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
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
their release of a new album from Ashkenazy entitled Scriabin: Vers La Flamme marking the centenary of the composer’s
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
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 (♩=
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
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
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.
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
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.
Recordings continue to appear of the great conductor Claudio
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
Now from Toccata
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
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
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
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
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.
(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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
Of Handel’s works for harpsichord HWV426-455 (Händel-Werke-Verzeichnis
) 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
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.
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.
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.
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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
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.
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
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
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.