Monday 30 June 2014

Canadian violinist, Karl Stobbe gives exceptionally fine performances of Ysaÿe’s Six Sonatas, op.27 for solo violin, that combine virtuosity with poetry on a new release from Avie Records

The Belgian violinist, composer and conductor, Eugène Ysaÿe (1858-1931), was renowned as the finest violinist of his time. His compositions, such as his Six Sonatas for solo violin, are often viewed solely for their virtuosic qualities, though it is often overlooked that he did write a broader range of works such as orchestral works, chamber works and even an opera. Indeed, his own playing is remembered as much for its virtuosic skill as for its poetry.

His Six Sonatas, op.27 for solo violin certainly do contain much that is extremely virtuosic but there is often a deeper quality to them, something which is brought out by the Canadian violinist, Karl Stobbe , on a new recording of these works from Avie Records

Written in 1923, these sonatas are each dedicated to a famous violinist, Joseph Szigeti (1892-1973), Jacques Thibaud (1880-1953), George Enescu (1881-1955), Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962), fellow Belgian, Mathieu Crickboom (1871-1947) and Manuel Quiroga (1892-1961).

In four movements, Sonata No.1 in G minor ‘for Joseph Szigeti’ opens with Grave where, despite the brilliant violinistic display of the opening, this performance expertly balances the poetic with the virtuosic. The Fugato develops some terrific layers of contrapuntal sound before the Allegretto poco scherzoso where Karl Stobbe weaves the many strands of musical invention with lovely phrasing, fine clarity and much feeling, providing some lovely colours from his instrument. Stobbe throws himself straight into the Finale: Con brio, keeping up the pressure throughout in playing of tremendous virtuosity.

In the first of the four movements of the Sonata No.2 in A minor ‘for Jacques Thibaud’, Obsession: Prelude, who will not recognise the Bach quotations combined with equally well known Dies Irae plainchant theme, skilfully woven by Ysaÿe and equally skilfully played by Stobbe. Again Stobbe’s fine playing and clarity of texture brings many rewards. The dark Malinconia sees Stobbe revealing the intense emotions of this movement and, in juxtaposition with the first movement, revealing an emotional instability overall. The Dies Irae appears again at the end. It is the Dies Irae that is worked over in the third movement, Danse des Ombres: Sarabande., a set of variations on the plainchant, surely something of a wonder with its combination of violin technique and emotional power shown to perfection here and broadening beautifully at the end. There is virtuosity galore in the finale, Les Furies, with the Dies Irae again seen appearing in many guises, using many violinistic techniques, superbly played by Stobbe.

The single movement, Ballade: Lento molto sostenuto – Allegro in tempo giusto e con bravura, of the Sonata No.3 in D minor ‘for George Enescu’ opens slowly before building in complexity and virtuosity. Here Stobbe not only sails over the difficulties with apparent ease, he provides so many varieties of tone that add so much, making this much more than a mere showpiece.  Stobbe’s quieter passages are full of intimate detail. But what a showpiece it is nevertheless.

There are three movements to the Sonata No.4 in E minor ‘for Fritz Kreisler’.

Allemanda has a flamboyant opening that soon leads on to the main Allamanda theme with Stobbe bringing much fine technique. He weaves a lovely poetic, gentler middle section before allowing the music to unfold beautifully in the later stages. Continuing the dance theme the second movement is a Sarabande that opens with the theme picked out pizzicato before gently developing in a lovely, melancholy melody. There is a fine sweep and breadth from Stobbe in the opening of the Finale before the music rushes forward, furiously, but with so much fine clarity. The middle section is beautifully phrased before a terrific final section.

Sonata No.5 in G major ‘for Mathieu Crickboom’ has two movements. In L’Aurore there are some lovely dissonant harmonies in the slow opening, brought out so finely by this violinist. Stobbe’s view that this sonata is very French is absolutely right, particularly in the way that he conjures up so many French colourings and textures.

Danse rustique is a terrific dance movement made all the more difficult by all the layers of the music. There is a rather quixotic middle section before a runaway ending in this really fine performance.

The single, Allegro giusto non troppo vivo movement of the Sonata No.6 in E major ‘for Manuel Quiroga’ is full of Iberian warmth and flamboyance with Stobbe bringing a lovely feeling of improvisation to the little flourishes and details. Virtuosity sits side by side with Spanish rhythms making this a fine end to these sonatas.

To take all six of these sonatas into the concert hall, as Stobbe has done, is a considerable achievement and challenge and a strong foundation on which to take these works into the studio. These are exceptionally fine performances that combine virtuosity with moments of great poetry.

The recording from St John’s Anglican Church, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada is rather close but extremely detailed. There are informative notes by Karl Stobbe.

Sunday 29 June 2014

Welsh composer, Guto Pryderi Puw, proves to be an attractive and individual voice in orchestral works played by Jac van Steen and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales with oboist David Cowley on a new release from Signum Classics

Guto Pryderi Puw (b. 1971) studied music at the University of Wales, Bangor with composers John Pickard, Andrew Lewis and Pwyll ap Siôn, gaining a M.Mus degree in 1996 and completing his PhD in 2002. In 2006 he was appointed as a full time member of staff at the School of Music, Bangor University, concentrating mainly on composition and contemporary music. He has been the Artistic Director of the Bangor New Music Festival since its founding in 2000.

Puw won the Composer's Medal at the National Eisteddfod in 1995 and 1997 and his works have been broadcast on radio and TV.  In February 2006 he was appointed as the first Resident Composer with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales for whom he composed ‘…onyt agoraf y drws…’ (‘unless I open the door’) which was premiered at the BBC Proms in 2007, awarded best premiere of the season by BBC Music Magazine.

‘…onyt agoraf y drws…’ is one of five works by Guto Pryderi Puw that are included on a new release from Signum Records featuring the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Jac van Steen entitled Reservoirs.

Guto Pryderi Puw’s compositional language is closer to that of Alun Hoddinott than, for example, William Matthias yet he embraces a far wider range of stylistic influences. His compositions to date include choral and vocal works, orchestral works, chamber works, instrumental works and works for organ and piano.

‘…onyt agoraf y drws…’ (‘unless I open the door’) was inspired by the closing section of the Branwen tale from the a collection of Middle Welsh prose from the eleventh and the fourteenth centuries concerning the Welsh army returning from battle against the Irish and the subsequent events when they visit a Pembrokeshire hall where they are allowed to feast for eternity so long as they do not open the third of three doors in the hall.

This piece, commissioned by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and premiered by them under David Atherton, in 2007, opens with an orchestral outburst, repeated in an extended form, full of energy. The music falls briefly to a scurrying passage before re-gaining its energy. When the music again quietens, it retains a rhythmic drive. Soon a trumpet sounds above a hushed orchestra, perhaps a lament for the fallen. Delicate, hushed orchestral sounds appear creating a mysterious atmosphere. As the music slowly builds, a fiddle can be heard briefly before woodwind return us to the strange atmospheric world. There is a lovely translucence to this music here. Eventually there are louder outbursts with rising and falling phrases for strings. A celeste appears as the music appears static giving the feeling of time standing still. There are little woodwind flourishes and timpani strokes before the tam-tam heralds an outburst that seems to allow in the former violence and tragedy, presumably as the third door is opened and memories return. Sounds of a fiddle seem to emerge, within the orchestral texture, as the music calms and quietens. Quieter it may be but the orchestra still retains an agitated quality before a final outburst.

The Concerto ar gyfer Obo (Concerto for Oboe) was also commissioned by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and is dedicated to their principal oboist David Cowley , the soloist on this recording. Exploring the various characteristics of speech, language and dialect, this work won the BBC Radio 3 Listeners’ Award at the British Composer Awards in 2007.

In five movements, Rumour – moderato slowly rises up in the orchestra before the oboe joins in a little theme that develops into a broader melody to which the orchestra soon respond. Eventually the music becomes a little agitated but soon calms as the broader melody appears again with light percussion accompaniment before a sudden end. There is some exceptionally fine playing from David Cowley.

A rapid staccato theme opens Chatter – Allegro assai e molto ritmico against which sudden orchestral phrases are heard. The oboe eventually varies the opening theme, still keeping an unstoppable, insistent chattering quality until the final oboe flourish.

Lento tenerezza reflects the expressive quality of language and brings a gloriously flowing oboe melody supported by hushed strings. Here Puw shows us more clearly his rich melodic vein, exquisitely decorated with some wonderful harmonic touches in this the longest movement. Midway there is a particularly lovely orchestral passage before the oboe continues to lead us through its expressive outpouring and quiet timpani lead seamlessly into the Cadenza – ad lib, where the oboe improvises on the preceding material, though accompanied at times by the orchestra.

S…..s…s..stutter – Presto is introduced by a dynamic orchestral opening before the oboe enters hesitantly. Both oboe and orchestra provide staccato and rhythmically ‘stuttering’ phrases and some wild passages for a variety of orchestral instruments as this virtuosic movement works its way to its sudden and noisy conclusion.

This is a most attractive work that receives an excellent performance from David Cowley with very fine support from Jac van Steen and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

A commission by BBC Radio 3 for the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Reservoirs is the piece that gives the title to this disc. The work was inspired by a poem by R.S. Thomas, Reservoirs. Just an extract from this strong poem will give a good indication of the feelings behind this work:

There are places in Wales I don’t go:
Reservoirs that are the subconscious
Of a people, troubled far down
With gravestone, chapels, villages even
There is a violent opening with timpani thundering out before falling to a rather subdued, gloomy passage. The music rises but retains a dark hue with drooping strings adding to the feeling of underlying tension. There is a beauty here but muted by angst. There are rising and falling sounds, images of water, as the music progresses. This is brilliantly descriptive music, constantly shifting and changing in the orchestra. There are many orchestral details pointing up the deeper aspects of the flooding of Welsh valleys. The music gathers up elements of orchestral detail into a number of little orchestral climaxes as though flowing into larger expanses. Eventually the music quietens to one of Puw’s magical sections, full of atmosphere and orchestral calm, leading on to quiet, shifting sounds so evocative of ever changing vistas. A series of strident chords lead to a falling string motif that descends right down to the depths. A bell tolls, perhaps a submerged church or the mourning of a passing community.  Short stabbing brass sound out, before slowly and quietly we arrive at a hushed coda.

This is a very fine work, brilliantly played by Jac van Steen and the BBC NOW.

Hologram is, perhaps, the most abstract of Puw’s works on this disc. A long held phrase on woodwind opens before slowly and imperceptibly expanding. Delicate percussion sounds add to the texture as the music grows increasingly dynamic. As it does so, many new orchestral colours and textures appear, developing the theme. Such are the gentle and subtle sounds created; one is occasionally reminded of Olivier Messiaen’s sonorities.  Midway the music reaches a short climax before various instrumental sections overlay each other adding more depth and colour to the music, leading to a sustained brass phrase towards the end, complete with timpani roll, before the coda is reached.

Here Puw has created the most abstract piece on this disc, a glowing, ever changing piece, full of interest and, indeed, superb orchestral sounds.

There is a fast and furious opening to Agorawd ‘Torri’r Garreg’ (‘Break the Stone’ Overture) as the theme is pushed around the orchestra showing Puw’s ability to create an instantly appealing and dynamic overture. The music calms a little with rippling woodwind overlaid by brass before the frantic strings intrude and the music picks up to rush to the conclusion. 

This is a stunning little work brilliantly played by Jac van Steen and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

It is good to hear such an attractive and individual voice from Wales. The BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Jac van Steen are first rate as is the recording from the Hoddinot Hall, Cardiff Millenium Centre, Wales.

There are excellent booklet notes by the composer.


Friday 27 June 2014

Yulia Chaplina’s Russian piano recital for Champs Hill Records is a real joy

Pianist Yulia Chaplina was born in 1987 in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, giving her debut performance, aged seven, performing Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in F minor with the Rostov State Symphony Orchestra.

Chaplina studied in Rostov and Moscow with Naum Shtarkman before moving to Berlin, in 2006, to study with Professor Klaus Hellwig at the Universität der Künste. She has received awards from the Menuhin and Hindemith Foundations in Germany and the Mstislav Rostropovitch Foundation in Russia. She holds a Master of Music degree (Distinction) from the Royal College of Music in London where she studied with Dmitri Alexeev. Yulia also had lessons with Andras Schiff, Mitsuko Uchida and Paul Badura-Skoda.

Chaplina has won prizes in piano competitions in Paris, Andorra, Kiev, Kharkov and St. Petersburg. After winning the first prize and gold medal in the junior section of the 2004 Tchaikovsky International Competition, Chaplina appeared as concerto soloist in Moscow, Dubrovnik, Busan and Tokyo. A subsequent recital tour of Japan followed, as well as recitals in Italy, France and Poland. Since then, she has performed extensively in Europe and Asia, most recently in Japan, Spain, Germany, Russia and Ukraine.

As well as recent concerto performances with the Hiroshima and Sendai Symphony Orchestras, Yulia appeared as concerto soloist in the Philharmonie, Berlin in October 2010.

Yulia Chaplina now appears on a new release from Champs Hill Records  in an all Russian programme of works by Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, Gubaidulina and Scriabin.


Yulia Chaplina shows that she has technique galore in the Allegro agitato of Rachmaninov’s Piano Sonata No.2, Op.36 played here in the composer’s 1931 version. However, she does not rush the entry, allowing the music to unfold naturally whilst preserving a sense of reserved power and tension so that when the music calms there is a palpable sense of release. There are thoughtful moments where Chaplina gives the feel of improvisation. In many ways this is a very personal performance, full of character and hugely enjoyable. She creates a wonderful atmosphere with sudden little rushes and much fire in places.

Chaplina’s pacing of the Non allegro – Lento has many of the same qualities, gently and expansively laid out and an improvisatory feel, a view that brings much to Rachmaninov’s music. A mention should be made of this pianist’s beautiful touch in this movement which rises powerfully. Beautifully done.

With the final movement, L’istesso tempo – allegro molto, Chaplina’s fiery playing emerges again, never rushed, always an admirable clarity which pays dividends. There are some really fiery outbursts that contrast so well with her more restrained passages, building finely to Rachmaninov’s wonderful conclusion.

Chaplina follows the Rachmaninov with Tchaikovsky’s Lullaby No.1, Op.16 arranged for piano by the composer. This is hauntingly beautiful with this pianist again showing her fine touch.

In the Andante Maestoso from The Nutcracker Suite, Tchaikovsky’s lovely theme is given an equally fine performance in Pletnev’s piano transcription. This is a fiendishly difficult piece to play. Chaplina seems to almost caress the keys and is impressively virtuosic with terrific control and powerful playing in the later stages.

Sofia Asgatovna Gubaidulina represents contemporary Russian music on this disc with her Chaconne which opens with strident discords yet, as it progresses, there is an appealing harmonic quality to the music with Chaplina coaxing out the underlying form of this distinctive yet approachable work, full of energy. Chaplina gives a fearless performance of this work, in which she seems to draw parallels with the earlier Russians.

If Gubaidulina seems to be at the cutting edge of composition today, then Scriabin was at the cutting edge in the early 20th century. His one movement Sonata No.9, Op.68 gains structurally from Chaplina’s approach, the way she allows the music to unfold, an inevitability about it. And, wow, doesn’t she point up the parallels with Gubaidulina, which I hadn’t heard before. She builds the sonata wonderfully bringing out all the subtle little twists and turns with so much thought and care behind the virtuosic playing.

With Rachmaninov’s masterly Variations on a theme of Corelli, Op.42 Chaplina rises from a thoughtful statement of the theme bringing her care and superb judgement of tempo and dynamics to the variety of moods of these variations. There are many fine moments here such as Variations 3, beautifully paced, the Andante which has an almost threatening quality before the extrovert Allegro, a beautifully languid Variation 9, a wonderful Intermezzo where Chaplina seems so inside Rachmaninov’s idiom with terrific rippling chords and a magical Variation 15 that takes us into new worlds. Her superb technique is shown in Variation 17 as well as the formidable Variation 20 and a Coda that makes an absolutely wonderful conclusion.

There is some formidable playing from Yulia Chaplina in this recital, but it is her exquisite judgement of tempo and dynamics and fine touch that stand out equally. This disc is a real joy.

She receives an excellent recording from Champs Hill’s Music Room, in West Sussex, England, a venue that has proved to be so successful for many previous recordings. There are excellent booklet notes.

Wednesday 25 June 2014

Proms 2014 – A Great Summer of Music

Summer has arrived and we can now look forward to the 120th season of the BBC Promenade Concerts. Running from 18th July to 13th September the season opens with Sir Andrew Davis conducting the BBC Symphony Chorus and Orchestra and the BBC National Chorus of Wales with Erin Wall (soprano), Catherine Wyn-Rogers (mezzo-soprano) Andrew Staples (tenor) and Christopher Purves (baritone) in Elgar’s great oratorio, The Kingdom.

The world’s biggest and longest-running classical music festival this year sees, by my reckoning, no less than five London Premieres, ten UK Premieres, three European Premieres and seven World Premieres from composers such as Roxanna Panunik,  John Tavener, David Horne, Barrie Bignold, Jonathan Dove, Gabriel Prokofiev, Sally Beamish, John McLeod, Luca Francesconi, Helen Grime, Bernard Rands, Benedict Mason, Kareem Roustom, Ayal Adler, Haukur Tómasson, Jukka Tiensuu, Bill Whelan, Zhou Long, John Adams, Behzad Ranjbaran, Jörg Widmann, Peter Maxwell Davies, Dave Brubeck and Chris Brubeck.

British music is again well represented with works by Walton, Holst, Moeran, Gurney, Vaughan Williams, Tavener, Maxwell Davies, Alwyn, Britten, Bax and Birtwistle. This being the 80th birthday years for both Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and Sir Harrison Birtwistle there are a number of their works being performed including a Sir Peter Maxwell Davies Birthday Concert (8th September) and a Saturday Matinee: A Portrait of Sir Harrison Birtwistle (6th September).

Other musical fare ranges right across the spectrum with works by Beethoven, Mahler, Mozart, Bach, Berlioz, Wagner, Nielsen, Sibelius, Prokofiev, Bruch, Ravel, Shostakovich, Stravinsky, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, Copland, Brahms, Rachmaninov, Respighi, Debussy, Kodaly, Schubert, Grieg, Janáček, Szymanowski, Schumann, Rameau, Bruch, Berio, Cole Porter, Balakirev, Handel, Bartok and Mussorgsky

The 150th anniversary of the birth of Richard Strauss is celebrated by 17 works across 13 Proms and includes Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s Der Rosenkavalier conducted by Robin Ticciati with Kate Royal as Marschallin, Salome from Deutsche Oper Berlin conducted by Donald Runnicles, and Elektra with the BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Semyon Bychkov

Visiting orchestras include China Philharmonic Orchestra/Long Yu, World Orchestra for Peace/Valery Gergiev, Tonhalle Orchetra Zurich/David Zinman, Les Arts Florissants/William Christie, European Youth Orchestra/Semyon Bychkov, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Davis, West-Eastern Divan Orchestra/Daniel Barenboim, Iceland Symphony Orchestra/Ilan Volkov, Czech Philharmoic Orchestra/Jiří Bělohlávek, Budapest Festival Orchestra/Iván Fischer, Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra/Myung-Whun Chung, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Daniel Harding, Singapore Symphony Orchestra/Lan Shui, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Simon Rattle, Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra/Han-Na Chang, Cleveland Orchestra/Franz Welser-Möst and Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly.

There are chamber music concerts and Saturday matinées from Cadogan Hall as well as lighter fare such as the CBeebies Prom (26 July), War Horse Prom (3rd August), BBC Sport Prom (20th July), Battle of the Bands (8th August), Late Night with Laura Mvula (19th August), Late Night with Paloma Faith (5th September) and Late Night with Rufus Wainwright (11th September).

The season will end with the Last Night of the Proms on Saturday 13th September, with, this year, the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sakari Oramo. We must not forget Proms in the Park that runs alongside the last night from 5.15pm until around 10.30pm.

I have not been able to do more than scratch the surface of all the concerts taking place so please go to the BBC Proms website for full details and, indeed to book your tickets. All Proms concerts can be heard live on BBC Radio 3

Sadly Roger Wright, the controller of Radio 3 and director of the BBC Proms, is to leave the BBC after more than 15 years. BBC Director General, Tony Hall, has said, ‘Over the last 15 years Roger has made a huge contribution to the BBC, through the success of both Radio 3 and seven seasons of the Proms.’ I agree wholeheartedly with those sentiments and wish him all best wishes for the future.

National Youth Orchestra of Iraq USA tour cancelled

Back in May this year I featured the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq,  who were due to undertake a visit to the USA in August 2014 to join the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra for three weeks of study in Illinois, followed by performances in Elgin, Chicago, and Washington, DC. Collaboration with players and tutors of the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra, performing to American audiences and telling stories through music, is NYOI's effort to reach out to young Americans and share cultures.

NYOI regretfully announce that they have had to cancel their tour due to the instability in Iraq. It has made it impossible for orchestra members to complete the visa process that would allow them to travel, though thankfully all NYOI musicians are currently safe.

They are looking forward to continuing their partnership with Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra in the future, and encourage everyone to stay up to date with the orchestra by connecting on Facebook and Twitter.

Dubbed ‘the world's bravest orchestra’, the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq was founded in 2009 by 17-year-old Zuhal Sultan , a pianist in Baghdad. Now consisting of 44 young musicians from across the country they have overcome seemingly insurmountable barriers to make music together.

The Classical Reviewer sends all best wishes to the members of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq and hopes that the situation will soon improve and that they will be able to undertake their USA tour at some time in the near future.

For more information contact:

Rachel Maley, Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra or Majid Al Azzawi, National Youth Orchestra of Iraq

Tuesday 24 June 2014

Those with an open mind and ear will find much to fascinate and enjoy on a new release of classical works by Richard Reed Parry from Deutsche Grammophon

Richard Reed Parry (born October 4, 1977) is a Canadian multi-instrumentalist, composer, producer, best known as a core member of the Grammy Award-winning indie rock band Arcade Fire, where he plays a wide variety of instruments, often switching between guitar, double bass, drums, celesta, keyboards, and accordion.

Parry studied electroacoustics and contemporary dance at Concordia University in Montreal. He has written commissioned works for Kronos Quartet, yMusic and Bryce Dessner, and his chamber works have been performed by the Calder Quartet and Warhol Dervish.

His first work for Orchestra, entitled For Heart, Breath and Orchestra was recorded by the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony in 2011. For Heart, Breath and Orchestra is one of a number of works by Richard Reed Parry recorded for Deutsche Grammophon by the young performers that make up the sextet yMusic along with Bryce and Aaron  the Kronos Quartet and the composer himself entitled Music for Heart and Breath.

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The first work on this new release is Richard Reed Parry’s Quintet for Heart and Breath performed by members of Ymusic  an ensemble equally comfortable in the overlapping classical and pop music worlds and who play a unique combination of instruments: string trio, flute, clarinet and trumpet.

Pizzicato strings open and are soon joined by the flute followed by trumpet, then pizzicato cello. A longer bowed violin motif is heard against the repeated rhythmic sounds of the other instruments. Despite its minimalistic elements there are so many variations of tempo and textures that the interest is always kept. The cello draws rich, long drawn chords before the trumpet provides staccato phrases over the pizzicato strings. Eventually a slower, longer breathed melodic passage arrives with some lovely textures but it is the pizzicato strings and staccato phrases that lead to the coda.

For Heart and Breath sextet members of Ymusic are joined by pianist Nico Muhly opening with a sliding, falling motif on the violin opens before being developed with the cello joining quietly. This is strange and remarkably affecting writing for strings to which a piano adds a rippling motif. Soon there are long string phrases, a little anguished in sound before the piano interrupts, then some phrases for strings. The cello and piano sound out before gentler string phrases before rich cello phrases alternate with strong piano chords. A melancholy string theme arrives with some beautifully intense playing from these artists. When the piano re-enters alone a chiming motif is repeated whilst the strings gently enter in this lovely moment. As the piano motif continues, the strings give little droops and slides. The cello plays a rising motif above the repeated chiming piano motif, as then do the strings to that lead to the coda.

This fifteen minute sextet is highly attractive and well worth hearing.

For Heart, Breath and Orchestra, Richard Reed Parry’s first work for orchestra is played here by members of Ymusic, Nadia Sirota (viola), Hideaki Aomori (clarinet) and Clarice Jensen (cello) with Nico Muhly (piano),  Caroline Shaw (violin), Caleb Burhans (violin), Shawn Conley (double bass), Amelia Lukas (flute), Yuki Numata (violin), Courtney Orlando (violin), Annaliesa Place (violin), Arthur Sato (oboe), Brian Snow (cello) and Richard Reed Parry (celeste) forming a chamber sized orchestra.

Pizzicato strings open this work in a series of little phrases before a pizzicato violin leads to another motif for all the strings playing pizzicato. A cello quietly enters on a long held note against the pizzicato players before all the players join, creating an attractive blend. The music continues with cello phrases alternating with pizzicato strings and piano until it fades to silence.  Deeper pizzicato strings then emerge, growing slowly louder and faster. The celeste plays a little theme as the pizzicato strings climb higher with the sound of a wood block. As the theme continues, it becomes fuller in sound as the whole ensemble join, including a flute before fading.  A sudden outburst of pizzicato strings leads the music on, with the flute and other instruments sounding through. Longer cello phrases emerge from the ensemble with much rapid pizzicato playing that leads to the coda.

Interruptions – Heart and Breath Nonet is in ten movements or sections and again features YMusic this time joined by Bryce Dessner and Aaron Dessner (guitars) and Richard Reed Parry.

The cello opens I Miniature before pizzicato strings interrupt, with the cello playing a lovely melody. II String Peaks brings a deep cello melody against a sonorous ensemble in a slightly hesitant piece. There are some lovely string and wind sonorities.

III Wind’s Idea has a rich cello opening with quietly strummed guitar phrases and chirpy flute appearing with, again, lovely rich sonorities from the ensemble. String arpeggios accompany the cello melody in IV Miniature II before V Sticks Tension brings gentle strummed strings, flute and trumpet. Soon a long held high note from the clarinet is heard with the strummed guitars before the cello enters. A pulsating passage from trumpet, cello and strings builds a constantly shifting harmony.

Strings open with a lovely theme in VI French guitars, where guitars are gently strummed and a curious whistling sound is heard, very like the Flexatone.  As the entire ensemble join in this languorous section beautiful harmonies are created. A long held trumpet note enters over the ensemble leading to coda. Strings and trumpet open VII Freedom Winds, Strings and Drones providing long phrases in this sonorous movement, full of dense textures. Slowly the music rises in a wonderful sequence with the drone of strings and a plangent trumpet.

This is a very unusual, captivating piece.

Heart and Breath Duet features Nadia Sirota (viola) and Richard Reed Parry (piano). Both cello and piano open the duet with a rocking theme for piano and longer held phrases for cello that slowly rise up to hushed, gently breathed phrases. There is a pause before the theme continues, with the cello gliding over the strings in hushed, breath like sounds. Another pause occurs before the piano continues its rocking rhythm with the cello providing firmer, soulful phrases before suddenly stopping.

This is a slight but unusual conception with some lovely instrumental sounds.

Parry’s Quartet for Heart and Breath features the renowned Kronos Quartet and opens with pizzicato phrases that are slowly built in layers as each player enters. Here Parry’s minimalist qualities return. A longer breathed theme appears over pizzicato lower strings before the cello plays deep chords again over the pizzicato strings. There is no real development in this piece, just varying textures. The pizzicato strings become dominant before the longer breathed theme arrives with all players joining in the drone like sonorities. The pizzicato motif returns and slowly leads to the coda.

There is some fine, sensitive playing from the Kronos Quartet in this piece that brings more of Parry’s interest in subtle sonorities.

My advance copy of this disc has a bonus track, Interruption: VII Freeform Winds only, a version of VII for wind only for woodwind and brass only, allowing the striking sonorities to emerge more clearly.

Those with an open mind and ear will find much to fascinate and, indeed, to enjoy here, especially the lovely sonorities Richard Reed Parry achieves.

One or two tracks are recorded rather closely, sometimes at the expense of clarity but the recording is clear and, overall, very detailed.

Richard Reed Parry’s band, Arcade Fire are headlining on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 2014, on Friday, 27th June.

Monday 23 June 2014

A rather exceptional French operatic collection from Italian tenor Vittorio Grigòlo on a new release from Sony

Italian tenor Vittorio Grigòlo certainly has the looks for roles as The Romantic Hero, the title of his new disc from Sony Classical . This new release has Grigòlo in some of the great French operatic repertoire, represented by Massenet, Gounod, Bizet, Meyerbeer, Offenbach and the lesser known Halévy.

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Born in Arezzo, Tuscany and raised in Rome, Grigòlo was only four when he discovered his passion for music, becoming a soloist in the Sistine Chapel choir. Having made his debut as the Shepherd in Tosca at the age of thirteen, he began his vocal training in earnest, and at twenty-three became the youngest tenor ever to perform at La Scala, Milan. Within a few years, he was appearing around the world with such conductors as Riccardo Chailly, Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta, Riccardo Muti, Myung-Whun Chung, Gustavo Dudamel and Antonio Pappano.

Grigòlo has a repertoire that includes some twenty four operas by such composers as Mozart, Donizetti, Verdi, Puccini, Gounod, Massenet, Offenbach and Bernstein as well as the sacred works of Rossini. As one of the leading tenors of his generation, he now performs in the world's most prestigious opera houses including La Scala, Milan, The Royal Opera House, London, The Metropolitan Opera, New York, Washington National Opera, Deutsche Oper, Berlin, Opernhaus Zurich, Palau de Les Arts Valencia, and Chorégies D'Orange.

On this new Sony disc, Grigòlo shows conclusively that he also has the voice of a Romantic Hero. Opening with Jules Massenet’s Toute mon âme! Pourquoi me réveiller from Werther one is immediately struck by the emotional pull which Grigòlo brings. There are effortless climaxes and such fine control. The Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale Della RAI under Evelino Pidò  provides beautifully sensitive contribution.

L’amour! L’amour!...Ah! lève-toi, soleil! from Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette is a sheer delight, with Grigòlo showing a natural feel for all the nuances of this aria. One can feel the controlled power of his voice. Grigòlo is superb in Georges Bizet’s La fleur que tu m’avais jetée from Carmen, again showing his restrained emotional power as he sings ‘The flower you threw at me remained with me in prison.’

Gounod’s Quel trouble inconnu…Salut, demeure chaste et pure from Faust shows just how beautifully this fine tenor carefully shapes this aria, aware of each aspect of the text. We return to Massenet with Instant charmant…En fermant les yeux from Manon. Here he is briefly joined by soprano, Sonya Yoncheva. Grigòlo is simply exquisite in the hushed sections. Also from Manon we have Je suis seul!...Ah! fuyez, douce image, full of emotion, always exceptionally musical, full of power and restraint. Absolutely superb.

In Pays merveilleux…Ô paradis from Giacomo Meyerbeer’s L’Africaine, Grigòlo manages exquisite control in the restrained high notes, to superb effect.

Jacques-Francois- Fromental Halevy’s opera La Juive provides a fine aria in the form of Rachel, quand du Seigneur where Grigòlo maintains a consistently restrained pulse, building to a well-judged central climax and finale. This tenor has an incredibly fine emotional presence. Evelino Pidò and Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale Della RAI provide fine support in the orchestral passages that frame this aria.

Grigòlo is joined by Alessandra Martinez for a highly effective spoken text in Jacques Offenbach’s Et moi? Moi, la fidèle amie from Les Contes d’Hoffmann before Grigòlo brings his finely judged emotional voice to Ô Dieu! de quelle ivresse.

We return to more from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette with Va! je t’ai pardonné…Nuit d’hyménée. Sonya Yoncheva joins Grigòlo again this time having more opportunity to show her full bodied, soprano voice, powerful and complimenting Grigòlo exceptionally well. Both have an equal power, though Grigòlo displays that extra ounce of emotion. Evelino Pidò and his orchestra provide a dynamic contribution in the orchestral conclusion.

Returning again to Massenet, Grigòlo sings Ah! tout est bien fini…Ô souverain, Ô juge, ô père from Le Cid with some of the most finely judged, controlled, emotional, singing I have heard for a long time, following every little dynamic and nuance.

More comes from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette with C’est là! Salut! tombeau sombre et silencieux where every phrase contains so much feeling. Grigòlo seems to breathe feeling into this music.

Aria discs come and go but here is something rather exceptional, with Grigòlo an artist very much in the ascendant. Evelino Pidò and the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale Della RAI provide much more than mere accompaniment giving much sensitivity and power.

Grigòlo receives an excellent recording made in the Auditorium RAI ‘A Toscanini’, Torino, Italy. He is placed a little forward but attractively so.

There are booklet notes together with full texts and English translations.

Saturday 21 June 2014

Two very fine concertos by Ukrainian composer, Sergei Zhukov in excellent performances from Eleonora Bekova and Elvira Bekova on a new release from Cameo Classics

The composer, Sergei Zhukov  was born in 1951 in Zhitomir, Ukraine. He graduated from the Zhitomir Music College in 1973 before moving to Moscow, graduating from the Moscow Conservatory in 1978. He went on to complete a post-graduate degree in composition in 1980, studying with Professor Mikhail Chulaki. While still a student, he received a special prize from the Union of Composers, for his work, Dramatic Triptych (1978).

Zhukov has participated actively in new music festivals throughout his career, particularly in Russia, but also in such festivals as the International Podium Festivals (Prague), the Charles Ives Festival (USA), the Week van de Heden Musiek (Belgium). Many of his works since 1980 have been premiered at the Moscow Autumn Festival.

With his interest in the deep processes of our spiritual life, Zhukov has become fascinated by esoteric teachings about the ways in which humanity has acquired moral and emotional experience.

Sergey Zhukov’s compositions include a large catalogue of chamber, choral, orchestral, and theatrical works. He has written four ballets: Insomnia, staged in Bolshoi Theatre of Russia in 1999; Fatum, staged in 2001 in Maly Opera and Ballet Theatre in St. Petersburg; Solaris (1990) and Scarlet Floret (2007) staged in Dnepropetrovsk (Ukraine) Opera and Ballet Theatre. 

Zhukov has placed particular emphasis on the genre of the concerto including his Concerto for Orchestra and Percussion (1990), Concerto-Partes (1992) for string orchestra, Concerto-Sacra (1997) for piano trio and strings. But the most significant in his creativity is the macro-cycle of four instrumental concertos: Silentium (2001), for piano and orchestra; Gesthemania Night (2003) for electric cello, mixed chorus, six horns, trio percussions and prepared piano; Angel’s Day (2004) for violin and orchestra and Concerto-Mystery (1994) for violin, cello, piano and orchestra.

It is Silentium (2001), for piano and orchestra and Angel’s Day (2004) for violin and orchestra that are featured on a new release from the enterprising Cameo Classics label


Written for the soloist on this recording, Eleonora Bekova Piano Concerto ‘Silentium’ explores the relationship between sound and silence. Marius Stravinsky conducts the Karelia State Symphony Orchestra

There is a short period of silence in the opening of Part I before the piano picks out a motif against a hushed orchestra. This is soon slowly developed with the piano phrases becoming occasionally dramatic. It is this juxtaposition of silence against piano motifs that encapsulates this music. Halfway through, the orchestra develops a more melodic theme for woodwind before the piano re-enters in cascading, falling phrases imitated by the orchestra. The music eventually quietens though retaining a dramatic underlying tension. Dancing, staccato phrases for the piano are developed against a brittle orchestra before quietening and fading to silence. A languid theme for piano and orchestra with chiming bells brings Part I to an end.

Part II opens with a rapid, insistent toccata theme for piano against a percussive orchestral accompaniment. The music builds slowly to a dramatic explosion from the orchestra. The bells return before the music disintegrates, leading to an incisive string passage, set against timpani that builds insistently to a climax. Eventually the music opens out to a more expansive piano theme joined by the orchestra in the same expansive theme. The music quietens to a hush but the orchestra throws out two loud outbursts before the piano leads to a hushed conclusion.

Part III has a quiet and gentle ascending theme for the piano before a vibraphone and other percussion join in this atmospheric, hauntingly strange movement. As the piano slowly moves the music forward, strange orchestral sounds are heard in the background before leading to a climax after which the piano gives a descending cascade of notes. A hushed section, where the piano picks out a theme against odd little orchestral interventions, leads to a quiet coda.

Part IV has a short orchestral opening before the piano arrives with motoric rhythms constantly repeated. Soon a jazz like theme appears over a percussive orchestral sound. Suddenly there are piano and orchestral outbursts against moments of silence leading to disjointed phrases for piano over a dramatic orchestral accompaniment. The piano continues to dance around the keyboard set against dramatic orchestral outbursts before a climax is reached bringing staccato orchestral and piano phrases. Soon the jazz element returns as the piano hurtles forward with the orchestra ever faster before a sudden silence with only hushed, tinkling orchestral sounds.

Broad piano chords open Part V before the pianist recites the texts by the Jewish poet, Osip Mandelstam over the beautiful, languid piano and orchestral melody. The piano and orchestra fade to silence to end.

This is a striking and often beautiful concerto brilliantly played by Eleonora Bekova, who is able to move from hushed delicate playing to the most virtuosic piano passages with ease, ably supported by Marius Stravinsky and the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra.

Violin Concerto ‘Angels Day’ was written for the violinist on this recording, Elvira Bekova  and reflects Zhukov’s portrait of both the Angel and the performer. This live recording features Konstantin Krimets conducting the Moscow state Symphony Orchestra

Timpani underline a brooding orchestral opening of the first movement, Morning Touch, with the solo violin appearing at its extreme, highest register, creating an un-earthly sound. The orchestra rises up in swathes of sound, surely one of the strangest and most beautiful of openings. Soon the violin develops a theme against a delicate orchestral accompaniment, slowly rising in drama. The music descends to a quiet shimmering section for violin and orchestra, where Zhukov is quite magical in his orchestration. A celeste plays a little tune against a hushed solo violin, again high in its register, as the movement concludes.

A little ringing bell opens Messenger before the violin enters in a skittish motif. The orchestra joins as the violin speeds, in this fleet footed scherzo, full of fantasy and wit. The music is in the form of a moto-perpetuo in its insistent yet entertaining way. Eventually a broader orchestral section appears before the solo violin joins, playing a rather acerbic theme. Soon the moto-perpetuo returns hurtling the music to a plateau with some beautifully translucent orchestral writing in which the soloist joins.  The music slowly quietens and fades.

Vespers opens with a hushed orchestra over which there are drips or points of sound given by various percussion instruments. This dark, mysterious adagio is brilliantly conceived. As the orchestra fades to silence the solo violin enters with a descending scale, the orchestra joins and repeats the scale into the depths. The violin brings a lovely melody underlaid by a hushed, mysterious orchestral background. Elvira Bekova is superb, the way she brings such a lovely tone and an anguished feel to her timbre. Slowly the music builds in tension and drama as the orchestra, after a bell chime, becomes increasingly dynamic leading to a sudden climax with the powerful orchestra almost engulfing the soloist who, nevertheless, weaves a rising and falling theme through the orchestra that eventually collapses to leave the soloist and hovering strings. A skittish descending motif for violin is repeated against an atmospheric orchestral sound, with celeste and bell chimes, leading to a hushed coda. This is music that sticks in the mind.

A descending theme over a tolling pulse from the orchestra opens the fourth and final movement, Night Flight, effectively the scherzo with allusions to Glinka, Prokofiev and Schoenberg. There is soon an outburst, with bells, before the soloist enters, slowly building the rapid theme with an orchestra full of texture. The music lightens as it moves forward, the violin now playing a real melody. This is a real treat with Bekova creating a real tapestry of sounds. Schoenberg appears, then Glinka before the music rises to a fine climax, full of brass and a theme from Prokofiev’s seventh symphony makes an appearance. The music falls to a hush, in a gorgeous section for soloist and orchestra, with celeste and bells and the soloist high in her register fading into silence.

This is an exquisite conclusion to a very fine work.

There is always a lyrical, tonal core to Zhukov’s music. He is a composer that we need to hear more of. The two soloists are first rate and are very ably supported by Marius Stravinsky and Konstantin Krimets with their two respective orchestras.

The recordings are very good though, in the violin concerto, the soloist is rather closely miked and there is the odd cough from the audience.

There are useful booklet notes.

Cameo Classics should be congratulated for enabling us to hear these two fine works. Lovers of contemporary Russian music should snap this disc up.

Tuesday 17 June 2014

Charlotte de Rothschild brings much beauty to the later songs by Gabriel Fauré, on a new release from Nimbus

Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) wrote over 100 songs throughout his compositional life; indeed, his Opus 1 consisted of two songs.

The booklet note to a new release from Nimbus Records  makes the point that it is his songs from the period 1860 to 1890 that receive the most attention, appearing to overshadow his later, perhaps even finer works in this genre.

This new recording features Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano) and Adrian Farmer (piano) in songs that date between 1888 and 1919.

NI 5915

Charlotte de Rothschild studied at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria and at the Royal College of Music in London. She was a soloist for the Bach Choir with Sir David Willcocks in Exeter, Wells and Truro Cathedrals, in King's College, Cambridge and at the Royal Festival Hall. She performed in Mozart's Requiem twice in the Place de la Madeleine in Paris and was a soloist in Rossini's Petite Messe Solonelle for a recording made in Japan.

Rothschild has recently performed Japanese songs in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and in New York at the Nippon Club. With her wide knowledge of the song repertoire, from different eras, countries and genres, she has created themed programmes; the best known being the Family Connections programme which she has performed all over the world. Some of the concerts took place in original family houses such as the Villa Ephrussi-Rothschild in the south of France, the Château de Ferrières outside Paris and in the Rothschild-Palais in Frankfurt where she presented this programme for Chancellor Kohl on the 250th anniversary of the birth of Mayer Amschel, the founder of the dynasty.

More recently she performed the "Family Connections" programme in Mumbai, Athens, and in Geneva with Danielle Perrett accompanying on the harp. Last year she presented this programme in Switzerland, Japan, Singapore and the U.K.

One of her recent Nimbus releases, with the pianist Adrian Farmer, is a double album called The Songs of Mathilde de Rothschild which showcase the beautiful French and German songs of her talented ancestor who was a pupil of Chopin.  (NI5903/4).

Whilst in America Charlotte and Danielle premièred another new programme at the National Gallery of Art in Washington given in honour of the Joan Mirò exhibition. This year her concert schedule will take her to Japan, Malaysia, Russia and Australia.

Adrian Farmer studied at the Royal Northern College of Music and Birmingham University, England. He has recorded with Nimbus as early as 1979 before becoming a record producer for the company. He later became Nimbus’ Musical Director and a Member of the Board of Directors.

He has made several recordings for Nimbus including with Nimbus’ founder, the bass Shura Gehrman and with other artists such as tenor, Dennis O’Neill, pianists Nina Walker and Martin Jones as well the legendary pianist, Vlado Perlmuter

Mirages, Op.113 (1919) sets texts by Renée Baronne de Brimont. Charlotte de Rothschild has a youthful sounding voice that suits this repertoire well. In the reflective, gentle Cygnes sur l’eau (Swan on the water), Both Rothschild and Farmer realise so much of the Gallic atmosphere of this gorgeous song. Rothschild seems to have a natural affinity with these songs and, with Reflets dans l’eau (Reflections in the water), she brings a most affective rise and fall, beautiful y controlled.

In the evocative Jardin nocturne (Nocturnal garden), de Rothschild shows the varying timbres of her fine voice, keeping a lovely flow. The striking piano rhythm of Danseuse (Dancer) is finely done with de Rothschild rising beautifully in the intense moments of this song.

The poet, Paul Verlaine provides the texts for Cinq melodies ‘de Vénise’, Op.58 (1891) (Five melodies 'of Venice'). The collection opens with Mandoline, bringing a lighter, more sprightly feel, though still revealing an atmosphere that is more French than Venetian. The calm, gentle En sourdine (Muted) receives a lovely performance, with de Rothschild adding just a degree of emotion with some beautifully hushed passages. There are some lovely, flowing passages from Adrian Farmer.

The livelier Green is brilliantly done, with de Rothschild rising beautifully to the climaxes as well as all the little nuances. With A Clymène (To Clymène) de Rothschild again reveals fine control as well as a variety of subtle timbres or textures that add so much to these songs. With C’est l’extase (It is rapture) this soprano again shows how she is able to finely shape these songs, responding to every little subtlety – so French.

Fine control is brought to Paradis the opening song from the substantial song cycle, La Chanson d’Eve, Op.95 (1906-10), (The Song of Eve) a setting of texts by Charles Van Lerberghe portraying the dawn of creation. de Rothschild handles the somewhat difficult word setting so well with some exquisite playing from Farmer. Prima verba (First words) is another lovely song, beautifully realised by de Rothschild and Farmer with the text ‘Limpid air of paradise, With your ruby clusters, With your sheaves of light, With your roses and your fruits.’ is so well conjured.

The delicate Roses ardentes (Fiery roses) is a lovely song, sung with fine control, de Rothschild rising to the climax brilliantly. Both artists handle all the little turns of Comme Dieu rayonne (How radiant God is) perfectly before a very fine L’Aube blanche (The white dawn).

After the difficult setting of Eau vivante (spring water), wonderfully realised, we have the no less challenging Veilles-tu, ma senteur de soleil? (Are you awake, my aroma of sun) with its difficult vocal part, so well sung combined with a tricky, rhythmic piano motive.

The very fine Dans un parfum de roses blanches (In a perfume of white roses) brings some lovely singing from de Rothschild before a beautiful performance of the exquisite Créspuscule (Twilight) so sensitive and full of subtlety. The darker Ô mort, poussière d’étoiles (O death, stardust) makes an impressive end to this cycle of songs, with Charlotte de Rothschild extracting so much feeling and finely accompanied by Adrian Farmer.

There is a softer, exquisite setting of Dans la forêt de Septembre, Op.85. No.1 (1902) (In the September Forest) to a text by Catulle Mendès, to which de Rothschild brings much beauty, control, superb timbres and feeling for the text with exquisite accompaniment from Farmer as, indeed, they do for the beautiful Accompagnement, Op.85 No.3 (1902) (Accompaniment) to a text by Albert Samain.

Le Don silencieux, Op.92 (1906) (The silent gift) a setting of texts by Marie Closset, is another harmonically difficult song so well handled by de Rothschild. A text by Paul Verlaine is again used in Spleen, Op.51 No.3 (1888), a lovely setting, with a lovely rippling accompaniment, beautifully sung by de Rothschild – a mesmerising song.

Finally we have a flowing, joyous La Rose, Op.51 No.4 (1890) set to texts by Leconte de Lisle to conclude this disc.

Charlotte de Rothschild seems ideally suited to this repertoire, in the gentler songs providing a particularly lovely French, youthful timbre. Add to this the particularly sensitive accompaniment from Adrian Farmer and you have a disc that will bring much pleasure.

Adrian Farmer provides excellent booklet notes and they are finely recorded at Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, UK. Full texts, English translations and text précis are provided.