Sunday 30 August 2015

Rare and irreplaceable performances of works by British composer Cyril Rootham conducted by Vernon Handley released as part of Lyrita’s Itter Broadcast Collection

Founder of Lyrita Recorded Edition , Richard Itter had a life-long fascination with recording, acquiring professional equipment for disc and tape recording for his own private use. From his home, where he was able to receive a good signal, he made domestic recordings from BBC transmissions of Proms, premieres, operas, symphonies and chamber music totalling more than 1500 works between 1952 and 1996. Initially recording on magnetic tape particularly important performances were transferred to acetate disc. These fragile discs were never played and have remained in excellent condition, as have the majority of the tapes which make up the bulk of the collection. In 2014 the Lyrita Recorded Edition Trust begun to transfer this priceless archive and has put in place formal agreements with the BBC and the Musicians Union to enable the release of items from it to the public as the Itter Broadcast Collection.

From this rare collection comes two works by British composer Cyril Rootham otherwise not available in any other recording, his Symphony No. 2 (1938) and Ode on the Morning of Christ’s Nativity (1928). The former is a stereo recording of a BBC broadcast made in 1984 with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra  and ladies of the Scottish Philharmonic Singers  conducted by Vernon Handley  and the later a mono recording of a BBC broadcast made in 1975 with the BBC Concert Orchestra  , BBC Singers  and the Trinity Boys Choir  conducted again by Vernon Handley.

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Cyril Rootham (1875–1938) was born in Redland, Bristol and, after studying at Cambridge eventually returned there becoming Director of Music at St. John’s College and later University Lecturer and conductor of the Cambridge University Music Society. Rootham wrote an opera, The Two Sisters (1918–21) as well as numerous orchestral works including two symphonies. His Symphony No.1 has been recorded for Lyrita  by Vernon Handley and the London Philharmonic Orchestra and includes works by Bantock and Josef Holbrooke.

Rootham’s three movement Symphony No. 2 comes from the very end of his life, completed when the composer was unable to write and barely able to speak, Patrick Hadley and other friends acting as amanuenses. It was premiered by Sir Adrian Boult and the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, London in 1939.

The Adagio Molto ed espressivo – Maestoso opens with a short pizzicato violin note that is immediately followed up by a woodwind passage to which the strings join, a pensive melody that is shared around the orchestra. This wonderful theme eventually broadens and lightens as it develops with some lovely moments, finely orchestrated. Throughout the movement there is a sense of brooding that reoccurs, particularly in the basses, building to a peak of some grandeur before quietening to lead to the hushed coda.

The shorter Allegretto e grazioso brings a lighter flowing theme led by various woodwind. It has a rather pastoral air and leads through some rhythmically accented passages later pointed up by timpani and pizzicato strings before the gentle coda.

Strings quietly open the Andante moderato – Molto adagio – meno mosso pizzicato before a rich flowing melody slowly works its way forward. There are some lovely passages for woodwind before the music rises passionately. Again Rootham provides a very distinctive orchestration as the music rises and falls in intensity and drama before gaining an intensity in the strings as it heaves itself up. As the music falls there is some distinctive use of muted brass. A fine brass chorale leads forward gaining in drama with timpani strokes before quietening with a gentler string passage. Soon the ladies of the Scottish Philharmonic Singers choir enter on the words ‘Behold, there shall be no more death,’ a poignant statement given Rootham’s state of health. This gentle understated section has a beauty of its own. A trumpet sounds during the second verse adding an upward lift to the music before chorus and orchestra slowly make their way forward with an underlying rhythmic pulse to the beautifully comforting coda where the orchestra falls ever quieter pointed up by a gentle timpani rhythm.

I have waited a long time to hear this symphony again. The wonderful Vernon (Tod) Handley draws a first rate performance from ladies of the Scottish Philharmonic Singers and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. The stereo recording is remarkably good, given the means of recording. 

Rootham’s Ode on the Morning of Christ’s Nativity won the 1928 Carnegie Competition and was premiered in Cambridge in 1930 with a stellar cast of soloists, Elsie Suddaby, Steuart Wilson and Roy Henderson. The composer conducted the Cambridge University Music Society choir and orchestra.

Tenor, Philip Langridge opens Introduction. Stanzas I – IV on the words ‘This is the Month and this is the happy morn.’ the orchestra soon joining and rising up dramatically on the words ‘That glorious Form, that Light unsufferable.’ Langridge is very fine, bringing a lovely expressiveness to the words. By Stanza IV, the music achieves a gentler flow but rises as the Trinity Boys Choir joins to lead with the tenor to the conclusion.

The orchestra opens The Hymn. Stanzas I – VII with a slow moving theme with the BBC Singers bringing the words ‘It was the Winter wilde’ bringing a fine ebb and flow, rising to a climax for chorus and orchestra on the words ‘Should look so neer upon her foul deformities.’  There are some very fine moments, particularly when soprano, Teresa Cahill joins at ‘But peaceful was the night’ before leading eventually to a rousing conclusion to Stanza VII.

Bass, Michael Rippon enters forThe Hymn. Stanzas VIII – XIII with a lively, good natured ‘The Shepherds on the Lawn’ joined by the BBC Singers in this lovely rustic romp. Stanza IX, ‘When such Musick sweet,’ brings to mind Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music such is its lovely writing for voice and choir, though of course it predates this work by a number of years. The music moves forward with greater intensity, Michael Rippon bringing a lovely rise and fall as do the BBC Singers before they rise to a climax in Stanza XI. Teresa Cahill rejoins the chorus for Stanza XII bringing a lovely flexibility before the chorus leads to a rousing passage, the children’s choir concluding with an Alleluia.

Michael Rippon enters with the orchestra for The Hymn. Stanzas XIV – XX Stanza bringing his rich, firm powerful voice, finely controlled. The choir moves forward quickly in Stanza XV bringing some glorious moments before  Teresa Cahill brings a gentle touch in Stanza XVI with the words ‘But wisest Fate says no,’ a really lovely voice as she moves around the flowing verse rising to a magnificent moment with ‘The Dreadful Judge in middle Air shall spread his throne.’ The BBC Singers bring much to this fine work before they bring the lovely subdued end.

The Hymn. Stanzas XXI – XXVII brings the wonderful Michael Rippon and chorus as they move through the darker Stanza XXI before upper voices lighten the texture. The tempo increases with a tambourine adding to the colour, picking up in drama for Stanza XXIV, slowing towards the end for ‘In vain with Timbrel’d Anthems dark.’ Rippon moves the music forward with a lovely flow in Stanza XXV with a beautifully sung coda, wonderfully shaped. There are beautifully hushed overlaid lines for the chorus in Stanza XXVI a high point for this choir. A cor anglais lends a pastoral air to XXVII as soprano, bass, then the choir takes the music forward. The Trinity Boys Choir returns for the Alleluia before the orchestra brings about the hushed coda

Though recorded in mono, there is a remarkable depth of sound. The sound is perhaps a little top heavy, but very detailed and with no trace of distortion.

Here we have some of the finest British singers of the period together with the exemplary Trinity Boys Choir, BBC Singers and BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by the incomparable Vernon Handley. 

Even if modern recordings of these works were to appear, I would still not want to dispense with these irreplaceable performances. Vernon Handley brings so much to this fine music, an intuitive understanding. There are excellent detailed notes on the music and recordings.

Wednesday 26 August 2015

Eda Records continue their invaluable series Poland Abroad with works by Jerzy Fitelberg Tadeusz, Zygfryd Kassern and Michał Spisak in live performances by the Warsaw Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra conducted by Christoph Slowinski

Eda Records’ invaluable series Poland Abroad has reached Volume 6 bringing more world premiere recordings, this time of works by Jerzy Fitelberg (1903-1951), Tadeusz Zygfryd Kassern 1904-1957) and Michał Spisak (1914-1965). The series is dedicated to the many unknown treasures of Polish music from the 20th century written by Polish composers in exile.

All of the works on this new release were recorded live at the Warsaw Music Encounters Festival with the Warsaw Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra  conducted by Christoph Slowinski with trombonist Andrzej Sienkiewicz and pianist Grzegorz Gorczyca

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Jerzy Fitelberg was born in Warsaw in 1903, the son of composer Grzegorz Fitelberg (1879-1953). He studied with Franz Schreker (1878-1934) in Berlin before moving to Paris then New York where he died. The Allegro of his Concerto for trombone, piano and orchestra (1948) opens with a scurrying motif for strings accompanied by trombone phrases. Piano phrases open a fast moving theme that is developed by the trombone and piano through some attractive tumbling passages sometimes easing before regaining the spirited forward momentum. The movement rises to a peak centrally before suddenly slowing and quietening only to inexorably move forward gaining in speed and dynamics, pushing to the coda.

Variations brings a slower rhythmically forward moving mellow theme introduced by the trombone, accompanied by quiet pizzicato strings. The piano enters to share the theme with the tempo soon increasing as the music becomes more volatile. There are some whimsical passages in which these two fine soloists are terrific before a slow meditative passage, wonderfully written. A little solo violin passage over strings arrives before the piano brings a sudden outburst followed by a trombone sequence as the piano continues its descending phrases. Suddenly the mood lightens as the music playfully moves ahead. There is a more thoughtful passage before the trombone leads with the orchestra to a quiet coda, but it is the piano that leaps up as we go into the final movement.

A joyful Allegro energico finds the trombone bringing some fine mellifluous melody. The music rises to a little climax before falling quieter as both trombone and piano push the music forward gaining a real galloping forward thrust. Later the music slows in a lovely passage for soloists over a hushed orchestra who bring some lovely string sounds, before suddenly rushing to the coda.

I really enjoyed this fine work. It receives an impressively played live performance.

Tadeusz Zygfryd Kassern was born in Lemberg, Galicia (later Polish Lwów) in 1917 and studied at the conservatories of Lwów and Poznań. He later went to Paris where he met Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979) before moving to New York where he died. Amongst his works are operas, concertos and piano music, some of which are influenced by Polish folk music.

His Concerto for String Orchestra (1943) is in four movements opening with an Allegro deciso e molto ritmico from the lower strings in a rhythmically forward moving theme. There are some finely written, woven string lines before the music slows though retaining an underlying pulse that threatens to move the music forward. The music slowly gains momentum, gaining more of a flow with the rhythmic pulse still maintained underneath. Eventually the movement achieves an incisive forward propulsion that brings with it some fine string textures. As the gentler flow is regained, a solo violin accompanied by a cello brings a lovely moment, finely written, with some brilliant textures before the orchestra rejoins to bring the coda.

The little Minuetto takes a more leisurely pace with the various strings bringing lovely layers before the Adagio opens quietly, mournfully and hauntingly, achieving a melancholy theme that increases in intensity as it rises, the lower strings soon taking the lead before rising through the orchestra, ever more quickly. The music falls as a pizzicato motif on lower strings brings back the slower brooding theme with the coda bringing a gentle resignation.

The Rondo brings a lighter rhythmic theme that gently bounds ahead with some fine string phrases that point up the melody, always with a subtle dissonance that is really attractive. There are some terrific string textures before we are led to the coda.

This is another really fine work with some particularly fine string playing from the Warsaw Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra.

Michał Spisak was born in Dąbrowa Górnicza, Poland in 1914. He studied with Kazimierz Sikorsky (1895-1985) in Warsaw before travelling to Paris to study with Nadia Boulanger. He survived the occupation of France living in Voiron near Grenoble later returning to Paris where he died. Influenced by the neo-classicism of Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) he was considered one of the most outstanding composers of his generation. His Concertino for string orchestra (1942) is in three movements starting with an Allegro that rises up with energy to flow ahead with a brightness and sparkle right through to its vibrant coda.

The following Andante rises up before moving forward with a sombre theme. There are some fine lower string textures that underpin this fine music. Despite its attempts, it never rises much above its brooding nature.

The Allegro vivace scurries ahead full of energy showing just how fine the strings of the Warsaw Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra are There is some terrific writing for strings, clear textured, full of lovely individual details before staccato phrases and pizzicato strings lead to the coda.

Lovers of 20th century and, particularly, Polish music should investigate this new disc. There is not a work here that doesn’t deserve to be heard. These live recordings have a brilliance and impact that is first rate. There are excellent booklet notes.

Sunday 23 August 2015

The Singapore Symphony Orchestra under their founding Music Director, Choo Hoey provide well-shaped performances of Ippolitov-Ivanov’s Symphony No. 1 in E Minor, Turkish Fragments and Turkish March, re-released by Naxos

For those who know of the Russian composer Mikhail Mikhailovich Ippolitov-Ivanov (1859-1935) it may still only be for his Caucasian Sketches. Nevertheless, he wrote operas, choral and vocal music, chamber works, film music and many other orchestral works including two symphonies. Ippolitov-Ivanov studied at the St. Petersburg Conservatory and later taught at the Moscow Conservatory, becoming its Director in 1905. His music is influenced by his interest in oriental music and, in particular, ethnic regions of the Soviet Union.

It is Ippolitov-Ivanov’s first symphony with Choo Hoey  conducting the Singapore Symphony Orchestra that has been re-released by Naxos , coupled with his Turkish Fragments and Turkish March.

A typically Russian opening Adagio to the Symphony No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 46, a little reminiscent of Rimsky-Korsakov, leads to a buoyant, flowing Allegro risoluto, an attractive melody increases in dynamics before a gentler passage for clarinet and strings. A trombone joins supported by a rather four square string accompaniment that does develop through some finer passages with a returning rising theme that is most attractive. The music builds to a rousing climax before relaxing back to passages where the invention occasionally flags before leading to a quiet coda, beautifully conceived.

The second movement is a really lively Scherzo: Allegro that lightly and rhythmically rushes ahead. There is a slower trio section with a rather fine eloquent theme with a beautifully woven orchestration, rising up emotionally to a lovely peak before quietening and leading to the return of the Allegro that brings an infectious rhythmic version of the theme. Woodwind bring about the lovely coda. This is a really fine movement.

The Elegia: Larghetto opens with a slow melody underlined by an insistent little rhythmic string motif. The music develops a rather serious mood weaving a rising and falling theme before a second subject, for clarinet and bassoon over pizzicato strings, appears. There is a staccato brass motif before the orchestra arrives, leading to a gentle coda.

The Finale: Allegro moderato leaps into life with a buoyant theme that alternates between woodwind and strings before percussion join to drive the music along. Soon a sweeping melody arrives that flows ahead with some lovely moments for individual brass and woodwind. The music slows for a restatement of the theme but soon increases in tempo, Ippolitov-Ivanov working up a fine swirling and dramatic coda.

Marked less by Oriental influences than Russian orthodox music, this is a symphony that, overall, brings some very attractive moments.

Turkish Fragments, Op. 62 is in four sections and opens with Caravan, a light and rhythmic piece with an Eastern flavour that jogs along, slowly increasing in dynamics. Centrally there is a more flowing version of the theme before the opening tempo returns with some lovely woodwind arabesques around the orchestra.

At Rest brings a gentle, slow theme that opens out into a slow rhythmic melody pointed up by brass. Soon a faster galloping theme with a definite Eastern influence is introduced, rising with a rich brass contribution and growing faster before returning to the original gentle flowing theme with a tambourine adding colour.

A cor anglais brings Night, together with a repeated orchestral accompanying motif. This is a prime example of how Ippolitov-Ivanov could create such exquisite little tone pictures conjuring up an Eastern night. A lovely little piece.

Festival rushes ahead with a xylophone pointing up the fast moving theme. Soon there is a slower melody, somewhat melancholy but the fast theme returns rushing to the coda.

Brass sound out against staccato orchestral phrases to introduce Ippolitov-Ivanov’s Turkish March, Op.55. Soon a slower, quieter march theme arrives that grows into a more dynamic theme. There is a trio section that brings a more flowing march before rising to a dynamic and decisive coda.

The Singapore Symphony Orchestra under their founding Music Director, Choo Hoey provide well-shaped performances. The recording, made in Singapore’s Victoria Memorial Hall in 1984, is brightly lit and detailed. Keith Anderson provides his usual informative booklet notes.

Saturday 22 August 2015

Audite’s new release Tientos y Glosas – Iberian Organ and Choral Music from the Golden Age featuring organist Martin Neu and Ensemble Officium directed by Wilfried Rombach is something of a winner for all lovers of early Iberian music

The Golden Age of Spain began during the reign of the Emperor Charles V (1516-1556). The period lasted for over 100 years, reaching its height during the reign of Philip II who took over the Portuguese kingdom as Spain became a world power.

It was the wealth that brought a rise in culture with such figures as the artists Velazquez and Murillo, writers Espinel, Gracián and Cervantes and composers that included Francisco Correa de Arauxo (1584-1654) and Manuel Rodrigues Coelho (1555-1635).

A new release from Audite entitled Tientos y Glosas – Iberian Organ and Choral Music from the Golden Age brings music by these two composers as well as Diego Xaraba (1652-1715). Organist Martin Neu  plays the organ of San-Hipólito-Kirche, Córdoba, Spain  with the choir Ensemble Officium /  directed by Wilfried Rombach The title of this disc, Tientos y Glosas roughly translates as fantasia (Tientos) and variations or ornamentations (Glosas).

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Diego Xaraba was organist at the Royal Chapel in Madrid. His Tiento Lleno segundo tono opens this disc, the sound of the organ of San-Hipólito-Kirche, Córdoba filling the acoustic of the church to fine effect. Martin Neu draws some very fine sonorities from this lovely organ before combining the timbres beautifully.  Towards the end of this rhythmically buoyant work there are some gloriously penetrating sounds which are so typically Iberian.

The Portuguese musician Manuel Rodrigues Coelho was the Lisbon Court organist. His collection Flores de musica pera o instrument de tecla & harpa (1620) is the earliest surviving keyboard music surviving in Portugal. There are over 100 organ versettes on various hymns and Kyrie settings. His 5 Versos de Kyrie do 1. Tom opens at a steady pace revealing details of the wonderful sounds of this organ as the fine melody rises and falls. Ensemble Officium under the direction of Wilfried Rombach join to sing the Kyrie alternating with some exquisitely played passages for organ, quiet and subdued and played with fine sensibility. The choir brings an authentic sound that, combined with this fine organ, very much conjure up the ‘Golden Age of Iberian Music’. Neu brings a fine array of timbres and textures in this substantially subdued music, lifting it at times to a higher plane with a brighter sound, especially at the end.

The Spanish composer and theorist Francisco Correa de Arauxo held appointments in Seville before becoming organist at the cathedrals of Jaén and Segovia. His Libro de tientos y discursos de musica practica y theorica de organo, intitulado Facultad Organica (1626) contained 69 organ compositions intended as pedagogical works.

Tiento y Discurso de medio registro de dos Baxones de Octavo Tono opens with a flourish to which rich, deep textures are added combining to produce a superb sound. Nue provides lovely decorations, always bringing this music alive. There is a superb coda with beautiful rich textures. Pedagogical or not, this is a really fine piece, wonderfully played.

With Manuel Rodrigues Coelho’s Ave Maris Stella four organ adaptations of the hymn alternate with Ensemble Officium. After a grand introduction from the organ Ensemble Officium enter, a fabulous sound so well caught here. Neu brings such varied timbres and textures from his choice of registration in each of these fine adaptations of the hymn. There is such a great flow as well as some flamboyant little flourishes that are quite wonderful. Neu shows such freedom and panache; nothing dry about his playing.

Francisco Correa de Arauxo’s Tiento de medio registro de tiple de Octavo Tono opens gently before layers are slowly added to marvellous effect, Neu bringing a lovely spontaneity and freedom to his playing with such ear catching registrations.  

Ensemble Officium return for Correa de Arauxo’s Tres Glosas sobre el Canto Llano de la Immaculada Concepción bringing a lovely, finely balanced texture before the organ brings a variation of the melody with some lovely typically Iberian organ phrases. There are some very fine variations of the theme with lovely little decorations before the choir returning for the last two verses of this Hymn to the Virgin Mary.

Two more of Francisco Correa de Arauxo’s Tiento conclude this disc, Tercero Tiento de Quarto Tono where Martin Neu reveals some beautifully light textures and sonorities from his instrument as the lovely melody slowly unwinds in a fine undulating flow and Tiento Tercero de Sexto Tono sobre la primera parte de la Batalla de Moralis that has a terrific opening. Written on the Spanish composer Cristobal de Moralis’ (c. 1500-1553) Batalla, the original of which has apparently been lost, this composer weaves some very fine ideas, Neu bringing some impressive sounds from the San-Hipólito-Kirche organ as the piece develops. Slowly this piece becomes quieter and gentle before it suddenly bursts out in a terrific rhythmic episode full of energy and strength. As the coda arrives, Neu lightens the textures for a glorious conclusion. A fine ending to this disc.

This is something of a winner for all lovers of early Iberian music. The recording captures this fine organ in its lovely acoustic superbly. There are excellent notes from Martin Neu as well as a full organ specification and details of tuning and temperament.

Thursday 20 August 2015

Five new works written especially by Danish composers represent a fine tribute to the late Danish composer Axel Borup-Jørgensen on a new disc from OUR Recordings

A new release from OUR Recordings entitled Nordic Sound is a tribute to the late Danish composer Axel Borup-Jørgensen (1924-2012). Here five Danish composers have each provided a work for this tribute disc topped off by Axel Borup-Jørgensen’s own Sommasvit for String Orchestra all performed by the Lapland Chamber Orchestra  conducted by Clemens Schuldt  with Michala Petri (recorder)


Axel Borup-Jørgensen (1924-2012)  was born in Hjørring in Denmark, but grew up in Sweden. It was the countryside and experience of nature of his childhood in Sweden that became a lifelong inspiration to him. He returned to Denmark to study piano at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen and instrumentation with Poul Schierbeck and Jørgen Jersild and was one of the first Danish composers to go to the Darmstadt School. Borup-Jørgensen's works include music for orchestra, chamber music, songs with piano and other instruments.

However, the first work on this disc is Bent Sørensen’s (b.1958) Whispering for recorder and strings (2014) which rises out of the silence with strange other-worldly sounds from the strings. Slowly the sound of Michala Petri’s recorder is heard as the music moves ahead with strange sonorities. As the work progresses, the strings continue to appear from the silence in little emerging phrases to which the recorder adds a melancholy quality. Soon a lively tune for recorder appears over the strings that play little phrases. The recorder moves through a variety of passages, melancholy and livelier, before an exquisitely hushed section out of which the recorder slowly rises over a gentle string accompaniment with drooping phrases leading to the coda.

Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen’s (b.1932)  Music for 13 Strings. For Axel 'Boje' (2014) opens with a swirl of strings with some fine textures before faster, often staccato phrases appear, as the music becomes dramatic. Gudmundsen-Holmgreen creates some terrific string harmonies and textures before a hushed rising and falling passage for strings appears. There are sudden outbursts of dramatic strings as the music moves quickly and lively ahead. The Lapland Chamber Orchestra brings some very fine string sounds to this lovely theme. Eventually there are more dramatic staccato phrases as the music moves rhythmically ahead.  Slowly the music regains its steady forward momentum moving through a variety of passages, slow and intricate then more dramatic with rhythmic stamping of feet from the orchestra before slowing for a rumination of a four note motif. The music leads to a quiet coda with slowly rising and falling strings.

The strings open Sunleif Rasmussen’s (b.1961)  Winter Echoes - Hommage a Axel Borup-Jørgensen for recorder and 13 solo strings (2014) with a determined theme, a terrific overlaying of string sounds. Soon the recorder can be heard in a rising motif that is reflected by the strings.  Soon a short solo passage for recorder arrives before strings hurry along, responded to by the recorder. There is some beautifully pointed, light textured playing from Michala Petri and the orchestra as both bounce off each other.  The strings bring a slower steady passage to which the recorder adds lovely little phrases with the feel of winter is really evoked here. There are some fine flourishes from the recorder as the strings continue the slow steady motion in an exquisite passage leading to a recorder solo where Petri plays a lovely little tune that rises and falls in little flourishes bringing about the end.

Mogens Christensen’s (b.1955) Nordic Summer Scherzo – Concerto for descant recorder and strings (2014) has a sudden opening with trills from the recorder against lively strings. Petri brings some superb playing to this piece with some terrific string sounds from the Lapland Chamber Orchestra in the various textures, sonorities and harmonies. Soon the recorder develops a tune against a hushed, delicately written string accompaniment before moving through some brilliantly written passages with superb, pin point sharp playing from all. Later a subtle rhythmic pulse appears before rapid strings take the music forward, the opening trills return and the fast recorder theme leads the strings to the coda.

Thomas Clausen’s (b.1949)  Concertino for Recorder and Strings (2014) is in four movements, opening with a lively Moderato that brings a lovely little melody for recorder over a fine string accompaniment in this more traditional piece before leading into the exquisite Largo where the strings lead with a plodding rhythmic pulse over which the recorder plays a long flowing melody. Michala Petri brings some lovely little phrases, fine little trills and some beautifully held long lines as the movement progresses.

We jump suddenly into the Moderato, a rather fast moderato with some very fine passages from Petri. The strings of the Lapland Chamber Orchestra are really rather fine with such crisp lively playing. This we are told might have been the end of this concertino except for Michala Petri hoping for a final faster movement to follow. This, the composer happily provided, a Rondo where fast moving strings introduce the theme to which the recorder soon joins.  Petri and the orchestra seem to have terrific fun playing off each other with some playful little phrases from Petri before the music rushes to the end.

Finally we come to Axel Borup-Jørgensen’s (1924-2012) Sommasvit Op. 24 for String Orchestra (1957). In five movements, it takes its title from Sommon, a large forest fringed lake area in northern Småland. Each movement takes us to different places in the area and different times of day.

Morgon: Svalön (Morning: Swallow Island) opens quietly from a high held note and pizzicato strings before developing more dynamic phrases and moving tentatively forward with fine string effects. This is a really evocative piece that just fades to silence.

The strings of the Lapland Chamber Orchestra gently evoke the sound of waves gently lapping in Middag: Böljeskvalp Vid Aspanäs Udde (Noon: Waves lapping at Aspanäs headland). This composer brought a fine ear and much subtlety to his writing, especially in this lovely little movement.

In Afton: Bjälnäs (Evening: Bjälnäs) sonorous strings gently lead ahead with more of a darker feel, the strings slowly shifting in harmonies.

Natt: Höststorm På Storsjön (Night: Autumn storm on the Great Lake) brings fast and stormy string writing with this composer showing just how finely he could create such string textures and sonorities that bring a contemporary twist on a wholly descriptive piece.

Calm is restored for the Epilog a slow moving conclusion with shifting harmonies and carefully crafted dissonances that bring a terrific atmosphere.  

This is a work that demonstrates just what a very fine composer Axel Borup-Jørgensen was. This terrific collection of works represents a fine tribute to this sadly missed composer. The new works provided for this recording are, of course, world premieres. They all receive an excellent recording and there are excellent notes in the well-illustrated booklet.

See also:

Tuesday 18 August 2015

Peruvian composer Jimmy López brings the influences of his native Peru to his own unique style producing music of imagination and brilliance on a new recording of his orchestral works from Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra on Harmonia Mundi

Composer Jimmy López (b. 1978) was born in Lima, Peru and studied with Enrique Iturriaga at the National Conservatory of Music in his home city. He later studied with Veli-Matti Puumala and Eero Hämeenniemi at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki and at the University of California-Berkeley with Professor Edmund Campion.

He has been awarded numerous prizes around the world and his works have been performed by ensembles such as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Fort Worth Symphony, Helsinki Philharmonic, Sydney Symphony, Symphony Orchestra of Chile and the National Symphony Orchestra of Peru and in venues such as Carnegie Hall, Aspen Music Festival, Tanglewood Music Festival, Darmstadt Music Festival, Donaueschingen Music Festival and the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore.

López is a member of Suomen Säveltäjät (Society of Finnish Composers), ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers), CIRCOMPER (Circle of Composers of Peru) and the San Francisco Chapter of the Recording Academy (GRAMMY). He is a founding member and Vice President of kohoBeat Musical Association in Finland. As part of the Renée Fleming initiative, the Lyric Opera of Chicago has commissioned from him a full-length opera based on the bestselling novel Bel Canto. The world premiere is scheduled for December 7, 2015 and will run through January 17, 2016.

His cello concerto, Lord of the Air was premiered on March 7, 2013 by cellist Jesús Castro-Balbi and the TCU Symphony Orchestra conducted by Germán Gutiérrez. Another recent premiere was Perú Negro, written for Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the Centennial Season of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra.

López’s Cello Concerto and Perú Negro appear on a new release from Harmonia Mundi  dedicated entirely to his orchestral works. The other works on this disc are Synesthésie and América Salvaje. The Norwegian Radio Orchestra  is conducted by Miguel Harth-Bedoya  with cellist Jesús Castro-Balbi  in the concerto.

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Perú Negro (2012) was commissioned by Miguel Harth-Bedoya and is based on the conductor’s initials E, B, Bb and G, which correspond to Miguel (Mi = E) Harth (H = B
natural) Bedoya (B = B flat) Gonzáles (G). The piece was inspired by Afro-Peruvian music that López has assimilated into his style.

A horn call opens the work, echoed by a muted horn. The brass repeat the horn’s call before the whole orchestra enter to take the theme slowly forward in an impressively dramatic and forward moving theme. The music soon drops to pizzicato lower strings that lead on with little woodwind arabesques before a second subject appears out of the textures, pointed up subtly by the percussion. This is a steady forward moving theme that becomes rhythmically varied as the music pulses forward through passages both dynamic and more restrained, slowly building then falling back. There is some terrific use of drums to add colour and point up the rhythms and, indeed, add a Peruvian flavour. The music builds to a climax before drums and percussion take the lead. Trumpets sound out before the music drops back with brass moving the music forward over an insistent string theme with woodwind swirls.  Slowly the music builds again with some very fine orchestration.  López builds and draws back in a very distinctive manner with terrific use of brass as the music drives forward to the coda.

This is an impressive, wholly approachable, work that receives a terrific performance here.

Synesthésie (2011) was commissioned by Radio France and owes its underlying concept to the parameters set by the commissioner for a ten-minute orchestra piece in five movements for the radio program Alla Breve. The composer wanted to infuse each movement with a different flavour and soon realised that the five human senses would suit perfectly, hence the names for each movement.

Timpani and drums thunder out in the opening of Toucher (Touch) to which the orchestra adds wiry phrases, brass adding a rising theme before strings and drums lead full of energy to the coda.

Odorat (Smell) brings a slower section as the strings introduce an undulating melody with subtly and beautiful percussion adding colour. The music grows in dynamics with rich string sonorities appearing before a quiet coda.

Beautifully conceived orchestral sonorities open Goût (Taste) with woodwind taking the lead and creating some very fine moments with lovely little woodwind arabesques and brass interventions as the music reaches a climax before leading to a quiet coda.

Audition (Hearing) opens with a riotous orchestral outburst that continues with a fast brass motif with strings and percussion adding to the texture, as the music pushes forward, rising in dynamics before rushing to the coda with timpani rolls leading into the final movement.

Brass bring a broad fanfare to open Vision (Sight) before the music falls to a plodding theme that quickly gains momentum leading to a climax with drum strokes and brass sounding out in this colourful orchestration, ending suddenly.

Lord of the Air, concerto for cello and orchestra (2012) was commissioned by the Texas Christian University and dedicated to Jesús Castro-Balbi who gave the first performance and is the soloist here. Lord of the Air here is the Andean condor, a bird that has its natural habitat in the Colca Canyon, in the south of Peru. This breathtaking natural formation and the Andean condor served as the source of inspiration for this piece.

The first of the four movements, Leap to the Void, opens with the solo cello bringing a series of rapid phrases interrupted by percussion. The orchestra join adding short phrases to complement the cello motif. López’s orchestration brings much colour and texture with many little orchestral details as the cello develops its theme, rising higher and ever more intense before falling to a fragmented version of the theme.

With The Ascent, the orchestra opens in a light and fast moving theme to which the cello adds phrases drawing on those of the first movement. Jesús Castro-Balbi brings some fine playing in this fast moving, fine textured movement with its never ceasing forward thrust. Occasionally a dialogue is developed between soloist and orchestra. Midway the music rises through a dramatic orchestral passage with side drum before the cello rejoins in a fast and furious passage right through to the coda.

Soaring the Heights has a hushed orchestral opening with celeste to which the cello brings a sorrowful theme, exquisitely played. Castro-Balbi provides some lovely, very unusual sounds, quite captivating, supported by a hushed orchestra with rippling harp. This composer certainly creates an odd feeling of weightlessness in this most original of movements, which grows in strength and tone. The soloist brings a short cadenza like section before interrupted by the orchestra still coloured by harp arpeggios. The orchestra falls away as the cello now achieves an extended cadenza, still rather gentle, finely played by this cellist with some exquisite little tonal effects. It does rise a little before the orchestra rejoins, quietly and subtly, both finding ethereal hushed sounds before firming up for a quiet coda.

Homecoming brings a pizzicato cello that dances ahead competing with pizzicato orchestral strings. Soon the orchestra takes the music ahead with a syncopated theme to which the cello joins. Both orchestral strings and cello are terrific here with fine ensemble and taut playing. The solo cello then develops deeper, fuller phrases as a rich melody appears, this cellist producing a fine singing tone. As the music slowly speeds up, the orchestra takes the theme moving inexorably forward, gaining in dynamics before the cello joins in a fast virtuosic passage. The pizzicato strings reappear as the music hurtles to the coda on a timpani roll.

This is an unusual and highly distinctive concerto that received a terrific performance from Jesús Castro-Balbi and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra under Miguel Harth-Bedoya

América Salvaje was commissioned by the Minister of Education, Javier Sota Nadal, for the inauguration of the National Library of Peru.  Jimmy López based this piece on the poem Blasón by José Santos Chocano  and is a work that aims at reflecting Peru’s multicultural roots with the same clarity and strength as the original text.

Strange wind sounds are heard from the pututo, an Andean ceremonial instrument, creating a terrific atmosphere. Birdsong is evoked before strings bring a descending and then rising motif. Tubular bells chime and a myriad of percussion colours are heard as bird sounds are heard amongst hushed strings. As the music quietly finds its way amongst this mysterious landscape, brass slowly help to raise the music up, rising with woodwind flourishes. The music falls to a quiet extended percussion passage that brings a gentle rhythm before the orchestra adds to the drama with little bursts of brass and strings, soon taking the music rhythmically forward. López always varies the textures and orchestration to add interest and colour bringing a terrific overlay of orchestral lines as the music finds its way towards the coda that brings a tumult of colourful sounds.

Jimmy López is a fine composer who brings the influences of his native Peru to his own unique style producing music of imagination and brilliance. The Norwegian Radio Orchestra with their Chief Conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya provide brilliantly played performances. The recording is excellent and there are authoritative and informative notes from the composer.  

Saturday 15 August 2015

An attractive disc of Carolus Hacquart’s Suites for Viol, Op.3 from Pan Classics

Composer and instrumentalist Carolus Hacquart (c.1640-c.1701) was born in Bruges and worked in Amsterdam and The Hague. There is evidence to suggest that he left the Hague after 1696 and travelled to England. Hacquart was the composer of De triomfeerende Min (Triumphant Love) believed to be to be the first opera in the Dutch language and written on the occasion of the Treaty of Nijmegen of 1678.

Six of Hacquart’s Suites for Viol, Op.3 are performed by Guido Balestracci (bass viol) , Nicola Dal Maso (violone), Rafael Bonavita (arch lute)  and Massimiliano Taschetti (harpsichord and organ) on a release from Pan Classics of a 2003 recording made in the church of St. Giorgio, Pisa, Italy.

PC 10338
The Preludium of Suite in D major, Op. 3, No. 6 receives a slow sonorous opening, these players bringing a fine rich texture. The music soon gains a faster rhythmic tempo with some lively intricate passages finely done by these players before returning to the slow opening tempo. The Allemande has a fine flowing rhythmic pulse, these players lifting and shaping every phrase beautifully before a Courante that has a lovely rhythmic lilt. A leisurely Sarabande follows with some very fine little details emerging from the textures before concluding with a very fine Gigue, full of spirit and life with these players weaving some lovely sounds.

Suite in A minor, Op. 3, No. 10 has a rather melancholy air in the Preludium with these players bringing such fine, beautifully shaped phrases. It speeds to a dance rhythm before a slow coda. There is a more buoyant Allemande with lovely little decorations before a Courante that has a lovely rhythmic bounce. The Sarabande has a sad leisurely feel, these players finding so many lovely sonorities and textures before the Gigue moves off with energy and panache and some terrific ensemble from these artists.

The Fantasia of Suite in E minor, Op. 3, No. 8 is beautifully laid out with more lively moments, these players bringing much care and sensitivity. The Allemande receives a steady, nicely phrased and nuanced performance, then the players bring a fine rhythmic style to the Courante that moves quickly forward. Some particularly fine sounds unfold in the gentle Sarabande as these instrumentalists combine to create some fine sonorities before a terrific lively Gigue, the music really bouncing along.

Hacquart brings some very fine ideas to the Preludium Suite in C major, Op. 3, No. 12 with some gently and carefully varied tempi from these players. The Allemande has a rather more lively rhythmic forward flow before a Courante that shifts at a rapid pace; finely phrased. The Sarabande opens with a gentle flowing organ line with the archlute picking out a theme before the players all take the music forward developing some very fine passages. There is another very attractive Gigue to conclude, given a brilliantly sprung performance.

The violone rises up to take the Preludium of Suite in G minor, Op. 3, No. 11 forward with fine textures from the ensemble. The Allemande brings excellent phrasing together with a rhythmic insistence before the Courante where these players give lift to the phrases.  There is a gentle Sarabande that receives a subtle forward pulse and another lively Gigue to end.

The Preludium of Suite in F major, Op. 3, No. 9 has a slow opening that soon leads to a faster section with some particularly attractive ideas before the opening tempo returns. These artists bring a beautifully light, rhythmic lift to the Allemande as it moves ahead leading to a light rhythmically textured Courante. There is a melancholy Sarabande to which is brought some lovely textures and a Gigue that receives a performance which is full of energy and panache.

These players lift these pieces with some subtly varied tempi, textures and details bringing much to these very attractive works. The 2003 recording is fairly closely miked with fine detail, every instrument sounding through clearly, though with occasional resonance on deep chords. There are informative booklet notes.

Thursday 13 August 2015

A new release from Naxos of works by Benet Casablancas performed by the B3: Brouwer Trio show him to be an endlessly fascinating composer

Benet Casablancas (b.1956) was born in Sabadell, Spain and studied in Barcelona and at the Vienna Academy of Music with Friedrich Cerha and Karl Heinz Füssl.

Though rooted in the formal techniques of serialism, his music has, in recent decades become more concerned with harmony and texture. His wide-ranging oeuvre covers the most diverse genres and formats, increasingly drawn towards the orchestral field.

He has received many awards including the Premio Nacional Disco Ministerio de Cultura de España, Premio Nacional de Música de la Generalitat de Catalunya, Premio Ciudad de Barcelona, Composer´s Arena Amsterdam (Gaudeamus), Musiciens´s Accord New York, Premios Ferran Sors, Oscar Esplá and Jeunesses Musicales. In 2002 he was appointed Academic Director of the Conservatorio Superior de Música del Liceo in Barcelona.

Casablancas’ music has been performed at important international festivals such as Holland Festival Amsterdam, Musica Strasbourg, ISCM World Music Days Vilnius, Biennale Düsseldorf, Spanien Modern Wien, Theatre Miller New York, Atempo Caracas, Weimar, Bruxelles, Antwerpen, London Barbican Hall, Paris, Lausanne, St. Petersburg, Warzawa, Montréal, München, Vancouver, Bolonia, Buenos Aires, Stockholm, Malmö, Lima, Rotterdam, Tokio, Frankfurt and Napoles.

A new release from Naxos  entitled Piano Trios features works by Benet Casablancas performed by B3: Brouwer Trio

The title of this disc is rather misleading in that only three of the works performed here are for piano trio, the rest for solo piano and other combinations. However, that doesn’t detract from the wealth of fine music from this composer on these new recordings.

Casablancas, Moviment per a trio (1984), as the title implies, is for piano trio with B3: Brouwer Trio launching into a kaleidoscope of instrumental sounds before settling to a passionate theme, soon led by the cello before violin, then piano join to weave around the theme. As the theme is slowly taken forward there is much of the feel of the Second Viennese School but, as the music develops through some more vibrant passages, Casablancas adds a distinctive voice. The music speeds before slowing as these three players weave some particularly fine sounds, finding every little nuance to point up this composer’s ideas before slowly the music finds its way to a hushed coda.

In this work Casablancas very much takes forward the language of the Second Viennese School whilst moulding it to his personal style.

Brouwer Trio member, pianist Carlos Apellániz introduces the first of several solo piano works on this disc, Impromptu (2009). A light skittish piano theme opens played with terrific brio by this pianist where the music leaps around the keyboard using the whole of the twelve tone scale. Though it slows, there are continuing moments of sudden dynamic runs and flourishes on the piano with some terrific moments.

Another work for solo piano follows, Sí, a Montsalvatge! (2012) opening with delicate rippling phrases before the theme is gently taken forward with many lovely little details so sensitively wrought by this pianist. It grows in dynamics and tempo as it progresses with Casablancas creating some fine piano writing with lovely colours, textures and timbres.

The Brouwer Trio’s cellist, Elena Solanes joins Carlos Apellániz for Cant per a Frederic Mompou, Remembranca (1993) with the cello opening with a deep rich theme soon joined by the piano as a slow, rather melancholy, melody develops. The piano provides economical little phrases as the cello rises and becomes quite anguished, this cellist drawing some lovely heartfelt moments.

Pianist Carlos Apellániz returns for Tres Haikus (2008) where in the first piece there is a skittish little motif under which a theme is run before the second piece brings a more flowing theme that slows as it is picked over more gently with some exquisite moments of great refinement and delicacy. The piano introduces a faster theme, the final Haikus of this set, before it spreads all over the keyboard, easing back for the sudden coda.

This time the Brouwer Trio’s violinist, Jenny Guerra joins Carlos Apellániz for Encore (1992), a work that brings edgy vibrant violin chords in the opening with the piano adding lively phrases. The violin develops some fine textures and harmonies as the music leads through slower, more considered passages. There are more spectacularly virtuosic faster moments for these two players before the violin rises to a quite coda.

Carlos Apellániz brings some lovely rippling piano phrases to Haiku para Zurbarán (2010) offset by more dramatic chords before slowly quietening to the coda. He opens the following piano piece, Lamento, Haiku para Ramón Barce (2009) with a terrific piano flourish before settling and moving forward with a longer breathed theme, still set off by more dynamic flourishes. Casablancas provides many fine colours and textures in this fine work before the quieter coda.

The piano work, Jubilus, Homenatge a Jordi Savall (2011) opens with a vibrant rippling theme, still with Casablancas’ trademark trills and flourishes that encompass much of the keyboard. The music slows to a plodding pace before little flourishes are added with deep lower chords, livening again as the music moves to the coda.

B3: Brouwer Trio come together for Casablancas’ Impromptu, Trio No. 2 (1991) with these players hurtling off in the opening, bringing a fine texture of sounds, full of energy. The music soon drops as the piano introduces a slower section to which the others join and develop. Again there are Casablancas’ sudden outbursts and flourishes as well as many fine harmonies and textures with this composer showing a fine ear for such little details. Later the violin brings a longer melody over the top of the piano’s skittish accompaniment. There is a myriad of textures and colours as the music develops with melodies emerging through the texture.

Carlos Apellániz brings some further piano pieces, first Come un recitativo (1995) where the piano opens with broad chords before developing through a wide spectrum of phrases, soon slowing to bring a delicate, slow flowing theme before speeding again and a sudden little coda. Then comes the Dos Apunts (1976), the first of which opens gently as the music moves and flows as though the composer is trying out ideas. The second of these two pieces has a staccato theme that shifts around, varying in dynamics.

Tríptico (1996) is a work for solo cello that brings back cellist Elena Solanes. The cello brings a slow, rich opening to Amorós, lliurement that is developed through some very fine passages of reflective deep, rich textures. Pizzicato cello phrases slowly appear for the Passacaglia, soon interspersed by light vibrant harmonies this cellist holding the structure quite magnificently. Liebeslied brings a deep sonorous theme that emerges from the bass with lovely harmonies and textures, with angst filled dissonances appearing as the passion increases and the cello rises ever higher before slowly moving to a quiet richly harmonised end.

Casablancas wrote a second collection (Segunda Colección) of Tre Haikus for piano, in 2013.  In Full de Dietari, per Antonio Muñoz Molina pianist Carlos Apellániz opens with a slow piano motif that gently develops with some beautifully limpid phrases. Ràfegues de llum brings faster, more florid textures with dynamic louder passages to conclude. Memento para Maria del Carme Casablancas has a delicate opening, soon leading to deep chords repeated, before higher bell like phrases lead to the coda on a low chord.

The concluding work on this disc, Haiku para trío (2007) brings back all members of B3: Brouwer Trio as these players launch themselves with a vengeance into this piece with more of this composer’s tremendous combination of textures, colours and timbres tumbling over each other. The music slows momentarily before hurtling to the dynamic coda.

Benet Casablancas is an endlessly fascinating composer who brings his own distinctive language to music that builds on the Second Viennese School and, in certain of his piano works, Olivier Messiaen. The very fine B3: Brouwer Trio receive an excellent recording and there are informative booklet notes.

Monday 10 August 2015

Poom Prommachart’s debut disc for Champs Hill reveals a pianist that has an unerring ability to draw in the listener

Poom Prommachart was born in Bangkok, Thailand and was granted a full scholarship which enabled him to continue his studies in London where he was the last student of the legendary pianist, Yonty Solomon. He graduated from the Royal College of Music, London where he earned a Master’s Degree in Performance (Distinction) in 2013 and the prestigious International Artist Diploma in 2014. Recently, he was awarded the most prestigious Tagore Gold Medal for his great contribution to RCM. He also received his Bachelor of Music (Honours) with the Hopkinson Gold Medal and the Sarah Mundlak Memorial Prize for Piano from the RCM.  Other important awards at RCM have included the John Chisell Schumann Award (2009) and 1st prize in RCM Concerto Competition where he performed Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No.2 in G minor, op.16 with RCM Symphony Orchestra conducted by Phillip Ellis.

Prommachart has won 1st prize at the Fifth International Isidor Bajic Piano Competition in Serbia with a special prize for a Brahms’ Piano Quintet performance in the semi-final round, as well as the audience prize. Other prizes have included 1st prize and audience prize at the UK Intercollegiate Sheepdrove Piano Competition (2009), 1st prize at Eastbourne Symphony Orchestra Soloist Competition (2008), 2nd prize and a special prize for the best performance of Liszt at the International Chopin Piano Competition in Budapest (2008), 1st prize of Thailand International Piano Competition (2011) and 1st Prize in the Grand Final of Sussex International Piano Competition (2013).

He has continued his studies at the École Normale de Musique de Paris Alfred Cortot with Ramzi Yassa and has also been working privately with a celebrated German pianist, Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy in Munich, Germany.

He has performed in many world-famous concert halls throughout Europe, Asia and Australia and also worked with many leading Orchestras. His repertoire already includes over thirty concertos.

Poom Prommachart has recently recorded a debut solo CD for Champs Hill Records  featuring the works of Liszt, Scriabin, Medtner and Kreisler.

Poom Prommachart delves deeply into Franz Liszt’s (1811-1886) Variations on a Theme of Bach bringing some very fine moments as he slowly develops the music with finely controlled dynamics. There are some really virtuosic, stormy Lisztian passages as the piece progresses where this pianist shows not only his terrific technique but also his very fine touch and clarity. He reveals all the musical lines wonderfully, however dense the harmonies, and much poetry as well. An impressive performance.

Prommachart reveals his ability to immediately create a strong atmosphere here in Alexander Scriabin’s (1872-1915) Sonata No. 9, Op. 68 with a feeling of intense brooding, revealing some wonderfully poetic moments as he carefully builds and develops this sonata. I was particularly impressed at how he unfolds the individual musical lines of each hand with such very fine clarity. At times he brings beautifully limpid phrases, lovely light rhythmic phrases, quite superb before a dynamic build up before the hushed coda.

This pianist reveals how well planned this recital is by how perfectly the Theme - The Song of the Water-nymph of Nicolas Medtner’s (1880-1951) Improvisation No.2, Op.47 leads from the coda of the Scriabin. Prommachart brings fine phrasing and a sense of calm nostalgic flow.  His clarity of line is superb. With Meditation this pianist reveals, surprisingly, points of reference with Scriabin before bringing a lovely light touch to Caprice with such a stylish coda.

He conjures up the fleeting nature of Winged Dancers with lightly sprung, beautifully phrased playing before bringing a rather improvisatory quality to Enchantment with a beautifully light and fluent  coda. Despite its playful nature, his Humoresque wears a serious mask. The rapid, rippling phrases of Mid the Waves are very finely achieved with Prommachart bringing an exquisite touch.

Tumult of the Crowd is beautifully built with fine clear lines leading to a terrific climax, before a wonderfully hushed In the Forest, Prommachart again creating a fine atmosphere. After the fast and fleeting The Sylvan, The Elves hurtles delicately forward with light touch and pin point clarity.

The rippling, rhythmic phrases of The Gnomes are finely done before Conjuration arrives; a lovely piece that builds in drama, Prommachart bringing many rhythmically sprung passages and moments of fine drama with rich harmonies. The Threat continues to bring a darker hue with this pianist finely controlling the dynamics and phrasing, structuring the piece so well. Song of the Water-nymph is leisurely and quiet with some lovely little phrases whereas The Storm has some wonderfully florid, free and rippling passages set off finely by this pianist before the Conclusion that builds to the coda.

Fritz Kreisler’s (1875-1962) Liebesfreud, in its arrangement by Rachmaninov, proves to be a terrific conclusion to this disc, Prommachart’s phrasing and shaping revealing every detail with a fine rubato and control of little tempi changes as well as moments of great fun.

This debut disc for Champs Hill reveals a pianist that has an unerring ability to draw in the listener with performances not just of mere virtuosity but with clarity of phrasing and an exquisite touch.

The recording is up to the usual high standards of Champs Hill Records productions made at their Champs Hill Music Room and there are useful and informative notes. 

Sunday 9 August 2015

Lovers of late 19th and early 20th century French piano music should fall in love with many of the pieces on Martin Jones’ recording of The Complete Piano Music of Jean Roger-Ducasse from Nimbus

Jean Roger-Ducasse (1873-1954) was born in Bordeaux, France and was a pupil of Fauré at the Paris Conservatoire where he later taught, succeeding Fauré as professor of composition and later succeeding Dukas as professor of orchestration.

He formed a close friendship with Fauré for whom he made a piano reduction of the older composer’s Requiem. His own works include opera, choral works, orchestral and chamber works as well as works for solo piano and piano four hands.

It is the complete piano works that have been recorded by Martin Jones  and newly released on a three CD set by Nimbus

3 CD
NI 5927
Striking discords open Roger-Ducasse’s Barcarolle (1906) before the music settles to a flowing, gentle melody. Martin Jones brings a finely phrased linear flow to the music. Roger-Ducasse has a forward looking style with quite adventurous harmonies given the date of this work’s composition. This is a very attractive piece.

The Six Préludes (1907) open with a beautifully atmospheric Très nonchalant that slowly unfolds before Très calme brings delicately rippling phrases finely played by Jones. There is a livelier, rhythmically sprung D’un rythme très précis, beautifully shaped by this pianist followed by Très libre with its lovely, gently laid out harmonies, Jones showing great empathy for this exquisite music. Martin Jones’ fine phrasing brings much to the musical lines of D’un rythme capricieux et tender keeping a constant line as this flows freely across the keyboard with some lovely harmonies. Très souple brings a faster flow with some lovely delicate fluent touches from Jones.

Prelude (1913) Avec beaucoup de fantaisie brings a rather Iberian flavour to this fluid short piece before Etude en Sol mineur (1914) Modéré with its series of descending phrases that lead to a passage of free flowing invention with Martin Jones’ fine phrasing adding so much. The music rises to some fine climaxes during its length.

In the Prélude Allegro of Quatre Etudes (1915) Martin Jones reveals many little details in this fast flowing piece before the Fugue Assez vite brings the feel of a nursery song as it skips along. Lent seems to pick up on the previous melody only slower and gentler, Jones bringing a lovely feel. The final Lentement builds gently with some exquisite phrases.

Broad solemn chords open Variations sur un Choral (1915) as the music develops and freely moves through a series of ten variations with fine harmonies and rhythms displaying some wonderful invention. Etude en Sixtes (1916) Presque vite et avec une excessive fantaisie de rythme develops out of a little opening motif, wonderfully revealed by Jones. A lightly rhythmic Rythmes (1917) brings some pretty virtuosic passages brilliantly played by this pianist to conclude the first disc.

The second disc opens with Etude en La bémol majeur (1916) Presque lent where gorgeous harmonies abound as the music gently flows. There is an equally impressive Arabesques (1917) where Roger-Ducasse takes his music further into advanced territory.

Esquisses pour Piano (1917) opens with Lent that brings subtle little dissonances before the fast moving and fluent Sans lenteur et gaîment that builds beautifully. Sans lenteur is an unusual little piece that moves in chordal progressions followed by Lent et grave that gently finds its way through some fine harmonies.

The light and breezy Arabesques No.2 (1919) brings moments of fast flourishes and fine harmonies whilst Sonorités  (1919) opens quietly and tentatively, developing through some lovely ripples and flourishes with this pianist bringing exceptionally fine playing, so fluid and with such fine phrasing and rubato.

There are two further Barcarolles, Barcarolle No.2 (1920) and Barcarolle No.3 (1921). No.2 is gently free flowing, bringing many lovely little moments, some faster and fluid whilst No.3 brings a slightly darker tone before opening out in broader harmonies, with some more dynamic passages finely played by this pianist.

Impromptu (1921) is revealed as a very progressive piece with lovely free harmonies and fine subtle rhythmic phrasing. That rhythmic quality appears in
Chant de l'aube (1921) Martin Jones bringing pin point clarity. One can feel Fauré peering through a prism of more advanced harmonies in the Romance (1923), perhaps even looking towards Scriabin.

Adrian Farmer joins Martin Jones for the first work on disc three, the three movement Petite Suite pour piano à quatre mains (1899). Souvenance feels very much in the 19th century with its directness and simplicity. Berceuse again has a simplicity, but with an attractive underlying rhythmic pulse and occasional hints of his later harmonies. Debussy occasionally peers through Claironnerie, a sprightly rhythmic piece with some lovely dissonances brought out between these players.

This is a particularly fine performance of this piano suite.

Prélude d'un Ballet (1910) (Réduction pour piano par l’Auteur) evokes ‘the park, a castle…abandoned…Autumn…the Poet, dreaming of the past…’ It opens gently and quietly creating a fine atmosphere of the stark abandoned building before Martin Jones brings lovely sonorities and harmonies and exquisite little details in this exquisite little piece.  

Interlude Au jardin de Marguerite (1913) (Réduction pour piano par l’Auteur) also has a particular pictorial reference ‘Night in the garden…Awakening of the soul in the garden…rustles in the quiet evening…a distant bell, almost unreal, seems to expand the silence…Faust, languid, rests, listens…’ Delicate little notes appear slowly before the theme is revealed, a slow gentle melody that moves hesitantly ahead, again conjuring a lovely atmosphere. It passes through varied passages as the music rises and becomes more animated with some very fine playing from Jones.

Etudes a quatre mains, pour un Commençant brings the return of Adrian Farmer to join Martin Jones. These four hands pieces are in three collections with Livre I (1916) opening with a leisurely Presque lent before Sans lenteur where each player’s line is beautifully laid over the other as it slowly moves forward. These four hands reveal the lovely harmonies of Presque vite whereas Lent rises to a little climax in another essentially gentle piece. These two fine pianists highlight brilliantly fine rhythmic lines of Presque vite et très rythmé with a fine light touch.

They gently push the flowing melody forward in Sans lenteur of Livre II (1916), rising in dynamics and tempo before the quiet coda. Lent et triste brings some broad dynamic chords to the opening which return throughout around gentler passages.  Livre II concludes with a faster moving, light rhythmic Assez vite et très rythmé with some lovely little details revealed by these two pianists.

Livre III (1917) consists of just two pieces, Adagio classique. Lent, that has a melancholy opening, a tolling motif for one player before developing through lighter, passages before the nicely sprung Scherzando. Assez vite.

There are some lovely pieces in these Livres, impressively played by Martin Jones and Adrian Farmer.

Martin Jones concludes this fine set with J. S. Bach’s Passacaglia BWV582 in the Transcription pour Piano par Roger-Ducasse (1918). Martin Jones brings a finely developed performance of this transcription, a fine conclusion to this attractive collection with some gloriously forceful passages later reminding one, as if it were necessary, what a fine pianist Martin Jones is.

I found this to be an unexpectedly enticing release. Although Debussy occasionally comes to mind, Jean Roger-Ducasse has a forward looking, wholly personal touch.

Lovers of late 19th and early 20th century French piano music should fall in love with many of these pieces especially in such fine performances. The recording from the Concert Hall of the Nimbus Foundation, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, UK is tip top. There are useful notes.

I note from his agent’s website that Martin Jones celebrates his 75th birthday this year. The Classical Reviewer offers many congratulations to this fine pianist.