Thursday 26 March 2015

A first rate disc from Harmonia Mundi of Lalande’s Leçons de Ténèbres, featuring soprano Sophie Karthäuser with Ensemble Correspondances directed by Sébastien Daucé, comes just in time for Easter but will provide much pleasure all year round

Although better known as the leading composer of late Baroque grands motets, writing over seventy such compositions, Michel-Richard de Lalande’s (1657-1726) posts at the Musique de la Chambre du Roi led him to compose smaller scale compositions such as his Leçons de Ténèbres. Written for use during Holy Week they conformed to the guidelines of sobriety and restraint expected by the Church.

A new release from Harmonia Mundi brings his III Leçons de Ténèbres et le Miserere a voix seule (Ténèbre lessons and Miserere for single voice), published in 1730 after the composer’s death, performed by Ensemble Correspondances  and directed by Sébastien Daucé  with soprano Sophie Karthäuser

HMC 902206

Ensemble Correspondances is a suitably small ensemble consisting of harpsichord, two bass viols, theorbo, lute and organ. The choir, used selectively in certain parts of the work, consists of six sopranos and three mezzo-sopranos.

The published score of Lalande’s Leçons de Ténèbres does not give a complete cycle of Leçons, only the third for each of the holy days, Holy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

This recording opens with the antiphon, O Mors (O death) where the choir take the part that would have been sung by nuns, bringing some lovely sonorities.  

Lalande’s Miserere follows with the instrumentalists of Ensemble Correspondances bringing fine rich textures to the opening of Miserere mei Deus - before the pure soprano voice of Sophie Karthäuser joins. The choir alone enters to sing Et secundum multitudinem miserationem tuarum. Karthäuser brings a fine forward moving Amplius lava me with lovely accompaniment from the instrumentalists before the choir returns for the lovely chant, Tibi soli peccavi.

This soprano shows her beautifully controlled and refined voice in Ecce enim in iniquitatibus.  When the choir enters with instrumentalists and soprano for Ecce enim veritatem dilexisti they receive a beautifully sensitive, subtle accompaniment from the organ played here by the director, Sébastien Daucé. Asperges me hyssopo brings some very fine instrumental sounds that complement the soprano extremely well. She has a superbly flexible voice, flowing effortlessly forward with some very lovely long held phrases, before the choir joins bringing mellifluous singing to Averte faciem tuam.

As the soprano pleads Cor mundumcrea in me, Deus (Create in me a clear heart) she brings much feeling with her lovely voice, so suitable to this repertoire. There are more fine sounds from the choir in Ne projicias me (Cast me not away) and the soprano displays fine control and flexibility as she sails through all the little decorations Redde mihi lætitiam before the choir responds in Docebo iniquos vias tuas bringing some lovely textures and layering of voices.

The varying rhythms and tempi of Libera me de sanguinibus are expertly handled by this soprano and instrumentalists with fine decorations before Quoniam si voluisses sacrificium where the choir bring many lovely subtleties of tone. Sophie Karthäuser brings a fine sensibility to Sacrificium Deo Spiritus Contribulatus before the choir sings Benigne Fac Domine. Tunc acceptabis has fine rhythmic bounce as this soprano brings more fine flexibility as the Miserere concludes.

The responsorium Tristis est anima mea (My soul is sorrowful) that follows is simply and gently sung by the choir with fine restraint sounding just right in the fine acoustic of La Courroie, Entraigues-sur-la-Sorgue, France.

With the III Leçons de Ténèbres each verse of the text, excepting the Third lesson for Good Friday, is introduced by a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, elaborately ornamented to contrast with the text that follows. 

With Troisième Leçon du Mercredy saint (Third lesson for Holy Wednesday) soprano Sophie Karthäuser opens Jod. Manum suam misit hostis with a gentle instrumental accompaniment, the Hebrew letter Jod decorated, but in a very gentle manner, before picking up tempo with more finely decorated passages.

There is a lovely pathos to Caph. Omnis populus ejus before Vide Domine that has a vibrant opening before pathos is again allowed to creep in.  The brief Lamed brings some particularly fine, pure voiced singing from Karthäuser before the finely controlled O vos omnes where there are nicely sprung passages, superbly woven instrumental sounds with this soprano bringing much feeling.

The soprano really soars in the beautiful opening to. Mem. De excelso before a beautifully decorated Nun leads into Vigilavit with this soprano providing extremely fine decorations.

Infirmata Est has a lovely flow with the instrumentalists blending their textures perfectly with the soprano’s lovely voice and leading to the final Jerusalem that is full of passion.

The choir bring more lovely simple and direct singing with fine textures to the responsorium Ecce vidimus eum (Behold we shall see him) a lovely contrast to the more elaborate settings that precede.

Troisième Leçon du Jeudy saint (Third lesson for Maundy Thursday) opens with a beautifully decorated, flowing Aleph from the soprano and organ before the instrumentalists lead on with soprano Sophie Karthäuser in Ego vir videns rising in some dramatic passages, full of passion.  Aleph. Me minavit is full of pathos, wonderfully decorated before the instrumentalists lead off with spirit, Karthäuser weaving some fine passages.

There is a wonderfully decorated, fluent ‘Aleph’ before a nicely paced Aleph. Tantum in me vertit such with such fine feeling.  The soprano shows such brilliant vocal control in Beth. Vetustam fecit with some very fine instrumental contributions.

After a lovely opening Beth, Aedificavit in gyro meo brings some lovely phrasing and control in superb singing from Sophie Karthäuser. After the opening Beth, In tenebrosis adopts a slow plodding tempo out of which the soprano brings a fine atmosphere with exquisitely controlled, subtle singing. Ghimel. Circum ædificavit soon finds a lively upbeat manner with some very fine vibrant instrumental playing.

There is much feeling given to Sed, Et Cum Clamavero (Ghimel) by this soprano, full of passion, brilliantly sung. After the brief opening Ghimel, Conclusit vias meas moves ahead with some fine instrumental moments and this soprano in fine voice before the concluding Jerusalem that brings a passionate appeal from the soprano.

Vinea mea electa (O my noble vine) sees the return of the choir bringing a gentle, finely voiced, beautifully nuanced responsorium.

Troisième Leçon du Vendredy saint (Third lesson for Good Friday) opens with Sophie Karthäuser providing a lovely mellifluous tone with fine decorations in Incipit oratio before bringing fine vocal textures and colours to Recordare showing her attractive well controlled vibrato. Pupilli facti sumus has a lovely rhythmic pulse, a gentle mellow instrumental contribution from Ensemble.

There is a finely decorated Cervicibus nostris before a flowing Lassis non dabatur with Karthäuser drawing superb long breathed melodic lines with fine instrumental accompaniment and a gentle rhythmic pulse. This soprano has a superb vocal control. She rises through Recordare  to Ægypto dedimus manum, a passionate section finding much feeling as well as providing some lovely little decorations. In Animabus Nostris is beautifully controlled with Karthäuser’s flexible voice following every little line to perfection, with terrific accompaniment.

There is more, fine instrumental playing in Pellis nostra and the slower Mulieres brings finely drawn lines, lovely textures and this soprano’s lovely tone before the concluding Jerusalem that subtly grows in power as the soprano appeals ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem , return to the Lord thy God’.

The choir bring a suitably subdued ending to Leçons de Ténèbres with the responsorium Plange quasi virgo (Mourn as a virgin).

Lalande’s Leçons de Ténèbres and Miserere provide some fine opportunities for these fine artists who deliver performances that are spectacularly good. Soprano, Sophie Karthäuser is particularly fine, bringing some absolutely terrific moments in these lovely settings.

The recording from La Courroie, Entraigues-sur-la-Sorgue, France is first rate and there are excellent booklet notes as well as full texts and translations.

This is a first rate disc that comes just in time for Easter but will provide much pleasure all year round.

Tuesday 24 March 2015

A terrific debut disc of English poetry and song from mezzo-soprano Kitty Whately for Champs Hill Records

If undertaken sensitively the combination of poetry and music can work extremely effectively.  Such is the case with mezzo-soprano Kitty Whately’s debut CD from Champs Hill Records entitled This other Eden with pianist Joseph Middleton , the Navarra Quartet and speakers Kevin Whately  and Madelaine Newton


British mezzo-soprano Kitty Whately sings on concert, opera and recital stages in the UK and internationally. She is currently a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist and is an HSBC Laureate for the Aix-en-Provence Festival as well as winner of the Kathleen Ferrier Award in 2011.

She trained at Chetham’s School of Music, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and the Royal College of Music International Opera School where she was awarded the Aldama Scholarship and numerous prizes. She won the 59th Royal Over-seas League Award for Singers in 2011 and was also a finalist at the Les Azuriales International Singing Competition 2010.

Highlights this season include singing Kate in Britten's Owen Wingrave at Opéra National de Lorraine; Bach’s Magnificat with the Choir of King’s College Cambridge and the Britten Sinfonia; De Falla’s The Three-Cornered Hat with BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Haydn’s Nelson Mass with Britten Sinfonia on tour in Spain and the Netherlands. She also made her City of Birmingham Symphony debut and performed at London’s Wigmore Hall with pianist Joseph Middleton. In June 2015, she will appear in a new production of Jonathan Dove’s Flight at Opera Holland Park in North London.

Other recent highlights have included her Opera Holland Park debut as Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia; her BBC Proms debut in Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’ Suite from Act II of Caroline Mathilde with BBC National Orchestra of Wales; her debut at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in the world premiere of Vasco Mendonça’s The House Taken Over; and her house debut at English National Opera in Vaughan Williams’ The Pilgrim’s Progress. She has also appeared in the prestigious Verbier Festival Academy as Cherubino in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro.

Kitty Whately has been invited to give recitals at the Edinburgh International Festival, Oxford Lieder Festival, Wigmore Hall, the Elgar Room (Royal Albert Hall), Leeds Lieder, Buxton Festival and Leighton House. She works with internationally renowned accompanists such as Roger Vignoles, Graham Johnson, Malcolm Martineau, Gary Matthewman and Joseph Middleton.

A short documentary about the making of this new CD can be found on Kitty Whately’s website 

Kitty Whately’s recital focuses on different aspects of the British landscape and is grouped in sections as This Other Eden, Forests and Gardens, Meadows and Fields, Wilds of Scotland and Coasts and Seas.

This new release opens with a reading from Shakespeare’s (1564–1616) Richard II, Act 2, Scene 1 ‘This Sceptre’d Isle’ read by actor Kevin Whately making a fine opening before Kitty Whately sings John Ireland’s (1879–1962) Earth’s Call, full of a blustering feel of the outdoors. This mezzo-soprano has a very fine voice indeed, a beautiful tone, total security and rising to peaks brilliantly. She receives terrific support from pianist Joseph Middleton, sensitive to Ireland’s fine writing.  This is a perfectly controlled performance with some fine quieter moments.  

Peter Warlock’s (1894–1930) My Own Country follows with Whately and Middleton bringing a real understanding to Warlock’s fine song, beautifully paced and phrased.

Actor Madelaine Newton then gives a lovely reading of Walter de la Mare’s (1873–1956) England before violinist Magnus Johnston and cellist Brian O’Kane join Kitty Whately and Joseph Middleton for I will go with my father a-ploughing by Roger Quilter (1877–1953), a beautifully fresh performance, with a lovely rhythmic lilt, Whately showing her fine flexibility and understanding of this setting.

Kevin Whately reads John Clare’s (1793–1864) In Hilly-Wood finding such a natural quality in his delivery. No collection of English song would be complete without that fine poet and composer, Ivor Gurney (1890–1937).  Kitty Whately brings a lovely sensibility to The Sally Gardens with sensitive accompaniment from Joseph Middleton.

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958) is represented by two songs; firstly We’ll to the woods no more where Magnus Johnston’s violin opens quietly and gently before
Kitty Whately joins, bringing a poignant sense of solitude.  This is a wonderful performance of an exquisite setting.

Madelaine Newton follows with a reading from Wendell Berry’s (b.1934) The Peace of Wild Things, beautifully read with just the right nuance.

Kitty Whately builds Herbert Howells’ (1892–1983) King David so well, rising to some very fine moments with exquisite piano accompaniment, limpid and sensitive with mezzo and pianist complementing each other’s textures superbly.

After Madelaine Newton’s fine reading of Thomas Hardy’s (1840–1928) The Darkling Thrush we have a song by Charles Villiers Stanford (1852–1924), something of an underrated song composer. Here his La belle dame sans merci has a surprisingly spare opening with Whately finding just the right feel before the music turns brighter picking up rhythmically and with Middleton, finely delivering all the changing moods, tempi rhythms and dynamics.

Kitty Whately gives an exquisitely controlled performance of Vaughan Williams’ Silent Noon finding the perfect rise and fall of this lovely setting before Madelaine Newton reads from Christina Rossetti’s (1830–1894) The Lambs of Grasmere.

There is a lovely piano opening to Michael Head’s (1900–1976) A Green Cornfield before Whately enters, finely shaping the lovely phrases of Head’s setting.

Kevin Whately reads a line from A E Houseman’s Spring will not wait before Joseph Middleton plays John Ireland’s piano piece of the same name, a wonderful idea with this pianist catching Ireland’s elusive sound world so well.

Another reading by Kevin Whately follows, Edward Thomas’ (1878–1917) Aldestrop, so naturally read, very affecting in its atmosphere of a captured moment in time. Ivor Gurney’s The Fields are Full receives a beautifully shaped performance alive to Gurney’s little setting.

Both Kitty Whately and Joseph Middleton capture the drama and starkness of Joseph Horovitz’s (b.1926) Lady Macbeth: A Scena. Whately is superb against Middleton’s spare accompaniment. There is a lovely piano opening to Roger Quilter’s I wish and I wish before Whately joins with violinist Magnus Johnston and cellist Brian O’Kane in this buoyant setting that has such a fresh performance as well as a lovely rhythmic flow.

Kevin Whately brings a most affecting reading of A. E. Housman’s Into my heart an air that kills before we come to James MacMillan’s (b.1959) The Children where Kitty Whately brings her beautifully pure and accurate voice before the piano enters in this most strikingly stark setting. There are violent piano chords that disturb the atmosphere before Whately’s stark yet strangely beautiful performance continues. There are a series of even more violent piano chords that thunder out and are allowed to fade to bring the end.

Kevin Whately brings a feeling of authenticity to Houseman such is his fine reading of O stay at home my lad and plough before Kitty Whately sings the folk song Ma Bonny Lad; an object lesson in how to sing this repertoire, beautifully nuanced, unaffected with a pure voice full of character.

Madelaine Newton returns to read from Louis Untermeyer (1885–1977) The Swimmers with a real sense of atmosphere.
Benjamin Britten’s (1913–1976) piano piece Early Morning Bathe is a light skittish piece to which Joseph Middleton brings a lovely rippling quality, full of forward motion and richness of tone. The calm is palpable as Kitty Whately and Joseph Middleton bring us Michael Head’s The Estuary, slowly rising in power and strength with Whately in superb voice in this fine setting.

Kevin Whately gives a most natural and unaffected reading from John Masefield’s (1878–1967) well known poem Sea Fever before the final song, Samuel Barber’s (1910–1981) Dover Beach where Kitty Whately is joined by the Navarra Quartet. The
Quartet open before Whately enters full of intensity as the quartet blend beautifully.  It is not often one hears such exquisite blends of textures of strings and voice.  The Quartet is on lovely form here, as is Kitty Whately with beautiful textures and harmonies. This is an absolutely superb performance to treasure.  

This is a terrific debut disc from Kitty Whately, a wonderfully satisfying recital, beautifully sung and with poetry readings that are very fine.

The recording is absolutely first rate and there are interesting booklet notes as well as full English texts. 

Kitty Whately is a rising star in superb voice.

Sunday 22 March 2015

Once again the Steinberg Duo show what terrific artists they are in this very fine new release from Nimbus of works by Franck, Dvořák and Grieg

Nimbus Records  have continued their association with the Steinberg Duo with a new release that features works by Franck, Dvořák and Grieg.
NI 6294

The Steinberg Duo, Louisa Stonehill (violin) and Nicholas Burns (piano) were formed in 2007. Since 2009 they have curated their own recital series in the intimate setting of the 1901 Arts Club on London’s Southbank and for the past three years have spent each January in residence at The Banff Centre in Canada.

The Duo have studied intensively with eminent chamber musicians at home and abroad. They were regular participants in the ChamberStudio masterclasses at Kings Place between 2010 and 2012 and at IMS Prussia Cove in 2010.

The Duo have performed in Canada, Spain, Germany and throughout the UK with 2013 marking the release of their first commercial recording for the Nimbus Alliance and their first live broadcast on BBC Radio 3.

The Duo is passionate about presenting violin and piano repertoire as an equal partnership. They are committed to supporting high quality contemporary music and enjoy a particularly close association with composer Philip Sawyers. Indeed it was their Nimbus recording of the violin sonatas of Sawyers and Elgar that drew me to these fine musicians.

Louisa Stonehill plays on a English violin made in early 2010 by Glen Collins, based on the Lord Wilton Guarneri del Jesu violin owned by the late Yehudi Menuhin. The Duo takes its name from Louisa’s original Polish surname which was anglicised by her father in the 1940s.

The Steinberg Duo open their new disc with a lesser known work, by César Franck (1822-1890), for violin and piano, the Andantino quietoso, Op. 6 written in 1843. The piano introduces the melody before developing a lovely rippling piano motif to which the violin brings a lovely flowing melody. It rises in passion as it progresses with the piano taking the melody before the violin resumes the lovely theme. This duo brings some lovely textures and sonorities as well as some lovely hushed moments towards the exquisite coda. This is a lovely piece to open this disc.

Franck’s Violin Sonata in A major dates from 1886. The Allegretto ben moderato has a lovely piano opening so tentative before the violin brings the fine theme. Here Louisa Stonehill produces an exquisite violin tone with Nicholas Burns bringing beautifully limpid, flowing passages.  There is a beautifully relaxed quality here, so right for the music, with a lovely fine ebb and flow.

There are some extremely fine, fluent piano phrases in the opening of the Allegro and, when Louisa Stonehill enters, she adds an extra feeling of urgency with an incisive tone, bringing out little hints of the first movement main theme. There is a lovely thoughtful section before the music rises up dramatically, these players bringing much passion, really throwing themselves into the music with a tremendous sense of freedom and passion. Overall this movement receives a really fiery performance.

Broad chords from the piano open the Recitativo – Fantasia: Moderato – Molto Lento before a thoughtful section for violin and piano where these fine artists bring much atmosphere and, indeed, fantasy. They provide such well-shaped phrases as the music progresses slowly forward with Stonehill producing some very fine sonorities. As the music rises in passion, both bring some terrific playing full of strength and restrained power, contrasting so well with moments of supreme hushed delicacy.

What a lovely tune the Allegretto poco mosso has, revealed here with a directness of utterance that is thoroughly beguiling. Burns provides a fine flowing line against Stonehill’s melodic outpouring. There are moments of intense passion before rising to a decisive coda.  

Antonin Dvořák’s (1841-1904) Four Romantic Pieces, Op. 75 date from 1887 and are an arrangement of his Four Pieces for two violins and viola B.149 of that same year. I must admit to not having heard these pieces before so I have been glad to have made their acquaintance, especially in such fine performances as these.

The Allegro moderato has a lovely rhythmic piano accompaniment to the violin’s fine melody, this duo bringing a lovely rubato, drawing on every nuance. The Allegro maestoso brings incisive phrases in this folk like, rhythmic dance theme, a captivating piece, perfectly captured here with fine violin textures from Stonehill. The Allegro appassionato has a rippling piano accompaniment to a faster flowing violin theme beautifully played by this duo. Finally there is a Larghetto, full of sensitivity and gentle passion with another fine theme. Stonehill finds some lovely sonorities, often hushed, breathtakingly so, with a sensitive accompaniment from Burns before an exquisitely controlled coda.

Around the same time as Dvořák was writing his Four Romantic Pieces, Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) was working on his Violin Sonata No. 3 in C minor, Op. 45.
Louisa Stonehill really bites into the opening of the Allegro molto ed appassionato, both bringing much panache and fire before a quiet passage when Nicholas Burns gives us lovely playing. The passion soon returns with lovely shaping of the many changes of mood, both players bringing fine timbres and colours to the music. There are some fine hushed textures from Stonehill, rising to moments of great passion with terrific textures, these players bringing such a freedom of expression. Burns brings a lovely rounded piano tone supporting Stonehill’s fine timbres before a light textured and buoyant run to the coda.

Burn’s playing in the opening of the Allegretto espressivo alla Romanza is wonderfully phrased as he reveals Grieg’s exquisite melody. As Stonehill enters, she takes the wonderful theme forward with a gentle passion before picking up the pace rhythmically with fine pizzicato phrases. There are some fine broader phrases from Burns and more fine sense of freedom in their playing.  

Fast, rippling piano phrases, beautifully fluent, open the Allegro animato before Nicholas Burns is quickly joined by Louisa Stonehill, these two responding so well to each other’s phrases. They keep a tension as the theme appears ready to break out; when it does they bring playing of tremendous flair and panache. There are lovely little pizzicato phrases and delicate piano notes as well as lovely rich violin timbres and moments of terrific rhythmic energy before the coda.

This is a superb performance.

Once again the Steinberg Duo show what terrific artists they are in this very fine new release. The recording is close but detailed and clear. There are excellent notes from Nicholas Burns.

See also:

Saturday 21 March 2015

Vasily Petrenko brings a fresh vision to Elgar’s First Symphony in a vivid new recording from Onyx Classics that I wouldn’t want to be without

It took a long time for Edward Elgar (1857-1934)  to arrive at his first symphony. As early as 1899 he had suggested to the Worcester Cathedral organist, Ivor Atkins, that he might write a symphony on the subject of General Charles George Gordon (1833-1885), the Victorian hero of Khartoum, for the Three Choirs Festival  that year. However, it was choral works that continued to occupy his time.

However, on 16th September 1907 he wrote to his friend Canon Gorton that ‘The serious work waits for Rome.’ On the 3rd December he wrote from Italy to Alfred Littleton of Novellos, his publisher, telling him that he had abandoned the idea for a third oratorio on the Apostles. The same day he began work on his first symphony. However, on his return home in May 1908 the symphony was still not progressing very well. It was the surrounding of the Herefordshire countryside that helped him to complete the symphony.

Elgar’s Symphony No.1 in A flat was premiered in Manchester, England on 3rd December 1908 with Hans Richter conducting the Halle Orchestra to scenes that had not been witnessed by the premiere of an English symphony before. There was applause after each movement and Elgar had to go up on the platform after the third movement. During the following year it received a hundred performances, being played in Vienna, Berlin, the USA, Australia and Russia

A new release from Onyx Classics  features Vasily Petrenko with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra  performing Elgar’s First Symphony coupled with the Cockaigne Overture.
ONYX 4145
Petrenko brings a lovely lilt to the opening of the Cockaigne Overture ‘In London Town’, Op. 40, full of drive and energy yet finding much Elgarian poetry in the quieter moments. It is finely shaped with a lovely orchestral rubato and nicely pointed up lighter passages. Petrenko really knows how to build the impact of the more dynamic moments, helped enormously by the vivid recording, letting the RLPO really let rip, ratcheting up the swagger as the music heads toward the coda. And what a terrific coda.  

This is as fine a performance of the Cockaigne Overture that you could wish for.

It is terrific how Petrenko builds from the subdued opening of the Andante - Nobilmente e simplice of the Symphony No. 1 in A-flat Major, Op. 55 to the grand outpouring of the main theme. There is a fine forward thrust when the second subject appears with Petrenko alive to all of Elgar’s gentler, poetic moments. There are some lovely Elgarian turns of phrase with wonderfully drawn, broad phrases as well as some beautiful woodwind phrases from the RLPO. Petrenko brings a very fine flexible tempo, building the tension brilliantly. Somehow this conductor allows one to hear new things; the way he phrases the music, rising to moments of great power and emotional pull. Some exquisite little instrumental phrases clearly come through in this terrific recording. When the music rises at the grand moment, when the horns sound out, is superbly paced before the music falls back with some beautifully turned phrases.

The quicksilver, scurrying Allegro molto soon turns to a more direct and rhythmically precise phrasing, but the music is soon pushed ahead with more finely poetic interludes. Soon one realises how well these rather directly presented phrases fit into the overall conception that Petrenko has of this music. Perhaps this is the public Elgar juxtaposed against the private man. There are some very fine brass phrases and some wonderfully poetic moments as the coda arrives, beautifully done and leading into the Adagio.

The transition into the Adagio is exquisitely done with Petrenko realising all of Elgar’s emotional impact, revealing some lovely moments and bringing some very fine string textures. There are wonderful little orchestral surges that add to the passion of this adagio, rising superbly before an exquisite coda, hushed, with lovely muted brass appearing to bring the conclusion. Quite beautiful.

The Lento arrives from the memory of the coda of the adagio, finely paced as the theme for the succeeding Allegro slowly starts to appear. The allegro soon takes off at a fine pace with some terrific, taut playing from the RLPO. They show a fine thrust and energy with a lovely rubato, building brilliantly in dynamics as the music confidently thrusts ahead. Later there are some incisive clipped phrases that again are played with a directness of utterance, set against passages of broad, confident forward movement. Petrenko builds the later stages very finely, the music rising with horns and scurrying woodwind to reach its triumphant climax. Petrenko gives the feeling of a consummation of all that has gone before, leading to a finely paced coda that slowly increases in tempo to end.

Petrenko brings a fresh vision to Elgar’s symphony. There is much competition in this repertoire but, without a doubt, I wouldn’t want to be without this newcomer. They receive a first rate, vivid recording made in the Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, England and there are excellent booklet notes from Daniel Jaffé. I really look forward immensely to Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic recording the Second Symphony – which I hope they will.

Friday 20 March 2015

An organ symphony from Carson Cooman to rival any, spectacularly played by Erik Simmons on a new release from Divine Art that also includes Preludes and Fugues by this fine composer

Back in March last year I particularly enjoyed a recording of organ music by American composer and organist Carson Cooman played by Erik Simmons and released by Divine Art Recordings (dda 25116).

Now from Divine Art  comes a new release of preludes and fugues and an organ symphony by Carson Cooman again played by Erik Simmons  on the Marcussen and Son organ of Laurenskerk, Rotterdam. Netherlands

dda 25127
All of Carson Cooman’s Preludes and Fugues were written in 2013 with the exception of the Prelude and Fugue No. 1, Op. 913, commissioned by the Boston Pipe Organ Encounter in 2011. There is a light textured fugue that quickly flows with lovely harmonies before a fugue that is slower; rising naturally with a sense of gravitas as Cooman slowly adds layers of harmony and texture, rising in drama and dynamics to a fine coda.

Commissioned by Erik and Charissa Simmons, Prelude and Fugue No. 2, Op. 1021 has a lovely gentle little motif over which a fine melody is played with beautifully judged quiet harmonies before a fugue that moves off with a gentle, light theme, so delicate and exquisitely played.

Prelude and Fugue No. 3, Op. 1022, dedicated to Heinrich Christensen, opens with a lively prelude, again so pure and light textured before leading through some terrific passages to the fugue that gently proceeds with a particularly fine melody, gently weaving its way forward to the coda.

Dedicated to Randall Mullin and Dan Daniels, Prelude and Fugue No. 4, Op. 1023 brings a stately plodding theme where the pedal line keeps the pulse with a fine theme above, before slowing and lightening in feel. The fugue leads so very naturally on, an absolute joy, wonderfully light and airy.

Prelude and Fugue No. 5, Op. 1024, dedicated to Nancy Granert, brings an exquisitely hushed melody that gently weaves its way ahead before rising up for the fugue, a constantly shifting theme, beautifully developed as layers and textures are added.

Dedicated to Sara Bareilles, the Prelude and Fugue No. 6, Op. 1025 has a lively prelude with a fine rhythmic figuration leading to a fugue that takes a slow, steady theme that is wonderfully developed.

Prelude and Fugue No. 7, Op. 1026 is dedicated to another fine organist, Kevin Bowyer, and has a quizzical little theme that gently progresses with some very lovely intervals and harmonies before a terrific fugue that opens with some lovely timbres as it swiftly moves forward, rhythmically in a kind of moto perpetuo.

Prelude and Fugue No. 8, Op. 1027 opens with a flowering of a theme, gently developed with harmonies slowly growing over a held pedal note before gently leading into the fugue that slowly grows in dynamics, layers of harmony and texture being added with a restrained yet forceful forward drive. It is dedicated to Jonathan Orwig.

The last of the Preludes and Fugues on this disc, the Prelude and Fugue No. 9, Op. 1028, is dedicated to Harry Lyn Huff. The prelude sounds out loudly and confidently, showing this lovely organ magnificently, before falling to a faster lighter textured theme that has a fine rhythmic spring to it. It brings some fine textures as it develops before subtly transforming into a very fine, flowing fugue, rising forcefully in dynamics for the coda.

This is an absolutely terrific conclusion to these beautifully crafted Preludes and Fugues, finely played by Erik Simmons.

Preghiera, Op. 1058 (2014), dedicated to Carlotta Ferrari, was composed especially for this new recording to act as a short interlude before the organ symphony. It opens with a rhythmic pedal pulse over which a theme is laid that slowly and quietly develops to the hush coda.

Symphony for Organ, Op. 1038 (2013) was written for and dedicated to Erik Simmons and represents a progression from darkness into light. In three movements Masque opens with bold, dramatic organ chords that surge out full of drama before dropping to a reflective, quiet passage with some lovely colours drawn from the Laurenskerk organ. The music develops through some dark, threatening passages before the music rises again, this time lighter textured. Soon a rhythmic theme appears before the music rises again dramatically. When the music falls to a hush again, it retains an intensely brooding atmosphere only lightened by little drops of sound appearing. Eventually a lighter moment introduces dynamic runs on the organ as the music scurries forward to the tremendous, dynamic and threatening coda that ends with terrific growl.

With the Sarabande, the symphony finds a quieter yet somewhat brooding nature, slowly growing lighter and more optimistic before strange little harmonies and textures appear. Between the slowly moving, mournful passages a number of little motifs appear before leading to a gentle hushed coda.

In the Chorale, firmly but steadily, a theme is developed, the organ slowly rising in brilliance as though in expectation of a dawn, the light slowly emerging with constantly shifting and emerging colours and textures. The harmonies slowly richen as the music grows louder leading to a blaze of sunlight that appears in the dazzling coda.

This is an organ symphony to rival any, spectacularly played by Erik Simmons. He receives an excellent recording and there are excellent notes from Carson Cooman.

Surely all organ enthusiasts will want this fine new disc.

Thursday 19 March 2015

The Britten Sinfonia is on top form under Thomas Gould on a new release from Harmonia Mundi of Dmitry Sitkovetsky’s arrangement of Bach’s Goldberg Variations

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) supposedly wrote his Goldberg Variations at the request of Hermann Carl von Keyserlingk who wanted some clavier pieces for his harpsichordist, Johann Gottlieb Goldberg. However, there is no evidence that this was the case, particularly given that Goldberg would only have been fourteen years of age when the variations were written. The indications are that the Goldberg Variations were intended to be an integral part of Bach’s Clavier-Übung series to which they bring an impressive finale.

The debate over whether these variations should be performed only on a harpsichord or whether a modern piano is suitable pall into insignificance when confronted with a modern arrangement for small string orchestra.

A new release from Harmonia Mundi featuring the Britten Sinfonia  directed by Thomas Gould  of Dmitry Sitkovetsky’s arrangement for string orchestra will no doubt raise issues amongst purists. I have no such problems, finding this new release an absolute joy.
HMU 807633

There have been many varying versions of Bach’s Art of Fugue ranging from harpsichord to instrumental ensembles. Bach himself wasn’t above arrangements of his and others’ music, taking a practical attitude when using or re-using musical material.

On this new recording Thomas Gould directs the Britten Sinfonia from the violin. The Sinfonia consisted of twenty string players using modern instruments, a size that gives a marvellous transparency of sound that helps Bach’s musical lines to emerge clearly.

The opening Aria certainly sounds absolutely right with minimal vibrato and much expressiveness as the theme slowly winds its way forward. Variation 1 is full of lively rhythmic poise, the lines of Bach’s contrapuntal invention clearly drawn by the various string sections, before we move into a light-hearted Variation 2 with such clarity of line, a real joy. With Variation 3, Canone all' Unisono  a solo violin leads another forward, soon joined by another, in a lovely canon backed by the rest of the Sinfonia who weave a fine sound. Variation 4 brings incisiveness and fine textures with a lovely forward flow.

There is some very fine playing in the fast and furious Variation 5 bringing out all of the nature of Bach’s original keyboard invention with added expressiveness and texture with top notch playing from the Britten Sinfonia. Variation 6, Canone alla seconda brings a release of tension, finely controlled and full of flowing breadth.
Sitkovetsky’s impressive arrangement of string lines is shown to the full in Variation 7, al Tempo di Giga with a lovely rhythmic lilt, full of fine rhythms. Richer, more incisive playing returns for Variation 8 with some very fine string textures and colours in this intoxicatingly attractive arrangement.

Variation 9, Canone alla Terza follows beautifully with just a slight slackening of pace yet with such fine forward movement. With Variation 10, Fugetta as each string layer is added there are some terrific textures and timbres in this wonderful arrangement with all of Bach’s feeling of inevitability. Variation 11 brings some very fine interplay from the various string players as they weave Bach’s fine invention. Variation 12, Canone alla Quarta pushes ahead with a terrifically light footed pulse, so beautifully controlled - surely Bach would have approved.

Variation 13 feels like a new discovery such is the impact of this arrangement, yet so attuned to the style and nature of Bach. It is exquisitely played with a lovely leading line from Thomas Gould. There is a sparkling Variation 14 with some terrific little intricate phrases from the leader with every section given the chance to shine. Variation 15, Canone alla Quinta brings an ethereal sound, stunningly lovely textures are overlaid before various individual players weave their lines in this gorgeous outflowing of ideas expertly realised here. The violins rise up, underscored by the rest of the ensemble in a great outpouring of vibrant, joyful melody in Variation 16, Ouverture with some particularly crisp and incisive individual playing before a wonderfully lithe conclusion.

This litheness is continued into Variation 17 with more terrific weaving of lines and a fine ebb and flow. Variation 18, Canone alla sesta brings another finely light textured canon so sensitively controlled with some beautifully restrained passages. Pizzicato strings point up Variation 19 against the melody of the other players in this almost Tchaikovskyan arrangement. Variation 20 comes as a fine contrast bringing a vibrant sunny feel with some spectacularly fine playing from the various members of the Sinfonia in some of the more intricate passages.  

Variation 21, Canone alla settima is pure Bachian joy as the music slowly flows forward with each line finely overlaid. There is a vibrant, confident, sunny Variation 22 before some phenomenally intricate patterns are woven in Variation 23. I defy anyone not to be totally entranced by this variation. A stately, poised Variation 24, Canone all' ottava follows with the various musical lines soon flowing over each other in a way that Bach would surely have loved.

Thomas Gould winds a fine melody over the lower strings in a melancholy Variation 25, Adagio with these players bringing a fine sensibility, weaving some glorious lines. The vibrant Variation 26 jolts us back with playing of the highest virtuosity from this fine ensemble always keeping the contrapuntal line clear. Bach’s lovely Variation 27, Canone alla nona is realised with a gentle restraint and such fine textures whereas
Variation 28 brings to its beautifully light textures a fleet footed nature, gently pointed up by occasional pizzicato. Variation 29 brings out clearly Bach’s subtle variations of his theme as it unfolds with more very fine playing from the individual sections of the Sinfonia, particularly the lower strings.

The music rise up in a stately manner for Variation 30, Quodlibet, rich and sonorous before we return to the final Aria, a heart stopping lovely moment as these fine players weave the melody slowly and gently forward to the coda.

The Britten Sinfonia is on top form under Thomas Gould’s direction. These arrangements as played by this fine ensemble only serve to illuminate Bach’s genius. I suppose for many this will fail on two counts, firstly modern instruments and secondly because it is a modern arrangement. This would be an enormous a pity as there is some glorious Bach here.

The recording from All Hallows’ Church, Gospel Oak, London, England is first class and there are excellent booklet notes. In all, this is a real winner.

Tuesday 17 March 2015

A fine array of musicians have been brought together for a new album of works for XI Records by Michael Vincent Waller, many reflective in mood, often very beautiful

In March last year I was pleased to review a disc of piano works by Italian-American composer Michael Vincent Waller which I found to be subtle, finely honed compositions that hold the attention in a strongly magnetic way.

I was pleased, therefore, to have the opportunity to hear this composer’s new album of chamber works for XI Records, entitled The South Shore.

2 CD
XI 136

Michael Vincent Waller lives and works in New York City. His work incorporates avant-garde sound worlds, connecting them back to a more traditional, classical beauty. He has also studied world music, specifically raga, and focused on modal analysis. Waller's chamber works have been commissioned and performed by the S.E.M. Ensemble, FLUX Quartet, Ensemble Epomeo, Ensemble Dedalus, Eric Huebner, Jenny Q. Chai, String Noise, Hilo String Duo, Zentripedal Duo, Project SiS, Cadillac Moon Ensemble and many more. Waller has studied with La Monte Young, Bunita Marcus, Petr Kotik, and Elizabeth Hoffman as a graduate of New York University.

This new release brings together a number of works that range from solo piano to a piece for flute, alto sax, electric guitar, viola, cello and trombone. Written between 2012 and 2014 these works employ the use of modal scales.

The first disc of this two CD set opens with Anthems for cello and piano (2014) a work that perhaps suggest the anthem of a country that has been lost in time. Performed here by Christine Kim (cello) and Yael Manor (piano) it is a thoughtful piece built around a fine melody with lovely rich cello textures. It later increases in tempo rhythmically, briefly before a quiet coda.

Atmosfera di Tempo for string quartet (2013) features Conrad Harris (violin), Pauline Kim-Harris (violin), Daniel Panner (viola) and Christine Kim (cello). Here the quartet weave some fine textures around another lovely melody, showing some fine string writing from Waller, subtly increasing in emotional intensity as it progresses. There is a degree of minimalism but such are the subtle variations this proves to be a particularly attractive work.

Profondo Rosso for piano trio (2013) was written as a Valentine piece. It has a gentle opening by the trio before the piano picks out a theme, joined by the cello then violin to develop the theme. Soon the strings bring little variations over a repeated piano accompaniment before weaving their themes around each other over the piano line. It is performed here by Project SiS: Charity Wicks (piano), Pauline Kim-Harris (violin) and Christine Kim (cello)!/pages/Project-SiS/209974142347970?sk=info&tab=page_info

Pauline Kim-Harris (violin), Daniel Panner (viola) and Christine Kim (cello) join for Per La Madre e La Nonna for string trio (2012) written for the composer’s mother and grandmother. A slow and gentle yet rather passionate, searching theme opens the work before leading through many variations with attractive details from the players. They provide a beautiful weaving of strings textures before rising in emotion. Waller packs much feeling into this relatively short work.

Pasticcio per meno ê più for piano (2014) is a gentle slowly evolving piece, exquisitely crafted, subtly developing with just a hint of Debussy in the more limpid piano lines. The music rises a little towards the end but soon returns to its more tranquil nature. It is beautifully played by Nicholas Horvath.

Esther Noh (violin) and Christine Kim (cello) come together for La Rugiada del Mattino for violin and cello (2013) (The Morning Dew) where the two instrumentalists weave a melody, often repeated and insistent before developing the theme through some lovely passages.

Tre Pezzi per Trio di Pianoforte (Piano Trio) (2014) is in three movements with the piano opening with Pezzo I before being joined in a lovely flowing theme by the strings. It soon adopts a slow gentle rhythmic gait, before returning to the opening metre. A gentle piano theme introduces Pezzo II soon joined by the string players as the melody is slowly developed with a somewhat melancholy feel. A more passionate central section arrives and, when the music returns to the slower theme, this more passionate feel is carried through to the coda where there is a lovely little piano flourish. Pezzo III continues the weightier passionate feel with the players Yael Manor (piano), Esther Noh (violin) and Christine Kim (cello) bringing out some fine textures.

Christine Kim (cello) teams up with Carson Cooman (organ) for Nel Nome di Gesù for cello and organ (2013). Cello and organ slowly open Part I with another of Waller’s fine melodies. The cello brings rich tones against which the organ adds lighter textures as well as pedal support. As the music is developed these two players weave some fine sonorities in this fine theme. In Part II the organ gently follows a richer cello melody with these players bringing such fine control, following every nuance.  

Carson Cooman brings us Organum – organ solo (2014) that quickly and gently, rises up in a fine theme  that is subtly developed before gaining in tempo and rhythm as it develops, this fine organist bringing many lovely colours and textures.  

Christine Kim returns for Tacca Prima for cello (2013) a terrific little work that develops some fine textures as the melody is taken through many attractive variations.

Il Mento Tenuto Alto for violin (2014) (Keep your chin held high) opens with some lovely harmonics from the violinist Esther Noh, soon moving the music along with a hint of the baroque. It broadens as the endlessly inventive variations are developed. The music becomes faster and more intricate before easing into a slower melody. It receives a marvellous performance.

The second disc opens with a sextet for an interesting combination of instruments. Ritratto for flute, alto sax, electric guitar, viola, cello and trombone (2013) features the Dedalus Ensemble:  Amélie Berson (flute), Pierre Stéphane Meugé (alto sax). Didier Aschour (electric guitar, Cyprien Busolini (viola), Deborah Walker (cello) and Thierry Madiot (trombone) . It is an immensely striking piece where some memorable tones and textures are produced as the simple little melody progresses. When the electric guitar enters it is used very subtly as indeed are all the individual instruments when they take the lead. This is a particularly fine work.

Daniel Pannier (viola) and Marija Ilic (piano) are the instrumentalists in La Riva Sud for piano and viola (2014), a work that, in the composer’s words ‘…translates to the South Shore – of Staten Island…close to my birthplace, where I returned to live.’ A flowing lyrical piano theme opens the work, soon joined by the viola with many thoughtful little moments beautifully realised by these players before gaining in expressiveness midway and weaving some fine passages.

Christine Kim is the soloist for Pupazzo di Neve Partitas for cello (2013), a reimagining of dances from the Baroque era. Allemande brings some fine textures and colours to the little theme that is developed most effectively using the fullest scope of the cello’s range. Courante brings some particularly fine playing as the intricately written theme is developed before Sarabande is slowly and broadly developed as more textures are laid and the theme expanded. Finally we have a lively rhythmic Gigue that has a lovely rhythmic sway to end.

This is a work that deserves a place in the solo cello repertoire.

20/21 Ensemble: Itay Lantner (flute), Yael Manor (piano), Jessica Park (violin), Erin Wight (viola) and Clara Kennedy (cello). bring us Variations for Quintet for flute, string trio and piano (2014). In two sections Variations I is a beautifully quixotic piece with more fine textures and colours that develop through some delightful passages. Variations II has a lovely gentle flow maintained by the piano over which the others bring a fine melody.

Marija Ilic returns for Return from The Fork from Miniatures for piano solo (2014), a folksy little melody, distinctively American that rises more insistently in the middle.

The four movement Y for Henry Flynt for cello (2012) features again cellist Christine Kim and opens with Fuguey Prelude that has a slowly developed theme, somewhat repetitive in nature that rises higher, centrally, before falling to some beautifully rich passages. Post-Sonata continues the theme slowly before picking up the tempo and developing through some passionate moments with some lovely double stopped textures and much fine passion toward the end. Quarter-Tone Rondo builds on the same material with a constantly undulating theme that eventually progresses through some extraordinary textures as the ¼ tones appear just before the end. Slow Scherzo has a repeated rising motif that is subjected to a variety of subtle variations before tailing off to a quiet coda.

Again Christine Kim is an excellent soloist.

Daniel Pannier and Marija Ilic are the duo again for Capo Finale for viola and piano (2012) where the viola leads a melody over a simple piano accompaniment, an exquisitely beautiful theme that soon picks up in tempo in an insistent version of the opening. Soon there is another variation, rhythmically flowing and insistent before the piano leads in another motif that has rhythmic buoyancy yet retaining the same insistency. There is a lovely coda.

Vocalise for flute (2014) brings flautist Luna Cholang Kang in this lovely work that develops through some very fine passages as the theme is developed, full of variety and invention with some finely played timbres.

Arbitrage Deux for clarinet (2013) has similar attractive qualities with clarinettist Katie Porter drawing some lovely textures from her instrument. This is a work that surely deserves a place in any clarinettist’s repertoire.

For Arbitrage for bass clarinet and gong percussion (2011) Katie Porter is joined by Devin Maxwell (gong percussion). She makes the most of her instrument’s deep rich timbres as Devin Maxwell adds subtle, controlled gong textures with fine subtle dissonances as the music slowly weaves ahead. This is a terrific piece.

There are some attractive works here, many reflective in mood, often very beautiful. Michael Vincent Waller has brought together a fine array of musicians who are nicely recorded. My download was provided with interesting notes.

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Saturday 14 March 2015

Some hugely attractive compositions can be found on a new release from Wergo that features Ensemble Musikfabrik and guest soloists playing works by Unsuk Chin, Olga Neuwirth and Sun Ra

Cologne-based Ensemble Musikfabrik is one of the leading ensembles for contemporary music. Following the literal meaning of its name, Ensemble Musikfabrik is particularly dedicated to artistic innovation. New, unknown, and often personally commissioned works in unusual media are typical of their productions. The results of their extensive work, that usually takes place in close collaboration with the composers, is presented in over 100 concerts a year in both Germany and abroad, at Festivals, in their own series ‘Musikfabrik in WDR’ and in regular radio recordings and CD productions.

The musicians themselves take the responsibility for making all-important decisions. Exploring the capabilities of modern communication forms, and new possibilities for expression in musical and theatrical areas, are a focal point. Interdisciplinary projects that can include live electronics, dance, theatre, film, literature and creative artists, along with chamber music, and the confrontation with works using open form and improvisation, extend the traditional conducted ensemble concerts. Discussion concerts and the experimentation with alternative concert forms involving audience participation are also part of this.

The ensemble’s guest list includes Mark Andre, Louis Andriessen, Stefan Asbury, Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Unsuk Chin, Péter Eötvös, Brian Ferneyhough, Heiner Goebbels, Toshio Hosokawa, Michael Jarrell, Mauricio Kagel, Helmut Lachenmann, David Lang, Liza Lim, Benedict Mason, Mouse on Mars, Carlus Padrissa (La Fura dels Baus), Emilio Pomàrico, Enno Poppe, Wolfgang Rihm, Peter Rundel, Rebecca Saunders, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Ilan Volkov and Sasha Waltz.

The latest release in Wergo’s Edition Musikfabrik 08 Graffiti features works by Unsuk Chin, Olga Neuwirth and Sun Ra.

WER 6861 2
Unsuk Chin (b.1961) was born in Seoul, South Korea and has lived in Berlin since 1988. Her music has attracted international conductors including Simon Rattle, Gustavo Dudamel, Kent Nagano, Esa-Pekka Salonen, David Robertson, Peter Eötvös, Neeme Järvi, Markus Stenz, Myung-Whun Chung, George Benjamin, Susanna Mälkki, François -Xavier Roth, Leif Segerstam and Ilan Volkov, among others. Though modern in language, there is a lyrical communicative power to her music.

With Unsuk Chin’s Graffiti (2012-2013) für großes ensemble the composer recognises that street art has been accepted as a true art form and here she ‘trails her hand along the walls of buildings, translating the palimpsests and frictions of the architecture into a musical thriller.’ Here Ensemble Musikfabrik are directed by Peter Rundel .

In three movements Palimpsest opens on held string chords that increase and fade with pizzicato phrases before leading into a rather scurrying passage, full of grating, sharp textures as the theme develops. There are sudden short outbursts where a bell is heard and a piano motif that leads to a huge rapid downward scale. There are many fine textures from the strings and bubbling woodwind passages before the music rises through faster surging passages with a myriad of textures, colours and timbres. Fleeting instrumental motifs are briefly heard with many sharp, brittle instrumental sounds as well as vivid contrasts between quieter passages and the more dynamic moments. Towards the end the music picks up a fast forward moving momentum full of bright, pin point textures before quietening to the coda.

Tubular bells and percussion open Notturno Urbano out of which emerges a woodwind theme, taken by the strings in this strange atmospheric, nocturnal landscape. There are sharp edged chords that appear and blend into the most wonderful dissonant harmonies as the music slowly moves forward. There are sudden staccato outbursts from various instruments, before the brass sound rasping chords; the music falls back with tubular bells sounding again with hushed primeval grinding textures before we are suddenly cast into the final movement.

Passacaglia has little staccato chords from a variety of instruments creating a kaleidoscope of colours and timbres with percussion forming a dominant role. It rises in dynamics, briefly, before resuming the staccato chords. It rises again through some terrific dynamic colours and vivid textures before a cry from the brass ends the work.

This is a spectacularly fine performance of music that is brilliantly orchestrated and infinitely fascinating.

Olga Neuwirth (b.1968) was born in in Graz, Austria and studied composition in Vienna at the Vienna Academy of Music and Performing Arts under Erich Urbanner as well as at the Electroacoustic Institute. She went on to study music and art at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music with Elinor Armer before studying with Tristan Murail and working at IRCAM. Earlier in her career, Neuwirth met the Italian composer Luigi Nono, whose similar radical politics had a strong influence on her life. In 2000, Neuwirth was appointed Composer-in-Residence of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of Flanders, Antwerp, and in 2002 she was appointed Composer-in-Residence at the Lucerne.  In 2008 she was awarded the Heidelberger Künstlerinnenpreis (Heidelberg Prize for Female Artists).

Olga Neuwirth’s trumpet concerto Miramondo Multiplo… (2007) Fassung für Trompete und Ensemble ‘…both thematises and heals a trauma.’ In five movements Aria Dell Angelo opens with a bold outburst from the ensemble before the trumpet of Marco Blaauw enters soon leading to a fast and furious theme around which the soloist weaves. At times the trumpet blends textures with the ensemble; at others he takes his own line. There is a slower section with trumpet and brass having a conversation, before a more flowing melody for the trumpet and ensemble arrives soon broken up by the ensemble. Strange harmonies and textures lead on, before the solo trumpet with more than a hint of jazz style is heard, but soon falls to a low pitch as though disintegrating.

Aria Della Memoria rises out of silence with strange sounds from the ensemble almost as though tuning yet with a harmony and structure, on the edge of melodic and discordant, which is most appealing. The trumpet can soon be heard, muted, taking the theme along with the ensemble before slowly the trumpet emerges from the textures to play a whimsical theme, again rather jazz inflected, developing with the ensemble into a slow flowing melodic theme before a sudden end.

Aria Dell Sangue Freddo arrives with a dynamic, almost fairground jollity in its wild harmonies and motifs before developing a more rhythmic insistent nature.  A quieter section soon arrives though retaining a rhythmic quality. The music has further quieter moments punctuated by rhythmically dynamic passages still full of riotous harmonies and motifs with even the hint of Stravinsky’s Petrushka before tumbling to the coda.

The trumpet opens Aria Della Pace with a series of repeated short notes out of which develops a theme to which the ensemble gently join with a dissonant chordal theme surely with baroque undertones. The soloist and ensemble brass create some very fine harmonies together over a muted background before leading gently to the coda. This is a remarkably fine movement, really quite lovely.

Ensemble Musikfabrik leap in at the opening of Aria Dell Piacere with the trumpet of Marco Blaauw appearing over the ensemble as they weave a terrific theme with an underlying forward rhythmic momentum. There is some more fine virtuosic trumpet playing here before running forward, only to slow for a virtuosic trumpet solo to end.

This is a hugely attractive work, brilliantly played by Marco Blaauw and Ensemble Musikfabrik directed by Christian Eggen .

Sun Ra (born Herman Poole Blount) (1914-1993) was born in Birmingham, Alabama, USA and was a jazz composer, bandleader, piano and synthesizer player, poet and philosopher.  Sun Ra was a complex person who used ‘cosmic’ philosophies and lyrical poetry preaching awareness and peace.

There are two pieces on this new disc by Sun Ra both arranged by Sun Ra’s long-time associate, Marshall Allen.

For Outer Nothingness für Saxofon und Ensemble, Ensemble Musikfabrik are joined by saxophonist Frank Gratkowski . The work opens with timpani sounding out in an extended passage before braying, wild brass join, full of wild energy. The music settles a little as the saxophone enters playing a theme over the rather more wild accompaniment. There are jazz elements as the saxophone and other ensemble brass players weave the theme around. Eventually the music falls to the solo saxophone, which creates a myriad of unusual and wild sounds from the instrument before being accompanied by other strange, wild brass sounds. Soon a drum solo arrives that leads to slow sporadic drum beats with interventions from the ensemble. The brass produces some strange sounds as the music speeds and moves forward to a great, furious brass outburst. Pizzicato basses enter as the saxophone appears with a slow punctuated motif against little cries from the ensemble to gently end.

Pleiades für Saxofon und Ensemble opens with the spoken words of Sun Ra ‘I am Sun Ra, ambassador from the intergalactic regions of the council of outer space’ and with gentle drum beats When the ensemble joins the voice stops, as we are left with a gentle motif for two flutes with sounds of the saxophone, almost as though bringing the sounds of nature. The music settles slowly to a gentle beat, a kind of sophisticated jazz rhythm with flutes over pizzicato basses. All the while, the saxophone creates its spectacularly unusual sounds that slowly increase in dynamics and tempo as more brass enter in a cacophony of overlaid jazz style motifs. The music eventually reduces to a quiet held harmony for ensemble, punctuated by sudden interventions from the saxophone and members of the ensemble.  There are more strange noises from the saxophone and ensemble, before strings lead ahead in a sombre theme with strange sounds still being heard. A gentle melody, subtly pointed up by jazz inflections, leads forward before just ending.

These are strange, wild pieces that receive terrific performances from Frank Gratkowski and Ensemble Musikfabrik.

The recordings are excellent and there are informative notes in the large fold out CD insert. Indeed, the packaging is very nicely done with a transparent outer sleeve.

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