Saturday 28 May 2016

Clare Lesser (soprano), Carl Rosman (clarinet) and David Lesser (piano) celebrate Michael Finnissy’s 70th birthday with performances of his songs that are unlikely to be bettered, on a new release from Metier

British composer, Michael Finnissy was born in London in 1946 and started writing music at an early age, later receiving the William Yeats Hurlstone composition-prize at the Croydon Music Festival. Awarded a Foundation Scholarship to study at the Royal College of Music he studied composition with Bernard Stevens and Humphrey Searle. He was subsequently awarded an Octavia travelling scholarship to study in Italy with Roman Vlad.

After his return from Italy he freelanced and worked at the London School of Contemporary Dance where, with the encouragement of its course-director Pat Hutchinson, he founded a music department.

Finnissy’s concert debut as a solo pianist was at the Galerie Schwartzes Kloster in Freiburg, playing a concert that mainly featured first performances of works by Howard Skempton, Oliver Knussen and himself. He also made his first appearances in Europe, firstly at the Gaudeamus Music Week, the Royan Festival and Donaueschingen. In many of these events he was twinned with Brian Ferneyhough, a friend since his student days and who partnered him whilst teaching composition at Dartington Summer School in the mid-seventies.

By then a number of his pieces had been published, soon leading to a contract initially with Universal Edition and subsequently with United Music Publishers and Oxford University Press.

Finnissy has served as President of the British section of the ISCM and is now an Honorary Member of the society. He has been attached to CoMA (Contemporary Music for All) since its inception; has been in residence as composer to the Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne, Australia and to the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in Sydney and has taught at the Royal Academy of Music, London; Winchester College, the Katholieke Universiteit of Leuven (Belgium) and at the Universities of Sussex and Southampton.

Finnissy’s music has been recorded by a number of record companies including Metier who have done much for this composer’s music.

In this, Michael Finnissy’s 70th birthday year, Metier  have released a new recording entitled Singular Voices - Music for voice with clarinet and piano featuring soprano, Clare Lesser ; clarinettist, Carl Rosman  and pianist David Lesser

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Lord Melbourne for soprano, clarinet and piano was commissioned by the Worfield Charity Concert Trust and was first performed in 1982 at Rudge Hall, Pattingham, Staffordshire, England. It is based on a transcription of an English folk-song by Percy Grainger. Finnissy brings an almost instrumental use of the wordless soprano voice of Clare Lesser, tacking the melody over David Lesser’s piano phrases that pick out the theme together with a longer clarinet line from Carl Rosman. These artists reveal all of Finnissy’s finely conceived colours and intervals as this quite lovely, very individual piece progresses. The clarinet later takes the theme whilst the piano continues to pick out the theme. The soprano returns to lead the music through some very fine textures and harmonies, rising up in some more passionate moments. Later there are further passages for clarinet and piano alone where they weave some fine lines around each other. When the soprano returns she brings an even more flowing line with phrases of varying pitch reaching superb heights before a sudden coda.

To follow there are a number of songs from Songs 1-18 (1966-1978) intended to be performed separately, in groups or as complete cycle.

Clare Lesser proves to be particularly fine in Song 1 showing tremendous control and agility in this remarkable setting of Tasso. Finnissy’s vocal shapes and colours bring a rather special atmosphere. Song 16 rises wonderfully on the words ‘I saw on earth angelic qualities…’ Clare Lesser bringing a fine purity of tone, again with remarkably fluent delivery and intensely fine control, achieving a rather otherworldly quality. She brings remarkable singing to the faster passages.  

Carl Rosman’s clarinet brings equally wide ranging intervals, textures and colours to the opening of Song 11 creating some quite wonderful sounds. Clare Lesser joins, bringing Finnissy’s distinctive vocal style, nevertheless, creating just the right atmosphere for this setting of Swinburne, reaching some extremely high notes at the coda.

Lesser soars tremendously high in the opening of Song 14 evoking wonderfully the text of this Whitman poem ‘Skyward in air a sudden muffled sound/The dalliance of the eagles…’  Indeed the fast moving flow of undulating lines makes this a very fine setting.

The song, Same As We dates from 1990 and is a setting of Tennyson. It is a really unusual, quite lovely song where this soprano brings some wonderful undulating lines that weave around her own pre-recorded voice creating an innovative way of illuminating Tennyson’s lines. There are some quite powerful passages in this terrific song as well as lovely harmonies.

Clare Lesser returns to a song from Songs 1-18 (1966-1978), Song 15 where she weaves some very fine, fast moving wordless lines interspersed by longer lines. There are some wonderfully controlled quieter moments, finding many lovely textures and colours as she moves around through wide and varied intervals.

The later part of this disc is taken up by Finnissy’s Beuk o’ Newcassel Sangs (1988) which was commissioned by Tapestry and first performed by them at Newcastle University in 1989. They take the texts of traditional Newcastle folk-songs, from A beuk o’Newcassel Sangs collected by Joseph Crawhall (1888).

In the opening of the first song, Up the Raw, maw bonny Finnissy seems to suggest Northumbrian pipes as the clarinet and soprano open. His evocation of folk influences, subtly refracted through his own idiom is extremely effective. Carl Rosman’s microtones find some superb textures and timbres.  

I thought to marry a parson has a lighter feel yet with a darker subtext, Clare Lesser Carl Rosman and David Lesser weaving some very fine harmonies.  

Clare Lesser brings a folksy yet wholly distinctive theme in Buy broom buzzems to which the clarinet adds dissonant harmonies. Clare Lesser rises through some remarkably fine passages contrasted by a clarinet line with the piano later adding a discordant texture.

A piercing clarinet line soon finds lower tones as it introduces A' the neet ower an' ower. Clare Lesser joins to move around the ever changing clarinet part, bringing some spectacularly virtuosic moments to this song with the high piercing texture of the clarinet to conclude.

With As me an' me marra was gannin' ta wark again a folk style is refracted through Finnissy’s own unique expressive style. As the piano and clarinet notes die away at the end, one can hear Finnissy’s lovely harmonies fading.  

Piano, clarinet and soprano bring a sparkling There's Quayside fer sailors, weaving a terrific tapestry of musical lines, creating a very fine texture.

In It's O But Aw Ken Weel the clarinet brings a sorrowful sound to which the soprano adds her own melancholy, both creating a haunting atmosphere, Clare Lesser finding a most lovely coda.

These performances of Finnissy’s quite remarkable songs are unlikely to be bettered. The recording from the Turner-Sims Concert Hall, University of Southampton, Hampshire, England is first rate and there are excellent booklet notes by David Lesser and Clare Lesser. Full texts and, where necessary, English translations are provided.
See also: 

Friday 27 May 2016

Outstanding performances from Olga Andryushchenko on a new 2 CD set from Grand Piano of Alexander Mosolov’s Complete Works for Solo Piano

Alexander Vasil’yevich Mosolov (1900-1973) was born in Kiev and studied under Reinhold Glière (1874-1956), Nikolai Myaskovsky (1881-1950) and Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) at the Moscow Conservatory. Initially he was very much an arch-modernist but later adopted a more conventional style, drawing on central Asian folk music.

When reviewing some of Mosolov’s works from the 1920’s on a Capriccio disc, including his notorious Iron Foundry and Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No.1, it was his Piano Sonata No. 1 that I found the most worthwhile piece.

That his sonatas are well worth hearing is something that a new release from Grand Piano  has reinforced. Pianist, Olga Andryushchenko has recorded a two disc set of Mosolov’s Complete Works for Solo Piano, all of which date from the 1920s.


Mosolov’s Piano Sonata No. 1 in C minor, Op. 3 (1924) is in a single span and opens slowly and rather gloomily as the composer slowly lays out a motif, soon overtaken by a rush of dramatic chords as the opening idea is developed through passages of intense complexity and virtuosity with this pianist rising magnificently to the many challenges. Soon the music drops to a quiet and thoughtful section though the toil, the turmoil and the drama are never far away. It subtly increases in forward drive through sudden outbursts with this pianist showing terrific fluidity in passages of powerful complexity, drawing undoubtedly on late Scriabin to a coda where the power seems to drain away for a quiet end.

Having had this chance to hear this sonata played by another fine pianist it reveals itself as an impressive work that surely deserves more attention.

Of the Two Nocturnes, Op.15 (1925-26) No. 1 Elegiaco, poco stentato has a gentle opening in which Mosolov slowly picks over a motif before becoming more insistent and complex, developing some fine dissonances with Scriabin even more present before a gentle coda. No. 2 Adagio rises through trills before finding a more strident rapidly rising and falling motif. It moves through bars of ever changing tempi and rhythms with some powerful chords before the music falls away to find a quieter, rather desolate conclusion.

No. 1 of the Three Small Pieces, Op. 23a (1927) has a tumbling, descending motif before quickly striding through passages of forward propulsion. It does slow and quieten but soon finds its energy again. No. 2 Moves off quickly in another forward driving rhythm with quixotic little trills before the coda is quickly reached. No. 3 brings a rapid three note rising motif before developing through passages of suddenly changing ideas.

Two Dances, Op.23b (1927) opens with (No.1) Allegro molto, sempre marcato that has a fast moving spiky theme that dances forward, occasionally finding a gentler, more melodic nature before finding fast changing, incisive moments that lead to a sudden coda. No. 2 Allegretto opens with a more gently flowing idea though Mosolov still brings sudden strange little motifs, this pianist bringing some terrific fluency to the rapid scales that follow.

Piano Sonata No.2 in B minor, Op.4 ‘From Old Notebooks’ (1923-24) is in three movements commencing with Sonata that has a quite lovely opening with a gentle little motif in the right hand underpinned by firmer chords with a subtle dissonance. The music soon reaches a fast moving section with broad emphatic chords before shifting through some rather languid passages overlaid with more dramatic ideas. It develops some very fine passages of greater power before eventually finding the opening calm. Yet again it builds in power through some terrific, more complex passages before a spiky rhythmic idea appears only to get rolled into a frenetic forward rolling passage. The music rises through more virtuosic, dramatic passages to arrive at an insistent statement of the theme before calm at the end.

Adagio has a gently swaying motif that Mosolov slowly and subtly develops before soon finding a more impassioned moment. Its quiet nature returns with this pianist finding a real tension in this impressive movement before building to a peak, only to find a quiet coda.
The Final moves off at a speed with many changes, rhythmic and decorative, building through some impressive passages before a gentler middle section arrives. The music again builds through ever more demanding passages to a formidable peak before a hushed conclusion.  

Mosolov’s Piano Sonata No. 3, Op. 6, (1924) has been lost so it is with the Piano Sonata No. 4, Op. 11 (1925) that Olga Andryushchenko commences Disc 2. Some fine rippling phrases quickly gain in power before a slow steady development takes place. The music rises again in power but returns to its quieter stance. This pianist’s terrific phrasing helps this constantly shifting and evolving music to keep a clarity of structure. Scriabin still keeps a presence through moments of lovely delicacy contrasted against music of great confidence and power, constantly building from quieter moments before descending to a hushed coda on two solitary notes.

Turkmenian Nights – Phantasy for Piano (1929) is in three sections commencing with Andante con moto that brings rapidly rising and falling phrases over which a theme is heard. There is more formidably fine playing from Andryushchenko in music that brings fierce forward driving drama. There are moments where there are dissonant, playful little motifs before the opening returns to drive to a sudden end.

The Lento has an insistent little dissonant theme that soon gains in strength as this pianist thunders out the chords. Soon there is a quieter development of the theme before moving through the most complex dissonances. A rapid insistent rhythmic passage is heard before high chords are hammered out and the music falls back with little dissonant outbursts to a strident coda.

The Allegro takes off with a faltering rhythmic idea before moving through passages of intense drive. Soon a gentler passage with rapid little descending phrases arrives before finding a momentum to move to the coda.

Piano Sonata No.5 in D minor, Op.12 (1925) has a four movement structure opening with Lento grave - Allegro affanato which brings a slow beautifully broad theme that soon develops in tempo and complexity through quite lovely quieter passages of great feeling. Later the music rises in drama with passages of strikingly bold phrases, through quite florid moments to a sudden coda.
With the Elegia a rhythmic theme gently and deliberately walks forward through some lovely quiet, perfectly controlled passages. It tries to rise in strength, taking the rhythmic idea forward but returns to its opening pace. Eventually the music manages to find moments of more power but the opening returns to take us to the end.
The Scherzo marziale hurtles in quickly, full of complex rhythms and harmonies as it hurtles forward, this pianist bringing a fine clarity to the textures. The music moves through some formidable passages before suddenly arriving at a quiet, slow moving section before driving to the conclusion.
There is a strength and muscularity in the opening passage of the Adagio languente e patetico as it moves freely ahead, developing the theme through powerful chords. Later rippling phrases appear gently between the powerful phrases but the chords take us ahead, developing complex muscular passages right up to the forceful coda.

These are outstanding performances from Olga Andryushchenko of works that deserve to be heard. The sonatas, in particular, are impressive and, though Scriabin’s spirit runs through much of these compositions they are fine works in their own right.

Olga Andryushchenko is well recorded at the CMS Studio, Mosocw, Russia and there are informative booklet notes. This is a fine addition to the catalogue of 20th Century Russian music.

See also:

Wednesday 25 May 2016

Clare Hammond gives stunning performances of piano works by Kenneth Hesketh that bring out all the poetry, delicacy, power, fluency, rhythmic buoyancy and sheer virtuosity they contain, on a new release from BIS

Kenneth Hesketh (b.1968) was born in Liverpool, England and began composing whilst a chorister at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, completing his first work for orchestra at the age of thirteen. He studied at the Royal College of Music, London with Edwin Roxburgh, Joseph Horovitz and Simon Bainbridge and attended Tanglewood in 1995 as the Leonard Bernstein Fellow where he studied with Henri Dutilleux. After completing a Master's degree in Composition at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA, a series of awards followed, the Shakespeare Prize scholarship from the Toepfer Foundation, Hamburg, an award from the Liverpool Foundation for Sport and the Arts and the Constant and Kit Lambert Fellowship at the Royal College of Music.

From 2003 to 2005 he was New Music Fellow at Kettle's Yard and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge where he curated a series of new music chamber concerts. The Fondation André Chevillion-Yvonne Bonnaud prize was awarded to Hesketh at the 2004 Concours International de Piano d'Orléans after a performance of his Three Japanese Miniatures by pianist Daniel Becker. In 2007, Hesketh took up the position of Composer in the House with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra for two years.

Hesketh’s compositions range across opera, dance, orchestral, chamber, choral, vocal and solo as well as music for wind and brass bands. He has worked with leading ensembles and orchestras in Europe, the USA, and the Far East and has received commissions from the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, the Göttinger Symphonie Orchester and Birmingham Contemporary Music Group. He has worked with conductors such as Sir Simon Rattle, Vasilly Sinaisky, Vasily Petrenko, Susanna Malkki, Ludovic Morlot, Pascal Rophé and Oliver Knussen and soloists such as Nicholas Daniel, Sarah Leonard, Rodney Clarke, Christopher Redgate, Tamsin Waley-Cohen and Clare Hammond.

Kenneth Hesketh is professor of composition and orchestration at the Royal College of Music, honorary professor at Liverpool University and active as a guest lecturer and visiting professor.

Pianist, Clare Hammond , who has just won the RPS Young Artist Award, which celebrates outstanding achievement in 2015, has recorded a number of Kenneth Hesketh’s piano works for a new disc just released by BIS Records

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The title of Through Magic Casements (2008) refers to Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale. Indeed it opens with ripples and chirrups, iridescent phrases seen through dissonance harmonies, falling and building through some wonderful passages occasionally reminiscent of Scriabin in their harmonies and development. Later staccato phrases bring a new development of the theme before easing to allow the rippling phrases to be heard, soon finding a quiet, slowly picked out passage and a final little chirrup in the hushed coda.

The major work on this disc, Horae (Pro Clara) (Breviary for Clare) (2011/12), was written for Clare Hammond and premiered at the Cheltenham Festival in 2013. It is a series of twelve miniatures that form a breviary or book of hours. None of the movements are titled but do have specific performance directions. The first movement is marked Transparente (diaphanous) and has a gentle opening to which Clare Hammond brings a terrific clarity and delicacy. The theme is built through some wonderfully constructed passages, finding quite lovely harmonies, textures and colours.

Velocissima assai (as fleet as the tiniest humming bird) achieves a similar transparency of sound, with a jewel like brilliance and clarity. As it develops with hints of Messiaen, this pianist provides the most fluent and finely coloured phrases. Hesketh develops the most exquisite moments from the simplest of ideas in Semplice. Hammond’s phrasing is wonderful, creating just the right feel, building in strength before finding a hushed coda.

Agilmente (maniaco ed instabile - with never-ceasing energy) bursts forth in a torrent of rippling phrases, again with a terrific brilliance and clarity, this pianist revealing a fine structure as the music develops through rhythmically varying passages of great forward thrust. Diretto, ancora fluido (like the splash and suspension of water droplets) opens with sudden phrases underpinned by a low chord before the music ripples gently ahead. There are more sudden dynamic outbursts with Hammond providing a terrific fluidity and power in this wonderfully descriptive music.

Nervoso, ma dolce (flessibile) has a gentle opening with some lovely restrained harmonies. The constant yet subtly shifting tempi perfectly caught here by this pianist. This is music of the utmost delicacy and sensibility. Capriccioso brings firm chords in the lower register overlaid by bright phrases that soon vary in tempo and rhythm before a quieter trickling passage that leads to the coda. Ritmico (giusto) (like intertwining chime clocks) / Flessibile gently meanders forward with rippling phrases, bringing a fine delicacy, subtly developing and gaining in strength. Clare Hammond sets out wonderfully the overlaid musical ideas with subtle textures from the strings of the piano.  

Capriccioso (impishly sardonic) leaps in rhythmically and playfully, jumping around full of unexpected intervals, rhythms and tempi. Scorrevole (ma meccanico) (like an ‘evening full of the linnet's wings’) rippling phrases flow forward, subtly shifting in harmonies that bring a lightness and freedom. Indolente (...lapping, with low sounds) opens slowly with lovely little chords that slowly increase in weight, rising and retreating with moments of delicate fluidity. The music develops more intensity, yet falls away to a quiet coda.

A motif very slowly develops in the opening of Molto misterioso, desolate (‘for now we see through a glass, darkly’). There are sudden little rhythmic skips before finding a more powerful emotion. The music returns to a quieter, gentle and thoughtful passage creating a withdrawn feeling. Hammond explores all the little delicate details before suddenly taking off in a faster passage that has sudden changes of tempi and dynamics before easing back to allow for a long dying phrase to fade.

A formidable achievement by Clare Hammond in music that has by turns delicacy, brilliance, power and freedom.

Notte Oscura (2002) was written as a piano transcription of the first interlude of Hesketh’s opera The Overcoat, with some additional material form the first scene of Act 1. Here the composer takes Gogol’s description of St. Petersburg’s most powerful foe – the Northern cold. Slow, low chords open, broadening into lighter phrases with little trills in the right hand as the music slowly develops. Hesketh brings a withdrawn chill to this music that develops more florid moments through a more flowing passage. Hammond shows brilliant fluency and sense of structure, building through some terrific passages of falling and rising phrases, always with a sense of underlying tension before finding a calmer coda.

Three Japanese Miniatures (2002) are fragments and paraphrases on material from a work by Hesketh for chamber orchestra, itself from a puppet ballet based on Japanese folk tales. Temple Music opens with broad chords before leaping into crashing chords and fast moving phrases. There is nothing pastiche here; Hesketh brings his own individual descriptive style. There are sudden little trills and a series of repeated chords that become increasingly strong before finding a quieter use of the opening chords before a delicate, unresolved end. Ripping chords open The Cradle Rocks gently and quietly, this pianist finding some lovely gentle, delicate phrases. Again it is her sensitivity to the music’s delicate phrases and harmonies that is impressive. The music later finds a slightly more flowing nature, still with hesitant phrases before building in strength only to find a gentle, delicate coda. Little Bumbuku opens with a sudden brittle, staccato idea, developed through some remarkable passages of ever changing ideas, this pianist bringing the most terrific phrasing dynamics before falling to a wonderfully conceived, quiet and gentle coda.

Clare Hammond gives stunning performances that bring out all the poetry, delicacy, power, fluency, rhythmic buoyancy and sheer virtuosity contained in these striking works. 

She receives a first rate SACD recording that provides both tremendous clarity and a fine piano tone and there are excellent booklet notes from the pianist. 

Sunday 22 May 2016

A new release from CPO shows Karl Heinz-Steffens and the WDR Sinfonieorchester Koln to be terrific advocates of Robert Fuchs’ first two symphonies, works that have memorable themes and a myriad of attractive ideas

The Austrian composer, teacher, organist and conductor, Robert Fuchs (1847-1927) studied at the Vienna Conservatory with Felix Otto Dessoff (1835-1892) and Joseph Hellmesberger (1855-1907). He went on to be a professor at the Conservatory where his pupils were Gustav Mahler (1860-1911), Jean Sibelius (1865-1957), Franz Schreker (1878-1934), Hugo Wolf (1860- 1903) and Alexander von Zemlinsky (1871-1942). His compositions include operas and choral works, chamber and instrumental works as well as orchestral works that include three symphonies

A new release from CPO features the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln  conducted by Karl Heinz-Steffens  in Fuchs’ Symphonies 1 and 2.

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No less a figure than Johannes Brahms thought highly of Fuchs music, especially his Symphony No.1 in C major, Op. 37. In four movements, the Allegro molto moderato opens with shimmering strings that are almost immediately overlaid by a fine flowing theme. The music soon rises in strength finding a short climax before moving through passages that are beautifully shaped by this conductor and orchestra, controlling all the little rises and falls in dynamics, finding a terrific sweep. There is sometimes, not surprisingly, a rather Viennese melodic feel with some lovely woodwind passages before the music rises again to a short climax before resuming its flow. This orchestra certainly do a fine job of tautly and smoothly negotiating all the little details before heading to a rather Brahmsian passage that leads to the resolute coda.

The WDR Sinfonieorchester Koln brings some lovely transparent textures to the Intermezzo: Presto rising through some dramatic passages without ever losing fluency and fine textures. There are some beautifully done little woodwind phrases and details in this particularly fine movement.

The Grazioso, ma molto lento, quasi adagio brings a lovely mellifluous melody, beautifully blended across the strings and woodwind creating lovely harmonies and textures. There is a faster section before the music finds a slightly darker tone as the music slows before subtly lightening and weaving its way forward. There is a quite lovely build up to the gentle coda, wonderfully shaped.

In the Finale: Allegro giusto the upper strings bring a lively theme that is shared around the orchestra, rising in strength before introducing more incisive phrases. Soon a light-hearted, fast moving buoyant version arrives before moving through quieter moments with lovely textures. There are moments that hint at Schumann and Brahms yet Fuchs still manages to keep his own voice as the buoyancy picks up. I even thought I heard a hint of Grieg before the coda arrives.

Brass sound out quickly to introduce the Allegro moderato, ma energico of the Symphony No.2 in E flat major, Op. 45, the whole orchestra soon joining in this rousing theme. Very soon a quieter section appears as a flowing theme progresses bringing many lovely little instrumental moments. The opening is repeated before slowly reducing in dynamics through passages of rich, finely blended textures. There are more lovely little woodwind details before a lovely little rhythmic motif appears. The music rises confidently with the opening statement sounding out again through passages of incisive, sometimes Brahmsian ideas, through some particularly fine passages and dramatic surges. The opening sequence occurs again before the music weaves its way to a fine coda, leaving one humming the main theme. This movement weaves an impressive tapestry of ideas out of the opening material.

The Andante has a rhythmic theme that I thought, initially, was leading into a familiar Brahmsian melody, but soon finds its own delightful way with a lovely central flowing section.

The WDR Sinfonieorchester brings a lovely lilt to the Menuetto: Allegretto grazioso, a most attractive movement that flows through passages of fine invention, beautifully orchestrated. Later the music picks up a pace, with timpani, to bounce ahead in a very fine rhythmic trio section, another memorable theme, before some beautifully shaped phrases lead to the gentle coda.

In the Finale: Allegro giusto a string motif leads quickly to a spry rhythmic theme for orchestra who soon find a greater flow with a lovely rubato, leading through passages of varying dynamics, finding much spirited variety before leading to an unexpectedly sudden, decisive coda.

Karl Heinz-Steffens and the WDR Sinfonieorchester Koln are terrific advocates of this music that has memorable themes and a myriad of attractive ideas. 

They receive an excellent recording from the Philharmonie, Köln, Germany and there are excellent booklet notes.

Saturday 21 May 2016

Esther Hoppe plays Mozart’s Costa Violin in a live recording of a concert given at the Großer Saal der Stiftung Mozarteum, Salzburg in 2013 on a new release from Belvedere

In 2013 a private benefactress donated a violin made by Pietro Antonio Dalla Costa (active c.1720-c.1768) in 1764 to the Salzburg Mozarteum Foundation.  It is believed that Mozart (1756-1791) owned and played the violin during the years he lived in Vienna.

The so-called Costa Violin was purchased privately by Dr Nicola Leibinger-Kammüller, chief executive officer of the TRUMPF GmbH + Co. KG based in Ditzingen near Stuttgart and donated to the Salzburg Mozarteum Foundation.

According to the label stuck inside the violin the instrument was made in 1764 by Pietro Antonio Dalla Costa. Experts are of the opinion that the violin is an authentic instrument made by this highly respected member of the so-called Venetian school of violin makers. The complete history of the instrument can be traced from the time when it was made to the present.

In 1909 the Costa Violin was bought by the company W. E. Hill & Sons in London. The previous owner, the violinist Karl Henkel, explained that his father Heinrich Henkel had bought the violin around 1840 from the music publisher Johann Anton André in Offenbach. André always described the instrument, which he had acquired from Mozart’s widow in 1799, as part of the composer’s musical estate, as ‘Mozart’s violin.’ During the 1940s and 1950s the instrument was discussed and photographically documented in some specialist journals but before the dissolution of Hill and Sons in the 1980s the violin was never played in public or scientifically studied. The violin was then acquired by a businessman and amateur musician in southern Germany.

A concert took place on 14th November 2013 in the Großer Saal der Stiftung Mozarteum, Salzburg when Esther Hoppe played this very instrument in a prgrammme of works for violin and piano by Schubert and Mozart with Florian Birsak playing a Flügel Hammerklavier built by Conrad Graf in 1839. This concert was recorded and has now been released by Belvedere


Esther Hoppe and Florian Birsak open with Franz Schubert’s (1797-1828) Sonata in D major, D.384. They provide a nicely shaped Allegro molto where the tone of these instruments lays bare Schubert’s textures. They bring a lovely, well phrased and paced Andante revealing a delicacy and poise and, as the movement progresses, Hoppe finds a real singing lyricism with Birsak revealing passages of lovely Schubertian charm. There is an attractive Allegro vivace full of high spirits and joie de vivre with a fine buoyancy and some terrific timbres from this violin toward the coda.

Birsak brings a finely textured fortepiano introduction to the Andante, ma un poco adagio of Mozart’s Andante and Fugue from the incomplete Violin Sonata in A major, KV.402. When Hoppe enters they bring some very finely blended textures, full of character and beautifully phrased. There is a lovely transition into the Allegro moderato, with these two fine players slowly weaving some delicious lines around each other as the fugal theme develops, creating a terrific dialogue.

The Allegro moderato of Schubert’s Sonata in A minor, D.385 has a wonderfully hushed fortepiano opening that gives way to a dramatic sequence for fortepiano and violin, the fortepiano finding lovely rolling phrases. Hoppe joins with some lovely textures and sonorities, later picking up rhythmically and dynamically. Both find some quite lovely moments with sudden dramatic outbursts bringing a fine contrast.  

The Andante has a lovely ebb and flow as it finds its way ahead with some particularly fine passages for fortepiano that bring a fine breadth. There are some lovely flowing descending phrases where time is allowed for this music to breathe.

The way these two bring a swagger to the rising motif of the Menuetto: Allegro – Trio is delightful with a lightness of touch that brings lovely textures and timbres from their instruments.  

Hoppe brings a heartfelt violin tone to the Allegro over a beautifully fluid fortepiano accompaniment, rising dramatically with these two responding brilliantly.  

They draw some fine textures together in the opening bars of the Largo – Allegro of Mozart’s Sonata in B flat major, K.454 before Hoppe finds some lovely little textures over rippling fortepiano phrases. They pick up the pace for the allegro with some brilliantly fluent passages, Hoppe providing some lovely singing phrases before a quite lovely coda.

The Andante brings more lovely textures, Hoppe making much of her instrument’s gut strings. There are some beautifully controlled, quieter phrases before they weave their way to a fine coda.

Again there is a lovely light touch to the beginning of the Allegretto where these two fine players bring some tightly controlled, incisive phrases. Birsak finds some lovely deep fortepiano tones and Hoppe some very fine violin sonorities towards the coda.

Finally they play the Andante from Mozart’s Sonata in A major, K.526 bringing a fine flow and poise, both finding a lovely tempo, weaving some fine passages with delicate fortepiano phrases and some rich violin textures. In the longer violin phrases Hoppe reveals a lovely tone.

Though many Mozart and violin enthusiasts will want this disc for the instrument alone, the many merits of these fine performances should not be overlooked with Esther Hoppe and Florian Birsak bringing performances full of character with fine textures and much feeling. 

The live recording is close and detailed though a little more warmth would have been welcome. There is applause at the end of each complete work. There are interesting booklet notes on the violin and its history. 

BBC Proms 2016 – The World’s Greatest Classical Music Festival

The programme for the 122nd season of the BBC Proms has been announced. Running from 15th July to 10th September the season, that has a strong Russian flavour, will consist of more than 90 concerts beginning on the First Night with Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture, Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor and Prokofiev’s Cantata Alexander Nevsky.

One notable highlight will be bass-baritone Bryn Terfel who appears in the title role of Mussorgsky’s opera Boris Godunov with Sir Antonio Pappano conducting the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. Among the soloists in Tchaikovsky’s concertos are Pekka Kuusisto in the Violin Concerto and Kirill Gerstein and Pavel Kolesnikov in the First and Second Piano Concertos respectively. Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, will be performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Thomas Dausgaard.

In the year of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro  there is also a Latin American focus with Marin Alsop bringing the São Paulo State Symphony Orchestra to the Proms in a concert that features the Brazilian composers Marlos Nobre and Heitor along with Grieg and Rachmaninov. Later the São Paulo Jazz Symphony joins Marin Alsop and the city’s symphony orchestra for a Late Night Prom exploring Brazilian popular music.

Cello concertos performances during year's Proms will include Sol Gabetta playing Elgar’s Cello Concerto, Alban Gerhardt in Dvořák’s Concerto and Truls Mørk with Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1. Cellists Paul Watkins, Steven Isserlis and former BBC Young Musician Guy Johnston perform world premieres by Huw Watkins, Thomas Adès and Charlotte Bray and Leonard Elschenbroich plays a new work by Colin Matthews.

The 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death features highly with performances of works influenced by his plays, including Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. There is also a special day of Shakespeare-themed works by Purcell, Blow and Locke at Shakespeare’s Globe, performed by Arcangelo, as well as film music from Bernstein’s West Side Story to Walton’s Richard III, performed by Keith Lockhart and the BBC Concert Orchestra.

Conductor, Bernard Haitink celebrates the 50th anniversary of his first concert at the Proms with Mahler’s Third Symphony with the London Symphony Orchestra and mezzo soprano, Sarah Connolly.  

There will be a Gospel Prom celebrating the rich legacy of gospel music with a wide range of performers including the London Community Gospel Choir and the John Wilson Orchestra returns to celebrate the music of George Gershwin.

Among the visiting orchestras, conductors and soloists will be Martha Argerich performing Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra under Daniel Barenboim and Simon Rattle conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in Brahms’s Second and Mahler’s Seventh symphonies.

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra's new music director, conductor Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla makes her Proms debut with the orchestra in Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony and Sakari Oramo, chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, will conduct this year’s Last Night of the Proms where he will be joined by tenor Juan Diego Flórez.

On 29th July there will be a late night Prom paying tribute to the rock and pop legend David Bowie, who died at the age of 69 in January this year and whose influence was felt in every field of the arts.

There will be a large number of Proms Extra events at both the Royal Albert Hall and the Imperial College Union as well as concerts from Cadogan Hall, London, The Chapel, Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich and the Roundhouse, Camden, London.

As usual each BBC Prom will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 with many also televised on BBC Four .

Don’t forget that there will last night celebrations with Proms in the Park 2016 at London’s Hyde Park, Parc Eirias, Colwyn Bay, Wales and Titanic Slipway, Belfast, Northern Ireland 
Take a look at the BBC Proms website to see full details of all that is happening

Friday 20 May 2016

The first volume of Vivat’s Decades - A Century of Song is an impressive start to what looks likely to be an exciting series

There is no shortage of complete editions of various composers’ songs which, in their own way are often invaluable. However, an exciting new project from Vivat Music entitled Decades - A Century of Song brings a completely new approach. This major new recording series will feature world-renowned singers who will draw listeners, decade by decade, through a century of song from 1810 to 1910. Each volume will present a well-planned, varied programme, performed by household names; but overall the series also has a wider aim, building a comprehensive survey of song right through the nineteenth century and, in doing so, creating an invaluable teaching asset.

Vivat have just released Volume 1 in this new series that covers the period 1810-1820, including songs from Austria, Bohemia, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, with works by Franz Schubert, Fernando Sor, Ludwig van Beethoven, Joseph Fabry-Garat, Sophie Gail, Václav Tomášek, Giovanni Battista Viotti, and Carl Maria von Weber. Part of the attraction of the series is the mix of the familiar with the rare: as well as presenting music by the great Austrian-German composers, the repertoire also ventures further afield. Future volumes will also add music from middle Europe, Russia and Scandinavia.

The singers for this first volume include the distinguished Canadian tenor Michael Schade  , sopranos Lorna Anderson  and the young Spaniard Sylvia Schwartz , mezzo Dame Ann Murray  and bass Florian Boesch , accompanied by the series’ creator, pianist Malcolm Martineau


This new disc opens with songs by Franz Schubert (1797-1828). Malcolm Martineau brings a lovely rhythmic skip to the opening of Der Blumenbrief, D622 with tenor, Michael Schade bringing a finely controlled, wonderfully mellifluous tone. Schade is wonderful in his finely nuanced performance of Die Sommernacht, D289, exquisitely shaped, finding all of Schubert’s poetry. Täglich zu singen, D533 has a suitable earnest quality, Schade and Martineau finely moulding the text. There is a rich fluent opening to An den Mond, D193 from Martineau before Schade brings the most beautifully shaped phrases, fairly caressing the text before rising through a faster section bringing a greater passion. Exquisitely done.  

Soprano, Sylvia Schwartz brings a youthful exuberance to Freude der Kinderjahre, D455, wonderfully characterised. She draws some fine phrases in the lovely Wiegenlied, D304 with Martineau finding a wonderful restraint and poetry, magically done. Michael Schade returns for Das Heimweh, D456 where he is impressive in this lovely setting, bringing wonderful control and shaping of the text. There is a fine rhythmic flow to Seligkeit, D433 with Schade showing just how wonderfully he adjusts to each text, here with lovely buoyancy.

Moving to rarer repertoire, Sylvia Schwartz brings us three songs by Fernando Sor (1778-1839). Malcolm Martineau opens De amor en las prisiones with a lovely, rhythmic, lightness of touch, Schwartz bringing a youthful vitality to this attractive song. She brings a particularly fine performance of Las mujeres y cuerdas negotiating every little twist and turn, using her bright tone to full effect. There is a lovely opening for piano in Mis descuidados ojos before Schwartz brings the most lovely tone to what is arguably the finest song of these three, superbly controlled in the quieter moments.

Michael Schade returns for Ludwig van Beethoven’s (1770-1827) Three Songs Op.83, all Goethe settings. Both he and Malcolm Martineau bring a wonderfully nuanced Wonne der Wehmut, Op. 83, No. 1 full of the most lovely poetic feeling with moments of intense passion. Schade brings a terrific agility to the more upbeat Sehnsucht, Op. 83, No. 2 with some quite lovely playing from Martineau, both revealing moments of subtle poetry. Mit einem gemalten Band, Op. 83, No. 3 has a wonderfully phrased, rhythmic piano line over which this tenor brings a fine dynamic control with many subtleties. This is a lovely trio of songs from this wonderful tenor.

Joseph Dominique Fabry Garat was a brilliant tenor who was born in Bordeaux in 1774. The year of his death is not known. His Plainte à Hortence is sung by Lorna Anderson with her very lovely vibrant soprano tone, finely shaped and controlled, finding so much of the text’s feeling. Wonderfully done.

Sophie Gail (1775-1819) was also a French singer as well as pianist and composer, writing a number of opéras comique as well as songs. Malcolm Martineau gives a vibrant rhythmic lift to the opening of her song, Bolleros with Lorna Anderson delivering the most wonderful vocal line, full of flexibility and passion.

The Czech composer Václav Jan Tomášek (1774-1850) gives us four Goethe settings of which Nähe des Geliebten is particularly lovely, Michael Schade finding a variety of emotion with a fine piano accompaniment that subtly rises centrally. Malcolm Martineau provides a wonderful opening to An die Entfernte, beautifully phrased with such lovely vocal shaping and agility from this tenor, finding every nuance of the text. There is a lovely rippling piano opening to Schäfers Klagelied to which Schade brings a finely controlled phrasing and dynamics, so subtle, rising wonderfully in passion before a beautifully shaped coda. Rastlose Liebe is strongly characterised by this tenor, full of energy and feeling.

Giovanni Battista Viotti (1755-1824) was an Italian violinist and composer whose songs it is good to hear. Ann Murray is in fine voice in the lovely Stanco di pascolar, WVII-10 a rather fine setting of a traditional Breschian text, beautifully realised here. Privez l’amour de sa flèche cruelle, WVII-4, a setting of a text by Louis-Philippe de Ségur is equally finely done.

Michael Schade brings a beautifully dark hued Abendlied unterm gestirnten Himmel, WoO 150 a setting of Heinrich Goebleby Beethoven that rises through moments of great power, with Malcolm Martineau providing a finely judged accompaniment in this excellent performance.

Schade is again wonderfully impressive in Carl Maria von Weber’s (1786-1826) Abschied vom Leben, Op. 41, Heft 1, No. 2, finding strength, power, emotion and fine poetry, as does Martineau in his quite wonderfully evocative and poetic accompaniment.

We return to Schubert for the concluding eight songs on this disc, a composer who rightly occupies an important position in this volume. Baritone, Florian Boesch brings a fabulously dark atmosphere to Das Grab, D569, a setting of a text by Johann Gaudenz von Salis-Seewis, beautifully controlled with a glorious tone.  

Michael Schade takes the next six songs, all Goethe settings, raising the spirits in the lively, buoyant Der Fischer, D225, bringing some quite lovely phrases, wonderfully characterised and illuminating so many little details in the text. Erster Verlust, D226 has some beautifully shaped vocal lines with both soloist and pianist gently rising and falling as they bringing great expression to this song. There is a lovely flow to An den Mond, D259; a gentle, beautifully wrought performance. Wanderers Nachtlied I, D224, Op. 4, No. 3 is perfectly paced and phrased, beautifully controlled and shaped; quite exquisite.  

Rastlose Liebe, D138 sets the same Goethe text as did Tomášek earlier on this disc. Schade and Martineau bring terrific agility in this fast and furious song. Malcolm Martineau introduces Ganymed, D554, Op. 19, No. 3 with a lovely light rhythmic touch with this tenor bringing his own little dynamic emphases, rising in passion later with a finely shaped conclusion.

Soprano, Sylvia Schwartz brings a really lovely, bright and spirited Wer kauft Liebesgötter, D261, another Goethe setting, to conclude this collection with a real sense of joy.

There are some wonderful performances here from this terrific line up of soloists all wonderfully accompanied by Malcolm Martineau whose playing is a joy.

The recording and presentation are up to Vivat’s usual high standard with a generous 72 page booklet with authoritative booklet notes in three languages by renowned song expert and series consultant Prof Susan Youen, together with full texts and translations and artist and session photographs. 

This first volume of Decades - A Century of Song is an impressive start to what looks likely to be an exciting series.

Monday 16 May 2016

A recording from Music and Media of piano works by Richard Fowles that draw inspiration from the music of Erik Satie make a fitting tribute to this unique composer on the 150th anniversary of his birth

Erik Satie (1866-1925) was surely one of the most eccentric yet naturally gifted of French composers. Born in Honfleur, Calvados, France he studied at the Paris Conservatory but dropped out, later taking work as a pianist in a café. His immediately recognisable, often witty style was a major influence on 20th-century French music.

Before taking up residence alone in Arcueil, a Paris suburb, he involved himself on the fringe of Christian sects including the Rosicrucian movement and had a stormy affair with the painter Suzanne Valadon. He later studied at the Schola Cantorum under Vincent d’Indy and Albert Roussel and was eventually adopted as the figurehead of the group of young composers known as Les Six.  Later the School of Arcueil, a group including Darius Milhaud, Henri Sauguet, and Roger Désormiere, was formed in his honour.

Despite being dismissed by musicians who misunderstood his irreverence and wit, Satie was nonetheless deeply admired by composers such as Darius Milhaud, Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy. His influence on French composers of the early 20th century and on the later school of Neoclassicism was immense.

Satie’s compositions include five ballets, choral music, songs and a large amount of piano music for which he is most remembered.

English composer Richard Fowles (b. 1989)  has written a number of works inspired by Erik Satie which have been recorded by pianist Christina McMaster for Music and Media  on a disc entitled Un Hommage à Erik.

MMC 111

Knossienne No. 1 is very much in the mould of Satie’s own Gnossienne though gently finding its own way and later finding a greater though gentle intensity. With
Knossienne No. 2 Fowles again finds moments of intensity to contrast with the gentle flow, this time with greater drama but always retaining elements of Satie’s language. Knossienne No. 3 brings the same kind of subtle variety that is often found in Satie, shifting harmonically through the most lovely passages.

The Andante of Biqui No. 1 has a gentle little theme that develops from the simplest of openings through passages of more incisive dramatic phrases, taking Satie’s related stylistic elements to a new level. The Lento takes us back to a gentle, simple idea that again develops an incisive, dynamic nature with firm chords before finding a calm coda.

Sea-Bird opens with a very Debussian theme, developing through rippling passages, pointed up by more dramatic moments, always with a French flavour and with a lovely rising phrase at the coda.

Delicate phrases open A Walk to Le Chat Noir on a Snowy Day, conveying snowflakes, before finding more of a flow. There are sudden dramatic changes before the resuming of a walking pace. Again there is much of a French flavour with moments of fine beauty with little rippling phrases, beautifully done by this pianist.

The Andante of Biqui No. 2 brings a melancholy little opening that soon finds a more dramatic stance with Fowles finding a lovely simplicity, a directness that would surely have appealed to Satie before moving into the Lento, a slow, hushed version of the theme that does find dynamic chords that contrast whilst developing some fine harmonies.

Monsieur Le Pauvre is a very Satie influenced piece and is full of little harmonies and phrases. Yet here Fowles still finds his own way, creating a new yet wholly idiomatic piece, gently meandering its way through some most lovely passages.

The Velvet Gentleman picks up on Satie’s well known appearance, impeccably dressed with bowler hat, umbrella and pince-nez.  The first of the three sections, His Bowler Hat is a faster flowing piece, again such a simple theme that evokes Satie. His Pince-Nez brings some terrific discords in a spiky little theme full of witty ideas. His Umbrella brings a repeated left hand motif over which a theme is quickly despatched, full of freshness and energy.  

The Andante of Biqui No. 3 has a gentle opening that is slowly broadened, rising in dynamics through some very fine broad phrases until moving into the Lento which has a hushed entry as the theme is slowly picked over. It slowly finds moments of increased drama with some exquisitely played passages before the hushed gentle coda.

Sylvie was inspired by a poem by J. P. Contamine de Latour (1867-1926) that Satie set to music. It has a gentle rocking motion out of which rises a fine melody that develops before a simple three note phrase to end.

These works form a fitting tribute to this unique composer on the 150th anniversary of his birth. There is much Satie here, a little Debussy and much French flavour – yet somehow perfectly unique. 

Christina McMaster has a fine touch bringing a delicacy as well as some impressively incisive moments, conjuring up a lovely atmosphere. She receives a close yet intimate recording and there are excellent booklet notes from the composer. 

Sunday 15 May 2016

Naxos have released a delightful disc of arrangements of works by John Ireland that provides some really beautiful English string gems, exquisitely played by Raphael Wallfisch and the Orchestra of the Swan under their Artistic Director, David Curtis

The Orchestra of the Swan was founded in 1995 to perform at the Stratford Music Festival. They have their home in Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon and are the Associate Orchestra at Town Hall Birmingham. Last season they gave over 60 concerts throughout England and Wales, undertook their first highly successful tour to China and gave a UK tour with Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel, culminating in a sell-out performance at London’s Albert Hall before an audience of 5,500.

Between 2006 and 2011 they commissioned over fifty new works and their acclaimed recordings have been Gramophone Choice and CD of the Week on Classic FM (UK) The orchestra’s extensive discography includes repertoire by Barber, Bax, Berlioz, Brahms, Copland, Debussy, Finzi, Ireland, Mahler, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Schumann, Strauss and the world premiere recording of the complete symphonies by Hans Gal which received outstanding critical acclaim and was featured on BBC Radio 3 ‘Composer of the Week’.

With their Artistic Director, David Curtis the Orchestra of the Swan have just released a disc for Naxos of Music for String Orchestra by John Ireland featuring cellist Raphael Wallfisch.


John Ireland’s Cello Sonata in G minor (1923) is performed here in a particularly effective arrangement for cello and string orchestra by Matthew Forbes. Raphael Wallfisch brings some rich, dark hued tones to the Moderato e sostenuto over which the Orchestra of the Swan bring some very fine string textures. Wallfisch and the orchestra keep a real feeling of urgency through the constantly changing tempi and dynamics, revealing some lovely details and building to some terrific strings’ swirls.

The Poco largamente is full of passion, these players finding a sudden emotional impact to open. The strings of the Orchestra of the Swan drop to a hushed melody with Wallfisch adding a really subtle emotional tug when he re-enters. Both he and the orchestra find a lovely control, creating a very fine atmosphere in the hushed moments. Wallfisch brings his very fine tone, quite lovely, raising the emotional temperature before leaping straight into the concluding vibrant Con moto e marcato where the strings of the Orchestra of the Swan show their fine tone with this cellist adding some rich, often quite intense textures and blending wonderfully with the orchestra.

This is a performance that reveals new aspects to Ireland’s very fine cello sonata.  

Summer Evening (1920) appears here in an arrangement by Graham Parlett , one of a number of arrangements by him on this disc. Originally a piano work it is revealed here as a quite beautiful string piece in its own right.  It is given a beautifully nuanced performance from the glowing strings of the Orchestra of the Swan, quite beautifully shaped. This is a real gem for string orchestra.

In a May Morning (1940-41) comes from a three movement piano work by Ireland entitled Sarnia (the Latin name for Guernsey). It was written partly in Guernsey and completed in England after the composer was evacuated just before the Nazi occupation of the islands. Martin Yates arranged the whole of Sarnia for orchestra which he recorded for Dutton.

In this arrangement by Graham Parlett, the Orchestra of the Swan rises through some really lovely passages with this orchestra finding many lovely nuances. David Curtis brings a reflective feel with some lovely use of various sections of the strings to vary the textures.

Raphael Wallfisch returns for Parlett’s arrangement of Soliloquy (1922) a lovely piece with this cellist finding a subtle rhythmic lift, adding emotional moments with fine textures and subtly controlled dynamics. This is an exquisite arrangement of a quite lovely piano piece, perfectly performed here.

Bagatelle (1911) (arr. Graham Parlett) has a jaunty theme finely caught by Wallfisch and the orchestra who find a lovely rhythmic buoyancy.  

They find a lovely forward moving push in the Berceuse (1902) (arr. Graham Parlett) with a subtle forward moment that has gentle and natural ebb and flow with Wallfisch’s fine tone adding a real depth of feeling.

Cavatina (1904) (arr. Graham Parlett) has a lighter mood, perfectly caught here, Wallfisch and the orchestra finding a gentle rhythmic lilt as the music pushes ahead. There is a faster central section to which these players give a directness and forward drive, showing terrific panache with crisp and finely shaped playing.

A Downland Suite (1932/78) was originally a commission for the National Brass Band Championships. After his evacuation from Guernsey, Ireland orchestrated the two middle movements. In 1978 Geoffrey Bush completed the job by orchestrating the two outer movements allowing us to hear the full result here.

The Orchestra of the Swan bring a terrific string sonority to the opening Prelude - Allegro energico as well as a lively, spirited freshness, a feel of the outdoors. The Elegy - Lento espressivo is beautifully shaped, surely one of Ireland’s loveliest ideas. Curtis and the orchestra bring passages of richer sonorities, wonderfully judged and nuanced. They find a lightness and forward flow that is delightful in the Minuet - Allegretto grazioso, with a lovely rubato. There is a beautifully shaped trio section before we are led to a quiet coda. The strings of the Orchestra of the Swan conjure up some fine textures in the Rondo - Poco allegro. They push the music forward with fine control of dynamics before the gentler side of this music returns, only to dash to a crisp decisive coda.

This is a delightful disc of arrangements that provide some really beautiful English string gems, exquisitely played by all concerned. 

They receive a very good, spacious recording made at Townsend Hall, Shipston-on-Stour, England and there are excellent booklet notes by Bruce Phillips of the John Ireland Charitable Trust. 

Saturday 14 May 2016

The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra under their Music Director Miguel Harth-Bedoya provide taut, powerful and sympathetic performances of Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra and Brahms’ Piano Quartet in G minor as orchestrated by Schoenberg on a new release from Harmonia Mundi

The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra under their Music Director Miguel Harth-Bedoya have released a new recording for Harmonia Mundi  featuring music by Lutosławski and Brahms.

HMU 807668

It was the conductor Witold Rowicki who requested from Witold Lutosławski (1913-1994) a new work to show of the recently formed Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra. What he got was a brilliant work that has become the most popular of all of Lutosławski’s works.

Written between 1950 and 1954 the Concerto for Orchestra is in three movements. Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra bring a purposeful opening to the Intrada. Allegro maestoso with timpani keeping a fine pulse over which the strings slowly develop the theme. This conductor doesn’t hang around, keeping up the pace nicely before falling back and slowing to bring some lovely details. Yet soon a real menace returns as the music takes off once more. The brass of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra bring a real weight and presence as does the whole orchestra in the climaxes. This conductor often brings the feeling of a bubbling cauldron of pent up energy and menace yet he also finds some lovely moments of withdrawn calm.

The strings bring some finely textured, quicksilver playing in the opening of the Capriccio notturno ed Arioso. Vivace, as do the woodwind and percussion. Even the piano has a wonderfully light and fluent intervention. This is a brilliantly done movement with gossamer textures, superb orchestral playing. When the music suddenly rises the contrast is marked. The rapid strings return with brass darting in and out of the texture before beautifully dovetailing the orchestral textures into the hushed side drum and timpani of the coda.

The Passacaglia, Toccata e Corale. Andante con moto rises slowly and quietly out of pizzicato basses. When the piano phrases occur they have clipped phrasing. An oboe brings its lovely theme with this conductor controlling the slow rise of the orchestra remarkably through brass outbursts and woodwind arabesques finding Lutosławski’s blocks of sound as well as every little instrumental detail. The music rises with an unstoppable force to a climax that is overwhelming before exhausting its power and falling to a hush on a piano chord that is repeated as the strings find a wonderfully hushed delicate sound. The music suddenly takes off again with this conductor knowing just how to contrast the hushed and powerful passages creating a real contrast. Later the orchestra really pushes forward with abandon through passages of intense drama with some wild passages brilliantly played. They lead to a section of most poetic calm with many lovely details for little instrumental groups and percussion before forging ahead to a spectacular coda.

This is a performance of some power that, nevertheless, is much more nuanced than others.

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) wrote his Piano Quartet in G minor Op.25 in 1861and it was premiered that year in Hamburg with the piano part taken by Clara Schumann.  Arnold Schoenberg’s (1874-1951) orchestration of the Piano Quartet was premiered in Los Angeles in 1938. Schoenberg explained the reason for undertaking the orchestration in a letter to a critic. ‘I like the piece. It is seldom played. It is always very badly played, because the better the pianist, the louder he plays and you hear nothing from the strings. I wanted once to hear everything and this I achieved.’

The Allegro brings some lovely mellifluous sonorities from the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. There is also much taut playing and a real heft as the music rises in drama revealing a really Brahmsian orchestral flavour. They find many moments of lighter rhythmic buoyancy reminding us that this is a youthful work. Miguel Harth-Bedoya and his players shape and phrase this music beautifully, bringing dynamic contrasts that re-inforce the emotional side of the music. They help this music to retain much of its original character with some very fine passages of instrumental detail laid open, often finding a brooding undercurrent.

Schoenberg’s sensitive orchestration is very much revealed in the delightful Intermezzo. Allegro ma non Troppo, the orchestra finding a lovely rhythmic fluency, whilst developing and shaping this movement to fine effect. There are passages of light and transparent textures before arriving at a lovely conclusion.

The Andante con moto brings a really lovely Brahmsian melody full of fine string sonorities, with this conductor keeping a really tight rein shaping phrases quite beautifully. There are many lovely instrumental moments filtering through with, again this conductor finding the rhythmic pulse. They suddenly let the music swell up and towards the coda, when the music peaks, it positively glows.

The Rondo alla zingarese. Presto brings a crisp forward drive, pointing up Brahms’ gypsy inspired music. Here the percussion bring some terrific moments as the music hurtles forward with very fine, fluent, agile instrumental contributions. This music sparkles with life with some very fine orchestral textures. Harth-Bedoya beautifully shapes the music as it continually rises through passages of increasing drive with some particularly fine woodwind passages where they bring a chamber quality to what, after all, was originally a chamber piece, before hurtling forward to the coda.

This is a wonderfully taut, beautifully shaped performance revealing Schoenberg’s wonderfully sympathetic orchestration. 

Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra receive an excellent SACD recording from the Bass Performance Hall, Fort Worth, Texas and there are useful booklet notes.