Thursday 23 February 2017

Performances to lift the spirits from violist Herbert Kefer and Symphonieorchester Vorarlberg on a new release from Nimbus of works for viola and orchestra by Telemann, Weber, Andreas Baksa and Bruch

Nimbus  have just released a recording by violist, Herbert Kefer with Symphonieorchester Vorarlberg conducted by Martin Kerschbaum of works for viola and orchestra that span the 18th to 21st centuries by Telemann, Weber, Andreas Baksa and Bruch.

NI 5961
Herbert Kefer (b. 1960) was born in Eisenerz, Austria and received his first musical education on the violin. He went on to study with Prof.Karl Frischenschlager in Leoben and with Prof.Karl Stierhof at the University of Music in Vienna.

In 1980, together with 3 colleagues, he founded the Artis-Quartet, spending a year in Cincinnati, Ohio with the LaSalle-Quartet. There followed an international career including concerts at all well-known festivals  such as the Salzburger Festspiele, the Schubertiade Feldkirch, the Wiener Festwochen and the Casals Festival. With the Artis-Quartet he made around 30 CDs some of which received the Grand Prix du Disque or the Diapason d´Or. In 1991 Herbert Kefer was appointed to the Viola class at the University of Music in Graz/Institution Oberschuetzen. He is in demand as a soloist as well as a sought after partner for chamber music performances. From 2005-2010 he was director of the Weinklang-Festival.

Symphonieorchester Vorarlberg bring a nicely laid out opening to the Largo of Georg Philipp Telemann’s (1681-1767) Concerto in G minor for viola and string orchestra with the harpsichord continuo gently sounding through. When he joins, Herbert Kefer brings a quite beautiful tone with the orchestra and soloist dovetailing beautifully in the little rising motif, very finely shaped. They provide a lively, buoyant Allegro with some crisply phrased playing, Kefer handling all the twists and turns wonderfully, retaining a lovely rich tone before a beautifully turned Andante where soloist and orchestra demonstrate a great rapport, the soloist adding subtle expression. In the Presto Kefer brings viola playing of the highest order with both soloist and orchestra providing a terrific rhythmic lift. This fine violist negotiates the fast phrases with a terrific panache and still with that lovely tone.

A performance to lift the spirits.

Kefer’s fine tone is to the fore in the beautifully shaped Andante of Carl Maria von Weber’s (1786-1826) Andante and Rondo Ungarese, Op.35 for viola and orchestra, the soloist adding lovely little rhythmic pointing, weaving some lovely passages with the orchestra. Here the viola really sings. The Rondo Ungarese is rhythmically sprung, full of good humour and Hungarian flavour. The soloist brings a playfulness to so many moments, finding some lovely timbres and maintaining a fine tone across the viola’s range.

Andreas Baksa (1950-2016) was born in Romania and studied with Bartok before later moving to the West. His Viola Pannonica for viola and string orchestra is a late work, commissioned by and premiered at the Weinklang Festival in May 2010.

The Allegro moderato opens earnestly in the orchestra, with a very Hungarian flavour to which the soloist soon adds some particularly fine textures before the music falls back to become quieter and slower. The music leaps up again with Kefer and the orchestra weaving some terrific ideas, string orchestra and soloist blending and weaving the music brilliantly with a lovely forward rhythmic drive. Later a broader, more flowing melody arrives, quite beautiful, to which the viola adds some lovely decorations. There are some wonderfully rich, mahogany phrases from the viola before picking up slowly to find the earlier rhythmic drive.

The music quietens to lead into the Andante where soloist and orchestra bring a quite affecting melody. There are some lovely textures and harmonies between soloist and orchestra and some fine rich timbres from the soloist before a brief solo passage for viola. Soon the viola and orchestra move gently forward, interrupted by occasional orchestral outbursts, with the soloist finding a momentary faster flow. There are moments of increased passion, beautifully done by this soloist before a sudden waltz is announced by the orchestra to which the viola joins, both providing a rhythmically buoyant lift. There is a brief fast and furious section before calm returns with lovely harmonies from the viola over shimmering strings in a particularly lovely moment. The music moves through some gypsy style Hungarian flourishes where Kefer delivers some quite wonderful playing before strange harmonies appear leading to an exquisite coda.

We are taken into a fast moving Allegro vivace, full of tremendous harmonies and textures, darting through a variety of ideas, full of Hungarian rhythms. This soloist often brings terrific, free and spontaneous touches, dancing through some tremendous passages with both soloist and orchestra providing brilliant playing with razor sharp phrasing.  There are moments of gentler repose as well as varying rhythmic ideas before a brief solo passage. The music soon takes off,  quickly heading to a terrific buoyant coda.

This is a sprawling yet highly attractive work. Whilst there are times, especially in the Allegro moderato, where Bartok is an obvious influence, this is a wholly engaging work, full of invention and colour.

Max Bruch’s (1838-1920) Romanze in F major, Op.85 for viola and orchestra makes a lovely conclusion to this disc with both orchestra and soloist bringing much beauty. Kefer provides an exquisite tone that adds so much to this finely paced performance that allow Bruch’s distinctive themes and harmonies to breathe. The music rises through some very fine passages where, as in all the works on this disc, Kefer lifts them and brings them alive. A real joy.

The recording is excellent with a real presence and there are useful booklet notes, mainly concerning Andreas Baksa, from the soloist.

A video of Andreas Baksa’s Viola Pannonica for viola and string orchestra can be seen on Youtube at the following link:

Friday 17 February 2017

A much welcome release of Daniel Jones’ Symphonies 1 and 10 from Lyrita, first fruit of a new licensing agreement with the BBC which will see Symphonies 2, 3, 5, 11 and 12 appear during 2017/18 all with the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra conducted by Bryden Thomson

The Welsh composer, (1912-1993) was born in Pembroke to a father, Jenkyn Jones, who was a composer and a mother who was a singer. Against this background the young Jones developed quickly, writing several piano sonatas by the age of nine.  

Whilst attending Bishop Gore School in Swansea he established a close friendship with the poet Dylan Thomas. He went on to study English literature at Swansea University, leaving in 1935 to study music at the Royal Academy of Music in London where his teachers included Sir Henry Wood and Harry Farjeon. It was his winning the Mendelssohn Scholarship that allowed him to study in Czechoslovakia, France, the Netherlands and Germany. In the period leading up to World War II he composed his first large-scale orchestral works, Symphonic Prologue and Five Pieces for Orchestra.  

During the War he served as a captain in the Intelligence Corps at Bletchley Park using his linguistic abilities as a cryptographer and a decoder of Russian, Romanian and Japanese texts.

After the war Jones wrote his First Symphony (1947). Thereafter most of his compositions were written to commission with requests from the Festival of Britain, the Swansea Festival, the Royal National Eisteddfod, the BBC, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Llandaff Festival. Between 1945 and 1985 he composed his series of twelve symphonies; each centred on one semi-tone of the chromatic scale. In 1992 came his unnumbered Symphony in Memoriam John Fussell (effectively his 13th symphony). Jones’ compositions also include concertos, eight string quartets, four cantatas, an oratorio and two operas.

In the 1030s Jones devised his own compositional system of Complex Metres or alternating metrical patterns, involving irregular time signatures. He gave Purcell as a leading influence, as well as Berlioz, Elgar and Janáček and Haydn.

Daniel Jones was awarded an OBE in 1968. He died in Swansea in 1993.

Whilst Chandos recorded Jones’ Complete String Quartets with the Delme String Quartet in 1996 (CHAN 9535), his symphonies have fared less well. Lyrita released recordings of his Sixth and Ninth Symphonies in 1996 (SRCD326) and the Fourth, Seventh and Eight Symphonies on CD in 2007 (SRCD329). Since then nothing has appeared.

Now the good news is that Lyrita have entered into an agreement with the BBC to issue BBC broadcast recordings of Symphonies Nos 1, 2, 3, 5, 10, 11 and 12 with the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra conducted by Bryden Thomson for release in 2017/18. The first fruit of this new licensing agreement is the release of Daniel Jones’ Symphonies 1 and 10.

SRCD 358

Daniel Jones began his Symphony No.1 (1947) in 1944, whilst still serving in the army. The complete work was premiered at the 1949 Swansea Festival by the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by the composer. Scored for large orchestra it is in the usual four movements.

Allegro moderato opens with tentative phrases from the lower orchestra before rising through the orchestra as the theme is developed. There are some lovely, sudden woodwind flourishes with the music growing more dramatic as brass sound out. The music moves through passages of passionate forward flow as it develops subtly. Soon there is a lovely passage for oboe and other woodwind, a reflective moment before whipping up greater passion and drama to a terrific climax. There is a fine working out of the material of the opening motif with some particularly fleet string counterpoint as the development continues before slowly bringing a more gentle and settled statement of the opening motif to close.

Movement II does not have a tempo marking but is effectively the slow movement where deep bass intone as the strings bring a rich slow, passionate theme. Soon the music drops back to ruminate in the basses before heaving itself through passages of desolate beauty, first in the woodwind then for strings, growing in power yet with the brass still bringing a deep gloom. An oboe appears over pulsating strings in a plaintive theme, taken by the orchestra. An insistent rhythmic section appears before a bassoon quietly takes the theme over gently pulsating strings. The music develops through a variety of instrumental combinations, beautifully woven, slowly gaining in strength again as brass join. Later there is a quieter, rather melancholy section that builds in passion but again fades away into a quieter sadness. The music builds again with dominant brass to a peak where the theme is boldly, dramatically and insistently stated before falling to a quiet coda on an unresolved chord.

The Scherzo. Allegro moderato has a rather lighter, buoyant theme that dances ahead with little flute flourishes before slowly becoming more incisive as the rhythmic theme moves forward. The music develops through a variety of ideas, always with a light air with further lovely woodwind moments. There is a central trio section with a more flowing theme for strings, punctuated by brass and woodwind before the opening theme returns to dance to the decisive coda.

The basses open the Finale. Allegro, soon joined by woodwind in a slow, quite lovely theme, that gains more of a forward flow. The strings bring back a slower, more thoughtful section through which individual strings weave before rising on a trumpet call only to return to the slow string theme, albeit with a little more passion. The music suddenly finds a faster, rhythmically bouncing theme to move forward with some terrific orchestral details as woodwind, pizzicato strings and brass have their moment. Later the basses bring a slow section through which woodwind appear, slowly gaining in tempo and dynamics as the music moves through some terrific rapid, razor sharp string phrases. Eventually the music slows again for a passionate string melody, slowly moving forward, beautifully shaped, through shifting harmonies before bouncing ahead again, gaining in energy with brass and woodwind to a sudden declamatory coda.

Whilst not as concise as Jones’ later symphonies this is, nevertheless, a very fine first symphony. Given how welcome this recording is it seems almost churlish to mention that the stereo recording is rather grainy and lacks focus but is perfectly acceptable.

We jump forward nearly 35 years to the Symphony No.10 (1981) commissioned by the Llandaff Festival of Music and premiered by the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Charles Groves that year.

Though much more concise it is, nevertheless, in four movements. A bell chimes before the orchestra and then sounds out dramatically in a series of impassioned outcries to introduce Solenne. The music falls back to a quieter passage yet still with an underlying tension. There is a further bell chime that heralds a passage of shifting, tense development. Here the symphonic argument is much more taut, yet with all of Jones’ distinctive orchestral detail. There are further dramatic outcries as the music sweeps forward. A brief quieter passage precedes a searingly dramatic coda.

A side drum and timpani announce a fast moving, rather syncopated theme in the Minacciando that thrusts ahead full of drama and confidence, building in waves to a forthright end.  

Serioso brings pizzicato basses that are responded to by the other lower strings. Brass join as the music rises with the strings bringing a fine melody that has a melancholy edge. A flute joins and other woodwind, bringing some lovely harmonies and sonorities.  Percussion add brilliance and colour as the music rises further, developing with a great weight through which individual instruments appear. Midway there is a moment of quiet stillness before the music rises again only to fall and rise in a passionate string passage. Pizzicato strings return, with the brass to lead to the coda where the music loses its force to end quietly.

In the concluding Agitato percussion point up the opening as the orchestra surges forward in waves. Pizzicato strings lighten the texture briefly but soon the music again thunders dramatically forward. There are bell chimes before brass and timpani sound out. The woodwind add phrases before a dynamic, resolute coda.

This is a terrific symphony, not a note too long, full of wonderful ideas and orchestration. I am pleased to say that the recording is in every way superior, vivid, detailed and better balanced.

That very fine conductor the late Brydon Thomson really had the measure of these symphonies. There are very useful booklet notes. 

Thank you Lyrita and the BBC – I await the next instalment with anticipation.

Monday 13 February 2017

Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra are on absolutely top form concluding a Tchaikovsky Symphony cycle that must rank amongst the very best on this new release from Onyx

Last July,Onyx Classics issued thrilling performances of Tchaikovsky’s Symphonies 1, 2 and 5 from Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra .

To conclude Petrenko’s Tchaikovsky symphony cycle Onyx  have just released another 2 CD set containing Symphonies 3, 4 and 6.

ONYX 4162

CD1 opens with Symphony No. 4 in F Minor Op. 36 where the brass sound out vividly in the opening Andante Sostenuto, beautifully paced, growing organically with some fine individual instrumental touches, particularly from the woodwind. Later there is a dangerously slow tempo that nevertheless works perfectly, bringing a mesmerising moment, contrasting wonderfully when the music quickly picks up in tempo and dynamics. There is some wonderfully incisive playing, bringing tremendous excitement, a real sense of urgency developing, culminating in some very fine string playing.

The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic achieve some lovely sonorities in the Andantino in modo di canzona as Petrenko beautifully moulds and shapes the music. There are some exquisite woodwind passages blossoming out of the orchestral texture as the music slowly and subtly builds, as well as some rich textures from lower strings, with slower passages finding a withdrawn beauty.

There follows a simply superb Scherzo - Pizzicato ostinato. Allegro with the theme launched by the pizzicato strings in some terrific playing, wonderfully nuanced before the Allegro brings some very fine, virtuosic woodwind and more terrific pizzicato passages before a particularly fine coda.

There is no lack of dynamism in the opening of the Finale - Allegro con fuoco with Petrenko and the RLPO providing an underlying sense of tension before whipping up quite a storm with some simply stunning playing. They build much tension and passion before hurtling to a stunning coda.

This is as fine a Tchaikovsky Fourth as you are likely to hear.

The Moderato assai (Tempo di marcia funebre) of Symphony No. 3 in D Major 'Polish' Op. 29 emerges with great sensitivity and subtlety before rising to move more incisively forward, through some very fine passages, shot through with Tchaikovsky’s wonderful orchestration, vividly revealed by the RLPO where they bring pin point accuracy.  Some wonderfully dramatic, incisive passages are built, shot through with moments of exquisite melodic beauty.

There is a light and perfectly paced Alla Tedesca (Allegro moderato e semplice) with a balletic opening, so wonderfully poised. The orchestra weave some wonderful passages for woodwind and strings, beautifully done.

The Andante elegiaco of Symphony No. 3 opens Disc 2 with fine textures from the woodwind and Petrenko a real Slavic nostalgia, slowly growing as the lovely melody expands, finding a greater urgency. This conductor shapes the music quite wonderfully with so many fine details revealed before the beautifully atmospheric coda.

There is a quicksilver, beautifully transparent Scherzo - Allegro vivo with such light textures, beautifully laid out, rising through some fine little peaks before the Finale - Allegro con fuoco (Tempo di Polacca) opens purposefully, pushing ahead powerfully and incisively. There are some very fine development passages and a wonderfully subtle forward drive before a perfectly balanced central section, finely controlled. Petrenko and his players take us through some lovely passages where Tchaikovsky weaves a terrific orchestral canvas, culminating in a brilliant coda.

This is certainly a really very fine Tchaikovsky Third.

Finally we arrive at the Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, 'Pathétique' Op. 74. How does one approach this tremendous work? It is obvious that Petrenko has this music in his soul, finding a way to avoid an overblown rush through this wonderful score.

The Adagio – Allegro non troppo rises out of darkness as the music tries to rise. It finds a light and fleet forward movement yet just hear how Petrenko maintains an underlying nervous tension as the music develops and rises up. Slowly the big tune emerges, restrained and laden with emotion, alleviated by moments where the woodwind emerge,  breaking out into more excitable passages that bring a tremendous emotion and energy, all the more impactful after the restraint that went before. Petrenko moves the music through passages laden with feeling, bringing waves of emotion so when the coda arrives Tchaikovsky seems to have exhausted himself.

But no, what follows in the Allegro con grazia has a lovely rhythmic swirl with a natural forward movement that, nevertheless, seems to subtly gain a nervous tension. Petrenko shows just how to shape this music as he allows the music to fall gently back to a quiet, restrained coda.

The Allegro molto vivace scurries ahead full of nervous energy through which the main theme emerges, rising in drama before the theme is heard fully. There is more superb playing from the RLPO revealing more of Tchaikovsky’s fine orchestration with so many lovely, finely controlled details. The music rises again, spectacularly as the theme now pushes confidently ahead, Petrenko and the RLPO bringing a real incisiveness and weight to a tremendous conclusion.

The Finale - Adagio lamentoso enters with a passionate appeal from the strings soon followed by a melancholy string passage that rises again, wonderfully caught here. Petrenko knows just how to capture the depth of Tchaikovsky’s emotional state. The strings of the RLPO are on tremendous form as the music rises and falls through an ever fluctuating mixture of emotions before rising to a terrific peak. There is a passage of desolate beauty before the music falls through the most despairing of moments to the hushed coda.

This is one of the most affecting Tchaikovsky Sixth’s I have heard. 

Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra are on absolutely top form concluding a Tchaikovsky Symphony cycle that must rank amongst the very best. They are exceptionally well recorded at Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall, UK and there are useful notes from Jeremy Nicholas.

Saturday 11 February 2017

The latest release from Sheva Contemporary of Peter Seabourne’s Steps – An Anthology for Piano Volume 1 brings contemporary piano music that really speaks to the listener

British composer, Peter Seabourne’s (b. 1960)  ongoing anthology entitled Steps has reached five volumes, recordings of which are all now available from Sheva Contemporary following the release of Steps – An Anthology for Piano Volume 1;.htm performed by Minjeong Shin

SH 168

Steps are what the composer calls ‘a compositional travelling companion’ begun in 2001 and projected to run throughout the composer’s life. Volume 1 opens appropriately with Greeting! where a bell like motif sounds out, dancing around and broadening through some terrific rhythms, full of light, set over deeper chords for left hand.

Still recalls a funeral of gondolas in Venice with rolling chords for left hand over which a theme slowly climbs up through passages that bring a rocking motion, interspersed by the most lovely, thoughtful moments that generate much atmosphere. There are some beautifully fluid phrases as well as more violent passages of increasing passion before a sombre, hushed coda.

It was a poem by Swinburne, Before the Mirror that inspired The Little White Girl where a girl ponders her reflection in the mirror, wondering about the future. It brings a delicate theme of melancholy reflection that is developed through some wonderful passages of varying dynamics and rhythms, this pianist responding to every sudden mood change before returning to the faltering melancholy of the opening. This is a particularly distinctive piece.

El Suspiro del Moro (The Moor's Sigh) draws on the architecture and history of Granada, its title referring to the legend of King Boabdil, the last Moorish king whom having been driven out by the Christians is said to have looked back over his beloved city and wept. It opens slowly with a tentative theme that slowly expands and develops, beautifully shaped by this pianist. The music moves through richer textures before falling back to the tentative phrases of the opening.  One can hear a distinctively Iberian flavour emerging in the intervals as the music develops through some beautifully translucent, fluid passages, slowly gaining in passion. Indeed, it is impressive how the Iberian flavoured theme weaves through so many subtle variations with passages of transparent, delicate beauty. Quite wonderful. Midway it finds a faster, rhythmic pace, a rapid fragmented rhythm that constantly varies, dancing around with some exceptionally fine playing from Shin. The music grows ever more dramatic before finding a longer line to quieten and slow before growing again in power and anguish, only to conclude quietly and introspectively.

This is a particularly fine work, brilliantly played by this pianist.

Split the Lark (2001) was inspired by a poem by Emily Dickenson which describes how, ‘once the shell is cracked open, the concealed musical essence is discovered and comes flooding out.’ It moves from a delicate opening through bars of increasingly complex harmonies, always varying rhythm. Midway finds a gentler pace only to speed through faster, more dramatic passages before falling to a hush as the theme is quietly developed again. It slowly finds greater power, particularly in the left hand, before fading in the coda.  

Suspended Journeys (2003-04) is described by the composer as ‘almost a little three movement sonata which tries to combine the idea of forward movement with a paradoxical sense of stasis; journeys that have somehow failed to reach their destination.’ 19, partly inspired by the energy of Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus B.1

No.19, rises out of the depths, moving forward in ever increasing surges through some remarkably fine harmonies and textures, richly woven and gaining in power. There are moments of gentler development before the more powerful version of the theme emerges deep in the left hand, pushing rhythmically forward, gaining in tempo, the music racing around through bars of terrific propulsion before the coda arrives.

Black is nocturne like, opening with a gently swaying, two note motif that soon rises and develops with an undercurrent of something more unsettling. Here again this pianist’s phrasing is impeccable. The music finds a greater strength with dissonant chords insistently sounding out before regaining its gentle swaying flow. It rises again through dynamic harmonies before quietening through some lovely, transparent textures to a haunting coda. 

A Touch brings a toccata, which is built through layers as it develops, darting around, with a sense of unstoppable drive. Later it finds a rhythmic spring with greater strength, particularly in the left hand before finding the opening lighter textures to dart to the hesitant little coda.

The second of these two CDs opens with Little Scene where limpid phrases gently trickle forward, occasionally underpinned by deeper left hand chords, chords that later help to develop the music through a richer, stronger passage through which is heard a lovely melody. The piece develops through some very fine moments of tremendous invention, gaining in strength before falling back to gently find its way to a quiet coda. This is a quite lovely piece, beautifully conceived.

The composer describes Over the Ocean as having ‘the sense of a sea voyage, of casting out towards the unreachable horizon.’ It opens powerfully with strong chords sounding out as the theme is slowly revealed. It falls back momentarily only for the massive chords to return bringing contrasting images of the sea. The lower chords threaten to rise up but a tense calm prevails. Soon the music does rise again with aggressive, powerful left hand chords over which the right hand brings broader phrases. A gentle, rather withdrawn passage takes us to the coda where hints of the deeper chords are heard.

Awake! the composer tells us, brings ‘a feeling of Spring – the awakening re-birth dance of Persephone.’ A two note motif is developed through often staccato phrases that bring sudden rhythmic changes, darting through mercurial passages to a quixotic coda, brilliantly played by Shin. This would make a great encore piece.

The Sun – just touched the Morning! is another piece inspired by an Emily Dickinson poem.  It slowly finds its way forward through tentative bars, slowly gaining in breadth and complexity, through some wonderfully expansive passages with this pianist finding a lovely longer line until falling to peter out.

In Winter was intended for younger or amateur pianists, the six pieces taking, as their starting point, poems by Stefan George and Sylvia Plath. Im Windesweben (In the murmuring wind) brings a chilled atmosphere with faster short phrases. Trills interrupting the flow before momentarily richer chords appear only to fall to the coda. A rocking motion slowly develops in An Baches Ranft (At the edge of the brook) as the music moves through some rather melancholy bars before Winter Landscape with Rocks brings a more powerful forward driving idea, full of complex harmonies.

Noch zwingt mich treue (I am constrained to be faithful) reveals a gentle, delicate idea that is slowly developed through some exquisite moments with the most beautifully conceived harmonies. The Lark in Winter has a buoyant, rhythmic skip as this jolly little theme skips forward. A quite lovely theme unfolds in The Rose in Winter, slowly and gently finding its way forward.

After the opening Greeting what better than Trois Petits Adieux (2001). Written as a parting gift for a talented pupil of a friend it opens with crotchet = 76, bringing an insistent motif that is overlaid by a little theme with some lovely harmonies and dissonances. Playful yet poignant has a rapid theme that skips ahead in hesitant little phrases, simple yet finely constructed before Sombre where chords from the lower keyboard open to which a light, delicate theme joins, finding a greater flow later. 

There are many fine pieces here that deserve a place in any recital. I do hope that lovers of contemporary piano music, particularly music that really speaks to the listener, will explore this fine new release. These are impressive performances from Minjeong Shin who receives an excellent recording. There are informative booklet notes from the composer.

Friday 10 February 2017

Impressive performances from the Leonore Piano Trio and Gemma Rosefield on a new release from Toccata Classics of David Matthew’s Piano Trios and Journeying Songs for solo cello

Toccata Classics have already released a series of recordings of David Matthews’ String Quartets not to mention volume one of Music for Solo Violin and Music for Piano that includes his Piano Concerto and Piano Sonata.

Now Toccata Classics have released a recording of David Matthews’ Complete Piano Trios (to date) performed by the Leonore Piano Trio  with Gemma Rosefield performing Journeying Songs, Op. 95 for solo cello.

TOCC 0369
David Matthews’ Piano Trio No. 1, Op. 34 (1983) was commissioned by Trio Zingara with funds from the Arts Council of Great Britain and first performed by them at the Purcell Room, London, UK in June 1984. In four movements, the piano introduces the slow opening Lento to which the strings bring a descending motif before soon picking up a pace to rush quickly forward in the Allegro moderato. These players bring a fine spring to the music that constantly seeks to find the opening calm yet always leaps up to move quickly forward through some terrific passages before seeming to find a peace in the curious coda.

The violin opens the Allegretto: Drily humorous with a repeated chord, responded to by the cello before the piano joins, all three players finding a lovely dialogue. Soon a broader passage emerges, yet the piano’s staccato chords return the air of playfulness, as do the string players in certain strange phrases, hinting at a more sinister undercurrent. Later on there are richer string chords, soon overtaken by a rhythmic pizzicato violin motif over a rich cello line before the piano has a final say in the coda. The Adagio has a fine melody for the strings that is overlaid by gentle piano chords as this lovely movement slowly finds its way forward, each instrument adding its own depth of feeling, combining to bring lovely textures. The music tries to rise, led by the piano but continues its exquisite way forward. These players find the most lovely sensitivity in the hushed phrases before a more passionate edge momentarily appears. The gentler nature returns with the piano leading over hushed harmonics that draw the movement to a gentle close.

The Molto moderato opens gently with a three note piano motif to which the cello, then violin gently add a melody, gorgeously played by this Trio. The violin takes the three note motif around which the piano and cello wind the varied melody. It is quite wonderful how Matthews draws so many fine ideas from this simple figure, rising in passion a little before the gentle coda.                                      

The Chagall Trio commissioned Piano Trio No. 2, Op. 61 (1993) with funds from the Arts Council of Great Britain, giving its premiere at the Assembly House, Norwich, Norfolk, UK as part of the Norwich Festival in October 1993.

Again in four movements, the Allegro opens with a blustery theme, full of energy, rising through some incisive bars as the idea is developed with the Leonore Piano Trio bringing terrific ensemble and precision before a sudden unresolved conclusion.  

The Adagio is a memorial piece for the composer’s partner, the writer Maggie Hemingway. The piano slowly opens with the violin bringing a long drawn line, a fine melody. The cello joins adding a lovely depth before the music rises a little in dynamics with these players bringing some quite wonderful textures and harmonies. The music moves through a haunting, slow, hushed section before finding more of a forward flow and gaining in richness and dynamics, bringing a real passion. Eventually the music drops to a hushed, gentle moment that leads back to the former gentle flow before a hushed coda.

The Scherzo: Molto allegro brings an urgency as the players play a rather syncopated, frantic theme that hurtles forward with insistent phrases. Soon there are broad piano chords over the desperate strings before a middle section where the theme is varied. Finally the music picks up to hurtle forward to the coda.

There are light, gossamer harmonies from the strings in the opening of the Allegro moderato - Andante con moto – Presto to which the piano brings little repeated notes and out of which emerges a rather anguished melody. The music finds a kind of entranced calm with some lovely details before a faster section for piano with pizzicato violin. Eventually the music rushes forward with beautifully light textures to the coda. This is a particularly fine trio.

Piano Trio No. 3, Op. 97 (2005) was commissioned by the Leasowes Bank Festival, Shropshire, UK and first performed by the Chamber Music Company in July 2005.

In two movements, the piano brings a lively motif in the opening of the Con vivacità that is quickly varied and taken up by the cello before all three share the theme. This trio finds some lovely textures and sonorities with the theme in its various guises, fairly leaping up each time out of the more restrained moments. There are fine broad intervals whilst always keeping a bubbling energy. Later the violin winds the lovely melody, rising to the heights before all three bring about a slow, finely controlled, hushed coda.

The piano brings a languid theme with some lovely dissonances appearing in the Andante moderato to which the cello adds a deep, rich tone, soon joined by the violin in what is a quite wonderful melody, finding lovely textures. The music suddenly drops to a hushed passage with the strings finding much anguished beauty before rising, only to fall to another hushed passage. These players find much feeling as they develop through terrific textures and harmonies. The music reaches a brief dynamic peak before falling back into a Presto section where the passion is let loose as the music rushes headlong through some terrific bars. But it is the languid pace that prevails right to the end.

The Leonore Piano Trio’s cellist, Gemma Rosefield brings a very fine performance of Journeying Songs, Op. 95 for solo cello (2004/08) to conclude this disc.

Song for Judith: Robusto was commissioned by the Hampstead and Highgate Festival with funds from the John S Cohen Foundation and is dedicated to Judith Weir on her 50th birthday. Strummed chords open around which Gemma Rosefield brings some lovely rich textures before developing through passages that have subtle Eastern inflections, whilst the strummed chords often create a rather Iberian flavour. This music allows so much opportunity for expression from the soloist in passages of varying textures with Gemma Rosefield extracting so much from her instrument.  Later the music picks up the pace in a fast moving section with rapid phrases, brilliantly played here, gaining in passion. Towards the end there are rapid harmonics before slowing and quietening for a thoughtful coda, a Pastoral where strummed chords conclude.

Song for Elaine: Poco lento e quieto was written for the Chief Editor at Faber Music, Elaine Gould. Gemma Rosefield draws a long slow line as this reflective melody expands through more passionate moments to a quiet coda on plucked chords.

Song for Gemma: Andante trasognato - Allegro appassionato was composed for the soloist here, Gemma Rosefield. It has a plaintive melody that is soon interrupted by more energetic, dynamics phrases. This piece ranges across the cello, extracting many fine textures, sonorities and varying tonal qualities through passages of great passion and momentum.

Gemma Rosefield is an excellent advocate of this brilliant work.

There are some wonderful works here, impressively played, containing some of Matthews’ finest music. They receive excellent recordings and there are informative notes from the composer.

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Monday 6 February 2017

A most welcome release from Centaur Records of some very attractive piano works by Jack Gallagher, wonderfully played by Frank Huang

In November 2015 I was pleased to review a Naxos release of Jack Gallagher’s very fine  Symphony No. 2, ‘Ascendant’ performed by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by JoAnn Falletta

Now from Centaur Records comes an equally fine recording of piano music by Jack Gallagher played by Frank Huang

CRC 3522

This new recording brings works that range across the composer’s career to date, from 1971 to 2014 commencing with Gallagher’s Sonata for Piano (1973/2005). Dedicated to his wife, the sonata received its first performance in April 1973 by pianist Lawrence Schubert at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

In three movements, the Allegro vivo opens fluently and buoyantly with Frank Huang finding a lovely forward momentum. A slower second section soon follows before moments of increased volatility, developing through passages of more complexity before finding more of the opening flow to lead to a decisive coda. A leisurely Andante follows to which Huang brings a fine touch, beautifully shaped and gently rising to some exquisite peaks. There are some lovely limpid phrases before, centrally, finding much passion as indeed the music does later until leading to a hushed coda. The Allegro energico rises purposefully before finding a gentler flow. The drama of the opening soon returns and it is this contrast of two elements that pervades with this pianist providing some thrilling playing.

This is a most engaging sonata that receives a particularly fine performance.

Evening Music (1998/2009) was premiered by Laura Silverman at the College of Wooster, Ohio in April 2008. Broad expansive phrases open before more dynamic moments occur. Huang brings a real richness to many parts of this atmospheric piece with some lovely gentle harmonies.

The Sonatina for Piano (1976/2008) was first performed in January 1978 by Lawrence Schubert in the McGaw Chapel, The College of Wooster. It is in three movements with an Allegro assai that brings a fast, forward moving, jaunty theme that works through some terrific little variations. Again it is Huang’s fine phrasing and fluency that adds so much, often finding a terrific rhythmic buoyancy.  There is a fine breadth to the Andante cantabile (Berceuse) as it makes its way leisurely forward with Huang revealing so many colours and rich tones. The concluding Vivo has a dancing delicacy soon interrupted by more dynamic moments. The music soon finds a brief moment of more rhythmic thrust before dancing forward again. There are more moments of dynamic contrast before the music moves quickly to the coda.

Nocturne (1976/2008) was premiered by Jeri-Mae Astolfi at the American Swedish Institute, Minneapolis, Minnesota in April 2008. There is a lovely gentle rubato to this peaceful work, a gentle sway, with perhaps hints of a French influence. The music is developed through some beautiful passages with Huang revealing some lovely little decorations and details. Rising in dynamics occasionally it later moves through a lovely descending passage that leads to moments of great delicacy in the more florid moments. Eventually the opening gentler sway returns but not without a brief passionate moment before the gentle coda.

This is a quite beautiful piece wonderfully played by Huang.

The Six Bagatelles (1979) were first performed by the composer for the Bellville, Ohio Music Club but received their first public performance by Amy Breneman at the College of Wooster. Intrada leaps in, full of energy; with a strong rhythmic pulse, before a brief gentler section that soon gives way as the music leaps ahead to a brisk coda. The second Bagatelle is the same Berceuse as appears in the second movement of Gallagher’s Sonatina for Piano. The Capriccietta has a lively spring to which Huang brings a lovely touch, beautifully shaped before a rather lovely Canzone Semplice that is full of gentle melancholy, pointed up by lovely phrasing. The Arietta is equally gentle, with a stronger surge before its gentle coda. Finally there is a Rondino that has a fine rhythmic opening that soon gives way to a rolling, broader section that rises in strength before the opening rhythm returns for the coda.
The short Pastorale (1978) was published as part of Three Short Waltzes. It takes a gentle walking pace with a gentle rhythm, full of nostalgia, beautifully written.

Six Pieces for Kelly (1989) received their first complete public performance by the composer at the Tuesday Musical Club of Akron, Ohio in September 1995. Intended for young performers there is a piquant little March, a slow, rather faltering Lullaby, exquisitely shaped, a lively Piping Song with a Scotch snap and the sound of a drone, a flowing, rather French Chanson d’Insouciance, a slow beautiful Folksong with a rather wistful in nature and a brief strident, fast moving Balkan Dance.

These are wonderful little pieces showing this composer’s gift for writing for all levels of ability whilst bringing beauty and interest.

Malambo Nouveau (2000/2009) originated as an encore piece for the composer and organist Carson Cooman. In its new and expanded form it was premiered by pianist Angelin Chang for the Steinway Society of Western Pennsylvania in Pittsburgh in September 2009. The piece picks up rather well after the Balkan Dance with dissonances and complex harmonies, brilliantly handled by Huang. It moves through some terrific passages, full of intricacies and fast, fluent writing, brilliantly played here.

Happy Birthday, April (1976/2014), written for the composer’s wife brings a lighter feel, an attractive flowing melody taken through some lovely variations.

This is a most welcome release of some very attractive works, wonderfully played by Frank Huang. The recording made at the WFMT Studios, Chicago is exceptional, setting the soloist in a natural acoustic. 

With booklet notes from the composer this makes a very attractive release. 

Sunday 5 February 2017

Some tremendous works for bassoon and orchestra by Finnish composers Sebastian Fagerlund and Kalevi Aho on a new release from BIS featuring bassoonist Bram van Sambeek

What a good idea it was for BIS Records to couple together works for bassoon by two distinguished Finnish composers, Sebastian Fagerlund and Kalevi Aho.

This new SACD release neatly bookends solo pieces for bassoon with bassoon concerti by each composer performed with bassoonist, Bram van Sambeek with the Lahti Symphony Orchestra conducted by Okko Kamu and Dima Slobodeniouk

BIS - 2206 SACD

Recipient of Finland's most renowned music prize, the Teosto Prize, Sebastian Fagerlund (b. 1972) is currently composer-in-residence at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. Mana, concerto for bassoon and orchestra (2013/14) was commissioned jointly by the Gothenburg and Lahti Symphony Orchestras and the Borletti-Buitoni Trust for the soloist here, Bram van Sambeek. In Finnish Mana suggests invocation whereas in Swedish it alludes to death and exorcism. Percussion and brass open with some fine textures to which the soloist immediately adds rising and falling, earthy phrases. The orchestra soon expands to provide an atmospheric accompaniment over which the bassoon plays some remarkable textures. Soon there is an orchestral passage where some terrific textures are woven by the Lahti players. They slowly increase the tempo and drama before the bassoon returns in a section of more delicate little phrases pointed up by percussion. The music builds passages of tremendous power before falling away to a slow section where the soloist rises and falls over a gentle orchestral accompaniment creating some lovely sounds and great atmosphere.

I particularly love the way Fagerlund floats different instruments of the orchestra through the orchestral texture. Bram van Sambeek provides a wonderful tone and some fine textures and sonorities, rising through some tremendous passages before arriving at the cadenza where this soloist brings more fine sonorities combined with some brilliant virtuosic techniques. When the orchestra returns, a rhythmic tempo emerges around which the soloist weaves a ritualistic line. The music is shot through with fine orchestration and, as the pace quickens, timpani keep the rhythmic beat, building through some frantic moments until suddenly quietening and slowing for the bassoon to weave the melody around the orchestra to a quiet coda.  

This is a highly original concerto of considerable invention. Both soloist and the Lahti Symphony Orchestra conducted by Okko Kamu provide a tremendous performance.

Fagerlund’s Woodlands for bassoon solo (2012) was a preparation for his concerto Mana. Written for Bram van Sambeek, the composer states that the work sprang from an abstract idea of a mystical realm. The soloist suddenly rises up with a theme that is repeated through a variety of textures and ideas, van Sambeek providing terrific control and flexibility as he works through so many different textures, sonorities and techniques. There are many fine little details as well as some quite magical quieter moments perfectly caught here. There is a passage of rapid virtuosic flexibility and technique with a quite remarkable variety of sounds that Fagerlund asks his soloist to provide, making for a terrific development of a theme that never flags for one second.

One of Finland’s most distinguished composers, Kalevi Aho was appointed the Lahti Symphony Orchestra’s composer-in-residence in 1992 and its honorary composer in 2011. Solo V for bassoon (1999) was written for Harri Ahmas, solo bassoonist of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, and premiered in Munich in November 1999. Bram van Sambeek opens this challenging work with some deep, ripe notes before developing through some wonderfully characterised phrases that seem to bring out the sound of human feelings and emotion. This soloist reveals some terrific tones as bassoon notes are ‘spat’ out staccato fashion, weaving through quickly changing ideas with passages of rapid, fluent playing. Throughout all the variety of ideas and techniques runs a continuing melody revealed in its many guises, creating individual sounds and motifs before a sudden end.

Aho’s Concerto for bassoon and orchestra was written for the bassoonist, Bence Bogányi who premieres the work with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra. The composer speaks of wishing to expand the solo instrument’s sonic and expressive possibilities. In four movements the Andante opens with a wonderful blend of sonorities from the orchestral brass and solo bassoon, beautifully done. They develop through a lovely melody with subtle varied phrases. Aho blends soloist and orchestra so well in passages of deep sonorous notes as well as those higher in the soloist’s range. The orchestra alone increases the tension to which the soloist adds a more animated line, gaining in rhythmic pulse before a more flowing orchestral section develops the drama further. Later the orchestra falls to allow the soloist to bring a passage much like an accompanied cadenza. The orchestra alone rises up passionately again through surging strings to which the bassoon brings an equal passion, almost crying out with emotion. Eventually the music finds a more settled flow as soloist and orchestra weave some exquisite moments to lead to a quiet coda.

A solo violin over the orchestra brings a lively, sparkling theme for the Vivace before the soloist enters with upward rising phrases, soon developed dramatically in the orchestra. The soloist provides some terrific phrases of intense feeling and agility. Later there is a dance like passage where the soloist brings a dialogue with various woodwind instruments rising to a climax to end.

The soloist duets with another bassoon bringing lovely sonorities to the Passacaglia (Adagio) e Cadenza. Strings subtly and gently edge in, timpani rumble as the basses join and the music gains in intensity, the soloist now revealing a melancholy melody that winds its way forward with bell chimes. Aho develops some quite lovely orchestral harmonies, finding an inexorable forward movement, gaining in power all the time. The music falls to a less passionate passage where the soloist weaves gentler phrases over a beautifully transparent orchestra before leading into a cadenza proper where the soloist develops the theme through some beautifully conceived moments, at times with the bassoonist humming an accompaniment whilst playing before increasing in tempo and drama and running into the final movement.

The orchestra alone rises up majestically in the Presto with woodwind soaring and brass appearing before the bassoon joins to take the frenetic theme forward. The music swirls through some terrific orchestral passages, wonderfully played by both soloist and orchestra. At times the soloist moves right across the bassoon’s range but later brings a quieter, gentler rather plaintive moment for soloist and orchestra where a celeste is heard. The orchestra suddenly increases in tempo joined by the bassoon to rush forward in a terrific lead up to the sudden coda.

This is a tremendous concerto of great depth and imagination that deserves to be taken up by solo bassoonists. Again Bram van Sambeek brings a wonderful performance as do the Lahti Symphony Orchestra conducted by Dima Slobodeniouk.

All in all this is a very welcome release of works that every admirer of these fine composers will want to hear, especially with bassoon playing of such a high order.

They receive tip top recordings and there are excellent booklet notes from Kimmo Korhonen and Kalevi Aho

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Wednesday 1 February 2017

A welcome premiere recording of Boris Tishchenko’s Symphony No.8 from the St Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra under Yuri Serov

The Russian composer Boris Tishchenko (1939-2010) was born in Leningrad and studied at the Leningrad Musical College where he learnt composition under Galina Ustvolskaya. He later studied composition with Vadim Salmanov, Victor Voloshinov and Orest Evlakhov at the Leningrad Conservatory. After a postgraduate course with Dmitri Shostakovich he subsequently joined the faculty of the Leningrad Conservatory going on to become a professor there in 1986.

His compositions, very much influenced by music of his teachers Dmitri Shostakovich and Galina Ustvolskaya, include eight symphonies some of which have appeared on the Olympia and Northern Flowers labels.

Naxos  recorded Tishchenko’s Seventh Symphony with the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Dmitri Yablonsky in 2002. Now from Naxos is the world premiere recording of Symphony No.8 coupled with Tishchenko’s Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Orchestra and Three Songs, Op. 48 played by the St Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra under Yuri Serov  with violinist Chingiz Osmanov , pianist Nikolai Mazhara  and mezzo-soprano Mila Shkirtil.


Tishchenko’s Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Orchestra, Op. 144 (2006) is in four movements and was dedicated to the composer’s friend Jacques Ioffe.

In the opening Fantasia the violin brings a plaintive theme which is responded to by the piano and slowly developed through some fine textures and harmonies, growing slowly more intense. The orchestra joins, adding a depth and intensity in the basses. As the movement progresses violin and piano become increasingly angry, developing some intensely complex textures and harmonies until reaching a rather manic pitch where violin and piano hurtle over slurred phrases and huge scales. They fall away to find a melancholic, quiet coda so very reminiscent of Shostakovich with the violin and piano adding little phrases to conclude.

The piano brings a rapid rhythmic motif in the Rondo to which the strings add a fast moving theme. The violin joins as the music moves quickly ahead before the piano duets with a double bass. The piano and violin take the theme, shared with the string orchestra. There is a moment for pizzicato violin over scurrying strings before the music moves ahead, with rich string textures, through a variety of ideas before the opening theme returns on violin and piano to bring about a decisive coda.

The orchestra alone brings a slow, heart rending Interlude with the basses adding a darkness and depth. The music has a tragic quality of stark beauty. There are downward drooping string phrases that add to the air of melancholy, moving freely through rising and falling passages, regaining the opening quietness.

Romance opens with arpeggios on the piano to which the violin adds a fine flowing melody. The orchestra gently joins the piano before alone taking the melody.  The violin re-joins as this lovely melody develops through passages of varying dynamics, finding much variety. When the piano re-joins it brings some rather dissonant phrases. There are passages of greater dynamics and passion before a section where the solo violin takes pizzicato phrases over low strings before rising again in passion. There is a terrific outpouring of invention before the music falls quieter as the violin and hushed orchestra lead ahead. The piano joins with little arpeggios before the violin and piano taking us alone again to a hushed coda.  

This is a work of tremendous substance and depth, given an excellent performance by both orchestra and soloists.

The Symphony No. 8, Op. 146 (2008) is one of the composer’s last completed works, written when he was seriously ill. It was written to be performed after Schubert’s Symphony No.8 ‘Unfinished’, following without a break.

In three movements the strings open the Andantino - Allegro pizzicato, soon joined by a clarinet in a plodding theme. The strings soon flow over pizzicato low strings. Other woodwind join before the melody expands across the orchestra rising in dynamics. Soon there is a jaunty little theme pointed up by a flute, then other woodwind alternate before taken by the orchestra as the music grows louder. There is a more flowing passage before the music finds greater drama, rising to a climax before dropping suddenly to flow more gently ahead to a sudden end.

Brass open the Andante soon alternating with the strings, slowly varying the theme that is spread across the orchestra as the melody develops. There is some very distinctive orchestration as well as some particularly lovely passages for oboe over pulsating strings. Later the lower strings and woodwind lead gently forward to the coda.

In the Allegro the strings bring a fast moving theme over which woodwind add little staccato phrases. Brass enter to add a more sinister touch before woodwind and strings take up the opening fast moving idea, growing in dynamics. Later basses bring a lumbering version of the theme, to which horns join, then other brass, rising to a climax with timpani and percussion in insistent phrases that are hammered out. The woodwind return with staccato phrases before weaving arabesques, the whole orchestra arriving to rush to a dramatic coda. 

Composer, Leonid Rezetdinov (b. 1961), a pupil of Tishchenko, made an arrangement in 2014 for mezzo-soprano and chamber orchestra of the Three Songs, Op. 48 to poems by Marina Tsvetayeva (1970), originally written with piano accompaniment. The texts chosen take the themes of love, loneliness and separation.

Percussion taps open rhythmically in No. 1. The Window before the orchestra joins in the spiky little theme. Mezzo- soprano, Mila Shkirtil joins bringing a quite lovely feel and tone.  A chime brings about a change to a slower, more flowing moment but almost immediately the percussion bring back the rhythmic theme that takes us to the conclusion.

A clarinet and shimmering strings open No. 2. The Leaves Have Fallen, soon joined by the mezzo in this anxious song that quickly gains in passion and drama with some particularly effective orchestration. There are some impressive, passionate outbursts from this very fine mezzo.

No. 3. The Mirror opens gently with a harp before the mezzo joins in this lovely little song. Soon the orchestra enters as the song develops lovely, deeply emotional phrases, so well captured by Shkirtil before a quite magical, hushed coda.

The St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra under Yuri Serov deliver first rate performances and are vividly recorded at the St. Petersburg Radio House Studio, Russia. There are excellent booklet notes from conductor Yuri Serov.

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