Thursday, 30 April 2015

Some especially fine Debussy on a new release from pianist Marco Fatichenti

Marco Fatichenti was born in Italy in 1980 and, after receiving his Diploma at the Rossini Conservatoire in Pesaro, Italy, moved to the United States to continue his studies in the class of eminent pianist Joaquin Achucarro at the Southern Methodist University, Dallas. In 2002 Fatichenti was granted a full scholarship to attend the Royal Academy of Music in London to study with Professor Christopher Elton. Having been a recipient for two consecutive years of the Myra Hess Scholarship, presented by the Musicians Benevolent Fund, and of a prestigious grant by the George Solti Foundation, Fatichenti finished his formal studies receiving the highly coveted DipRAM award.

A performer both as recitalist and chamber musician, Fatichenti has performed at venues across Europe and the United States, including the Auditorio Nacional de Musica in Madrid, the Teatro Arriaga in Bilbao, the Auditori in Barcelona, the National Concert Hall in Dublin and Birmingham’s Symphony Hall. Recent highlights include his debut at Wigmore Hall collaborating with the Pavao String Quartet and a chamber recital in the Palau de la Musica in Valencia.

His performances have been recorded and broadcasted by the Spanish RTVE, Irish RTE, Polskie Radio and several times by the BBC, including a live appearance in the program In tune presented by Sean Rafferty.

In the past few years Fatichenti has become a very sought after teacher and lecturer, being invited to take a position at Uppingham School and holding annual masterclasses in the prestigious National Young Pianists’ Week.

A new release from Fly on the Wall features Marco Fatichenti in works by Stravinsky, Debussy and Granados entitled Empire of Sound.

With Stravinsky’s Trois Mouvement De Pétrouchka, Dance Russe has an immediate flair and panache combined with moments of reflective poetry. Fatichenti has the measure of Stravinsky’s ever changing rhythmic motifs in Chez Pétrouchka with Fatichenti showing a lovely delicacy of touch and fine phrasing. There is more, fine phrasing and control of dynamics in the concluding La Semaine Grasse with this pianist achieving some terrific momentum as Stravinsky’s music drives forward, often with the feel of a live performance.  

Fatichenti conjures up the shifting harmonies of Brouillards in Debussy - Preludes: Deuxieme Livre, carefully controlling the dynamics with some particularly sensitive slower, quieter moments leading beautifully into Feuilles mortes with the same sensitivity, a fine poise, carefully and slowly allowing the music to unfold.

La Puerta del vino brings some fine rhythmic passages to which this pianist adds some fine flourishes. There is a rare spontaneity here that really is rather fine. This pianist brings fine rippling, fluent phrases to 'Les fées sont d'exquises danseuses' and there is a relaxed feel in Bruyères with some spontaneous sounding little phrases. This is beautiful, thoughtful playing.

Général Lavine – eccentric brings forth some fine flights of fancy with a fine coda before a limpid La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune, marvellously phrased, finely laid out and imaginatively conceived. Ondine is full of capriciousness with some lovely flourishes.

Fatichenti brings a sense of irony to the opening of Hommage à S. Pickwick Esq. P.P.M.P.C. before dancing through some lovely passages. Canope brings more gently phrased moments as this pianist slowly allows the music to unfold with some lovely little skittish moments.

Les tierces alternées brings some really fine, fluent playing as Fatichenti moves quickly ahead with a lovely control of dynamics, showing this pianist’s fine technique. Feux d'artefice is given an opening full of anticipation before slowly and carefully allowing Debussy’s fireworks to start bursting out, leading through some impressive passages before the coda.

These preludes give Marco Fatichenti the opportunity to reveal his sense of fantasy.

Fatichenti rises to Granados’ Goyescas: Los Majos Enamorados - El Amor y la Muerte (Balada) with playing of fine assurance, subtly finding moments of fine poetry. This is an impressive performance where Fatichenti shows his fine touch and fluency, beautifully shaped.

There are some lovely rhythmic moments in the second piece from Goyescas: Los Majos Enamorados - Epilogo (Serenata del Espectro), finely controlled dynamics with some very fine broad passages, full of assurance and breadth, revealing a lovely Iberian flavour as the coda arrives.

The more I listened to this recital the more impressed I became. His Debussy is especially fine, allowing his imagination to roam freely. He brings much to the Granados pieces showing a fine assurance and breadth as well as fine rhythmic qualities.

The recording made at Wellington College, Berkshire, England has a great immediacy though with a little dryness. There are interesting notes by Marco Fatichenti. 

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir directed by Heikki Seppänen bring many fine sonorities and great accuracy to the complete works for mixed choir gathered together on a new disc from Ondine

This year is the 150th anniversary of Jean Sibelius’ birth which will, no doubt, bring many releases to celebrate the event. There is little, if anything, that has not been recorded including three sketches from his tantalisingly lost eighth Symphony

What is useful is a collection such as that now released by Ondine that gathers together Sibelius’ complete works for mixed choir especially in such fine performances as these. This new 2 CD set features the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir directed by Heikki Seppänen.

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Such is the inclusivity of this set that there are pieces that have been taken from various other larger works that feature sections for mixed choir. This collection also includes songs for music festivals organised by the Folk Education Society, songs for schools, as well as patriotic songs, hymns and student works.  

However, the first disc opens with the rather better known Rakastava, Op. 14, (The Lover) (1893/1898) that comes to us in a number of versions including this arrangement for mixed chorus a cappella.

There is a fine blend of voices from the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir in this finely controlled performance. There are some lovely moments as well as some wonderful handling of the often tricky word setting.  Mezzo-soprano Jenny Carlstedt and baritone Arttu Kataja provide fine solo contributions.

The four songs for mixed choir taken from 6 Songs, Op. 18 bring a beautifully expressive Sortunut ääni (The Voice Now Stilled) (1898), Venematka (The Journey by Boat) (1893/1914) full of forthright singing, yet finely nuanced, observing every dynamic with some fine part writing, a particularly attractive Saarella palaa (Fire on the Island) (1895/1898) with this choir bringing lovely sonorities and Sydämeni laulu (Glade of Tuoni) (1898/1904) showing superb control with lovely textures as well as spot on precision in this gentle little song

Min rastas raataa, JS 129 (The Thrush's Toiling) (c.1898) again shows this choir’s precision and fine intonation in this setting that swings between buoyancy and thoughtfulness.

Carminalia, JS 51a (1898) originally written for children’s choir, consists of three songs given here in versions for a cappella choir, harmonium accompaniment and piano accompaniment. Ecce novum gaudium (Behold a New Joy) [Version a cappella] rises joyfully, a direct, simple setting beautifully sung, the brief Angelus emittitur (An Angel Is Sent Out) [Version a cappella] flows beautifully with lovely layering of textures with finally the choir bringing a real beauty to the simple little setting, In stadio laboris (In Athletic Strife) [Version a cappella].

Carminalia, JS 51b brings the same settings as JS 51a in a version for harmonium which adds a homely accompaniment that takes us into the atmosphere of a small Finnish church. Carminalia, JS 51c is again the same setting only this time with simple piano accompaniment, the last song particularly rousing.

There follows a number of settings for mixed choir dating from 1888 to 1917 that range in mood from reflective to rousing.

Kotikaipaus, JS 111 (Homesickness) (1902) has a sad melody with some lovely flights from the soprano section and there is a rousing - Isänmaalle, JS 98a (To the Fatherland) (1899/1900) (1900 Version). After Hur blekt är allt, JS 96 (So Faded Everything Is) (1888) there is a direct and forthright När sig våren åter föder, JS 139 (When Spring Is Born Again) (1888) followed by Tanke, se, hur fågeln svingar, JS 191 (Thought, See How the Bird Swoops) (1888).

The flowing Ensam i dunkla skogarnas famn, JS 72 (Alone in the Dark Forest's Clasp) (1888) brings a fine blend of voices from this choir before Ack, hör du fröken Gyllenborg, JS 10 (Ah! Listen, Miss Gyllenborg) (1888). Työkansan marssi, JS 212 (March of the Labourers) (1893) again has a directness with some lovely sonorities though a little repetitive. In Soitapas sorea neito, JS 176 (Play, Pretty Maiden) (1893-94) the choir swirl around, out of which the tenor Tuomas Katajala rises adding a really unusual touch.

There is a rousing Juhlamarssi, JS 105 (Festive March) (1894/1896), a lovely, beautifully blended Aamusumussa, JS 9a (In the Morning Mist) (1898) and, after
Uusmaalaisten laulu, JS 214a (The Song of the Men of Uusimaa) (1912) a slower reflective Kallion kirkon kellosävel, Op. 65b (The Bells of Kallio Church) (1912).

After the gentle Drömmarna, JS 64 (Dreams) (1917) the first disc concludes with Män från slätten och havet, Op. 65a (Men from Plain and Sea) (1911), full of fine textures and such a feeling of longing.

The second CD opens with Songs for Mixed Choir from the 1897 Promotion Cantata, Op. 23 (c.1897-1898) written for the academic degree ceremony of the University of Helsinki in 1897. The full score and some of the orchestral parts are lost but Sibelius later arranged some of the cantata for mixed choir a cappella.

There are ten pieces starting with Me nuoriso Suomen (The Journey Continues) that has a joyful directness with fine textures from the choir. Tuuli tuudittele (Wind, Cosset Our Boat) brings a more atmospheric feel as baritone Arttu Kataja sings over the lovely choral part before mezzo-soprano Jenny Carlstedt joins, adding quite an emotional punch. Both combine with the choir and the music rises in drama.

Oi toivo, toivo sä lietomieli (Hope, That State Which So Consoles Me) is finely controlled with some expert choral singing and Jenny Carlstedt adding a fine touch, there is the rather resigned sounding Montapa elon merellä (Many Pitfalls Await Us on Life's Road), the reflective Sammuva sainio maan (Noble Deeds and Wisdom) where the mezzo brings her fine voice as she rises out of the texture and a lovely, direct Soi kiitoksesksi Luojan (Let Our Sweet Songs of Thanks).

Female voices take the lead in Tuule, tuuli, leppeämmin (Blow Softer Now, Breeze) before the mezzo Jenny Carlstedt joins with the male voices and Oi lempi, sun valtas ääretön on (O Love, You Genial Child of God), buoyant with reflective moments finely brought out.

Triangle, cymbal and bass drum take our attention, adding a dramatic turn to Kun virta vuolas (Like a Surging Stream) before Oi kallis Suomi, äiti verraton (Precious Finland) a kind of hymn to Finland, finely sung and rising up at the end.

Den 25 Oktober 1902: Till Thérèse Hahl, JS 60 (October 25th 1902: To Theresa Hahl) (1st Setting) and Den 25 Oktober 1902: Till Thérèse Hahl, JS 61 (October 25th 1902: To Theresa Hahl) (2nd Setting) are two settings of the same text written for a friend, a prominent organiser of Finnish choral music to texts by Karl Wasastjerna. Though Sibelius wrote another setting, the poet not happy with the first, the composer preferred the original.  The first is nicely shaped and sung with much care, the second rises up more in the opening reflecting the words ‘the song rang out’ and continues to reflect a more outgoing nature.

Ej med klagan, JS 69 (Not with Laments) was written for the funeral of Finnish painter Albert Edelfelt. It has the feel of a work for a public occasion with these fine voices providing some lovely layers of sound. Kansakoululaisten marssi, JS 103 (March of the Primary School Children) is pretty straightforward yet sung here with an admirable restraint.

Kantat, JS 107 (Cantata) is a beautiful, thoughtful piece with fine use of voices; the brief Nejden andas (The Landscape Breathes) from Op. 30 is lovely but probably needs to be in its original setting. Terve ruhtinatar (Hail, O Princess) from Cantata, JS 104 is even shorter but works well enough on its own.

The 3 Songs for American Schools, JS 199 are sung in English, the first The Sun upon the Lake Is Low is a direct yet effective setting of Walter Scott; A Cavalry Catch with piano accompaniment is rousing but of no particular artistic merit, though well sung here and Autumn Song is more reflective with a nice rhythmic flow with piano accompaniment.

Koulutie, JS 112 (The Way to School) has beautifully controlled dynamics followed by the short setting Skolsång, JS 172 (School Song) that jogs along nicely with fine crisp phrasing.

Den höga himlen, JS 58a (The Lofty Heav'n) is a fine hymn sung with a direct simplicity, always with fine sonorities and On lapsonen syntynyt meille, JS 142 (A Child Is Born unto Us) adds a little rhythmic skip to the flow of this Christmas song, beautifully done. Joululaulu (En etsi valtaa, loistoa) (A Christmas Song)  Op.1 No. 4 rises to some lovely moments in each of the three verses with soprano, Kaia Urb rising up out of the texture, adding a lovely little lift. On hanget korkeat (High Are the Snowdrifts) Op.1 No. 5 is a direct little Christmas song, sung with terrific precision.

This set concludes with two versions of Finlandia, Op. 26 for Mixed Chorus in F Major and for Mixed Chorus in A-Flat Major. Both bring the famous tune with this choir beautifully blending the harmonies in the most effective F Major version and the final version in A flat major bringing a lighter, more spirited sound, brighter and receiving the same fine care.

This choir under its conductor Heikki Seppänen bring many fine sonorities and textures combined with great accuracy. They provide a lovely sound to the simplest, most direct of these settings. They receive an excellent recording from Järvenpää Hall, Finland and there are informative booklet notes as well as full texts and English translations.

This is a most welcome gathering of all of Sibelius’ works for mixed choir. Inevitably there are pieces of less interest but many will surely wish to acquire this fine new set.

Raphael Wallfisch brings his formidable technique and lovely tone to extract much feeling from works for cello and orchestra by Mátyás Seiber, Antal Dorati and Bartok on a new release form Nimbus

Cellist Raphael Wallfisch  brings together two rare works for cello and orchestra by Mátyás Seiber and Antal Dorati on a new release from Nimbus that also includes Bartok’s Viola Concerto in Tibor Serly’s adaptation for cello and orchestra.

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Raphael Wallfisch is joined on this new disc by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Gábor Takács-Nagy

Mátyás Seiber (1905-1960) was born in Budapest, Hungary and studied with Kodály at the Budapest Academy. He taught jazz at the Hoch Conservatory before moving to England in 1935 where he taught at Morley College. He died in a car crash in South Africa during a lecture tour of the country. Jazz and folk influences combine with his admiration for Bach, Haydn, Bartok and Schoenberg. His works include a cantata Ulysses, a setting of James Joyce (1947); a much admired Third Quartet (1951) and Violin Sonata (1960) as well as a number of works for solo instruments and orchestra such as his Tre pezzi for cello & orchestra (1956) that is recorded here.

The Adagio has a subdued opening for cello and orchestra before the music brings an anxious little theme with Raphael Wallfisch bringing a fine emotional pull to the music. The adagio rarely rises above its anguished, subdued nature, particularly in the cello part. Midway, there is a faster section with pizzicato cello but this quickly leads into a dramatic section before falling back to its original subdued melancholy nature with a hushed end.

The Capriccio opens on a solo cello chord before quickly moving forward with the orchestra in a fast moving, scurrying section, full of staccato and pizzicato motifs from soloist and orchestra. There follows a section where the cellist and orchestra repeat an incisive motif in this rather quixotic movement full of strange little ideas, often pointed up by percussion. There is some terrific playing from Wallfisch before the sudden end.

Epilogue. Lento opens quietly with cello and orchestra in a withdrawn theme that Wallfisch wistfully draws out whilst a flute adds to the mood. The music gently develops its uncertain, reticent theme as Wallfisch slowly weaves the melancholy cello line through moments of rare sustained hushed passages. Woodwind add intervals that have a rather serial feel to them with Wallfisch providing some lovely moments before the music fades away.

Antal Dorati (1906-1988) will be best known to many as one of the great conductors of the 20th century. He was also born in Budapest, becoming conductor of the Royal Opera there. He went on to work with ballet companies in Europe and the USA before being appointed Music Director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. He later held appointments with the Minneapolis Orchestra, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Many of his recordings are legendary.

His compositions include two symphonies (1956/7 and 1985), chamber works, choral and vocal works and his Concerto for cello & orchestra (1977) that is included on this new disc.

The Recitativo. Moderato molto rubato opens with a tentative motif for cello which, when it opens out, is joined by pizzicato chords from the orchestra. The music soon develops into a broader theme before rising up dramatically in the orchestra. The tempo slows when the soloist takes the theme forward, with a fine orchestral accompaniment. Midway, the soloist leads the orchestra forward in an earnest theme; there are orchestral outbursts and motifs that are a little reminiscent of Bartok. Eventually the music develops into a lovely romantic melody before quietly closing.

The second movement is in the form of a Theme and Variations commencing with a gently flowing Theme. Andante Tranquillo that opens with the solo cello and is soon expanded by the orchestra before being subjected to a series of five variations. There is a strange little Notturno where the soloist is accompanied by woodwind as the melody is woven, Bulgarese a rhythmic variation, light-hearted and whimsical an Ostinato variation, heralded and pointed up by tubular bells, with Wallfisch bringing a fine tone and much expression, before leaping into a Scherzo with whip cracks and a fast flowing variation. A Canzone follows, which brings back a more subdued nature with some fine blending of textures between soloist and orchestral strings before a Coda where a wistful cello line is accompanied by woodwind before winding the theme to a strange, rather unresolved end.

The orchestra open the Finale. Allegro playing an apparently untroubled melody, soon joined by the cello in this confident and relaxed music. The theme grows more incisive and dramatic in the orchestra, picked up by the soloist before a heart-felt cello passage. The music again picks up with some fiendish passages for cello brilliantly played by Wallfisch but soon resumes the opening theme in a rhythmically slow plodding version.  The music suddenly breaks out in the orchestra in a forward moving, rather romantic melody joined by the cello as it develops the theme with some absolutely terrific playing from Wallfisch. Later the orchestra rise again before  leading to a fine flowing passage with cello followed by a cadenza to which Wallfisch brings all his fine technique including some unusual rhythmic passages, before the melody leads forward concluding with a flourish from the soloist.

Béla Bartók (1881-1945), recognised as one of the most important composers of the 20th century, was born in Sînnicolau Mare in Hungary (now in Romania). Inspired by Hungarian traditional songs and dances he incorporated folk modes and irregular rhythmic patterns into his highly original works. In 1940 Bartok left war-torn Europe for the USA where he and his second wife gave concerts, received a research grant to work on a collection of Yugoslav folksongs and received some commissions. His financial situation remained precarious as did his health.

Bartok’s Viola Concerto (1945) was commissioned by violist William Primrose. However, the composer’s health deteriorated and the work was left in sketch form at his death from leukaemia in 1945. Pupil, composer and violist, Tibor Serley assembled and completed the concerto between 1945 and 1949. Since then there have been a number of revisions by others culminating in a new edition prepared by Nelson Dellamaggiore with editorial advice from violist Paul Neubauer and overseen by the composer’s son Peter Bartok.

Here we have a recording of the Viola Concerto (1945) adapted for cello by Tibor Serly, played from the edition by Peter Bartok and Nelson Dellamaggiore (1993/2003).

Raphael Wallfisch soon shows how much the cello can add to this work in the opening Allegro moderato. Wallfisch brings a fine flexibility in the rapidly developing passages with some lovely thoughtful passages creating anticipation and an inner mystery. There is some fine crisp, incisive playing and some pretty agile passages as the movement progresses. Wallfisch’s lovely tone appears as the Lento slowly unfolds, seamlessly moving from restrained to anguished with lovely, hushed, sensitive accompaniment from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales with conductor Gábor Takács-Nagy pulling  out so many fine moments, quite lovely, before leading into the Finale. Allegretto full of fire and drama with a real sense of urgency. There, Takács-Nagy really lets the orchestra go, at times with some lovely rhythmic moments, so Hungarian as well as fine intricate passages, finely played by Wallfisch.

Surely Bartok would have approved of this adaptation, particularly in such a fine performance as this.

Raphael Wallfisch combined his formidable technique and lovely tone with an ability to extract so much feeling from this music. Who better than the Hungarian conductor Gábor Takács-Nagy to conduct the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in this repertoire.

They are beautifully recorded at Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff, Wales and there are informative booklet notes. This is a really fine collection of Hungarian works for cello and orchestra that I wouldn't wish to be without.

See also:

Monday, 27 April 2015

Vocal works of much beauty and passion by Columbian composer Jaime León in committed performances on a new release from Toccata Classics

Little general information appears to be available concerning the Columbian composer, Jaime León (b.1921). I am, therefore, grateful to Patricia Caicedo whose excellent booklet notes for a new Toccata Classics recording of his vocal music give a good biographical outline. He was born in Cartagena de Indias, on the Caribbean coast of Columbia. He received early musical encouragement from his parents who later took him to the United States where he had private piano lessons from Leo Holtz. On their return to Columbia, León continued his studies with various piano teachers before entering the National University of Columbia Conservatory where he studied piano with Lucia Perez and Tatiana Goncharova and composition with composer Guillermo Uribe Holguin (1880-1871).

In 1941 he returned to New York to study at the Julliard School where he took advanced piano studies with Josef Lhevinne and Carl Friedberg. He went on to study conducting and composition at the Julliard School under Edgar Schenkman (1908-1993), Vittorio Giannini (1903-1966) and Bernard Wagenaar (1894-1971). Whilst still studying he travelled back to Columbia to give piano recitals and later went on to become Director of the National Symphony Orchestra of Columbia.

In his capacity as Assistant Director of the American Ballet León travelled throughout South America, Europe and the Middle East. Alongside his many conducting engagements with orchestras, opera and music theatres, León pursued a career as a composer and an influential teacher.

A large part of his compositional output is vocal and it is this aspect of the composer that is highlighted on this new release from Toccata Classics  featuring soprano Sarah Cullens, mezzo-soprano Gemma Coma-Alabert , pianist Mac McClure with the choir Tonos Humanos , the Arcadia Chamber Choir and the Orquesta Sinfónica Universidad EAFIT  conducted by Cecilia Espinosa Arango 

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The first work on this new disc is León’s Missa breve (1980), receiving its first recording here. The Kyrie eleison has beautiful orchestral opening, soon joined by the choir, then mezzo soprano Gemma Coma-Alabert in this most affecting of settings that has a directness, simplicity and beauty. Later Coma-Alabert weaves some lovely sounds with soprano Sarah Cullins in a most lovely section. The orchestra and choir sound out loudly to open the Gloria before sections of the choir overlay the text in some very fine part writing and very fine contributions from soprano Sarah Cullins and Gemma Coma-Alabert. The Credo has a fine flow and much attractive invention with mezzo Gemma Coma-Alabert adding much to this fine setting. There is some lovely choral singing in the hushed passages, finely controlled, rising magnificently on the words ‘Et resurrexit.’

Soprano Sarah Cullins opens the Sanctus beautifully supported by some fine orchestral passages. Her singing is quite lovely as we are led to a finely controlled coda. The Benedictus brings mezzo Gemma Coma-Alabert and the orchestra in music where León provides some exquisite yet simple ideas. When the choir enter they weave a fine tapestry with the soloist and orchestra, rising in animation with some really fine choral singing. A cello leads the orchestra as the Agnus Dei opens rather sombrely. When the soprano joins it is against a gently shifting orchestral accompaniment, a quite exquisite conclusion.

Tonos Humanos and the Arcadia Chamber Choir are excellent with fine solo contributions from Sarah Cullins and Gemma Coma-Alabert. The Orquesta Sinfónica Universidad EAFIT conducted by Cecilia Espinosa Arango provide fine support. 

I found myself wondering why I had not heard of this composer before.

León’s cycle of six children’s songs,  Pequeña Pequeñita (1986) receives its first recording in its orchestral version. Pequeña Pequeñita (Little Girl, Very Little Girl) brings a light and airy feel with mezzo-soprano Gemma Coma-Alabert in fine voice, bringing out a childlike simplicity combined with moments of greater strength. Orquesta Sinfónica Universidad EAFIT reveals some moments of rich orchestration.  

Gemma Coma-Alabert recites the opening verse of Muñeco Dormilón (The Sleepy Headed Doll), as she does with later verses, along with an orchestra accompaniment, before singing the subsequent verse with something of the atmosphere and charm of a Joseph Cantaloube folk song arrangement. She shows herself to be a fine mezzo, characterising this setting to perfection.

Viaje (Journey) is richly orchestrated with a fine melody for mezzo-soprano, a song that should find itself in any mezzo’s recital, quite beautiful and here given a performance that is full of feeling.

Caballito de Madera (Little Wooden Horse) is more upbeat with a lovely rhythmic orchestral accompaniment, full of Latin charm and an expansive central section. La Tunda par el negrito (La Tunda for the Little Black Boy) is another very Latin, rhythmic song, as is the orchestration with Coma-Alabert ideal in this repertoire.

There is a beautifully expansive, flowing melody to El Columpio (The Swing). León never allows his music to be mundane or banal, always finding subtle ideas to add to and point up his melodic ideas.  

This is a very fine collection of songs, melodic, approachable and attractive in very fine performances from mezzo-soprano Gemma Coma-Alabert with Cecilia Espinosa Arango and the Orquesta Sinfónica Universidad EAFIT.

Soprano, Sarah Cullins returns for a selection of León’s Songs for voice and piano, accompanied by pianist Mac McClure. Aves y ensueños (Birds and Dreams) (1951) has a lovely piano opening before soprano Sarah Cullins enters and the music builds in passion. Cullins brings much feeling to the text finely accompanied by Mac McClure whose roll is much more than mere accompanist.

Cuando lejos, muy lejos (When far, very far) (1977) receives a first recording and brings more flowing, expansive writing, beautifully captured by Cullins and McClure, full of expressiveness and passion. Siempre (Always) (1982) is a lovely, quite wonderfully wrought love song sensitively performed here, rising to great passion on the words ‘the wrongs that hurt.’

Mac McClure introduces a gentle rhythmic opening for Serenata (Serenade) (1977) before Sarah Cullins takes the melody forward with such fine control and phrasing in this constantly changing setting, always flowing but with what must be difficult phrases to sing.

There is a rather skittish opening to Canción De Noel (Christmas Song) (1952) with Sarah Cullins rising terrifically to the challenge in this rather difficult setting showing León’s fine ability to shape his music to the text. Fine passion is brought to the concluding Algún día (One Day) (1980), a song that has more of a breadth and flow before rising to a lovely coda.

These six songs arguably bring more depth and passion and are given excellent performances here.

These works are well recorded though lacking the ultimate in clarity, perhaps due to the large acoustic. There are excellent notes in English by Patricia Caicedo together with full texts and English translations.

These really are works that deserve to be heard particularly in performances as committed as this. There is much beauty and passion here.  

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Much fine playing from Rosemary Tuck and the English Chamber Orchestra under Richard Bonynge on a new Naxos release of Virtuoso Variations for Piano and Orchestra by Carl Czerny

It is an interesting thought that Carl Czerny (1791-1857), a pupil of Beethoven and a teacher of Liszt died the same year that Edward Elgar was born.

Czerny made his debut as a pianist in 1800 achieving renown for his Beethoven interpretations. He later chose to become a teacher rather than a travelling virtuoso, counting among his pupils Beethoven’s nephew, Karl as well as Thalberg and Liszt. Indeed, Liszt’s Transcendental Studies were dedicated to him.

As a composer he was incredibly prolific with an output of over 1,000 works ranging from chamber and orchestral to sacred choral works. Some of the explanation for his huge output may be explained by his apparent production line method of putting together his works. In his interesting booklet notes for a new release of Virtuoso Variations for Piano and Orchestra from Naxos, Allan Badley tells us that Czerny had samples of every conceivable type of passage work filed in a large cupboard with students asked to transpose selected passages into the appropriate key and incorporate them into the works they were copying for the composer.

The impression given by John Field is perhaps a little misleading in that Czerny produced many works intended as studies or exercises for which, no doubt, there was a lucrative market. It is certainly difficult to browse second hand sheet music without coming across a piece by Czerny.

This new Naxos  release entitled Bel Canto Concertante features pianist Rosemary Tuck with the English Chamber Orchestra  conducted by Richard Bonynge . All the works on this disc are billed as World Premiere Recordings.

All the works on this new disc are variations on operas that were popular at the time beginning with Czerny’s Introduction, Variations et Presto finale sur un Thème favori de l’Opera Norma de Bellini, Op. 281.

The orchestra gives a forthright, very operatic opening statement of the theme before the piano enters in a rather Chopinesque style. Rosemary Tuck brings an attractive lightness of touch, particularly in the passages that could sound rather heavy and four square. Later there is a lighter, buoyant variation to which Tuck brings a lovely touch. There are moments of intricate dexterity with plenty of passages to challenge any pianist, Tuck bringing much fluency and dexterity. There are some attractive moments of limpid fluency with the English Chamber Orchestra under Bonynge pointing up these works to fine effect.

This is not a great work but it does have some attractive moments.

Unlike Bellini, Daniel-François-Esprit Auber (1782-1871) is not a name that will be familiar to many, yet he was the foremost representative of opéra comique in 19th century France. There is a fine orchestral opening to the Grandes Variations di Bravura sur deux motifs de l’Opera Fra Diavolo de D.F.E. Auber, Op. 232 nicely shaped by Bonynge. The music moves through variations that are most entertaining, Tuck bringing a fine touch, ably supported by the ECO. There are faster variations that bring some terrific playing from Tuck, rhythmically lively with terrific phrasing, having a real bounce and panache.  Bonynge and his orchestra find some fine moments in the purely orchestral passages. Later there is an entertainingly enjoyable, lightly galloping rhythmic variation where Tuck rises to every moment with a sure touch, even those passages that hurtle off in a rather comic, manic way. There is a tremendously fluent coda.

Two grand opening statements for piano and orchestra open the Introduction, Variations et Polacca dans le Style brillant sur la Cavatine favorite ‘Tu vedrai la sventurata’ chantée par M. Rubini dans l’Opera Il Pirata de Bellini, Op. 160 preceding another rather Chopinesque, flowing, slow melody. There are variations here that are full of charm with Tuck bringing some lovely touches as well as some beautifully limpid, dexterous, flowing passages. At times this pianist brings some terrifically fluent playing in the more virtuoso variations. There seems to be a more genuine cohesion and flow to these variations, expertly brought out by Tuck, Bonynge and the ECO.

These are delightful variations given a fine performance.

The name Giovanni Pacini (1796-1867) is also not well known today except perhaps to opera buffs. He studied as a singer in Bologna before turning to composition writing nearly ninety operas.

The Introduction et Variations Brillantes sur le Marche favori de l’Opera Gli Arabi nelle Gallie de Pacini, Op. 234 brings a thoroughly operatic, dramatic orchestral opening statement with Tuck bringing more fine Chopinesque phrases before launching into a light-hearted, rhythmic variation. The work moves through variations of great dexterity with passages of fine rhythmic bounce. There are some particularly attractive moments with, towards the end, a particularly fine flowing variation with some very intricate playing before leading to the coda.

There is much fine playing here from Rosemary Tuck and the English Chamber Orchestra under Richard Bonynge in these variable, though often attractive pieces that contain moments of poetry, charm and wit and not a little virtuosity. This fine new recording fills a useful gap in the recorded repertoire.

These artists are well recorded at St Silas Church , Kentish Town, London, England and there are excellent booklet notes from Allan Badley.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

This is a very fine choral disc from Harmonia Mundi with the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge and the Dmitiri Ensemble under director Graham Ross that will bring enjoyment not just at Ascensiontide and Pentecost but throughout the year

As we head towards Ascension Day and Pentecost Sunday in the Christian calendar there is a timely release of a new recording from Harmonia Mundi  featuring the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge  and the Dmitiri Ensemble  under director Graham Ross

Entitled Ascendit Deus:  Music for Ascensiontide and Pentecost it covers mainly 20th composers, including no less than five World Premiere recordings.

HMU 907623
The Choir of Clare College, Cambridge opens with an early work, Peter Philips’ (c.1560-1638) Ascendit Deus where they bring a fine layering of vocal sounds in this bright and joyful piece.

The trumpets of the Dmitri Ensemble open Ralph Vaughan Williams’ (1872-1958) O Clap Your Hands adding to the textures at selected moments as does the organ as the choir sound out in Vaughan Williams’ gloriously uplifting motet.

Patrick Gowers’ (b.1936) name can be seen on numerous film and television credits. Here his Viri Galilaei, orchestrated by Graham Ross, receives its world premiere recording. It has an effective opening for brass as the voices gently sing the text, creating a wonderfully otherworldly atmosphere. Here, particularly, the choir bring some fine blending of voices with noted contributions from tenor Laurence Booth-Clibborn and bass Elliot Fitzgerald as well as organists Matthew Jorysz and Peter Harrison. They build to a fine central climax in this distinctive setting beautifully sung, with a lovely final alleluia.

Brett Dean’s (b. 1961) Was it a voice? (Music for Ascension Day) is another world premiere recording. It has a beautiful opening as a shifting blend of voices slowly rises with fine dissonances bringing a dream like quality. The choir arrive at a strikingly lovely section as their voices chime out the word ‘Solace’ before building further. The lovely coda is given much care and sensitivity.  

The third world premiere recording given here is Nico Muhly’s (b.1981) Let All the World in Every Corner Sing where the cello of Ben Michaels opens along with organist of Peter Harrison. When the choir enter they weave a fine sound along with passages for cello and an underlying organ support.  Muhly creates some fine moments, expertly handled here.

Organist Matthew Jorysz brings a majesty to the opening of Gerald Finzi’s (1901-1956) God is gone up before the choir enter, raising this fine setting ever more magnificently with some very fine contributions from individual sections of the choir.

Charles Villiers Stanford’s ((1852-1924) Coelos ascendit hodie has a joyful celebratory feel, perfectly caught by this choir before we come to the Credo from
Frank Martin’s (1890-1974) Messe There are some very fine individual contributions from sections of the choir in this still undervalued work, full of much depth and beauty. This choir achieves a beautifully refined sound, responding so well to Martin’s sudden outburst at ‘Crucifixus’ as well as bringing tremendous vocal textures to ‘Et resurrexit’.

Graham Ross (b. 1985) has a world premiere recording of his own Ascendo ad Patrem meum opening with a high saxophone motif that slowly develops, bringing an unusual flavour. When the choir enter they bring a gentle, beautifully controlled sound, along with a mournful, bluesy saxophone accompaniment. Anthony Brown’s solo sax passages are terrifically done. A very fine work.

The organ rises up before the choir enter in Judith Weir’s (b. 1954) Ascending into heaven, full of unusual ideas for the voices with rising and descending organ runs and a contrasting vocal line that also begins to ascend. There are fine moments for tenor Christopher Loyn, baritone Hugo Popplewell and mezzo-sopranos Eleanor Warner and Abigail Gostick with some really fine weaving of vocal and organ lines.

Jonathan Harvey’s (1939-2012) Come, Holy Ghost is a most beautiful setting, a fine tribute to this composer who died in 2012. This choir bring the most lovely textures with some very fine individual moments from the soloists Caroline Meinhardt (sop), Christopher Loyn (tenor) and Hugo Popplewell (baritone).

The brief Pinsesalme by Edvard Grieg (1843-1934) receives a very fine performance, quite beautiful.  

One of the finest of Edward Elgar’s  (1857-1934) melodies is his setting of The Spirit of the Lord is upon me from his great oratorio The Apostles.  This lovely piece opens on the organ as it states the lovely theme. When the choir enter they bring a hushed, magical quality, restrained, rising centrally before a lovely coda as the opening is repeated.

The final work on this disc is another world premiere recording, Giles Swayne’s (b. 1946) God is gone up (A Song for the Ascension). There are some dynamic organ phrases in the opening before the choir enter to repeat ‘He is gone.’  As the work progresses the choir weave around the organ, slowly increasing in tempo and becoming more animated, working brilliantly through some complex passages before a gentler coda.

This is a very fine choral disc that will bring enjoyment not just at Ascensiontide and Pentecost but throughout the year. The recordings from three different venues all add a spaciousness and breadth with producer and engineer, John Rutter, knowing just what to achieve with a choral sound. There is a beautifully produced booklet that includes colour photographs of various pre-Raphaelite stained glass windows.

There are full texts and translations with excellent notes from Graham Ross. 

First class performances from Ben Palmer and the Orchestra of St Paul’s of transcriptions of string quartets by Elgar, Malcolm Arnold and Robert Simpson

It is certainly not a new idea to transcribe string quartets for string orchestra, the most famous example being that of Rudolf Barshai’s transcriptions of a number of Shostakovich’s quartets now known as Chamber Symphonies.

A new release from Somm Recordings  brings together arrangements by David Matthews  of string quartets by Elgar and Malcolm Arnold as well as Robert Simpson’s own arrangement of the Allegro Deciso from his String Quartet No.3.

All are played by the Orchestra of St Paul’s  conducted by Ben Palmer

Somm Céleste Series SOMMCD 0145

The Orchestra of St Paul’s under Ben Palmer bring some fine sonorities to the opening of the Allegro Moderato of Edward Elgar’s (1857-1934) String Quartet arranged for strings by David Matthews. Palmer manages to bring many subtleties in dynamics and texture, missing nothing of Elgar’s wistfulness. The size of the orchestra, listed as just 16 players, goes far in enabling a great flexibility of playing.

The Piacevole (Poco Andante) brings beautifully light textured playing, with the highest degree of sensitivity with fine hushed moments of strange, otherworldly beauty, perhaps more so than in the original.  These players build to moments of fine power and expressiveness before the most exquisite of codas.

There is a fine rhythmic spring to the Finale - Allegro Molto with playing of tremendous agility and spirit, great dynamic control and phrasing, before racing to a coda that, in this performance, recalls the Introduction and Allegro for strings.

All Elgarians will surely wish to hear this effective arrangement, brilliantly played.

The opening of the Allegro of Sonata for Strings arranged by David Matthews after the String Quartet No.2 by Malcolm Arnold (1921-2006) positively glows. Matthews cleverly highlights the individual string lines in some most effective passages. This is an arrangement that brings out this music’s strange unsettled nature, highlighting more than ever the violent dissonances as the movement progresses.  

The Maestoso Con Molto Rubato - Allegro Vivace opens with a striking double stopped solo for violin, drawing some fine emotion before an Irish jig appears (Arnold lived in Ireland at this time). The orchestra brings rich, broader textures with some fabulous string playing, the lower strings providing some terrific underpinning of the rhythm and texture. A slowly shifting string theme casts a gloomy shadow in the Andante, the pathos and tragedy increasing as the movement progresses. There are moments of intense sadness and introspection. At times Arnold surely anticipates his Ninth Symphony. Later there are some very fine rich lower chords as the music pours out its emotional heart before dying away at the end.

There is a surprisingly light and sunny opening to the Allegretto – Vivace – Lento the more so in this arrangement. There is more fine string playing here, reducing to moments of withdrawn beauty. The Vivace brings fine incisive playing, full of energy and intensity, pointing up the underlying turmoil of this music, rising in intensity before leading into the lento with lovely string sonorities.

Robert Simpson’s (1921-1997) own arrangement of the Allegro Deciso from his String Quartet No.3 brings a sunny texture, though full of drive and energy, something that features in much of Simpson’s music. The music rises up more and more before bringing a distant, quieter, yet still energised quality. The St Paul’s orchestra bring some fine, sensitive sonorities together with lovely hushed moments as they build this extraordinarily fine piece, continually propelled forward with such fine playing right to the decisive coda.

If this doesn’t encourage listeners to seek out Simpson’s quartets then I don’t know what will.

I found the Arnold and Simpson arrangements particularly fine and the performances are absolutely first class. The recording made at St Mary’s Church, Walthamstow, London, England is excellent as are the booklet notes from Ben Palmer. 

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Flautist Kenneth Smith and pianist Paul Rhodes appear on a very fine release from Divine Art with some of the finest performances of works for flute and piano I have heard

Divine Art Records  have just released a 2 CD set of British works for flute and piano entitled From the British Isles featuring flautist Kenneth Smith  and pianist Paul Rhodes

The cover alone will be enough to attract the interest of casual browsers but this new set contains many fine works, some by composers that are rarely recorded, all in very fine performances indeed.


The recordings on this new set were made at three different venues between 1989 and 2007 and all provide excellent sound.

First we have the Sonata for Flute and Piano, Op. 121 by Malcolm Arnold (1921-2006). There is a lovely little flourish from the flute in the opening of the Allegro with the piano setting a dramatic contrast. Throughout, these two fine artists bring out all of Arnold’s quixotic yet dramatic flair. In the Andantino Paul Rhodes leads with a leisurely melody for piano, soon picked up by Kenneth Smith whose tone draws much feeling from Arnold’s bittersweet writing. There is some fine rhythmically varied playing in the Maestoso con molto ritmico that these two players build to fine effect with some absolutely terrific playing from Smith; a superb fluency before a brilliant coda.

This is a quite irresistible performance.

The music of Granville Bantock (1868-1946) has become better known in recent years due to a number of recordings made by Hyperion Records. He is represented here by his Pagan Poem published in 1930. It is a reflective little piece that grows in animation providing many opportunities for these players to show their superb technique whilst revealing the many lovely facets of this piece.

Peter Lamb (1925-2013) had a busy career, both as a composer and music administrator, initially working for two international record companies before an appointment as Deputy Manager of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. He helped to establish the Bournemouth Sinfonietta and for ten years he was Head of Music at Peter Symonds' College in Winchester, later lecturing at the University of Southampton.

The Con moto of his Sonatina for Flute and Piano (1973) has a forward driving thrust, freely melodic in nature, with a more languid section midway. Kenneth Smith draws some really fine legato lines in the Andante, Paul Rhodes adding a breadth to the music in this particularly lovely movement. These artists work so well together. There is a fine interplay in the Con brio as this final movement rushes ahead full of fine invention.

Cyril Scott (1879-1970) is another composer who has benefited from recordings of his music. His The Ecstatic Shepherd is an intoxicating little piece for solo flute given here a finely controlled performance that reveals every little nuance of this very attractive work.

The Romanza of Kenneth Leighton’s (1929-1988) Serenade in C Major, Op. 19a (1949) opens with rippling piano phrases before being immediately joined by the flute in a melody that is fresh and beautifully flowing. This is a gorgeous, mellifluous performance. The Scherzo darts around, full of charm and life with some terrific articulation from Smith and spot on ensemble between these players. Rhodes provides some wonderfully nimble phrases. Finally we are led into the Pastorale where there is a flowing outpouring of pastoral beauty.

Next we are taken to a much earlier composer, John Ranish (1692/3-1777) whose Flute Sonata in B Minor, Op. 2, No. 3 was published in 1744. It sits very well with the other works on these discs with a lovely Adagio that has very attractive flute decorations, a nimble and lively Allegro that has a lovely lightness of texture with an irresistible melody and a terrific Giga to conclude. Beautifully played.

Richard Rodney Bennett’s (1936-2012) Summer Music was published in 1983 and opens with Summer Music: Allegro Tranquillo where we are returned to the pastoral feel of the finale of Leighton’s Serenade with more fine interplay between these artists as the attractive melody weaves its way forward. There is a lovely, gently moving Siesta: Lento e dolce to which this flautist brings a lovely warmth and
Games: Vivo a rhythmically buoyant movement, full of lightness and fun, these two artists bringing fine ensemble and a sense of enjoyment, giving the feel of a live performance.

Disc 2 opens with William Matthias’ (1934-1992) Sonatina for Flute and Piano. There is a really lively Allegro that receives some absolutely terrific playing from both these artists, terrific articulation from Kenneth Smith. The contrasting Andante cantabile brings a beautifully flowing melody, very much the core of this work, with some exquisite flute passages and pianism of the utmost sensitivity. There is phenomenally accurate playing in the final Allegro Vivace with terrific phrasing as this rhythmically difficult movement hurtles ahead.

Eugene Goosens (1896-1952) is known more for his conducting than composing which is a great pity. There was a very fine 3 CD release of his orchestral works conducted by Vernon Handley on the ABC Classics label a few years ago that is worthwhile seeking out. His Persian Idylls, Op. 17: No. 1. The Breath of Ney (1918) is arranged here for flute and piano by Paul Rhodes. It brings an immediate atmosphere as the flute rises up suddenly out of the opening piano motif with some lovely, languid piano phrases as the flute weaves it way forward, Smith producing some very fine sounds.

The Moderato of Peter Lamb’s Sonata for Flute and Piano (1988) soon picks up a rhythmic pulse that alternates with the opening flowing line, beautifully realised here with terrific breath control from Kenneth Smith. The lovely, flowing Aria – Adagio brings something of a timeless feel with rhythmic variations of the theme that bring a little more drama. The Allegro is brilliantly played with superb ensemble and with a brief gentler interlude.

Thomas Dunhill (1877-1946) has gained some attention through recordings of his songs and chamber music. Here his Suite for Flute and Piano (c.1935) has a gentle, beautifully shaped Allegro moderato and an Andante amabile e placido that has a lovely simplicity with these fine artists bringing fine care and sensibility, finding every little inflection. There is a beautifully sprung Allegro poco scherzando, superbly played by both, before an Adagio non troppo; quasi-improvisata that flows beautifully and freely with Smith drawing some very fine phrases and textures. The work concludes with a playfully vibrant Allegro molto - quasi presto given spot on precision and a lovely flourish to end.

Howard Blake (b.1938) will never be able to escape his fame as the composer of the song ‘Walking in the Air’ for the 1982 film The Snowman. It revealed him as a particularly fine melodist but has tended to overshadow his other compositions. His Elegy has an equally melodic nature rising up with a fine flute theme with some fine piano passages. Indeed, this is something of a melodic gem beautifully played here with this fine flautist weaving a terrific line as the piece progresses through moments of haunting beauty.

Edwin York Bowen (1888-1961) is yet another British composer who has had to rely on recordings for his posthumous reputationThis 1992 recording of his Sonata for Flute and Piano, Op. 120 (1946) was a premiere recording. Lovely flute arabesques gently open the Allegro non Troppo with a fine piano accompaniment. There is a forward moving melodic invention as the movement develops, not without occasional hints of Debussy. These artists give a beautifully controlled performance as the music ebbs and flows. The Andante piacevole brings some beautifully mellow sounds as the music gently flows its way forward, these players finding much variety of tone. There is some very fine precision in the fast moving Allegro con fuoco with Kenneth Smith and Paul Rhodes again revealing their intuitive partnership.

This is a very fine set indeed with some of the finest performances of works for flute and piano I have heard. The booklet and presentation are up to Divine Art’s usual high standards with first rate notes from Kenneth Smith and Paul Rhodes. If the repertoire appeals, do not hesitate in acquiring this fine set.

See also: 

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Mikhail Kuzmin’s vocal and choral writing brings intensity, poetry and passion that is very appealing on a new release from Naxos

One is more likely to find the name Mikhail Alexeevich Kuzmin (1872-1936) in a dictionary of literature than of music. Born in Yaroslavl, Russia, he grew up in St. Petersburg and studied music at the St. Petersburg Conservatory under Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Ill health brought an end to his musical studies.

Some biographical accounts tend to give the incorrect image of Kuzmin largely giving up music in favour of writing yet he wrote a large amount of music, mainly small scale vocal works. His principle collections of verse are Aleksandriyskiye pensi (1906), Seti (1908), Osenniye ozyora (1912), Glinyanyve Golubki (1914) and Paraboly (1922).

Yuri Serov and the Karelia State Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra  have recorded some of Kuzmin’s incidental music for stage plays as well as some sacred songs for voice and orchestra on a new release from Naxos

Serov and his orchestra are joined on this disc by mezzo-soprano, Mila Shkirtil and
the Petrozavodsk State University Male Choir.

Kuzmin wrote the music for the play The Society of Honoured Bell Ringers by Evegeny Zamyatin (1884-1937) in 1925. First produced at the Maly Theatre in St. Petersburg, it concerns the fun loving Irishman O’Kelly who comes into conflict with a member of the virtuous group known as the The Society of Honoured Bell Ringers.

The Introduction: Adagio (Act I) opens with a mellifluous orchestral theme with an organ adding to the mellow texture. This fine noble melody rises up with a melody that sticks in the mind. A brass fanfare opens Interlude: Con moto before the strings join, then timpani, as the music moves ahead with determination. The timpani and percussion continue to underpin the music. The strings bring more flowing passages as do woodwind but, nevertheless, the marshal rhythm dominates.

The organ alone plays the section entitled Appearance. Adagio which takes the melody from the introduction. Introduction (Act III) brings a wind ensemble in a simple attractive melody. A buoyant theme leads the Interlude: Allegro (Act III) forward, rhythmic and lively, with a central flowing section where a piano adds to the texture and colour of the music. The opening, rather direct, jolly theme returns to lead to the end of this section.  

In the Interlude: Moderato (Act IV) the orchestra is quickly joined by the organ. Another instrument joins which initially I thought to be a trombone but turns out to be a bass trumpet. As the melody moves forward, the bass trumpet adds a really distinctive flavour, before the music suddenly ends. The Final March: Allegretto takes off decisively but is not long enough to develop.

Mikhail Lermontov’s (1814-1841) drama Masquerade inspired a number of composers to write operas and incidental music including Anton Rubinstein, Glazunov and Khachaturian. Kuzmin’s music came in 1911 of which four excerpts are given here. There is a lively, light textured Polka that has no pretentions to depth yet is attractive on its own terms. The strings introduce a lovely melody for Nina's Romance before mezzo-soprano Mila Shkirtil joins, adding a lovely Russian flavour in this fine romantic setting.

A fine Waltz follows, eloquently orchestrated with fine moments for the woodwind before the Final Chorus when the Petrozavodsk State University Male Choir join for ‘Give them peace Holy God’; a fine, yet melancholy setting.

The sections for mezzo-soprano and chorus in the music for Masquerade indicate that Kuzmin is at his best when setting the human voice. This impression is reinforced in his Sacred Songs for Voice and Orchestra (1901-03) a setting of words by the composer.

Descent Of The Virgin Into Hell brings mezzo-soprano Mila Shkirtil in a lovely setting that builds beautifully with some fine orchestration that adds so much to the character and atmosphere of this music. This mezzo provides some fine, passionate moments and much poetry. The music rises in drama in the orchestra before falling to a lovely vocal section to end quietly.  

The Old Man and The Lion is full of intensity and deep feeling from this mezzo where, towards the coda, she and the orchestra find a lovely sadness. Mila Shkirtil brings some lovely timbres to Doomsday again full of intense feeling with the orchestra building in drama and rising to a tremendous, passionate peak before the quiet coda.

These are fine songs, full of Russian flavour finely sung by Mila Shkirtil.

Ernst Toller (1893-1939) was a German dramatist with communist beliefs whose plays were very popular in the Soviet Union. Kuzmin wrote his incidental music for the play Hinkemann the German in 1923. The play concerns the difficulties experienced by the injured soldier, Hinkemann, returning from the First World War. Toller himself was wounded and invalided out of the Great War in 1916; an experience he, no doubt, drew on.

Introduction and Soldiers' Chorus opens with a fanfare before the orchestra develops the theme rising to a peak before falling to a halt. The Petrozavodsk State University Male Choir then enters in a rather direct chorus before alternating with the orchestra and drums before leading to the end.

The Pastoral has a gentle swaying theme over which woodwind play before the Interlude – Waltz rises in energy and spirit in a peasant style dance rhythm. A more flowing melody is heard but it soon gives way to a heavily accented waltz.

The same theme is taken by various instruments in the Introduction (Act II) though here it is light and nicely pointed. Country Dance brings a light and airy variation on the theme for piano and woodwind, soon joined by the rest of the orchestra and a heavily accented, rhythmic, slow and steady Procession with some later little dissonances that are quite unexpected.  

A piano underpins the rhythm in Tango but, nevertheless, has a fine forward flow before the Final March arrives with a direct and simple march rhythm that could act as a ‘toy soldier’ march.

Mikhail Alexeevich Kuzmin is an intriguing composer. His incidental music is in a lighter vein though attractive for all its simplicity. His vocal and choral writing is quite another thing, at times bringing intensity, poetry and passion that is very appealing.

Lovers of Russian music will surely wish to explore this new disc. The Karelia State Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra under Yuri Serov provide fine performances with only the occasional intonation problems in the lower strings revealing them to be not a top class orchestra.

They are nicely recorded and there are informative booklet notes as well as full texts and English translations.