Tuesday 30 October 2012

Lang Lang’s Chopin Album not to be missed

Such is the publicity surrounding virtuoso pianist Lang Lang that it would be easy to overlook this phenomenal pianist’s gifts as a superb musician. There is often a great difference between a great virtuoso and a great musician. When it comes to performances of Chopin the bar is set very high for any pianist to add something to the recorded repertoire.

Lang Lang’s www.langlang.com new recording for Sony Classical, ‘Lang Lang - The Chopin Album’, is impressive by any standards. www.sonymasterworks.com


This new release includes the 12 Etudes Op.25, Nocturnes in F major Op.15 No.1, in E flat major Op.55 No.2 and in C sharp minor Op. posth, the Grande Valse Brillante in E flat major Op.18, the Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Op.22 and the Waltz in D flat major op.64 No.1.

You only have to hear the gentle opening notes of the A flat major Etude to know that Lang Lang is more than just a great virtuoso pianist. There are gorgeous rippling notes and a wonderful control of the left hand. There is a perfect rise and fall of the music around the central climax of this work.

The F minor Etude is beautifully controlled yet maintains a flow and forward momentum and the F major Etude is full of bounce and rhythm with a second subject that contrasts with its poetic feel as does the A minor.  

The E minor Etude has a perfectly judged opening theme as the music leads to the limpid second subject, with wonderful interweaving of themes between left and right hands. Lang Lang has a deliciously delicate touch.

The Etude in G sharp minor is dramatic and dynamic and the C sharp minor gloriously played. One could not ask for more feeling and sensitivity. What a wonderful touch he has in the D flat major Etude and so well paced. This is lovely Chopin.

There is more brilliant playing in the G flat major Etude and a colossal, fiery B minor Etude shows Lang Lang’s exceptional technique. Yet the central section is played with such exceptional simplicity.

In the A minor Etude, Lang Lang is impressive with playing of such range and power, yet with every note perfectly placed. The tempestuous C minor Etude concludes this set, with those billowing arpeggios, always with wonderful control of dynamics.

Lang Lang’s Nocturne in E flat major Op. 55 No. 2 is slightly slower than I’m used to, yet he brings a thoughtful yet atmospheric feel to the endless flowing melody. The Nocturne F major Op.15 No.1 again brings thoughtful, sensitive playing that perfectly frames his turbulent middle section.

Lang Lang’s Grande Valse Brillante in E flat major is beautifully phrased and poised, never exaggerated. The Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Op.22, two pieces that I never feel really belong together, has poise, delicacy and grace in the Andante and a Polonaise full of brio, life and dancing rhythms. Such is Lang Lang’s technique that even when, as here, he dashes ahead seemingly spontaneously, it all sounds perfectly together and controlled.

Lang Lang’s Nocturne in C sharp minor Op Posth. is another beautiful performance with attractive little details brought out.  His Waltz in D flat major Op.64 No.1 (the so called ‘Minute’ waltz) has delicacy and poise yet dances along perfectly, never rushed. Lang Lang does not use this work as a mere display piece. There is wonderful rubato in a performance that brings a freshness to this well-worn favourite.  

The final track is described as a bonus track and is a setting of words to Chopin’s Etude Op.10 No.3 in E major with the Danish singer-songwriter Oh Land providing the vocals. I’m not sure that this last track brings much to this disc but, given that this singer will be appearing at Lang Lang’s special one night concert on 30th October 2012 to raise money for the Lang Lang International Music Foundation, it should be taken as a tribute to her contribution to this worthwhile project.

Lang Lang’s playing on this disc displays his phenomenal technique combined with his sense of poetry and sensitivity and a great sense of authority in all these works.

I’m sure that this CD will sell well without my recommendation but nevertheless this is a Chopin CD not to be missed.

Friday 26 October 2012

Stephen Darlington directs the Oxford Philomusica and the Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford in Mendelssohn’s arrangement of Handel’s Acis and Galatea

I have a BBC recording of Harry Christophers conducting the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and the Huddersfield Choral Society and soloists in Mozart’s arrangement of Handel’s Messiah. These are a couple of the best discs ever issued as BBC Music Magazine cover discs. It’s true that I will always return to the recordings of Handel’s original but Mozart’s arrangement is an enjoyable curiosity.  

It has only probably been from the second half of the 20th century that such arrangements have been looked on as unacceptable by purists. Whilst the period instrument movement has brought great gains in our understanding of earlier music it has had the unfortunate effect of some snootiness arising over performances that tinker around with the original.
Mozart took a purely practical approach to earlier music and, indeed, did later figures such as Elgar and the conductor Leopold Stokowski who thought nothing of re-orchestrating Handel and Bach.

A new release from Nimbus Alliance www.wyastone.co.uk features a recording of Mendelssohn’s arrangement of Handel’s Acis and Galatea performed by the Oxford Philomusica http://oxfordphil.com and the Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford www.chchchoir.org conducted by Stephen Darlington www.chchchoir.org/stephen-darlington.

NI 6201
As Stephen Darlington points out, there are Oxford connections to this music as, not only is Mendelssohn’s original score kept at the Bodleian Library, but also Handel conducted the work in the Great Hall in Christ Church in 1743.

Why did Mendelssohn, like Mozart, decide to make changes to the orchestration of Acis and Galatea? The answer is from a purely practical point of view, in that during the 18th century great changes of orchestral texture took place as music moved from the Baroque to the Classical period. Handel used a fairly simple orchestral palette with one or two upper parts supported by a bass, with harpsichord or chamber organ filling in.

Acis and Galatea was produced when Handel was working at Cannons, the country home of the Duke of Chandos, near the village of Edgware in Middlesex. It was originally called a masque, then a pastoral. The modest resources available at this nevertheless palatial house meant that the work needed to be of chamber proportions with only four soloists who also had to double as part of the chorus.

Mendelssohn, in addition to increasing the strings and woodwind, added two trumpets and timpani as well as a part for a type of serpent, a brass instrument used in military bands of that era.

The plot, from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, is pretty simple. It tells of the love between the sea nymph, Galatea, and a shepherd, Acis. Despite warnings from his fellow shepherd, Damon, the two lovers are united. The jealous Polyphemus intervenes and kills Acis after which Galatea turns Acis into a fountain so that, in the final words of the masque, he can continue ‘murmuring still his gentle love.’

Right from the opening overture Handel’s vibrant, bouncing rhythms are heard filtered through Mendelssohn’s orchestration. The strings sound Handelian yet the brass and woodwind give a larger sound. Nevertheless, the music still immediately draws one in and the Oxford Philomusica add to this draw with vibrant, lively and infectious playing. Every so often, usually when the strings dominate, Handel’s sound emerges. The choir of Christ Church Cathedral are their usual excellent selves, singing with admirable control and sensitivity.

Jeni Bern (soprano) as Galatea has a suitably youthful sounding voice. Though having a quite wide vibrato on long held notes, she is controlled and expressive. Benjamin Hulett (tenor) as Acis has an attractive tenor voice in the aria Where shall I seek the charming fair.

Nathan Vale (tenor) who sings Damon, has a voice that has an almost mezzo timbre which works well in Handel and in the aria Shepherd what art thou pursuing? He sings with wonderful control. In the aria Love in her eyes sits playing, Benjamin Hulett gives a lovely performance with the quiet string playing having an almost period instrument sound.

In the duet, Happy we, I didn’t feel that Jeni Bern and Benjamin Hulett always blended as well as they might with the tenor slightly dominating. The chorus in this section are superb as they are in the following chorus, Wretched lovers, where they excel themselves with singing of great precision in the part writing of this tremendous chorus.

Brindley Sherratt (bass) is in fine form as Polyphemus, rich and firm in the recitative, I rage, I melt, I burn, powerful yet controlled. A particular highlight is O ruddier than the cherry which receives a terrific performance from Sherratt. Such flexibility from such a deep powerful voice is impressive.

Both Sherratt and Bern know how to bring recitative to life in Whither, fairest, art thou running and Damon’s aria, Would you gain the tender creature, is beautifully done by Nathan Vale as is his aria Consider, fond shepherd.

When Jeni Bern, Benjamin Hulett and Brindley Sherratt come together for The flocks shall leave the mountains, the three voices blend well. Acis’ short recitative, Help! Galatea, is tenderly done by Jeni Bern.

The great chorus, Mourn, all ye muses, is terrific with the Christ Church Cathedral Choir and the Oxford Philomusica on top form.

Jeni Bern is terrific in the chorus, Galatea, must my Acis still bemoan, singing brilliantly around the interspersions from the choir. She brings sensitivity and beauty to the aria Heart, the seat of soft delight with beautiful accompaniment rom the orchestra. There is a fine end to the work with the choir and orchestra in the chorus, Galatia, dry thy tears.

I much enjoyed this performance. The recording made in the church of St Michael and All Angels, Summertown, Oxford is excellent and there are notes and full texts.

Purists may only look to Handel’s original of which there are a number of recordings.  However, to do so is to deprive oneself of some fine music making in what is after all a historical part of Handel performance practice albeit by another generation.

Tuesday 23 October 2012

British Viola works wonderfully played by Louise Williams and David Owen Norris

In my ‘Celebrating British Music’ blogs (see links below) I covered the music of Sir John McEwen, Sir Arnold Bax, Elizabeth Maconchy, Alan Rawsthorne and Kenneth Leighton, five of the seven composers whose music is recorded on a new release from EM Records (The English Music Festival) www.englishmusicfestival.org.uk/emrecords.html

This new 2 CD set has works for viola and piano by McEwen, Bax, Maconchy, , Rawsthorne, and Leighton as well as Gordon Jacob and Robin Milford played by Louise Williams www.louiseviola.co.uk/index.php and David Owen Norris www.davidowennorris.com .

EMR CD007-008 (2CD)
Louise Williams was formerly with the Chilingirian Quartet and the Raphael Ensemble and is currently a member of the Frith Piano Quartet. She has also worked with the Nash Ensemble, the Takacs Quartet and the Lindsay Quartet. David Owen Norris is well known as an indefatigable supporter of British music as well as a fine pianist who has recorded much rare British repertoire.

Sir John McEwen (1868-1948) wrote his Sonata in A minor for Viola and Piano in 1941. This is a thoroughly engrossing work that holds the attention from its rich dark opening through dance like episodes, an exquisite andante to a brilliantly dashing finale with music that is shot through with a Scottish vein. Louise Williams brings a velvety tone to the richer passages and sparkling playing in the faster sections. In the third movement Allegretto in particular, David Owen Norris gives some beautifully intricate playing.

There is something about Sir Arnold Bax’s (1883-1953) music that always seems to strike an emotional chord with me. His Sonata for Viola and Piano (1922) certainly does so in this fine performance from Williams and Norris. There is some fiendishly difficult writing for the viola brilliantly played by Williams and at other times an underlying haunted quality that is brought out beautifully. A somewhat demonic allegro middle movement is fabulously played by both artists whilst in the finale there are moments of extreme beauty from both the violist and pianist. There is some complex piano writing that Norris negotiates magnificently before the opening then returns to give a satisfying end to the work.

Sir John McEwen’s Improvisations provençales for Violin and Piano were written whilst staying in the South of France in 1937. Conjuring up a Mediterranean feel, these pieces make an entrancing set with opportunities for display for both the violinist and pianist. Not one of these six pieces is without beauty or interest especially as played by this duo.

McEwen was staying on another part of the French coast in 1913 when he wrote his Breath O’ June for Viola and Piano, one of 2 Poems for violin and piano for Lionel Tertis. This time it was the Atlantic coast that provided the inspiration for this slight but attractive work.

Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994) wrote her Sonata for Viola and Piano on 1938. It is a fairly uncompromising work with a propulsive first movement that places demands on both the violist and pianist. Even the middle movement lento, though slower, seems to perpetuate the feel of the first movement before the viola works its way to a more rhapsodic sounding section with the pianist attempting to maintain the fragmented rhythmic pulse. The presto finale is again in the mould of the opening allegro, providing cohesion for the whole work. There are some extremely difficult passages before the work ends for both the violist and pianist, showing what fine artists these two are,.

David Owen Norris, in his booklet notes, remarks on the formal perfection of Gordon Jacob’s (1895-1984) light but attractive Sonatina for Viola and Piano (1949). Most ordinary listeners will hear an attractive allegro, a melancholy andante expressivo and a lively allegro with a quiet sombre coda. It is probably the middle movement andante that will linger in the mind most of all.

The dissonance of the opening of Alan Rawsthorne’s (1905-1971) Sonata for Viola and Piano (1937) comes as something of a shock after the Jacob sonata. A dissonant molto allegro opening movement provides challenges for both performers. As if the first movement wasn’t challenge enough, the following scherzo is equally demanding with more superb playing from both Williams and Norris. There is a dark and strange adagio before the Rondo allegro that, whilst providing some attractive music, still has a degree of dissonance.

Some of the audience at the 1937 premiere must have wondered where the world was heading with such music. Now we can more easily enjoy this fascinating work played with tremendous flair.

Robin Milford (1903-1959) wrote his Four Pieces for Viola and Piano Op.42 in 1935, only two years before the first performance of the Rawsthorne, yet what a difference. These very English pieces have an Air  that is fresh and open, a gentle little Musette, a gently rocking Serenade and a spiky sounding Gavot . This short work has a beautiful simplicity that is very appealing. It’s also very beautifully played.

The concluding Fantasia on the Name Bach Op. 29 (1955) by Kenneth Leighton (1929-1988), from its sombre opening, builds into something more than a ‘mere’ fantasia might suggest. Leighton creates an ever evolving flow of material rising from the adagio, through an allegro, a Chorale lento to a fugue with a seamless flow of invention.

Both Louise Williams and David Owen Norris play wonderfully, coping with the often demanding music with tremendous virtuosity. The recording is exceptionally good and there are informative booklet notes. This is a lovely set of CDs. Any lover of British music should not miss this release.

See also:


Celebrating British Music Part 5 (Maconchy and Rawsthorne) http://theclassicalreviewer.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/celebrating-british-music-part-5.html




Friday 19 October 2012

First issue in a cycle of Villa-Lobos Symphonies from Naxos

The most well-known South American classical composer must surely be the Brazilian Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959).

Born in Rio de Janeiro, he was the son of a civil servant and amateur musician of Spanish extraction. Largely self-taught, as a young man he earned a living by playing in cinema and theatre orchestras in Rio, as well as with many local Brazilian street-music bands.

Having taught himself to play the cello, guitar and clarinet, Villa-Lobos later spent some time as a cellist in a Rio opera company.  Encouragement from a pianist and music publisher, Arthur Napoleão, finally decided Villa-Lobos to take up composition seriously.

In February 1922, some of Villa-Lobos compositions were performed at a festival that took place in São Paulo but they were badly received. In 1923 Villa-Lobos travelled to Paris with the intention of performing his works there. The first work performed, after his arrival in the French capital, was his recently completed Nonet for chorus and ten players.

Villa-Lobos stayed in Paris in1923–24 and 1927–30, meeting such figures as Edgar Varèse, Pablo Picasso, Leopold Stokowski and Aaron Copland. It was in Paris that the first European performance of his Chôros No.10 for chorus & orchestra (1925) was given, causing a sensation.

In 1930 Villa-Lobos was back in Brazil where he arranged concerts around São Paulo, and composed patriotic and educational music. In 1932, he became director of the Superindendência de Educação Musical e Artistica (SEMA), his duties included arranging concerts. Villa-Lobos’ music combines the influences of Brazilian folk music and the sounds of Brazil with stylistic elements from the European classical tradition.

Villa-Lobos’ compositions include the well-known nine Bachianas Brasileiras, fourteen numbered Chôros, operas, twelve symphonies, concertos including five for piano, other orchestral works including ballets, chamber works including seventeen string quartets, music for guitar, piano and film music.

It is his more exotic works such as the Bachianas Brasileiras (1930-1945) that have proved most popular, whereas his other works such as the symphonies and piano concertos have never held the public’s interest as much. His Momoprécoce fantasy for piano and orchestra (1921) has always been more popular than the piano concertos.

Of the twelve symphonies (1916-1957), only eleven remain, the fifth (1920) having been lost.

Naxos www.naxos.com have now started a recorded cycle of Villa-Lobos’ symphonies with the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra www.osesp.art.br/portal/home.aspx
conducted by Isaac Karabtchevsky  www.karabtchevsky.com.
The first issue in this series features Symphonies No.6 and 7.

The profile of the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra has increased in recent years with Marin Alsop now their Principal Conductor.  From 1988 to 1994, Isaac Karabtchevsky was Artistic Director of Tonkünstler Orchestra in Vienna, from 1995 to 2001, Artistic Director of Teatro La Fenice, in Venice and from 2004 to 2009 he was Artistic Director of the Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire. He is currently Artistic Director of Petrobras Symphony Orchestra in Rio.

In his Symphony No.6 ‘On the Outline of the Mountains of Brazil’ (1944) Villa-Lobos used a technic that he had used for encouraging children to compose, that of using a transparent piece of graph paper to plot the image of a photo in order to allocate the pitch and duration of music against vertical and horizontal lines.

The opening of the Sixth Symphony meanders somewhat as if searching for a direction before a stronger theme, more typical of Villa-Lobos, arrives. However, it is not until the end of the movement that any tangible development is made.

The second movement Lento has a quiet but lush opening before the arrival of mysterious passages, first for solo violin, then various sections of the orchestra. There are a number of gentle climaxes before the quiet end. This is a truly evocative movement that seemingly conveys some exotic landscape.

After a strong start the third movement Allegretto quasi animato again moves around mysteriously before a rumbustious end. The finale, an allegro, seems to continue where the third movement left off but has a more developed sense of purpose leading to strong coda.

The longer Symphony No.7 (1945) opens firmly with full orchestra and maintains a sense of momentum. The orchestra is large with the added timbre of piano, two harps and an electronic synthesiser (Hammond Novachord). Descending motifs, typical of Villa-Lobos, join with the rhythms of Brazil and a dominant contribution from the brass. As in the sixth symphony, the second movement, a Lento, is the longest, with strange sounds emerging from the orchestra in this engagingly exotic and beautiful movement.

The scherzo dashes along with more of the composer’s typically Brazilian rhythms, broad melodies and a real sense of purpose and direction. The finale, an allegro preciso, is lifted from any chance of being bland by Villa-Lobos’ exotic twists and turns before building to a terrific coda.

Perhaps these symphonies are a little overlong in places but I find them attractive and well worth hearing. The São Paulo Symphony Orchestra plays marvellously under Isaac Karabtchevsky and the recording from the Sala São Paulo is excellent. I look forward to the next instalment.

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Franck’s complete organ music on Audite in performances by Hans-Eberhard Roß that are unlikely to be surpassed

Of those composers active just before Debussy the names of Saint Saëns, Fauré and Franck stand out. Yet how much of their music do we hear with any frequency. Each of these composers tends to be remembered by just a handful of works.

Such is certainly the case with César Franck (1822 to 1890) who is generally remembered for his Symphony in D, Prelude Choral and Fugue, Symphonic Variations and perhaps his chamber works. Organ enthusiasts will, of course, know of his larger works for organ such as Six Pièces pour Grand Orgue (1862).

Now from Audite www.audite.de organist Hans-Eberhard Roß http://www.kirchenmusik-memmingen.de/sites/Ross.htm  brings us the complete organ works of Franck.

21.413 (6 CD)
This new 6 CD box brings together the recordings previously released on three double CDs. And what fine recordings they are. Hans-Eberhard Roß plays the Goll organ of St Martins, Memmingen, where he is music director and Cantor, which proves to be an ideal instrument for the music, much of which was written for the Cavaillé-Coll organ at Sainte Clotilde where Franck was organist for over 30 years. Such is the completeness of this set that there are a number of premiere recordings.

CD1 commences with Pièce en mi bémol (1846), possibly Franck’s earliest organ work, an attractive piece of some substance making a striking opening to the set. Pièce pour Grand Orgue (1854) shows the more mature Franckian style in a breathtakingly fine performance. The Andantino in G minor (1856) is a lighter piece where Roß’s phrasing and choice of registration allows the piece to maintain its interest.

The Goll organ sounds magnificent in the Fantaisie in C major where, though often elegiac in nature, it builds to a great climax. This is just one of three versions of this Fantaisie that are recorded on this set. Cinq Pièces pour Harmonium (1856) are transcribed here for Grand Organ by Louis Vierne. Roß never allows the music to meander or become static no doubt again because of his astute choice of registrations. We should be grateful that Vierne allowed this beautiful music to be brought to a wider audience through his transcription.

After the brief Offertoire in A major (1858), there is the second version of the Fantaisie in C major allowing us an opportunity to compare the various versions brought together for the first time. The Quasi Marcia (1865) that concludes this disc is another attractive work originally intended for Harmonium and transcribed for this performance by Hans-Eberhard Roß.

Franck’s Six Pièces pour Grand Orgue (1859-1863) fill CD2 and include a Fantaisie Op.16, a work drawn from the Fantaisie in C major, where the range of the Goll organ is really allowed to show itself and Roß’s playing conveys all the beautiful nuances of the music. Grande Pièce Symphonique Op.17 (1863) at twenty three minutes is the longest piece here and is a gloriously effective work originally called ‘Symphony’ and which appears to have opened up new horizons for Franck leading eventually to his D minor Symphony of 1886-88.

The Prélude, Fugue et Variation Op.18 is the perfect foil to the Grande Pièce with Roß maintaining perfect tempi, dynamics and registrations with wonderful flow and articulation, with a lovely tune permeating the work. The Pastorale Op.19 has a central dance like theme whilst the Prière Op.20 is a solemn and stately piece that seems to have had a poor reception in the past. Franck nevertheless brings a depth that is quite absorbing, a quality brought out particular well by this organist.

The Final Op.21 is an organ showpiece intended for Franck’s own Cavaillé-Coll organ and, in this performance, works perfectly on the Goll instrument. Dedicated to Lefébure-Wely, there is some phenomenal playing from Roß.

CD3 contains thirty nine works of Franck’s Pièces Posthumes pour Harmonium ou Orgue a Pèdales pour L’Office Ordinaire (L’Organiste II – Part I) (1858-1863). These are often odd pieces that don’t progress beyond a bar or two explained by the fact that Franck wrote some of the pieces for an organist friend as guidance for use of his village organ. The extremely short duration of some pieces suggests that they were intended to be developed or improvised on. This certainly must be the case in the 18 second long Amen in D major.

Included are an Offertoire in F minor, an Offertoire in C minor and an Elevation in A major. The Offertoire works in this collection were probably written for Franck’s own use hence their more substantial length. All are played here with brilliance and flair. The set concludes with three longer pieces, a Grand Chœur in C minor, a grand maestoso beautifully played, Offertoire pour la Messe de Minuit in D minor, a quiet  reflective lento and the concluding Offertoire in G minor a grand finale fabulously played by Hans-Eberhard Roß.

Pièces Posthumes pour Harmonium ou Orgue a Pèdales pour L’Office Ordinaire from L’Organiste II – Part II (1858-1863) that opens CD4 consists of seven pieces that are more substantial. There is a lively Sortie in D major, an Offertoire in F minor brilliantly played with fine contrasts, a lovely Allegro Moderato in D flat major, two further Offortoires, the B Major  having wonderful swagger and the charming Offertoire sur un Noel Breton. Version III of the Fantaisie in C major follows before the Entrée pour Harmonium an attractive little work of just under three minutes.

The Paris Exhibition of 1878 called on Franck to give a series of concerts at the Palais du Trocadéro, which contained a large organ built by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. Aside from his improvisations Franck also played more formal works including the three pieces forming the Trois Pièces pour Grand Orgue (1878). The first of these pieces is the Fantaisie in A major, a dark thoughtful work quite densely written in which Roß brings out the underlying emotion of the work really effectively. The Cantabile is a long drawn melody concluding with a gentle canon whilst the Pièce Héroïque has a rhythmic theme leading to a rousing chorale, superbly played. This CD concludes with two short works, Petit Offertoire pour Harmonium and an untitled Andante quasi lento pour Harmonium, little known but most effective.

CD5 comprises Pièces pour Orgue ou Harmonium (L’Organiste I – Part I) (1890) from the last year of Franck’s life. This consists of six works, each comprising of seven short pieces that make up a satisfying whole.

Firstly there is the 7 Pièces in C major and C minor which includes a wonderful concluding Offertoire. The 7 Pièces in D flat major and C sharp minor are of a more reflective nature and all beautifully played, whilst the 7 Pièces in D major and D minor ‘Pour le temps de Noël’ contain a short stirring Quasi allegro, a very ecclesiastical sounding ‘Chant de la Creuse’ and a Sortie ou Offertoire that makes a fine conclusion.

The 7 Pièces in E flat major and E flat minor include a gentle andantino and an equally gentle quasi lento. Roß’s lightness of touch enables these works to really shine. The concluding Offertoire is a glorious and subtly varied piece enhanced by the sensitivity of Roß’s playing and choice of registrations.

The 7 Pièces in E minor and E major include a stately, thoughtful prière and a concluding Offertoire ou communion, a poco lento, that provides music that is full of subtle detail. The concluding 7 Pièces in F major and F minor have an opening Allegretto that allows the Goll organ to show more of what it can do in the hands of this master organist. In the lento, Roß draws some lovely textures whilst the final grand sortie gives the Goll organ its head, with some great playing by Roß.

CD6 has the Pièces pour Orgue ou Harmonium (L’Organiste I – Part II) (1890) consisting of three sets of seven pieces. The first are 7 Pièces in F sharp minor and G flat major with an andantino ‘Air Béarnais’  that has playing full of subtle variety, a poco allegro with an intricate little dancing theme beautifully done by Roß and a restrained Offertoire funèbre to end. The 7 Pièces in G major and G minor ‘Pour le temps de Noël’ have an interestingly varied poco allegretto before the hymn like poco lento ‘Vieux Noël’. There is a cheerful and lively allegretto ‘noël angevin’ with a superb choice of registrations, a quietly introverted quasi lento and a stirring sortie – allegro to end. Here Roß draws some lovely sounds from the organ.

The final of these sets, 7 Pièces in A flat major and G sharp minor, opens with a poco maestoso, rather tentative in its nature, an aptly named allegretto amabile that is light and jolly, as is the andantino.  There is a grave sounding lento and a concluding sortie that is less striking than those in the preceding works, being more restrained.

This phenomenal set concludes with the tremendously difficult Trois Chorals pour Grand Orgue (1890). Choral I in E major is a beautifully flowing piece that nearly halfway through suddenly opens up with a grand flourish. The gentler music returns but speeds up to a majestic climax, magnificently played by Roß.

Choral II in B minor slowly builds to a complex harmony with a central climax providing some wonderful playing. This is an attractively varied piece with some amazing playing of the complex passages. There is a tremendous crescendo towards the end, before the pianissimo coda.

Choral III in A minor has a terrific opening with some spectacular playing from Roß. Sometimes there seems little respite for the organist with one new challenge after another.  Halfway through, the music becomes quiet and meandering before the music builds to a dissonant climax.

The Goll organ of St Martin’s Memmingen is ideally suited to this repertoire and the acoustic just right, without too much reverberation. The recording is particularly fine with just the right amount of depth. There are excellent notes on the composer and the music with full specifications for the Goll organ.  Audite even provide details of the registrations used and extracts from a film (in German) about the construction of the Goll organ via their website www.audite.de

Such is my enthusiasm for this set that I could have written at even greater length about these fabulous performances but I fear I have gone on too much already.

These performances are unlikely to be matched let alone surpassed in the near future. Hans-Eberhard Roß is a superb musician and anyone who failed to catch these recordings when first released should delay no longer.

Saturday 13 October 2012

The acclaimed Swiss Piano Trio visit the UK

Regular followers of this blog will be aware that I have greatly admired the recordings by the Swiss Piano Trio on Audite.  www.audite.de/en/ensemble/88-

Winners of the first prize at the International Chamber Music Competition in Caltanissetta (Italy) in 2003 and at the Johannes Brahms Competition (Austria) in 2005, as well as the Swiss Ambassador’s Award at Wigmore Hall that same year, this acclaimed chamber ensemble will be touring the UK in October and November including 2012.

They will be appearing at the City Halls in Glasgow on 19th October 2012 where the

Scottish Chamber Orchestra will be conducted by Baldur Brönnimann in the premiere of Lyell Cresswell’s Triple Concerto commissioned by the Swiss Piano Trio. www.sco.org.uk/concerts/2012-10-19

They will then take this programme to the Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh on 20th October 2012 www.sco.org.uk/concerts/2012-10-20 before appearing at the Scunthorpe Concert Society in North Lincolnshire on 2nd November 2012 where they will play Mozart’s Piano Trio in C major KV 548, Schumann’s Phantasiestücke, Op. 88 and Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio D minor, Op. 49. http://scunthorpe-concert-society.co.uk/programme-2011-2012-preview/

They will conclude their UK tour with the same works by Mozart, Schumann and Mendelssohn at London’s Wigmore Hall on 4th November 2012. www.wigmore-hall.org.uk/whats-on/productions/swiss-piano-trio-30461
The Swiss Piano Trio’s recording of Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio D minor, Op. 49 was the subject of my blog of 28th April 2012 http://theclassicalreviewer.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/mendelssohn-lightweight-composer.html
Audite advise me that works by Robert and Clara Schumann will feature on the Swiss Piano Trio’s next SACD due for release in spring 2013.

Wednesday 10 October 2012

The centenaries of two British composers - Benjamin Britten and George Lloyd

Next year sees the centenary of such diverse composers as Witold Lutosławski (1913–1994), René Leibowitz (1913–1972), Tikhon Nikolaievich Khrennikov (1913–2007) and Morton Gould (1913–1996).

However, 2013 also sees the Centenary of two British composers, Benjamin Britten and George Lloyd. Whilst there is no direct link between these composers other than their birth years, they were, nevertheless, two of the three composers commissioned to provide operas for the 1951 Festival of Britain (the other being Ralph Vaughan Williams).

A year-long celebration of Benjamin Britten (1913-76) was launched recently at the Royal College of Music. The Britten-Pears Foundation has invested £6.5 million to mark Britten's centenary with all of Britten's fourteen operas being performed during the anniversary year. Gloriana will be staged at the Royal Opera House, Opera North will perform four of the operas and Birmingham Royal will stage a new production of The Prince of the Pagodas.

Aldeburgh will see a performance of Peter Grimes on the beach and a performance of the Church Parables at Orford Church. Death in Venice will be conducted by Oliver Knussen and a production of Noye's Fludde in Lowestoft where Britten was born.

There will be many performances of Britten's music worldwide including some forty six performances of the War Requiem. Other International performances will include the first Russian performance of Death in Venice at the Moscow Conservatoire, and the first of the Church Parables in Russia with Mahogany Opera. A production of Peter Grimes at Tokyo's New National Theatre will mark the first performance in Japan of any Britten opera, whilst Sir Simon Rattle will conduct the War Requiem with the Berlin Philharmonic.  Four of Britten’s operas will be heard at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein and The Opéra de Lyon will also stage four of the operas.  New York will mark the centenary with a Britten festival in early part of 2013.

Other initiatives include the redevelopment of Britten's former home, The Red House, before opening it to the public. The BBC will present a year-long celebration across radio and television whilst on disc Decca will be issuing a complete Britten Edition.

The 2013 celebrations for George Lloyd (1913-1998) begin with a performance by the St Albans Chamber Choir of his Requiem planned for 19th January 2012.       

On 26th January 2012 the Tredegar Brass Band will perform Royal Parks in Manchester and on 27th January 2012 the Leyland Band will perform Diversions on Bass Theme also in Manchester.

More of Lloyd’s works for brass will be included at the Royal Northern College of Music’s Annual Festival of Brass from 27th to 29th January 2012.                        

The composer’s nephew William Lloyd will be giving a talk on George Lloyd entitled ‘The George Lloyd Story’ again in Manchester on 27th January 2012.

More performances of Lloyd’s brass band music will feature the Manchester Cory Band on 27th January 2012 with King's Messenger and RNCM Brass on 27th January 2012 with HMS Trinidad.

Lloyd’s Symphony No 5 will be performed at Waterloo, London on 8th June 2012 by the Philharmonica Britannica conducted by Peter Fender www.ph-br.co.uk/index2.html

The 15th June 2012 sees the West of England Bandsman’s Brass Festival taking English Heritage as the Championship Test Piece.

The St Ives Cornish Sinfonia, conducted by David Frost, are planning to perform Lloyd’s Symphony No. 6 and a string orchestra version of In Memoriam as well as the World Premiere of Lloyd’s Le Pont du Gard at the Guildhall St Ives on 28th June 2012. Other planned works are likely to be by Graham Fitkin, David Frost and Russell Pascoe. There will also be an exhibition in the Guildhall.

There will be a London performance of Lloyd’s Symphony No 9 by Ealing Symphony Orchestra www.ealingso.org.uk conducted by John Gibbons at St Barnabas church in Ealing on 13th July2012.

The emphasis again returns to Lloyd’s native Cornwall in September 2012 when there is a planned performance of Symphony No.10 and A Miniature Triptych as part of the St Ives September Festival. The Truro Three Spires Singers will be holding a George Lloyd seminar with a talk on George Lloyd by William Lloyd, a guest speaker talking about Lloyd’s Orchestral and Choral works, a talk on George Lloyd’s connection with St Ives by Janet Axten, sung extracts from A Symphonic Mass and a George Lloyd exhibition.

The St Mewan Sinfonia conducted by David Frost is also planning to include a Lloyd work in their programme for 2012.

The culmination of the year of centenary celebrations with be at Truro Cathedral on Saturday 23rd November as part of the Three Spires Singers concert when there will be the Cornish premiere of A Symphonic Mass, together with a performance of Elgar’s Enigma Variations.

Some of the events and dates are still to be finalised and I will post an update as soon as more is known.

Tuesday 9 October 2012

Truly great performances from Paul Lewis, a natural Schubertian

As my blog is intended to be informative and helpful I try to seek the most recommendable recordings. With some artists I know that I will probably be in safe hands and with others there is a likelihood of an even greater musical experience. That fine pianist, Paul Lewis, most certainly falls into the latter category.

The latest release in his Schubert recordings for Harmonia Mundi 
www.harmoniamundi.com  has the Piano Sonata No.16 in A minor D.845 coupled with the Wandererfantasie D.760, Four Impromptus D.935, Six Moments Musicaux D.780 and the Allegretto D.915
HMC 902136.37 (2CD)
There is a lot of emotional ambiguity in Schubert’s music which is so full of poetry and pathos yet combined with his love of dance rhythms. It takes a fine artist such as Paul Lewis to reach into these opposing emotions.

Paul Lewis’ recording of Schubert’s Piano Sonatas, D840, D850 & D894 on Harmonia Mundi www.harmoniamundi.com (HMC 902115.16) were nominated for this Instrumental Category of the 2012 Gramophone Awards www.gramophone.co.uk.This new release is no less fine.

Dating from 1822, the year of the unfinished eighth symphony, the Wandererfantasie D.760 could pass for another sonata such is its structural cohesion. From the opening there is formidable playing of power, breadth and assurance, full of Beethovenian drama.

Lewis at times brings out the darkness and anger in the Adagio contrasted against the lighter episodes where there is beautifully limpid and fluent playing. After a superbly done Presto full of life, emotion and fire, the finale, for all its forward thrust and sense of abandon, has great warmth and humanity.

The second set of Four Impromptus D.935 dates from 1827. There is plenty to engage the ear in this performance. In the first Impromptu, Paul Lewis brings out the changeable mood and rhythmic nature of the music with many wonderful little details. The second Impromptu is full of Schubertian wistfulness whilst the third, a set of variations on a theme from Rosamunde, flows beautifully with wonderful phrasing that lifts the music perfectly. The fourth Impromptu, an allegro scherzando, full of stamping rhythms, is never overdone yet with some thrilling playing.

Lewis brings power and assurance to Schubert’s Piano Sonata No.16 D.845 that allows Schubert to sound like the formidable composer he had become by 1825 when this work was written. There is the gravitas of Beethoven combined with the fantasy of Schubert. The second movement andante has poise and grace with a beautiful flow to the music. As this set of variations continues, Lewis builds moments of fine drama, poetry and sparkling imagination.

There is a wonderful third movement scherzo full of little touches that make the music so alive and spontaneous. The trio section is quite exquisitely played. In the Rondo finale Lewis sustains a powerful rhythmic impetus with the repeated chords that have hints of the ‘Great’ C Major Symphony conceived around the same time. There is magnificent playing here with a formidable coda.

The Six Moments Musicaux D.780 from 1823-28 again allow Paul Lewis to show his ability to capture Schubert’s fleeting changes of mood. There is a beautifully paced Andantino contrasting the calm quiet beauty against the sudden outbursts of drama and an Allegretto moderato that positively dances along and calls to mind the ballet music from Rosamunde,

The fourth Moments Musicaux almost harks back to Bach only in a more romantic guise wonderfully brought out by Lewis. After the great rhythmic playing of the allegro vivace the allegretto, a minuet and trio, brings the most sensitive and thoughtful playing, drawing out all the pathos and bringing this fine performance to a conclusion.

It was an excellent idea to end this CD with Schubert’s short Allegretto D.915, another Moments Musicaux in all but name, with much of the expressivity of D.780 contained in just five minutes. Paul Lewis’ exquisite playing reveals all of this expressivity to the full.

These are truly great performances from a natural Schubertian that give enormous pleasure and insight. With first rate recorded sound and excellent notes this set looks likely to repeat the success of the Gramophone Award nominated issue. No lover of Schubert should miss this new release.

Saturday 6 October 2012

Brilliant virtuosity from Piers Adams in a re-release from Red Priest Recordings

It says a lot about the revival of interest in the recorder during the 20th Century that a whole disc can be devoted to English 20th Century music written specifically for that instrument.

Red Priest Recordings have reissued Piers Adams’ 1993 recording featuring works by seven 20th Century composers as diverse as Rubbra, Lennox Berkeley and Donald Swann. Adams performs these works with Julian Rhodes, a fine pianist and founder member of Adams’ period ensemble Red Priest, who sadly died in 2001. www.piersadams.com

A Scottish Suite by (Robert) Norman Fulton (1909-1980) opens with a lively little prelude before a melancholy Scottish air. The third movement Musette, features some intricate interplay between recorder and piano whilst the following nocturne provides some lovely playing, especially in the higher register of the recorder. The work concludes with a lively little reel. What a gorgeous tone Piers Adams draws from his instrument in this piece and what superb ensemble between players.

Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986) is best known for his eleven symphonies and his choral and vocal music. He also wrote a large amount of chamber music and the short work Meditazione Sopra Coeurs Désolés for recorder and piano. Written in 1949, it is a set of variations on a 15th Century theme. This is a quiet little gem that creates a beautiful atmosphere and is wonderfully played by this duo.

York Bowen (1884–1961) www.yorkbowen.co.uk has become better known in recent times through recordings of his symphonies and concertos. He was a prolific composer who wrote music in many genres. His Sonata Op121 for treble recorder and piano was written in 1946. After an attractive Moderato there is a gorgeous little Andante tranquillo and an Allegro finale that provides some lively virtuosity from the recorder.

Sir Lennox Berkley (1903-1989) www.lennoxberkeley.org.uk wrote his Sonatina for treble recorder and piano in 1939. This is a beautifully conceived work with a strikingly spare adagio with strange harmonies and a finale of real fun.

Edward Gregson (b.1945) http://edwardgregson.com/en/home is well known for his brass band compositions but he has written many works for orchestra as well as vocal and choral works and instrumental works, including his Three Matisse Impressions for recorder and piano (with he later adapted for recorder, strings, harp and percussion). Inspired by three paintings by Matisse, the work opens with a Pastoral coloured by strange harmonies. There is a dreamy and sensuous second movement and a dance like finale where both Adams and Rhodes bring off the tricky playing to perfection.

Stephen Dodgson (b.1924) wrote his Shine and Shade for recorder and piano in 1975 and it is this work that gives this CD its title. Subtitled ‘Variations in Contrasting Hue’ it crams a lot into its nine minute duration with even blues and jazz elements appearing. Piers Adams displays brilliant virtuosity.

Donald Swann (1923-1994) www.donaldswann.co.uk will probably be known to older followers of this blog as one half of the comedy song writing duo Flanders and Swann (think here of The Gas-man Cometh, The Gnu, The Hippopotamus and so on). Swann later aspired to be a serious composer maintaining a prolific musical output including the music for several operas and operettas. In 1982 he wrote his Rhapsody from Within for treble recorder and piano for the great pioneer of recorder playing, Carl Dolmetch. This is a light and happy piece that nevertheless requires some considerable technical skill from the performers. Even the central Rhapsodico is gently joyful whilst the finale has jazzy overtones.

Piers Adams and Julian Rhodes perform these works wonderfully. The recording is first rate and there are informative booklet notes by Piers Adams. This is a welcome re-release that should not be missed second time around.

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