Wednesday, 29 July 2015

An outstanding release from Mirare of piano works by Paul Dukas played by Hervé Billaut to celebrate Dukas’ 150th Anniversary

The French composer Paul Dukas (1865-1935) was not particularly prolific, his intense self-criticism restricting the number of works he allowed to be published. His fame rests on a single orchestral work L’Apprenti sorcier (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) (1897).

Of his piano works there are just seven, four of which French pianist Hervé Billaut has chosen to record for Mirare to celebrate Dukas’ 150th Anniversary.

MIR 242
Hervé Billaut graduated from the Conservatory of Paris at the age of sixteen with the highest distinctions, gaining numerous awards including the Grand Prize at the prestigious Long -Thibaud Piano Competition in 1983.

Since then, he has performed all over the world, playing at the Theatre des Champs Elysées, the Salle Pleyel in Paris or the Teàtro Real in Madrid as well as in Latin America or in the Far East. He has worked with the Orchestre National de France, the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic and the Quebec Symphony Orchestra and played under such conductors as John Eliot Gardiner and Yehudi Menuhin.

This new disc for Mirare opens with Dukas’ La plainte, au loin, du faune… (The distant lament of the faun…) It was written in 1920, two years after the death of Debussy as a tribute to his late friend. It opens with a repeated note around which the music develops. It is a hauntingly beautiful piece which Hervé Billaut shapes quite magically. He has a crystalline clarity to his touch with exquisite phrasing. One can just detect hints of Debussy’s Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune.

The Sonate en mi bémol mineur (Sonata in E-flat minor) that dates from 1899–1900 is a substantial work lasting around forty three minutes.

Modérément vite has a fast, forward moving theme to which Billaut brings a real sense of urgency. It slows to a more meditative section but then the music begins to billow up again, this pianist providing a great feeling of drama and tension as he heads to passages of passion and fire with some remarkably fine, virtuosic passages, before quietening in the passages that lead to the resigned coda. In four movements Calme, un peu lent, très soutenu opens quietly and gently with some lovely little harmonic touches. The music slowly finds its way around the diffuse theme with Billaut revealing so many of Dukas’ fine ideas. He brings finely controlled dynamics. All is beautifully phrased, quite exquisite in its gentle, yet heartfelt emotion. This is an impressively shaped movement with a peaceful coda. Dukas develops his material impressively in a sonata that really deserves to be heard in the concert hall

The Vivement, avec légèreté lifts one out of one’s seat with a dynamic, forceful opening that then fairly rattles ahead with Billaut providing some impressively fine playing, impeccable phrasing with a tremendously light and agile touch, bringing out so many fine little details within the tempestuous texture. There is a lovely, thoughtful beautifully laid out, slower central section before the opening tempo returns to dash forwards before slowing for the lovely coda.

Resolute chords also open the third movement Très lent – Animé before developing and slowly revealing the theme, often stormy and passionate. Billaut’s wonderful phrasing and clarity help to reveal the many wonders in this movement. At times one can sense Liszt (of the B minor sonata) behind certain passages as this music moves through moments of varying tempi and demanding writing. Dukas packs so much into this thirteen minute movement. Here is a dazzling display of pianism yet Billaut never misses any moments of subtle beauty or expressiveness. There is a brief quieter and slower respite that quickly leads to the coda.  

Two years after the sonata, Dukas wrote the substantial Variations, Interlude et Finale sur un thème de Rameau. It takes the penultimate piece from Rameau’s Suite in D from the second book of harpsichord works. It opens with a Menuet et Variations de l à XI (minuet and eleven variations). There is a lovely little minuet that soon moves through a series of fine variations, at turns gentle and flowing, dramatic and forceful, harmonically forward looking, fast and light, even a rather gloomy, dark variation where the theme is hardly recognisable. Billaut’s lovely attention to phrasing and dynamics and, indeed, colours brings some beautifully rewarding results before we are taken straight into the Interlude where the theme is slowly ruminated on, building as it develops and running into the Finale, a buoyant and jaunty variation. There is a moment of more relaxed crystalline purity centrally before the music heads toward the coda that, nevertheless, slows before the resolute final chords.

Prelude élégiaque (sur le nom de Haydn) (Elegiac prelude on the name of Haydn) is built around the musical notation representing the letters of Haydn’s name. It opens quietly as Dukas spells out Haydn’s name with Billaut bringing a quiet dignity to the music, a stateliness tinged with nostalgic charm. There are some lovely free, fluent passages as Dukas develops the music around the opening notes but, overall, it is a contemplative work, from which this pianist draws many lovely moments before the gentle conclusion.

This is an outstanding release. The Dukas sonata is, in particular, a very impressive work played with authority and great accomplishment by Hervé Billaut.

The excellent recording was made in the Church of Le Château de Rochebonne, Rhône, France where Billaut is Artistic Director of the festival, Les Rendez-Vous de Rochebonne that he founded with friends. There are informative booklet notes 

Alissa Firsova brings a freshness to Rachmaninov that is quite beguiling on her debut disc for VIVAT

The account of Sergei Rachmaninov’s (1873-1943) departure from his native Russia on 23rd December 1917 is rather poignant. Ostensibly in order to undertake a concert tour he had managed to obtain the necessary documents to enable him and his family to leave the revolution torn country. He and his family were seen off at Petrograd railway station by the composer’s best friend, Nikolai Struve (1875-1920). Rachmaninov’s other great friend, the opera singer Feodor Chaliapin (1873-1938) sent a note together with a package of caviar and homemade bread. The sound of gunfire could be heard in the distance.

At the crossing of the Finnish border the customs inspector who checked their luggage apparently only showed interest in the children’s schoolbooks before wishing the composer good luck on his concert tour. The road from the Finnish to the Swedish border was undertaken by open sledge from which they could see the sparks from the train disappearing in the distance. It was after midnight before they caught the train to Stockholm where they spent Christmas Eve in their hotel room. Luckily Nikolai Struve joined his family in Denmark where a rented house was soon found for the émigré family. Rachmaninov was never to return to the country of his birth, a loss that he never recovered from.

Luckily some émigrés feel the loss of their country a little less intensely. Pianist and composer, Alissa Firsova tells us in her interesting booklet note accompanying her debut recording that her family’s nostalgia for Russia did not affect them so deeply, England becoming their true home. 

This new release from Vivat is appropriately entitled Russian Émigrés and features piano works by Rachmaninov from before and after his exile from his native country coupled with works by her parents Elena Firsova and Dmitri Smirnov as well as by Alissa Firsova herself.

On this her debut disc, Alissa Firsova plays Rachmaninov’s original 1913 version of his Piano Sonata No. 2 Op. 36. She brings a slightly quieter opening to the Allegro Agitato, creating a brief sense of anticipation before the cascading bars that follow. Firsova carefully builds some tremendous passages, offset with some very fine quieter moments. It is her beautiful phrasing and flexible tempi and, indeed, fine rubato that lend so much to this music bringing a freshness that is quite beguiling. By choosing the original version, the music gains a more organic development with room to breathe. Half way through, those descending bell-like phrases have a real Russian flavour. There are many lovely details, such limpid, delicate, quieter phrases and the run up to the coda is beautifully done.

This pianist gives us a lovely slow Non Allegro to which she brings a haunting quality. Though Firsova takes this section slower than many, it works beautifully, revealing many lovely details. She builds the music wonderfully towards the middle with some fine fluent passages.  Firsova’s way of pacing and building this movement is terrific, the more passionate passages gaining so much from the surrounding calm.

The gentle introduction to the L'istesso Tempo - Allegro Molto soon gives way to playing of stormy virtuosity, again wonderfully paced, allowing the music to develop naturally. There are moments of tranquillity and beautifully detailed calm with this pianist shading and colouring phrases exquisitely before the music rises dramatically with some wonderfully transparent textures. Firsova brings a stunningly virtuosic coda, displaying a wonderful touch.

Whatever Rachmaninov’s reasons for making cuts, I cannot help always wishing that pianists would play the original version more often. Here Alissa Firsova does so in a wholly refreshing way.

Born in Leningrad composer Elena Firsova (b. 1950) studied music in Moscow with Alexander Pirumov, Yuri Kholopov and Nikolai Rakov and established contact of a crucial musical importance with composers Edison Denisov and Philip Herschkowitz, a pupil of Anton von Webern. In August 1972 she married the composer Dmitri Smirnov. In 1979, along with Edison Denisov and Sofia Gubaidulina, she was blacklisted at the Sixth Congress of the Union of Soviet Composers. Since 1979 she has had many performances in Europe and the USA and received many commissions including the BBC Proms.

Elena Firsova’s For Alissa, Op. 102 is obviously a very personal piece where she slowly reveals a gentle theme which Alissa Firsova, using her fine touch and phrasing, develops through a variety of passages from gentle and limpid through livelier and more florid moments, an intensely stormy passage as well as a hushed ponderous section where a line in the bass is overlaid with a theme for the right hand, before we are led to the coda.

This is a most attractive work that always holds the attention.

Dmitri Smirnov (b. 1948) was born in Minsk into a family of opera singers. He entered the Moscow Conservatoire in 1967 studying with Nikolai Sidelnikov, Edison Denisov, and Yury Kholopov as well as Webern's pupil Philip Herschkowitz. Since 1991, Smirnov and his wife, Elena Firsova have been resident in England. Here they have shared the position of Composer-in-Residence at Cambridge University (St John's College), spent a year at Dartington (1992) and were Visiting Professors at Keele University. In 1998 Smirnov and his family settled in St Albans, near London. Since 2003 he has taught at Goldsmiths College of Music in London.  His compositions have been played by many international conductors and orchestras.

Dmitri Smirnov’s Sonata No. 6 ‘Blake Sonata’ Op. 157 is in two movements, opening with a Lento, a set of variations on William Blake’s name using a musical alphabet or encryption code created by the composer. It begins with a hushed motif gently picked out before deep chords appear under the delicate motif as the music becomes agitated. The violent chords fall away to allow the gentler theme to continue, developing through some fine passages with this pianist providing some lovely clarity of phrasing. The music builds in tempo with lower chords bringing back a stormy nature before progressing through a gentle passage with a sorrowful emotional edge. There are some lovely free flowing gentler passages, rising to the top of the keyboard before moving slowly and quietly to the coda.

Rachmaninov can almost be heard in the opening bars of the second movement, Capriccioso before it develops through some fast and dramatic passages. Lighter, faster passages alternate and tussle with the dramatic music with, throughout, Alissa Firsova bringing exceptionally fine clarity, phrasing, subtlety of colour and texture. There are more reflective moments before the music rises with clashing bell-like phrases but it is the quieter, gentler music that leads to the coda.

This is an impressive sonata which deserves repeated listening.

Rachmaninov wrote his Variations on a Theme of Corelli Op. 42 whilst staying in Clairefontaine, France. Firsova manages to bring a rather desolate, melancholy feel to the opening Andante.  As the textures become fuller there is a warming that brings a lovely contrast. As she takes us through these variations, she brings passages of terrific clarity, finely sprung rhythmical phrases and often a lovely delicate touch as well as moments of powerful incisiveness. Her phrasing is superb, illuminating so much of this music. As she progresses through these variations, there are moments of withdrawn melancholy as well as a terrific assurance in the broader, more confident passages.

Firsova gives us a lovely nostalgic Intermezzo before leading to a simple, yet heartrending, variation managed with a simple directness. Later there are moments of fine tautness before she takes us back to Rachmaninov’s exquisite nostalgia before the final statement of the theme.

Again this pianist brings a freshness to her performance with pacing and phrasing that reveals much.

Alissa Firsova (b. 1986) is a composer in her own right. After winning the BBC Proms/Guardian Young Composer competition in 2001 she received numerous commissions including a Bach transcription for the 2010 Proms and performed by Andrew Litton and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra live on BBC 2 and BBC Radio 3. Her music has also been performed and toured by Imogen Cooper, Henning Kraggerud, Dante Quartet, Netherlands Blazer Ensemble, Seattle Chamber Players, Philharmonia Soloists, Northwest Sinfonietta and Britten Sinfonia. She was recently invited to Verbier Festival as a composer-in-residence and future commissions include an orchestral piece for Bergen Philharmonic.

As a pianist, Alissa gave her Wigmore Hall and Proms debuts in 2009 and has appeared in Dartington, Cheltenham, Presteigne, Messiaen at Southbank, Fuerstensaal Classix and Seattle festivals. She has enjoyed collaborations with distinguished artists such as Stephen Kovacevich, Stephen Isserlis and the Dante Quartet. Alissa recently completed the postgraduate conducting course at the Royal Academy of Music under Colin Metters where she also had the opportunity to work with Martyn Brabbins, Jac van Steen and Mark Shanahan. She founded her own Meladina Ensemble in 2010 for the 60th Birthday celebration of her mother Elena Firsova's music. In January 2012 she expanded this into the Meladina Symphony Orchestra for a concert in Duke's Hall, where she directed Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23 from the keyboard and conducted Mahler's 4th Symphony as well as her own clarinet concerto.

Alissa Firsova’s Lune Rouge, Op. 13 was commissioned by the Cheltenham Festival in 2005 for Imogen Cooper and is based on her own initials and those of her parents. It opens with a gentle tinkling phrase to which the left hand slowly adds to the theme. Soon a fuller texture arrives, a glorious moment as the tinkling right hand motif continues and this lovely theme moves forward, becoming ever more florid with lovely harmonies. Later lower chords combine before the music falls back with the tinkling phrases now over a gentle left hand that picks out the theme. But it is the right hand motif that gently concludes.

This is a quite lovely work.

Here is a musician that has the measure of Rachmaninov, so much so that she is able to bring a refreshing approach. The other works on this disc show clearly what a gifted family this is. The recording is tip top and there are excellent booklet notes from the pianist. As usual with VIVAT, the presentation is first rate. 

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Fragments for a second piano concerto by Grieg are coupled with a world premiere of Helge Evju’s piano concerto based on those fragments as well as a performance of the Grieg/Grainger edition of the A minor concerto on a new release from Grand Piano

Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) never managed to write his projected Second Piano Concerto in B minor leaving only small fragments of ideas, since published by the Oslo Grieg Society. These fragments lasting around two and a half minutes have been recorded by pianist Carl Petersson on a new disc from Grand Piano .

Petersson also plays Helge Evju’s (b.1942) Piano Concerto in B minor based on Grieg’s B minor Concerto fragments as well as the famous A minor Concerto in Percy Grainger’s edition and two of Grieg’s songs arranged for solo piano by Evju. All in all, this proves to be a fascinating musical experience. For the concertos, Petersson is joined by the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra  conducted by Kerry Stratton

Grainger first met Grieg in London in 1906 when he was invited to spend the summer of 1907 at the composer’s villa Troldhaugen near Bergen in Norway. Grainger was due to play Grieg’s Piano Concerto at the Leeds Festival that year and, therefore, spent some time going over the score with the composer making small emendations to the solo part. It is this revision by Grieg and Grainger that is performed here.

The Allegro moderato of Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16 (Revised by P. Grainger) has, from the opening timpani through the opening piano bars, a great incisiveness. There is light, crisp orchestral phrasing, a lovely transparency and fine detail. Carl Petersson brings a spontaneity to his playing with Kerry Stratton and the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra providing some lovely rather leisurely orchestral passages. There is a beautifully done cadenza, fluid with a terrific power before a fiery conclusion.  

The Adagio also brings some fine orchestral playing in the opening with lovely individual instrumental details. Petersson’s lovely silken, fluid playing in this movement is really rather fine.

Petersson brings his feeling of spontaneity to the Allegro marcato pushing ahead with abandon to great effect. There are some particularly fine dramatic passages as well as lovely poetic moments finely played by both soloist and orchestra. It is Petersson’s free, fluid, spontaneous approach that brings so much to this performance, pointing up so many details before leading to a grandiose coda where there is some pretty virtuosic playing.

This is a particularly revealing performance with some very fine moments.

As a prelude to Helge Evju’s Piano Concerto based on Grieg’s sketches for his Piano Concerto in B Minor, EG 120 Carl Petersson plays the small fragments sadly lasting only around two and a half minutes. Whilst perhaps not quite as tantalising as the purported sketches for Sibelius’ Eighth Symphony, these fragments certainly make one wonder how Grieg might have used them. Some certainly have a distinctive flow though, no doubt, Grieg would have developed them to something much greater.

The opening Moderato tranquillo of Helge Evju: Piano Concerto in B Minor (On Fragments by E. Grieg) has a very Nordic orchestral sound. The piano soon joins, leading to a fine melody with overtones of Grieg appearing. The faster, skittish passages for piano recall Grieg’s A minor concerto though there is not the same tautness of construction. The Scherzo brings a buoyant, rhythmically jaunty theme with a cadenza that slowly picks over the ideas as though more of a trio section, before gently and slowly leading into the Adagio. Here there is a wistful melody which, as it develops, brings some lovely passages.

The fourth movement is a Cadenza that opens with robust chords from this pianist before developing through some finely intricate phrases with some of the rhythmic episodes recalling Grieg.  The Finale pushes us headlong into another rhythmic theme before arriving at a broad romantic melody. There is a terrific coda.

Evju refers to this concerto as ‘a piece of whimsy’. It is, in fact, an attractive way of using Grieg’s fragments within a concerto context that many will enjoy immensely. Petersson gives a terrific performance.

As an added extra this pianist concludes this disc with two of Helge Evju’s transcriptions for piano of songs by Grieg. There is a very effective transcription of With a Water Lily from 6 Songs, Op. 25 that reveals itself as a fine little piece, almost Rachmaninovian at times. A Dream from 6 Songs, Op. 48 has a lovely flow, finely revealed by Petersson. It moves through some very fine passages, quite virtuosic and brilliantly played here.

I cannot imagine any Grieg enthusiast not wanting to hear this fascinating disc finely recorded and with first rate performances from all concerned.

The recording brings a fine amount of detail in a natural acoustic. There are excellent booklet notes.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Boris Pigovat’s Holocaust Requiem proves to be a magnificent work of depth and high emotion in a new performance on Naxos by violist Anna Serova with the Croation Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra conducted by Nicola Guerini

Boris Pigovat (b.1953) was born in Odessa in the USSR where he studied at the Gnessin Music Institute (Academia of Music) in Moscow. In1988 he won the special distinction diploma  at  the  International  Composers’ Competition   in Budapest  for his composition Musica dolorosa No. 2 for Trombone Quartet

He immigrated to Israel in 1990 where, in 1995, he was awarded the Prize of ACUM (Israeli ASCAP) for his composition Holocaust Requiem. In 2000 he was awarded the prize of Prime Minister of State of Israel and, in 2002, received his Ph.D. degree from Bar-Ilan University, Israel.

Many of his works have been performed throughout the world.  His composition Massada was performed at ISCM World music days 2000 festival in Luxembourg and at WASBE 2003 Conference in Jonkoping, Sweden.  His symphonic picture Wind of Yemen was performed at the Asian Music Festival 2003 in Tokyo and at WASBE 2009 Conference in Cincinnati (USA). Three of his pieces, Prayer, Song of the Sea and Voices of Jerusalem, were performed in New York’s Carnegie Hall.  His work Music of Sorrow and Hope (2011) was commissioned and premiered by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Zubin Mehta at the IPO's 75th Anniversary Festival.

The world premiere of the Holocaust Requiem for Viola & Symphony Orchestra   took place at the Memorial evening dedicated to the Babiy Yar tragedy in Kiev, Ukraine in October 2001. In 2008 this work was performed in Wellington, New Zealand at the Concert of Remembrance 70th Anniversary of Kristallnacht 

His work Poem of Dawn for Viola & Symphony Orchestra was premiered by Anna Serova and Zagreb-HRT Symphony Orchestra conducted by Nicola Guerini at Il Settembre dell'Accademia 2013, Teatro Filarmonico di Verona.      

It is the Holocaust Requiem and Poem of Dawn that have been recorded by Nicola Guerini  and the Croation Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra  with violist Anna Serova for Naxos. The recording of Poem of Dawn is a world premiere recording.

Boris Pigovat decided against his original idea of having a soloist, chorus, speaker, and orchestra in his Holocaust Requiem (1994-95) preferring to allow a simplicity and directness with a solo viola providing a ‘human voice.’

Requiem aeternam unfolds beautifully with clarinet and low strings before rising through the strings. This is an impressive opening. The viola enters taking the theme, soloist Anna Serova bringing a lovely tone and fine timbres. The orchestra re-join adding a darkness and uncertainty. A harp gently supports the viola theme before fuller strings enter, the viola bringing some most eloquent moments, the human voice of this tragic music. The music moves through moments of hushed calm before the tempo picks up, pointed up by piano and percussion. The viola becomes agitated as the orchestra leads to a full, rich dramatic passage with anguished phrases from the viola. The orchestra reaches a peak with impassioned phrases before timpani strokes herald the solo viola in a quieter passage. The orchestra re-joins to bring the tragic feel of the opening.

Incisive chords from the higher strings open the Dies irae in a rising motif soon joined by the whole orchestra as brass churn out the Dies Irae with drum strokes and timpani. All quietens to a wistful passage as the viola joins with a quiet, rather tentative motif before becoming increasingly anguished as the orchestra rises ever upward, the Dies Irae plainchant is still hinted at. The music adopts a rhythmic stance with percussion before dropping to a slow hesitant passage. There are some fine moments from the viola in this strident anguished music.

Soon the orchestra hammers out the theme before leading on with a tormented, anguished viola part. The orchestra heads insistently forward occasionally falling back only to rise ever more violently forward. This is music of some violence and impact. The piano joins with percussion to lead the music ahead with an almost manic stance. There are discordant phrases as the music reaches a pitch. Timpani sound out over the orchestra as the pitch is held by high strings and brass. Low strings then chunter forward until falling into silence, leaving just a piccolo with a lovely little motif to quietly end with hushed rustling strings.

A gong sounds to herald a discordant Lacrimosa with a repeated motif from the viola, like a cry of anguish. There is some simply outstanding playing from Anna Serova in this extended, cadenza like passage. Timpani sound but the solo viola continues, though now mournful and quieter. As the viola slowly leads on timpani quietly and gently accompany. There is a crash of gongs that brings a momentary rise in passion but the viola continues quietly as the gong and cymbal crashes die away. The strings now enter with a most affecting melody, slow, quiet and reserved and gently holding a melancholy reserve.

A lone trombone brings the Lux aeterna. The orchestra soon join keeping the melancholy atmosphere. There is a gentle rise in passion but the restrained feel is still maintained. The viola eventually joins and tries to add a degree of passion, picked up by the orchestra. However the music soon drops to a hush. There are further attempts to rise in passion but the melancholy calm is held. Later there is a particularly beautiful passage as well as a lovely flute solo. The viola leads to a hushed section with celeste before entering upon a quiet and gentle solo passage, joined by the orchestra as the coda arrives.

This is a magnificent work of depth and high emotion that is immensely rewarding.

Poem of Dawn (2010) was written for and dedicated to the violist Anna Serova. The celeste opens with a little motif before strings and viola enter, the viola bringing a fine melody. Together with the orchestra a fine flowing, undulating melody is developed, Serova bringing a lovely rich tone. There are hushed harmonics from the viola before the music picks up in dynamics with moments of fine instrumental detail, especially for woodwind and brass, woven into the orchestration. There are some particularly beautiful moments when the sound billows up in the orchestra in this unashamedly romantic score.  Eventually the music reaches a fine romantic climax in the orchestra as dawn arrives. The viola returns as the music falls back in a beautifully orchestrated, hushed passage. As the music slowly moves forward, there is some particularly fine writing for the viola before a beautifully hushed coda with celeste, viola and orchestra.  

Pigovat is a remarkably fine orchestrator. Poem of Dawn makes a fine contrast to the melancholy, passion and tragedy of the Requiem. Nevertheless it is the very fine Holocaust Requiem that I will return to most often. Anna Serova proves to be a first class soloist with the Croatian Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra under Nicola Guerini turning in first class performances.

The recording is excellent and there are authoritative and informative booklet notes from the composer.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Paul McCreesh and his Gabrieli Consort and Players give us as performance of Handel’s L ‘Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato to be reckoned with on a new Winged Lion release

George Frideric Handel’s English Ode, L‘Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, HWV 55 was composed between 19th January and 4th February 1740 during a severe winter that had caused the cancellation of a revival of his Masque Acis and Galatea.  The text is taken from Milton’s two odes L’Allegro and Il Penseroso arranged by Charles Jennens (1700-1773) who also provided his own third part, Il Moderato.

There are no characters in L ‘Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato. The characters are personifications of emotional states and as such are sung by different soloists. Indeed the choice of soloist has varied in later editions.

For his new recording for Winged Lion  released by Signum Classics Paul McCreesh  with his Gabrieli Consort and Players  has gone back to the original version as premiered on 27th February 1740. The soloists on this new release are Gillian Webster (soprano) , Jeremy Ovenden (tenor) , Laurence Kilsby (treble), Peter Harvey (baritone)  and Ashley Riches (bass) . The organist is William Whitehead

Paul McCreesh prefaces L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato with Handel’s
Concerto Grosso No. 1 in G Major, Op. 6, HWV 319 as, indeed, the composer would have done. The sparer textures of the Gabrielli Players bring some particularly fine sounds, often lithe and full of clarity. This is a particularly fine performance that makes an ideal introduction to the main work. An absolute delight.

Part I of L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato opens with tenor Jeremy Ovenden, bringing a fine characterisation to the recitative Hence! loathed melancholy using his fine voice to find a variety of timbres. Soprano Gillian Webster shows her lovely, articulate voice in the brief recitative Hence! vain deluding Joys.

What a delight treble Laurence Kilsby is as he sings the Air Come, thou goddess, fair and free, in terrific voice with plenty of strength, spot on phrasing and control. Gillian Webster returns showing exquisite control in the Air Come rather, goddess, sage and holy holding a perfect line whilst the Gabrieli Players provide some lovely sonorities.

With the Air Haste thee, nymph, and bring with thee Jeremy Ovenden deals with Handel’s difficult vocal part, with its rhythmic phrasing, superbly. The Gabrieli Consort, when they join, are spot on with their phrasing and ensemble. This tenor brings such great variety to the Air Come and trip it as you go.

Gillian Webster draws some lovely longer, slow phrases in the recitative Come, pensive nun, devout and pure along with the Gabrieli Players shaping this so well. The soprano’s higher notes are well shaped and controlled in the beautifully paced Air Come, but keep thy wonted state. When the choir enter they do so with such a lovely mellow sound

Both tenor and treble bring us the recitative Hence loathed Melancholy before
Treble Laurence Kilsby sings Mirth, admit me of thy crew. After beautifully done instrumental introduction, this fine treble shows remarkable power, pitch and, indeed, understanding of the characterisation of this piece.

Gillian Webster displays a lovely slow recitative First, and chief, on golden wing. It is finely laid out with lovely long lines before a beautiful pastoral introduction to the Air Sweet bird, that shuns't the noise of folly where the Gabrieli’s flautist, Katy Bircher, provides particularly lovely trills. When the soprano enters she has a lovely dialogue with the flute. The blend of vocal and instrumental is superb, a real highlight.

The recitative If I give thee honour due introduces bass, Ashley Riches who brings drama to the part as well as to the Air Mirth, admit me of thy crew with the natural horn of Richard Bayliss providing a terrific opening.  The Air Oft on a plat of rising ground also has notable instrumental moments with Gillian Webster providing an exquisite performance.  

Jeremy Ovenden tenor returns for the recitative If I give thee honour due leading to the  Air Let me wander, not unseen a lovely setting with a gentle sway, beautifully caught here by both tenor and players.

The Air & Chorus Or let the merry bells ring round is something of a triumph, full of joy, rhythmic buoyancy and a remarkable flexibility from Ovenden, with jingling bells adding to the gaiety before the chorus enter to take us to a glorious conclusion of Part I.

Paul McCreesh choses Handel’s Concerto Grosso No. 3 in E Minor, Op. 6, HWV 321 to precede Part II. This is another buoyant and beautifully textured concerto, these players on fine form with some great Handelian moments.

Part II commences with the recitative Hence, vain deluding Joys where Gillian Webster is very fine, beautifully controlled before she sings the Air But O! sad virgin, that thy power. There is some superb instrumental playing before and during this lovely Air. The first CD concludes with a gentle sad recitative Thus, Night, oft see me in thy pale career in a lovely performance from Gillian Webster.

Moving to the second CD Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort and Players bring the Chorus Populous cities please me then with bass Ashley Riches and the brass of the Gabrieli Players adding a dramatic edge. There is a lovely flowing central choral section. Tenor Jeremy Ovenden brings the Air There let Hymen oft appear with lovely fleet playing from the Gabrieli Players, a lightness of texture and sung with great panache.

Gillian Webster shows just how beautiful recitative can be in Me, when the sun begins to fling before the Air Hide me from day's garish eye which is simply glorious.

Jeremy Ovenden’s performance of the Air I'll to the well-trod stage anon is full of character with a sense of great humour before the remarkable treble Laurence Kilsby returns for the Air And ever against eating cares with lovely sonorities from the Gabrieli Players. This treble shows such assured singing – spectacularly fine.

Trumpets sound out magnificently to bring a terrific Air & Chorus These delights if thou canst give with some brilliant flexible singing from tenor Jeremy Ovenden and the Gabrieli Consort full and incisive. Soprano Gillian Webster gives a lovely recitative But let my due feet never fail before the Chorus There let the pealing organ blow with the Gabrieli Consort, a prominent part for organ and lovely part for soprano.

Part II concludes with the Chorus These pleasures, Melancholy, give with a lovely layering of choral textures.

To precede Part III we have Handel’s Organ Concerto No. 1 in B-Flat Major, Op. 7, HWV 306 which unlike the continuo organ in the main work is played by William Whitehead on the organ of Deptford parish church, London, England. This 2004 William Drake organ recreates an organ of 1745, retaining some of the case and pipes. It provides some glorious timbres and textures that, combined with the sounds of the Gabrieli Players, are quite gorgeous. One can quite imagine Handel playing at the early performances.  

The recitative Hence! boast not, ye profane opens Part III where baritone Peter Harvey joins showing an especially attractive voice with lovely textures. He continues with the recitative Come, with native lustre shine showing great flexibility and some fine feeling before the Gabrieli Consort join to lead the music on in this lovely Chorus. Gillian Webster is impressive in the Air Come, with gentle hand restrain showing such a light and flexible touch.

Jeremy Ovenden gives a dramatically turned recitative No more short life they then will spend before, with the Gabrieli Players, building the Air Each action will derive new grace very finely.

There follows a most lovely Duet from Jeremy Ovenden and Gillian Webster As steals the morn upon the night with beautiful instrumental sonorities and these two soloists blending perfectly, weaving lovely strands. Here surely is a foretaste of Handel’s soon to be written Messiah. It is the Gabrieli Consort and Players  that rise up with the organ for the final Chorus Thy pleasure, Moderation, give bringing a fine conclusion.

This is a performance to be reckoned with, one that is not easily going to be matched. The soloists are excellent as is the choral and instrumental playing.

The first class recording from three different venues is generally seamlessly engineered except perhaps for a slightly noticeable larger acoustic sound from Deptford parish church.

The book that the CDs are contained within is beautifully presented with excellent and very full notes. There are full English texts.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Terrific performances on cello sonatas by Prokofiev, Britten and Shostakovich from Daniel Müller-Schott and Francesco Piemontesi on a new release from Orfeo

Cellist Daniel Müller-Schott was born in Munich, Germany and studied under Walter Nothas, Heinrich Schiff and Steven Isserlis. He benefited early on from personal sponsorship by Anne-Sophie Mutter as the holder of a scholarship from her foundation enabling him to receive private tuition from Mstislav Rostropovich.  In 1992, at the age of fifteen, he first caused a sensation internationally by winning the 1st Prize at the Moscow International Tchaikovsky Competition for Young Musicians.

Since then he has worked with leading international orchestras and with such renowned conductors as Charles Dutoit, Christoph Eschenbach, Iván Fischer, Alan Gilbert, Bernard Haitink, Jakub Hrůša, Pietari Inkinen, Neeme Järvi, Dmitrij Kitajenko, Lorin Maazel, Jun Märkl, Kurt Masur, Andris Nelsons, Gianandrea Noseda, Sakari Oramo, Andrés Orozco-Estrada, Vasily Petrenko, André Previn, Michael Sanderling, Jukka-Pekka Saraste and Krzysztof Urbański. Daniel Müller-Schott plays the Ex Shapiro Matteo Goffriller cello, made in Venice in 1727.

Daniel Müller-Schott has already built up a sizeable discography under the ORFEO, Deutsche Grammophon, Hyperion, Pentatone and EMI Classics labels winning him Gramophone Editor’s Choice, Strad Selection, the BBC Music Magazine’s ‘CD of the month’ and the Diapason d’Or for his recording of Britten’s solo suites on the Orfeo label.

Now from Orfeo Daniel Müller-Schott is joined by Francesco Piemontesi in performances of cello sonatas by Prokofiev, Britten and Shostakovich.

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Pianist Francesco Piemontesi was born in Locarno, Switzerland. He studied with Arie Vardi before collaborating with Murray Perahia, Cécile Ousset and Alexis Weissenberg. One of his great teachers and mentors was Alfred Brendel. He rose to international prominence with prizes at several major competitions, including the 2007 Queen Elizabeth Competition. Between 2009-2011 he was chosen as a BBC New Generation Artist.

Francesco Piemontesi has appeared with major ensembles worldwide and with such conductors as Zubin Mehta, Marek Janowski, Sakari Oramo, Vasily Petrenko and Charles Dutoit. As a chamber musician he has played with a variety of partners such as the Emerson Quartet, Antoine Tamestit and Jörg Widmann, Renaud and Gautier Capuçon, Clemens Hagen, Yuri Bashmet, Angelika Kirchschlager and Heinrich Schiff.

Francesco Piemontesi has also released a number of recordings, including Schumann Sonatas and a mixed recital of Handel, Brahms, Bach, and Liszt for Avanti Classics. More recently he has made three recordings for Naïve Classique, Mozart Piano Works, Schumann and Dvořák‘s Piano Concerti with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Jiří Bělohlávek, and the Debussy Preludes.

The works on this new disc are all connected directly and indirectly by one man, the great cellist, Mstislav Rostropovich. Prokofiev’s sonata was inspired by the playing of Rostropovich and first performed by the great cellist with pianist Sviatoslav Richter. Britten’s sonata was written for Rostropovich and Shostakovich was a close friend of both Rostropovich and Britten. This is, then, an excellent choice of repertoire to bring together on one disc.

What a beautiful rich tone Daniel Müller-Schott brings to the opening of the Andante grave of Prokofiev’s Sonata for cello and piano in C major, Op.119 (1949) with Francesco Piemontesi adding a subtle gentle support. There is some exceptionally fine interplay between these artists. They build this movement wonderfully; setting Prokofiev’s withdrawn moments beautifully against the more impassioned moments. Müller-Schott’s rich singing tone and Piemontesi’s beautifully shaded playing provide some lovely moments before the hushed end.

They bring a beautifully light and buoyant Moderato full of surface sparkle and wit, yet these players reveal a darker side as the movement develops. There is a very fine central flowing section with these players bringing a fine clarity to the faster episodes.

The Allegro ma non troppo brings a lovely flexibility from Müller-Schott with Piemontesi providing a terrific dexterity. Their ensemble is spot on following every little twist and turn.  They bring moments that are still and thoughtful, even mysterious in nature, superbly played with such a light touch. As the music takes off in the later passages there is superb playing, with these artists ratcheting up the drama before the impassioned coda.

This is a very fine performance indeed.

The Dialogo. Allegro of Benjamin Britten’s Sonata for cello and piano in C, Op.65 (1961) has an exquisite opening sequence as cello and piano gently respond to each other. The music soon takes off with some terrific playing, full of strength and drama and some terrific harmonies and dissonances.  Müller-Schott and Piemontesi bring a natural, improvisatory feel to their playing, beautifully paced and phrased. They develop the little scales that appear to be something much more and the hushed coda is superbly done.

With the Scherzo Pizzicato. Allegretto these players bring out all of Britten’s strange, skittish atmosphere. They find a coolness, withdrawn yet lively, almost ghostly at times, certainly troubled. They respond so well to each other as they chase each other. Quiet, mournful piano chords open the Elegia. Lento to which the cellist adds an equally mournful tone. They bring a delicate playfulness as the theme is developed, becoming more troubled as it rises, eventually to a great passion with a wailing cello motif over a florid piano part, brilliantly played by this duo. There is another ghostly hushed passage finely played here.

Piemontesi brings some finely crisp phrasing to the Marcia. Energico against which Müller-Schott provides some fine dramatic phrases. There are some terrific rhythmic passages as well as lovely harmonics from the cello.  This cellist provides such light bowing in the opening of the Moto Perpetuo. Presto. There is a lovely lighter episode before the tempo and drama pick up and these players move headlong to the coda.

This is a terrific performance in every way.

Müller-Schott  and Piemontesi  find a lovely tempo for the opening of the Allegro non troppo – Largo of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Prokofiev: Sonata for cello and piano in D minor, Op.40 (1934). They build through the following drama with consummate skill, great agility and intuitive accuracy. The slow section that follows is beautifully shaped and paced, a fine balance between artists. They bring a fine flow with finely judged phrasing from Müller-Schott. There is a natural forward push into the faster, more passionate passages, each time rising in passion. Piemontesi adds such a fine breadth of playing as the music rises and, towards the end, a strange and ghostly version of the theme is slowly taken forward in steps to the hushed coda.

The very fine Allegro is not taken too fast but with plenty of forward thrust and again spot on precision between players. There is a terrific central section with Müller-Schott’s bowing so lithe and light and spot on coda with its sudden end.

The Largo rises beautifully and wistfully, leading to one of Shostakovich’s finest melodies with these players bringing a sense of underlying tragedy as the theme develops. There are some exquisite touches from Müller-Schott before the music rises centrally to a passionate peak, Piemontesi providing some fine phrases against which the cellist pulls back to a quieter stance. They reveal some of the unsettling emotions lurking behind this piece with a coda that brings a hushed, sad conclusion – beautifully played.

There is a crisply pointed opening to the Allegro from the pianist, reflected by the cello with pin point precision before these artists move the music forward with a sense of restlessness. In the centrally fast section, both cellist and pianist bring some dazzling playing before building a hushed tension to lead to the sparkling coda.

These are terrific performances very well recorded with informative booklet notes. 

Friday, 17 July 2015

An outstanding First Night of the Proms from Sakari Oramo and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers, BBC National Chorus of Wales and BBC Symphony Chorus with soloists Lars Vogt and Christopher Maltman

The First Night of the Proms tonight featured works by Nielsen, Gary Carpenter, Mozart, Sibelius and Walton with the BBC Singers, BBC National Chorus of Wales, BBC Symphony Chorus and BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sakari Oramo with pianist Lars Vogt and baritone Christopher Maltman

This year is the 150th anniversary of the birth of both Nielsen and Sibelius and is celebrated by a number of performances of works by these composers. Nielsen will be featured in a further six Proms and Sibelius in another five programmes.

Nielsen’s Maskarade Overture is taken from his comic opera of that name, first produced in 1906. All the Nielsen fingerprints were here with Oramo finding many moments of attractive detail yet with a fine overall sweep and, towards the end, a real feeling of joie de vivre.

Gary Carpenter’s Dadaville,  a BBC commission received its world premiere at tonight’s Prom. Dadaville was inspired by a relief by Max Ernst exhibited at the Tate Liverpool. In the composer’s words the piece starts gently and builds momentum based on the notes D and A which inform the whole piece.

As the music slowly and quietly opened there seemed to be very much the sound world of Britten in one of his Sea Interludes, an exquisitely conceived opening. Soon, however, there were little instrumental outbursts around the moments of tranquil beauty. As the work grew there were moments of disruptive, menacing undertones, as the music slowly built, insistently, with jazz style brass phrases to a final climax with the surprise of fireworks to conclude. A brilliant piece from a composer that I am becoming increasingly drawn towards.

Lars Vogt joined Oramo and the BBC Symphony Orchestra for Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K.466. Oramo brought a lovely refined yet intense opening to this concerto with Vogt, when he entered, keeping something of a reserve. He brought a lightness of touch which, together with a great forward thrust, was wholly appealing though occasionally I would have liked a little more dramatic intensity.  Oramo responded with some lovely light crisp phrasing. It was in the finale that Vogt and the orchestra really took off, seemingly building to this point, full of fire and thrust though with some, lovely gentler moments, finely nuanced.

After the interval Oramo and the BBC Symphony Orchestra brought us Sibelius’ Suite Belshazzar's Feast. Sibelius had, in 1906, put aside work on his promised third symphony in order to work on his incidental music for Hjalmar Procopé’s play Belshazzars gästabud (Belshazzar's Feastfrom) from which he later drew an orchestral suite.

This rarity in the concert hall shows this most Finnish of composers bringing a real taste of the Orient in the opening Oriental Procession. Oramo carefully built the music before moving into a beautifully and sensitively drawn Solitude, finding a gentle, sultry quality, hauntingly beautiful. Nocturne rose with an exquisite flute melody, beautifully played by the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s principal. Some beautifully shaped woodwind led into the final section, Khadra’s Dance bringing exquisitely light textures to conclude a lovely performance.

Walton’s Belshazzar's Feast has been immensely popular since its first performance at the Leeds Festival in 1931, soon being taken up by the larger choral societies. Tonight, right from the beginning, the BBC Singers, BBC National Chorus of Wales and the BBC Symphony Chorus were phenomenal, particularly in Walton’s sometimes rather declamatory passages. Oramo drew a wonderfully dark atmosphere at the outset with some particularly rich sonorous textures from the BBCSO. Christopher Maltman brought a rich, strong, finely characterised performance. This fine bass baritone was absolutely tremendous in the mercilessly exposed solo part “Praise Ye – The God of Gold”. Oramo brought superb pacing and control with lovely choral harmonies from the Chorus.

There was a spellbinding moment as the writing appeared on the wall and Belshazzar was weighed in the balance and found wanting. The BBC Symphony Orchestra, with the BBC Singers, BBC National Chorus of Wales, BBC Symphony Chorus and the Royal Albert Hall organ certainly did make ‘a joyful noise to the God of Jacob’, in the final Alleluia.

Overall, this was an outstanding First Night.

See also: 

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

A highly attractive new release featuring the Czech Philharmonic Wind Ensemble conducted by Shea Lolin in some remarkable British works for woodwind orchestra from Legni Classics

Twisted Skyscape is a new release of new music for woodwind orchestra from Legni Classics  featuring the Czech Philharmonic Wind Ensemble conducted by Shea Lolin 

There is an interesting video on the making of this new disc available on YouTube as well as a Shea Lolin trailer video on the conductor’s own website

Philip Sparke’s (b.1951) : Overture for Woodwinds was written in 1999 following a commission by the Berkshire Young Musicians Trust. It opens impressively with a rich sonorous motif and develops through some attractively spacious passages, melodic and tonally free. A spiky rhythmic theme emerges that moves the music along at a fine jogging pace, light and buoyant right through to the coda.

Gary Carpenter’s (b.1951) Pantomime was written in 1995 and is in five movements and opens in a subdued dramatic fashion before slowly developing in tempo to a riotously buoyant theme, recalling to an extent jazz and the music of the 1920s. It moves rhythmically forward with contrasting moments of a more reflective nature. There is a most attractive quieter second movement section with a reflective, melancholy oboe theme picked up by bassoon and accompanied by the rest of the ensemble before the third movement brings a moderate flowing tempo with a gentle rhythmic lilt, with more fine orchestration, a lovely use of woodwind band and developing some jazz influences as it progresses. It falls slower towards the end, as well as being reflective with some lovely rich sonorities. The fourth movement takes the opening of Mahler’s fifth symphony on which to base a rich variety of variations, again with a rhythmic jazz style twist, before running into the final waltz movement, inventive and ear catching.

This is a diverse, attractive and highly imaginative score from this fine composer whose BBC commission Dadaville will receive its world premiere with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sakari Oramo at this year’s First Night of the Proms this coming Friday 17th July 2015.

Christopher Hussey’s (b.1974) Dreamtide, written in 2013, rises from a whoosh of hushed wind sound before tentatively moving forward with various combinations of wind instruments bringing a variety of textures and sonorities. The music meanders ahead with its lovely little theme for some time, before a repeated rhythmic motif appears taking the music forward as the theme still emerges elsewhere in the ensemble. Hussey brings a myriad of ideas over the repeated motif before it suddenly stops for a quiet, gentle passage where there is a lovely layering of wind instruments with some beautiful moments as this section gently moves forward. It rises to a little climax before gently continuing, subtly adding an emotional pull before the gentle coda.

In ten sections Adam Gorb’s (b.1958) Battle Symphony, Op.26 (1997) (La Battalia for Woodwind and Saxes) is described as taking a fresh look at the highly fashionable 17th Century battle romps, all fanfares, drum-rolls and martial scrimmaging, a blend of baroque pastiche and something more subversively contemporary. A sprightly little theme for high woodwind opens with a rather archaic sound before picking up in tempo as the ensemble overlay textures and musical lines in a rather fugal section with flourishes from higher winds. There is a slow section with a little marshal motif from the flutes over a richer ground before the tempo picks up with a theme for upper woodwind over a repeated ground for lower wind. A slower mellow section with fine wind sonorities follows, having almost the nature of a lament before a rhythmic dancing motif appears. It builds in textures as the instruments are overlaid until an archaic sounding tune surfaces. It continues with a lovely little Tudor style flute and bassoon tune piece soon taken by the rest of the ensemble including tenor saxophone.  The tempo picks up again as we move to the coda.

This is a particularly attractive work wonderfully performed here.

This new release concludes with another work by Christopher Hussey, the title piece of this disc. Twisted Skyscape, a symphonic tone poem for woodwinds was written in 2008 and presents a story about the ever-changing relationship between man and the natural world he inhabits. The composer tells us that the dramatic journey explores the cycles and patterns of organic forms and their contrast with the linear, constructed elements of a man-made environment.

There is a deep resonant opening from the contrabassoon as the music slowly opens up creating a remarkably rich deep resonant sound. The music rises up through the ensemble with flourishes and motifs from various instruments built around a three note motif that provides a remarkable variety of variations.  Soon the tempo gains a staccato rhythm over which a longer melody is played, the lower winds still occasionally providing a rich bass underlay. There are some highly attractive decorations and flourishes from individual instruments as well as fine textures, timbres and sonorities. Later the music falls to a gentle, quiet play on the three note motif with Hussey creating some quite lovely textures in his choice of instrumental combinations, before leading slowly through richer sonorities to a settled coda.

This is a terrific work that brings a highly effective use of the woodwind ensemble.

This is a highly attractive new release featuring some remarkable works for wind ensemble. Given the terrific sounds that the Czech Philharmonic Wind Ensemble brings to this music we need to hear more from them.

My download reveals a recording of fine detail.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Vladimir Feltsman reveals many fine pieces within Schumann’s Album for the Young on a new release from Nimbus

Robert Schumann (1810-1856) wrote his Album für die Jugend (Album for the Young), Op. 68 in 1848 for his three daughters after being dissatisfied with the quality of repertoire for children. The album consists of a collection of forty three short works. Though they are intended to be played by children or beginners, the second part, starting with Nr. 19 (Kleine Romanze), is marked Für Erwachsenere (For more grown-up ones) and contains more demanding pieces.

Though not intended for public performance it is surprising the quality of some of the pieces contained in this collection. This is demonstrated remarkably well with the performances by Vladimir Feltsman  on a new release from Nimbus  

NI 6307
Feltsman is building a considerable catalogue of recordings for Nimbus with a broad repertoire including A Tribute to Rachmaninoff  (NI6148), A Tribute to Scriabin (NI6198), A Tribute to Tchaikovsky (NI6162), Beethoven Diabelli Variations (NI6257), Beethoven Piano Sonatas (NI6120), Chopin Waltzes and Impromptus (NI6184), Liszt - Bénédiction de Dieu (NI6212), Bach - The English Suites (NI6176), Bach Six Partitas (NI6207), Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition & Tchaikovsky Album for the Young (NI6211), Haydn Keyboard Sonatas (NI6242), Schnittke Sonata No.1 and Schubert Sonata 'Reliquie' (NI6284), Chopin Ballades (NI6128) and Chopin Nocturnes (NI6126)

With his first Schumann disc for Nimbus Album für die Jugend presents an interesting and in some ways a challenging choice. The opening Melodie has a lovely charm, played with an elegant simplicity before a beautifully crisp Soldatenmarsch (Soldiers' march) and a Trällerliedchen (Humming song) where the fine melody is given a lovely flow. Feltsman brings all of his fine sensibility to Ein Choral (Chorale) followed by a finely turned - Stückchen (A little piece). Armes Waisenkind (The poor orphan) is nicely phrased, showing just how fine a miniature this is. Jägerliedchen (Hunting song) is given a lovely rhythmic lift before the Wilder Reiter (The Wild Horseman) arrives at a fast pace. Volksliedchen (Folk song) is revealed here as a rather magical little piece before Fröhlicher Landmann (The merry peasant) really carries the listener along. Sicilianisch (Sicilienne) has lovely rhythms, followed by Knecht Ruprecht which sounds like a more substantial piece in this fine performance. The rather lovely Mai, lieber Mai (May, sweet May) receives a beautifully poetic performance before the limpid flow of Kleine Studie (Little study/etude). There is a beautifully phrased Frühlingsgesang (Spring song), exquisitely shaped, Erster Verlust (First loss) where Feltsman shows just what a fine touch he has, a fine no nonsense performance of Kleiner Morgenwanderer (Little morning wanderer) which strides forward to great effect before Schnitterliedchen (The reaper's song) which is brilliantly played making it more than a child’s piece.

When we arrive at the pieces ‘for more grown-up ones’ Kleine Romanze (Little romance) has a presence and stature more than one would expect. Ländliches Lied (Rustic song) is light and jolly before the lovely untitled piece in C major, based on Prison-Terzetto from Beethoven's Fidelio. Rundgesang (Roundelay) has another fine melody before Feltsman builds the galloping Reiterstück (The horseman) tremendously. Another lovely melodic piece is Ernteliedchen (Harvest song). It is beautifully played by this pianist and precedes a dramatic Nachklänge aus dem Theater (Echoes from the theatre). After a rather wistful piece in F major, Kanonisches Liedchen (A little canon) clearly shows the need for a greater degree of technical ability with Feltsman revealing a really lovely overlay of musical lines. Erinnerung (4 November 1847) (Remembrance) commemorates the date of Felix Mendelssohn's death and has the nature of a much deeper work of some beauty. After the freely shifting march rhythms of Fremder Mann (The stranger) with a lovely central section, the following untitled piece in F major is gently flowing, quite beautifully done.

Following on from Kriegslied (Song of war) with its stately syncopated rhythm, is Sheherazade, a lovely piece played here with a fine sensitivity and poetry. The skittish Weinlesezeit – ‘Fröhliche Zeit!’ (Gathering of the grapes – happy time!) must be great fun for the pianist, certainly that is the feeling given here with a fine touch and agility from Feltsman’s. There is a beautiful thoughtful Thema (Theme) followed by Mignon where Feltsman brings his fine touch to this gentle, exquisite piece, a real gem. Lied italienischer Marinari (Italian mariners' song) has a fine, forward impetus, the rather unsettling Matrosenlied (Sailors' Song) is finely conceived and there is a lovely thoughtful Winterzeit I (Wintertime I). Winterzeit II (Wintertime II) develops beautifully through some fine passages before Kleine Fuge (Little fugue) brings an unstoppable motion that quite intoxicating, especially in Feltsman’s hands, this pianist providing some lovely touches. Nordisches Lied (Northern Song – Salute to G.) is dedicated to the composer Niels Gade using the letters of his name, G-A-D-E. It is a subdued piece, finely wrought here. Figurierter Choral (Figured chorale) is a very fine piece with subtle harmonies revealed in this lovely, gentle performance before the concluding Sylvesterlied (New Year's Eve) that, like a number of pieces in this collection, could stand on its own as a mature, finely felt piece. It is played here with the most lovely phrasing and sensibility.
Schumann didn’t write down to his students rather he gave them so many fine tunes and ideas that he could easily have used elsewhere. This is music for children but, nevertheless, full of fine ideas revealed here wonderfully by Vladimir Feltsman. He brings an understated authority to these pieces and is well recorded at Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, UK. There are excellent booklet notes by Vladimir Feltsman.

See also:

Sunday, 12 July 2015

The Legendary Borodin Quartet sign to Decca commencing a new Shostakovich cycle to commemorate their 70th Anniversary season

The Borodin Quartet was founded in 1945, ten years before it adopted the name Borodin Quartet. Its longest-serving member, Valentin Berlinsky, was there almost at the beginning, though he modestly declines the title of having been the original cellist, his one predecessor was a certain Mstislav Rostropovich.

The first settled formation comprised Rostislav Dubinsky and Vladimir Rabeij (violins), Rudolf Barshai (viola) and Valentin Berlinsky (cello), performing under the name Quartet of the Moscow Philharmonic. During the first decade there were several changes of personnel. Nina Barshai (wife of Rudolf) replaced Rabeij after two years, then made way for Jaroslav Alexandrov in 1952. In 1953 Rudolf Barshai left to pursue his career as a soloist and conductor, and his place was taken by Dmitri Shebalin. The formation of Dubinsky, Alexandrov, Shebalin and Berlinsky lasted for two decades.

Despite the restrictions placed on Soviet artists in the Cold War years, the quartet appeared outside the Soviet Union and even toured the USA. In the mid1970s, at a time when recordings were spreading the ensemble’s reputation still wider, a new formation was needed when Alexandrov left and Dubinsky emigrated to the West. Berlinsky, whose soul may be said to be invested in the Borodin Quartet, recruited two new violinists, Mikhail Kopelman (1st violin) and Andrei Abramenkov (2nd). The following two decades saw the quartet accepted internationally as one of the world’s most renowned ensembles, revered for its authority in Russian music and Shostakovich in particular.  New recordings were critically acclaimed on all continents, and the already taxing touring schedule intensified when the Soviet system ended in 1989 and the whole world clamoured to hear the Borodin Quartet in live performance.

In the 1990s the quartet again underwent membership changes. Viola-player Dmitri Shebalin retired to be replaced by Igor Naidin, while Ruben Aharonian became the new 1st violin when Mikhail Kopelman left. In 2007 Valentin Berlinsky handed over the role of cellist to Vladimir Balshin. In 2001 Sergei Lomovsky replaced Abramenkov as 2nd violinist. Thus the current line-up is Ruben Aharonian and Sergei Lomovsky (violins), Igor Naidin (viola) and Vladimir Balshin (cello).

Throughout all these changes, the Borodin Quartet has retained its distinct identity with each newcomer hearing the existing members playing in a very recognisable style and automatically soaking up the tradition.

The first new release on their new signing for Decca  is the first volume of a cycle of Shostakovich quartets, No’s 1, 8 and 14 coupled with Two Pieces for String Quartet, Op.36a.

CD or download
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The Borodin Quartet bring a gentle wistfulness to the opening of the first movement Moderato of String Quartet No.1 in C major, Op.49, subtly allowing Shostakovich’s little rhythmic motif to appear. As the movement develops they bring a rather more forceful edge to their playing before allowing the music to return to a more wistful nature. When the rhythmic theme reappears it has a less hard edge with some fine moments before the wistful little coda.

The second Moderato opens with a curious viola theme soon underlined by a pizzicato cello. As the music broadens with its fine, typically Shostakovichian theme, this Quartet point up the more dramatic moments bringing an emotional intensity as the movement progresses, all the while keeping an unsettled undertone.

This quartet reveal a terrific lightness of touch as they hurtle forward in the Allegro molto full of Shostakovich’s skittish light-heartedness before the Allegro where they bring a brightness of tone, a contrast with the Allegro molto. The sudden dynamic turns are beautifully done before they rush headlong into the coda.

The Borodin Quartet brings some subtle ideas to the often restrained slower movements as well as great passion to the Allegros.

This quartet bring some quite deliberate phrasing to point up the Largo of String Quartet No.8 in C Minor, Op.110 with beautiful intonation as well as the most affecting phrasing of Shostakovich’s most personal thoughts. They often reveal a subtle pulse behind this quiet, withdrawn music giving such care and thought to every phrase. At times it is as though it is difficult for them to force out such deep feelings. There are some lovely sonorities before we are led into the Allegro molto. Here the Quartet lets out all of the pent up feeling with some terrific playing. Yet still there is a tug that brings a slight emotional reticence.

The Allegretto brings some particularly fine phrasing, such subtle rhythmic qualities where one can hear so much before a lovely transition into the Largo with firm bowing in the staccato phrases, yet always with a restraint. What a weight they bring to some passages, laden with unbearable emotion and how beautifully they allow in the glimpse of light towards the coda. So many details are revealed before we gently lead into the final Largo where the Borodins produce a degree of vibrato that really tugs on the emotions as the music rises in passion. There are some fine, hushed sonorities before the coda that brings not so much a sense of resignation as of a quiet hopelessness.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard such an emotionally weightier performance as this.

Next the Borodin Quartet give us Shostakovich’s penultimate quartet, the String Quartet No.14 in F sharp major Op.142. Here again, in the Allegretto, the Borodins reveal some fine textural layers before rising to moments of intense passion, these players bringing a terrific precision. They provide some beautifully light bowing with some lovely subtleties and details.

This quartet bring an great intensity to the Adagio, a movement that surely looks back to the slow movements of the eighth quartet. They build this movement in a masterly fashion rising to a peak of passion before an exquisite coda and leading into the amazing Allegretto where these players bring such spectacularly fine playing as the music hurtles around. In the subsequent quieter passages they bring some very fine sonorities and much feeling as moments from the Adagio are heard.

This is a very fine performance indeed revealing aspects of this quartet that I had not appreciated before.  

Two Pieces for String Quartet, Op.36a were taken from his music for the animated film The Tale of the Priest and of His Workman Balda for chamber orchestra (1933–1934), Op.36. The Elegy is beautifully played with a depth and beauty that reveals just why Shostakovich thought it worth arranging this music. The Polka is a terrific arrangement with some fine pizzicato passages. It is immense fun and played here with great panache, Shostakovich’s tongue in cheek writing caught to perfection.

In some ways these are very individual, one might even say, idiosyncratic performances. However they dig deep into the composer’s creations making one hear these works afresh. My download revealed a slightly hollow sounding acoustic but the detail revealed is remarkable.

I look forward to hearing the next instalment of this cycle.