat arrives with more woodwind passages and brass interventions. This leads to a riot of orchestral sounds showing more of Chin’s masterly orchestration. The music eventually falls away to a hush with a clarinet heard as the movement ends.

Dark Night opens with a hushed woodwind theme out of which a mournful clarinet melody appears. The woodwind create a lovely melody supported by strings but are soon overwhelmed by a brass outburst. An oboe continues the melody despite constant disruption from the brass. There are timpani rolls before a passionate string theme arrives. A muted trumpet sounds and there are more brass outbursts as lower strings push the music slowly ahead. The exquisite woodwind passages that emerge are full of intense yearning. Eventually the music rises in passion with tubular bells tolling in an impressive moment. There is further disruption and the music falls quiet but a whip crack moves the orchestra to rise up to a climax before fading away.

Fast, scurrying strings open Upsurge to which percussion and woodwind add texture and flourishes. Brass join as the music hurtles ahead with pounding timpani pushing the music forward until it falls quieter with little instrumental murmurings in the orchestra. The tempo picks up slowly with brass and timpani helping to drive it forward. The strings, then the whole orchestra push forward frantically in music of terrific drive, power and orchestral colour, superbly played by the Taiwan Philharmonic. A rather pensive, fast moving woodwind section arrives with lower strings and timpani adding heavy drama. All quietens to a lovely little moment for a blend of woodwind before the brass slowly mark the start of a dramatic section, strings swirl up and the orchestra again hurtles ahead with timpani and percussion. There is the briefest of respites before a riotous, angry conclusion.

Chin seems to have poured his heart into this turbulent and emotional work. The Taiwan Philharmonic under Shao-Chia Lü are on great form. 

Of all the Chinese music I’ve listened to lately this disc proved the most enthralling and worthwhile. The recording is excellent and there are authoritative notes from the composer.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

A captivating recital from James Brawn on a new 2CD release from MSR Classics

British pianist James Brawn has brought us four formidable recordings in his cycle of Beethoven piano sonatas, A Beethoven Odyssey for MSR Classics .

Such is his fine musicianship, his first recital disc for MSR was equally attractive. Now from MSR Classics comes his second recital covering two discs and I must say straight away it is very fine too.

MS 1502

During the 2014-2015 concert season, in addition to playing recitals of Beethoven piano sonatas, James Brawn presented concerts entitled The Time Traveller and his Muse comprising many of his favourite shorter pieces. Brawn thinks of the grand piano as a sort of time machine that allows him to explore the great music of the past. He believes that the task of the interpreter should be to convey the composer’s intentions, though acknowledging other great pianists who have deeply influenced his own approach to various works presented here.

There is a lovely skip in the step of James Brawn’s playing of Domenico Scarlatti’s (1685-1757) Sonata in E major, K.380 (Andante commodo) the work that opens the first CD. This most popular of Scarlatti’s sonatas receives a beautifully poised performance. He brings a lovely rhythmic clarity to Scarlatti’s Sonata in C major, K.159 ‘La Caccia’ (Allegro) always keeping a lively momentum, again positively skipping along.

Next, Brawn selects five preludes from Book I of Johann Sebastian Bach’s (1685-1750) The Well-Tempered Clavier. What a lovely long flowing line Brawn brings to the Prelude in C major, BWV 846. He included this prelude in his first recital for MSR but in this new performance he brings an even finer evenness of touch and subtle control. That evenness of touch is there in the fast moving Prelude in C minor, BWV 847, superbly played with some brilliantly fluent passages. Next is a nicely pointed up Prelude in D major, BWV 850 with a beautifully clear, fluent forward momentum.
The Prelude in E flat minor, BWV 853 brings a quiet poised thoughtfulness, quite lovely before bringing a fine flow to the Prelude in E major, BWV 854.  This is very fine Bach indeed.

The ‘Rondo alla Turca’ from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s (1756-1791) Sonata No.11 in A major, K.331 receives a very fine, crisply played performance that leaves one wanting more, which we get in the form of Mozart’s Fantasia in D minor, K.397, wonderfully controlled with much poetry, Brawn carefully bringing out every little nuance, every mood, moving seamlessly from quieter and introverted moments to outgoing and sunny passages.

Ludwig van Beethoven’s (1770-1827) ‘Für Elise’ (Bagatelle in A minor, WoO.59) brings an effortless charm as this pianist allows a natural flow to take the music forward, revealing this much played piece to be a little gem.

Franz Schubert’s  (1797-1828) Moment Musicale No.3 in F minor, Op.94 / D.780 brings Brawn’s crisp, beautifully lightly sprung touch, a Schubertian delight. There is a lovely gentle rippling opening to the Impromptu No.3 in G-flat major, Op.90 / D.899, Brawn bringing such subtle feeling. The music rises through passages of finely controlled emotion, this pianist finding such colour and depth. An entrancing performance.

James Brawn takes a selection of Frédéric Chopin’s (1810-1849) works to conclude disc 1. The Prelude No.4 in E minor, Op.28 is an inspired follow up to the Schubert Impromptu, here given a subdued performance, intimate in its emotional impact. The stormy emotion of Étude No.12 in C minor, Op.25 takes the listener out of any such intimacy, full of controlled strength and power. The calm opening of
Étude No.3 in E major, Op.10 is beautifully turned, full of passion in the central section.

The Étude No.1 in A-flat major, Op.25, known widely as the Aeolian Harp Etude presumably due to Robert Schumann’s own account of Chopin’s playing of this Etude ‘let one imagine that an Aeolian harp had all the scales and that an artist’s hand had mingled them together…it was rather a billowing of the chord A flat, swelled here and there by the pedal, but through the harmonies could be heard…a wonderful melody…’ Whilst making no such comparison, there is that wonderful billowing of sound here, a lovely touch with subtly controlled rubato. Finally there is a scintillating, clarity and fluent Étude No.5 in G-flat major, Op.10 with beautifully controlled dynamics.

The second CD continues with more Chopin, first the Prelude No.15 in D-flat major, Op.28 ‘Raindrop’ which is delivered with a lovely simplicity. Even when the music builds there is still a fine directness of utterance, yet so wonderfully poetic in the coda. The solitary Prelude in C-sharp minor, Op.45 has a wonderful freedom, Brawn finding his way through the many lovely moments, through many different tempi, finding a new colour in each melodic phrase.

Franz Liszt’s  (1811-1886) Consolation No.3 in D-flat major, S.172 also appeared on this pianist’s first recital disc. That was a gem of a performance yet this new recording is equally fine with a beautiful delicacy, gently fluid, rising so subtly during its course.

James Brawn moves forward to Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) with the famous Waltz in A-flat major, Op.39, No.15, nicely laid out with a lovely gentle rhythm. Even finer is the Intermezzo in A major, Op.118, No.2, exquisitely shaped, finding so many subtle poetic nuances.  Simply superb.

After the fleeting, elusive Edvard Grieg’s (1843-1907) Arietta in E-flat major, Op.12, No.1 the early Étude in C-sharp minor, Op.2, No.1 of Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) sits well, Brawn slowly allowing the music to rise and fall with a fine rubato.

There are five of Sergei Rachmaninov’s (1873-1943) preludes opening with the Prelude in C-sharp minor, Op.3, No.2 where Brawn brings fine phrasing and pacing. There is a scintillating middle section where this pianist really lets go with moments of supreme pianistic skill, showing a great authority. He reveals a fine emotional edge to the Prelude in G-sharp minor, Op.32, No.12 running through many moods before the lovely coda.

The gentle rocking motion of the Prelude in B minor, Op.32, No.10 is quite lovely as he allows the music to go its way quietly forward before building forcefully with great power and intensity with moments of pure delight as he brings a great sense of freedom. Brawn’s fine pacing, phrasing and rubato reveal so much of the poetry of the Prelude in D major, Op.23, No.4 bringing out the wonderful beauty of the coda.  A silken, fluent, rippling Prelude in G major, Op.32, No.5 shows Brawn’s exquisite touch.

James Brawn brings a terrific rhythmic bounce to Sergei Prokofiev’s (1891-1953) Toccata in D minor, Op.11 with terrific handling of all the discords and dynamics, finely structured and paced –and what a coda.

James Brawn rounds off this very fine recital with a light-hearted, fun loving performance of George Gershwin’s (1898-1937) I Got Rhythm, a brilliant conclusion.  

The more I hear of James Brawn playing the more I am convinced of his special musicianship, an ability to bring a wide variety of music so alive is a very special quality. He has compiled here a fine collection of popular works and infused them with something special. I found myself totally captivated with so much of this recital and given its fine recording made at Potton Hall, Suffolk, England it surely deserves a place on every music lover’s shelf.

See also:

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

It is hard not to be totally drawn in by the strange individual beauties of Wim Henderickx’s spellbinding sound world on a new release featuring the HERMESensemble

I was pleased to have had the opportunity to get to know the music of the Flemish composer, Wim Henderickx when I reviewed a disc of his music performed by the HERMESensemble back in March this year.

Now the HERMESensemble have released another disc of Wim Henderickx’s music entitled Triptych which, as the title implies, brings performances of three works written for a variety of instrumental forces with electronics.

This new disc is available through Amazon  and this new release will be issued at the beginning of October 2015.

Nada Brahma is Sanskrit for ‘God in Sound’ and is the third part of the Tantric Cycle, a composition series that is based on Eastern philosophy and Buddhism and written between 2004 and 2010. The seven part work deals with concepts such as time, energy, sound, pulse, harmony, spirituality and silence. In this part of the series the instruments represent the earthly dimension and the electronics of the cosmos.

In seven movements it opens with Cosmic Time where deep bass drum strokes are heard as the music heaves around the depths with strange wind and electronic slides and quivering strings. Soon the soprano, Hendrickje Van Kerckhove joins, chanting the ‘abstract text’ creating the sound world of a primeval, earthy atmosphere. There are dissonant instrumental sounds and regular heavy drum beats that underline the music.

The ensemble, with percussion and soprano, rush ahead, excitedly in Cosmic Energy. Hendrickje Van Kerckhove is incredibly fluent as she shifts around rapidly, often delivering high shrieks to which she always retains a rare musicality. This is music full of energy with Henderickx’s instrumental harmonies always drawing the ear.

Sacred Noise brings hushed, ethereal instrumental sounds that move around in a haze before the soprano enters, high up and within the instrumental texture, with some quite amazing vocal sounds, blending so well. As the instrumental sounds firm up, the soprano moves to a lower range bringing a strange yet melodic line. All falls quieter with Van Kerckhove achieving some lovely textures within the subtle instrumental sonorities. Drums bring a rhythmic theme for Cosmic Pulsations which the soprano joins and around which the instruments bring a variety of layers. It has an almost tribal quality as it dances forward.

Clashes of percussion accompany the soprano as she sings some challenging passages of writing in Cosmic Chord. Some of Olivier Messiaen’s songs come to mind in the general feel of the music before Van Kerckhove rises to incredible heights at the end.

New Spirituality brings tranquil instrumental sounds with tubular bell chimes to which the soprano soon brings a mellifluous flowing vocal line, quite exquisite. There is a most wonderful central instrumental moment to which the soprano joins with a rather melancholy air. Bell chimes lead on with shifting instrumental harmonies and a soprano line until the end is reached.

Resonant instrumental, slow lines open Cosmic Silence quietly before Hendrickje Van Kerckhove enters, joining with the slow long phrases, again blending wonderfully into the instrumental and electronic texture. She brings some exquisite sounds. Subtle little dissonances appear before we are led through some fine instrumental passages with the soprano quietly vocalising over some finely written instrumental details before the hushed coda.

Hendrickje Van Kerckhove and the HERMESensemble as well as the electronics of Jorrit Tamminga deserve every praise for a phenomenally accomplished performance.

On the Road (2013) was originally written for trumpet and electronics and inspired by Jack Kerouac’s autobiographical novel of that name. It was arranged for bass flute and electronics especially for Karin De Fleyr, the performer here. The bass flute rises up over a consistent electronic sound as it weaves ahead.  De Fleyr creates some terrific flute textures and timbres with the electronic sound subtly shifting in tone and texture as the piece progress. Henderickx has written a finely developed flow of musical invention, superbly performed by Karin De Fleyr.

Atlantic Wall (2012) refers to the coastline of Western Europe and its scattering of wartime architecture that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. The composer tells us that Atlantic Wall is also the waves and the sea with its rhythmical, incessant battering of the coast.

Drums thunder out to open the Prologue, slowly developing a more rhythmic line, rising and falling in dynamics as if capturing the ever changing rhythm of the sea before leading into Part I: Blue where shimmering instrumental and electronic sounds provides a layer of harmony over which mezzo-soprano Mireille Capelle gently vocalises. Subtle instrumental and electronic sounds move ahead, strange and hushed. The instrumental and electronic sounds grow through glittering, sparkling textures before mezzo Mireille Capelle appears within the texture as the flute weaves through it. There are ever shifting instrumental and electronic sounds and textures with percussion joining to add strength, tying in the opening Prologue. Shimmering, hushed instrumental and electronic sounds, with a cello sounding through, leading into the coda

The music runs straight into Part II: Red where the mezzo-soprano vocalises along with short instrumental phrases. A clarinet introduces a motif which is then picked up by the other instruments, percussion still maintaining the short phrases. The clarinet further develops the theme before it is diffused amongst the instrumental ensemble over a hushed electronic background. Mezzo Mireille Capelle enters at various points with sounds seemingly entering and falling out of focus. The instruments move forward in slow steps or phrases before the mezzo returns to vocalise. Eventually the tempo picks up rhythmically in the ensemble where a bass clarinet can be heard. Pizzicato strings join the bass clarinet’s rhythmic theme before alternating with hushed, hazy instrumental and electronic background. The Mireille Capelle rises more prominently over a delicate instrumental and percussive background, the short phrases maintained, before a string ensemble suddenly brings a dissonant overlaid passage to lead into the Epilogue where harmony is restored as a hushed instrumental passage is soon joined by the mezzo-soprano bringing a rich deeper sonority. There are some quite magical sounds before the music finds its way gently to the hushed coda where the music just disappears.

These works have a strange individual beauty. It is hard not to be totally drawn in by Henderickx’s spellbinding sound world. The HERMESensemble and their two soloists, soprano, Hendrickje Van Kerckhove and mezzo-soprano Mireille Capelle are first rate as are the electronics of Jorrit Tamminga.

They receive a first rate recording, especially so given the fine blending of instruments, electronic and soloists.  There are excellent booklet notes.

See also: 

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Dina Duisen really brings the music alive in her recently released recording of mazurkas by composers from Chopin to Thomas Adès

Pianist Dina Duisen was born into a family of musicians in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Duisen studied piano at Kulyash Bayseitova State Special School for Gifted Children, continuing her studies at the Kazakh National Academy of Music, graduating with distinction in 2005. She was awarded a full scholarship on the Artist Diploma programme at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, from which she graduated in 2008. At the same time, Duisen was invited to work as a teacher of music at the Texas Wesleyan University. In September 2008, she started studying for the new Master of Arts Degree in Performance at the Royal Academy of Music, under the tutelage of Christopher Elton, Hamish Milne and Kathryn Stott, graduating with distinction in 2011.

Dina Duisen has participated in a number of masterclasses with such artists as Marcello Abbado, Pascal Devoyon, Gary Graffman, Yoheved Kaplinsky, Vladimir Krainev, Marios Papadopoulos, Menahem Pressler and Vladimir Viardo. She was one out of eight pianists selected to participate in Sergei Babayan's International Piano Academy at the Cleveland Institute of Music in Ohio, USA.

A major prize winner at many piano competitions, including the 29th International Piano Competition in Senigallia, Italy, the Shabyt International Competition, the National Competition of Kazakhstan and the International Musician of the 21st Century Competition, Duisen has also participated in a number of international music festivals in Europe, the USA and in Asia.

She has been playing chamber music as part of the Duisen Duo in the UK, Italy, USA and at The Presidential Centre of Culture in Kazakhstan. She has also been regularly invited to give solo recitals at venues including the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building in Oxford, St Martin-in-the-Fields, St James’s Piccadilly, King’s Place and Yamaha Music London. In 2012 Dina performed Prokofiev's 1st Piano Concerto at the Season Opening Concert of Astana Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2014, she gave the Asian premiere of Mazurkas by British composer Thomas Adès.

Dina Duisen has now recorded Thomas Adès’ Mazurkas on a new disc of mazurkas by composers from Chopin to Adès which is available from!album/cghg or as a download from Amazon

She begins her traversal of mazurkas with Frederic Chopin’s (1810-1849) Mazurka in C-sharp minor, Op. 41, No 1 shaping the rhythmic patterns beautifully with a nicely crisp touch and rising to moments of fine power. Two further Chopin mazurkas follow, the Mazurka in C major, Op. 24, No 2 that really dances along with a fine rhythmic spring in a rather captivating performance and the Mazurka in B-flat major, Op. 7, No 1 where Duisen brings a lovely ebb and flow and a lightly sprung touch with some lovely poetic moments.

Franz Liszt (1811-1886) is represented here by his Mazurka brillante, S. 221 to which this pianist brings a gentle, subtle lift to the music together with quite a sense of Lisztian fun. The central section is delightful.

There are two mazurkas by Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921), a beautifully fluent Mazurka in G minor, Op. 24 that is revealed to be a very attractive piece with a fine control of dynamics and a beautifully turned coda and the Mazurka in B minor, Op. 66, another fine mazurka of real substance especially as played here, with great breadth and fluidity as well as some lovely quieter moments as the coda arrives.

Dina Duisen really points up the fast moving rhythms of Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s (1840-1893) Mazurka de Salon in D minor, Op. 9, No 3 bringing such clarity and a very fine rubato. She brings a lovely simplicity to Tchaikovsky’s charming little Mazurka in D minor, Op. 39, No 11.

She finds all of Anatoly Lyadov’s (1855-1914) varying moods and tempi in his Mazurka in F major, Op. 38 with some fine pianistic flourishes whilst picking up on the gentle nostalgia in the Mazurka in F minor, Op. 57, No 3.

Duisen provides a lovely, free flowing performance of Isaac Albeniz’s (1860-1909) Mazurka de salon Sofia, Op. 66, No 4, finding a lovely Mediterranean warmth.

There is a fast moving, fluent Mazurka in G major, Op. 53, No 4 by Anton Arensky (1861-1906) before Claude Debussy’s (1862-1918) Mazurka in F-sharp minor, L. 67. I hadn’t come across this piece before but it seems to date from around 1890. Duisen picks out many subtleties, hints of Debussy to come, bringing a freedom and spontaneity.

Who would have expected a mazurka from Frederick Delius (1862-1934) His Mazurka dates from around 1922/23 and has a dream like quality, well caught here.  

Two composers who have anniversaries this year are Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) and Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915). Dina Duisen finds many fine moments in Sibelius’ Mazurka in A major, Op. 34, No 3 before bringing us two mazurkas by Scriabin. In the Mazurka in D-flat major, Op. 40, No 1 she brings a thoughtful quality that is quite beguiling and shows her fine grasp of Scriabin’s sound world in a most lovely performance of the Mazurka in F-sharp major, Op. 40, No 2, full of poetry.

Reinhold Glière’s (1875-1956) Three Mazurkas Op.29 date from 1906. This pianist brings a lovely flow to No 1 in B minor before a beautifully phrased No 2 in A-flat major. She builds No 3 in B-flat minor nicely, bringing a real breadth to the fuller passages.

Two of Karol Szymanowski’s (1882-1937) Mazurka’s Op. 50 follow. The elusive No 13 is quite wonderfully captured, its gentle rhythms slowly growing more dramatic before its gentle coda. No 14 is a more vibrant piece, with somewhat difficult twists and turns, beautifully done here with subtle harmonies.

Duisen leaps perfectly into Sergei Prokofiev’s Mazurka in B major, Op. 12, No 4 with its wayward harmonies and rhythmic difficulties; handled beautifully.

Dina Duisen finally comes right up to date with Thomas Adès’ (b.1971) set of Mazurkas Op.27 (2009). The Mazurka Op. 27, No 1 again follows perfectly, Adès’ lovely harmonies and subtle rhythms caught so well and with a terrific little coda. There are rippling, fluent phrases and a lovely clarity in the Mazurka Op. 27, No 2 before the piece builds rhythmically. Finally there is the
Mazurka Op. 27, No 3 that opens slowly as the theme is picked out before building from its rather fragmentary origins and gently developing in strength before leading to a quiet coda. This is a performance that should win many admirers of this work.

What a great idea it was to bring together mazurkas from such a wide range of composers and eras. This is a well thought out recital in which Dina Duisen really brings these varied mazurkas alive. With a first class recording from Andrew Keener made at Kings Place, London, England this recital is a most rewarding release. 

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Nicolas Stavy gives formidable performances of piano sonatas by Boris Tishchenko on a new release from BIS

The Russian composer Boris Ivanovich Tishchenko (Бори́с Ива́нович Ти́щенко) (1939-2010) was born in Leningrad and studied at the Leningrad Musical College where he learnt composition under Galina Ustvolskaya and piano under Mikhelis. He later studied composition with Vadim Salmanov, Victor Voloshinov and Orest Evlakhov, and piano with L. Logovinski at the Leningrad Conservatory. After a postgraduate course with Dmitri Shostakovich he subsequently joined the faculty of the Leningrad Conservatory going on to become a professor there in 1986.

His compositions, very much influenced by music of his teachers Dmitri Shostakovich and Galina Ustvolskaya, include eight symphonies, two violin concertos, two cello concertos, a piano concerto, a harp concerto, ballets, a concerto for flute and piano, a concerto for violin and piano, six string quartets, two cello sonatas, ten piano sonatas, chamber music, a requiem, opera and vocal works as well as incidental music for theatre and film.

Some of Tishchenko’s music has been available on the Olympia, Northern Flowers and Naxos labels but now BIS Records  have released new recordings of his Piano Sonatas No’s 7 and 8 played by French pianist Nicolas Stavy


Tishchenko’s Piano Sonata No. 7, Op. 85, some forty minutes long, dates from 1982 and includes an important part for large bells, tubular bells and glockenspiel played here by Jean-Claude Gengembre.

Bells open the first movement, marked Andante - Allegro - Andante - Allegro – Andante, slowly increasing in volume and intensity. The piano soon enters with heavy chords that become discordant. There are more descending passages interspersed by heavy chords before the material is quietly developed. Soon the music picks up for a lighter Allegro section, the piano lines flowing over each other developing a lovely rich texture. There is a rapid motif reminiscent of Shostakovich in its wit and dissonance before tubular bells sound and the music is taken quickly forward, the pianist developing the theme to great effect. The textures, harmonies and development are thoroughly absorbing as the music builds to some dynamic chords before subtly slowing as the andante arrives again. Tishchenko further developments his material before repeated chords are picked up by bells and the skittish, dissonant theme of the allegro is resumed. The music again increases in dynamics as the music leads to the final andante with the insistent repeated chords of the coda with a large bell sounding and fading away.

The Lento is the longest movement, opening with a quiet, gentle flowing theme that is soon interrupted by a quizzical little motif that is repeated. Soon a more flowing theme moves over the quizzical motif, bringing a hesitancy to this melancholy music. Nicolas Stavy brings much fine subtlety and feeling to this music finding a withdrawn quality.  The theme takes slow steps forward as the music is developed and layered with some very fine dissonant harmonies building through some finely complex passages. The music builds slowly to a peak where the piano picks out an anguished theme with firm chords. This is a very telling moment. Tubular bells sound as the anguished chords are played. The music falls quieter and slower as the bells are gently heard again. There is a lovely moment when the hushed piano and bells move around each other before the piano alone continues more slowly and gently with its descending motif before leading into the third and final movement.

The Allegro arrives quietly and gently with a little rhythmic skipping theme. As it picks up the mood lightens, the music gaining in tempo. This light, though occasionally wistful theme develops through fiercer passages, moving through rhythmically bouncing, rather jazzy moments, before the lighter opening theme returns. This theme is again developed with some light delicate notes and richer heavier phrases, brilliantly handled by Stavy.  Eventually a beautifully atmospheric passage arrives before the music soon rushes off maniacally through more heavily textured passages. The glockenspiel is suddenly heard, delicately accompanying the piano in a quiet version of the opening theme as the coda arrives.

This is a remarkable sonata that is full of wonderful ideas. A colossal achievement.  Nicolas Stavy and Jean-Claude Gengembre give a formidable performance.

Though again in three movements the Piano Sonata No. 8, Op. 99, written in 1986, is quite a different work. A lively, free moving theme opens the Allegro energico before being subjected to Tishchenko’s fine development, with ever changing rhythms, the original theme re-appearing and being caught up in the developing ideas. The music gains in dynamics as it moves forward before the opening theme returns for the sudden end.

The Andantino opens quietly with chords interrupted by a simple little tune, continuing until a more flowing theme develops with the little tune continuing to be repeated. Slowly the theme expands with the tune being varied around it, developed into ever fascinating variations. Eventually the music suddenly takes off in a florid passage, with Tishchenko creating some wonderful harmonies and colours, finely revealed by Stavy. The music moves through more delicately constructed passages before a slow languid passage arrives where various threads of the music can be heard slowly woven and the tranquil coda is reached.

The vibrant Allegro molto seems to grow out of the second movement, rushing ahead with fast rising and falling scales over a steadier left hand. The way Tishchenko weaves each line is impressive, through some beautifully poised and fluid passages so finely caught by this pianist. Tishchenko’s free and wild use of dissonant harmonies achieves terrific results, particularly when juxtaposed with simple little melodic ideas. Part way through, a riotous passage arrives that throws in many apparently trivial ideas yet the overall result is spectacularly fine. The music quietens to a more refined melodic passage, yet concludes on a torrent of dissonance.

These sonatas reveal a composer who should be heard more frequently.  I do hope that this new release is only the first in a series from BIS. 

The recording from the Église évangélique Saint-Marcel, Paris, France reveals much detail and fine piano tone. There are excellent booklet notes.