Thursday 31 December 2015

Impressive, really substantial chamber works by Albéric Magnard receive very fine performances from violinist Geneviève Laurenceau, cellist Maximilian Hornung and pianist Oliver Triendl on a new release from CPO

(Lucien Denis Gabriel) Albéric Magnard (1865-1914) was born in Paris, the son of a director of Le Figaro and studied under Vincent d’Indy (1851-1931). He famously died whilst refusing to surrender his estate at Baron-sur-Oise to German troops in 1914.

Albéric Magnard’s output mainly consists of operas, orchestral works and chamber music. His four symphonies have been recorded more than once as have a number of other orchestral works such as his Hymne à la Justice written in protest at the injustice meted out to Captain Dreyfus.

It is his Piano Trio and Violin Sonata that are the subject of a new release from CPO , featuring Geneviève Laurenceau (violin) , Maximilian Hornung (cello)  and Oliver Triendl (piano) .

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Magnard’s Piano Trio in F Minor, Op. 18 was written in 1904/05 and first performed at the Salle Aéolian, Paris, in January 1906. In four movements, the first is marked Sombre – Clair – Tranquille – Animé.  There is a stormy opening, the music rising up full of energy before finding a more relaxed passage with some lovely intimate moments revealed by these artists. The music rises up again before further passages that bring calm, yet always with an underlying sense of being unsettled. There is some fine crisp phrasing from this trio as the music picks up in a very free rhythmic passage before moving through incisive bars that push ahead with great energy to the sudden coda.

The next movement, Chantant – Dramatique –Limpide – Calme, opens in an apparent oasis of calm, with a lovely melody. These artists bring wonderfully nuanced playing before finding a faster rhythmic push. They bring a fine subtle ebb and flow. Perhaps occasionally Magnard’s invention meanders a little but these players strive to keep it on track. Later the music finds a darker edge, rising dramatically with some very fine playing with some fast flowing piano phrases. Eventually there is a delicate hushed section with some deeply felt, emotionally charged passages before falling calmer as the coda arrives.

A light and happy Vif (temps de valse) – attaquez follows with these players still finding an emotional edge especially as the music darkens with subdued strings over a repeated piano motif. The lighter quality of the opening is soon restored but the darker feel is never far away, even as the music pushes ahead to lead to the coda that runs straight into the final movement.

Marked Largement – Vif – Largement – Vif – Double plus vif – Large – Vif – Double plus lent – Vif – Large, the violin brings a heartfelt theme to the final movement over a gentle piano accompaniment. Soon the piano picks up the pace with the cello taking the melody and adding a darker hue. As the trio takes the music forward at a fast pace, they bring some really fine textures in this intense, forward driving music. There are some eloquent moments of reflection but this is music constantly shifting emotion and drama. Midway there is a particularly lovely moment of quiet reflection as the strings weave a fine melody over a rippling piano accompaniment. The music soon picks up to run through faster passages before a richly drawn, gentle coda.

This is an impressive, really substantial trio in which these three players find much depth and feeling.

Composed in 1901, the Violin Sonata in G major, Op.13 was commissioned by and dedicated to the violin virtuoso Eugène Ysaÿe who, with pianist Raoul Pugno, gave the premiere at the Salle Pleyel in Paris the following year.

Again in four movements, the first is marked Large – Animé – Large – Animé – Plus animé – Animé – Calme – Animé – Large – Animé – Large – Animé. The music opens quietly as the violin slowly emerges from a hushed entry. The piano joins tentatively before a more decisive violin part arrives; working up some incisive, rapid phrases before, with the piano, a more flowing melody is found.  Geneviève Laurenceau finds a real emotional core to this music with Oliver Triendl bringing a lovely freedom to his playing. Indeed, both bring much to the ever changing drama and emotion of this music. In the quieter moments there is some beautifully controlled playing and midway a dynamic passage of intense feeling. Again there is an ever changing emotional thread running through this movement. There is some particularly fine playing from Laurenceau towards the coda.  

The second movement marked Calme – Vif – Lent – Vif – Lent - Large – Calm – Lent – Calme – Vif – Lent – Vif – Lent – Large – En animant un peu – Calme – Lent – Calme – Largement – Lent opens quietly and slowly with a rather dreamy air as the violin brings a wonderful melody over a fine piano accompaniment. This is exquisitely playing, these two artists finding so many lovely moments. Triendl takes the theme forward, rising in more dramatic phrases to which Laurenceau responds. The music moves through a variety of passages, sometimes finding a gentler flow, often with passages of a more incisive rhythmic quality. Later there are some very fine florid piano passages around which the violin line is run before leading to a hushed gentle coda.

The much shorter third moment, Très vif – Très ralenti – Très Vif – Un peu moins vif, moves off with energy with sudden little violin chords and a variety of pizzicato phrases around a dynamic piano accompaniment. There is a brief moment of repose before hurtling to the coda.

The final movement marked Large – Lent – Large – Animé – Calme – Vivement – Large – Animé – Retardez – Très calme – Lent opens with a slow, faltering, rather melancholy theme for piano before moving slowly ahead with the violin bringing another fine flowing melody, the piano keeping a more restrained, hesitant stance. The music attains a constantly shifting, rising and falling motif in which these players bring the most wonderful playing. Soon there is a passage that positively skips along, full of rhythmic energy before eventually slackening for a lovely flowing sequence. Magnard develops his material expertly bringing some fine ideas. Later there is a section where these players slowly weave the lovely theme through some exquisite moments before bringing back the melancholy of the opening for the coda.

This is another substantial work that is given a very fine performance indeed by these two fine artists. 

This is music of depth, emotion and beauty. The very fine recording brings a warmth and richness without affecting detail. There are detailed booklet notes. 

Wednesday 23 December 2015

More wonderful animated graphical scores from Stephen Malinowski’s Music Animation Machine

In April 2013 I was pleased to draw attention to Stephen Malinowski’s Music Animation Machine that featured a wonderful animation of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring based on the musical stave and giving a colourful and pictorial image of the music

Last week saw the tenth anniversary of Stephen’s animated graphical scores on YouTube. Now comes an equally spectacular animated graphical score of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor featuring organist Hans-André Stamm  

Again you will find it great fun and, if you don’t read music, it can give a very good idea of pitch, note length and harmony. If you’re looking for some unusual entertainment over the holiday period, then give these animated scores a look.

There is much more information about Stephen’s fascinating and entertaining animated graphical scores on his website  From here you can access the Music Animation Machine Youtube channel to find even more animations of other classical scores.

 As I publish my last review before Christmas, I would like to take the opportunity to send Seasons’ Greetings to all of my followers and to all the Record Companies, Publishers and Music PR Companies that have supported me during 2015.

Sunday 20 December 2015

Flautist, Camilla Hoitenga and her colleagues bring some beautifully controlled playing to works by Kaija Saariaho, revealing all of this composer’s ear for colour and texture on a new release from Ondine

Born in 1952, Kaija Saariaho’s  is now one of Finland’s finest composers with a long list of fine compositions behind her. Many of her orchestral works are available from Ondine  (ODE 1113-2Q) in a four disc set which is really worthwhile acquiring.

Ondine are not neglecting Saariaho’s chamber and instrumental works with Chamber Works for Strings Volume I appearing in 2013. Now from Ondine comes a new disc featuring the accomplished flautist, Camilla Hoitenga in works for flute and a variety of instruments entitled Let the wind speak.

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Camilla Hoitenga is joined on this new release by cellist Anssi Karttunen baritone Daniel Belcher  harpist Heloise Dautry and members of Da Camera Houston , Paul Ellison (double bass), Bridget Kibbey (harp) and Matthew Strauss (percussions).

Tocar (2010) was originally commissioned by the International Jean Sibelius Violin Competition as a work for violin and piano. Here it is given in the composer’s version for flute and harp with flautist, Camilla Hoitenga bringing a really lovely melody decorated by little drooping phrases. The harp of Héloïse Dautry joins, adding a subtle rhythmic pulse. Hoitenga has a fine tone right across the range with Dautry adding a fluent, nicely judged contribution as they both move through some fluent faster passages.  There are some fine subtle, gentle moments before the return of the gentle drooping phrases toward the coda. This is a beautiful work that will appeal to many.

Mirrors (1997) for flute and cello was written for a CD Rom Prisma dedicated to Saariaho’s music where the user can build and play his own versions of the piece. On this recording there are three versions the first of which, Mirrors I, is the composer’s original score.  Camilla Hoitenga is joined by cellist, Anssi Karttunen to draw some wonderful textures and timbres as this work slowly opens, this flautist providing some lovely subtleties from the textures aided tremendously by this fine cellist. It is lovely the way the music finds a momentum in little surges or pulses of sound.

Couleurs du vent (1998) for alto flute is an improvisation on material from Cendres for alto flute, cello and piano (1998). It opens as though the wind is rushing through the landscape with Hoitenga bringing occasional speech like sounds through her instrument around which the wind rushes. Soon a lovely theme weaves its way forward, creating a lovely combination of sound. The music progresses through passages that suddenly move quickly forward as well as the most gentle, hushed moments. As the wind sounds return to surround the melody there is the most brilliant playing from Hoitenga and later those lovely drooping phrases appear before the music dies away.

Sombre (2012) for baritone, bass flute, harp, double bass and percussion was written for Da Camera of Houston for performance in the Rothko Chapel, its dark instrumentation corresponding to the paintings in the chapel. Fragments of Ezra Pound’s last Cantos seemed to the composer to suit the piece perfectly.  

With Canto CXVIII the flute quietly rises out of the gentle sound of cymbals, slowly developing and bringing a variety of textures and vocal flute sounds.  Camilla Hoitenga reveals some exquisite textures, sensitively accompanied by percussionist Matthew Strauss. A little rhythmic motif appears before double bassist, Paul Ellison and harpist, Bridget Kibbey enter bringing a deeper sonority and more fine textures. When baritone, Daniel Belcher enters he brings much expression, often complimenting the textures. He occasionally reaches high before whispering the later part of the text as the hushed coda arrives.

Flute and percussion gently open Canto CXX as the double bass brings deep, almost groaning textures. Soon the baritone enters wordlessly weaving around and within the instrumental texture. Saariaho creates some remarkable textures and colours from this strange blend of instruments and voice. Later Belcher adds a more anxious texture, rising in dynamics. These performers bring a wonderfully balanced texture, each adding to the finely conceived sound world.  When the baritone commences the words ‘I have tried to write Paradise…’ harp, flute, double bass and percussion weave around often bringing a sudden rhythmic nature. There is a section for baritone with pizzicato double bass and harp before a longer breathed line ‘Let the Gods forgive what I have made…’ after which the instrumentalists slowly and gently take the music forward to the exquisitely hushed coda.

Flautist Camilla Hoitenga brings some lovely textures, coloured and pointed up by percussion in the opening of Fragment (1966) before slowly and subtly double bass and harp add to the texture and sonority.  Baritone, Daniel Belcher intones a repeated ‘Olga’s acts’ before moving through the text ‘…of beauty to be remembered…’ with varying expression and passion, all the time the instrumentalists winding around him some terrific sounds before the music slowly finds the hushed coda. This is wonderfully nuanced performance full of deep emotion.

With Dolce tormento (2004) for piccolo, Camilla Hoitenga breathes a wind sonority as she also recites the words of a text by Francesco Petrach (1304-1374) before bringing a brilliantly played theme. The text continues to be gently recited around which Hoitenga plays an often soaring melody. She moves through some wonderfully fluent passages bringing a clarity and brilliance. It is impressive how this flautist speaks as she elicits soft breathed phrases from her instrument.

For Mirrors: III (1997) for flute and cello cellist, Anssi Karttunen returns to join Camilla Hoitenga bringing a deep phrase that quickly rises as the flute adds to the texture. Both weave a very fine theme that moves forward in surges, little rhythmic patterns, picking up a pace in more dynamic surges before a gentler coda.

Originally written for bass clarinet and cello, Oi kuu (for a moon) (1990) it is heard here in its version for bass flute and cello.  It was written for and is dedicated to Kari Kriikku and Anssi Karttunen. Flute and cello bring a gently pulsating motif out of which a little flute theme appears. Both Hoitenga and Karttunen generate some spectacularly fine colours and textures as the piece develops. It moves through both rhythmic and melodic moments with this cellist bringing some exquisite sounds around which the flautist adds superb sonorities. Later sudden, fast, light bowed phrases appear with fine flute textures before fading in the coda.

Camilla Hoitenga opens Laconisme de l'aile (1982) with gently and slowly recited text by Saint-John Perse (1887-1975) beautifully expressed with great sensitivity. The flute appears in a rising motif which is then developed with little ‘ticking’ sounds around which a lovely melody flows. There are many fine textures produced with the music rising in dynamics and tempi at times.  Hoitenga provides some beautifully controlled playing, revealing all of Saariaho’s ear for colour and texture. There some amazingly fast textures produced and, later further softly recited text before the flute weaves its way forward through some exceptionally long held phrases achieving some beautifully delicate sounds in the coda that sound almost like an echo.

Flute and cello launch into some fast and furious phrases as Mirrors: II (1997) opens before moving through gentler passages with little vocal phrases woven into the texture. The music finds little surges as it weaves its way to the sudden rapid coda.

Camilla Hoitenga is a first class flautist bringing some remarkable skill and sensitivity to all of these works as do the excellent instrumentalists that join her.

These works that always have a melodic base are occasionally challenging but always very beautiful. Indeed, there is some glorious music here, particularly Tocar and Laconisme de l'aile.  The recordings are excellent. The booklet notes take the form of an interesting interview with Camilla Hoitenga.  Full texts are supplied.

See also:

Friday 18 December 2015

Terence Charlston provides a remarkably entrancing disc of French works from the 16th and 17th centuries for Divine Art played on a reconstruction of an early French clavichord as described by Marin Mersenne (1588-1648)

Terence Charlston is a performer, teacher and academic researcher, specialising in early keyboard instruments who founded the Department of Historical Performance at the Royal Academy of Music in 1995.

His latest recording for Divine Art Records is entitled Mersenne’s Clavichord. Not one example of an original French clavichord survives, therefore the instrument played on this historically important recording is a new construction following the specifications published by Marin Mersenne (1588-1648)  in the 17th century. It is, therefore, the only example of how early French keyboard music may have actually sounded. 

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It was Peter Bavington  who decided, in 2010, to attempt a reconstruction of a clavichord depicted and described by Marin Mersenne. Mersenne’s precise and detailed description and accompanying engraving of a manicordion was published in the 1630s.  The design is strikingly different from that of most surviving clavichords that date from much later. By comparison, Mersenne’s clavichord was much larger than a typical late seventeenth or eighteenth-century instrument.

Terence Charlston demonstrates this fine instrument with a recital of French works from the 16th and 17th centuries as well as a toccata by Sweelinck whose music was prevalent in France at the time. Many of the pieces are especially arranged for clavichord by Charlston.

Terence Charlston divides his recital into three eras starting with The Sixteenth Century and Antoine de Févin’s (c. 1470-1511/12) Sancta Trinitas. What a wonderfully distinctive sound this clavichord makes. Charlston brings some lovely phrasing and clarity to the musical lines as well as an intimacy, aided very much by the ideal recording. Harmonies are lovely as this fine piece makes its way forward to a lovely simple coda with a sudden chord to end.  

An anonymous Prelude sur chacun ton finds Charlston allowing space for this attractive piece to unfold naturally, bringing such fine musicality. Longtemps y a que je vis en espoire is another anonymous work with some lovely, quite delicious timbres drawn by Charlston from this instrument.

La Magdalena is possibly by lutenist Pierre Blondeau (fl. 1st half of the 16th century). Charlston brings terrific, buoyant and fine textured playing to this irresistible piece. He adds some lovely individual touches through its varying tempi and rhythms.  

Placed together are an anonymous Prelude followed by a Fantasie by Guillaume Costeley (1530/31-1606) and Nicolas Combert’s (c. 1495-c. 1560) Hors Envyeux. This fine musician brings a lovely flow to these highly attractive pieces with such a variety of textures.  

There is a lovely La Bounette, again by an anonymous hand, with Charlston bringing a remarkable agility together with fine phrasing and clarity in another fine melody.

Gamba Gagliarda - Moneghina Gagliarda is attributed to Antoine Gardane (1509-1569) and allows this artist to conjure up some fine harmonies with a subtle rhythmic pulse.

Also placed together are Pierre Megnier’s Prelude and organist Jacques Cellier’s (f. 1580-1590. died c.1620) Pavane where lovely light textures are allied to a variety of fine timbres in the Prelude with some terrific intricate passages in the Pavane.

We then move to The Early Seventeenth Century for the next part of this recital with five pieces, a finely pointed up Canaries, a lively Borree with fine, subtle tonal variations, a rhythmic Volte appellee la Marcielleze, a beautifully laid out Pavane de Aranda and a lovely Fantasie sur l'air de ma Bergerer Fantasie to conclude, full of fine textures and sonorities.

Charles Racquet (1597-1664) was organist at Notre Dame Cathedral. His Fantaisie moves forward with a measured pace winding its way through some lovely moments in this fine outpouring of invention.  Tu Crois, O Beau Soleil brings some really lovely textures and sonorities, Charlston providing such a fine touch, revealing many subtleties.  

In Mercure d’Orléans’ (fl c1590. died: c.1619) Praeludium Charlston reveals some very fine sonorities right across the keyboard with a lively Volte brilliantly played to conclude.

Four Preludes by anonymous composers are placed together, a beautifully paced slow Prelude bringing out many fine textures, a gentle Prelude that is beautifully shaped, a rhythmically pointed Prelude that nevertheless reveals itself slowly and gently and a slightly livelier rhythmically poised Prelude.

Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck’s (1562-1621) Toccata in C Major is very fine with much variety throughout its length, Charlston finding some terrific timbres from his instrument.

Five pieces are gathered together next; three anonymous works - a rhythmic Bergamasca, a lively Gavotte, most attractive with some terrific playing and a lovely light textured Courante, 'La Chabotte' together with a leisurely Hereaux Séjour e Partenisse by Antoine Boësset (1586-1643) bringing lovely light sonorities and a crisp Bransle, 'Les Frondeurs' by Germain Pinel (c. 1600-1661).

To end the Early Seventeenth Century period there is a wonderfully done Echo in F Major by a certain Gérard Scronx, apparently a scribe at a monastery in Liege. Charlston brings such care and exquisite control with an echo of the theme played softer and quieter. This is a rather memorable piece, beautifully developed.

The Later Seventeenth Century opens with Jean-Henri D’Anglebert’s (1635-1691) Prelude from his Pièces de clavecin, Suite No. 3 in D Minor a slowly unfolding piece that is wonderfully phrased, achieving some quite lovely timbres.

French composer and harpsichordist Jacques Champion or Jacques Champion Chambonnieres (1601/02-1672) was also known as Sieur de Chambonnieres or Mr Chambonnieres (his family name being Champion). His Sarabande in A minor is finely paced, a lovely work that slowly reveals its attractions with Charlston revealing lovely little details.

A lively Duo by Louis Couperin (c. 1626-1661) follows, weaving two musical lines with this fine keyboard player finding a lovely clarity and flow. There is a slow, gently paced Recit à trois by Nicholas Gigault (c. 1627-1707) where Charlston allows the music and, indeed, this instrument to reveal some lovely timbres. Finally there is Nicolas-Antoine Lebègue’s (c. 1631-1702) Laissez paistre vos Bestes, a lively, rhythmically sprung work with Charlston bringing some terrific timbres from his instrument showing just how he can find a variety of sounds.

This is a remarkably entrancing disc. Charlston extracts so many fine sounds, lovely sonorities and ear catching timbres from this remarkable instrument.

This is a terrific survey of French music of the 16th and 17th century refracted through an instrument of many fascinating and attractive qualities. The recording is ideal; the microphones set perfectly with much detail and intimacy.

There are excellent detailed notes by Terence Charlston as well as a beautifully produced and illustrated booklet full of facsimiles of the music and photos of the instrument.

It is terrific that Divine Art continues to bring us such treasures as this.

See also:

Monday 14 December 2015

Full marks to Champs Hill for bringing us the David Rees-Williams Trio’s new Christmas disc, Ex-Mass which is a real winner

The David Rees-Williams Trio was formed in 1988 and features David Rees-Williams on piano, Neil Francis on bass guitar and Phil Laslett on drums. Based in Canterbury, Kent, they have performed many concerts in a diverse selection of festivals and events in the UK, Europe, The United States and Barbados.

The Trio set about re-inventing and re-working well known music from various eras and styles. Rees-William’s arrangement of Purcell’s When I am Laid in Earth from their CD Classically Minded was played on BBC 3’s In Tune leading to an extraordinary number of enquiries about the Trio and a commercial disc.

Since then another recording Hidden Colours featuring arrangements of Purcell, Bach, Grieg, Faure, Debussy and Ravel has been widely praised becoming Editor’s Choice in HMV Choice Magazine and best of its genre by the Financial Times.

Following an equally well received recording Time Scape that included arrangements of works by Ravel, Bach, Chopin, Stanford, Purcell, Buxtehude, Elgar and Warlock they have now recorded a Christmas disc for Champs Hill Records  entitled Ex-Mass.


The title of this new release, Ex-Mass is not only a play on the word Xmas but also reflects taking this music out of its ecclesiastical setting.

Gabriel's Message has as its origins a Basque melody, this arrangement opening with the piano of David Rees-Williams to which a rich bass line is given by Neil Francis, subtly adding a warmth. The carol takes a lovely flowing line soon pointed up by the percussion of Phil Laslett before developing some terrific, free flowing piano passages to which Hammond organ and vibraphone passages are added.

The 14th century Bavarian melody Personent hodie is given a lovely mixture of instrumental sounds, piano, bass, Hammond organ and drums in a light rhythmic version. This Trio bring a real feel of improvisation as the tempo picks up a really jazzy pace. There is some terrific playing here with David Rees-Williams showing himself to be a very fine jazz pianist.  

Peter Warlock’s lovely Bethlehem Down finds Rees-Williams bringing a gentle, freely developed improvisatory arrangement. Eventually bass and drums join to add a gentle rhythm. This is a lovely performance with the organ adding occasional texture.

Quem pastores (Whom shepherds) opens here with piano, bass and drums gently and slowly developing into the well-known English hymn tune. The organ adds sonority before there is an increase in tempo through some terrific passages.

Der Tag... (der ist so freudenreich) (The day is so full of joy) is taken from Bach’s Orgelbuchlein and brings much of Bach’s contrapuntal invention with a fast rhythmic forward drive. It develops some fine passages with a broad piano line taken over a faster accompaniment with the addition of an organ especially appropriate.

With the Czech carol, Rocking Rees-Williams brings a contrasting slow, quieter arrangement gently pointed up by Laslett’s drums, Francis’ bass and some passages for Hammond organ as it develops some fast jazzy lines. Absolutely terrific.

There is more Bach with an arrangement based on the famous Chorale prelude, Erbarm’ dich... (DRW 911) (Erbarm’ dich mein, o Herre Gott, BWV 721) where Rees-Williams’ use of an electric keyboard brings an amazingly effective approximation of a church organ. Though he re-creates the sound world of Bach, hidden within is a popular song for listeners to guess. I’ll not give the game away here.

The traditional Czech Zither Carol hurtles off with an unashamedly fast, jazzy rhythmic arrangement, enough to raise the spirits on the dullest December day.  

The piano of David Rees-Williams gently wanders around the theme of perhaps the most popular carol here, Stille Nacht, with light percussion accompaniment and a light use of bass. Slowly the familiar melody appears in this rather magical arrangement.

There is a lovely flowing King Jesus Hath a Garden with light percussion and the organ subtly adding to the texture and bass adding a lovely subtle warmth and rhythmic point to this arrangement of a traditional Dutch carol.

The piano slowly picks out the theme of O Come, O Come (Emanuel) before soon broadening through gently flowing, freely improvised passages. It develops some rhythmic phrases, almost as though creating bell chimes with the Hammond organ adding a lovely sonority over the other instruments. This is another glorious arrangement and performance.

Finally there is an upbeat arrangement of the French carol, Il est né, le divin Enfant … (He is born, the Holy Child) with piano, percussion and bass bringing a fine rhythmic drive. The vibraphone subtly appears to add colour when the organ joins, the jazz variations increase, rising to a joyful, rhythmic conclusion.

Full marks to Champs Hill for bringing us this terrific disc. These fine musicians bring a freshness to this well-known music. It is a real joy. 
I can see this being a favourite Christmas disc for many – a real winner.

Sunday 13 December 2015

JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic bring absolutely terrific accounts of works by Florent Schmitt on a new release from Naxos

Florent Schmitt (1870-1958) was born in Blamont in north-eastern France and studied with Massenet and Fauré at the Paris Conservatoire, winning the Prix de Rome in 1900. During the 1890s he became friendly with Frederick Delius, who was also living in Paris.  Other influences were Richard Strauss, Debussy and Fauré as well as Stravinsky. His compositions include vocal, chamber and piano works, music for two ballets and orchestral works that include three symphonies. He later became director of the Lyon Conservatory.

Also amongst his orchestral works are the incidental music to Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra and an Edgar Allan Poe inspired work Le Palais hanté both of which appear on a new release from Naxos featuring the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by JoAnn Falletta


Initially performed as ballet scenes between the acts of a new production of Shakespeare’s play Anthony and Cleopatra at the Paris Opera in 1920, Florent Schmitt drew two concert suites from the music.

Suite No. 1, Op. 69a from Antoine et Cléopâtre – Six épisodes symphoniques en deux suites d’après le drama de Shakespeare (1920) opens with Antoine et Cléopâtre where the music rises up slowly in voluptuous waves of orchestral sound with  Schmitt  using a constantly shifting harmonic palette. There is a passage of quiet, delicate orchestration where the influence of Debussy can be heard (think of La Mer) in the ebb and flow. Later he adds an Eastern flavour with a theme for oboe and string ensemble, later taken up by other wind instruments with a tambourine adding rhythm and colour. There is often a tense, subdued passion and energy before the music rises to a passionate peak leading to a beautifully scented, lush coda.

A brass fanfare opens Le Camp de Pompée (At Pompey’s Camp) before the music falls back. A side drum can be heard as well as an echo of the fanfare in the brass. JoAnn Falletta keeps a real tension until the brass rise up again through some tremendous passages. The brass section of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra is superb. Eventually the music falls back with muted brass for the quiet conclusion.

La Bataille d'Actium (Battle of Actium) launches a rhythmically forward moving theme swelling to some fine outbursts pointed up by timpani and percussion. There are some fine woodwind passages before arriving at a gentler passage with horns and strings gently shifting around. Still there is the ebb and flow of the first section before rising to some fine voluptuous climaxes. The music becomes more volatile with percussion outbursts, rising to a pitch with cymbal clash before dropping back, only to rise again at the end.

Nuit au Palais de la Reine (Night in the Palace of the Queen) opens Suite No. 2, Op. 69b with Schmitt conjuring a gentle, Eastern flavoured nocturne with celeste and hushed strings out of which an oboe brings a languid melody. The strings gently glide over the lovely melody as the oboe continues to weave its charm. Soon the music picks up a steadier pace for oboe and strings with a flute adding to the texture as well as many other instrumental details, creating an intoxicating atmosphere. A clarinet subtly brings a recurring motif as the strings rise up romantically. There are more, lovely woodwind passages full of oriental flavour around which strings weave. Though the pace eventually firms up for a time, the music soon slows to a gentle rise and fall that is pointed up by percussion and celeste toward the coda.

Orgie et Danses takes off at a rhythmic pace pointed up by timpani as the music brings little surges. It moves through some wild orchestral passages before a more flowing string passage occurs between more violent outbursts. Odd little motifs appear out of the orchestral texture reminiscent of the Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps showing how this music must have made for some great ballet sequences.  The music rises through some terrific dynamic passages as the music reaches its rhythmic climax, eventually quietening to a hushed passage for solo violin and orchestra, with muted trumpet creating a shifting harmony, quite exotic in flavour. The music flows gently in surges to a final climax before concluding in a quiet, mysterious coda.

Le Tombeau de Cléopâtre (The Tomb of Cleopatra) opens quietly but soon rises up to a short climax before returning to a quieter moment for oboe around which strings ruminate. A little rising and falling motif is heard before the music develops a quiet tread in the orchestra. The oboe appears again in a melancholy theme as low strings ruminate, shifting around mysteriously. Suddenly there is a little outburst coloured by a harp before the music slowly rises with a romantic string theme. Brass join as we are led to a climax for full orchestra and timpani, brass sounding out over the rest of the orchestra. The music pushes ahead in surges of magnificent orchestral sound until quietening for a melancholy sequence as the little rising and falling three note motif is heard before suddenly rising for a final outburst to end.

Stephane Mallarme’s translation of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Haunted Palace provided the inspiration for Florent Schmitt’s Le Palais hanté, Op. 49 (1904) Étude symphonique pour Le Palais hanté d’Edgar Poë. A bass clarinet opens before the strings bring a gentle melody; JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra bringing some lovely little touches (note how the string entries have a little surge). The opening is repeated before an oboe leads with the melody around which the orchestra flows. It rises in passion with horns and brass adding power and colour as do cymbals and timpani. A climax is reached before the music drops back through a quieter passage until the oboe winds a quiet yet fast moving theme, soon taken by clarinet then other instruments. The music rises through more dynamic passages as well as a quieter, beautiful passage for woodwind. Eventually a number of violent surges arrive, offset by quieter woodwind led passages before scurrying strings hurry to a dynamic coda. 

For all Schmitt’s debt to Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky there is some terrific music here, particularly in the two suites from Antoine et Cléopâtre. The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra under JoAnn Falletta is absolutely terrific. With an excellent recording from Tim Handley and informative booklet notes this is a most attractive release. 

Tuesday 8 December 2015

Strong performances of Lalo’s complete songs from baritone, Tassis Christoyannis and pianist, Jeff Cohen on a new release from Aparte

French composer Édouard-Victoire-Antoine Lalo (1823-1892) will be forever remembered for his Symphonie espagnole for violin and orchestra written in 1874 for famous virtuoso, Pablo de Sarasate. However, his compositional output, whilst not huge, was varied covering chamber music, many orchestral works including concertos and a symphony, as well as three operas and two ballets.

Lalo also wrote a good number of songs all of which have been recorded by baritone, Tassis Christoyannis  and pianist, Jeff Cohen  on a two disc set from Aparte

L'Ombre de Dieu (The Shadow of God) (1848), a setting of a text by Alfred Lehugeur, opens with an attractive little rhythmic piano theme from Jeff Cohen before Tassis Christoyannis enters with his strong, rich baritone voice bringing a lovely sweep to the vocal part. This song has the lighter feel of a French operatic piece.

It is Antoine Flobert who has provided the text for Adieu au desert (Farewell to the Desert) (1848) which has a gentle, relaxed piano opening, beautifully realised by Cohen with Christoyannis bringing varied dynamics and emotion.

Six Romances populaires de Pierre-Jean de Béranger open with La Pauvre Femme (The Poor Woman) where Lalo again provides a rather rhythmic, staccato piano part before Christoyannis carefully and beautifully shapes this rather sentimental text, achieving an impressive result.  There is a lovely flowing, yet rhythmically pointed, piano part to Beaucoup d'amour (So Much Love) where this baritone brings a long breathed, wonderfully controlled phrasing. Le Suicide is very finely characterised with superb vocal control through moments of intense feeling in an impressive performance of this more deeply felt song.

Si j'étais un petit oiseau (If I Were a Little Bird) brings a rippling piano motif that occurs throughout with Christoyannis bringing just the right touch to this charming song. In Les Petits Coups (The Little Gulps) Lalo provides a rather four square piano accompaniment but Christoyannis finds all the wry humour in this setting. Le Vieux Vagabond (The Old Vagabond) opens with a more serious feel for both piano and baritone, beautifully done with subtle changes in tension and passion, Christoyannis bringing a real operatic command.

Le Novice, Op. 5 is a setting of a text by Hippolyte Stupuy and has a gentle, slow opening for the piano before this baritone brings a gentle atmospheric feeling. This song rises in dynamics and feeling through passages of varying emotion with some intensely felt moments for the piano, both bringing out all the feeling of this text.

The second disc commences with Six Mélodies, Op. 17 (1856), all settings of texts by Victor Hugo. Tassis Christoyannis brings moments of real power to the rhythmically buoyant Guitare (Guitar), showing what a very fine voice he has, in this rather attractive song. Puisqu'ici-bas toute âme (Since down here, every soul) is finely characterised, full of subtle, finely controlled emotion before the very fine L'Aube naît (Daybreak arrives) where both pianist and baritone bring much sustained feeling to the carefully nuanced emotion.

There are some lovely piano rhythms and phrases that give a lovely lift to Dieu qui sourit et qui donne (God, who smiles and who provides) with Christoyannis rising high before some lovely hushed moments, finely controlled. The gentle Oh ! quand je dors (Oh! Whilst I am asleep) rises in subtle feeling only to find its quite reflective nature.  This fine song is beautifully done. Amis, vive l'orgie (My friends, long live the bacchanalia) is full of life and energy, bringing out Christoyannis’ fine flexibility yet always retaining a feel for the text. There is some fine fluent accompaniment from Cohen in the strong piano part.

Chanson à boire (Drinking Song) has a link to Amis, vive l'orgie in that they are both from Victor Hugo’s play Lucrèce Borgia. It is another buoyant, immensely enjoyable song full of fun and vigour. Ballade à la lune (Ballad to the Moon) is a surprisingly lively song until one follows the later part of Alfred de Musset’s text. Both artists bring much finely controlled feeling.

Trois Mélodies sur des poèms d’Alfred de Musset opens with a quiet, finely shaped A une fleur (To a Flower) with Christoyannis bringing a gentle sense of intense feeling. The spirits are raised with a finely constructed Chanson de Barberine (Song of Barberine), full of rhythmic pulse, finely shaped by this baritone and with much beautifully controlled passion and some superb hushed moments. La Zuecca (The Zuecca) has a firm rhythmic bounce pointed up by Jeff Cohen with Tassis Christoyannis’ fine voice exquisitely controlled through the varying dynamics and emotion.

Aubade (1872) is a gently rolling song with a gentle pulse, Christoyannis bringing such fine control.

Trois Mélodies brings a mixture of settings, first La Fenaison (Haymaking) a setting of texts under a pseudonym Stella, believed to be the nickname of an English aristocrat Penelope Devereaux (d. 1607). It is a buoyant song, receiving a subtly nuanced performance here. Souvenir (Memory) is another Victor Hugo setting with a gently felt piano opening before this baritone provides a beautifully delivered performance, perfectly paced with fine control; quite lovely. There is an equally gentle L'Esclave (The Slave Girl) with more fine control and sensitive restrained emotion in this setting of texts by Théophile Gautier.

Cinq Lieder (1879) opens with Prière de l'enfant à son réveil (The Child’s Prayer on Awakening) with a text by Alphonse de Lamartine, that rises from a gentle opening full of feeling, Christoyannis exceptional in his fine emotional control of this song. Armand Silvestre provides the text for the stormy À celle qui part (To she who is departing), that opens with a florid descending piano motif in a song that is full of power and strength, conjuring up the stormy nature of the verses.

Tristesse (Sadness), with words again by Armand Silvestre has a melancholy, quiet, slow opening for piano beautifully shaped by Cohen.  When Christoyannis enters he brings a wonderfully felt emotion. The Alphonse de Lamartine setting, Viens ! (Come!) picks up the pace in a song that brings many varied tempi and dynamics all brought out finely by these two artists. La Chanson de l'alouette (The Song of the Lark) sets words by Victor de Laprade. It has a lovely delicate, rhythmic piano part with this baritone bringing a joyful, infectious quality.

Oboist Johannes Grosso joins Tassis Christoyannis and Jeff Cohen in the Albert Delpit, Le Chant Breton (Breton Song). The oboe opens plaintively before the piano gently and tentatively takes over. The oboe returns before baritone, piano and oboe lead forward in this rather wonderful song, full of intense feeling and a lovely French, or perhaps I should say Breton, atmosphere.

Marine has a gentle piano opening with Christoyannis bringing more exquisite control and feeling to this André Theuriet setting, rising to moments of great power and passion. André Theuriet also provides the text for the final song Le Rouge-gorge (Robin Redbreast) that has a lovely skittish little piano opening before Christoyannis provides a beautifully phrased performance, all the while the piano adding a rhythmic bird like accompaniment.

These songs cover a wide range, some deep and emotional, operatic passion, others light and joyful but full of Gallic charm. Tassis Christoyannis has a remarkably fine voice that lifts even the most lightweight of songs. In the best of these songs he brings a power and depth that is quite wonderful. Pianist, Jeff Cohen is more than a mere accompanist, bringing a sensitivity that helps lift these songs. 

They receive a very fine recording and there are useful booklet notes as well as full texts and English translations. It is good to have all of Lalo’s songs brought together in such strong performances.

Sunday 6 December 2015

Timeless carols from around Europe, beautifully realised by Michala Petri and the Danish National Vocal Ensemble under their director, Michael Bojesen on a new OUR Recordings release

Renowned recorder player Michala Petri has teamed up with the Danish National Vocal Ensemble for a delightful recording of traditional Christmas carols and songs entitled Let the Angels Sing for OUR Recordings  in arrangements by the choir’s director Michael Bojesen

These carols and songs from across Europe date from 13th to 19th century beginning with the 13th c. Basque carol, Gabriel's Message arranged here for soprano, choir and recorder. It has a lovely opening for recorder player Michala Petri who is soon joined by a wordless soft, gentle choral layer, creating an exquisite atmosphere. The choir soon takes over and expands this well-known carol with the recorder adding a lovely, well-judged accompaniment. Midway, there is a lovely solo for Danish National Vocal Ensemble soprano, Malene Nordtorp and recorder.

The 14th c. Franciscan carol, Angelus ad Virginem has a rather folksy, lively recorder opening before the choir take this buoyant carol forward, finely phrased with a terrific vocal flexibility. Michala Petri provides some terrific flourishes and later there are lovely choral drones supporting an intricate recorder theme to conclude.

Up! Good Christen Folk from Piae Cantiones, 1582 brings a delicate repeated ‘ding, ding’ from the choir pointed up by a similar recorder motif before the carol moves forward with some first rate choral textures and more lovely recorder contribution, such agile playing.

Recorder and choir bring a lovely atmosphere to the 18th c. Czech carol, Rocking in this lovely arrangement.

A lovely recorder theme opens the 18th c English carol, A Virgin Most Pure before the choir join with some fine layers of the male voices. Michala Petri adds lovely decorations as the rest of the choir join building a terrific sound. There is some particularly fine recorder playing later as Petri soars and weaves around the choir.

An American pastor, Edmund Sears wrote the words for It Came Upon a Midnight Clear in 1849. These words were set by a student of Felix Mendelssohn, the American composer, Richard Storrs Willis. The English tune sung here was an arrangement by Arthur Sullivan of an earlier melody. Here there are lovely harmonies from the Danish National Vocal Ensemble who bring a rich clear sonority with Petri adding some lovely low recorder to the choral sounds.

King Jesus Hath a Garden is a lively 17th c. Dutch carol into which this choir quickly launch with some tremendously agility and perfectly phrased singing. Michala Petri weaves some lovely lines around the choir in the opening of the14th c. German In Dulci Jubilo as she does later, adding so much to the joy of this piece.

The choir bring a long, flowing line over a rapid recorder motif in the 16th c. English Coventry Carol with Petri bringing a lovely timeless quality to the music before a gentler end.

A fine arrangement of the 16th c. English carol, God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen where sections of the choir overlay in canon with more fine decorations from this recorder player.

There is a charming arrangement of the 17th c. Czech Zither Carol bringing a ‘ding, dong, ding’ from the choir with the recorder pointing up the theme before soon moving ahead with joy and energy. Unto Us Is Born a Son is also from Piae Cantiones, 1582.  This choir bring some lovely harmonies to this arrangement together with a lovely flow.

Michala Petri opens the 18th c. Polish Infant Holy, Infant Lowly with a gentle, hush before the wordless choir join. They soon move ahead in this gloriously arranged carol bringing a soft mellifluous choral tone. There is a lovely fluent recorder opening to the 14th c. German The Linden Tree Carol. The choir joins to lead ahead bringing all their lovely layering of voices with further fine recorder decorations.

Good King Wenceslas is again from Piae Cantiones, 1582, arranged for choir and recorder and bringing more, fine wordless choral sounds and a lovely recorder theme. The female voices bring the main carol soon joined by the whole choir, each section having their heads with some lovely recorder flourishes.

Blessed Be That Maid Mary is an English, 15th c. carol that opens with soprano voice of Danish National Vocal Ensemble member, Nina Bols Lundgren again showing the individual quality of this choir’s voices. The full choir soon bring a lovely, gentle mellow tone with some fine passages for individual sections of the choir.

Finally we come to the 15th c. French carol, O Come, O Come Emmanuel in a sensitive arrangement for choir and recorder. Michala Petri opens before the male voices of Danish National Vocal Ensemble deliver a lovely, direct version of this carol that is soon harmonised beautifully. The choir move through gentler sections with a lovely recorder accompaniment, bringing much care, thought and gentler moments of reflection before rising a little to conclude.

There are many popular carols here, quite beautifully and rather intimately realised by Michala Petri and the Danish National Vocal Ensemble. Fine musicianship brought to bear on these timeless carols from around Europe make this a disc to return to all through the season.

There are interesting notes in the nicely illustrated booklet as well as full English texts. The recording made in the Danish Radio Concert Hall, Copenhagen, Denmark is first rate.

See also:

Friday 4 December 2015

Many wonderful moments on Stile Antico’s highly recommendable new Christmas release, A Wondrous Mystery, from Harmonia Mundi

Stile Antico  continue their fine series of recordings for Harmonia Mundi  with the release of a Christmas disc entitled A Wondrous Mystery, bringing works by Michael Praetorius, Clemens non Papa, Hieronymus Praetorius, Jacob Handl, Johannes Eccard and Hans Leo Hassler.

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It is Clemens non Papa’s Missa Pastores quidnam vidistis that is the framework around which Stile Antico place the other works on this disc. However, they begin with Michael Praetorius’ (c.1571-1621) Ein Kind geborn in Bethlehem with the female voices of this fine choir bringing a lovely simplicity to the opening of this carol. The other voices slowly take over bringing a richness and warmth with glorious harmonies. This piece is often given a large scale treatment with brass but how much better this is as the music rises subtly in power for the coda.

Next the choir bring the Motet Pastores quidnam vidistis by Jacobus Clemens (Clement) non Papa (c.1510-c.1555). It seems that the ‘non Papa’ tag was added humorously to distinguish him from Pope Clement VII who died in 1534. These voices bring a beautifully unfolding performance with a lovely central section where the female voices gently lead before the whole choir join weaving some lovely textures. This is a real joy with choral singing of the highest order.

Michael Praetorius’ harmonisation of the traditional Es ist ein Ros entsprungen is interspersed by a canon by Melchior Vulpius (c.1570-1615). This is another carol that will be recognised by all, given a carefully nuanced performance with subtle little dynamic changes. Centrally a pure voiced solo soprano is soon joined by the other female voices in a most beautiful blending of voices before the whole choir leads to the coda.

Stile Antico then bring us the first part of Jacobus Clemens non Papa’s Missa Pastores quidnam vidistis. A slowly unfolding Kyrie is slowly allowed to flow forward, revealing all the lovely harmonies and textures. Again the female voices bring moments of pure voiced beauty before the whole choir add richer sonorities. Quite beautiful.

The lesser known Slovenian composer Jacob Handl (1550-1591) is represented by two works on this disc; firstly his Canite tuba where the male voices of the choir push forward in beautiful layers, showing their fine flexibility, astounding accuracy and lovely blend in the faster moving passages.  

From the tenor solo in the plainchant of Gloria of Clemens non Papa’s Missa Pastores quidnam vidistis to the final Amen this choir bring a beautifully nuanced, subtly controlled performance with lovely dynamics and tempi – and of course the most glorious harmonies and textures. There are some very fine quieter moments before the music gently builds again.

Although Hieronymus Praetorius (1560-1629) had a composer son, Jacob (1586-1651) he was no relation to Michael Praetorius. Male voices slowly announce the Magnificat quinti toni before female voices join, then the whole choir with basses adding a very fine richness and depth. This choir bring a fine rhythmic quality with some lovely tenor voices in the plainchant. At one point I was sure that there was a hint of In Dulci Jubilo. Either way this is a great choice for a Christmas recital. There is a spectacularly fine Amen.

There is a plainchant opening to the Credo of Clemens non Papa’s Missa Pastores quidnam vidistis before Stile Antico move quickly forward with a fine blend and flow with some wonderfully restrained passages beautifully underpinned by the basses. Later, around the word Crucifixus there is a lovely quiet, slow, gently controlled passage gorgeously sung.  

Jacob Handl’s Mirabile mysterium gives us the title of this disc, Wondrous Mystery. It reveals itself slowly as it unfolds with some beautiful harmonies, finely developed here. This is a really fine work.

Another perhaps unfamiliar name is that of German composer, Johannes Eccard (1553-1611) who eventually became Kapellmeister in Berlin. His Übers Gebirg Maria geht rises full of cheer with this choir bringing some very fine, uplifting moments.

Next comes another section of Clemens non Pap’s Missa Pastores quidnam vidistis, the Sanctus & Benedictus where the female voices lead before the whole choir weaves the most mellifluous choral textures, a gentle, flexible, forward flow, rising to moments of increased passion. There is a wonderfully developed, restrained Benedictus before the music picks up a brief rhythmic pulse just before the gentle coda.  

This choir bring a real thrust to Johannes Eccard’s Vom Himmel hoch whilst weaving some lovely textures and sonorities.

The German composer, Hans Leo Hassler (bap. 1564; d.1612) was Kapellmeister at the Saxon court chapel. His Hodie Christus natus est is a really joyful work with the individual voices of this choir really shining through. These singers bring a beautiful control through the many varied tempi and dynamics, building rich textures with a rousing Alleluia to end.

Stile Antico conclude their Christmas recital with the Agnus Dei of Clemens non Papa’s Missa Pastores quidnam vidistis. It gently unfolds, bringing a Christmas peace whilst rising to some wonderful moments beautifully revealed by this choir.

If one wishes to play the entire Clemens non Papa Mass without a break, then the tracks can easily be programmed. 

I cannot speak too highly of this fine choir or this new release. They are beautifully recorded at All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London, UK and there are excellent notes in the nicely illustrated booklet, together with full texts and translations.

A Wondrous Mystery from this Wondrous Choir. Buy, sit back and enjoy!

See also: 

Following its 25th anniversary the acclaimed Meridian Arts Ensemble releases its 10th CD and a Live Concert DVD

Following its 25th anniversary the Meridian Arts Ensemble has released its 10th CD entitled Alchemy and a Live Concert DVD of their 1997 Deutsches Jazz Festival appearance and their 2004 Library of Congress concert.

The Meridian Arts Ensemble’s line up is Jon Nelson and Tim Leopold (trumpets), Daniel Grabois (horn), Benjamin Herrington (trombone) Raymond Stewart (tuba) and John Ferrari (percussion and conducting) with guest artists David Ballou (trumpet), Faustino Diaz Mendez (trumpet and trombone) and Adam Unsworth (horn)

Their new CD from 8bells records  features arrangements of music by a variety of composers including Byrd, Gesualdo, Lassus, Corelli, Bach and Giovanni Gabrieli.

They start by playing an arrangement by Adam Unsworth of the Gloria from William Byrd’s (1543-1623) Mass for Five Voices. A vibraphone provides an unexpected opening of the plainchant Gloria before a trumpet and other brass take the theme forward bringing some fine varying dynamics, sonorities and textures. The Meridian Arts Ensemble provides some wonderful sounds, subtly varying the textures in this effective and attractive arrangement. Carlo Gesualdo’s (c. 1561-1613) Occhi del mio cor vita is arranged here by Raymond Stewart and brings fine varied textures as the piece develops. The Ensemble provides some lovely subtle little details with much care and fine phrasing enabling this short piece to work so well for brass.

Giacomo Carissimi (1605-1674) Plorate filii Israel, in an arrangement by Daniel Grabois, moves forward with a dignified solemn pace, rising gently in more passionate moments. This is an exquisitely shaped performance with a lovely gentle rise and fall, these fine players bringing a lovely subtly shifting blend.

Orlande de Lassus’ (c. 1530/32-1594) Eco is a fine rhythmic, joyful piece that gets a real lift from these players with such fine accurate playing. David Ballou has arranged Arcangelo Corelli’s (1653-1713) Sonata Op.5 No.8 in E minor. Firstly we have the Prelude where muted instruments weave the gentle theme with these fine musicians creating a wonderful sound world. A wonderful arrangement and performance.

English conductor, composer and trumpeter, Elgar Howarth (b. 1935) has based his Pasce Tuos on a piece by Guillaume Dufay (c. 1397-1474). It opens with a series of held notes overlaid by a trumpet theme with subtly changing lower layers as the piece develops. These players create the most wonderful layers of sonority with such well controlled development as the music subtly blossoms. 

Giovanni Gabrieli’s (c. 1554/1556-1612) Sonata Pian’e Forte, probably written for a variety of wind instruments, naturally lends itself to brass. Here it is nicely paced with the Ensemble bringing a lovely mixture of textures and sonorities, slowly allowing the music to rise with varying dynamics all of which allow this music to be revealed in all its glory. The second movement Allemande of David Ballou’s arrangement of Corelli’s Sonata Op.5 No.8 in E minor follows where playful little phrases from each player dart around before the theme is soon revealed. A delightful piece.

Jon Nelson’s arrangement of J. S. Bach’s (1685-1750) Six Part Fugue from A Musical Offering has a delightful opening where each of the instruments of the Ensemble spring into life suddenly, adding a part of the fugue. They develop through some very fine passages, each instrument providing a part of the lovely texture in this gem of a performance. The vibraphone can be heard adding its colour and texture as well as rhythmically pointing up the fugue before building in strength to the coda. The Sarabande from Corelli’s Sonata Op.5 No.8 in Nelson’s arrangement has a gentle flow from muted instruments weaving a melancholy theme. Beautifully done.

A more serious side to Orlando de Lassus is provided by his Providebam Dominum of 1604 where wonderfully varied sonorities abound. These players bring light textures, then rich and glowing sonorities as well as a fine flow. The rich harmonisation rises through passages of tremendous strength and sonority. The final Gigue of Corelli’s Sonata Op.5 No.8 arranged by David Ballou brings a fast moving circle of brass in this ever evolving gigue, brilliantly played by the Meridian Arts Ensemble.

To end this disc Jon Nelson has arranged Bach’s arr. Nelson: Contrapunctus XV from The Art of Fugue. The tuba opens before other instruments slowly join to expand Bach’s wonderful invention, weaving around each other, subtly drawing out so much of Bach’s invention. They bring a tremendous tapestry of brass sounds with the xylophone joining to bring the coda.

This will prove to be an irresistible disc for brass devotees but I do hope that it finds a wider audience for there is such great musicianship on display here.  The recording is extremely well done, balancing clarity and richer sonorities. There are brief notes.

The Live Concert DVD that has been released by 8bells records opens with the Meridian Arts Ensemble’s 2004 Library of Congress concert where they gave a virtuosic performance of Stravinsky’s Fanfare for a New Theatre before playing Gesualdo’s Belta, poi che t’assenti finding many details and subtleties.

Moving to music from more recent times they followed with David Sanford’s Corpus, a six movement work where they brought a dazzling Antiphon and an Introit that picked up on the many jazz influences. It was lovely the way the various instrumental lines fan out with drums pointing up the rhythms in the third movement, Shot, rising to moments of intense driven momentum. Kreuz-Männer opens with fine antiphonal effects before the ensemble combine to drive ahead with jazz rhythms, picking up a terrific beat. De Profundis brought some lovely mellow muted brass sounds pointed up by percussion, through some lovely broad flowing passages before a rather curious, quiet coda. The final movement of this work, Sermon brought staccato phrases pointed up by drums and cymbals of John Ferrari’s drum kit with a number of short solos for trombone with percussion, later really whipping up a storm in the jazz style conclusion.

Elliot Sharp’s Beyond the Curve opened with a terrific, intricate staccato version of the theme from the the two trumpets before the Ensemble took the theme ahead. These two trumpeters brought superb playing, indeed the whole ensemble delivered some very fine playing as the piece worked its way forward. There were quiet moments as well as some extraordinary brass sounds before the music found its inexorable drive to the coda.

This concert was filmed in 4:3 format with some fine camera work of the various musicians. Picture quality is a little fuzzy but sound through my large speakers was very good.

Second up on this new DVD is the Ensemble’s 1997 appearance at the Deutsches Jazz Festival. Here the Meridian Arts Ensemble had a slightly different line up with trumpeter, Josef Burgstaller instead Brian McWhorter. They opened with Su Lian Tan’s Moo’s Shu Rap Wrap where they brought a terrific flare and freedom and some terrific sounds as well as great energy. Daniel Grabois’ Migration was less like a jazz piece with some very fine brass sounds, mellow, beautifully blended with a fine rhythmic pulse and some fine individual moments from these players in the quieter moments. Jon Nelson’s Dream of Miles brought a bluesy opening for muted trumpet and hushed ensemble. There were many fine, subtle brass sounds as the piece developed into a brighter more rhythmic style full of lively jazz rhythms before falling quiet at the end. Ben Herrington’s Randy Brecker’s Some Skunk Funk brought strange wailings in the opening as a theme tried to emerge, which it did, moving confidently and rhythmically ahead. This is a great piece where each player displayed his individual musicianship, moving through some pretty wild moments before a quiet, throw away ending. 

Again the picture quality is acceptable if a little lacking in definition but the sound through my large speakers was excellent.