Saturday 28 February 2015

Piano duo Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow bring impressive playing to piano duet arrangements of works by Rimsky Korsakov including a world premiere recording for Divine Art

Surely Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow  are Britain’s finest piano duo. They have made an impressive collection of recordings for Divine Art Recordings  to which can be added a recent release of transcriptions of works by Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov (1844-1908).

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This new disc couples this duo’s earlier recording of Rimsky Korsakov’s Scheherazade and Neapolitanskaya pesenka with a World Premiere recording of the composer’s Symphonic Suite ‘Antar’ often referred to as his Symphony No. 2, all in piano duet (four hands) transcriptions.

Scheherazade, Op. 35 is played here in the composer’s own piano duet version. No listener could fail to be impressed by the fine opening of The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship, with Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow bringing a real weight to contrast with the beautifully delicate and poetic passage that follows. They provide a lovely rhythmic sway as Sinbad’s ship takes sail with this duo’s fine precision, bringing so much to this performance as does their silken fluidity. There are some exquisite little phrases with the accuracy between these players quite brilliant. They rise to moments of fine power, bringing a breadth and grandeur that is impressive, beautifully pacing the music right up to the lovely, gentle coda.

As The Story of the Kalender Prince develops one is aware of so many fine colours that are revealed, different with each player. There is a clarity and lightness of touch with many passages that reveal this duo’s fine articulation.  They slowly build the drama with finely controlled rubato before a fine conclusion.

The Young Prince and the Young Princess brings some lovely fluent playing, fine sweeps of sound and terrific scales with a scented Eastern flavour. This duo bring a lovely variety of colours and textures in the broader passages, full of atmosphere, conjuring up so much of Rimsky Korsakov’s original orchestral brilliance with a lovely little coda.

Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow pull out all the varying moods and atmosphere of the final movement Festival at Baghdad – The Sea with some brilliantly played faster passages. There is terrific accuracy here, lovely sweeps of music with a fine authority and panache. Again they bring so many fine moments with lovely colours, textures and rhythmic turns, the music positively glowing at times before the very fine coda.

They receive a first rate recording from the Royal Northern College of Music.

The arrangement for piano 4-hands of Rimsky Korsakov’s Symphonic Suite ‘Antar’, Op. 9 (Symphony No. 2) was made by the composer’s wife Nadezhda Purgold and is given the World Premiere recording here.

The opening of the first movement, The Desert - The Rescue - Gul-Nazar's Gifts, is developed beautifully as a sense of mystery finally gives way to a lovely melody. The music develops rhythmically, building to a brilliant moment finely played by this duo, who bring a real depth to the textures. They handle all the sudden little rhythmic phrases so well and deliver the flowing melodic passages with such lightness of touch and finely judged forward flow. When Rimsky Korsakov overlays both melodies this duo are a real joy in the way they take each theme. There are some exquisitely delicate moments and finely coloured passages before a very fine coda.

The Joy of Vengeance rises dramatically, with these players revealing some fine harmonies. As they forge ahead they reveal some lovely dissonant harmonies revealing this work to be full of quite advanced ideas for its time, something not so obvious in the orchestral original. Again their accuracy is superb, a quite stunning example of piano duet playing. The coda receives some especially fine, subtle shading.

The Joy of Power brings the timbre of Russian bells before a lovely melody arrives, these players bringing soft, flowing delicacy that nevertheless glows beautifully. The music rises full of breadth and melodic flow before a particularly fine passage where rhythmic and melodic elements overlay.

There is a beautifully laid out opening to the final movement, The Joy of Love - Antar's Death, with exquisite phrasing and beautifully delicate phrases. This duo is terrific in the way that they can slowly build such passages, subtly developing the music right through to the coda when Antar dies.

Just as I often listen to Rachmaninov’s two piano version of his Symphonic Dances so I will return to this piano duet version of Antar especially when played so finely as in this performance.

This brand new recording made in St. John the Baptist Church, Alkborough, North Lincolnshire, England is first rate.

The Neapolitanskaya pesenka (Neapolitan song) (after Denza), Op. 63 is here given in the version for piano 4-hands by the composer and casts off any melancholy as this famous tune races ahead, full of good humour and fun,  these players obviously enjoying it immensely with lively crisp playing and terrific flair.

There are excellent booklet notes from Anthony Goldstone and, as ever, Divine Art’s production standards are first class with a nicely produced booklet.

See also:

Friday 27 February 2015

A captivating disc of works by Valentin Silvestrov on a new release from Wergo that reveal this composer’s fine ear for detail, colour and texture with an underlying melodic core

Valentin Silvestrov (b.1937) was born in Kiev, Ukraine.  He came to music relatively late and was initially self-taught. After taking evening classes in music he went on to study composition with Boris Lyatoshinsky and counterpoint with Lev Revutsky at Kiev Conservatory. Silvestrov taught at a music studio for several years and has been a freelance composer in Kiev since 1970.

Considered one of the leading representatives of the Kiev avant-garde of the 1960s, his music, criticized by the conservative Soviet musical establishment, was hardly played in his native city, any premiere being given in Russia or the West.

Spectrums for chamber orchestra was premiered to spectacular acclaim by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Igor Blashkov in 1965. In 1968 the same conductor gave the premiere of the Second Symphony.

It is these two works coupled with his Cantata for soprano and chamber orchestra, Meditation: Symphony for Cello and Orchestra and Welt, leb wohl…! that are gathered together on a new disc from Wergo with performers that include Leningrad chamber ensembles and conductor Igor Blashkov with recordings made between 1965 and 1991. 

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For a long time Silvestrov’s works were at least heard on the periphery of the official music scene but the situation gradually changed with Silvestrov's growing international acclaim with a Las Vegas performance of Postludium for piano and orchestra (1985) and the symphony Exegi monumentum (1988) as well as a 50th Birthday Concert in New York (1988). Silvestrov became a visiting composer at the Almeida Music Festival in London (1989), Gidon Kremer's Lockenhaus Festival in Austria (1990), and various festivals in Denmark, Finland, and Holland.

Since then Silvestrov's music has been heard more widely. There has even been a 60th Birthday Festival in Kiev followed by a conference devoted to Silvestrov held at the Tchaikovsky National Academy of Music of the Ukraine. In recent decades he has dispensed with the conventional compositional devices of the avant-garde and discovered a style comparable to western "post-modernism." The name he has given to this style is ‘metamusic’, a shortened form of ‘metaphorical music.’ His compositions to date include choral and vocal works, seven symphonies, chamber and instrumental works.

Spectrums: Symphony in Three Movements for Chamber Orchestra (1965) is performed here by soloists of the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Igor Blashkov recorded live in Academic Chapel, Leningrad in 1965 and appears to be the premiere performance that received much acclaim. In three parts, percussion lead in Part 1 with a seemingly fragmented theme that develops with a myriad of instrumental colours, creating a captivating sound world.

Percussion open Part 2 with more fine colours and textures to which other instruments add further effect, at times quite dramatic though with quieter moments that suddenly contrast with dynamic outbursts, whip cracks and timpani. There is very effective, subtle use of strings before the music builds to a sustained peak then dies away with timpani rolls.

There is a gentler opening to Part 3 with lovely, subtle percussion sounds and some more intense string and brass passages. Silvestrov draws on some very fine percussive sounds that often seem to sparkle above the contrasting textures of the rest of the ensemble, rising to many vividly coloured moments. The music slows and quietens as strange harmonies and string sounds with tubular bells lead to the hushed coda – but with a final decisive bell chime.

The live recording is clear and atmospheric and quite vivid at times, though with some rustlings of audience noise and a slightly narrow stereo image.

The Leningrad Chamber Orchestra conducted by Igor Blashkov perform Silvestrov’s
Symphony No. 2 for flute, percussion instruments, piano and strings (1965) in another live recording this time in the Grand Hall of the Leningrad Philharmonia in 1968.

Strings open with little percussion points and a flute motif that intersperses. Indeed the little flute motif seems to permeate this music, which has many fine textures and ideas that continually add colour and interest. There is much of Silvestrov’s early distinctive character, a myriad of instrumental sounds finely woven into the orchestral tapestry with sudden little outbursts. Silvestrov slowly builds his material with the flute continuing to provide a musical motif that binds the music together.  Within its outwardly fragmented nature, this music has an inner melodic element and structure. There are some fine little string passages with the percussion adding colour and textures with the strings often reflecting the flute’s motif. Towards the end there are some magical sounds from the percussion, strings and flute before leading to the coda.

In this work Silvestrov brings a cohesion as well as fine colours and textures and a melodic core to his avant-garde style. The live recording has a greater warmth without sacrificing any detail and with no obvious audience noise.

Silvestrov’s Cantata for soprano and chamber orchestra after poems by Fyodor Tyutchev and Alexander Blok (1973) brings the Perpetuum Mobile Chamber Orchestra with soprano Nelly Lee. The Andante: Fyodor Tyutchev ‘Just as the ocean cradles our earth’s orb’ opens with strings and flute before soprano Nelly Lee soon appears, serving to re-inforce Silvestrov’s underlying melodic strain in this impressive setting of Fyodor Tyutchev’s poem. Silvestrov finds much atmosphere in this poet’s vision with Nelly Lee proving to be a very fine soloist. There is a lovely gentle pulse to the writing as it makes its way to the still, gentle coda; a captivating piece that leads straight into the second movement.

The music picks up a little, rhythmically, in Animato: Alexander Blok ‘Over the swampy, empty meadow…’  where Silvestrov’s arrangement of his orchestration around the soloist is expertly done, thoroughly complimenting the soprano and adding to the text with subtle little points of sound. Lee’s feel for the text is wonderful.  

We go quickly into the purely instrumental third movement Andante that picks up wonderfully on the atmosphere of the preceding sections with a subtle forward pulse and some extremely fine orchestral writing, quite beautiful, percussion still subtly present creating the most lovely of sounds as the music leads quietly to the hushed coda.

In this cantata Silvestrov had developed an even finer integration of melody with his earlier style. The 1983 studio recording is excellent.

The performance of Meditation: Symphony for Cello and Orchestra (1972), the longest work here, comes from a live concert at the Lysenko Hall of Columns, State Philharmonic, Kiev, Ukraine in 1976 with the Kiev Chamber Orchestra and cellist Valentin Potapov.  Delicate percussion lead in before woodwind soon join, the brass giving a forward pulse. When the cello enters, it forms very much part of the orchestral texture, combining with the short phrases of the various instruments of the orchestra. There are lovely woodwind contributions with little melodic fragments appearing. A harpsichord is heard adding a little theme as the cello continues to provide distinctive textures that add a real depth to the instrumental texture. Soon the woodwind bring a lovely little melody, a descending theme, amidst the orchestral texture.  A little orchestral melody appears as Silvestrov provides distinctive little pulses of energy that continue to push the music forward.

The baroque style harpsichord tune is heard again contrasting with the cello and orchestra and there are a myriad of little motifs, sounds and themes appearing out of the tapestry. A sustained cello melody arrives, soon accompanied by a small string ensemble as the theme increases in agitation, out of which rise some attractive woodwind motifs. The music develops through some quite beautiful instrumental textures and flourishes with the harpsichord appearing again with its little baroque tune against strange sounds from the cello. Eventually the orchestra rises up with the cello; tubular bells sound before a flute theme appears over the cello and orchestra. Before the end the cello brings a long breathed melody over a quiet orchestra and tubular bells. The music becomes ever quieter, Silvestrov providing a lovely hushed tapestry of orchestral sound against which the cello, bells and harpsichord slowly play. A flute note appears and reoccurs in this lovely, long drawn coda with the harpsichord having the last word on a single note.

There is some audience noise in this live recording but not intrusive and of excellent quality overall.

Finally we have Silvestrov’s ‘Welt, leb wohl…!’ ‘Farewell, O World...!’ after the verses from the poem ‘A Dream’ by Taras Shevchenko from the vocal cycle ‘Silent Songs’ (No.5) for baritone and piano (1974-77) arranged and orchestrated for baritone and chamber orchestra by Igor Blazhkov (1991).

In this first rate 1991 studio recording from the Large Hall of Sound Recording Studios, Kiev, Ukraine, baritone Yuri Olijnik joins a chamber ensemble for this beautiful work where melody is to the fore. Olijnik brings a fine baritone voice with a distinctively written orchestral part making this a fine conclusion to a captivating disc.

This is beautifully constructed music with Valentin Silvestrov showing his fine ear for detail, colour, texture and with a subtle momentum and an underlying melodic core.

There are useful, informative booklet notes but unfortunately no texts.

Tuesday 24 February 2015

Red Priest’s new release Handel in the Wind brings their customary virtuosity, sense of humour and fine musicianship

Red Priest , comprising Piers Adams (recorders), Julia Bishop (violin), Angela East (cello) and David Wright (harpsichord) is probably the only early music group in the world to have been described by critics as ‘visionary and heretical’, ‘outrageous yet compulsive’, ‘wholly irreverent and highly enlightened’, ‘completely wild and deeply imaginative’, with a ‘red-hot wicked sense of humour’ and a ‘break-all-rules, rock-chamber concert approach to early music.

If you like your entertainment to include the upmost in virtuosity combined with energy and humour then do try to hear this ensemble live. If you can’t then a new release from Red Priest Recordings  entitled Handel in the Wind will give you a good idea of what to expect. I should point out to those not familiar with Red Priest that some purists may not be best pleased by these arrangements of much loved works. Nevertheless Red Priest bring great virtuosity and terrific musicianship to these arrangements.  


Red Priest begin their new disc with their own Suite from Handel’s The Messiah with the Overture receiving a syncopated opening before it races off with some of the most spectacularly virtuosic playing you are likely to hear from all these fine musicians, always full of fun yet thoroughly musical. Comfort ye opens with violin, cello and harpsichord before the recorder of Piers Adams enters. Even birdsong is included, before bringing the main theme which continues to be interspersed by trills as well as quieter passage for strings and harpsichord with Adams finding some fine textures from his instruments.  

Equally spectacular is Ev’ry valley, vibrant and full of the most virtuosic passages and decorations with terrific ensemble between these players. Shepherds & Angels, taking the music from Handel’s Pastoral Symphony (Pifa), rises up from a low recorder with an almost Arabic flavour before Handel’s theme appears. There are sudden changes of tempi with Adams changing recorder for And lo the angel of the Lord came upon them with the other players taking the theme. There is even a quote from Jesus Christ Superstar making this occasionally more a case of variations around Messiah.

Eternal Source of Light takes the music for A man of sorrows with a mellow recorder theme picked up by the cello with harpsichord accompaniment providing some exquisitely beautiful playing. The Jaws of Darkness actually threatens to bring the theme from Jaws before the cello bounces a dramatic rhythm with the others joining before slowing with some fine blends of sound in a lovely Handelian melody.

Lost with blindness is a remarkable variation on Handel’s The people that have walked in darkness with lighter, faster moments before being subjected to jazz variations. Jaws Returns forms a link with a short flourish from the soprano recorder to lead into The Recorder Shall Sound, Red Priest’s take on The trumpet shall sound bringing some phenomenal soprano recorder playing from Piers Adams with no less fine accompaniment from Julia Bishop, Angela East and David Wright. Adams’ articulation is breathtaking.

Despised & Rejected, an arrangement of A man of sorrows brings fine interplay between recorder and harpsichord before all these players weave the melody before leading to a fast and furious section. The music for the comically titled Siciliano Pedicuro is taken from Handel’s How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace and allows the cello and harpsichord to open solemnly before the violin joins showing just how fine these players are in this rather more conventional arrangement.

Piers Adams returns for a furious The Raging Nations (Why do the Nations so furiously rage) with more spectacularly fine playing from all and leading straight into
Breaking the Bonds (Let us break their bonds asunder) where each member of this terrific ensemble shows an equally fine virtuosity. The Potter’s Vessel (Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron) brings staccato phrases that slowly lead on to some fast and furious playing. What can I say about Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus given a jazz rhythm and some spectacularly humorous moments where one can’t help but laugh along with the players. Monty Python’s Always Look on the Bright side of Life appears as this over the top arrangement goes through some crazy variations, including a Hungarian Dance and the tune Happy Birthday. You really have to hear it to believe it.

Throughout this suite one can hear all of Handel’s melodies revealed through a variety of sensitive, virtuosic and often wild arrangements.

Next on this disc we then come to some more conventional Handel arrangements though not without their moments.

With Handel’s Lascia ch'io Pianga from Renaldo cello and harpsichord lead forward in a slow pace before the violin joins to weave a lovely melody. The Larghetto from Handel’s Trio Sonata in F major Op. 2 no.4 rises beautifully with Piers Adams’ recorder shining over these fine players, exquisitely done showing that behind all the showmanship these are first rate musicians of the highest calibre. The Vivace again highlights the tremendous virtuosity of these players whilst the Adagio brings some very fine, though unexpected flourishes, exquisitely done. The Alla breve is full of joy as it moves quickly ahead with a terrific conclusion before the
Allegro with an exaggerated rhythmic opening and some unexpected flourishes and interruptions of flow. Unconventional but very musical.

Red Priest’s arrangement of Handel’s The Harmonious Blacksmith Variations from his Keyboard Suite in E will delight and surprise in equal measure with these players giving the music a terrific lift. There are fine textures and the most lovely recorder phrases, speeding as the piece progresses with a hornpipe and vocal contribution before the terrific coda.

There is a mellow flowing Largo from Handel’s Concerto Grosso Op.3 no.2 out of which the violin rises, beautifully done whereas Handel’s Passacaglia from his Keyboard Suite in G minor has pizzicato strings and tapping of instruments before this piece develops with harpsichord joining, the strings weaving the melody as the recorder joins. A very fine arrangement brilliantly played that races to the coda in spectacular fashion.

Strings and harpsichord weave a lovely lead up to the main tune of Zadok the Red Priest based, of course, on Handel’s Zadok the Priest. The recorder takes the theme over the opening sounds of the strings before the Arrival of the Queen of Sheba from Handel’s Solomon races away in this great set of variations.

As an encore Red Priest include Handel’s Aria Amorosa from Trio Sonata Op.2 No.1 previously released on their Priests on the Run album. This is a pure delight as the pizzicato cello, beautifully mellow recorder and violin take the lovely melody underlined by the harpsichord.

Such is the feeling of spontaneity and enjoyment of these performances they have the feel of a live performance. The recording is first class and there are useful booklet notes.

If you wish to get to one of Red Priest’s concerts then click on the link to see where they are next appearing.

Sunday 22 February 2015

Jeremy Filsell plays his own transcriptions and arrangements for organ of music by Rachmaninov skilfully and sensitively, always at the service of the music on a new release from Signum Classics

Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943) was one of the finest pianists of his day, perhaps of all time. Certainly we are lucky to have an opportunity to hear his playing from the many recordings he made. As a composer his piano works certainly give an indication of their creator’s technique, especially their rhythmic qualities.

It is these rhythmic qualities that provide the biggest challenge for any transcription for the organ, something which Jeremy Filsell  has recognised in his transcriptions and arrangements recorded for Signum Records entitled Rachmaninov: Transcriptions and Arrangements for Organ. It helps immensely that Filsell is deeply immersed in Rachmaninov’s music and has performed the composer to some acclaim on his recording for Signum Classics (SIGCD230).


The only other recording I have come across of a transcription of Rachmaninov is of his tone poem The Isle of the Dead, op. 29 transcribed by Axel Langmann and issued by Oehms Classics.

For his recording Jeremy Filsell plays the Fred J. Cooper Memorial Organ: Dobson Opus 76  in the Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, Philadelphia, USA. This huge organ, work on which commenced in 2001, was not completed until 2005.

Filsell opens his recital with a transcription of Rachmaninov’s Etude-Tableau, Op. 39, No. 9 which lends itself very well to the organ, sounding in this performance as though it could have been written for the instrument. At times it sounds quite modern with Jeremy Filsell making some fine choices of registration that add much colour and texture, necessary to compensate for the unavoidable loss of agility that the piano would provide, though played here with a great panache.

Filsell refers to his arrangement of the Variations on a Theme of Corelli, Op. 42 as a re-realization, acknowledging the difficulties in playing the work on an organ.

It opens with a quiet, simply presented theme that Filsell slowly and gently develops with some lovely counterpoint. Filsell cleverly uses certain stops to give little details and some captivating sounds. When the organ sounds out more loudly and rhythmically there is some terrific playing, the music taking on a whole character in this guise. Often the theme is given over to the pedals creating a sense of tension. Overall this organist shows just how the music can gain in colours and textures that offset the loss of that ultimate rhythmic clarity, though that is not to say that Filsell doesn’t bring a fine clarity and dexterity.  At times he shows how this organ can really roar, bringing a terrific, dynamic presence as well as some beautiful flourishes, light and transparent of texture.  In moments of serene repose Filsell often finds some attractive use of stops in Rachmaninov’s little decorative details. Rachmaninov’s harmonies towards the coda are especially well done, quite beautiful.

Rachmaninov’s early Fugue (1891) sits extremely well with the organ as such a work might be expected to do. It is allowed a natural flow, a rise centrally, falling to the coda in this very finely done transcription and performance.

There is an exquisitely done Prelude, Op. 32: No. 11 in B major that speaks, though through a different medium, as eloquently as ever in this subtly written transcription.

The much recorded and transcribed Vocalise, Op. 34, No. 14 is here transcribed for organ by Nigel Potts. It does tend to have its edges smoothed off somewhat, as opposed to say the cello transcription and the original for soprano, but Filsell’s sensitivity to colour and texture maintains an attractive melodic outpouring.

I believe Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances, Op. 45 to be his finest work. His own arrangement for two pianos can also reveal some terrific aspects of the music and is enjoyable in its own right. Nevertheless, a transcription for organ is likely to be quite a challenge.

Here the Non allegro gets off to a fine start with Filsell and the Dobson organ providing a terrific impact, never taken too fast or too loud but with a fine weight. As the music develops Filsell finds many fine colours and textures, building the drama and excitement brilliantly with lovely, well-judged harmonies in the quieter central section, never losing Rachmaninov’s reflective, melancholic side, rather illuminating it. Filsell never loses anything of the orchestral original’s thrust and dynamism as we are led back to the opening theme and a beautifully done coda where the Dies Irae that permeates so much of this work, appears.

The Andante con moto (Tempo di valse) has some lovely flourishes with a fine choice of registrations. As the movement develops, one does miss the clarity and sheer rhythmic articulation that only an orchestra or two pianos can bring, though Filsell compensates so much by his terrific colours and textures, bringing some original sounds to the music. Filsell knows just when to change registration to add the right effect, transparency or weight. The very fine coda is perfectly judged.

The marking for the final movement marked Lento assai - Allegro vivace - Lento assai - Come prima - Allegro Vivace indicates just what Jeremy Filsell was up against in arranging this movement. Yet he opens with a finely built drama again with the most carefully chosen registrations. As the rhythmic tension builds, he rises to the challenge brilliantly with some exceptionally fine playing, terrific articulation and phrasing. There is a beautifully return to the lento and some tremendous surges of power as the music slowly rises, impressively as the opening theme returns. Filsell brings so many different tones, textures and colours swirling out of the music, building tremendously to the moment when the Dies Irae appears in its full glory before leading to a terrific coda with a fine flourish.

I enjoyed this disc immensely and am particularly glad to have heard the Symphonic Dances played so skilfully and sensitively by this fine musician. Jeremy Filsell could not do a finer job with these arrangements even if the originals will always be preferred. He is never merely showy, but always at the service of the music. 

He receives a first rate recording that gives the organ space to reveal its wide dynamic range but retains an impact and detail. There are interesting booklet notes from the organist as well as full organ specifications. 

Friday 20 February 2015

Audite’s use of original master tapes in their Lucerne Festival series brings impressive results in archive recordings of Pierre Fournier giving captivating performances of concertos by Dvořák and Saint-Saëns

In cooperation with the Lucerne Festival, Audite  has already brought us a number of outstanding concert recordings of noted festival artists. The aim of this edition is to make available treasures, most of them previously unavailable, from the first six decades of the Festival, which began in 1938 with a ‘Concert de Gala’ led by Arturo Toscanini. The sound documents are taken from the archives of SRF Swiss Radio and Television, which has regularly broadcast the Lucerne concerts from the very beginning. They have been acoustically restored with great care and supplemented by materials and photos from the Lucerne Festival.

The latest release in this series from Audite  features the great cellist Pierre Fournier playing the Dvořák Cello Concerto and Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto No. 1.

For Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in B minor, Op.104 Pierre Fournier was joined by the newly formed Swiss Festival Orchestra conducted by the legendary István Kertész, a formidable Dvořák conductor. Kertész builds the opening of the Allegro wonderfully showing what we can expect from this remarkably fine orchestra. There is authority, fine orchestral control as well as care for dynamics and phrasing. When Fournier enters there is an equal authority, though more subtle and full of character. There is a terrific emotional pull with this cellist finding so many shades of emotion, revealing so many colours and textures.  There is a natural precision between soloist and orchestra.  Kertész brings some lovely orchestral passages and there is some phenomenal playing from Fournier in the more virtuosic passages, alive to all the moods and emotions of Dvořák’s muse.

If Fournier delved deep in the allegro, he goes even deeper in the Adagio, ma non troppo often balancing great emotion with a lighter Czech sensibility aided so much by Kertész’s fine, idiomatic accompaniment. Instrumental phrases such as woodwind have a fine clarity and later there are some particularly lovely timbres from Fournier in the little solo passages, such a fine rich texture before an exquisite coda.

I love the rhythmic precision with which Kertész paces the opening of the Finale. Allegro moderato, soon building in drama. Fournier magnificently rises to the power of Kertész’s orchestral sound, forging a drama that sits well against this conductor’s dramatic vision. Yet it is in the more sensitive passages that this cellist achieves some of his most exquisite playing. The coda is glorious.

Fournier digs deeper in the Dvořák than many other cellists bringing us one of the finest performances now on record. Even before hearing the Saint Saëns concerto I had decided that this is a Dvořák to put alongside the best on my shelves.

The cellist is not quite set as forward as one might expect but set in a natural concert hall setting in very good stereo sound from 1967. The live recording has very little audience noise, just an occasional rustle in the intervals. Applause is excised.

For the Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto No.1 in A minor, Op.33 Fournier is joined by another French musical legend, Jean Martinon who conducts the Orchestre Philharmonique de la RTF. The soloist is set more prominently in this mono recording from 1962. Fournier really makes the Allegro non troppo with top notch support from Jean Martinon and the orchestra who provide such a fine orchestral sweep. Fournier finds so many lovely moments of repose to reveal the most exquisite and textures and colours.

The Allegretto con moto brings some beautifully delicate, finely shaded orchestral playing. When he enters Fournier brings an equally fine sensibility with such light textured bowing and, – towards the coda, the loveliest of rich textures.  

Martinon brings some fine playing as the Tempo primo arrives with Fournier irresistible in Saint Saëns’ lovely melody.  There are some terrific faster passages with the fleetest playing from soloist and orchestra. Later there are more lovely rich, deep sonorities from this cellist revealing some lovely colours. As Fournier rises to the higher register towards the end he is exquisite.

This is a captivating performance in good quality mono sound. The applause is kept in at the end.

As a final jewel we have a recording from a concert in 1976 where Pierre Fournier plays Pablo Casals’ El cant dels ocells preceded by a dedicatory announcement in French by the cellist. He is joined by the Festival Strings Lucerne conducted by Matthias Bamert as they give a most touching and exquisite performance in excellent stereo sound, a fine tribute for the centenary that year of Casals’ birth. This is a beautiful and fitting conclusion to this disc.

Audite’s use of original master tapes brings impressive results that, combined with the most captivating of performances, makes this new release a must for all admirers of Pierre Fournier and, indeed, this repertoire.

Thursday 19 February 2015

A fascinating look at Schubert’s great song cycle Winterreise as seen by Liszt in a very fine performance indeed from pianist Els Biesemans on a new release from Genuin Classics

Franz Schubert’s great song cycle for voice and piano Winterreise (Winter Journey) D. 911 is a setting of twenty poems by the German poet Johann Ludwig Wilhelm Müller (1794-1827) Composed in two parts, each containing twelve songs, the first part was written in February 1827 and the second in October 1827. This song cycle came at the end of his life when he was in a very low state, both physically and mentally, and represents some of the most profound music that Schubert wrote.

With Winterreise, Schubert raised the importance of the pianist to a role equal to that of the singer so perhaps it is not surprising that Franz Liszt chose to transcribe some of them for solo piano alone.

A new release from Genuin Classics  brings together a number of Liszt’s transcriptions of songs by Schubert, Mendelssohn and Chopin that includes Winterreise. They are performed by Els Biesemans on an 1835 Aloys Biber fortepiano.
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Els Biesemans was born in Antwerp and has performed on a number of different keyboard instruments, the clavichord, fortepiano, modern concert grand piano, harpsichord, and organ in most European countries, Japan, Canada and the US.

She received a Master’s degree in music performance majoring in piano, organ and chamber music at the Lemmens Institute in Leuven, Belgium. She subsequently completed advanced studies in fortepiano with Jesper Christensen and organ with Andrea Marcon and Wolfgang Zerer at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Basel, Switzerland. She has won prizes at well-known international competitions in Vilnius, Tokyo, Prague, Paris, and Montreal. In August 2012 she took First Prize in the international Arp-Schnitger Competition.

She has symphonic organ repertoire by Belgian and French composers as well as the complete works for organ by Maurice Duruflé on the Animato and Et‘cetera labels. Her recording on fortepiano entitled ‘The Year’ featuring works by Fanny Hensel-Mendelssohn has been released on the Genuin label. Els Biesemans has appeared in concert as a soloist with various chamber orchestras and performed the complete works for organ by Johann Sebastian Bach in nineteen recitals. Since 2010 she has performed at, and has also been the Artistic Director of, the recital series at the Reformed Church in Zürich-Wiedikon. In addition to pursuing a career as a solo artist, she also gives master classes and often serves on the jury of international music competitions.

Between 1837 and 1838, Liszt transcribed a cycle of twelve songs by Schubert as his 12 Lieder von Schubert, S558. Of these Els Biesemans gives us No. 2. Auf dem Wasser zu singen (Schubert’s D.774). She produces a fine singing tone, her instrument providing much of Schubert’s natural melodic, vocal line. The Aloys Biber fortepiano evokes an intimate atmosphere as does the recording.

The real test of transcription comes with Schubert’s sublime Winterreise, D. 911 where Liszt chose twelve of the songs as his 12 Lieder aus Fr. Schubert’s Winterresise, S561. Liszt did not choose to arrange these songs in the order that they appear in Schubert’s cycle.

A chill note is brought to No. 1. Gute Nacht (Good Night), this pianist finding much delicacy and feeling. Of course one does miss the full emotional pull of the human voice, but within the strictures of these transcriptions Els Biesemans finds much subtle emotion. No. 2. Die Nebensonnen (The Weathervane) is particularly fine, with much pathos as the lover rejects the sun and decides he would be happier in darkness. Here the importance of Schubert’s original piano part is shown in how effective this transcription is, this fortepianist gradually drawing greater emotion.

No. 3. Mut! (Courage) brings more optimistic vein, though in this transcription and performance we can perhaps hear Schubert’s reticence. No. 4. Die Post (The Post) has a lovely rhythmic pulse with the right hand taking the singing line. This artist draws much variety of mood from this fine old instrument.

No. 5. Erstarrung (Frozen Stiff) is beautifully played, overcoming Liszt’s added melodrama. As the piece is developed there is much poetry and sensibility as well as some fine fluid passages. There is a lovely withdrawn atmosphere to No. 6. Wasserflut (Flood) with Biesemans drawing much feeling, finely phrased and paced.

No. 7. Der Lindenbaum (The Linden Tree) has an opening that promises a happier turn but as the poet turns away from the solace and peace offered by the Linden Tree a chill is found with Biesemans holding the structure together very finely, developing some extremely fine passages. The tragic, lonely figure of The Hurdy-Gurdy Man, No. 8. Der Leiermann, is heard through the droning sound of the hurdy-gurdy as this pianist picks out the subtle little tunes over the repeated drone, finding so much of Schubert’s tragedy.

With No. 9. Täuschung (Deception/Delusion) this fortepianist brings out the distant, unattainable happiness of the dance theme, perhaps Schubert looking at his own social whirl from outside. No. 10. Liszt highlights the strange, subtle mood changes of Das Wirtshaus (The Inn) as does Biesemans to fine effect with some wonderfully fluent playing.

There is terrific phrasing and rhythmic changes in the brief and stormy No. 11. Der stürmische Morgen (The Stormy Morning) before No. 12. Im Dorfe (In the Village) where Els Biesemans finds all the fleeting moods in this very effective transcription, with some really fiery playing towards the coda.

This is a fascinating look at Schubert’s great song cycle through the eyes and ears of Liszt in a very fine performance indeed.

In 1840 Liszt turned his attention to Mendelssohn with his Seven Lieder from Mendelssohn, (Op, 19a, 34, 47), S547. These songs are well chosen by Liszt with
Frühlingslied (Spring Song) (from Op. 47, No. 3) having many fine touches. Els Biesemans provides some very fine, fluent playing, full of detail, fluidity and transparency, this instrument proving to be a fine vehicle for this repertoire with some beautifully delicate phrases.

Reiselied (Travel Song) (from Op. 34, No. 6) is brilliantly realised by this pianist with some very fine moments, beautifully controlled and with a subtle coda. Suleika (from Op. 34, No. 4) has a lovely flow with a certain wistfulness well caught here and a wonderfully wrought coda.

Auf Flügeln des Gesanges (On Wings of Song) (from Op. 34, No. 2) is possibly the best known song here and works exceptionally well for solo piano with this fortepianist bringing a lovely gentle flow as well as a subtle nostalgia. The lively Neue Liebe (New Love) (from Op. 19a, No. 4) receives a very fine performance, full of life and sparkle, Els Biesemans extracting many fine textures and colours from her instrument as well as some  tremendous articulation.

We move forward to 1847–60 for Liszt’s transcription of Chopin songs, his Six Chants polonaise of Frédéric Chopin, Op. 74, S.480. Els Biesemans brings a lovely rippling opening to No. 1. Mädchens Wünsch (Życzenie – The Wish) with more fine fluent playing, so well phrased and paced. This is a lovely transcription.

The gentle No. 2. Frühling (Wiosna, Spring) is another example of how finely this pianist reveals the gentle subtleties of a piece. No. 3. Das Ringlein (No. 14: Pierścień – The Ring) brings all of Chopin’s lovely rhythms revealing this to be a transcription that works exceptionally well.

There are some terrific flourishes in No. 4. Bacchanal (Hulanka, Merrymaking) full of panache before No. 5. Mein Freuden (Moja pieszczotka, My Darling) – Nocturne a most beautiful piece, very Chopinesque even, with Liszt’s decorations and added dramatic turns finely revealed here. Finally we have Die Heimkehr (Narzeczony, Homecoming) with this pianist whipping up quite a Lisztian storm.

Finally Els Biesemans gives us Liszt’s own Liebesträume, S541: No. 3. Nocturne in A-Flat Major ‘O lieb’ so lang du lieben kannst’ pure Lisztian beauty, with a fine rubato, rising to a lovely climax, with this pianist delivering a lovely clarity and texture.

The recording is extremely good and Els Biesemans provides the excellent booklet notes on the music and the instrument. There are also the original song texts given in German.

Tuesday 17 February 2015

Terrific performances from violinist Hideko Udagawa on two releases from Nimbus that include the Brahms and Bruch concertos with Sir Charles Mackerras and rare 18th century concertos

The violinist Hideko Udagawa studied with Nathan Milstein in London and at the Juilliard School in New York. After living in Tokyo and New York she now resides in London. Udagawa made her orchestral debut in London with the London Symphony Orchestra under Sir Charles Mackerras, playing Bruch's G minor concerto at the Barbican Hall.

Highlights from her other engagements include performances with the Philharmonia under Leonard Slatkin, Royal Philharmonic under Paavo Jarvi, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic under Marek Janowski, City of Birmingham Symphony under Okko Kamu, London Mozart Players under Matthias Bamert, Russian National under Paavo Berglund, Moscow Philharmonic under Fedor Glushchenko, as well as the English Chamber, National Symphony and Bavarian Radio orchestras.

In addition to live performances, Udagawa has made a number of recordings which draw on her wide-ranging repertoire of over forty concerti. Her CD of works by Aram Khachaturian with the pianist Boris Berezovsky, for Koch International, includes seven world première recordings and her recent CD of works by Rachmaninov with the pianist Konstantin Lifschitz, for Signum Records, is the first ever collection of this popular composer's works for violin and piano and includes previously unrecorded pieces.

Her recent CD with the Philharmonia Orchestra, released by Signum Records in 2010, includes premiere recordings of works for violin and orchestra by Joachim and Ysaye. This was issued to coincide with her recital in Cadogan Hall and was chosen as Presenter's Choice by Classic FM Magazine. In Autumn 2011 she recorded Khachaturian’s Concerto Rhapsody and Liapunov’s Concerto with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for Signum Records. 

Nimbus Records  have recently released Hideko Udagawa’s 1989 recording of the Bruch and Brahms Violin Concertos with London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras and this month (February 2015) will release a brand new disc entitled Baroque Inspirations that features a number of 18th Century Concertos. Here Udagawa is joined by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra  conducted by Nicholas Kraemer

The first of these two discs gives us the opportunity to hear this fine violinist accompanied by one of the greatest of conductors, the late Sir Charles Mackerras.

NI 6270

With the orchestral opening of the Allegro non Troppo of Brahms’ Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D major, Op.77 Mackerras brings all the authority and strength you would expect and when Udagawa enters she brings a tremendous power and presence. As the movement progresses she provides some exquisite ‘singing’ passages as well as lovely legato playing, interspersed by some terrific fiery passages into which she really throws herself.  Udagawa, Mackerras and the orchestra bring some fine interplay as well as moments of lovely hushed beauty.  There are many moments that shed new light on this much performed concerto with both the soloist and orchestra alive to all of Brahms’ moods. There is a very fine cadenza before we are led into a quite lovely, gentle passage as the orchestra joins for the coda.

The Adagio has a beautifully played, chamber like opening for winds. When Udagawa enters she weaves a lovely flowing line with a lovely freedom as she finds every detail and nuance. There is a terrific, incisive opening to the Allegro giocoso from Udagawa, with the London Symphony Orchestra providing some thrilling accompaniment. This violinist’s flowing, seamless forward moving line is rather special and there is more fine interplay between soloist and orchestra as the movement progresses, picking up the tension as the music leads to a very fine coda.

There is a lovely opening before the music takes off in the Allegro moderato of Bruch’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No.1 in G minor, Op.26 a true allegro moderato tempo with Udagawa bringing some fine sonorities. There is a fine weight and assurance from Mackerras and the LSO. Soon Udagawa’s beautiful singing tone is to the fore, absolutely exquisite before an extended, fiery passage for the orchestra where the LSO provide terrific playing showing them to be on top form under the inspired direction of Mackerras. When the soloist enters there is some terrific, virtuosic playing and as Bruch’s fine melody breaks forth, we are led into the second movement.

The Adagio is superbly done, this violinist providing a lovely subtle rubato and so many fine hushed details. As the music moves on Udagawa’s lovely flowing, legato playing is revealed again. There are some fine orchestral details heard with fine care of tempi and dynamics before the climax is reached and we move to the gentle coda.

The Finale. Allegro energico brings much fine playing from both Udagawa and the LSO under Mackerras who make a fine team, taut and with a perfect understanding. Udagawa lifts every bar, finding something fresh to say with nothing ever routine.

These works are never used as vehicles for mere virtuosity and show by these artists. Hideko Udagawa can really make her violin sing in these very fine performances where she is given first class support from Mackerras and the orchestra.

The recording made at the Henry Hall, London in 1989 has a little top edge to it but is well balanced and clear. Regardless here are two terrific performances. There are informative booklet notes.

The other release featuring Hideko Udagawa and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Kraemer, Baroque Inspirations, contains no fewer than three world premiere recordings.

NI 6299
Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770) is supposed to have had a dream where the devil stood at the end of his bed playing a sequence of double stopped trills on the composer’s own violin. Though he could remember none of the music played he nevertheless wrote his own Sonata in G minor ‘Devils Trill’ for solo violin. Here Hideko Udagawa, in the absence of Tartini’s autograph score, plays the sonata solo in the edition by Jean Baptiste Cartier (Paris, 1798).

The exceptionally clear and detailed recording made at St. Judes, Hampstead, London in May 2014 shows Hideko Udagawa’s fine technique to the full. She finds the lovely gentle rhythm that underlines the opening of this work, providing lovely textures and tone. When the pace quickens there is some very fine playing with superb accuracy and dexterity. In the third movement she handles the rhythmic changes superbly with some fine textures. There is such care and thought throughout with beautifully broad, resonant passages.

Hideko Udagawa found Antonio Vivaldi’s (1678-1741) Prelude for solo violin ‘Andante in C minor’ in a Russian edition. This premiere recorded performance is beautifully paced and phrased, allowing the natural spring or pulse in the music to propel it forward with more fine tone and textures.

The third world premiere recording is of Karl Stamitz’s (1745-1801) Concerto in B flat for violin and orchestra for which Nicholas Kraemer and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra join. This recording made in the Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, Scotland, is slightly closer, yet detailed and finely balanced. There is a very attractive Allegro from which Udagawa draws many attractive details with fine support from Nicholas Kraemer and his players with some beautifully shaped orchestral phrases.  This violinist’s lovely tone and flow add so much and there is a particularly attractive cadenza just before the coda.

The gently flowing Adagio brings Udagawa’s flow and singing tone showing this movement at its best before a solo passage where the soloist weaves a lovely flowing theme. The rhythmically buoyant Rondo has a lively, fun theme, full of simplicity. This is not a great concerto by any standards but very attractive especially in a performance such as this that lifts it above what it might otherwise be.

The great violinist Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962) was quite prolific as a composer in a lighter vein. His Concerto in C for violin and orchestra in the style of Antonio Vivaldi was written in 1927 and opens with an Allegro that has a lively, rather English sounding string theme. It is only when Udagawa enters does the violinistic style of Vivaldi appear with an attractive, catchy theme beautifully played by this violinist with fine rhythmic bounce. There is a lovely buoyant Andante doloroso to which Udagawa adds her lovely tone in a beautifully shaped reading.  The Allegro assai flies away full of energy, with a lightness of touch. This is lightweight but great fun, something that these players pick up on before leading to a lovely baroque style coda.

Despite its lightweight character and occasional weak moments in the writing this is an attractive novelty, brilliantly played.

For me Tomasso Vital’s (1663-1745) Chaconne in G minor for violin and orchestra is the real revelation on this disc. It has a rich opening for lower strings, slowly rising as the soloist enters with a very fine theme. There are some lovely details and inflections from Hideko Udagawa as well as a fine rubato. Again it is Udagawa’s feel for the longer line that provides so much pleasure. As the tempo picks up, the music is full of lovely textures and timbres finely revealed by this soloist. Later the music broadens again and there is much variety and interest as it changes in rhythm, dynamics and tempo.

This is a remarkably fine work brilliantly played by Hideko Udagawa, Nicholas Kraemer and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

This is a fascinating collection of works that receive terrific performances. There are informative booklet notes.

Monday 16 February 2015

Cellist Emmanuelle Bertrand and pianist Pascal Amoyel give very fine performances of the works Chopin wrote during his last summer at Nohant on a new release from Harmonia Mundi that should not to be missed

Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) met the writer George Sand (Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin), in1836, at the home of Franz Liszt and Marie d'Agoult. He was 26 years old and she 32. She had married François Casimir Dudevant (1795–1871), the illegitimate son of Baron Jean-François Dudevant, in 1822. They had two children, Maurice (1823–1889) and Solange (1828–1899). Something of a free spirit, in early 1831, she left her husband, having many liaisons including a tempestuous affair with writer and poet Alfred de Musset (1810-1857). In 1835, she was legally separated from Dudevant and took her children with her.

George Sand spent her childhood and adolescence at the family house in Nohant in the province of Berry south of the Loire Valley in France. The house lies in a region of gentle hills with wooded hilltops. Dating from the late eighteenth century it was built for the governor of Vierzon and acquired in 1793 by Madame Dupin de Francueil, the grandmother of George Sand. Most of her writing was done at the house which she had inherited from her grandmother. There she received guests such as Liszt and Marie d'Agoult, Honoré de Balzac, Chopin and Flaubert. The painter Eugène Delacroix had a studio there. The estate is today a property of the nation and run by the Centre des monuments nationaux. .

Sand and Chopin spent long summers there from 1839 to 1846 and it was at Nohant that the composer wrote many of his works. It was to Nohant that Sand and Chopin went after their ill-fated trip to Majorca where they experienced appalling weather and Chopin’s tuberculosis worsened.

The relationship between Chopin and Sand, always volatile, broke down following an argument concerning Sand’s daughter, Solange, Chopin’s favourite of Sand’s two children. There is much speculation over the exact cause but it certainly related to the 18 year old daughter’s choice between two suitors. Chopin died two years later, on October 17, 1849, in Paris. George Sand died June 8, 1876 and is buried in the family cemetery in the grounds of the château.

It is the music written during Chopin’s last summer at Nohant in 1846 that is the focus of a new release from Harmonia Mundi  with cellist Emmanuelle Bertrand  and pianist Pascal Amoyel .

HMC 902199
Pascal Amoyel brings a lovely sensibility to Chopin’s Barcarolle in F sharp major, Op. 60 with lovely shaping of phrases and just the right tempo, a kind of gentle rocking motion. He has a fine touch providing some lovely limpid, silken phrases and fine textures with many shades and colours.  

There are many fine details in the B major Mazurka No. 1 of the Three Mazurkas, Op.63. No. 2 in F minor brings a calmer rhythmic pulse, gentle yet beautifully projected forward with No. 3 in C sharp minor beautifully poised yet finding the subtle rhythmic forward pulse.

Cellist Emmanuelle Bertrand joins Pascal Amoyel for the Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op.65 with a beautifully restrained Allegro Moderato that has a fine natural balance between the two instruments. Emmanuelle Bertrand slowly pulls more power from the music, both these artists finding many subtleties with this cellist providing some fine textures and timbres as the movement progresses. Midway there is a magical moment as the music pauses with gentle phrases from the piano before the cello gently enters; a quite lovely section. Later both of these artists bring a terrific sweep and breadth with some very fine moments from Amoyel. These two make a terrific duo, both bringing a real passion to this music.

The Scherzo: Allegro Con Brio brings some fine interplay between these artists with terrific control, rubato and sense of rhythmic subtly. At times these two players bring a lovely singing quality to the music. Emmanuelle Bertrand brings the most exquisite, deep rich, glowing textures to the Largo, glorious playing, with Amoyel providing a gently supportive flow: superb.

There is a wonderfully characterised Finale: Allegro with lovely sonorous double stopping from this cellist against some superbly fluent phrases from Amoyel.  Bertrand provides some beautifully chosen rubato before these players move swiftly and deftly to the coda. A performance that makes one want to stand and applaud.

Pascal Amoyel returns for Chopin’s Waltzes, Op.64 with No. in D flat major, the famous Minute Waltz receiving a finely fluent yet clearly considered performance with this pianist never missing a detail or nuance. There is a beautifully poised performance of No. 2 in C sharp minor with Amoyel finding just the right rhythmic pulse and fine care of dynamics, not to mention a subtle, gentle rubato. No. 3 in A flat major finds Amoyel again, setting just right the tempo and pulse with the subtlest and gentlest of rubato. Really lovely.

Amoyel reveals all the strange little phrases and intervals in the Mazurka Op. 67, No. 4 in A minor with halting gentle rhythms that are just right, creating an uncertain feel.

Finally we come to the Two Nocturnes, Op.62 with No. 1 in B major receiving such fluent, delicate exquisite playing. There is something that is indefinable that makes this very fine Chopin playing indeed. Amoyel brings a kind of improvisatory yet wholly thought out approach making phrases seem unexpected.  With No. 2 in E major, again Amoyel reveals just what is so special in these late works. There is a thoughtfulness, the most wonderful twists and turns, all beautifully laid out in playing of such fine sensitivity, fluency and style. After the quieter, beautifully conceived coda it was difficult to break the spell.

These performances are very fine indeed. Had I attended a recital of this quality I would have gone away thrilled. As it is one can return to it as often as one wishes. This is a release not to be missed.

These two fine artists are recorded in a lovely acoustic with just the right amount of air around the instruments, very clear and detailed with a lovely piano tone. There are excellent booklet notes with a reproduction of Delacroix’s painting of the garden at Nohant on the cover just to complete this fine issue.

Sunday 15 February 2015

Voices 16, from the Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir, show a tremendous versatility in a varied yet totally cohesive concert for Atoll Records that creates some especially fine atmospheric moments

Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir was formed in 1998 with Dr Karen Grylls as its Music Director . As a nationally selected choir of the highest calibre, Voices NZ is a chamber choir that is flexible in size and capable of performing a wide repertoire. Many of the singers are alumni of the New Zealand Youth Choir.

The choir made its début at the 1998 New Zealand International Arts Festival in a recital with the New Zealand Chamber Orchestra and Keith Lewis. Later that year it won gold and silver awards at the Tolosa International Choral Competition in the Basque region of Spain.

Since then the choir have collaborated with the prestigious Aradia Ensemble from Canada, resulting in the completion of a world premiere recording of the Vanhal Masses for Naxos, participated in the Otago Festival of the Arts, and concluded the year by recording a CD which features New Zealand repertoire and composers, winning the Best Classical Album at the 2006 NZ Music Awards and represented New Zealand at the 9th International Chamber Choir Competition in Marktoberdorf, Germany.

In 2010 Voices NZ joined several other choirs and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra in a performance of Mahler's Symphony No 8, conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy. In August 2011 Voices NZ was one of the 24 international choirs appearing at the 9th World Symposium on Choral Music in Puerto Madryn in Argentina.  In 2013 Voices NZ joined the NZ Youth Choir for acclaimed performances in the Auckland Arts Festival for concerts celebrating the centenary of Benjamin Britten.

The Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir has recently released a recording for Atoll  entitled Voice of the Soul. As a flexible choir of between 16 and 32 voices, on this new recording they are shown as Voices 16 from the Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir.

ACD 213
This new disc features Taonga pūoro, traditional Māori instruments, alongside the choir in a repertoire that ranges from Hildegard von Bingen to contemporary works as well as traditional Māori instrumental interludes that are intended to act as a kind of promenade for the listener walking around a gallery of musical sensations.

Hildegard von Bingen’s O Viridissima Virga opens with the striking, deep hollow sound of the Pukaea, a type of wooden trumpet, resonating as the voices enter with Hildegard’s timeless choral sound floating above the background of the instrument. Soon the choral part fills out as the male voices add Maori texts and the sound of the Putorino, a Māori instrument that can act as a trumpet or flute, joins creating a strange and lovely texture. Beautifully done.

David Childs’ (b. 1969) Salve Regina (1998) rises up with this choir providing a lovely blend of voices, pure yet with a robustness. There are some fine, accurate staccato phrases as well as contrasting textures between different sections of the choir to lovely effect. This is beautifully written and sung.

The first interlude features the traditional Maori Pukaea again providing some earthy sonorities that are so evocative.

Morten Lauridsen’s (b.1943) Six Fire Madrigals opens with Oc'e, Lass'll Bel Viso presented in a slightly declamatory style before a flow is developed, these singers fully able to move naturally from the intense to flowing character of the music with some inspired static moments. Quando Son Piu Lontan has a gentler nature, an exquisite setting of a madrigal text with this choir weaving a superb tapestry. The upbeat Amor, Lo Sento L'alma shows this choir’s terrific vocal agility, terrific accuracy whereas Io Piango reveals some fine harmonies, superbly done by Voices 16, rising in drama before falling back to a gentler nature with some fine vocal control and sensitivity. Lui Serene E Chiare brings more fine harmonies with a theme that would test any choir with its wide intervals, very finely sung here. The more reflective Se Per Havervi Oime has some lovely little decorations beautifully and subtly done.

The second interlude brings the strange wind sounds of the Purerehua, a bullroarer, to which a plaintive wind melody is added leading into the next work, Helen Fisher’s (b.1942)  Pounamu. The choir enter over the Maori Kōauau tia, a small flute, bringing a lovely texture that slowly opens out with some beautiful sounds. There is some lovely use of voices and instruments as this composer develops different blends and harmonies. Another terrific piece.

The third interlude features the Poiawhiowhio, a musical instrument made by hollowing a gourd, drilling holes on either side and attaching a cord by which it can be swung around the head creating a whistling, chattering voice and a Karanga Manu that enables the player to mimic several kinds of bird calls. These two instruments bring the sounds of nature in this lovely link between works.

Christopher Marshall’s (b.1956)  Horizon I (Sea and Sky) rises out of the preceding instrumental interlude beautifully, with a gentle sway over which the text is sung is given.

Benjamin Britten’s (1913-1976) Five Flower Songs, Op.47 sit remarkably well along the other works on this disc. To Daffodils brings a lovely freshness of voice before they build some beautiful harmonies in The Succession of the Four Sweet Months, a lovely layering of voices. There is a buoyant Marsh Flowers with Voices 16 showing complete mastery of Britten’s difficult harmonies and intervals and The Evening Primrose where this choir brings a wonderful quality, perfectly blended, subtle harmonies, beautifully controlled. They bring superb accuracy and ensemble in the light hearted yet fiendishly difficult Ballad of Green Broom.

David Hamilton’s (b.1955) Karakia of the Stars opens with bell like timbres of the Tumutumu, a percussion instrument which can be made from various types of stone and other materials such as wood and bone. The voices gently enter with a fine sonority before a very fine solo soprano voice comes in over the choir.  Another soloist appears whilst, throughout, these two evocative instruments add to the texture. There is very fine singing from the choir in the unusual harmonies evoking the New Zealand landscape, rising centrally to a rich, powerful peak before falling when the Kōauau porutu, a long Koauau with finger holes near the bottom end giving it the ability to jump between two octaves, enters.
The choir rejoins with the Tumutumu reappearing with whispered voices as the music fades into the elements. The Purerehua returns with its whirling sounds making an evocative conclusion.

This terrific choir show a tremendous versatility in this varied yet totally cohesive concert that creates some especially fine atmospheric moments.

They receive an excellent recording made at the Kenneth Myer’s Centre, Auckland University, New Zealand. There are informative notes though some more information about the traditional Maori instruments would have been welcome, though some of instruments used are illustrated.