Friday 30 January 2015

Nimbus release a recording of four very fine quartets by Christopher Wright that deserve the widest audience

It was only in December last year that I was reviewing Christopher Wright’s remarkably fine cello concerto that was coupled with cello concertos by Robert Simpson and John Joubert .

Now from Nimbus comes a new recording of all of Wright’s string quartets to date. These four quartets span the period from 1978-80 to 2012 thus giving us a broad view of Wright’s musical development over his compositional career to date. They are played by the Fejes Quartet , an ensemble founded in 2006 by players that met initially as members of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.

NI 6291
Christopher Wright (b.1954)  was born in Ipswich, Suffolk, England, and studied composition with Richard Arnell and later with Stanley Glasser, Alan Bullard & Nicholas Sackman. He has since been active as a trombonist, pianist, choral conductor/trainer and composer. His compositions include choral, vocal, orchestral, chamber and instrumental works as well as works for brass and wind band.

Quartet No. 1 (1978-80), the composer tells us in his informative booklet note, was written after studying the quartets of Bartok and is the closest he came to composing in a purely atonal language. The Lento e tranquillo-Agitato opens with a long held violin note to which the other players join, high in their register. Slowly each player introduces little surges before they all come together in a vibrant passage. The music soon falls to a quieter, thoughtful passage but the louder theme returns as the music alternates between louder, vibrant string writing and the quieter moments, sometimes sonorous, sometimes wiry and ethereal.  Although Wright speaks of its dodecaphonic nature, within these confines are many melodic phrases and passages through which the players weave many fine sonorities, colours and textures before the decisive coda.

The cello brings a long breathed melody in the Adagio-Poco animato-Adagio before the whole Quartet join, bringing some of the ethereal quality of the quieter moments of the first movement. The melody is soon developed through some fine passages full of intense feeling with many fine dissonances, played with much sensitivity by the Fejes Quartet.

Strident chords open the Presto ritmico-tempo di valse-tempo1 before a theme, often with an insistent rhythm, appears. Soon a playful waltz theme arrives which is soon elaborated on by the players before the Presto returns to take us to the coda.

This is a really impressive first quartet.

The Allegretto-Allegro aggrevemente of Quartet No. 2 (1995) opens with a rhythmically buoyant theme before falling to a quieter, slower section, pensive and shimmering with little sliding falls and pizzicato violin. Soon the music suddenly rises up full of forward drive but slows with pizzicato phrases from the players and more vibrant shimmering passages before rushing to the coda.

A pizzicato cello opens the Aria Lementoso before sighing strings join, the first violin then adding a sad melody over the other players. They then begin to build the music weaving all of these separate elements, becoming darker and colder in mood as it progresses. They develop some icy, withdrawn passages which only the viola’s melody helps to warm. Later a deep theme from the cello adds a mournful touch along with anxious bursts from the other players. There is some particularly fine playing here before sighs from the violins appear leading to a hushed coda.

The players leap straight in for the Allegro-energico con fuoco – Meno mosso – Vivace with a repeated motif before developing in a terrific section where the players follow each other in a fugal theme, brilliantly played. The music is interrupted by a strange passage where the instruments weave a very fine texture before the music takes off once again in the fugal theme.

This fine quartet, full of different moods was premiered in 1995 at the BMIC (British Music Information Centre) in London by the Kingfisher Quartet.

Christopher Wright considers that his Quartet No. 3 (2005) marked a turning point in his compositional style, particularly in the second movement where the abrasive, dissonant sound of Bartok is replaced by smoother, consonant music.

The players leap in at the opening of the Molto Allegro-Lento-Molto Allegro with a descending motif that precedes a hushed passage. There is a repeat of the opening followed by a repeat of shimmering quiet passage to which the cello adds a melancholy melody. The strings provide harmonics before the opening vibrant theme returns and is developed. The music is full of energy, rising and falling in dynamics before slowing and quietening and leading into the second movement Lento doleroso-Sostenuto-Teneramente an often dark and mysterious movement as the music gently moves around. Soon the players enter high up in the range, hushed and ethereal, before the cello brings a brief melody reflected by the other players who slowly fall in pitch as the melody is developed. There is some exquisite writing here expertly played by this Quartet. Soon the music rises in anguish before the players bring a richer texture, full of emotion. All quietens as a melancholy passage arrives, quite beautiful and affecting before a little violin melody is played over the rest of the Quartet and the hushed coda is reached.

The last movement, Presto ritmico-Andante-Lento-tempo di primo opens with a buoyant yet hesitant motif that soon develops into a rhythmically bouncing theme with a lovely lilt. Pizzicato strings lead to a slower, reflective section recalling the opening of the work before moving forward, with the Presto returning to lead to the coda.

Wright’s most recent quartet, the Quartet No. 4 ‘Beacon Fell' (2012), was inspired by visits to a place near the Pendle range of hills in Lancashire, drawing on personal and seasonal changes encountered during that time.

The first of Wright’s quartets to be in four movements, the Con Appassione has a bright and cheerful theme that is developed, falling to a flowing yet more hushed passage before taking off again. The music repeatedly falls and rises, each time becoming more vibrant in nature. Eventually a flowing melody arrives full of emotion before pizzicato strings bring a rise in vibrancy that leads the music ever more spiritedly forward to the coda.

A fast flowing theme swirls forward in the Scherzo interrupted by pizzicato chords. This is a good natured theme with the feel of the outdoors, at times wistful at other times full of the fresh air of nature.

In the opening of the Lento e sostenuto-Molto pesante the cello introduces a beautiful theme that is immediately taken by the whole Quartet, again vividly evoking the feel of the outdoors with some very fine textures and sonorities. The music becomes richer and more intense as it progresses with quite dense textures. A hushed passage is reached, full of the most exquisite playing from this Quartet, before the opening theme returns for the coda.

The violins bring a fast descending theme that immediately takes us into the syncopated rhythm of the Allegro deciso e ritmico-Molto Allegro with some fine flourishes from these players. The music develops through some lovely passages with a breeziness that is quite beguiling.

This new disc gives us the opportunity to hear how Christopher Wright has developed his musical language. Throughout there is a distinctive voice at work.

These are very fine quartets that deserve the widest audience. The Fejes Quartet are terrific and they receive a first rate recording from St. Ninian’s Church, Troon, Scotland.

There are excellent booklet notes from the composer.

Wednesday 28 January 2015

Edwin Kallstenius is revealed as a composer well worth exploring on a new release of his symphonic works from CPO where Frank Beermann and the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra provide first class performances

The Swedish composer Edwin Kallstenius (1881-1967) studied at the Leipzig Conservatory before pioneering advanced techniques in Sweden, adapting 12 tone methods to forge an individual style that alternated between introspective romanticism and expressionist gestures. At various times he was music librarian at Swedish Radio, served on the Board of the Society of Swedish Composers and was on the board of the Swedish Performing Rights Society.

His works include five symphonies, concertos, chamber and instrumental works including eight string quartets as well as choral works.

It is Kallstenius’ symphonic works that feature on a new release from CPO with the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra  conducted by Frank Beermann .

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Kallstenius’ Symphony No. 1 in E-Flat Major, Op. 16 (1926 rev.1941) is performed here in its revised 1941 version. The original version was not premiered until 1928 at an afternoon concert in the Stockholm Concert Hall.

The Allegro ordinario has a pensive, slow opening with woodwind decorations, soon rising up before a hushed section for strings. Timpani point up the music as the brass becomes quietly prominent as the music moves through a variety of tempi and dynamics. This is beautifully scored music, particularly in the woodwind. Soon horns present a theme before the pensive quality of the opening returns. The music then finds a little more forward momentum, at times bursting out dynamically but reaching a quiet resigned coda. As an allegro it is certainly held firmly in check.

Pizzicato strings open the Intermezzo malinconico as a longer, bowed theme appears over the top, very much with a haunting quality. Soon the mood lightens as the strings bring a sunnier melody in a kind of trio section. The pizzicato basses return as the music returns to the atmosphere of the opening, hesitantly leading to a quiet coda.

Kallstenius lets the orchestra have its head in the opening of the Finale: Allegro con spirito as the music dashes forward in a lively fashion. It soon falls to a gently rhythmic, skipping tempo before the music becomes more dramatic.  Centrally there is an attractive section where the theme is shared around the orchestra before subsiding to a hushed, somewhat gloomy passage. However, the momentum soon picks up leading us to the coda.

There are many attractive aspects to this symphony. Kallstenius was certainly an accomplished orchestrator.

Kallstenius wrote four orchestral works bearing the title Sinfonietta. His Sinfonietta No. 2 in G Major, Op. 34 (1946) again had to wait for a performance, this time not until 1950 when it was broadcast by Swedish Radio with the Radio Orchestra conducted by Sten Frykberg.

Also in three movements Sinfonietta No. 2 the Pezzo capitale: Allegro moderato e lirico has a gentle opening on strings to which a bassoon and the rest of orchestra join in a relaxed theme. The music rises in drama occasionally but never too far from its relaxed nature before leading to a gentle conclusion.

As its marking suggests, the second movement Espressivo brings an expressively drawn string melody full of lovely orchestral rubato though retaining darker overtones.

The Finale gagliardo brings a lively theme with a rhythmic bounce taking the music forward. Soon there is a slower section that flows along before the opening tempo returns. When the slower music returns it is with a more fervent feel that, nevertheless, gives way to the livelier theme to lead to the resolute coda.

Musica Sinfonica, Op. 42 (1959) started life as a work for string orchestra as early as 1953. Kallstenius didn’t merely re-orchestrate the work in 1959 but undertook a complete re-write for small orchestra. Stig Jacobsson, in his booklet notes, tells us that it has not been possible to trace any performance of either version prior to this recording.

The Allegro marcato e con brio soon gains a decisive momentum before falling to a quieter, reflective passage. Once again Kallstenius’ fine orchestration with lovely woodwind contributions is most attractive. The music rises again with deliberate chords through some lovely string passages before again falling to a reflective section. Eventually one can hear the momentum slowly and subtly increasing as the music reaches the coda.

There is a free flowing melancholy opening to the Adagio poco religioso. Although the mood soon tries to lighten, pizzicato basses with a clarinet melody help to keep the sad air. The music later rises in drama before falling back. It tries to rise again but drops to a hushed section with an oboe leading the way to a quiet coda.

The final Allegro ordinario, ma brioso rises quickly to a decisive, forward moving allegro before quickly falling to a quiet section with brass appearing. The music rises again with a rhythmic element that sounds folk inspired. There is another quiet passage with woodwind weaving through the orchestra before moving quickly to a dynamic coda.

This is a composer well worth exploring especially in these first class performances from Frank Beermann and the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra. The recording is excellent and there are informative booklet notes though with one or two clumsy moments in the English translation. 

Sunday 25 January 2015

Trio Mediaeval’s new disc from ECM Records of works ranging from 14th century Icelandic to contemporary is a joy from beginning to end

The vocal ensemble Trio Mediaeval was founded by Linn Andrea Fuglseth in Oslo in 1997. For sixteen years, Trio Mediaeval members were Anna Maria Friman, Linn Andrea Fuglseth and Torunn Østrem Ossum until Torunn left the group in 2013 to be replaced by Berit Opheim who had been singing with the ensemble regularly since 2010.

The trio's core repertoire features sacred monophonic and polyphonic medieval music from England, Italy and France, contemporary works written for the ensemble, as well as traditional Norwegian, Swedish and Icelandic ballads and songs, mostly arranged by the group members. During the last eight years, the trio has developed exciting collaborations with both individual musicians, as well as larger ensembles and orchestras.

Trio Mediæval has performed throughout Europe in a variety of venues: churches, cathedrals, monasteries, farms, clubs, industrial spaces, museums as well as prestigious halls such as Oslo Concert Hall, Bozar in Brussels, Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, London's Wigmore Hall and the Vienna Konzerthaus. The trio has embarked on multiple North American tours and has performed in Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea.

Trio Mediæval's first CD on ECM Records, Words of the Angel, immediately reached Billboard's Top 10 Bestseller list and was made the Stereophile Recording of the Month in April 2002. Further releases on ECM followed in 2004 with Soir, Dit-Elle and in 2005 with Stella Maris. In 2006, the trio started a long-term collaboration with the Norwegian percussionist Birger Mistereggen, and the recording of Norwegian ballads and songs, Folk Songs, was released in the Autumn of 2007. Folk Songs was nominated for the Norwegian Spellemannprisen and for a US Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance the following year. Their next recording, A Worcester Ladymass (2011), like the previous releases, hit the Billboard's Top 10 list and was selected by the German Record Critic's Award as one of the best new releases in the Early Music category.

The trio has collaborated with a multitude of contemporary composers and has been involved in a number of collaborative projects with Norwegian jazz/improvisation musicians.  The Trio were Artists in Residence at the Bergen Festival in 2007 and, in May 2012, toured the UK with seven concerts. 

Trio Mediaeval’s latest release from ECM Records brings together polyphony from the medieval to the modern. Entitled Aquilonis after the North Wind of that name, the repertoire travels from Iceland to Italy, from north to south, like the Aquilonis wind.

ECM New Series 2416

There are contemporary works by the Swede, Anders Jormin; American, William Brooks and Englishman, Andrew Smith; realisations of Icelandic chant from the Middle Ages, as well as arrangements of 12th-century Italian sacred pieces and 15th-century English carols.

We go to 14th century Iceland for the arrangement by the Trio Mediaeval of the Vespers reponsory from the Office of St. Thorlak with these three fine voices bringing a plainchant opening before adding lovely harmonies with drone quality that is reminiscent of some Russian orthodox chant. This is a very finely done piece. 

Contemporary harmonies permeate the lovely Ama by Swedish composer Anders Jormin beautifully sung, with each voice revealing its own superbly accurate fine tone. This Trio bring a lovely flow to Ave rex angelorum a 15th century English carol that really soars. 15th century England also provides the carol Ecce quod natura mutat sua jura with a lovely ebb and flow in this finely judged performance, beautifully paced.

There is a most affecting setting of Ave maris stella, finely phrased and sung with such textural beauty before we return to 14th century Iceland with the Vespers antiphon and Psalm I,II,III from the Office of St. Thorlak in another arrangement by this Trio. Voices are held over a melody sung by a solo voice before the Trio sing antiphonally in a most strikingly lovely setting, full of lovely textures and decorations. Later a deep organ pedal appears accompanying the solo voice to which all join with two voices singing their own individual accompaniment, a terrific moment with a lovely weaving of voices.

A soprano voice opens Ioseph fili David, lovely and pure, to which the others join in this plaintive piece before weaving some lovely harmonies.  There is a setting of Ave regina caelorum by the English composer Andrew Smith providing some exquisite harmonies, rising to high notes, brilliantly sung.

15th century England provides the carol Alleluia: A newë work to which these singers move seamlessly in a setting that is full of gusto with singing of great energy whilst never losing their beautiful tone.

Two members of Trio Mediaeval, Anna.M.Friman and Linn.A.Fuglseth provide the wordless Morgonljos which opens with the organ setting; the melody from which the voices emerge as the organ maintains a drone. A very effective piece

There is more from the 14th century Icelandic Office of St. Thorlak with the Vespers antiphon and psalm IV, V arranged again by Trio Mediaeval. A fine melody runs through this piece with a recitative style passage finely done before returning to the flowing melody with a lovely blending of voices.

Trio members Anna.M.Friman and Linn.A.Fuglseth have arranged the 12th century Italian Laude, Fammi cantar l’amor giving some fine moments, with a wonderful blending of voices. Gud unde oss her at leve så is a melody after Ola Vanberg, a Norwegian text of unknown origin arranged by Trio member Berit Opheim. A solo voice brings a melody reminiscent of Arab music as it weaves ahead with very fine decorations from the soloist.

12th century Italy is the source for the Laude Benedicti e llaudati arranged by Anna.M.Friman and Linn.A.Fuglseth and to which Trio Mediaeval bring more of their lovely drone effect over which one voice provides the main tune before coming together. Quite lovely.

The voices of Trio Mediaeval open with delicate organ accompaniment in their own piece Klokkeljom rising up ecstatically. A brief work but beautiful. The Office of St. Thorlak from 14th century Iceland provides the Special antiphon in which an organ note sounds, over which a pure, lovely voice brings the melody, so subtly done.

The traditional Ingen vinner frem til den evige ro opens with the distinctive sound of the Hardanger fiddle bringing a melancholy melody full of lovely textures. A single soprano voice joins, with the fiddle maintaining a steady drone. Centrally the fiddle alone provides a variation on the melody before the whole trio enter over the fiddle achieving a richer blend as the soprano soars over the others in this distinctive piece.

Fryd dig, du Kristi brud is also a traditional song to which Trio Mediaeval bring their fine sonorities in the most exquisite, accurate singing, with folksy inflections, rather Celtic in feel. The Hardanger fiddle returns to open Berit Opheim and Anna M.Friman’s I hamrinum before a high pure voice enters blending perfectly with the fiddle with some terrific decorations in the coda.

Finally we have William Brooks, Vale, dulcis amice, an exquisite, melancholy piece that brings the most lovely harmonies from these three fine singers that make up the Trio Mediaeval.

This new disc is a joy from beginning to end. These fine singers are beautifully recorded in a suitable acoustic.

A new recording of music by Joseph Daley on the JoDaMusic label proves to be a fascinating and engaging release with some fine performances from all concerned

Musician and composer Joseph Daley was born in New York City’s Harlem beginning his musical studies in elementary school and later studying at the High School of Music and Art, receiving high honours and recognition.  He was a member of the most prestigious ensembles in the New York City school system where he began performing on the Latin music scene performing alongside such fine musicians as Rene McLean, Monquito Santamaria, Andy Gonzalez, Alex Blake and many others.

A scholarship to the Manhattan School of Music resulted in his Bachelor’s degree in Performance and a Master’s degree in Music Education and led to a career as an educator in the New York and New Jersey school systems from 1976 until his retirement in 2005. Daley balanced his extensive educational commitments with recording and performing in the ensembles of some of the most provocative musicians on the contemporary jazz scene including Muhal Richard Abrams, Makanda Ken McIntyre, Jason Hwang and Dave Douglas and was an original member of Howard Johnson’s ground breaking tuba ensemble, Gravity. He has also been a long-time collaborator with the highly respected composer/ethnomusicologist and master of non-Western instruments, Bill Cole.

As well as composition, Joseph Daley works with his Earth Tones Ensemble and Ebony Brass Quintet as well as performing as part of duo and trio collaborations and solo performances playing the tuba, euphonium and valve trombone. Daley is also currently a member of the highly eclectic ensemble Hazmat Modine, under the direction of musician and visual artist Wade Schuman.

After nearly 40 years of recognition as one of the most consummate musicians on the adventurous music scene with remarkable artists like Sam Rivers, Carla Bley, Gil Evans, Charlie Haden, Taj Mahal and many more, in 2011, Daley released his CD, The Seven Deadly Sins to enthusiastic reviews, making several Best of 2011 lists. It featured his Earth Tones Ensemble (a full Jazz orchestra augmented by six additional low-toned horns, and including a seven-member rhythm section and four special guests). This was followed up two years later by The Seven Heavenly Virtues for string orchestra.

JoDaMusic has recently released a new album of Daley’s compositions entitled Portraits: Wind, Thunder and Love featuring percussionist Warren Smith together with a full string orchestra comprising eight violins, four violas, four celli, two basses, piano and percussion conducted by Joseph Daley.

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The main work on the disc is the five movement suite Wispercussion: Five Portraits of Warren Smith who recently celebrated his 80th birthday yet still maintains a demanding teaching and performing schedule. Here Daley has composed a homage, featuring Warren’s remarkable musicality on vibraphone, marimba, tympani, gongs and trap drums (drum kit) sequentially on each movement.

A small number of special guests join for the three remaining pieces, Shadrack: Portrait of Bill Cole, Doretha and the Blues:Portrait of Wanda Daley and Industria.

In Movement 1 of Wispercussion: Five Portraits of Warren Smith for String orchestra and percussion the string orchestra is soon joined by the vibraphone with 12 tone shifting harmonies. The music soon picks up the pace and becomes more rhythmic leading to a solo section for vibraphone which gently picks out and varies the theme. The orchestra soon re-join and move the music forward to the coda.

The marimba alone picks out a theme as Movement 2 begins. The piano joins as does the orchestra in a syncopated theme, very American in flavour and rhythm. Movement 3 opens with pizzicato strings and piano chords, continuing the rhythm of the second movement. Timpani join adding a rhythm before the strings rise up with the beat subtly changing as the drama increases. There is a solo timpani passage before the music becomes ever more menacing with the timpani bringing out the rhythm, Warren Smith providing some terrific playing.

A gong sounds deeply to open Movement 4 followed by lighter gong textures as Warren Smith achieves some fine textures and sonorities. The orchestra takes over in a dissonant yet melodic motif before more gong sounds are heard, full of colourful effects with Smith finding so many varieties of sound. The orchestra again takes over to develop the theme with a piano adding texture. Once again the lone gong sounds before the orchestra re-joins developing and enriching the theme, becoming ever more rich and beautiful. Evocative distant gongs change the atmosphere to one of mystery, the orchestra enters warming the atmosphere with its romantic texture before a gong can be heard within the orchestra for the sudden conclusion.

Movement 5 opens with a snare drum roll followed by a work out on the drum kit. A rhythm is settled on as the orchestra joins, complete with piano in staccato phrases before leading forward with an insistent drum rhythm. Soon there is a solo passage for Warren Smith to utilise all aspects of the drum kit with a terrific display from this percussionist before the orchestra joins again.  Daley really lays out the orchestration well with little pauses for the soloist to add distractive touches. Eventually the rhythm and mood changes and becomes more upbeat with a jazz violin joining as the orchestra moves ahead in a Latin rhythm. Here Daley creates a sophisticated mood with a South American flavour whilst all the while Warren Smith adds sparkle and life, bringing an extended, ever developing, insistent solo passage right up to the end.

This is a varied, colourful and engaging work, full of unusual and distinctive ideas and bringing an amalgam of musical elements.

The final three works bring guest artists Jerry Gonzalez (trumpet and percussion), Onaje Allan Gumbs (keyboards), Satoshi Takeishi (percussion) and Richard Huntley (percussion) as well as Gregory Williams (French horn) for the final work.  

Shadrack: Portrait of Bill Cole is dedicated to the multi-instrumentalist in whose ensemble Daley has been preforming for over 40 years. Bill Cole  is featured on this recording playing the double-reed Indian negaswaram.

Jazz is very much to the fore in this work though filtered through the prism of strange and dissonant writing with the strange sound of the reedy South Indian nagaswaram used in such a bluesy fashion despite its Asian flavour. This is a terrific virtuosic achievement for Bill Cole as he improvises some amazing passages. Eventually the cello of Akua Dixon brings a further Eastern sound as she weaves an exotic line with the nagaswaram joining for a wild and braying coda. A remarkable piece.

Doretha and the Blues: Portrait of Wanda Daley celebrates over 40 years of Joseph Daley’s marriage to Wanda Daley with the orchestra opening in a mellow jazz inspired theme that flows gently with keyboard of Lafayette Harris and percussion accompaniment. Soon a violin solo enters and really swings along with the orchestra. The violin of Charles Burham joins achieving some fine textures as he adds so many inventive phrases along the way showing him to be a fine soloist.

Industria takes as its theme Diligence from Daley’s composition The Seven Heavenly Virtues. Timpani open with pedalling before a regular rhythm is established. The drum kit joins as does the solo violin and keyboards, all keeping a regular rhythm as the strings of the orchestra join. The violin soloist Elektra Kurtis becomes increasingly free and florid, weaving around the orchestra in almost Eastern inflections as the music builds to a tremendous swirl of instruments, the two double basses of Benjamin Brown and Ken Filiano providing a darker yet always transparent texture. Midway there is a drop in intensity in a section where the players provide some unusual instrumental textures before slowly the music falls quieter with no basses and percussion.  The orchestra rises up to bring about the coda, that nevertheless concludes on a sparser texture.

This is a fascinating and engaging release with some fine performances from all concerned. They are well recorded though a little more air around the players would have been welcome. There are brief but informative notes by the composer.  

Saturday 24 January 2015

Jordi Savall and his colleagues bring us La Lira D’Espéria II an extremely fine follow up to their original 1994 recording La Lira D’Espéria on a new release from Alia Vox

The Catalan-Spanish viol player, conductor and composer Jordi Savall
(Jordi Savall i Bernadet), born in 1941 is one of the major figures in the early music world performing on period instruments with a repertoire centring on medieval, renaissance and baroque music.

He studied at the Barcelona Conservatory of Music specialising in early music before going on to study with August Wenzinger at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Basel, Switzerland, later succeeding his teacher as professor of viola da gamba at that institute.

In 1974, together with his late wife, soprano Montserrat Figueras, Lorenzo Alpert and Hopkinson Smith, he formed the ensemble Hespèrion XX, later known as Hespèrion XXI. In 1987 he returned to Barcelona to found La Capella Reial de Catalunya, a vocal ensemble devoted to pre-eighteenth-century music. In 1989 he founded Le Concert des Nations, an orchestra generally specialising in the Baroque period, but with occasional performances of later music.

More recently, Savall has performed with family members. The family ensemble has included his late wife and their two children, Arianna and Ferran. Arianna Savall plays the harp and sings and Ferran Savall plays the theorbo and sings. Jordi Savall has won numerous awards and has made a large number of recordings mainly on the Alia Vox label.

Jordi Savall has probably delved further into early music than any other musician, something which can be heard in his 1994 recording, La Lira d’Espéria, which was the result of several years of research and was devoted to the medieval repertory for bowed instruments and consists of music from the various Christian, Jewish and Arabo-Andalusian cultures that existed in ancient Iberia and Italica. Performed on Savall’s three early instruments the Rebec, the Tenor Fiddle and the Rabab (Rabel morisco) with the Pedro Estevan playing a variety of percussion instruments, the name of the disc refers to the ancient names of Lyra, one of the first musical instruments to be described in the Greek myths and Hesperia, the name the Ancient Greeks gave to the two western most peninsulas in the Mediterranean: the Italic and the Iberian peninsulas.

Now from Alia Vox comes La Lira D’Espéria II where Jordi Savall, Pedro Estavan  and David Mayoral focus exclusively on the historical, traditional music of Galicia.

Jordi Savall tells us that there were two types of lyra in ancient times: the first, most commonly found in antiquity, resembled a small harp and was played by plucking its strings, and the more modern type, played with a bow, which is closer to the present day Greek lyre. 

It is in Iberian Hesperia that the earliest traces of bowed instruments can be found. It is highly probable that the technique of bowing was introduced around the 8th century and gradually developed in Europe thanks to musicians who travelled here from the Arabo-Islamic countries in the East. These developments gave rise to the vielle, or medieval fiddle which, together with the harp, was an indispensable instrument both at court and among the nobility.

Savall goes on to say that only the sounds and techniques of certain modern-day folk instruments such as those played in Crete, Macedonia, Morocco and India can give us a rough idea of this ancient music.

Jordi Savall plays a rebâb or rebec (on the Iberian peninsula known as the rabé morisco) probably of oriental origin dating from around the 14th century, a 5 string rebec by an anonymous Italian luthier dating from around the mid15th century and an anonymous 5 string tenor fiddle/Vielle. The percussion instruments played by Pedro Estavan are the darbuka (a goblet shaped drum), tambour (a snare drum used in the galician music), bells and three types of tambourine, the adufe (a traditional square tambourine of Moorish origin), tamburello (type of Italian tambourine) and pandereta (Spanish tambourine). David Mayoral plays the req (a traditional tambourine used in Arabic music), pandereta, pandeiro (a Brazilian relative of the tambourine), adufe and tambour.

Much of the music performed here is from the manuscript of the Cantigas de Santa Maria (Canticles of Holy Mary), compiled by King Alfonso X ‘The Wise’ (‘El Sabio’) of Castile and Leon (1221-1284). These pieces are interspersed by traditional Galician music.

Invocación & Ductia from the manuscript of Alfonso X El Sabio creates some extraordinary sounds from the rebel morisco (rebâb) with colourful rhythmic percussion form the pandereta, darbuka and tamburello. The repetitive nature of the music is broken up by wonderfully varied textures and colour from Savall’s old instrument as well as the rhythmic quality of the music. The same can be said for Ronda (Alfonso X El Sabio) that also has some attractive drone like passages and many varied tempi and rhythms.

Savall switches to the rebec for Alalá Canção d’embalar, a traditional Galician piece that brings a change with its plaintive slow melody to which Savall brings exquisite sonorities, full of Moorish influences, quite mesmeric. The music is exquisitely played as it fades in and out at the end as though disappearing into the mists of time.

The traditional Galician Pandeirada Estreliña do Luceiro has a similar nature, a slowly drawn melody, this time accompanied by a quiet and discrete adufe. The textures in Rotundellus  (Alfonso X El Sabio) are more vibrant as Savall turns to the vièle tenor, slowly gaining in rhythmic bounce as the adufe and tamburello enter.

Two more traditional Galician pieces follow, Istampita En querer which brings a slow rhythmic  dance distinctively pointed up by the pandereta and tampour with the feel of a procession in its inexorable onward tread and Maruxina where Pedro Estavan’s darbuka opens before Jordi Savall enters with the rebel morisco and some lovely strings sounds with a real bite. It is terrific how Savall draws such varied sounds from his instrument.

Gentle bells open Pregaria En a gran coita (Alfonso X El Sabio) before the rebec enters in a mournful melody creating a wonderful atmosphere. Saltarello (Alfonso X El Sabio) brings a lively dance with, again, Savall drawing such different sonorities and textures from his rebec with fine accompaniment from Estavan’s darbuka and pandereta.

The traditional Galicia Nana - Canção d’embalar bring a slower, more thoughtful piece with bell chimes throughout as Savall weaves a lovely melody before the traditional Dança Caminando that continues slowly and steadily with gentle percussion and mellow sonorities.

Cantiga - A Virgen - Ronda - Baile (Alfonso X El Sabio) has slow but sudden little surges from Savall on his rebec, before slowly the adufe brings its deep rhythmic echoes. This is a terrific piece. Invocaçao & Alborada is another traditional Galician piece with some incisive chords on the rebel morisco before this weighty piece advances with deep heavy drumming from the tambour.

Savall weaves a lovely sound from his rebel morisco in Ductia De Santa Maria (Alfonso X El Sabio) as it slowly takes off rhythmically with the tamburello and tambour joining. Cantiga Virgen Madre grorioso (Alfonso X El Sabio) brings a slow melody for the rebec pointed up by bells with a somewhat melancholy feel, full of strange atmosphere. Savall with the rebec brings Istampita & Rota Ciudad Rodrigo (Alfonso X El Sabio) following Cantiga Virgen Madre grorioso slowly before soon adopting a livelier rhythm with a fine accompaniment of the pandereta with an intoxicating bounce.

Savall returns to the vièle ténor in the traditional Galician piece Panxolina Vinde, picariñas - Baile Da Terra Os fillos dos ricos returning us to a slower pace, full of pathos, becoming more animated and rhythmic as percussion join. Folidada Don Alfonso (Alfonso X El Sabio) has a slow melody full of atmosphere and fine sonorities from Savall on the rebec that grows in rhythmic tempo as the darbuka and tamburello join. Savall weaves some lovely lines on the vièle tenor in the traditional Galician Cação La moza que rabió and Baile providing some glorious sonorities, textures and colours in this solo piece before speeding to the coda.

Ductia & Rota (Alfonso X El Sabio) brings a fine rhythmic pace with wonderfully varied rhythms and textures from the vièle tenor and percussion. David Mayoral joins for the last three tracks; firstly with the traditional Galician Aiñhara & Canto De Ciego 1 where Savall produces more fine sonorities from his rebel morisco, soon becoming more dynamic with the pandereta, pandeiro and tambour joining in a dramatic plodding section.

Another Galician piece is Canto De Ciego 2Lamento that has a fine opening from Savall with his rebel morisco before the thunderous tambour enters as the music rises and falls in drama, moving inexorably forward. This is another terrific piece.
Canto De Despedida  Adiós meu homiño and Danza Airiños rises gently on the rebel morisco before the percussion bring a rhythmic weight carrying the music forward with Savall providing more fine textures and sonorities and a lighter rhythmic section midway.

Jordi Savall and his colleagues bring us another extremely fine disc to follow up their original 1994 recording. They receive a first rate recording and Alia Vox provide a lavishly illustrated booklet with illustrations and notes by Jordi Savall.

Friday 23 January 2015

All Russian music enthusiasts will surely want this new release from Melodiya that covers so much of Tikhon Khrennikov orchestral output in excellent performances

Tikhon Khrennikov (1913-2007) Honoured Artist of Russia, Honoured Artist of the USSR, awarded the Order of The Red Banner of Labour, the National Prize of the USSR, the Order of Lenin and Gold Star of Socialist Labour Hero, the State Award of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and the President Prize as well as many Lenin Prizes.

He was Secretary General of the Union of Composers, member of the Supreme Soviet, a candidate to the Central Committee of Communist Party, vice-chairman of Lenin and State Prizes Committee, president of the Music department in All-Union Society of Cultural Contacts with Foreign Countries, President of the Music department in the Soviet Association of Friendship and Cultural Contacts with Foreign Countries. Most of all he is remembered as the man behind the criticism of many leading Soviet composers of the day.

Yet who was the man and what was his music like? Tikhon Khrennikov was born in Yelets, in central Russia and began composing as soon as he became proficient as a pianist. He went on to study at the Gnessin School in Moscow and, later at the Moscow Conservatory composing his First Symphony (1935) as his graduation work. During the 1930s his reputation increased with performances of his Symphony No. 2 and his First Piano Concerto (1933).

In 1936 he married Klara Arnoldovna Vaks, a journalist, head of press-centre in the Union of Composers. They first met at a party through Aram Khachaturian who was a close friend of the Khrennikov family. 1937 saw the arrest of two of Khrennikov’s brothers, Nikolay and Boris. Whilst Krennikov’s efforts to have his brothers freed succeeded in the case of Nikolay, Boris vanished in the GULAG. In reality it seems that Khrennikov walked something of a tight rope managing to assist Soviet composers whilst continuing to keep to the party line. An example of this is when the great Russian cellist Rostropovich approached him in 1948, after the first congress of the Union of Composers when Prokofiev was one of those accused of formalism, he was able to financially help the composer.

Apart from his official duties Khrennikov went on to write a third symphony, four piano concertos, two violin concertos, two cello concertos as well as five operas, five ballets and music for more than twenty films.

Melodiya have just released a three CD set featuring all of Khrennikov’s symphonies and concertos for violin, cello and piano. All are stereo recordings from 1973 until 1993 and are performed by a terrific line up of artists including the USSR State Symphony Orchestra conducted by Evgeny Svetlanov, the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Maxim Shostakovich with soloists including Vadim Repin (violin), Mikhail Khomitser (cello) and Khrennikov himself as pianist.

It is instructive that Maxim Shostakovich should have seen fit to conduct Khrennikov’s First Cello Concerto given the animosity between the older Shostakovich and Khrennikov. Also instructive is the fact that the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich was the recipient of this work and gave the first performance in Moscow in 1964 thus proving that the issues surrounding Soviet music were not always straightforward.

MEL CD 10 02086
Tikhon Khrennikov’s music has also come in for a lot of criticism over the years despite the fact that it has received little in the way of performances and recordings in the West. In view of this I came to these discs with a completely open mind.

The first disc is given over to the three symphonies all performed here by Evgeny Svetlanov and the USSR State Symphony Orchestra and recorded in 1973, 1978 and 1974 respectively.

The opening Allegro of Symphony No.1 in B flat minor, Op.4 (1932) opens with a jaunty theme, first on bassoon with pizzicato basses then throughout the orchestra, not unlike Shostakovich in his lighter vein. The music rushes ahead full of life and fun and even in the slower sections there is still a lighter mood. The Adagio. Molto espressivo brings a greater depth with a fine clarinet melody soon after the opening as well as some very Russian brass passages. The music rises centrally to a fine dramatic peak before the subdued coda. High spirits return in the concluding Allegro molto with a lively clarinet theme taken up by the whole orchestra. There is much invention to hold the attention as well as a lovely quiet section for various individual instruments. The music has a fine orchestral sweep that is most attractive before the return of the lively opening and a whirlwind of a coda.

These players receive a surprisingly good recording from 1973 with little of the scrawny sound one often gets from earlier Melodiya recordings, no doubt due to some skilful re-mastering.

Symphony No. 2 in C minor, Op.9 (1940 rev. 1944) opens with a fast moving brass motif, marked Allegro con fuoco, which is taken up by the woodwind before being shared with the rest of the orchestra. There are some lovely quiet moments often full of a lovely forward sweep in a movement that is full of drama. A clarinet theme over pizzicato basses slowly takes the Adagio forward with a heavy tread before rising in the orchestra. There is a pervading sense of tragedy and weariness throughout this movement as it pushes forward, rising centrally to a dramatic peak. In the Allegro molto a bouncing clarinet theme is soon taken by the orchestra as it dashes ahead, skilfully orchestrated and full of rhythmic bounce. There are some catchy themes that are hard to resist. The Allegro marciale opens with a serious air, soon moving forward with a determined steady drive. There are some fine passages for woodwind and distinctively orchestrated quieter moments with a triumphant coda.

The recording is very good.

A flourish of strings heads the opening of the Fugue. Allegro con fuoco of Symphony No.3 in A major, Op.22 (1973) to which timpani and woodwind join as the music hurtles ahead in a lively and often grotesque fugue with many individual instrumental touches. A melancholy bassoon opens the Intermezzo. Andante Sostenuto with support from the over basses before the woodwind and the rest of the orchestra take over. There are some beautiful string passages before the music rises centrally to a dramatic peak after which there is a beautiful passage that recalls the earlier melancholy feel. There is some strikingly fine orchestration in this movement. The Finale. Allegro con fuoco has a fast moving, scurrying opening that leads to a dialogue between brass and woodwind before going around the whole orchestra. Later there is a quiet passage for low brass and strings, distinctively conceived and orchestrated before the clarinet leads off as the orchestra dashes to the coda. Again the recording from 1974 is surprisingly good.

All of these symphonies receive very fine performances, as one would expect from Svetlanov and the USSR State Symphony Orchestra.

With the second disc comes the two violin concertos and the two cello concertos. Vadim Repin (violin) joins the USSR State Symphony Orchestra under Evgeny Svetlanov for the violin concertos both written for the Russian violinist Leonid Kogan.

After pizzicato chords from the orchestral strings the soloist immediately enters in the Allegro con fuoco of the Concerto No. 1 for violin and orchestra in C major, Op.14 (1958-59) in a fast moving theme with the orchestra providing something of a gallop. The music slows to a broader melody with attractive orchestral details before the music skips along, again with much virtuoso writing and some good humoured galumphing orchestral passages. Later there is a cadenza full of distinctive ideas with some fine writing for the violin before the flourishing coda. The Andante espressivo brings a fine melody as Khrennikov weaves a lovely orchestral tapestry in this impressive movement, beautifully conceived. High spirits return in the rumbustious Allegro agitato with some terrific playing from Vadim Repin and some riotous playing from the USSR State Symphony Orchestra with an unexpected brief contribution from a piano to add to the texture towards a riotous coda.

In the Allegro con fuoco opening of the Concerto No.2 for violin and orchestra in C major, Op.23 (1975) the soloist opens with a rather astringent theme soon joined by the orchestra. Here Khrennikov adopts a rather more dissonant language, still lively and breezy but with an edge and a colourful orchestration. The Moderato moves around freely before the soloist enters to join the same theme, slowly firming up to a real melody, developing into a bittersweet melody of some beauty with some lovely violinistic moments.  The Allegro moderato con fuoco opens decisively in a rhythmically buoyant theme with a winning theme and much fine playing in this often intricate and virtuosic music, an enjoyable conclusion to this concerto.

Khrennikov certainly moved forward in the 16 years between his two violin concertos. Though he cannot avoid some brash passage in the climaxes, this is a work I shall certainly return to.

The violin concertos receive excellent recordings from 1984 and are very finely played in beautifully taut performances.

Concerto No.1 for cello and orchestra, Op.16 (1964) was composed especially for Mstislav Rostropovich who gave the first performance. Here the cellist Valentin Feigin joins the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Maxim Shostakovich.

In the Prelude. Andante (alla breve) the cello opens deep in its register over a quiet orchestra with a bassoon prominent. There is a dialogue with the orchestra before the whole orchestra takes over, rising up, the music having a wonderful sense of unwinding and blossoming. The second movement is a rich soulful Aria. Andante espressivo that gently develops and flows, finely played by Valentin Feigin. There is a faster passage centrally before the music falls with some lovely orchestral moments. The final Sonata. Allegro con fuoco dances along full of good humour with some really fine playing from this cellist and some subtle dissonances in the orchestra. There are some broad passages reminiscent of Khachaturian before a fine cadenza. There are some infectious themes, quiet at times, before the dynamic coda.

The recording from 1978 is slightly reverberant but otherwise very good.

Concerto No.2 for cello and orchestra, Op.30 (1986) was premiered by Mikhail Khomitser, the soloist on this recording with the USSR State Symphony Orchestra conducted by Evgeny Svetlanov. Cello opens with a winding, melancholy theme in the opening of the Adagio soon joined by a bassoon. The orchestra enters as the soloist takes the glorious melody forward with woodwind providing a lovely accompaniment. Mikhail Khomitser brings a real passion to the music. The second and concluding movement, Con moto, has a rhythmically bouncing theme with the orchestra nicely pointing up the cello. The music soon adopts a more riotous theme that alternates with the more flowing melody. Soon there is an extended cadenza that opens gently but soon becomes tortuously difficult, full of invention. When the orchestra re-enters the music pushes forward, full of energy with more riotous passages through to the coda.

These artists receive a very good recording from 1987.

The last disc gives us all four of Khrennikov’s piano concertos with the composer as pianist in the first three.

With the Concerto No.1 for piano and orchestra in F major, Op.1 (1932-33) the composer is joined by the USSR State Symphony Orchestra conducted by Evgeny Svetlanov.  The Allegro opens with a sudden orchestral flourish quickly joined by the piano in a fast moving, inventive theme, full of attractive ideas. The rhythmical variety keeps the interest and momentum, finely played by the composer. Bassoon and the pizzicato basses open the Andante with a characterful melody. When the piano enters it brings a more expansive variant of the theme in this most attractive movement that rises to a fine climax centrally before timpani lead into the Allegro where a frenetic theme is introduced by the piano before being taken up by the orchestra. Again Khrennikov’s rhythms bring a great sense of forward movement. There are languid slow sections attractively orchestrated. A clarinet opens the Andante with a reflective theme before the piano suddenly leaps in for the Molto allegro scurrying forward. The opening theme returns with some attractive variants of the theme, rising to some virtuosic passages for the soloist, extremely well played here.

Again the 1974 recoding has been very well re-mastered.

Concerto No.2 for piano and orchestra in C major, Op.21 (1971-72) again features the composer with Evgeny Svetlanov and the USSR State Symphony Orchestra. The Introduction. Moderato brings an expansive theme from the soloist which is then developed, becoming more complex before the orchestra eventually joins with a fine melody over the piano part. There are dissonances here with percussion to point up the music as it leads into the Sonata. Allegro con fuoco full of rhythm and buoyancy with Khrennikov handling the solo part with great virtuosity as the theme is moved around and subjected to much variation. This is another intoxicatingly attractive movement. The spiky rhythms of the Rondo. Giocoso – Andantino recall Prokofiev as does Khrennikov’s free tonality and dissonances. There is some terrific invention and, indeed, playing in this terrific movement.

This is an impressive work full of interest. The recording, again from 1973 is excellent.

The Concerto No.3 for piano and orchestra in C major, Op.28 (1983) was completed just before the composer’s 70th birthday. In this recording Khrennikov is accompanied by the Academic Symphony Orchestra of the Moscow Philharmonic Society conducted by Dmitri Kitayenko. The Moderato – Allegro opens with a bell like piano motif that is slowly broadened and decorated before the orchestra takes up the theme which is then varied.  The music slowly rises with firm piano chords before a quieter passage where the woodwind add some fine and distinctive touches. The music eventually develops into a jaunty marching theme, building with some incisive and virtuosic passages before the quiet coda. In the Moderato a leisurely rhythmic theme gives way to a freer development from the piano with broad piano chords, building to a deliberate climax before easing back to a more leisurely flowing piano passage and a hesitant coda. Florid chords open on the piano opening the Allegro molto before the orchestra and piano move through some sprawling, often dissonant passages, some pretty virtuosic. A jaunty dissonant theme appears which is great fun, the 69 year old composer had lost none of his playfulness, before a slow considered lead into the decisive coda.

The live 1985 recording is very fine with no obvious audience noise though the enthusiastic applause is kept in.  

For the Concerto No.4 for piano with string orchestra and percussion, Op.37 (1991) the composer gives way to pianist Anatoly Sheludyakov for this recording made with the ARCO Chamber Orchestra conducted by Levon Ambartsumian. Sheludyakov weaves a motif before the orchestra enter in the Moderato – Allegro, suddenly leaping up when the piano re-enters in a flowing vibrant melody. There is some unusual orchestration with bell chimes delicately pointing up the music as well as some lovely broad phrases pointed up by the xylophone before the hushed, beautifully conceived coda. The Moderato giocoso takes off at a fine pace with some flamboyant and virtuosic piano work and some colourful orchestral accompaniment. There are runs up and down the piano before the music steadfastly heads forward with some skittish piano passages. Tubular bells sound again and the xylophone is heard before the heady coda.

The recording from 1993 is rather close with a rather plummy piano sound but otherwise is very good.

Khrennikov’s music often has a directness of utterance but with many moments of poetry, beauty and fine orchestration. It is true that sometimes he cannot resist a certain grandiloquent brashness but there are works here that deserve a hearing. It is the second violin concerto and second cello concerto as well as the second and third piano concertos that I will return to the most. All Russian music enthusiasts will surely want this set that covers so much of Khrennikov’s orchestral output.

Tuesday 20 January 2015

Music publishers Edition Peters launch their new record label, Edition Peters Sounds, with surely one of the finest recordings of Faure’s Nocturnes currently available played with great insight by Daniel Grimwood

The world renowned music publishers Edition Peters have just announced the launch of their new record label Edition Peters Sounds

The Edition Peters Sounds label plans to concentrate on recording performances by the artists on its agency roster, as well as releasing works from its artists and others drawn from the Group’s extensive and famous publishing catalogue.

Nicholas Riddle, CEO of the Edition Peters Group said, ‘The creation of a recording label within the Edition Peters Group is an exciting, bold and positive development.  It is not unusual these days for organisations to operate an 'own label', and we do so in order to highlight our artists and publishing catalogue.  Run from our thriving Artist Management company, EPAM, we can all look forward to listening to wonderful performances.’

Edition Peters Sounds is primarily a digital label, but with physical CDs available at its artist’s concerts, from the label’s website and from selected music shops.

The first release, featuring pianist Daniel Grimwood performing Fauré’s Nocturnes, is now available from iTunes, and is available from select CD shops and digital platforms from 10th December 2014.

EPS 001

Future releases will feature tenor Paul Phoenix and vocal ensemble Apollo5 sharing an album of vocal arrangements, violinist Simon Fischer and more.

Daniel Grimwood has a repertoire ranging from Elizabethan Virginal music to composers of the modern day and enjoys an international reputation both as a solo and chamber musician. He has performed in many of the world’s most prestigious venues and festivals, including the Wigmore Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Purcell Room in London, the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, Symphony Hall Birmingham, the Three Choirs Festival, the Rachmaninoff and Gnessin Halls in Moscow, the Carnegie Hall’s Weill Hall in New York, as well as concert halls in Germany, Austria, Italy, The Netherlands, Slovenia, Estonia, Taiwan, Azerbaijan, Egypt and Lebanon.

His musical interest started as a three year old playing next door’s piano and from the age of seven he was performing in front of audiences. He studied under Graham Fitch at the Purcell School, where he also studied violin, viola and composition and later with Vladimir Ovchinnikov and Peter Feuchtwanger. Although primarily a pianist, he is frequently to be found performing on harpsichord, organ, viola or composing at his desk. Grimwood is a passionate exponent of the early piano, and has given a recital of Chopin’s Etudes on the composer’s own Pleyel piano. As a solo recording artist his growing discography ranges from Scriabin on Somm Recordings to Algernon Ashton on Toccata Classics. His recent discs of Liszt and Chopin, performed on an 1851 Erard piano, received a unanimous chorus of praise from the press.

On this new recording, Daniel Grimwood sets a fine tempo in the Nocturne No. 1 in E-flat Minor, Op. 33, No. 1, full flowing yet with a languid quality before building in strength, finely judged with a real sense of stature as well as some beautifully crystalline playing. Grimwood brings a sense of languor to the opening of the Nocturne No. 2 in B major, Op. 33, No. 2 before some terrific faster passages, full of a lovely ebb and flow and some brilliant playing in the more complex passages showing his superb technique.

Nocturne No. 3 in A-flat major, Op. 33, No. 3 brings a lovely breadth with a fine rubato and beautifully judged tempo with an exquisite coda. Grimwood’s fine phrasing is to the fore in the Nocturne No. 4 in E-flat major, Op. 36 taken at a lovely gentle pace, rising to some impressive passages before the gentle coda.

There is some beautifully silken playing in the gentle rhythms of the Nocturne No. 5 in B-flat major, Op. 37 with more fine phrasing. The central, florid section receives some very fine playing, fluent, with a fine even touch and a lovely sense of continuing forward flow. Grimwood immediately creates a remarkable sound world in the Nocturne No. 6 in D-flat major, Op. 63, a restrained yet subtly coloured performance, conjuring a sense of wonder and restlessness as we are carried through its arch like structure, with this pianist drawing out so many little details and subtleties.

With the Nocturne No. 7 in C-sharp minor, Op. 74 Grimwood brings out so well Fauré’s dark opening before leading us through the tragic and stormy journey of this remarkable Nocturne, revealing so much, so many colours and sonorities, finding so many emotions and revealing fresh insights before culminating in a beautifully limpid coda. The short, fleeting Nocturne No. 8 in D-flat major, Op. 84 is beautifully captured here, beguilingly played.

Grimwood captures the elusive nature of the Nocturne No. 9 in B minor, Op. 97 brilliantly before tackling the more advanced harmonies of the Nocturne No. 10 in E minor, Op. 99 with Grimwood showing complete mastery as he builds the Nocturne, showing just how far Fauré had travelled since his first Nocturne of c.1875. Nocturne No. 11 in F-sharp minor, Op. 104, No. 1 brings a rather withdrawn nature finely captured by Grimwood who builds the music wonderfully to the central climax before falling to the resigned coda.

Grimwood brings much understanding and feeling to the angst ridden rhythms of the Nocturne No. 12 in E minor, Op. 107. Written in 1915 this is surely a reaction to the events of the First World War with its sense of tragedy and foreboding. There is some especially fine playing here, wonderful phrasing and sense of drama. A sense of nostalgia affects the Nocturne No. 13 in B minor, Op. 119 with Grimwood revealing all of its sense of reflection, at times pushing towards a sense of despair. Written in 1921 this was to be his last solo piano work. The music builds in anguish with this pianist finding so much depth.

The opus numbers alone show that Fauré never intended these works as a cohesive whole, yet how well they sit together especially when such a fine pianist as Daniel Grimwood reveals so much. 

This is an extremely satisfying disc and must rate as one of the finest recordings of these works currently available.  A very fine debut disc for Edition Peters Sounds.

Grimwood is finely recorded at Nimbus Studio, Wyastone Estate, Monmouth, UK. The booklet notes are minimal but given that the repertoire is well known this seems to hardly matter.

Saturday 17 January 2015

A new release from Naxos brings Leonardo Balada’s Symphony No. 6, Concerto for Three Cellos and Orchestra and Steel Symphony revealing a composer whose works are full of invention, colour and interest

The composer Leonardo Balada (b.1933)  was born in Barcelona, Spain and studied at the Conservatorio del Liceu in his home city and the Juilliard School, New York. He studied composition with Vincent Percichetti and Aaron Copland and conducting with Igor Markevitch, later becoming an American citizen and Professor of Composition at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Some of his best known earlier works such as Guernica, María Sabina and his Steel Symphony were written in a dramatic avant-garde style. Since then he has blended ethnic music with avant-garde techniques, creating a very personal style with such works as Sinfonía en Negro-Homage to Martin Luther King (1968), and Homage to Casals and Sarasate (1975).

Balada has received several international awards and his works have been performed by the world’s leading orchestras under conductors such as Lorin Maazel, Mstislav Rostropovich, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, Jesús López-Cobos, Lukas Foss, Mariss Jansons, Sergiu Comissiona and Neville Marriner.

The recipient of many commissions, Balada’s large catalogue of works includes chamber and symphonic compositions, cantatas, two chamber operas and three full length operas Zapata, Christopher Columbus and The Death of Columbus. Christopher Columbus was premiered in Barcelona in 1989 with José Carreras and Montserrat Caballe singing the leading roles. 

Balada’s Symphony No. 6 ‘Symphony of Sorrows’ dedicated to the innocent victims of the Spanish Civil War was premiered in 2006 by Salvador Mas and the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra. His Concerto for Three Cellos and Orchestra ‘A German Concerto’ was premiered in 2007 by the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra.

It is these two works that are coupled with his earlier Steel Symphony on a valuable new release from Naxos that features the two World Premiere Recordings.


Balada’s Symphony No. 6 ‘Symphony of Sorrows’ (2005) receives its World Premiere recording here with the Galicia Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jesús López-Cobos . It is in one movement and, in the composer’s own words, blends avant-garde techniques with traditional melodic ideas. Balada uses elements of two hymns, Himno de Riego, the song of the Republican forces and Cara al Sol associated with the forces of General Franco in this symphony that depicts the physical and psychological drama of a tragedy.

There is a percussive opening that immediately gives way to a rhythmic orchestral motif taken up by various instruments, before a jaunty theme emerges through which a traditional tune appears. The music falls to a more reflective passage, soon overtaken by incisive phrases from the strings over which brass play, full of drama. Timpani underpin the orchestra before another popular tune appears. In some ways Charles Ives comes to mind though Balada subtly and individually weaves his own material around the popular themes. The music rises to a peak before falling back, as a solo cello plays a plaintive, mournful theme over a hushed orchestra, eventually blending the theme into the orchestral strings. Halfway through, the music speeds in a frenetic passage but the cello returns in an exquisitely orchestrated passage. Soon the music becomes livelier and gallops ahead with a brash hymn tune intruding. This is taken up by various sections of the orchestra, full of subtly inventive orchestral sounds between the more extrovert passages. Eventually a moment of tension is reached with hovering string. Percussion enter reinforcing the drama before the orchestra hurtles forward full of rhythmic dynamism with the feeling of triumph. However the basses alone slow the music, interrupted by clashing orchestral outbursts, as the music comes to an end.

The Galicia Symphony Orchestra under Jesús López-Cobos gives a very fine performance indeed. This is an excellent live recording with no obvious audience noise. The enthusiastic applause is kept in.

Dedicated to the three cellists on this World Premiere recording, Hans-Jakob Eschenburg , Michael Sanderling and Wolfgang Emanuel Schmidt , the Concerto for Three Cellos and Orchestra ‘A German Concerto’ (2006) takes as its motif the German song Die Moorsoldaten (The Peat Bog Soldiers) composed in 1933 by an anonymous political prisoner and is intended as an emotional portrait of 20th century Germany. The three soloists are joined here by the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra  conducted by Eivind Gullberg Jensen .

The lower orchestral strings open the concerto with percussion and brass adding colour. The three cellos appear high in their register revealing the German song that is the foundation of this work. Soon the cellos are playing alone in a wistful version of this theme before the orchestra rises again only to be left alone playing harmonics with just occasional orchestral interventions.  Slowly each cellist develops the theme becoming more anxious as the orchestra returns slowly bringing a motoric theme that comes and goes whilst the soloists play wistfully over a constantly changing orchestral backdrop. The motoric theme re-appears again before the cellos bring a rich theme lower in their register, full of angst, with the orchestra providing a hushed yet dramatic backdrop. Soon the cellos rise up ever more passionately as the mood slowly lightens, with the orchestra bringing a brighter sound. The orchestra slowly brings back the incisive motoric theme which the cellos pick up, growing ever faster as the mood again lifts, pointed up by percussion and becoming quite good humoured with Balada’s colourful orchestration. Eventually the orchestra brings a broad sweeping melody which the cellos take up, weaving around each other before swaying phrases on the cellos lead to a buoyant orchestral theme that one imagines will take the music to the coda, but the orchestra draws back as the cellos bring the music to a gentle coda.

This is an excellent performance and is very well recorded.

Balada’s Steel Symphony (1972) retains more of the composer’s more avant-garde ideas but is no less approachable on that account. Dedicated to the steel workers of the world it was premiered by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra conducted by Donald Johanos in 1973. As with the other two works on this disc, it is in one movement and in the composer’s own words is a monument to the great industry and to the men whose rough work made it possible.  

The unconventional opening has the orchestra tuning before the music slowly emerges, led by brass before percussion are heard over a deep rumbling orchestra. Brass and tuned percussion weave an atmospheric sound swirling within the orchestra before slowly rising to a climax at which the tam-tam is sounded. There is tapping of bows before more swirling orchestral sounds with brass interventions. Soon the music becoming louder and frenetic with colourful orchestral sounds including upward swoops of whistles and strange string sounds. Tubular bells signal a more percussive section with shrill strings sounds before motoric rhythms return building more stridently.  

The music falls as strange orchestral sounds are pointed up by timpani, and brass echo a motif in a particularly attractive passage before the orchestra rises up with tapping bows, full of strange little orchestral details and with the motoric rhythm appearing through metallic percussion and other individual instrumental flourishes. The music slowly builds in drama with timpani beating the rhythm as the orchestral strings move the orchestra forward. There is a brief hush before sirens are heard and a cacophony of orchestral sound moves unstoppably forward, slowing to a steady pace, before speeding, then slowing again to a surprisingly quiet coda.  

Whilst this symphony inhabits a more avant-garde sound world and there are motoric rhythmic passages this is a colourful and varied work. The performance by the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra (Orquestra Symfònica de Barcelona I Nacional de Catalunya) conducted by Jesús López-Cobos is excellent as is the recording.

All of the works on this disc are full of invention, colour and interest. There are excellent booklet notes by the composer.