The French composer Paul
Dukas (1865-1935) was not particularly prolific, his intense self-criticism
restricting the number of works he allowed to be published. His fame rests on a
single orchestral work L’Apprenti sorcier
(The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) (1897).
Of his piano works there
are just seven, four of which French pianist Hervé Billaut http://hervebillaut.com has chosen to record for Mirare www.mirare.fr to celebrate Dukas’ 150th
Hervé Billaut graduated from the Conservatory of Paris at
the age of sixteen with the highest distinctions, gaining numerous awards
including the Grand Prize at the prestigious Long -Thibaud Piano Competition in
Since then, he has performed all over the world, playing at
the Theatre des Champs Elysées, the Salle Pleyel in Paris or the Teàtro Real in
Madrid as well as in Latin America or in the Far East. He has worked with the
Orchestre National de France, the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic and the Quebec
Symphony Orchestra and played under such conductors as John Eliot Gardiner and
This new disc for Mirare opens with Dukas’ La plainte, au loin, du faune… (The distant
lament of the faun…) It was
written in 1920, two years after the death of Debussy as a tribute to his late
friend. It opens with a repeated note around which the music develops. It is a
hauntingly beautiful piece which Hervé Billaut shapes quite magically. He has a
crystalline clarity to his touch with exquisite phrasing. One can just detect hints
of Debussy’s Prélude à l'après-midi d'un
The Sonate en mi bémol
mineur (Sonata in E-flat minor) that dates from 1899–1900 is a substantial work lasting around
forty three minutes.
has a fast, forward moving theme to which Billaut brings a real sense of
urgency. It slows to a more meditative section but then the music begins to
billow up again, this pianist providing a great feeling of drama and tension as
he heads to passages of passion and fire with some remarkably fine, virtuosic passages,
before quietening in the passages that lead to the resigned coda. In four
movements Calme, un peu lent, très
soutenu opens quietly and gently with some lovely little harmonic touches.
The music slowly finds its way around the diffuse theme with Billaut revealing
so many of Dukas’ fine ideas. He brings finely controlled dynamics. All is
beautifully phrased, quite exquisite in its gentle, yet heartfelt emotion. This
is an impressively shaped movement with a peaceful coda. Dukas develops his
material impressively in a sonata that really deserves to be heard in the
The Vivement, avec légèreté
lifts one out of one’s seat with a dynamic, forceful opening that then fairly
rattles ahead with Billaut providing some impressively fine playing, impeccable
phrasing with a tremendously light and agile touch, bringing out so many fine
little details within the tempestuous texture. There is a lovely, thoughtful
beautifully laid out, slower central section before the opening tempo returns
to dash forwards before slowing for the lovely coda.
Resolute chords also open the third movement Très lent – Animé before developing and
slowly revealing the theme, often stormy and passionate. Billaut’s wonderful
phrasing and clarity help to reveal the many wonders in this movement. At times
one can sense Liszt (of the B minor sonata) behind certain passages as this
music moves through moments of varying tempi and demanding writing. Dukas packs
so much into this thirteen minute movement. Here is a dazzling display of
pianism yet Billaut never misses any moments of subtle beauty or expressiveness.
There is a brief quieter and slower respite that quickly leads to the coda.
Two years after the sonata, Dukas wrote the
substantial Variations, Interlude et
Finale sur un thème de Rameau. It takes the penultimate piece from Rameau’s
Suite in D from the second book of harpsichord works. It opens with a Menuet et Variations de l à XI (minuet
and eleven variations). There is a lovely little minuet that soon moves through
a series of fine variations, at turns gentle and flowing, dramatic and
forceful, harmonically forward looking, fast and light, even a rather gloomy,
dark variation where the theme is hardly recognisable. Billaut’s lovely
attention to phrasing and dynamics and, indeed, colours brings some beautifully
rewarding results before we are taken straight into the Interlude where the theme is slowly ruminated on, building as it
develops and running into the Finale,
a buoyant and jaunty variation. There is a moment of more relaxed crystalline
purity centrally before the music heads toward the coda that, nevertheless,
slows before the resolute final chords.
Prelude élégiaque (sur
le nom de Haydn) (Elegiac prelude on the name of Haydn) is built around the
musical notation representing the letters of Haydn’s name. It opens quietly as
Dukas spells out Haydn’s name with Billaut bringing a quiet dignity to the
music, a stateliness tinged with nostalgic charm. There are some lovely free,
fluent passages as Dukas develops the music around the opening notes but, overall,
it is a contemplative work, from which this pianist draws many lovely moments before
the gentle conclusion.
This is an outstanding release. The Dukas sonata is, in
particular, a very impressive work played with authority and great accomplishment
by Hervé Billaut.
The excellent recording was made in the Church of Le Château
de Rochebonne, Rhône, France where Billaut is Artistic Director of the
festival, Les Rendez-Vous de Rochebonne www.rdv-rochebonne.fr
that he founded with friends. There are informative booklet notes
The account of Sergei
Rachmaninov’s (1873-1943) departure from his native Russia on 23rd
December 1917 is rather poignant. Ostensibly in order to undertake a concert
tour he had managed to obtain the necessary documents to enable him and his
family to leave the revolution torn country. He and his family were seen off at
Petrograd railway station by the composer’s best friend, Nikolai Struve (1875-1920).
Rachmaninov’s other great friend, the opera singer Feodor Chaliapin (1873-1938)
sent a note together with a package of caviar and homemade bread. The sound of
gunfire could be heard in the distance.
At the crossing of the Finnish border the customs inspector who
checked their luggage apparently only showed interest in the children’s
schoolbooks before wishing the composer good luck on his concert tour. The road
from the Finnish to the Swedish border was undertaken by open sledge from which
they could see the sparks from the train disappearing in the distance. It was
after midnight before they caught the train to Stockholm where they spent Christmas
Eve in their hotel room. Luckily Nikolai Struve joined his family in Denmark
where a rented house was soon found for the émigré family. Rachmaninov was
never to return to the country of his birth, a loss that he never recovered
Luckily some émigrés feel the loss of their country a little
less intensely. Pianist and composer, Alissa Firsova tells us in her
interesting booklet note accompanying her debut recording that her family’s
nostalgia for Russia did not affect them so deeply, England becoming their true
This new release from
Vivat www.vivatmusic.com is appropriately entitled Russian Émigrés and features piano works
by Rachmaninov from before and after his exile from his native country coupled
with works by her parents Elena Firsova and Dmitri Smirnov as well as by Alissa
On this her debut disc, Alissa Firsova plays Rachmaninov’s original 1913 version of
his Piano Sonata No. 2 Op. 36. She brings a slightly quieter opening to the Allegro Agitato, creating a brief sense
of anticipation before the cascading bars that follow. Firsova carefully builds
some tremendous passages, offset with some very fine quieter moments. It is her
beautiful phrasing and flexible tempi and, indeed, fine rubato that lend so
much to this music bringing a freshness that is quite beguiling. By choosing
the original version, the music gains a more organic development with room to
breathe. Half way through, those descending bell-like phrases have a real
Russian flavour. There are many lovely details, such limpid, delicate, quieter
phrases and the run up to the coda is beautifully done.
This pianist gives us a lovely slow Non Allegro to which she brings a haunting quality. Though Firsova
takes this section slower than many, it works beautifully, revealing many
lovely details. She builds the music wonderfully towards the middle with some
fine fluent passages. Firsova’s way of
pacing and building this movement is terrific, the more passionate passages gaining
so much from the surrounding calm.
The gentle introduction to the L'istesso Tempo - Allegro Molto soon gives way to playing of stormy
virtuosity, again wonderfully paced, allowing the music to develop naturally.
There are moments of tranquillity and beautifully detailed calm with this pianist
shading and colouring phrases exquisitely before the music rises dramatically
with some wonderfully transparent textures. Firsova brings a stunningly
virtuosic coda, displaying a wonderful touch.
Whatever Rachmaninov’s reasons for making cuts, I cannot
help always wishing that pianists would play the original version more often.
Here Alissa Firsova does so in a wholly refreshing way.
Born in Leningrad composer Elena Firsova (b. 1950) http://homepage.ntlworld.com/dmitrismirnov/Elena_Firsova.html
studied music in Moscow with Alexander Pirumov, Yuri Kholopov and Nikolai Rakov
and established contact of a crucial musical importance with composers Edison
Denisov and Philip Herschkowitz, a pupil of Anton von Webern. In August 1972
she married the composer Dmitri Smirnov. In 1979, along with Edison Denisov and
Sofia Gubaidulina, she was blacklisted at the Sixth Congress of the Union of
Soviet Composers. Since 1979 she has had many performances in Europe and the
USA and received many commissions including the BBC Proms.
Elena Firsova’s For
Alissa, Op. 102 is obviously a very personal piece where she slowly reveals
a gentle theme which Alissa Firsova, using her fine touch and phrasing,
develops through a variety of passages from gentle and limpid through livelier
and more florid moments, an intensely stormy passage as well as a hushed
ponderous section where a line in the bass is overlaid with a theme for the
right hand, before we are led to the coda.
This is a most attractive work that always holds the
Dmitri Smirnov (b.
was born in Minsk into a family of opera singers. He entered the Moscow
Conservatoire in 1967 studying with Nikolai Sidelnikov, Edison Denisov, and Yury
Kholopov as well as Webern's pupil Philip Herschkowitz. Since 1991, Smirnov and
his wife, Elena Firsova have been resident in England. Here they have shared
the position of Composer-in-Residence at Cambridge University (St John's
College), spent a year at Dartington (1992) and were Visiting Professors at
Keele University. In 1998 Smirnov and his family settled in St Albans, near
London. Since 2003 he has taught at Goldsmiths College of Music in London. His compositions have been played by many international
conductors and orchestras.
Dmitri Smirnov’s Sonata
No. 6 ‘Blake Sonata’ Op. 157 is in two movements, opening with a Lento, a
set of variations on William Blake’s name using a musical alphabet or
encryption code created by the composer. It begins with a hushed motif gently
picked out before deep chords appear under the delicate motif as the music
becomes agitated. The violent chords fall away to allow the gentler theme to
continue, developing through some fine passages with this pianist providing
some lovely clarity of phrasing. The music builds in tempo with lower chords
bringing back a stormy nature before progressing through a gentle passage with
a sorrowful emotional edge. There are some lovely free flowing gentler
passages, rising to the top of the keyboard before moving slowly and quietly to
Rachmaninov can almost be heard in the opening bars of the second
movement, Capriccioso before it
develops through some fast and dramatic passages. Lighter, faster passages
alternate and tussle with the dramatic music with, throughout, Alissa Firsova
bringing exceptionally fine clarity, phrasing, subtlety of colour and texture.
There are more reflective moments before the music rises with clashing
bell-like phrases but it is the quieter, gentler music that leads to the coda.
This is an impressive sonata which deserves repeated
his Variations on a Theme of Corelli Op.
42 whilst staying in Clairefontaine, France. Firsova manages to bring a
rather desolate, melancholy feel to the opening Andante. As the textures
become fuller there is a warming that brings a lovely contrast. As she takes us
through these variations, she brings passages of terrific clarity, finely sprung
rhythmical phrases and often a lovely delicate touch as well as moments of powerful
incisiveness. Her phrasing is superb, illuminating so much of this music. As
she progresses through these variations, there are moments of withdrawn
melancholy as well as a terrific assurance in the broader, more confident
Firsova gives us a lovely nostalgic Intermezzo before leading
to a simple, yet heartrending, variation managed with a simple directness.
Later there are moments of fine tautness before she takes us back to
Rachmaninov’s exquisite nostalgia before the final statement of the theme.
Again this pianist brings a freshness to her performance with
pacing and phrasing that reveals much.
Alissa Firsova (b.
1986) www.alissafirsova.com is a composer in her own right. After winning the BBC Proms/Guardian
Young Composer competition in 2001 she received numerous commissions including
a Bach transcription for the 2010 Proms and performed by Andrew Litton and Royal
Philharmonic Orchestra live on BBC 2 and BBC Radio 3. Her music has also been performed
and toured by Imogen Cooper, Henning Kraggerud, Dante Quartet, Netherlands
Blazer Ensemble, Seattle Chamber Players, Philharmonia Soloists, Northwest
Sinfonietta and Britten Sinfonia. She was recently invited to Verbier Festival
as a composer-in-residence and future commissions include an orchestral piece
for Bergen Philharmonic.
As a pianist, Alissa gave her Wigmore Hall and Proms debuts
in 2009 and has appeared in Dartington, Cheltenham, Presteigne, Messiaen at
Southbank, Fuerstensaal Classix and Seattle festivals. She has enjoyed
collaborations with distinguished artists such as Stephen Kovacevich, Stephen
Isserlis and the Dante Quartet. Alissa recently completed the postgraduate
conducting course at the Royal Academy of Music under Colin Metters where she
also had the opportunity to work with Martyn Brabbins, Jac van Steen and Mark
Shanahan. She founded her own Meladina Ensemble in 2010 for the 60th Birthday
celebration of her mother Elena Firsova's music. In January 2012 she expanded
this into the Meladina Symphony Orchestra for a concert in Duke's Hall, where
she directed Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23 from the keyboard and conducted
Mahler's 4th Symphony as well as her own clarinet concerto.
Alissa Firsova’s Lune
Rouge, Op. 13 was commissioned by the Cheltenham Festival in 2005 for
Imogen Cooper and is based on her own initials and those of her parents. It opens with a gentle tinkling phrase
to which the left hand slowly adds to the theme. Soon a fuller texture arrives,
a glorious moment as the tinkling right hand motif continues and this lovely
theme moves forward, becoming ever more florid with lovely harmonies. Later lower
chords combine before the music falls back with the tinkling phrases now over a
gentle left hand that picks out the theme. But it is the right hand motif that
This is a quite lovely work.
Here is a musician that has the measure of Rachmaninov, so
much so that she is able to bring a refreshing approach. The other works on
this disc show clearly what a gifted family this is. The recording is tip top
and there are excellent booklet notes from the pianist. As usual with VIVAT,
the presentation is first rate.
Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)
never managed to write his projected Second
Piano Concerto in B minor leaving only small fragments of ideas, since published
by the Oslo Grieg Society. These
fragments lasting around two and a half minutes have been recorded by pianist
Carl Petersson http://carlpetersson.com
on a new disc from Grand Piano http://naxosdirect.co.uk/labels/grand-piano-3330
Petersson also plays Helge
Evju’s (b.1942) Piano Concerto in B
minor based on Grieg’s B minor Concerto fragments as well as the famous A minor Concerto in Percy Grainger’s edition
and two of Grieg’s songs arranged for solo piano by Evju. All in all, this
proves to be a fascinating musical experience. For the concertos, Petersson is
joined by the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra www.rozhlas.cz/socr/portal conducted by Kerry Stratton www.facebook.com/kerry.stratton1
Grainger first met Grieg in London in 1906 when he was
invited to spend the summer of 1907 at the composer’s villa Troldhaugen near
Bergen in Norway. Grainger was due to play Grieg’s Piano Concerto at the Leeds
Festival that year and, therefore, spent some time going over the score with
the composer making small emendations to the solo part. It is this revision by
Grieg and Grainger that is performed here.
The Allegro moderato
of Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor,
Op. 16 (Revised by P. Grainger) has, from the opening timpani through the
opening piano bars, a great incisiveness. There is light, crisp orchestral
phrasing, a lovely transparency and fine detail. Carl Petersson brings a spontaneity
to his playing with Kerry Stratton and the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra providing
some lovely rather leisurely orchestral passages. There is a beautifully done
cadenza, fluid with a terrific power before a fiery conclusion.
The Adagio also
brings some fine orchestral playing in the opening with lovely individual
instrumental details. Petersson’s lovely silken, fluid playing in this movement
is really rather fine.
his feeling of spontaneity to the Allegro
marcato pushing ahead with abandon to great effect. There are some
particularly fine dramatic passages as well as lovely poetic moments finely
played by both soloist and orchestra. It is Petersson’s free, fluid,
spontaneous approach that brings so much to this performance, pointing up so many
details before leading to a grandiose coda where there is some pretty virtuosic
This is a particularly revealing performance with some very
As a prelude to Helge Evju’s Piano Concerto based on Grieg’s sketches for his Piano Concerto in B Minor, EG 120 Carl
Petersson plays the small fragments sadly lasting only around two and a half
minutes. Whilst perhaps not quite as tantalising as the purported sketches for
Sibelius’ Eighth Symphony, these fragments certainly make one wonder how Grieg
might have used them. Some certainly have a distinctive flow though, no doubt,
Grieg would have developed them to something much greater.
The opening Moderato
tranquillo of Helge Evju: Piano
Concerto in B Minor (On Fragments by E. Grieg) has a very Nordic orchestral
sound. The piano soon joins, leading to a fine melody with overtones of Grieg
appearing. The faster, skittish passages for piano recall Grieg’s A minor
concerto though there is not the same tautness of construction. The Scherzo brings a buoyant, rhythmically
jaunty theme with a cadenza that slowly picks over the ideas as though more of
a trio section, before gently and slowly leading into the Adagio. Here there is a wistful melody which, as it develops,
brings some lovely passages.
The fourth movement is a
Cadenza that opens with robust chords from this pianist before developing
through some finely intricate phrases with some of the rhythmic episodes
recalling Grieg. The Finale pushes us headlong into another rhythmic
theme before arriving at a broad romantic melody. There is a terrific coda.
Evju refers to this concerto as ‘a piece of whimsy’. It is,
in fact, an attractive way of using Grieg’s fragments within a concerto context
that many will enjoy immensely. Petersson gives a terrific performance.
As an added extra this pianist concludes this disc with two
of Helge Evju’s transcriptions for piano of songs by Grieg. There is a very
effective transcription of With a Water
Lily from 6 Songs, Op. 25 that reveals itself as a fine little piece,
almost Rachmaninovian at times. A Dream
from 6 Songs, Op. 48 has a lovely flow, finely revealed by Petersson. It moves
through some very fine passages, quite virtuosic and brilliantly played here.
I cannot imagine any Grieg enthusiast not wanting to hear
this fascinating disc finely recorded and with first rate performances from all
The recording brings a fine amount of detail in a natural
acoustic. There are excellent booklet notes.
(b.1953) www.pigovat.com was born in
Odessa in the USSR where he studied at the Gnessin Music Institute (Academia of
Music) in Moscow. In1988 he won the special distinction diploma at
the International Composers’ Competition in
Budapest for his composition Musica dolorosa No. 2 for Trombone Quartet.
He immigrated to Israel in 1990 where, in 1995, he was awarded
the Prize of ACUM (Israeli ASCAP) for his composition Holocaust Requiem. In 2000 he was awarded the prize of Prime
Minister of State of Israel and, in 2002, received his Ph.D. degree from
Bar-Ilan University, Israel.
Many of his works have been performed throughout the
world. His composition Massada was performed at ISCM World music days 2000 festival in
Luxembourg and at WASBE 2003 Conference in Jonkoping, Sweden. His symphonic picture Wind of Yemen was performed at the Asian Music Festival 2003 in
Tokyo and at WASBE 2009 Conference in Cincinnati (USA). Three of his pieces, Prayer, Song of the Sea and Voices of
Jerusalem, were performed in New York’s Carnegie Hall. His work Music
of Sorrow and Hope (2011) was commissioned and premiered by the Israel Philharmonic
Orchestra conducted by Zubin Mehta at the IPO's 75th Anniversary Festival.
The world premiere of the Holocaust Requiem for Viola & Symphony Orchestra took place at the Memorial evening dedicated
to the Babiy Yar tragedy in Kiev, Ukraine in October 2001. In 2008 this work
was performed in Wellington, New Zealand at the Concert of Remembrance 70th
Anniversary of Kristallnacht
His work Poem of Dawn
for Viola & Symphony Orchestra was premiered by Anna Serova and Zagreb-HRT
Symphony Orchestra conducted by Nicola Guerini at Il Settembre dell'Accademia
2013, Teatro Filarmonico di Verona.
Boris Pigovat decided against his original idea of having a
soloist, chorus, speaker, and orchestra in his Holocaust Requiem (1994-95) preferring to allow a simplicity and
directness with a solo viola providing a ‘human voice.’
Requiem aeternam unfolds
beautifully with clarinet and low strings before rising through the strings.
This is an impressive opening. The viola enters taking the theme, soloist Anna
Serova bringing a lovely tone and fine timbres. The orchestra re-join adding a
darkness and uncertainty. A harp gently supports the viola theme before fuller
strings enter, the viola bringing some most eloquent moments, the human voice
of this tragic music. The music moves through moments of hushed calm before the
tempo picks up, pointed up by piano and percussion. The viola becomes agitated as
the orchestra leads to a full, rich dramatic passage with anguished phrases from
the viola. The orchestra reaches a peak with impassioned phrases before timpani
strokes herald the solo viola in a quieter passage. The orchestra re-joins to bring
the tragic feel of the opening.
Incisive chords from the higher strings open the Dies irae in a rising motif soon joined
by the whole orchestra as brass churn out the Dies Irae with drum strokes and timpani. All quietens to a wistful passage
as the viola joins with a quiet, rather tentative motif before becoming
increasingly anguished as the orchestra rises ever upward, the Dies Irae
plainchant is still hinted at. The music adopts a rhythmic stance with
percussion before dropping to a slow hesitant passage. There are some fine moments
from the viola in this strident anguished music.
Soon the orchestra hammers out the theme before leading on
with a tormented, anguished viola part. The orchestra heads insistently forward
occasionally falling back only to rise ever more violently forward. This is music
of some violence and impact. The piano joins with percussion to lead the music
ahead with an almost manic stance. There are discordant phrases as the music
reaches a pitch. Timpani sound out over the orchestra as the pitch is held by
high strings and brass. Low strings then chunter forward until falling into
silence, leaving just a piccolo with a lovely little motif to quietly end with
hushed rustling strings.
A gong sounds to herald a discordant Lacrimosa with a repeated motif from the viola, like a cry of
anguish. There is some simply outstanding playing from Anna Serova in this
extended, cadenza like passage. Timpani sound but the solo viola continues,
though now mournful and quieter. As the viola slowly leads on timpani quietly
and gently accompany. There is a crash of gongs that brings a momentary rise in
passion but the viola continues quietly as the gong and cymbal crashes die away.
The strings now enter with a most affecting melody, slow, quiet and reserved
and gently holding a melancholy reserve.
A lone trombone brings the Lux aeterna. The orchestra soon join keeping the melancholy atmosphere.
There is a gentle rise in passion but the restrained feel is still maintained.
The viola eventually joins and tries to add a degree of passion, picked up by
the orchestra. However the music soon drops to a hush. There are further
attempts to rise in passion but the melancholy calm is held. Later there is a
particularly beautiful passage as well as a lovely flute solo. The viola leads
to a hushed section with celeste before entering upon a quiet and gentle solo
passage, joined by the orchestra as the coda arrives.
This is a magnificent work of depth and high emotion that is
Poem of Dawn (2010) was
written for and dedicated to the violist
Anna Serova. The celeste opens with a little motif before strings and viola
enter, the viola bringing a fine melody. Together with the orchestra a fine
flowing, undulating melody is developed, Serova bringing a lovely rich tone.
There are hushed harmonics from the viola before the music picks up in dynamics
with moments of fine instrumental detail, especially for woodwind and brass,
woven into the orchestration. There are some particularly beautiful moments
when the sound billows up in the orchestra in this unashamedly romantic score. Eventually the music reaches a fine romantic
climax in the orchestra as dawn arrives. The viola returns as the music falls
back in a beautifully orchestrated, hushed passage. As the music slowly moves
forward, there is some particularly fine writing for the viola before a
beautifully hushed coda with celeste, viola and orchestra.
Pigovat is a remarkably fine orchestrator. Poem of Dawn makes a fine contrast to
the melancholy, passion and tragedy of the Requiem.
Nevertheless it is the very fine Holocaust
Requiem that I will return to most often. Anna Serova proves to be a first
class soloist with the Croatian Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra under
Nicola Guerini turning in first class performances.
The recording is excellent and there are authoritative and
informative booklet notes from the composer.
Handel’s English Ode, L‘Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato,
HWV 55 was composed between 19th January and 4th
February 1740 during a severe winter that had caused the cancellation of a revival
of his Masque Acis and Galatea. The text is taken from Milton’s two odes L’Allegro and Il Penseroso arranged by Charles Jennens (1700-1773) who also
provided his own third part, Il Moderato.
There are no characters in L ‘Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato. The characters are personifications
of emotional states and as such are sung by different soloists. Indeed the
choice of soloist has varied in later editions.
Paul McCreesh prefaces L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il
Moderato with Handel’s
Concerto Grosso No. 1
in G Major, Op. 6, HWV 319 as, indeed, the composer would have done. The
sparer textures of the Gabrielli Players bring some particularly fine sounds,
often lithe and full of clarity. This is a particularly fine performance that
makes an ideal introduction to the main work. An absolute delight.
Part I of L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato opens
with tenor Jeremy Ovenden, bringing a fine characterisation to the recitative Hence! loathed melancholy using his fine
voice to find a variety of timbres. Soprano Gillian Webster shows her lovely,
articulate voice in the brief recitative Hence!
vain deluding Joys.
What a delight treble Laurence Kilsby is as he sings the Air
Come, thou goddess, fair and free, in
terrific voice with plenty of strength, spot on phrasing and control. Gillian
Webster returns showing exquisite control in the Air Come rather, goddess, sage and holy holding a perfect line whilst
the Gabrieli Players provide some lovely sonorities.
With the Air Haste
thee, nymph, and bring with thee Jeremy Ovenden deals with Handel’s
difficult vocal part, with its rhythmic phrasing, superbly. The Gabrieli
Consort, when they join, are spot on with their phrasing and ensemble. This
tenor brings such great variety to the Air
Come and trip it as you go.
Gillian Webster draws some lovely longer, slow phrases in the
recitative Come, pensive nun, devout and
pure along with the Gabrieli Players shaping this so well. The soprano’s
higher notes are well shaped and controlled in the beautifully paced Air Come, but keep thy wonted state. When the
choir enter they do so with such a lovely mellow sound
Both tenor and treble bring us the recitative Hence loathed Melancholy before
Treble Laurence Kilsby sings Mirth, admit me of thy crew. After beautifully done instrumental
introduction, this fine treble shows remarkable power, pitch and, indeed,
understanding of the characterisation of this piece.
Gillian Webster displays a lovely slow recitative First, and chief, on golden wing. It is
finely laid out with lovely long lines before a beautiful pastoral introduction
to the Air Sweet bird, that shuns't the
noise of folly where the Gabrieli’s flautist, Katy Bircher, provides
particularly lovely trills. When the soprano enters she has a lovely dialogue
with the flute. The blend of vocal and instrumental is superb, a real
The recitative If I
give thee honour due introduces bass, Ashley Riches who brings drama to the
part as well as to the Air Mirth, admit
me of thy crew with the natural horn of Richard Bayliss providing a
terrific opening. The Air Oft on a plat of rising ground also has
notable instrumental moments with Gillian Webster providing an exquisite
Jeremy Ovenden tenor returns for the recitative If I give thee honour due leading to
the Air Let me wander, not unseen a lovely setting with a gentle sway,
beautifully caught here by both tenor and players.
The Air & Chorus Or
let the merry bells ring round is something of a triumph, full of joy,
rhythmic buoyancy and a remarkable flexibility from Ovenden, with jingling
bells adding to the gaiety before the chorus enter to take us to a glorious
conclusion of Part I.
Paul McCreesh choses
Handel’s Concerto Grosso No. 3 in E Minor, Op. 6, HWV 321 to precede Part II. This is another buoyant and
beautifully textured concerto, these players on fine form with some great
Part II commences with the recitative Hence, vain deluding Joys where Gillian Webster is very fine,
beautifully controlled before she sings the Air But O! sad virgin, that thy power. There is some superb
instrumental playing before and during this lovely Air. The first CD concludes
with a gentle sad recitative Thus, Night,
oft see me in thy pale career in a lovely performance from Gillian Webster.
Moving to the second CD Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli
Consort and Players bring the Chorus Populous
cities please me then with bass Ashley Riches and the brass of the Gabrieli
Players adding a dramatic edge. There is a lovely flowing central choral
section. Tenor Jeremy Ovenden brings the Air There let Hymen oft appear with lovely fleet playing from the
Gabrieli Players, a lightness of texture and sung with great panache.
Gillian Webster shows just how beautiful recitative can be
in Me, when the sun begins to fling before
the Air Hide me from day's garish eye
which is simply glorious.
Jeremy Ovenden’s performance of the Air I'll to the well-trod stage anon is full of character with a sense
of great humour before the remarkable treble Laurence Kilsby returns for the
Air And ever against eating cares with
lovely sonorities from the Gabrieli Players. This treble shows such assured
singing – spectacularly fine.
Trumpets sound out magnificently to bring a terrific Air
& Chorus These delights if thou canst
give with some brilliant flexible singing from tenor Jeremy Ovenden and the
Gabrieli Consort full and incisive. Soprano Gillian Webster gives a lovely
recitative But let my due feet never fail
before the Chorus There let the pealing
organ blow with the Gabrieli Consort, a prominent part for organ and lovely
part for soprano.
Part II concludes with the Chorus These pleasures, Melancholy, give with a lovely layering of choral
To precede Part III
we have Handel’s Organ Concerto No. 1 in
B-Flat Major, Op. 7, HWV 306 which unlike the continuo organ in the main
work is played by William Whitehead on the
organ of Deptford parish church, London, England. This 2004 William Drake
organ recreates an organ of 1745, retaining some of the case and pipes. It provides
some glorious timbres and textures that, combined with the sounds of the
Gabrieli Players, are quite gorgeous. One can quite imagine Handel playing at
the early performances.
The recitative Hence!
boast not, ye profane opens Part III
where baritone Peter Harvey
joins showing an especially attractive voice with lovely textures. He continues
with the recitative Come, with native
lustre shine showing great flexibility and some fine feeling before the
Gabrieli Consort join to lead the music on in this lovely Chorus. Gillian
Webster is impressive in the Air Come,
with gentle hand restrain showing such a light and flexible touch.
Jeremy Ovenden gives a dramatically turned recitative No more short life they then will spend before,
with the Gabrieli Players, building the Air Each
action will derive new grace very finely.
There follows a most lovely Duet from Jeremy Ovenden and Gillian
Webster As steals the morn upon the night
with beautiful instrumental sonorities and these two soloists blending
perfectly, weaving lovely strands. Here surely is a foretaste of Handel’s soon
to be written Messiah. It is the Gabrieli Consort and Players that rise up with the organ for the final
Chorus Thy pleasure, Moderation, give
bringing a fine conclusion.
This is a performance to be reckoned with, one that is not
easily going to be matched. The soloists are excellent as is the choral and
The first class recording from three different venues is
generally seamlessly engineered except perhaps for a slightly noticeable larger
acoustic sound from Deptford parish church.
The book that the CDs are contained within is beautifully
presented with excellent and very full notes. There are full English texts.
was born in Munich, Germany and studied under Walter Nothas, Heinrich Schiff
and Steven Isserlis. He benefited early on from personal sponsorship by
Anne-Sophie Mutter as the holder of a scholarship from her foundation enabling
him to receive private tuition from Mstislav Rostropovich. In 1992, at the age of fifteen, he first
caused a sensation internationally by winning the 1st Prize at the Moscow
International Tchaikovsky Competition for Young Musicians.
Since then he has worked with leading international
orchestras and with such renowned conductors as Charles Dutoit, Christoph
Eschenbach, Iván Fischer, Alan Gilbert, Bernard Haitink, Jakub Hrůša, Pietari
Inkinen, Neeme Järvi, Dmitrij Kitajenko, Lorin Maazel, Jun Märkl, Kurt Masur,
Andris Nelsons, Gianandrea Noseda, Sakari Oramo, Andrés Orozco-Estrada, Vasily
Petrenko, André Previn, Michael Sanderling, Jukka-Pekka Saraste and Krzysztof
Urbański. Daniel Müller-Schott plays the Ex
Shapiro Matteo Goffriller cello, made in Venice in 1727.
Daniel Müller-Schott has already built up a sizeable
discography under the ORFEO, Deutsche Grammophon, Hyperion, Pentatone and EMI
Classics labels winning him Gramophone Editor’s Choice, Strad Selection, the
BBC Music Magazine’s ‘CD of the month’ and the Diapason d’Or for his recording
of Britten’s solo suites on the Orfeo label.
Now from Orfeo www.orfeo-international.de Daniel Müller-Schott is joined by Francesco
Piemontesi in performances of cello sonatas by Prokofiev, Britten and
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was born in Locarno, Switzerland. He studied with Arie Vardi before
collaborating with Murray Perahia, Cécile Ousset and Alexis Weissenberg. One of
his great teachers and mentors was Alfred Brendel. He rose to international prominence
with prizes at several major competitions, including the 2007 Queen Elizabeth
Competition. Between 2009-2011 he was chosen as a BBC New Generation Artist.
Francesco Piemontesi has appeared with major ensembles
worldwide and with such conductors as Zubin Mehta, Marek Janowski, Sakari
Oramo, Vasily Petrenko and Charles Dutoit. As a chamber musician he has played
with a variety of partners such as the Emerson Quartet, Antoine Tamestit and
Jörg Widmann, Renaud and Gautier Capuçon, Clemens Hagen, Yuri Bashmet, Angelika
Kirchschlager and Heinrich Schiff.
Francesco Piemontesi has also released a number of
recordings, including Schumann Sonatas and a mixed recital of Handel, Brahms,
Bach, and Liszt for Avanti Classics. More recently he has made three recordings
for Naïve Classique, Mozart Piano Works, Schumann and Dvořák‘s Piano Concerti
with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Jiří Bělohlávek, and the Debussy Preludes.
The works on this new disc are all connected directly and
indirectly by one man, the great cellist, Mstislav Rostropovich. Prokofiev’s
sonata was inspired by the playing of Rostropovich and first performed by the
great cellist with pianist Sviatoslav Richter. Britten’s sonata was written for
Rostropovich and Shostakovich was a close friend of both Rostropovich and
Britten. This is, then, an excellent choice of repertoire to bring together on
What a beautiful rich tone Daniel Müller-Schott brings to
the opening of the Andante grave of Prokofiev’s Sonata for cello and piano in C
major, Op.119 (1949) with Francesco Piemontesi adding a subtle gentle
support. There is some exceptionally fine interplay between these artists. They
build this movement wonderfully; setting Prokofiev’s withdrawn moments beautifully
against the more impassioned moments. Müller-Schott’s rich singing tone and Piemontesi’s
beautifully shaded playing provide some lovely moments before the hushed end.
They bring a beautifully light and buoyant Moderato full of surface sparkle and wit,
yet these players reveal a darker side as the movement develops. There is a
very fine central flowing section with these players bringing a fine clarity to
the faster episodes.
The Allegro ma non
troppo brings a lovely flexibility from Müller-Schott with Piemontesi providing
a terrific dexterity. Their ensemble is spot on following every little twist
and turn. They bring moments that are
still and thoughtful, even mysterious in nature, superbly played with such a
light touch. As the music takes off in the later passages there is superb
playing, with these artists ratcheting up the drama before the impassioned
This is a very fine performance indeed.
The Dialogo. Allegro
of Benjamin Britten’s Sonata for cello
and piano in C, Op.65 (1961) has an exquisite opening sequence as cello and
piano gently respond to each other. The music soon takes off with some terrific
playing, full of strength and drama and some terrific harmonies and dissonances.
Müller-Schott and Piemontesi bring a natural,
improvisatory feel to their playing, beautifully paced and phrased. They
develop the little scales that appear to be something much more and the hushed
coda is superbly done.
With the Scherzo
Pizzicato. Allegretto these players
bring out all of Britten’s strange, skittish atmosphere. They find a coolness,
withdrawn yet lively, almost ghostly at times, certainly troubled. They respond
so well to each other as they chase each other. Quiet, mournful piano chords
open the Elegia. Lento to which the
cellist adds an equally mournful tone. They bring a delicate playfulness as the
theme is developed, becoming more troubled as it rises, eventually to a great
passion with a wailing cello motif over a florid piano part, brilliantly played
by this duo. There is another ghostly hushed passage finely played here.
Piemontesi brings some finely crisp phrasing to the Marcia. Energico against which Müller-Schott
provides some fine dramatic phrases. There are some terrific rhythmic passages
as well as lovely harmonics from the cello. This cellist provides such light bowing in the
opening of the Moto Perpetuo. Presto. There
is a lovely lighter episode before the tempo and drama pick up and these
players move headlong to the coda.
This is a terrific performance in every way.
Müller-Schott and Piemontesi
find a lovely tempo for the opening of
the Allegro non troppo – Largo of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Prokofiev: Sonata for
cello and piano in D minor, Op.40 (1934). They build through the following
drama with consummate skill, great agility and intuitive accuracy. The slow
section that follows is beautifully shaped and paced, a fine balance between
artists. They bring a fine flow with finely judged phrasing from Müller-Schott.
There is a natural forward push into the faster, more passionate passages, each
time rising in passion. Piemontesi adds such a fine breadth of playing as the
music rises and, towards the end, a strange and ghostly version of the theme is
slowly taken forward in steps to the hushed coda.
The very fine Allegro is
not taken too fast but with plenty of forward thrust and again spot on
precision between players. There is a terrific central section with Müller-Schott’s
bowing so lithe and light and spot on coda with its sudden end.
The Largo rises
beautifully and wistfully, leading to one of Shostakovich’s finest melodies
with these players bringing a sense of underlying tragedy as the theme develops.
There are some exquisite touches from Müller-Schott before the music rises
centrally to a passionate peak, Piemontesi providing some fine phrases against
which the cellist pulls back to a quieter stance. They reveal some of the
unsettling emotions lurking behind this piece with a coda that brings a hushed,
sad conclusion – beautifully played.
There is a crisply pointed opening to the Allegro from the pianist, reflected by
the cello with pin point precision before these artists move the music forward
with a sense of restlessness. In the centrally fast section, both cellist and
pianist bring some dazzling playing before building a hushed tension to lead to
the sparkling coda.
These are terrific performances very well recorded with informative
The First Night of
the Proms tonight featured works by Nielsen, Gary Carpenter, Mozart, Sibelius
and Walton with the BBC Singers, BBC National Chorus of Wales, BBC Symphony
Chorus and BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sakari Oramo with pianist Lars
Vogt and baritone Christopher Maltman
This year is the 150th anniversary of the birth
of both Nielsen and Sibelius and is celebrated by a number of performances of works
by these composers. Nielsen will be featured in a further six Proms and Sibelius
in another five programmes.
Nielsen’s Maskarade Overture
is taken from his comic opera of that name, first produced in 1906. All the
Nielsen fingerprints were here with Oramo finding many moments of attractive
detail yet with a fine overall sweep and, towards the end, a real feeling of joie
Gary Carpenter’s Dadaville, www.garycarpenter.net a BBC commission received its world premiere
at tonight’s Prom. Dadaville was inspired
by a relief by Max Ernst exhibited at the Tate Liverpool. In the composer’s
words the piece starts gently and builds momentum based on the notes D and A
which inform the whole piece.
As the music slowly and quietly opened there seemed to be
very much the sound world of Britten in one of his Sea Interludes, an exquisitely
conceived opening. Soon, however, there were little instrumental outbursts around
the moments of tranquil beauty. As the work grew there were moments of
disruptive, menacing undertones, as the music slowly built, insistently, with
jazz style brass phrases to a final climax with the surprise of fireworks to conclude.
A brilliant piece from a composer that I am becoming increasingly drawn towards.
Lars Vogt joined Oramo and the BBC Symphony Orchestra for Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor,
K.466. Oramo brought a lovely refined yet intense opening to this concerto with
Vogt, when he entered, keeping something of a reserve. He brought a lightness
of touch which, together with a great forward thrust, was wholly appealing
though occasionally I would have liked a little more dramatic intensity. Oramo responded with some lovely light crisp
phrasing. It was in the finale that Vogt and the orchestra really took off,
seemingly building to this point, full of fire and thrust though with some, lovely
gentler moments, finely nuanced.
After the interval Oramo and the BBC Symphony Orchestra brought
us Sibelius’ Suite Belshazzar's Feast.
Sibelius had, in 1906, put aside work on his promised third symphony in order
to work on his incidental music for Hjalmar Procopé’s play Belshazzars gästabud (Belshazzar's Feastfrom) from which he later drew
an orchestral suite.
This rarity in the concert hall shows this most Finnish of
composers bringing a real taste of the Orient in the opening Oriental Procession. Oramo carefully
built the music before moving into a beautifully and sensitively drawn Solitude, finding a gentle, sultry
quality, hauntingly beautiful. Nocturne
rose with an exquisite flute melody, beautifully played by the BBC Symphony
Orchestra’s principal. Some beautifully shaped woodwind led into the final
section, Khadra’s Dance bringing exquisitely
light textures to conclude a lovely performance.
Walton’s Belshazzar's Feast has been immensely popular since
its first performance at the Leeds Festival in 1931, soon being taken up by the
larger choral societies. Tonight, right from the beginning, the BBC Singers,
BBC National Chorus of Wales and the BBC Symphony Chorus were phenomenal,
particularly in Walton’s sometimes rather declamatory passages. Oramo drew a wonderfully
dark atmosphere at the outset with some particularly rich sonorous textures
from the BBCSO. Christopher Maltman brought a rich, strong, finely characterised
performance. This fine bass baritone was absolutely tremendous in the mercilessly
exposed solo part “Praise Ye – The God of Gold”. Oramo brought superb pacing
and control with lovely choral harmonies from the Chorus.
There was a spellbinding moment as the writing appeared on
the wall and Belshazzar was weighed in the balance and found wanting. The BBC
Symphony Orchestra, with the BBC Singers, BBC National Chorus of Wales, BBC
Symphony Chorus and the Royal Albert Hall organ certainly did make ‘a joyful
noise to the God of Jacob’, in the final Alleluia.
Overall, this was an outstanding First Night.
There is an interesting video on the making of this new disc
available on YouTube
Philip Sparke’s (b.1951) www.philipsparke.com : Overture for Woodwinds was written in
1999 following a commission by the Berkshire Young Musicians Trust. It opens
impressively with a rich sonorous motif and develops through some attractively
spacious passages, melodic and tonally free. A spiky rhythmic theme emerges
that moves the music along at a fine jogging pace, light and buoyant right
through to the coda.
Gary Carpenter’s (b.1951) www.garycarpenter.net Pantomime was written in 1995 and is in five movements and opens in a
subdued dramatic fashion before slowly developing in tempo to a riotously
buoyant theme, recalling to an extent jazz and the music of the 1920s. It moves
rhythmically forward with contrasting moments of a more reflective nature. There
is a most attractive quieter second movement section with a reflective,
melancholy oboe theme picked up by bassoon and accompanied by the rest of the
ensemble before the third movement brings a moderate flowing tempo with a
gentle rhythmic lilt, with more fine orchestration, a lovely use of woodwind
band and developing some jazz influences as it progresses. It falls slower
towards the end, as well as being reflective with some lovely rich sonorities.
The fourth movement takes the opening of Mahler’s fifth symphony on which to
base a rich variety of variations, again with a rhythmic jazz style twist, before
running into the final waltz movement, inventive and ear catching.
This is a diverse, attractive and highly imaginative score
from this fine composer whose BBC commission Dadaville will receive its world premiere with the BBC Symphony
Orchestra conducted by Sakari Oramo at this year’s First Night of the Proms
this coming Friday 17th July 2015.
(b.1974) http://christopherhussey.co.uk Dreamtide, written in 2013, rises from a whoosh of hushed wind sound before tentatively
moving forward with various combinations of wind instruments bringing a variety
of textures and sonorities. The music meanders ahead with its lovely little
theme for some time, before a repeated rhythmic motif appears taking the music
forward as the theme still emerges elsewhere in the ensemble. Hussey brings a
myriad of ideas over the repeated motif before it suddenly stops for a quiet,
gentle passage where there is a lovely layering of wind instruments with some beautiful
moments as this section gently moves forward. It rises to a little climax
before gently continuing, subtly adding an emotional pull before the gentle
In ten sections Adam
Gorb’s (b.1958) www.adamgorb.co.uk Battle Symphony, Op.26 (1997) (La Battalia for Woodwind and Saxes) is described as taking a fresh look at the highly fashionable 17th Century battle
romps, all fanfares, drum-rolls and martial scrimmaging, a blend of baroque
pastiche and something more subversively contemporary. A sprightly little theme
for high woodwind opens with a rather archaic sound before picking up in tempo
as the ensemble overlay textures and musical lines in a rather fugal section
with flourishes from higher winds. There is a slow section with a little
marshal motif from the flutes over a richer ground before the tempo picks up
with a theme for upper woodwind over a repeated ground for lower wind. A slower
mellow section with fine wind sonorities follows, having almost the nature of a
lament before a rhythmic dancing motif appears. It builds in textures as the
instruments are overlaid until an archaic sounding tune surfaces. It continues
with a lovely little Tudor style flute and bassoon tune piece soon taken by the
rest of the ensemble including tenor saxophone. The tempo picks up again as we move to the
This is a particularly attractive work wonderfully performed
This new release concludes with another work by Christopher Hussey, the title piece of
this disc. Twisted Skyscape, a
symphonic tone poem for woodwinds was written in 2008 and presents a story
about the ever-changing relationship between man and the natural world he
inhabits. The composer tells us that the dramatic journey explores the cycles
and patterns of organic forms and their contrast with the linear, constructed
elements of a man-made environment.
There is a deep resonant opening from the contrabassoon as
the music slowly opens up creating a remarkably rich deep resonant sound. The
music rises up through the ensemble with flourishes and motifs from various instruments
built around a three note motif that provides a remarkable variety of
variations. Soon the tempo gains a staccato
rhythm over which a longer melody is played, the lower winds still occasionally
providing a rich bass underlay. There are some highly attractive decorations
and flourishes from individual instruments as well as fine textures, timbres
and sonorities. Later the music falls to a gentle, quiet play on the three note
motif with Hussey creating some quite lovely textures in his choice of
instrumental combinations, before leading slowly through richer sonorities to a
This is a terrific work that brings a highly effective use
of the woodwind ensemble.
This is a highly attractive new release featuring some
remarkable works for wind ensemble. Given the terrific sounds that the Czech
Philharmonic Wind Ensemble brings to this music we need to hear more from them.
My download reveals a recording of fine detail.
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
wrote his Album für die Jugend
(Album for the Young), Op. 68 in 1848 for his three daughters after being
dissatisfied with the quality of repertoire for children. The album consists of
a collection of forty three short works. Though they are intended to be played
by children or beginners, the second part, starting with Nr. 19 (Kleine
Romanze), is marked Für Erwachsenere (For more grown-up ones) and contains more
Though not intended
for public performance it is surprising the quality of some of the pieces
contained in this collection. This is demonstrated remarkably well with the
performances by Vladimir Feltsman www.feltsman.com
a new release from Nimbus www.wyastone.co.uk
Feltsman is building a considerable catalogue of recordings
for Nimbus with a broad repertoire including A Tribute to Rachmaninoff (NI6148), A Tribute to Scriabin (NI6198), A
Tribute to Tchaikovsky (NI6162), Beethoven Diabelli Variations (NI6257),
Beethoven Piano Sonatas (NI6120), Chopin Waltzes and Impromptus (NI6184), Liszt
- Bénédiction de Dieu (NI6212), Bach - The English Suites (NI6176), Bach Six
Partitas (NI6207), Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition & Tchaikovsky Album
for the Young (NI6211), Haydn Keyboard Sonatas (NI6242), Schnittke Sonata No.1
and Schubert Sonata 'Reliquie' (NI6284), Chopin Ballades (NI6128) and Chopin
Nocturnes (NI6126) www.wyastone.co.uk/all-labels.html?instrumentalist=3090&p=1
With his first Schumann disc for Nimbus Album für die Jugend presents an
interesting and in some ways a challenging choice. The opening Melodie has a lovely charm, played with
an elegant simplicity before a beautifully crisp Soldatenmarsch (Soldiers' march) and a Trällerliedchen (Humming song) where the fine melody is given a
lovely flow. Feltsman brings all of his fine sensibility to Ein Choral (Chorale) followed by a
finely turned - Stückchen (A little
piece). Armes Waisenkind (The poor
orphan) is nicely phrased, showing just how fine a miniature this is. Jägerliedchen (Hunting song) is given a lovely
rhythmic lift before the Wilder Reiter
(The Wild Horseman) arrives at a fast pace. Volksliedchen
(Folk song) is revealed here as a rather magical little piece before Fröhlicher Landmann (The merry peasant) really
carries the listener along. Sicilianisch
(Sicilienne) has lovely rhythms, followed by Knecht Ruprecht which sounds like a more substantial piece in this
fine performance. The rather lovely Mai,
lieber Mai (May, sweet May) receives a beautifully poetic performance before
the limpid flow of Kleine Studie
(Little study/etude). There is a beautifully phrased Frühlingsgesang (Spring song), exquisitely shaped, Erster Verlust (First loss) where
Feltsman shows just what a fine touch he has, a fine no nonsense performance of
Kleiner Morgenwanderer (Little
morning wanderer) which strides forward to great effect before Schnitterliedchen (The reaper's song) which
is brilliantly played making it more than a child’s piece.
When we arrive at the pieces ‘for
more grown-up ones’ Kleine Romanze
(Little romance) has a presence and stature more than one would expect. Ländliches Lied (Rustic song) is light
and jolly before the lovely untitled piece in C major, based on Prison-Terzetto from Beethoven's Fidelio. Rundgesang (Roundelay) has another fine melody before Feltsman
builds the galloping Reiterstück (The
horseman) tremendously. Another lovely melodic piece is Ernteliedchen (Harvest song). It is beautifully played by this
pianist and precedes a dramatic Nachklänge
aus dem Theater (Echoes from the theatre). After a rather wistful piece in F major, Kanonisches Liedchen (A little canon) clearly shows the need for a
greater degree of technical ability with Feltsman revealing a really lovely
overlay of musical lines. Erinnerung
(4 November 1847) (Remembrance) commemorates the date of Felix Mendelssohn's
death and has the nature of a much deeper work of some beauty. After the freely
shifting march rhythms of Fremder Mann
(The stranger) with a lovely central section, the following untitled piece in F major is gently flowing, quite
Following on from Kriegslied (Song of war) with its stately
syncopated rhythm, is Sheherazade, a
lovely piece played here with a fine sensitivity and poetry. The skittish Weinlesezeit – ‘Fröhliche Zeit!’
(Gathering of the grapes – happy time!) must be great fun for the pianist,
certainly that is the feeling given here with a fine touch and agility from Feltsman’s.
There is a beautiful thoughtful Thema (Theme)
followed by Mignon where Feltsman
brings his fine touch to this gentle, exquisite piece, a real gem. Lied italienischer Marinari (Italian
mariners' song) has a fine, forward impetus, the rather unsettling Matrosenlied (Sailors' Song) is finely
conceived and there is a lovely thoughtful Winterzeit
I (Wintertime I). Winterzeit II
(Wintertime II) develops beautifully through some fine passages before Kleine Fuge (Little fugue) brings an
unstoppable motion that quite intoxicating, especially in Feltsman’s hands, this
pianist providing some lovely touches. Nordisches
Lied (Northern Song – Salute to G.) is dedicated to the composer Niels Gade
using the letters of his name, G-A-D-E. It is a subdued piece, finely wrought
here. Figurierter Choral (Figured
chorale) is a very fine piece with subtle harmonies revealed in this lovely,
gentle performance before the concluding Sylvesterlied
(New Year's Eve) that, like a number of pieces in this collection, could stand
on its own as a mature, finely felt piece. It is played here with the most
lovely phrasing and sensibility.
Schumann didn’t write down to
his students rather he gave them so many fine tunes and ideas that he could
easily have used elsewhere. This is music for children but, nevertheless, full
of fine ideas revealed here wonderfully by Vladimir Feltsman. He brings an
understated authority to these pieces and is well recorded at Wyastone Leys,
Monmouth, UK. There are excellent booklet notes by Vladimir Feltsman.
The Borodin Quartet
http://borodinquartet.com was founded
in 1945, ten years before it adopted the name Borodin Quartet. Its
longest-serving member, Valentin Berlinsky, was there almost at the beginning,
though he modestly declines the title of having been the original cellist, his
one predecessor was a certain Mstislav Rostropovich.
The first settled formation comprised Rostislav Dubinsky and
Vladimir Rabeij (violins), Rudolf Barshai (viola) and Valentin Berlinsky
(cello), performing under the name Quartet of the Moscow Philharmonic. During
the first decade there were several changes of personnel. Nina Barshai (wife of
Rudolf) replaced Rabeij after two years, then made way for Jaroslav Alexandrov
in 1952. In 1953 Rudolf Barshai left to pursue his career as a soloist and
conductor, and his place was taken by Dmitri Shebalin. The formation of
Dubinsky, Alexandrov, Shebalin and Berlinsky lasted for two decades.
Despite the restrictions placed on Soviet artists in the
Cold War years, the quartet appeared outside the Soviet Union and even toured
the USA. In the mid1970s, at a time when recordings were spreading the
ensemble’s reputation still wider, a new formation was needed when Alexandrov
left and Dubinsky emigrated to the West. Berlinsky, whose soul may be said to
be invested in the Borodin Quartet, recruited two new violinists, Mikhail
Kopelman (1st violin) and Andrei Abramenkov (2nd). The following two decades
saw the quartet accepted internationally as one of the world’s most renowned
ensembles, revered for its authority in Russian music and Shostakovich in
particular. New recordings were
critically acclaimed on all continents, and the already taxing touring schedule
intensified when the Soviet system ended in 1989 and the whole world clamoured
to hear the Borodin Quartet in live performance.
In the 1990s the quartet again underwent membership changes.
Viola-player Dmitri Shebalin retired to be replaced by Igor Naidin, while Ruben
Aharonian became the new 1st violin when Mikhail Kopelman left. In 2007
Valentin Berlinsky handed over the role of cellist to Vladimir Balshin. In 2001
Sergei Lomovsky replaced Abramenkov as 2nd violinist. Thus the
current line-up is Ruben Aharonian and Sergei Lomovsky (violins), Igor Naidin (viola)
and Vladimir Balshin (cello).
Throughout all these changes, the Borodin Quartet has retained
its distinct identity with each newcomer hearing the existing members playing
in a very recognisable style and automatically soaking up the tradition.
The first new release
on their new signing for Decca www.deccaclassics.com
the first volume of a cycle of Shostakovich quartets, No’s 1, 8 and 14 coupled
with Two Pieces for String Quartet, Op.36a.
|CD or download|
The Borodin Quartet bring a gentle wistfulness to the
opening of the first movement Moderato of String Quartet No.1 in C major, Op.49, subtly allowing
Shostakovich’s little rhythmic motif to appear. As the movement develops they
bring a rather more forceful edge to their playing before allowing the music to
return to a more wistful nature. When the rhythmic theme reappears it has a
less hard edge with some fine moments before the wistful little coda.
The second Moderato
opens with a curious viola theme soon underlined by a pizzicato cello. As the music
broadens with its fine, typically Shostakovichian theme, this Quartet point up
the more dramatic moments bringing an emotional intensity as the movement
progresses, all the while keeping an unsettled undertone.
This quartet reveal a terrific lightness of touch as they
hurtle forward in the Allegro molto full
of Shostakovich’s skittish light-heartedness before the Allegro where they bring a brightness of tone, a contrast with the
Allegro molto. The sudden dynamic turns are beautifully done before they rush
headlong into the coda.
The Borodin Quartet brings some subtle ideas to the often
restrained slower movements as well as great passion to the Allegros.
This quartet bring some quite deliberate phrasing to point
up the Largo of String Quartet No.8 in C Minor, Op.110 with beautiful intonation as
well as the most affecting phrasing of Shostakovich’s most personal thoughts.
They often reveal a subtle pulse behind this quiet, withdrawn music giving such
care and thought to every phrase. At times it is as though it is difficult for
them to force out such deep feelings. There are some lovely sonorities before we
are led into the Allegro molto. Here
the Quartet lets out all of the pent up feeling with some terrific playing. Yet
still there is a tug that brings a slight emotional reticence.
The Allegretto brings
some particularly fine phrasing, such subtle rhythmic qualities where one can
hear so much before a lovely transition into the Largo with firm bowing in the staccato phrases, yet always with a
restraint. What a weight they bring to some passages, laden with unbearable
emotion and how beautifully they allow in the glimpse of light towards the coda.
So many details are revealed before we gently lead into the final Largo where the Borodins produce a
degree of vibrato that really tugs on the emotions as the music rises in
passion. There are some fine, hushed sonorities before the coda that brings not
so much a sense of resignation as of a quiet hopelessness.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard such an emotionally weightier
performance as this.
Next the Borodin Quartet give us Shostakovich’s penultimate
quartet, the String Quartet No.14 in F
sharp major Op.142. Here again, in the Allegretto,
the Borodins reveal some fine textural layers before rising to moments of
intense passion, these players bringing a terrific precision. They provide some
beautifully light bowing with some lovely subtleties and details.
This quartet bring an great intensity to the Adagio, a movement that surely looks
back to the slow movements of the eighth quartet. They build this movement in a
masterly fashion rising to a peak of passion before an exquisite coda and
leading into the amazing Allegretto where
these players bring such spectacularly fine playing as the music hurtles around.
In the subsequent quieter passages they bring some very fine sonorities and
much feeling as moments from the Adagio are heard.
This is a very fine performance indeed revealing aspects of
this quartet that I had not appreciated before.
Two Pieces for String
Quartet, Op.36a were taken from his music for the animated film The
Tale of the Priest and of His Workman Balda for chamber orchestra (1933–1934), Op.36. The Elegy is beautifully played with a depth and beauty that reveals
just why Shostakovich thought it worth arranging this music. The Polka is a terrific arrangement with
some fine pizzicato passages. It is immense fun and played here with great
panache, Shostakovich’s tongue in cheek writing caught to perfection.
In some ways these are very individual, one might even say,
idiosyncratic performances. However they dig deep into the composer’s creations
making one hear these works afresh. My download revealed a slightly hollow
sounding acoustic but the detail revealed is remarkable.
I look forward to hearing the next instalment of this cycle.