Tuesday 30 June 2015

Proms 2015 – A Great Summer of Music

We have another great summer of music to look forward to when the 121st season of the BBC Proms opens on 17th July 2015 www.bbc.co.uk/proms 

Once again the breadth of music and artists appearing is impressive. Sakari Oramo will conduct the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in the First Night of the Proms with a programme that includes Nielsen’s Maskarade, Gary Carpenter’s Dadaville, a BBC commission receiving its world premiere, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor with Lars Vogt, Sibelius’ Belshazzar's Feast – suite and Walton’s great choral work Belshazzar's Feast featuring baritone Christopher Maltman.

Celebrating Nielsen’s 150th anniversary, his music will feature in a further six concerts during the season. Sibelius, whose 150th anniversary also falls this year will feature in a further five concerts including all of his symphonies spread over three successive concerts conducted by Thomas Dausgard, Ilan Volkov and Osmo Vanska.  

Whilst the BBC’s own orchestras and choirs will, as usual be the backbone of the Proms, joining the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, BBC Philharmonic, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers, BBC Concert Orchestra will be visiting overseas orchestras such as the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Baroque Orchestra Ghent, West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, SWR Symphony Orchestra, Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Danish National Symphony Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

Other British orchestras and bands appearing include the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Aurora Orchestra, English Baroque Soloists, Guy Barker Big Band, Winston Rollins Big Band, Halle Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Heritage Orchestra, National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique, John Wilson Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, London Sinfonietta, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the English Concert and the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

There are many great choirs appearing including the Cardinall’s Musick, the Monteverdi Choir, Stilo Antico and many more. Ensembles appearing include Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, Royal Northern Sinfonia Winds, the Apollon Musagete Quartet, the Emerson String Quartet and the Benedetti-Elschenbroich-Grynyuk Trio to name just a handful.

Opera is represented by Glyndebourne Festival Opera with Mozart’s The Abduction from Seraglio. Grange Park Opera will be performing the popular Broadway classic Fiddler on the Roof.

The range of music is vast with BBC commissions and premier performances. Special events include a Ten Pieces Prom bringing the first year of the BBC’s Ten Pieces project to a close, a Life Story Prom presented by David Attenborough, A Sondheim Cabaret, Story of Swing and a number of Late Night Proms in conjunction with BBC Asian Network, BBC Radio 1, BBC Radio 6 Music, BBC Radio 1XTRA.

The Last Night of the Proms on Saturday 12th September 2015 promises to be another great evening with pianist Benjamin Grosvenor, soprano Danielle de Niese, tenor Jonas Kaufmann and the BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Chorus and BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Marin Alsop.

There will of course be Proms in the Park at Hyde Park, London, Glasgow Green, Singleton Park, Swansea and Titanic Slipways, Belfast.

I have not been able to do more than scratch the surface of all the concerts taking place so please go to the BBC Proms website for full details http://www.bbc.co.uk/proms and, indeed to book your tickets. The BBC Proms website is a mine of information including much archive material. All Proms concerts can be heard live on BBC Radio 3 www.bbc.co.uk/radio3  

Sunday 28 June 2015

Vladimir Ashkenazy shows his natural empathy for Scriabin in his new recording for Decca, a composer he has not recorded for 30 years

Is it really 30 years since Vladimir Ashkenazy www.vladimirashkenazy.com last recorded a Scriabin album? Decca tells us that it is.

All the more reason to be grateful to Decca www.deccaclassics.com  for their release of a new album from Ashkenazy entitled Scriabin: Vers La Flamme marking the centenary of the composer’s death.

This new recording takes us from Scriabin’s earlier romantic works chronologically through to his mystic modernist works, a terrific journey that also provides a very satisfying recital.

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Vladimir Ashkenazy has been a lifelong champion of Alexander Scriabin (1872-2015) www.scriabinsociety.com . In his Introduction to Faubion Bowers’ 1973 book, The New Scriabin, Ashkenazy writes ‘I consider Scriabin one of the greatest composers. Of course, it is not easy to support such a statement about anyone. But it is my opinion. He had a unique idiom which is full of meaning, at least to me, and I, for one, am convinced of Scriabin’s greatness.’

The early Etude in C# minor, Op.2 No.1 is beautifully shaped by Ashkenazy and makes the perfect opening before three of the Mazurkas, Op.3 (1889). This pianist brings such energy and flair to the odd little Mazurka No.6 in C# minor (Scherzando) following all of Scriabin’s mood changes and, indeed, changes of tempi and dynamics. No.7 in E minor (Con passione) brings some lovely subtle inflections that add so much. No.10 in E flat minor (Sotto voce) has a beautifully dreamy opening before we are led through some moments of great passion, always with a fine subtle rhythmic undertow whilst revealing some lovely introspective moments.

 Ashkenazy follows up with five of Scriabin’s Etudes for Piano, Op.8. No. 5 in E major (Brioso) has a lovely breadth, Ashkenazy always finding a great strength, a lovely touch, subtly sprung. No. 7 in B flat minor (Presto tenebroso, agitato) is also wonderfully sprung before Etude No. 10 in D flat major (Allegro) that is full of rhythmic drive, given a terrifically concentrated performance. No. 11 in B flat minor (Andante) unfolds beautifully and naturally with a perfect poise, Ashkenazy shaping every note beautifully. Ashkenazy shows how he can really whip up a storm in the Etude No. 12 in D sharp minor (Patetico) full of assurance and power.

This is great Scriabin from Ashkenazy setting concentration and power against moments of supreme personal reflection.

With the 4 Preludes, Op.22 No. 1 in G sharp minor (Andante) unfolds beautifully with a lovely poise. After a wistful Prelude No. 2 in C sharp minor (Andante), No. 3 in B major (Allegretto) has an exquisite delicacy. No. 4 in B minor (Andantino) is gloriously done.

8 Etudes, Op.42 follow with No. 1 in D flat major (Presto) revealing a feeling of impetuosity, brilliantly executed here. Ashkenazy reveals the subtle complex rhythms of No. 2 in F sharp minor (= 112) before providing some terrific quicksilver playing in No. 3 in F sharp minor (Prestissimo) where some amazing little details are revealed. With Prelude No. 4 in F sharp major (Andante) this pianist reveals so many nuances within its lovely flow.

Scriabin’s complex textures in his Prelude No. 5 in C sharp minor (Affannato) are finely done with Ashkenazy showing his feel for overall structure. Absolutely superb. After the lovely subtle rubato of No. 6 in D flat major (Esaltato) Prelude No. 7 in F minor (Agitato) brings a certain restraint, subtle, but enough to add a tension. No. 8 in E flat major (Allegro) has a lovely ripping forward drive with a beautifully conceived, thoughtful central section.

Next in this exceptionally fine recital comes Scriabin’sTrois Morceaux, Op.45. No.1 "Feuillet d'Album" in E flat major (Andante piacevole) has a lovely breadth and freedom. With No.2 "Pòeme Fantasque" in C major (Presto) Ashkenazy has the feel of Scriabin’s distinctive rhythms and textures in this tiny piece before a really lovely little No.3 Prélude in E flat major (Andante).

Ashkenazy reveals Scriabin’s Quasi Waltz, Op.47 to be a fantastical, really individual waltz. With Trois Morceaux, Op.52 we move further into Scriabin’s later style especially with No.1 Poème (Lento – Più vivo – Tempo 1), Ashkenazy revealing many subtle details and harmonies. He brings a lovely, limpid light touch to No. 2 Énigma (Étrange, capricieusement) before the languorous No. 3 Poème languide (Pas vite).

Ashkenazy shows 2 Pièces, Op.57 to be real gems, the fleeting No.1 Désir containing so much feeling and a beautifully light and delicate No.2 Caresse dansée.

Ashkenazy allows the strangely beautiful Feuillet d'album, Op.58 to unfold beautifully before 2 Poèmes, Op.63 with the fleeting No.1 Masque (Allegretto. Avec une douceur cachée) wonderfully caught and No.2 Étrangeté (Gracieux, délicat) where Ashkenazy brings his light, delicate touch.

More poèmes follow with 2 Poèmes, Op.69. No.1 Allegretto. Tendre, délicat has a subtle ebb and flow with exquisite phrasing before a fleeting, light footed No.2 Allegretto. Aigu, capricieux.

With 2 Poèmes, Op.71 Scriabin brings a greater focus to No.1 Fantastique, his strange harmonies perfectly caught here. No.2 En rêvant, avec une grande douceur is beautifully built as it subtly increases in strength and power, almost as though a mini sonata, such is its power in this performance.

The apt title piece for this disc is Vers la flamme, Op.72 (Toward the Flame) in which Ashkenazy slowly builds this initially brooding piece gradually allowing light to enter. An absolutely terrific performance.

The final works by Alexander Scriabin on this disc are the 5 Preludes, Op.74 tiny gems, opening with a very fine No.1 Douloureu, déchirant, beautifully formed. There is an exquisite Prelude No.2 Très lent, contemplatif before a perfectly formed little No.3 Allegro drammatico. Ashkenazy finds his way through the meandering Prelude
No.4 Lent, vague, indécis wonderfully in this quite lovely performance before concluding with a tumultuous Prelude No.5 Fier, belliqueux.

An unusual addition to this disc is the inclusion of Yulian Alexandrovich Scriabin’s (1908-1919) Preludes, Op.3 - No.1, written when his son was just 10 years of age. It brings many of the characteristics of his father’s late style, his intervals, sonorities and harmonies, though with a coda that suggests an independent spirit.

Ashkenazy has a natural empathy for Scriabin, bringing many subtleties. He has the ability to capture the fleeting beauties of Scriabin’s later works to perfection. This is a beautifully structured recital finely recorded at Potton Hall, Suffolk, England. There are informative booklet notes.

Whatever new recordings are released this centenary year Ashkenazy’s contribution is very fine indeed.

Sunday 21 June 2015

A masterly live 2011 performance of Schubert’s Great C major Symphony from Claudio Abbado just released on Deutsche Grammophon

Recordings continue to appear of the great conductor Claudio Abbado www.deutschegrammophon.com/gb/artist/abbado who sadly died last year. Thankfully we can remember him through the recordings that he left, not the least of which are those live concerts that are finding their way on to disc.

Deutsche Grammophon www.deutschegrammophon.com have just released a recording with his Orchestra Mozart www.orchestramozart.com drawn from concerts in September 2011 at the Bologna Auditorium Manzoni, Bologna, Italy and the Bozen Konzerthaus, Bolzano, Italy. The single work on this disc is Schubert’s Great C major Symphony D.944

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The opening horn bars of the Andante bring a rather nostalgic feel before the orchestra join to bring a beautifully shaped theme.  As the music rises in dynamics to lead into the Allegro ma non Troppo Abbado draws his usual taut playing from his orchestra. There is such fine care of rhythm, phrasing and dynamics; nothing is ever routine, Abbado finding so many points of interest to reveal. This relatively small orchestra really delivers the goods in the broader, more dynamic passages with this conductor beautifully developing the movement throughout.

There is some terrific woodwind playing in the opening of the Andante con moto with Abbado drawing some punchy orchestral playing in the orchestral dynamics. The strings of Orchestra Mozart provide some fine moments, a beautifully silken sound yet with a firmness. There are many fine hushed passages with Abbado revealing all the orchestral lines. He allows the movement to breathe, building centrally and revealing some lovely details.

The Scherzo Allegro vivace – Trio is terrifically paced with Abbado’s subtle flexibility of tempi, his beautiful shaping of phrases as well as some lovely dance like episodes. He really drives the music forward in the long phrases with a gorgeously controlled trio section with so many subtleties revealed.

The Finale Allegro Vivace opens full of dash and energy, pushing ahead. As the movement develops Abbado reveals so many little details, always subtly adjusting the tempo and dynamics. There is spot on playing, taut and full of verve, really pulling the listener along.  There is such fine control in the quieter moments before he moves through some terrific passages as the music develops. Abbado builds the music to perfection showing just how naturally Schubert’s symphony develops over its glorious length. The hushed section towards the end brings a fine tension before we are slowly led to the coda.

This is another recording to treasure. Abbado always seems to bring something special to a performance and in this newly released recording he does so in spectacularly fine fashion. There will always be arguments over tempi and timings for recordings of this great work. Abbado’s performance, longer than many, shows just how to pace this work naturally.

This is a masterly performance from the hands of a master.

I should not forget to mention what a fine orchestra Orchestra Mozart are.

The live recording is first rate, very detailed and clear in a lovely acoustic. There are booklet notes on Abbado, Orchestra Mozart and Schubert.

See also:

Thursday 18 June 2015

A new release by Somm featuring pianist Simon Callaghan brings rewarding works by Roger Sacheverell Coke that deserve to be heard

Not a lot has been written about British composer Roger Sacheverell Coke (1912-1972). He was born in Alfreton, Derbyshire, England to an upper middle class family. His father was killed during the First World War when Roger was only two years old. He studied with John Frederic Staton and Alan Bush (1900-1995). Mental health problems seem to have played a part in his failure to establish himself as a composer yet he wrote a considerable amount of music including chamber works, a large number of songs, six piano concertos, three symphonies and an opera.

It is no wonder that Rachmaninov became such an influence on Coke. The Russian composer stayed with Coke in Derbyshire and returned the compliment by inviting his fellow composer to stay at his house Senar on the banks of Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. Coke dedicated his Second Symphony to Rachmaninov.

In the absence of other sources, I am grateful to the excellent booklet notes by Robert Matthew Walker included in a new release from Somm Recordings www.somm-recordings.com  of Coke’s Preludes, Op.33 and Op.34 coupled with his Variations, Op.37 featuring pianist Simon Callaghan http://simoncallaghan.com

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Last year EM Records issued Roger Sacheverell Coke’s Sonata for Violin and Piano No 1 on a disc of similar works by Granville Bantock and Cyril Scott www.em-records.com/discs/emr-cd018-details.html So little has been available of this composer’s music that this new Somm recording is most welcome.

Of his Preludes, Op.33 (1938-39) No. 1 Appassionato is very much in the grand manner, full of stormy drama. Prelude No. 2. Andante brings some rather Chopinesque descending phrases before developing in a more advanced direction. No.3. Andantino reveals more of Coke’s distinctive style, rising from a thoughtful opening, through a rather sterner section to a subdued coda. It is hard not to hear the influence of Rachmaninov in Prelude No.4. Molto maestoso but in a wholly engaging manner with distinctive touches, particularly in the coda. No.5. Andantino has a looser feel, a free moving forward motion, again distinctive in character despite the descending phrases part way through that again recall Rachmaninov.

After a stormy, unsettled Prelude No.6 Presto agitato, the Prelude No.7. Grazioso has some lovely harmonies, a gentle dissonance and a lovely hushed coda. No.8. Lento maestoso has gentle, rippling phrases as well as moments of hushed, suspended beauty. Callaghan gives Prelude No.9. Leggiero scherzando a lovely rhythmic lift, beautifully paced and phrased. No.10. Vivace has a fine forward, rippling flow, beautifully played here with this pianist bringing a lovely persuasive touch. The most substantial of the Op.33 set is the Prelude No.11. Andante cantabile, a gentle, finely phrased work with moments of exquisite feeling. Scriabin comes to mind a little as the music builds, Callaghan revealing it as a particularly fine piece.  

The 13 Preludes, Op.34 (1941) make up the total of 24 Preludes. No.12. Allegro scherzando brings an energetic opening before a very Rachmaninovian fall to a quieter section. When the music regains energy I detected a rather more desperate feel to Coke’s imagination. Coke brings some individual touches to the nevertheless rather Rachmaninovian Prelude No.13. Cantabile before No.14. Allegro assai  where Callaghan brings a finely articulated flow, quite lovely. Prelude No.15. Andante cantabile has a rather withdrawn, thoughtful atmosphere before No.16. Andantino pathetico continues with a rather thoughtful, slowly developed idea, oddly distinctive.
The limpid, gentle harmonies of No.17. Moderato bring another distinctive piece, very engaging.

Prelude No.18. Presto agitato fairly hurtles ahead with some very fine fluency from this pianist. In the Prelude No.19. Allegro comodo it is lovely how Coke overlays the stormier motif with the flowing theme of the right hand. Broad phrases allow the gentler Prelude No.20. Languido e rubato to find its way slowly forward, beautifully developed. Prelude No.21. Amabile brings more of Coke’s distinctive harmonies and dissonances whereas No.22. Andantino has broader phrases that bring a more dramatic feel with some fine sonorities. Prelude No.23. Amabile brings some lovely harmonies, again so typical of this composer before No.24. Maestoso brings this cycle to a tempestuous conclusion with a dramatic descending motif showing this fine pianist in some terrific passages.

The Variations, Op.37 (1939) were dedicated to the Russian pianist Prince George Chavchavadze. The opening Theme: Lento sounds like a variation itself, such is its spacious, loosely held theme. It leads quickly into the brief Variation 1: Più Mosso before the rippling, beautifully developed, Variation 2: Allegro. Variation 3: Lento assai, doloroso seems to draw on the variation style of Rachmaninov, here finely phrased and paced. The shifting harmonies and freely felt construction of Variation 4: Allegretto  brings more of Coke’s distinctive personal style before broad, firm phrases lead Variation 5: Moderato maestoso  ahead.

There is a terrific Variation 6: Presto scherzando, fluently and brilliantly played and a Variation 7: Chorale - Andantino cantabile where Coke brings more of his personal touch with a hauntingly felt nostalgia.  Callaghan displays a lovely touch in the rippling Variation 8: Andantino before a lovely, glowing Variation 9: Moderato, a really fine piece. Variation 10: Allegro molto energico is full of energy Coke bringing some unusual harmonies and sonorities, quite individual and finely played, full of brilliance and virtuosity.

Variation 11: Intermezzo - Andante rubato is equally distinctive with a carefully, gently picked out theme and just a hint of Scriabin. Variation 12: Andantino semplice e grazioso brings more attractive and distinctive harmonies, finely nuanced by Callaghan before the brief stormy Variation 13: Moderato appassionato. A fast fluent
Variation 14: Allegro risoluto with some exceptionally fine playing leads to the final
Variation 15: Largo doloroso where the Dies Irae plainchant, much loved and used by Rachmaninov, seems about to emerge, bringing a darker, brooding nature. The
Finale: Tempo di Tema suddenly lightens the mood as it rises up confidently before the quite coda.

For all the references that there are to Rachmaninov and Scriabin, one should not lose sight of Coke’s personal style that does emerge. These are rewarding works that deserve to be heard. This composer could not have a finer advocate than Simon Callaghan who receives an excellent recording from the Old Granary Studios, Suffolk, England. There are useful and informative notes by Robert Matthew Walker as well as a nicely illustrated booklet. 

Wednesday 17 June 2015

I defy anyone not to be entranced by Christopher Guild’s premiere recording of Ronald Stevenson’s A Rosary of Variations on Seán Ó Riada's Irish Folk Mass, just one of a number of fine performances on Volume One of a new series from Toccata Classics

The sad news was announced in March this year of the death of the pianist-composer Ronald Stevenson, aged 87. Ronald Stevenson (1928-2015) www.ronaldstevensonsociety.org.uk was born in Blackburn, Lancashire of Scottish and Welsh ancestry. He studied at the Royal Manchester College of Music and later at the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia in Rome. From 1962 to 1965 he taught composition and piano in the University of Cape Town. He was a visiting Professor at the Shanghai Conservatory in 1985 and also performed and gave seminars at the Julliard School, New York. Stevenson was a Fellow of the Royal Manchester College of Music.

Ronald Stevenson was a prolific composer having written orchestral works, concertos, choral music, chamber music, song cycles and a large number of works for piano. Many of his works for piano take the form of transcriptions, arrangements or variations on themes of other composers. Indeed Stevenson’s longest work is his Passacaglia on DSCH, the personal musical motto of Shostakovich. Stevenson has never made a distinction between transcription and original composition, perhaps following on from the practice of composers such as Bach.

I only recently acquired Stevenson’s own 1964 recording of his Passacaglia on DSCH which shows just how phenomenal a pianist he was (still available on the Appian label) www.amazon.co.uk/Stevenson-R-Passacaglia-DSCH-Ronald/dp/B000XHBMO8/ref=sr_1_4?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1433854195&sr=1-4&keywords=Ronald+Stevenson

Now from Toccata Classics www.toccataclassics.com comes Volume One of a series of recordings of Ronald Stevenson’s piano music. This first release, entitled A Celtic Album, brings works inspired by the music of Scotland itself and includes a number of first recordings. The pianist here is Christopher Guild www.christopherguild.co.uk

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A Wheen Tunes for Bairns tae Spiel: Four Scottish Pieces for Piano (1964) (A few Tunes for Youngsters to Play) opens with Croon to which Christopher Guild brings a lovely simplicity. In Drone left hand repeated chords provide a drone over which a tune appears as well as some attractive dissonances. There is a fast moving Reel played with a fine, even flow and clarity before the brief yet attractive Spiel concludes.

A Scottish Triptych (1959-67) is more substantial with deep chords announcing Keening Song for a Makar: In Memoriam Francis George Scott (1959). Soon an undulating left hand theme arrives, over which a melodic idea is laid. The music builds in power before a more introspective passage, freely developed. When the music builds again there are some tremendous passages, played by Guild with great precision with lovely phrasing and finely judged tempi. The quiet, introspection returns before a more dynamic coda.

An unusual staccato theme opens Heroic Song for Hugh MacDiarmid (1967) before progressing into a longer breathed melody. The music builds through some tremendously powerful passages, played by this pianist with terrific fluency and panache before leading to a lovely slow, melancholy section. There are some finely judged dissonances before the staccato phrases of the opening return in the coda.

Growls from the lower keyboard open Chorale-Pibroch for Sorley MacLean (1967) before a lovely dissonant Pibroch arises. Guild brings some fine, powerful playing here with some beautifully delicate moments where plucked piano strings conjure up the Celtic harp. As the music develops there are some really impressive passages before strummed piano strings, as the coda arrives. Hushed plucked strings conclude this quite magical coda.

South Uist (Hebridean) Folksong Suite (1969) was not published until 1995. The source of the folksongs used is the book Folksongs and Folklore of South Uist by American folklorist Margaret Fay Shaw (1903-2004). Sailing Song: Lively, jolly, robust brings a lively little melody before the contrasting A Witching Song for the Milking: Allegro that has a beautiful melody, given such subtle harmonies by Stevenson. Guild brings a lovely bounce to the rhythmic and fast moving A Little Mouth Music: Allegro alla danza before handling the varying tempi and rhythms of
A Waulking Song: Moderato beautifully, bringing just the right degree of fantasy.

The overarching tune of Spinning Song: Allegro corrente is light and buoyant yet there is an underlying sadness shown here. A Tired Mother's Lullaby: Andante stanco brings another lovely melody, slow and thoughtful and given a lovely ripping flow by Guild before the melancholy poise of The Christ Child's Lullaby: Andante semplice.

A Rosary of Variations on Seán Ó Riada's Irish Folk Mass (1980) takes themes from the music of the Irish composer Seán Ó Riada (1931-1971) in whose memory the work was written. Guild brings a lovely freedom to his playing as a fine melody is revealed, providing some fine control of dynamics and beautifully phrasing. There are so many wonderful moments to mention in this beautifully played piece. I defy anyone not to be entranced by this work, especially as played here in this premiere recording – and what a terrific coda.

Ten of Stevenson’s numerous Scottish Folk Music Settings (1956-1980) were gathered together in one volume and published by the Ronald Stevenson Society in 1999. The first John Anderson, my Jo (1961) (Lento con moto) opens with a lovely, rather tentative theme that soon develops a flow through some fine passages. This is a little gem, exquisitely played. Waly, Waly (1959) (Andante) shows how Stevenson had the ability to develop a simple melody bringing such fine harmonies and textures. With its subtle Scottish inflections A Rosebud by my Early Walk (1961) (Allegretto) has moments of heart-rending beauty whereas Lang hae we Pairted Been (1961) (Andante) has a thoughtful opening that leads to a flowing section with some lovely decorations. Guild’s fine sensitivity reveals a lovely timeless feel in From an Old Pibroch (1956 rev. 1965) (Allegretto/Andante).

Some beautifully overlaid lines bring a strange beauty Ca' the Yowes (1965) (Andante) before the lovely breadth of Jock o' Hazeldean (undated) (Andante fluente) which combines with a melancholic edge, not to mention some fine dissonances. There is a beautifully paced The Hielan Widow's Lament (1965) (Lento com moto) before Hard is my Fate (1980) (Moderato stoico) with its beautifully heart felt Scottish melody and a leisurely Ne'erday Sang (1962 rev. 1963) (Andante ardente) that develops beautifully and subtly in Guild’s hands.

Christopher Guild proves to be a fine pianist who really has the feel of these pieces. The slightly reverberant acoustic is nevertheless very detailed. There are excellent booklet notes.

I await Volume Two with keen anticipation.

Toccata Press have published a highly regarded volume of the composer entitled Ronald Stevenson - The Man and His Music - A Symposium www.toccatapress.com/cms/book/ronald-stevenson-man-music.html

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Tuesday 16 June 2015

Alexander Walker and the New Russia State Symphony Orchestra provide very fine performances of works by Ignatz Waghalter on a new release from Naxos

Ignatz Waghalter (1881-1949) www.waghalter.com  was born in Warsaw into a musical yet poor Jewish family.  Ignatz’s eldest brother, Henryk, became one of the most important cellists at the Warsaw Conservatory with two other brothers, Joseph and Wladyslaw, achieving prominence as musicians.

Waghalter displayed musical talents at an early age, performing publicly in local music halls, the circus and for wealthy Polish aristocratic and bourgeois families when he was only six years old. At the age of seventeen Waghalter travelled to Berlin where, after a brief period of study with the composer Philipp Scharwenka, he met the great violinist Joseph Joachim who helped him gain admittance to the Academy of Art in Berlin where he studied under Friedrich Gernsheim (1839-1916).

Waghalter’s compositional abilities soon became clear with Joachim giving high praise to his early String Quartet in D major and his Sonata for Violin and Piano receiving the Mendelssohn Prize. Other works from this period were a Violin Concerto, a Rhapsody for Violin and several song cycles.

In 1907 Waghalter secured a post as conductor at the Komische Oper in Berlin, assisting Arthur Nikisch This was followed by a brief tenure at the Stadttheater in Essen before the appointment as principal conductor at the new Deutsche Opernhaus in Berlin established his position as a major figure in German music. Three of Waghalter’s own operas received their premier at the Deutsche Opernhaus.

Waghalter spent some time in the USA in the 1920s where he became musical director of the New York State Symphony for a season before returning to Germany, where he accepted the position of Generalmusikmeister of the film company UFA.

During this time he composed the film score for Hann Walter Kornblum's Wunder der Schöpfung. He also composed several operettas and appeared as a guest conductor. Waghalter was later appointed musical director at the National Opera in Riga, Latvia but, after his return to Berlin his position under the Nazi regime became increasingly difficult forcing him into exile in 1934. After moving to Czechoslovakia, then Austria, Waghalter and his wife fled to the United States.

After his arrival in New York, Waghalter established a classical orchestra of African-American musicians. However, funding was difficult and the project could not be sustained. He occasionally appeared as a guest conductor but died in relative obscurity in New York at the age of sixty eight.

Naxos www.naxos.com issued a recording of Waghalter’s Violin Concerto, Rhapsodie, Violin Sonata, Idyll and Geständnis with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Alexander Walker with Irmina Trynkos (violin) and Giorgi Latsabidze in 2012 (piano) (8.572809).

Now from Naxos www.naxos.com comes a new release with the New Russia State Symphony Orchestra www.nros.ru/nros conducted by Alexander Walker www.alexanderwalker.org featuring Waghalter’s New World Suite, the Overture and Intermezzo from his second opera Mandragola and Masaryk’s Peace March. All are listed as world premiere recordings.


Waghalter’s comic opera Mandragola (1914) is based on a satirical play by Italian Renaissance philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli. Its successful Berlin premiere was attended by Richard Strauss, Ferrucio Busoni and Engelbert Humperdinck. The Overture: Allegro moderato, fliessend opens with a burst of energy before moving quickly forward in a buoyant theme. There are some textural and harmonic subtleties when the music calms but overall this is music of light-hearted joy. The Intermezzo: Allegretto grazioso brings a rather pastoral feel with a lovely cor anglais contribution before a clarinet shares the melody over punctuated strings. There is some distinctive orchestration, particularly in the use of brass, with some lovely instrumental touches.

Waghalter had already met such prominent American composers as Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern and George Gershwin during his earlier visit to the USA. These influences most certainly found their way into his New World Suite (reconstructed by Alexander Walker) (1939/2013) where he includes jazz, vaudeville and cabaret elements.

In ten movements Intrada: Allegretto moderato, fliessend has a lively rhythmic opening, again with some attractive instrumental contributions, before moving through some lovely and, indeed, very American sounding passages. A piano can be heard as a syncopated rhythm appears before the end. In the Intermezzo: Moderato pizzicato strings herald another rhythmic section with brass and woodwind weaving an attractive melody.

The strings bring a flowing melody to Hymn and Variations: Moderato assai before a cor anglais adds its texture. Other woodwind combine to take the melody as does the piano before developing into another rhythmic theme for strings over which the woodwind bring flourishes. With the Promenade: Allegro vivo a string rhythm jogs along, over which brass bring the melody, before it is shared around the orchestra. Again there are many attractive details for various instruments including the piano.

Horns open the Idyll and Hornpipe: Andantino before strings join and the melody moves ahead with a muted trumpet and cor anglais taking the theme. There is a staccato string passage with piano before a slow, broader version appears. The tempo picks up with a rhythmic trumpet theme to which the rest of the orchestra join sounding almost like Gilbert and Sullivan operetta such is its light hearted rhythmic, forward moving nature. The Pastorale: Larghetto opens in a rather serious vein but soon lightens as the orchestra weaves around the theme. A cornet brings a lighter, more buoyant theme before moments of thoughtfulness and melancholy contrast with lighter sounds of the brass.

Waghalter brings the same distinctive brass and woodwind sounds to the City Dance: Tempo comodo as the music quickly moves through a number of variations until the strings take the music forward to a rich coda. Vaudeville: Allegro vivo launches a fast moving, rhythmic theme, full of light and jolly instrumental details.

Berceuse: Andante con moto brings a mellow, flowing theme with piano accompaniment that is soon shared by various instruments. Waghalter brings some attractive orchestral textures in this lovely piece, light yes, but very attractive. A trumpet brings a very American sound to the Finale: Allegro.  Waghalter appears to have perfectly assimilated the American popular sound in this lively piece, ranging from rhythmic to flowing with an important piano part before a grand orchestral coda.

Masaryk’s Peace March (1935) was written after Waghalter had fled to Czechoslovakia and was commissioned for the official celebrations of the occasion of the retirement of 1st President of Czechoslovakia, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1850-1937), an opponent of Fascism. At over ten minutes it is a substantial, very fine occasional piece that shows Waghalter’s talent for providing a longer, more varied work that, nevertheless, is kept within the confines of a rousing march. A really enjoyable piece.

The CD booklet speaks of Waghalter’s desire to write approachable, lively music. That is exactly what is to be found on this new disc.  Alexander Walker and the New Russia State Symphony Orchestra provide very fine performances and are nicely recorded. Music in a lighter vein this may be but it is thoroughly enjoyable.

See also:

Saturday 13 June 2015

Gilbert Rowland completes his six CD series of Handel’s Suites for Harpsichord for Divine Art. Sometimes with a project of this kind everything comes together as it does magnificently in this series. At mid-price these discs should be snapped up without delay

Gilbert Rowland’s www.divine-art.com/AS/gilbertrowland.htm previous volumes in his series of Handel’s Suites for Harpsichord for Divine Art www.divine-art.com/index.htm  have proved to be superb, something I found when reviewing Volume 2 back in April 2013 http://theclassicalreviewer.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/the-second-volume-of-handels-suites-for.html

Now with Volume 3, Rowland completes this series in a release that is just as impressive. Again Rowland plays a copy of a two manual French harpsichord after Goermans (Paris 1750), built by Andrew Wooderson in 2005.

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Of Handel’s works for harpsichord HWV426-455 (Händel-Werke-Verzeichnis www.klassika.info/Komponisten/Haendel/wv_gattung.html ) Gilbert Rowland excludes only HWV446, a Suite for Two Harpsichords of which only the music for one instrument survives and HWV455 that, whilst listed as a harpsichord suite, is in fact a keyboard arrangement of Handel’s orchestral Ouverture HWV336 and Suite HWV354. All of Handel’s 27 Suites for Harpsichord are here in this series including Handel’s the Suites de Pièces (1720) known as the Eight Great Suites and Suites de Pièces known as the Second Volume (1733-34), as well as the Chaconne in G major HWV435.

It is the first of the so called Eight Great Suites, the Suite in A major, HWV 426 published in 1720, that opens Volume 3 with a Prelude that reveals some beautifully rich sonorities, expertly laid out with some lovely flourishes as well as a fine expansive sound. There is a beautifully poised Allemande with a great clarity of line before Rowland brings some fine energy to the Courante, extracting more fine sonorities. The Suite concludes with a terrific Gigue, full of rhythmic bounce, a true dance rhythm.

The Suite in D minor, HWV 447 along with the Suite in G minor, HWV 452 is one of a pair written in 1739. Both are the last such pieces that Handel wrote. The Allemande has a lovely, relaxed quality, exquisitely drawn with a Courante that has a natural flow, again with a lovely transparency of line. The Sarabande is particularly attractive before a nicely sprung Gigue to conclude.

The Suite in G minor, HWV 452 also opens with an Allemande but this time with a great forward impetus. With the Courante, Rowland again brings a fine flow, a lovely overlaying of musical lines. The leisurely Sarabande is quite lovely before a Gigue that is full of energy and spirit with Rowland bringing some fine textures and sonorities.

The Allemande of the Suite in B flat major, HWV 440, from the Second Collection of 1733-34 is beautifully paced with Rowland bringing subtle little tempi variations. There is a nice steady pace to the Courante allowing every line to be revealed, always a fine momentum. The Sarabande brings some quite exquisite variations with some phenomenally fine playing from this harpsichordist before the Gigue that has great rhythmic bounce.  

The Ouverture of the Suite in D minor, HWV 448 brings a fine full tone showing this to be a really grand overture before dashing off in a terrific theme. The Allemande has a poise and delicacy that contrasts well, not to mention occasional beautifully rich deeper sonorities.  The following Courante moves forward quickly with a great fluency and terrific phrasing before Sarabandes I and II bring a leisurely flow, beautifully laid out with a lovely poise. There is a lively Chaconne to end this Suite with Rowland bringing a terrific forward drive, great panache and a terrific conclusion, so fluent. This really is fine playing.

The second disc of this set opens with the Suite in D minor, HWV 449. As with the Suite in D minor, HWV 448 it is another of the Miscellaneous Suites probably composed before Handel left Germany in 1707. It is a substantial piece in seven movements, beginning with a terrific opening Prelude where Rowland really grabs the attention, finely paced and phrased with great fluency before an Allemande that has a fine natural forward flow and some lovely details. It is Rowland’s fine phrasing and sense of momentum that makes the Courante so fine before the gently flowing Sarabande. The Aria of the Aria and 7 Variations brings a lovely little theme that is taken through a great series of variations with a non-stop flow of great fluency, beautifully controlled with varying tempi, drawing lovely sonorities. The Giga has some very fine rhythmic subtleties brought out by Rowland before we reach the lovely, rather gentle Menuet.

The Suite in G minor, HWV 453 takes us back to the earlier compositional life of Handel, c.1705-06. This four movement work opens with an Ouverture, stately and beautifully laid out with lovely decorations before arriving at a fine forward flow. The Entrée is wonderfully lively, full of joy before the poised Menuets I and II that receive some lovely subtle changes of tone and sonority. The Chaconne has such well-chosen tempo allowing the music to unfold beautifully.

The incomplete Suite in C minor, HWV 445 was also written around 1705-06 and  consists of just three movements, a lovely expansive, florid Prelude before a gently flowing Allemande with lovely phrasing and lovely decorations and a Courante that really draws the ear with its lovely harmonies.

Suite in G minor, HWV 451 is another incomplete Suite, this time consisting of just two movements and dating from c. 1703-06. The Allemande is thoughtfully presented, again with such lovely variations of sound drawn from this lovely instrument. The remaining Courante has a lovely buoyancy.

Another work from around 1703-06 is the Suite in G major, HWV 442. It opens with a short, sparkling Preludio before launching into the Chaconne and 62 Variations. The stately chaconne precedes a tremendous outpouring of variations. If you are not already bowled over by Rowland’s playing by now, this will surely captivate the most jaded ear. Gilbert Rowland brings spectacularly fine playing as Handel’s marvellous invention pours out. Absolutely terrific.  

Gilbert Rowland draws so many lovely phrases, colours and textures to add to his terrific fluency, joy and sheer panache. He also brings natural authority and command. The recording again made at Holy Trinity Church, Weston, Hertfordshire, England is absolutely first class and there are excellent booklet notes by Gilbert Rowland.

The combination of Handel, Gilbert Rowland, Wooderson’s fine harpsichord, the recording venue at Holy Trinity Church, Weston, Hertfordshire and the recording engineer John Taylor is unbeatable providing, as it does, a collection of these wonderful suites that I will return to again and again.

Sometimes with a project of this kind everything comes together as it does magnificently in this series. At mid-price these discs should be snapped up without delay.

Also available:

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Wednesday 10 June 2015

Naxos bring a very welcome addition to the catalogue with their new release of Penderecki’s Magnificat and Kadisz, works of great power and emotion in very fine performances from Antoni Wit and his forces

Krzystof Penderecki (b. 1933) www.schott-music.com/shop/persons/featured/krzysztof-penderecki  became very much a part of the musical avant-garde in the 1960s with such works as Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima (1960) and his first opera The Devils of Loudon (1968/69) but, from his First Violin Concerto (1976-77, revised 1987), he made, in his own words, what was a ‘synthesis’ of his earlier more radical style with traditional forms. 

Penderecki’s St Luke’s Passion (1965-66) was a landmark piece counted by many as among the most significant compositions in new music. Other choral works followed, but by the time he wrote his Magnificat in 1973-74 he had begun to formulate a style that combined his earlier avant-garde techniques with a more traditional post romantic idiom.

A new release from Naxos www.naxos.com  couples Penderecki’s Magnificat with his more recent Kadisz highlighting the fact that, despite his move away from his earlier avant-garde style the composer has maintained consistent underlying fingerprints. 

The Warsaw Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra http://filharmonia.pl , Warsaw Philharmonic Male Choir and the Warsaw Boys’ Choir http://choir-warsaw.subnet.pl  are conducted by Antoni Wit http://www.icartists.co.uk/artists/antoni-wit with Wojciech Gierlach (bass) www.wojtek.gierlach.net , Olga Pasichnyk (soprano) www.olgapasichnyk.com , Alberto Mizrahi (tenor) http://albertomizrahi.com and Daniel Olbrychski (speaker) http://culture.pl/en/artist/daniel-olbrychski and a male vocal ensemble consisting of tenor Jakub Burzyński, Mariusz Cyciura and Tomasz Warmijak; and basses Marek Wota and Przemysław Żywczok.

In six sections, the first part of the Magnificat (1973–74), Magnificat anima mea, opens on a sustained note before the orchestra develops a gently expanding passage before returning to a single note as the choir enters on the word Magnificat. The orchestra broadens before the choir again intones Magnificat with the orchestral textures and instrumentation developing more richness and colours as the choir lead on with some lovely dissonances; Penderecki at his brilliant best. Deep timpani beats over double basses lead into the second part, Fuga. Quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae where the male vocal ensemble and choir bring some disturbing, yet very fine harmonies and dissonances in this spectacularly written piece.  The voices rise and fall in wails before an instrumental section where a myriad of instrumental sounds mingle in a riot of orchestral colours. The choir continues over wailings from the male vocal ensemble, with interjections from brass, woodwind and strings. The layering of vocal and instrumental textures are wonderfully, if unusually, done. Towards the end there are some spectacularly fine choral passages before a beautifully hushed coda.

The sounds Penderecki achieves from his strings and high woodwind are truly lovely in the Et misericordia eius, bringing an other-worldly sound. The choir enters with some very fine controlled singing in Penderecki’s exceptionally difficult intervals and phrases, beautifully done before unsettled strings lead into the fourth section, Fecit Potentiam, where bass, Wojtek Gierlach arrives bringing a fine depth of tone as the orchestra rises in drama. There are moments of extreme intensity with Antoni Wit holding a fine balance of emotion and drama.  

Deep chords from double basses open the Passacaglia. Deposuit potentes de sede over which other strings add textures. The chorus enters bringing their own fine textures over the rhythmic basses before the music falls to a hush. It rises again in the orchestra with the choir coming in over them. Wit keeps the anticipation all the time as orchestra and choir bring sudden interjections, lightened a little by the children’s choir. However, the chorus soon bring some thrillingly alarming sounds before speaking the words et divites dimisit inanes (and sent the rich away empty-handed). The music falls quieter underpinned by lower strings and timpani as the choir leads forward but it is the hushed strings and quiet timpani that lead into the final section, Sicut locutus est where the chorus enters alone in a hushed magical passage on the words Sicut locutus est (As he spoke), slowly adding layers.

Here Penderecki provides some beautifully subtle vocal textures and colours before the children’s choir brings some especially fine moments. There is a terrific outburst on the words Gloria Patri (Glory be to the Father) with some brilliant outpourings of choral sounds. Later the male vocal ensemble add some fine textures before the orchestra rises up full of terrific colours and textures. The chorus rejoin as do the vocal ensemble in a swirl of textures leading to a loud tonal outburst for chorus and orchestra. The orchestra and choir heads dramatically forward until all falls to a hush and a rather anxious Amen ends the work quietly.

What a wonderful work Penderecki’s Magnificat is. Just as with their previous recordings of this composer’s works, Antoni Wit and his forces provide very fine performances. 

Kadisz (Kaddish) (2009) was commissioned to mark the 65th anniversary of the liquidation of the city of Łódź’s Jewish ghetto and was premiered there on 29th August 2009 conducted by the composer. Szła śmierć od mogiły do mogiły: Tempo di marcia funebre opens with a rather menacing slow orchestral plod before soprano, Olga Pasichnyk enters on the words Szła śmierć od mogiły do mogiły (Death walked from grave to grave). This soprano has a fine voice full of intense feeling. An orchestral passage follows bringing a subdued drama before leading to a less tense, more flowing section to which the soprano joins. Penderecki’s orchestration is wonderful as he conjures such melancholy. Soon the orchestra sounds a note of caution before the soprano rises on the word Odejdź! (Go away!) before moving, full of intense emotion, to a climactic coda, brilliantly sung. 

The orchestra introduces a dramatic second movement, Leży na ziemi po ulicach dziecię, i starzec: Grave, senza misura (The young and the old lie on the ground in the streets) soon joined by speaker, Daniel Olbrychski who brings an intensity, character and impact to the part, over a dramatic orchestral accompaniment. Such is the emotion that one hardly notices that he is not singing. The Warsaw Philharmonic Male Choir add to the impact before the music falls to a plaintive clarinet passage with hushed timpani beats. 

Male chorus alone opens Prosimy cię, abyś nas na wieki nie wydawał: Molto tranquillo (Deliver us up for ever, we beseech thee) bringing some fine overlaid textures in this hushed, withdrawn sequence. One can hear the connection with Penderecki’s earlier choral works, with subtle dissonances now rather than the overtly dissonant music of his earlier works. It rises in power before falling to a beautifully hushed coda.

Jitgadal wejitkadasz szmeh raba. Amen: Senza misura (May His great Name become exalted and sanctified) brings tenor, Alberto Mizrahi, opening as Cantor over a static, hushed orchestra with occasional choral interventions before rising in passion at the words and in the lifetimes of the entire Family of Israel. The chorus take over before Alberto Mizrahi brings some beautifully controlled singing in this lovely section moving through some moments of fine emotional impact before leading to a more settled Amen. 

This is a very welcome addition to the catalogue bringing works of great power and emotion in very fine performances from Antoni Wit and his forces. They receive a very fine recording from the Witold Lutosławski Concert Studio of Polish Radio, Warsaw (Magificat) and at Warsaw Philharmonic Hall (Kadisz). There are informative booklet notes as well as full Latin and Polish texts and English translations. 

See also:



Monday 8 June 2015

I cannot think of a better way for BIS to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Sibelius’ birth than this terrific new disc with Folke Gräsbeck playing the composer’s own Steinway at Ainola

This year is the 150th anniversary of the birth of the great Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) www.sibelius.fi and it is the 100th anniversary of the presentation of the Steinway still kept at his house Ainola. Given as a 50th birthday present, it was paid for by 144 of Sibelius’ supporters. 

BIS Records www.bis.se/index.php have now released a new recording featuring Folke Gräsbeck playing this historic but well maintained instrument in the original  setting of the drawing room at Ainola.

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All the members of the Sibelius family played on this grand piano with the composer himself mainly playing it at night when he was trying out his compositional ideas. The instrument was used by Wilhelm Kempff when he gave private recitals for the Sibelius household in 1923 and by Kosti Vehanen when Marian Anderson sang to the composer in 1933. Sibelius himself played the orchestral parts of his violin concerto on the piano when Isaac Stern played the concerto at Ainola in 1951 and it was on this instrument that Emil Gilels played Shostakovich's preludes and fugues to Sibelius in 1952. 

The piano’s life at Ainola was nearly cut short when bailiffs laid claim to it soon after the birthday celebrations, but a collection organised by Ida Ekman helped to prevent it from being taken away. Sibelius always seemed to be in financial difficulties. 

Although they are mainly short in duration, Sibelius seems to have retained affection for his piano pieces and they are well worth hearing especially played as well as this on Sibelius’ own instrument. 

Folke Gräsbeck brings a thoughtful, finely phrased performance of the Andantino in B major, JS44 (1888) that opens this recital. There is a nicely sprung Allegretto in B flat minor, JS18 (1888) before the world premiere recording of the manuscript of the Largo in A major, JS117 (1888) preserved at Kesalahti near Joensuu, regarded as the final version of the work. Folke Gräsbeck overcomes a certain lack of focus of the instrument with phrasing and articulation that bring out some fine moments not to mention some beautifully fluent passages towards the end.

Gräsbeck chooses two pieces from the Six Impromptus, Op. 5 (1893). No. 2 in G minor soon rises in a finely played rhythmic theme with this pianist providing more finely fluent playing. No. 5 in B minor finds rippling right hand swirls over a left hand theme as this lovely piece opens, revealed here as a very entrancing and engaging piece. 

Two pieces from 10 Pieces Op. 24 follow, No. 3 Caprice (1898), wonderfully free and fluent and No. 9 Romance in D flat major (1901), powerfully wrought with finely controlled dynamics, picking up all Sibelius’ emotional pull.

Such a recital would not be complete without the composer’s own piano transcription of Finlandia, Op. 26 (1899, revised 1900). Perhaps here, above all, one can imagine Sibelius trying over his new composition though, of course, neither the venue nor the instrument would have been available to him then.  Gräsbeck builds through some terrific passages, brilliantly handled and when the big tune emerges, what a joy it is in this direct yet poetic performance.

The Musette, Op. 27, No. 3 (1898) from the music to Adolf Paul’s play King Christian II is revealed here as an exquisite little piano piece although probably better known to many in its orchestral guise. It is played here with great subtlety.

The very brief but charming (Polka) 'Aino' in C Minor (1902-05) is followed by Valse Triste, Op. 44, No. 1 (1903, revised 1904) from the music for Arvid Järnefelt’s play Kuolema. There is a gentle opening to the hesitant little waltz before it slowly develops with confidence, Gräsbeck handling all of Sibelius’ mood and tempi changes so well. 

This pianist then brings the composer’s own piano transcription from 1907 of Pan and Echo, Op. 53 (1906) beautifully played with lovely phrasing and care of dynamics before it rises in tempo with some fine rhythmic passages. 

Rondino in G sharp minor, Op. 68, No. 1 (1912) is a lovely, thoughtful, beautifully laid out piece that contains much feeling in its relatively short length before a rather nostalgic Granen (The Spruce) Op. 75, No. 5 (1914, revised 1919) with some beautifully fluent flourishes later in the piece.

Gräsbeck takes five pieces from 13 Pieces, Op 76 in chronological order, opening with a lively, buoyant, nicely sprung No. 2 Etude (1911) before a fleet, fast moving
No. 9. Arabesque (1914) played with such a light touch. The lovely No. 10 Elegiaco (1916) is beautifully shaped whilst the fleeting No. 12 Capriccietto (1914) again receives a lovely light touch. Finally there is a lively and changeable No. 13 Harlequinade (1916) with Gräsbeck finding all the characteristics of Harlequin and providing a great little coda.

All 5 Pieces (The Flowers) Op. 85 are given here with a delicate, lively Bellis (The Daisy) (1917) where this pianist finds a lovely touch, an attractive Œillet (The Carnation) (1916) that seems to look backwards and Iris (The Iris) (1916) with some lovely sparklingly fluent passages. Aquilejia (The Columbine) (1917) proves to be a particularly fine piece, beautifully played before Campanula (The Campanula) (1917) that is full of lovely moments. 

2 Pieces for Oscar Parviainen (1919) were for his artist friend. The Andantino, JS201, like many of the pieces on this disc, is a really lovely little miniature to which this pianist brings a lovely feel. Con Passione, JS53 brings a forthright character full of joy. 

8 Short Pieces Op. 99 (1922) are represented here by a gentle reflective No. 3 Souvenir full of nostalgic and No. 7 Moment De Valse, light and straightforward yet wholly attractive. One can’t help but think that Sibelius found a real joy in writing such a piece as this.

Scène Romantique, Op. 101, No. 5 (1923 - 24) has a slow leisurely opening with a nostalgic air before gaining a fine flowing pace whereas The Village Church, Op. 103, No. 1 (1923 - 24) opens with bell like phrases and sonorities before a very Sibelian melody appears. One can easily imagine Sibelius improvising.

The final work on this disc is Landscape II (1928 – 29). It is a particularly strong piece, quite forward looking in its harmonies and structure, finely felt here by this pianist with a lovely quiet coda. 

Whilst I have already commented on the lack of focus of the instrument, this would be to totally miss the point. Here we have a fine pianist playing Sibelius on the composer’s own instrument in the composer’s own home. BIS have already done so much for the music of Sibelius so I cannot think of a better way for them to commemorate the 150th anniversary of his birth than this disc.

At a playing time of over 80 minutes this is a generously filled disc. There are excellent notes by Andrew Barnett. Surely all lovers of Sibelius will want to have this new release.

Saturday 6 June 2015

Sakari Oramo brings superb performances of Nielsen’s Symphonies No. 2 and 6 for BIS, concluding what is surely the finest cycle of Nielsen symphonies yet recorded

BIS Records www.bis.se/index.php have just released the final disc in Sakari Oramo’s www.harrisonparrott.com/artist/profile/sakari-oramo  cycle of Carl Nielsen’s (1865-1931) http://carlnielsen.dk  symphonies with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra www.harrisonparrott.com/toursprojects/royal-stockholm-philharmonic-orchestra


BIS issued Oramo’s recordings of Nielsen’s Fourth and Fifth Symphonies in March last year and they proved to be performances to be reckoned with, bringing out subtleties that show the depth of Nielsen’s creations. The First and Third symphonies followed in February this year and brought a terrific assurance with Oramo finding so many fine details and, indeed, a sense of re-discovery.

This last release in the series couples the Second Symphony with the Sixth Symphony, a work variously described as complex, puzzling and provocative.

Some years before writing his Symphony No. 2 ‘The Four Temperaments’, Op.16/FS29 (1901-02), Nielsen had been at a country inn on the Danish island of Zealand where he saw a rather naïve set of woodcuts depicting the Four Temperaments, the moods determined by the mixture of fluids in the body that the Ancient Greeks and Romans and, indeed, later physicians believed needed to be kept in balance. 

Nielsen took the moods for each of the movements of his symphony namely the impetuous (Allegro collerico), the indolent (Allegro comodo e flemmatico), the melancholy (Andante malincolico) and the cheerful or naïve (Allegro sanguinio). Nielsen pointed out, however, that the impetuous man can have his milder moments, the melancholy man his impetuous or brighter ones and the boisterous, cheerful man can become a little contemplative. The indolent man, however, can only emerge from his phlegmatic state with the greatest of difficulty.

Carl Nielsen dedicated his Second Symphony to Ferruccio Busoni and it was first performed on the 1st December 1902. Oramo brings a terrific drive and energy to the opening of the Allegro collerico drawing a terrific tautness from the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. There is a terrific control of dynamics, with the most beautifully done quieter, flowing passages as well as some fine sweeps of orchestral sound and razor sharp instrumental interventions. Oramo will pull you along with him like no other.

The first rate recording reveals some exquisite textures as the Allegro comodo e flemmatico gently, yet buoyantly, flows forward. There is a lovely rhythmic gait to the music as well as some very fine woodwind passages. This is a beautifully poised and mellifluous movement in Oramo’s hands, right up to the lovely coda.

The Andante malincolico is beautifully paced, with Oramo drawing some very fine string textures as the music slowly moves forward. There are more lovely woodwind moments, especially from the oboe, cor anglais and bassoon as well as some fine details such as the lovely gentle, insistent string motif before rising to a climax, so natural, full of restrained power.  Part way through, there is a beautifully hushed moment before the orchestra rises with brass in a glorious passage. Oramo does this to perfection, pacing it just right. When the music rises again it is a tremendous moment before slowly falling to a gentle coda.

The Allegro sanguinio leaps out, full of life with a terrific rhythmic surge of energy. Again the precision from the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic is superb with some terrific little instrumental details.  Later there is a beautifully drawn, quietly flowing section, beautifully phrased before leading off to a confident coda.

This is a spectacularly fine performance, beautifully recorded. 

Nielsen’s Symphony No.6 ‘Sinfonia Semplice’ FS116 (1924-25) is the most difficult to bring off. After his Fifth Symphony Nielsen stated that next time he would select an easy style to amuse himself. In August 1924 he wrote to his daughter Anne Marie Telmányi to tell her that he was beginning a Sixth Symphony that would be of ‘completely idyllic character.’ He even gave it the subtitle Sinfonia Semplice.

The new symphony was completed in 1925 and given its first performance on 11th December that year. It is dedicated to the Royal Chapel Orchestra, Copenhagen. In speaking of the completed symphony, Nielsen said that in the new work he had sought to compose for the individual characters of the instruments, that to him ‘each instrument is like a person who sleeps, whom I have to wake to life.’

A bell signals the opening of Tempo giusto before the orchestra enters with a sprightly rhythmic theme. The fine precision of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic really comes into its own as individual instruments dart in and out of the texture. Oramo controls every little detail and nuance superbly, somehow revealing the familiar Nielsen of the earlier works. There are some fine flowing passages for woodwind as well as frenetic strings that are absolutely terrific. There are some finely controlled quiet moments before the music builds to a climax, Oramo and the orchestra really whipping up a storm before the gentle coda.

Tinkling bells and little woodwind motifs appear in the strange Humoresque Allegretto. Here Oramo’s ability to pull together all the disparate ideas brings a cohesion and sense to this movement that I’ve never quite heard before. There is spot on precision and wonderfully wild instrumental sounds before a very fine coda as the music falls away.

The strings of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic sound out passionately in the opening of Proposta seria Adagio. There are beautifully controlled quieter woodwind passages that bring a haunting anxiety before a quiet coda.

In the Theme and variations Allegro the woodwind rise suddenly before a bassoon slowly takes the theme forward. Oramo controls the oddly quixotic passages beautifully, through moments of hushed quicksilver playing to intensely driving strings. There is a waltz that leads to a riotous section where the waltz is interrupted, bringing to mind the Fifth Symphony.  There are deeper passages such as the fine string melody, part way through, full of intense feeling. Then a riotous percussion and brass passage and fanfare before frenetic strings drive forward before arriving at the lovely coda that ends on a bassoon note.

Oramo seems to understand the structure and layout of No.6 as no other. This is surely the performance of this symphony that we have all been waiting for.

To say that Sakari Oramo really has the measure of Nielsen is an understatement. These performances are superb, topping off what is surely the finest cycle yet recorded. The Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra are absolutely top form and they receive another very fine BIS recording that highlights all the textures that Oramo extracts form the orchestra.

There are excellent booklet notes from David Fanning.

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