Wednesday 26 September 2012

Endlessly fascinating music by German composer Moritz Eggert in a new release from Audite

Regular followers will know that I am always keen to hear new music so, when I received details of a new release from Audite of music by the German composer, Moritz Eggert, I was extremely interested to hear the disc.

Moritz Eggert was born in 1965 in Heidelberg and studied piano and composition with Wolfgang Wagenhaeuser and Claus Kuehnl at Dr.Hoch´s Konservatorium in Frankfurt, with Leonard Hokanson at the Musikhochschule Frankfurt and with Wilhelm Killmayer in Munich at the Musikhochschule Muenchen. He also played keyboard in various bands, together with guitarist Marcus Deml.

Later he continued his piano studies with Raymund Havenith and Dieter Lallinger, and composition with Hans-Jürgen von Bose in Munich. In 1992 he spent a year in London as a post-graduate composition student with Robert Saxton at the Guildhall School for Music and Drama.

In 1996 he played the complete works for piano solo by Hans Werner Henze for the first time in one concert and, in 1989, he was a prize-winner at the International Gaudeamus Competition for Performers of Contemporary Music. He is a regular guest artist at festivals around the world and has been commissioning composers for various chamber music projects. He lives in Munich.

As a composer, Moritz Eggert has been awarded prizes such as the composition prize of the Salzburger Osterfestspiele, the Schneider/Schott-prize, the ‘Ad Referendum’ prize in Montréal, the Siemens Förderpreis for young composers, and the Zemlinsky Prize.

Moritz Eggert has covered all genres of music in his work which includes nine operas as well as ballets and works for dance and music theatre, often with unusual performance elements. His concert-length cycle for piano solo, ‘Haemmerklavier’, is among his best known works and has been performed around the world. In 1997 German TV produced a feature-length film portrait about his music.

In1991, together with Sandeep Bhagwati, he founded the A*Devantgarde Festival for new music and, in 2003, became a member of the ‘Bayerische Akademie der Schoenen Kuenste’.In October 2010 he became professor of Music and Theatre at Munich University.
I had not heard any music by Moritz Eggert until receiving a copy of this new CD from Audite Records Entitled The Raven Nevermore this new release features six works by the composer written between 1985 and 2010.

Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen (I am lost to the world) for voice, electric guitar, piano and strings (2010) was a collaboration with the singer Inga Humpe from the pop band 2raumwohnung with the idea of designing a musical concept around Mahler’s Fifth Symphony and its associated Rückert lieder that provides the title and text of this work. Inga Humpe improvised a melody around which Moritz Eggert provided harmonies. The work, that is hauntingly quiet, has a gentle jazz quality to it which is strangely attractive. The haunting vocals are provided by Inga Humpe herself.

Tetragrammaton for string orchestra (2009) refers to the Hebrew theonym (or proper noun) that refers to a deity, transliterated to the Latin letters YHWH or Yahweh meaning God. In some of his works Eggert has chosen mysterious titles in order to ‘focus on the unspeakable.’ At nearly twenty one minutes this is the longest work on this disc.

The work opens with harmonic sounds that are reminiscent of the Hardanger fiddle used in Norwegian folk music. I love this sound and, as this work progressed, I was attracted to the different effects that Eggert draws from the strings. There is a feeling, during the earlier stages of the work, that the music is moving but yet not going forward – perhaps this is what Eggert calls ‘…circling around something that isn’t definite.’

The music at times becomes more strident before the return of the harmonies of the opening.  At times Eggert seems to be playing with the effects that he can obtain from the strings, with increasing dissonance. Later pizzicato strings provide contrast before the string sound becomes richer and the music seems to gain more direction. The piece ends quietly with a solo violin over hushed strings before a sudden chord ends the work. This is a lovely work and I am thankful that Audite has recorded it.

Der Rabe Nimmermehr Ouverture (The Raven Nevermore Overture) for chamber orchestra  (1991), that gives this disc its title, concerns itself with the idea of transience and decline as does the Edgar Allan Poe poem of that name. There is certainly a narrative in this more strident and rapidly varying piece but it is difficult to follow at one hearing. In subsequent hearings I felt I could detect a struggle between quiet harmony and discord.

Adagio – An Answered Question (1994/2011) for string orchestra is a more static work that nevertheless has moments of drama to avoid any lack of interest. Musical phrases seem to emerge from the static background and the piece rises to a rich climax before the quiet coda.

Der ewige Gesange (The eternal song) for strings (1985/89) is a short, but effective piece lasting less than three minutes where the string orchestra opens, rises to a climax where there is a simple descending motif, then falls back again.

The final piece on this disc is Drei seelen (Three Souls) for violin and piano (2002). There are three movements: the first rapidly changing between a melody for the violin and a more strident theme. Here again Eggert uses the harmonics of the violin to great effect. After a second movement that has a melody that seemingly revolves around itself in a quasi-minimalistic way, there comes a final that mixes Eggert’s contemporary style with a more traditional classical sound.

So is there a distinctive voice at work here? I certainly think there is with his use of strange harmonies and harmonics and his sudden flights of fancy where themes appear out of a seemingly static background or where the music suddenly changes direction. Tetragrammaton could easily take its place in the repertoire of works for string orchestra.

The performances are first rate and the booklet notes very informative. Sadly there are no texts provided for Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen but there are many on-line sources for Friedrich Rückert’s poem.

If you are open to hearing contemporary music that is endlessly fascinating, sometimes challenging, but often very beautiful then you should try this CD.

Sunday 23 September 2012

Deeply probing and distinguished performances from Leif Ove Andsnes in Beethoven’s Piano Concertos 1 and 3

This has been a good year for Beethoven with Daniel Barenboim performing all of the symphonies at the BBC Proms and a feast of Beethoven at Symphony Hall and the Town Hall Birmingham with Andris Nelsons and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra doing a complete Beethoven Symphony cycle as well as the complete piano concertos from Leif Ove Andsnes and Angela Hewitt.

At Birmingham there will also be Piano Sonatas and Bagatelles, Triple Concerto, Overtures, the Mass in C and some of the Quartets with such artists as Stephen Kovacevich, Steven Osborne, Angela Hewitt and the Belcea Quartet.

Beethoven has so many different emotional levels and moods to explore that every performance has potentially something new to offer. It isn’t many years ago that cynics were saying that we no longer needed new recordings of Beethoven and the other major classical composers. The new format of CD meant that music lovers could buy a recording and it would last for ever so what need of endless new recordings. This narrow minded view was extremely worrying.

Thankfully, despite a short period when there were fewer new recordings of the great masterpieces of classical music, recent years have seen a resurgence of new interpretations. Surely the issue is that we need to record the fresh ideas of new artists never mind how many of the older generation have put their ideas down.

Leif Ove Andnes has not rushed into recording Beethoven indeed a new release from Sony Classical is his first. Andsnes has taken the time to allow his thoughts to develop before commencing on what he describes as a ‘journey’.

Directing the Mahler Chamber Orchestra from the keyboard, Leif Ove Andsnes plays Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.1 in C Major Op.15 and Piano Concerto No.3 in C Minor. I deliberately took my time over reviewing this issue as I wanted to allow myself to get to know the performances. I should say at the outset that these are deeply probing and distinguished performances. 

The C Major Concerto opens with nicely crisp playing from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and, as the piano enters, there is a terrific forward momentum. There is an altogether Mozartian feel to the performance, yet there is an underlying tension even in the most simple scales just as in the later concertos. You can imagine the young Beethoven full of drive straining at the classical form he is trying to break out of. There is a real feeling of partnership between the pianist and orchestra.

The second movement Largo has a thoughtful feel, almost as though Andsnes were improvising and having a conversation with the orchestra. At times there is something almost confessional about the way this movement is played.

The finale almost comes as a shock as we are thrust headlong into the Rondo allegro with Beethoven trying all manner of ways of presenting his theme. Again the playing is beautifully crisp and purposeful with a great rhythmic balance which is a sheer joy. The second subject really dances along with interplay between piano and orchestra.

I heard a degree of period style to the strings in the opening of the C Minor Concerto where there was immediately more expressiveness. As the piano enters there is more assertiveness that in the first concerto. As the music moves on, there is again that feeling of unstoppable forward thrust. At times Andsnes seems to be able to build a tension whilst seemingly just holding back and playing at a moderate pace.

The first movement cadenza is thrilling in its freedom and fluency again as if Andsnes is improvising and wondering what to surprise us with next. What wonderful tension there is as the movement ends.

When the piano enters in the middle movement Largo, it is almost languid in its feel with Andsnes carefully revealing every phrase and nuance. The rising scales are exceptionally moving and, in the throbbing motif near the end, one feels a strong sense of grief.

In the finale, another Rondo allegro, the orchestra beautifully weaves around the piano. Andsnes knows just how to use quiet passages to build up expectation whilst at other times the music just skips along with such fluency and freedom. Towards the end the piano seems to be playing games with the orchestra.

The more you listen to these performances the more the subtle details and depth of feeling you hear.

Over the next four seasons Leif Ove Andnes will devote the majority of his performing and recording activities to Beethoven. During the spring of 2013 and 2014 he will be touring with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. We will have to wait until Autumn 2013 for Concertos 2 and 4 and Autumn 2014 for Concerto No.5 and the Choral Fantasy.

In the mean time I will continue to enjoy these wonderful performances whilst waiting with anticipation for the next issue. The recording is excellent with good piano tone and, although there are no conventional notes on the music, there is an interview with Leif Ove Andnes in which he talks about the works.

Friday 21 September 2012

Delius and Grieg Cello Sonatas in performances of depth and expressiveness from Raphael Wallfisch and John York

Delius first met Grieg in 1887. In 1886 he had started studying at the Leipzig Conservatorium where he had got to know a group of Norwegian students. It was with some of these students that he undertook a walking holiday of Norway in the summer of 1887.

Whilst there, his Norwegian friends introduced him to Christian Sinding and Edvard Grieg. Grieg gave a party, inviting Delius, Sinding and the composer and violinist, Johan Halvorsen. Thus began a friendship between the two composers.

How apt then that a new release from Nimbus Records features the Cello Sonatas by both Delius and Grieg as well as some shorter works by both. 

NI 5884
Raphael Wallfisch (cello) and John York (piano) have made a number of recordings for Nimbus featuring such diverse composers as Zemlinsky, Korngold, Goldmark, Beethoven and Chopin. I also have an earlier recording on Marco Polo of this duo playing the Rubbra, Moeran and Ireland cello sonatas, a disc that is one of the gems of that catalogue.

Delius’s Sonata for Cello and Piano (1916), dedicated to the cellist Beatrice Harrison, is fairly short at just under 14 minutes. In this performance Raphael Wallfisch and John York capture perfectly the fleeting ebb and flow of Delius’ creation.  What a wonderful partnership Wallfisch and York make, instinctively weaving the sound around each other.

The wistful flow of the Lento molto tranquillo is beautifully played by Wallfisch with John York wonderfully fluent. There is hardly a break in the flow of melody making this a demanding work for the cellist.

There are four other works by Delius either side of the Sonata. Romance (1896) is a relatively early work and, in this performance, it is delightful with hints of the mature Delius to come. Raphael Wallfisch produces a really passionate and anguished tone in the climaxes. Chanson d’Automne (1911) has been transcribed by John York for Cello and Piano from one of Delius’ songs. This brief piece results in something of a gem and is exquisitely played.

Caprice (1930) is an austere piece with little of Delius’ warmth and sumptuousness whilst Elegy (1930) seems to be a version of Delius’ Caprice and Elegy for Cello and Chamber Orchestra written in 1930 for Beatrice Harrison who had visited Delius at home in Grez-sur-Loing in rural France and wanted a work for her forthcoming tour of America.

Grieg’s Sonata for Cello and Piano in A minor Op.36 (1883) is dedicated to his cellist brother John Grieg and was first performed on 27th October 1883 in Leipzig by Julius Klengel with the composer at the piano.

The sonata explores all the depth and expressiveness that the cello can offer and in this recording there is some terrific playing from both Wallfisch and York, particularly as the first movement heads to a brief cadenza.  The first movement ends with what is almost a direct quote from the first movement of the A minor Piano Concerto. The second movement brings some really expressive playing with another recognisable melody, this time from Grieg’s incidental music to Bjornsterne Bjornson’s historical drama Sigurd Jorsalfar.

Solveig’s Song from Grieg’s incidental music to Ibsen’s Peer Gynt is alluded to in the finale which has some intensely passionate playing from the duo. Their playing is wonderfully nuanced and this movement never outstays its welcome, as it does some times in other performances, having a natural flow and inevitability.

Two short pieces by Grieg precede his Cello Sonata, Intermezzo (1866), a strange, dark work that concentrates much on the lower register of the cello and Allegretto in E (1887) a particularly attractive work, taken from the slow movement of his Violin Sonata and written for his brother John. Both receive first rate, sensitive performances.

The recording is excellent and there are excellent notes by John York. This is a lovely disc.

Wednesday 19 September 2012

Venetian Vespers

After the immense success of I Fagiolini’s recording of the Striggio 40 part mass last year it would be asking a lot to expect a repeat of that success with their latest offering.

However, their new release from Decca, entitled 1612 Italian Vespers, is another wonderful recording of exciting and little known repertoire that is likely to prove just as popular.

478 3506
Directed by Robert Hollingworth, 1612 Italian Vespers features no less than seven works by the lesser known Parmesan composer Lodovico Grossi da Viadana (c.1560-1627), as well as works by Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli (1532/3-1585) and (1554/7-1612) respectively, Bartolomeo Barbarino (c.1568-c.1617), Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina 1525/6-1594), Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) and Francesco Soriano (1548/9-1621).

This new recording also marks the 400th anniversary of the death of Giovanni Gabrieli and the 400th anniversary of the publication of a collection of Vespers music by Viadana.

All of the various settings are drawn together to create what the Second Vespers of the feast of Our Lady and the Most Holy Rosary might have sounded like at a North Italian cathedral or church in the early 17th century on the anniversary of the victory against the Turks at Lepanto.

Viadana proves to be a striking composer with certain influences from Monteverdi with whom he worked for a while in Mantua. His Psalm settings, of which there are five on this disc, are particularly attractive. In particular his setting of Psalm 109  ‘Dixit Dominus’ has some wonderful sonorities, Psalm 112 ‘Laudate, pueri’ has superb countertenor contribution and Psalm 147 ‘Lauda, Ierusalem’ is full of interest, with singing of breadth and colour reinforced by the instrumentalists.

All of the settings by Viadana and, indeed the opening Versicle and Response ‘Deus, in adiutorium meum’ are of great quality and really stand out.

Barbarino’s short motet ‘Exaudi, Deus’ has some wonderful playing by Gawain Glenton (cornet) and David Roblou (organ). It is good to hear David Roblou again, whom I first heard quite a while ago in an interesting radio broadcast featuring the pedal-board harpsichord.

Andrea Gabrieli is represented by his ‘Benedictus Dominus Deus Sabaoth’ and an attractive little Toccata del 9. Tono.

The Hymn ‘Ave, Maris Stella’ comprises of music from Monteverdi and Soriano in a hybrid form that apparently was not an unusual practice at the time. Monteverdi’s contribution is, as you would expect, glorious, but what really struck me was the really unusual music of Soriano with long lines and expressive themes and wonderful instrumental accompaniment. 

Monteverdi’s Motet ‘Ab aeterno ordinate sum’, has some first rate, flexible, singing from the bass Jonathan Sells accompanied by David Roblou (organ) and David Miller (theorbo).

Hugh Keyte, who provided the editions for Striggio’s 40 part motet ‘Ecce beatam lucem’  and Tallis’s 40 part motet ‘Spem in alium’ on I Fagiolini’s Striggio recording, has reconstructed Giovanni Gabrieli’s Magnificat ‘Con il sicut locutus, In ecco’ and Extraliturgical Motet ‘In ecclesiis.’

It is said that the Magnificat, attributed to Gabrieli, was played at the court chapel of Archduke Ferdinand at Graz. Originally thought to be three-choir works, they were later expanded to become seven-choir works and may have later been made for performance at two of the lavish afternoon concerts at one of the Venetian charitable confraternities, the Scuola Grande di San Rocco. These concerts must have been extremely lavish affairs given the grand nature of this work.

Towards the end of the Magnificat, Keyte has used a rest marked in the music to include a brass fanfare where the probable use of a fanfare would have been and added cannon fire that may well have been part of the anniversary celebrations of the victory over the Turks forty-one years previously. The resulting bells, trumpets and cannon fire all making an impressive sound. The manuscripts of the Magnificat only survive incomplete and Hugh Keyte has done a wonderful job bringing this terrific work to completion.

Equally, in Giovanni Gabrieli’s Extraliturgical Motet ‘In ecclesiis’, Hugh Keyte has done us a great service in reconstructing the full version of the work, only previously known in a reduced form. This has restored the Motet to its glorious, four-choir, full grandeur as one of Gabrieli’s great late works.

Most of the works are preceded by plainchant and there are bells at the appropriate moments in the Vespers. But this liturgical setting works far better than many of the reconstructed liturgical settings that have appeared in other recordings with a sequence of music that flows naturally with choral pieces interspersed with occasional instrumental works.

The performances here are superb with the instrumentalists finely balanced with the choir, never overshadowing them. The detailed and informative notes by Hugh Keyte are excellent.

This is another winner from Robert Hollingworth and I Fagiolini.

See also:

Another Striggio comes along
Striggio’s missing manuscript

Monday 17 September 2012

Sir Mark Elder’s Elgar enters UK Classical Charts at No.4

Sir Mark Elder has always been a great Elgarian and is, of course, the Vice-President of the Elgar Society.

The excellent news is that Sir Mark and The Hallé Orchestra and Choir’s recording of The Apostles, their latest release in their Elgar cycle, has entered the UK Classical Charts at No.4.

CD HLD 7534 (2CD)
Sir Mark and the Hallé Orchestra and Choir have enjoyed great success with their previous Elgar choral recordings of The Dream of Gerontius which took an Award in 2009 and The Kingdom, which received the 2011Gramophone Award in the choral category. Sir Mark’s recording of The Kingdom was described by the Gramophone as ‘a Kingdom to stand alongside the classic Boult recording’.

It is a pity that The Dream of Gerontius has always tended to overshadow Elgar’s two great choral works since, in many ways The Apostles and The Kingdom have finer moments. Indeed, Sir Adrian Boult once heard a great friend of Elgar’s defend The Kingdom by saying to a critic of it ‘My dear boy, beside The Kingdom, Gerontius is the work of a raw amateur.’ Something of an overstatement perhaps but surely meant as a strong defence of The Kingdom.

The seed to write a choral work around the Apostles was sown right back as far as Elgar’s childhood when his teacher, Francis Reeve, at Littleton House School on the edge of Worcester, spoke about the Apostles as ordinary men that ‘…before the descent of the Holy Ghost (were) not cleverer than some of you here.’ It was very much with the image of the Apostles as ordinary men that Elgar conceived his great work. Even Judas is portrayed as misguided rather than iniquitous.
It was not until 1902 that Elgar started work on The Apostles. Initially The Apostles and The Kingdom were intended as a single work but such was the scope of his vision, and the pressures to deliver the new work in time for the 1903 Birmingham Festival, that it eventually became two works, with Part 3 of the Apostles becoming The Kingdom.  A planned third choral work, provisionally called The Last Judgment, intended to be the final part of a triptych, was never written.

The first performance of The Apostles was on 14th October 1903 at Birmingham Town Hall. Interestingly most of the players in the Festival orchestra, conducted by the composer, were members of the Hallé Orchestra.

Perhaps with such terrific advocacy as brought by Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé, these two great choral works will now get the attention and recognition they deserve.

Full details of Elgar's Apostles performed by the Hallé Orchestra and Choir can be found at this link:

All Elgar releases from the Hallé Orchestra can be found at this link:

Sunday 16 September 2012

Leeds International Piano Competition 2012. Some afterthoughts.

What struck me most about the finals of the 2012 Leeds International Piano Competition held last night (Saturday 15th September 2012) and on Friday night (14th September 2012) was how easy it was to just get caught up in the music and forget that this was a competition. But surely that is exactly how it should be.

This must have been an incredible event for all the jury members that committed so much time to the competition that ran from 29 August to 15th September.  

Such was the calibre of artists in the final that the two evenings became a wonderful musical event. It was also appropriate that the other six competitors that reached the semi-finals were called onto the platform.

Whilst there has to be winners, no one competing in this event will have had less than a great musical experience and many will gain much from the public exposure the competition has brought.

It isn’t just the bursaries given to all first stage competitors, nor the prizes given to the second stage competitors and semi-finalists or the prize money that is awarded to the finalists that is the most important thing, thought that will be a welcome help to many. It is the public exposure and engagements that can follow and, indeed in the case of the finalists, will follow.

Just go to the Leeds International Piano Competition website to see the range of UK and International engagements that Final Round prize winners will be offered.

The overwhelming message from this important competition must be that the music comes first and certainly all the competitors that I heard seemed to make it do just that.

There was not one artist in the final that I would not pay good money to hear and I’m sure that we will hear a lot more from all of them – and probably from many that didn’t make the final.

BBC4 are starting a six week television series covering this year’s competition. It commences on Friday 21st September 2012.  I shall certainly be watching it.

See also:

Leeds International Piano Competition 2012. The Winner

Leeds International Piano Competition 2012. The Finals Part 1.

Leeds International Piano Competition 2012. The finalist’s recitals.

Saturday 15 September 2012

Leeds International Piano Competition 2012. The Winner.

First prize winner of the 2012 Leeds International Piano Competition  and Aung San Suu Kyi Gold Medal is Federico Colli, aged 24 years, from Italy

The other finalists were awarded prizes as follows:

2nd       Louis Schwizebel
3rd       Jiayan Sun
4th        Andrejs Osokins
5th        Andrew Tyson
6th        Jayson Gillham 

The Winner of the Terence Judd Award voted for by the members of the Halle Orchestra was Andrew Tyson. 

Federico Colli gave a performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto that had a wonderfully sprung lightness and an underlying tension that brought out a real Beethovenian feel. His was a performance that was beautifully poised and shaped.

My own choice, as it was of the Hallé Orchestra, was Andrew Tyson, and we will surely hear much more of him. But Federico Colli is certainly a worthy winner in a final that must have been the closest for a long time.

We should not forget the wonderful contribution by Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra who seemed to perfectly tailor their playing to each performer’s interpretation. They truly added a great deal to the performances.

These performances will be included by the BBC4 in a 6 week series starting on Friday 21st September 2012, with one concerto played every Friday.

See also:

Leeds International Piano Competition 2012. The Finals Part 1.

Leeds International Piano Competition 2012. The finalist’s recitals.

Leeds International Piano Competition 2012. The Finals Part 2.

Tonight’s (Saturday 15th September 2012) performances by the final three competitors of this year’s final of the Leeds International Piano Competition 2012 brought Latvia’s Andrejs Osokins in Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major, Op. 26 with poised articulate playing that revealed many details. He had a full grasp of Prokofiev’s rhythmic style but also a delicacy in the quieter moments that created a stillness that was the perfect foil for Prokofiev’s virtuoso demands.

Italy’s Federico Colli played Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat major, Op. 73 with a touch that gave a wonderfully sprung lightness to the music. In the slow movement he kept a flow and underlying tension that brought out the real Beethovenian feel, whilst the finale was beautifully poised and shaped with those sprung rhythms wonderfully lifting the music.

After the interval, Andrew Tyson, from the USA, performed Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30 in a performance of tremendous freedom and character. This performance, for me, had everything, so many little details and captivating touches, such individuality. At times this performance had an improvisatory feel with new thoughts at every turn.

So have I a clear favourite? Well my own choice by far is Andrew Tyson, not just for his mesmerising Rachmaninov, but for his captivating Chopin Preludes in the semi-final recital stage.

But Louis Schwizebel who gave us a performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.4 that was full of poetry, poise and depth as well as his recital performance of Haydn’s Piano Sonata No.50 and Andrejs Osokins with his revealing and rhythmically commanding Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 3 and recital performance of Beethoven’s last Piano Sonata op.111 are high on my list.

Dame Fanny Waterman once said that ‘There are no losers at Leeds.’ This year’s competition has certainly proved that to be the case, especially when you see the enormous talent showcased in this terrific final.

It’s now over to the jury who, this year, have an incredibly difficult task with such a line-up of talented pianists. Hopefully the result will come before 10.30pm

I will be giving the result in a blog later this evening.

See also:

Leeds International Piano Competition 2012. The Finals Part 1.

Leeds International Piano Competition 2012. The finalist’s recitals.


Leeds International Piano Competition 2012. The Finals Part 1.

After all the preliminary rounds during late August and early September 2012, we now come to the finals of the Competition.

Last night (Friday, 14th September 2012) saw the first three of the finalists give their concerto performances with Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra whilst the remaining three perform tonight, (Saturday 15th September 2012).

On Friday, Louis Schwizgebel, from Switzerland chose to play Beethoven’s Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58 in a performance of crystalline purity. There was always an underlying emotional tension right throughout. This was a performance of poetry, poise and depth.

China’s Jiayan Sun performed Prokofiev’s Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 16 in which he showed the fantasy in this work. There was clarity of phrasing and, in the final movement cadenza, some wonderful colouring. This was an entrancing performance.

After the interval we heard Jayson Gillham, from Australia, in Beethoven’s Concerto No. 5 in E flat major, Op. 73. Gillham’s directness of approach produced some lovely sounds and in the slow movement there was playing of fine sensitivity. Whilst there were individual touches in the last movement I would have preferred a little more individuality overall. Nevertheless this was a very enjoyable performance with many fine moments.

Overall, the performance standard in this first half of the final was extremely high and we still have the three remaining finalists to hear tonight, Latvia’s Andrejs Osokins in Prokofiev’s Concerto No. 3, Italy’s Federico Colli, playing Beethoven’s Concerto No. 5, Op. 73 and the USA’s Andrew Tyson, performing Rachmaninov’s Concerto No. 3.

If you can’t be present at Leeds Town Hall then BBC Radio 3 are broadcasting the second half of the competition live at 6.30pm tonight.

See also:

Leeds International Piano Competition 2012. The finalist’s recitals.

Friday 14 September 2012

Leeds International Piano Competition 2012. The finalists' recitals.

The Leeds International Piano Competition  was founded in 1961 by Dame Fanny Waterman and Marion Thorpe CBE. Held every three years, past winners have been Michael Roll (1961), Rafael Orozco (1966), Radu Lupu (1969), Murray Perahia (1972), Dimitri Alexeev (1975), Michel Dalberto (1978), Ian Hobson (1981), Jon Kimura Parker (1984), Vladimir Ovchinnikov (1987), Artur Pizarro (1990), Ricardo Castro (1993) and Ilya Itin (1996), Alessio Bax (2000), Antti Siirala (2003), Sunwook Kim (2006) and the Competition’s first ever female First prize-winner, Sofya Gulyak in 2009.

It is not only the first prize winners that have gone on to have great careers, but also many of its runners-up. Second to Orozco in 1966 was the Russian pianist Viktoria Postnikova, and in 1969, George Pludermacher to Radu Lupu.

1975 was a particularly outstanding year in the history of the Competition, when the finals featured not only Dimitri Alexeev but also celebrated pianists of today Mitsuko Uchida, Andras Schiff, Pascal Devoyon and now world-famous conductor Myung-Whun Chung. Other runner-ups have included Kathryn Stott, Peter Donohoe, Louis Lortie, Ian Munro, Noriko Ogawa, Lars Vogt, Leon McCawley and Ashley Wass.

The Leeds Competition attracts distinguished jurors from all around the world and this year, in addition to Dame Fanny (Chairman), there is Christopher Elton, Adam Gatehouse, Pavel Gililov, Bao Huiqiao, Daejin Kim, Robert Levin, Robert McDonald and John O’Conor.

Stage one of the competition took place between 29th, 30th, and 31st August, 1st and 2nd September 2012 when fifty nine competitors performed for the jury. Thirty pianists appeared in stage two, on 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th September 2012.  The semi-finals held on 9th, 10th and 11th September 2012, had reduced this number to just twelve.

Last night on BBC Radio 3 we were allowed to hear extracts from the recital rounds of the six remaining finalists who will go on to perform concertos with Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra on Friday 14th and Saturday 15th September 2012 broadcast on BBC Radio 3.

Jayson Gillham, aged 26 years from Australia, gave a thoughtful but slightly literal performance of Brahms’ Handel Variations. He had great fluency and this was a good performance, but I felt that he needed less restraint. Jiayan Sun, aged 22 years from China, made a marked contrast by giving four pieces from Ligeti’s Musica ricercata in playing of great verve and imagination. His Debussy Prelude ‘Fireworks’ equally showed strength and dynamic playing full of personality.

Louis Schwizgebel, aged 24 years from Switzerland, played Haydn’s sonata No.50 in D major a choice that showed his grace and charm with crisp playing in the Allegro con brio. Though a little slow, the largo e sostenuto was extremely beautiful whilst there was a fresh and sparkling finale. Federico Colli, aged 24 years from Italy, gave us a Scriabin Tenth Sonata that brought out the strange rhythms but, perhaps because I did not hear this in the hall, it seems that much of the colour did not emerge. Certainly this was a very individual view of the sonata.

Andrew Tyson, aged 25 years from the USA, played Chopin’s Preludes Op.28 in a performance that left no doubt as to his maturity and depth. He showed that he could produce that wonderful billowing sound that Chopin can sometimes need combined with a wonderful rubato. This was a wonderful performance. Andrejs Osokins, aged 27 years from Latvia, played Beethoven’s last Piano Sonata op.111. There was fiery playing in the first movement and, though there was a certain tentativeness in the second movement, there much was poetry. This pianist certainly felt the depth of this sonata.

So is there a clear favourite? Well the problem for those, like me, who have not sat through every round of this competition is that the judgment must be based on all of the competitors playing – and there is the concerto finale to go.

However, Andrew Tyson must stand out at this stage as must Jiayan Sun and Louis Schwizgebel. From what I have heard so far, the standard for 2012 seems to be very high, so who can tell.

See also:

Leeds International Piano Competition 2012. The Finals Part 1.


Wednesday 12 September 2012

Superb playing from Pierre Laurent Aimard in Debussy’s complete Preludes

Claude Debussy (1862-1918) is surely one of the great composers and undoubtedly one of the greatest ever to come out of France. Whilst his output is not vast, his achievement is colossal and his influence widespread.

This year is the 150th anniversary of his birth bringing with it new releases and re-releases of recordings of his music. Central to Debussy’s output were his works for piano and central to these were his Preludes Book 1 (1909-1910) and Book 2 (1912-1913).

The names of these preludes are not really titles as such since they are hidden away at the end of each work in parentheses. Debussy had tired of the constant debate about musical ‘impressionism’ and had moved on, calling these works preludes in an apparent attempt to connect himself to the musical forms of the past. It may be considered that, by placing the titles at the end of each prelude, Debussy wanted performers to form their own feelings about the music before reading his descriptions.

With the exception of Les tierces alternées (Alternating Thirds) in Book 2, these works, whether overtly descriptive or not, summon up in the most remarkable way fleeting moods and images. By the time of Book 2 Debussy had been influenced by Stravinsky, whom he had met in 1910, and there appear more dissonant harmonies.

Deutsche Grammophon has marked this anniversary with a new release featuring Pierre-Laurent Aimard playing the complete Debussy Preludes.                               

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Pierre-Laurent Aimard brings great authority to these works and from the start shows superb control of dynamics and tempi. He gives a breadth and feel that is just right in Danseuses de Delphes  (Dancers of Delphi) whilst  in Voiles (Sails)  phrasing is beautifully done, full of atmosphere, yet never too vague and dreamy. His delicacy of playing is simply entrancing.

Le vent dans la plaine (The Wind in the Plain) is finely controlled yet at the same time sounds spontaneous.  Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l'air du soir

(The sounds and fragrances swirl through the evening air) creates a perfectly judged atmosphere and Les collines d'Anacapri  (The Hills of Anacapri) is wonderfully controlled and perfectly judged in some of the finest Debussy playing I have heard.

In Des pas sur la neige (Footsteps in the Snow) Aimard again creates a complete sound world to perfection with phrasing and tempi perfect. As the piece progresses his sensitive playing subtly allows a little warmth to enter.

Aimard conjures richly intense sounds in Ce qu'a vu le vent d'ouest (What the West Wind has seen) as he slowly builds the western wind. With La fille aux cheveux de lin (The Girl with the Flaxen Hair) he plays this well-known prelude in what at first appears to be a straight and direct way but such is his sensitive phrasing that one hears a new depth to the piece.

After the brilliant Latin rhythms of La sérénade interrompue (Interrupted Serenade), Aimard’s 'La cathédrale engloutie (The Submerged Cathedral) provides great atmosphere and feeling as it builds to a stunning climax as the Cathedral appears. It is difficult to bring off the elusive La danse de Puck (Puck's Dance) with its rapid tempi changes but Aimard does so wonderfully whilst topping off Book 1 with a delightful ‘Minstrels’  that conjures up Parisian delight.

In Book 2 Brouillards (Mists) brings some beautifully delicate touches, the rippling phrases showing  Aimard’s superb fluency. In Feuilles mortes (Dead Leaves) there is a real depth with so many layers of feeling, autumnal, funereal, tolling bells and an air of stately desolation.

La puerta del Vino (The Gate of Wine) has lovely flourishes of rhythm combined with Aimard’s beautifully rich tone and Les fées sont d'exquises danseuses (The Fairies are exquisite dancers), another of the more famous preludes, here given a beautifully drawn performance, fleet and carefree.

Bruyères (Heather) is a particularly lovely prelude to which Aimard gives a light and spontaneous feel, so French, so light and fleeting. Such was the marvellous playing in this prelude that I went immediately back to my benchmark recording of the work. Not Zimmerman, not Ogawa, not even Gieseking, but Martino Tirimo. As fine as his are, it is the inspired phrasing, the knowing how to hold back just enough to lift the music’s poise, that marks out the genius of Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s playing.

Great fun is brought to General Lavine whilst La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune (The Terrace of Moonlit Audiences) has the wonderful harmonic shifts perfectly judged to give mood and feel to the music. Another particular high point which had me running back to Tirimo’s recording is Ondine with its changes of moods and rhythm beautifully handled.

Hommage à S. Pickwick Esq. P.P.M.P.C. (Homage to S. Pickwick), Debussy’s joke at the expense of the English is wonderfully tongue in cheek whilst the elusive Canope (Canopic vase), another prelude difficult to pull off, is so brilliantly done. Les Tierces alternees is brilliantly balanced by Aimard.  

With Feux d'artifice (Fireworks), the final preludes, we get superb playing of stunning brilliance, but with Aimard never forgetting the underlying musical intent. What a finale to superb performances of such fluency, such panache. Formidable playing.

By now you will have gathered that I admire these performances immensely. With excellent sound they must go to the top of any list of recommended recordings of these works.

Saturday 8 September 2012

Last Night of the Proms 2012 with Nicola Benedetti, Joseph Calleja and Team GB’s Olympic medallists

It is easy to allow the works played in the first part of the Last Night of the Proms to be overshadowed by the festive nature of the second half.

Where else could you hear in one concert a newly commissioned work by the young award winning composer Mark Simpson, Delius’ Songs of Farewell, Bruch’s First Violin Concerto and works by Suk and Dvorak, not to mention all the last night favourites such as Henry Wood’s Fantasia on British Sea Songs and Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No.1.

Mark Simpson’s new work ‘Sparks’ was a striking piece that packs a lot into its short length. I would like to hear more from this obviously talented composer.

Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jiri Belohlavek conducted a short patriotic piece by Czech composer Joseph Suk ‘Towards a New Life’ in a rare opportunity to hear this work. He later conducted Dvorak’s Carnival Overture in a beautifully idiomatic performance. I don’t think there can be anyone better in this repertoire.

Belohlavek seemed equally at home in Delius’ late choral work Songs of Farewell, a setting of Walt Whitman played with rapt concentration. What a pity the audience decided to clap at the end of each part somewhat breaking the spell.

Joseph Calleja proved to be a fine tenor in arias by Verdi, Massenet and Puccini showing a richness of tone and a beautifully controlled upper range.

In Bruch’s ever popular Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor Nicola Benedetti brought out the varying timbres of the violin in playing of richness and depth. She displayed playing of fabulous technical security and a sparkling finale concluded this fine performance.

It is a tribute to the Promenaders how quiet and attentive they always are during the works before the festive part of the evening.

Before the usual last night fare there was John Williams’ Olympic Fanfare and Theme written for the 1984 Olympics,  Nicola Benedetti playing Shostakovich’s slight but beautiful Romance from ‘The Gadfly’ and the novelty of an arrangement of Leoncavallo’s Mattinata for solo violin, tenor and orchestra which brought back both Nicola Benedetti and Joseph Calleja to perform together.

Jiri Belohlavek again proved himself a natural last night conductor having immense fun bringing the whole audience to sing Richard Rodgers’ You’ll Never Walk Alone and really engaging with the audience.

Joseph Calleja ran on to the platform dressed in tracksuit and trainers to reveal a T shirt bearing the Maltese Cross before singing Rule Britannia. Towards the end Britain’s Gold and Silver Medal winning athletes made a surprise appearance reminding us of Team GB’s achievements this year.

With the number of flags from other nations being waved surely no one can any longer look on this as a jingoistic British only event. This was a worthy end to a great season of concerts.

See other Prom reviews:

A Memorable Concert from Bernard Haitink and the Vienna Philharmonic at the BBC Proms

BBC Prom - Max’s Ninth, fine Delius from Tasmin Little and an Impressive Shostakovich Tenth from Vasily Petrenko

Subtle Saint-Saëns from Benjamin Grosvenor at the Proms

A Battlefield at the Proms

Handel’s Water Music and Fireworks Music as they should be played

A Memorable Concert from Bernard Haitink and the Vienna Philharmonic at the BBC Proms

This season has seen many wonderful visiting orchestras such as the Berlin Philharmonic under Simon Rattle, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra under Daniel Barenboim, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under Riccardo Chailly and the St Louis Symphony Orchestra under David Robertson.

But it was an inspired choice to have the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Bernard Haitink bring the BBC Proms towards its conclusion in the penultimate concert of the season last night (7th September 2012).

The Vienna Philharmonic brought their wonderful string sound to Haydn’s Symphony No. 104 in an affectionate performance conducted by Bernard Haitink. Even in the rustic third movement menuetto there was a civilised sound to the music making.

In the finale the orchestra surged forward in a truly spirited allegro spritoso giving a wonderful conclusion to the work. Haitink certainly knows how to bring out the humour and joy of Haydn’s last symphony.

For all the enjoyment of this beautiful performance I still had a nagging feeling that Haydn should have a little more grit, but perhaps that’s just my personal taste affected by the period instrument movement. Nevertheless this was a lovely performance.

The VPO really came into their own in Richard Strauss’ Alpine Symphony where those wonderful strings brought a warm glow to Strauss’ writing. The horn section was really something to hear, particularly in ‘On the Summit’ where the orchestra made an overwhelming sound.

There were beautiful woodwind sounds just before ‘Thunder and Storm’ and what a storm it was. As the work drew to a close those beautiful Vienna strings brought the most wonderful glow of sunset to a magical conclusion.

Haitink’s concept was largely broad but it allowed the orchestra the freedom to do their best in bringing out all of Strauss’ beautiful detail.

Another Strauss, this time Johann Strauss II, gave us the encore in one of his waltzes as only the VPO could do. A memorable concert.

This concert can still be heard on BBC iPlayer but you will need to play it through a good quality audio system to hear it to the best effect.

See other Prom reviews:

Last Night of the Proms 2012 with Nicola Benedetti, Joseph Calleja and Team GB’s Olympic medallists

BBC Prom - Max’s Ninth, fine Delius from Tasmin Little and an Impressive Shostakovich Tenth from Vasily Petrenko

Subtle Saint-Saëns from Benjamin Grosvenor at the Proms

A Battlefield at the Proms

Handel’s Water Music and Fireworks Music as they should be played