Friday, 27 November 2015

The Byrd Ensemble proves to be an impressive choir with their new recording of Music of the Tudors for Scribe Records

The Byrd Ensemble is a Seattle-based vocal ensemble specializing in the performance of chamber vocal music. Since 2004, the ensemble has performed medieval, renaissance, baroque, and modern music on an international stage. They are Artist-in-Residence at St. Mark's Cathedral, Seattle, Washington State, USA.

The Byrd Ensemble’s artistic director, Markdavin Obenza is also Director and founder of Seattle-based chamber choir, Vox16. He is an active singer and has performed with the Tudor Choir and members of the Tallis Scholars. He is currently the Director of Choral Music at Trinity Parish Church, Seattle, Washington State.

They have made a number of recordings for Scribe Records  covering the music of William Byrd, Arvo Pärt, Peter Hallock and English sacred choral music from the Peterhouse Partbooks .

Now from Scribe Records comes a new recording by this choir of Music for the Tudors featuring music by John Sheppard, Thomas Tallis and Robert White.


The Byrd Ensemble brings some finely mellifluous vocal sonorities to John Sheppard’s (c. 1515-1559/60) Media Vita as the sopranos rise over the choir. They bring a fine flowing tempo with different sections of the choir flowing through the texture creating a wonderful musical tapestry. They provide a really fine control of tempo and dynamic changes, bringing many lovely touches. 

The opening of Thomas Tallis’ (c. 1505-1585) Videte Miraculum is beautifully woven as individual voices enter and combine. They bring an intimate, rather contemplative feel with a gentle tempo. There are some plaintively beautiful higher voices with this choir allowing each individual voice to shine and be heard. In the plainchant in Maec speciosum there are some really special textural moments, an exquisite blend of individual voices.

Female voices glide in at the opening of Thomas Tallis’ Salvator Mundi I before the rest of the choir join to weave a beautifully nuanced flow. This is as fine a performance as you could wish for.

Robert White’s (c. 1538-1574) Christe Qui Lux IV opens with a tenor slowly joined by the other male voices in the plainchant Christe Qui Lux es et dies before the choir brings the glorious textures of this piece. There is such well controlled balance of voices as they flow over each other to lovely effect. The beautifully recurring plainchant is repeated three times throughout before a final Amen.

The glory of Thomas Tallis is fully revealed as this choir bring In Manus Tuas with lovely pacing and fine glowing sonorities.  

The choir rise, wonderfully in Thomas Tallis’ Lamentations I slowly adding voices, creating a glorious blend. Again individual voices are allowed to rise and glow revealing the distinct character of each of these fine voices. They find a lovely tempo before a soprano sings a lovely Jerusalem, Jerusalem as the end is reached.  

The brief Salve Radix by an anonymous composer rises magnificently at the opening before taking a steady flow through its distinctive harmonies, finely revealed by this choir.

Thomas Tallis concludes this disc with his Gaude Gloriosa dei Mater where this choir provide a lovely weaving of vocal textures. Again it is the clarity of the individual vocal lines that is impressive. They rise up in certain passages quite gloriously and, centrally, there is a particularly fine Gaude Virgo Maria for female voices before a bass adds a fine layer. There are moments when the lower voices weave a lovely texture and, again later they suddenly rise up wonderfully before a sustained, beautifully done Amen. 

This is an impressive choir that brings many delights. They are well recorded in the Holy Rosary Church, Seattle, Washington State, USA. The booklet notes take the form of an interesting conversation between Markdavin Obenza, Joshua Haberman and Greg Skidmore. The CD booklet is beautifully produced. 

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Spectacularly fine performances from the Swiss Piano Trio in their second volume of Beethoven Piano Trios for Audite

Surely one of the finest piano trios around today is the Swiss Piano Trio whose members are Angela Golubeva (violin), Sébastien Singer (cello) and Martin Lucas Staub (piano).

They have already made a number of major contributions to the CD catalogue with recordings for Audite of trios by Mendelssohn, Clara & Robert Schumann, Tchaikovsky and Franck. Earlier this year they released the first in their series of complete piano trios of Beethoven.

Now from Audite  comes Volume II in their Beethoven series that features the Piano Trio No.2 in G Major and the Piano Trio No. 5 in D Major ‘Ghost’.

CD and HD Download

This trio bring a beautifully shaped opening to the Adagio - Allegro vivace of Piano Trio No.2 in G Major, Op. 1 No.2 bringing just the right amount of dynamic stress on the forte and fortissimo chords. They provide a beautifully controlled rubato before rising into the allegro, full of brio and spirit, catching Beethoven’s youthful exuberance. These players bring playing of superb precision, wonderfully intuitive playing with some particularly fluent passages and incisive but beautifully toned string playing. They weave a long flowing line right through this movement bringing much characterful playing.

The Largo con espressione brings a lovely gentle piano opening, so thoughtfully shaped by Martin Lucas Staub before the strings enter to provide a gentle, flowing undulating melody, forming a lovely, intensely poetic vision. There is some exquisite hushed playing as they bring an often plaintive beauty to this movement with little surges of stronger emotion. Beautifully done.

There is a fine rhythmic pulse to the Scherzo. Allegro, again beautifully shaped with fine precision between these players and more of that lovely rubato. There is a real joy in their playing with a quite lovely trio section and a beautifully shaped flow throughout right to the gentle coda.  

The Finale. Presto shoots off with some absolutely superb, fast and brilliantly fluent playing. There are so many fine little string details revealed, some lovely hushed piano phrases as well as much spirit. 

This is a spectacularly fine performance.

There is a brilliantly incisive opening to the Allegro vivace e con brio of Piano Trio No. 5 in D Major, Op. 70 No.1 ‘Ghost’ before the music gains a flow, these players still finding all the stormy quality.  They bring some moments of restrained energy, a feeling that the music is always trying to burst.  There is playing of great power, fire and drive, capturing that Beethovenian spirit with remarkable accuracy between players. They reveal almost schizophrenic changes between quieter withdrawn moments and the more fiery passages.  There are some lovely hushed little string tones before rising to peaks of more joy. It is lovely the way they lift the music in the little climaxes before the most exquisite piano phrases lead to the coda.

The Largo assai ed espressivo brings lovely, long drawn hushed string phrases over which the piano brings its gentle motif before the strings take up the theme, the piano adding terrific bite and drama. There are passages of lovely, thoughtful, quiet reflection with a terrific dialogue between players. They build certain passages superbly as the music slowly and steadily increases in dynamics before a rather questioning coda.

This trio bring a crispness to the opening of the Presto with lovely little phrases before taking off, full of energy and power. As they alternate with passages of more repose they find perfectly Beethoven’s changeable moods, through the most fiery, brilliantly played passages bringing a real volatility. This is tremendously impressive playing, bringing some fine sonorities before the resolute coda.

This is another impressive performance.

This Beethoven series promises to be an exciting venture. The recording, made at the Kunsthalle Ziegelhutte, Appenzell, Switzerland, successfully used for this trio’s Mendelssohn disc, though having a slight resonance, is still very good.

There are excellent booklet notes.

See also:

Monday, 23 November 2015

Very fine works for strings by Nigel Clarke played phenomenally well by the string ensemble Longbow directed by violinist Peter Sheppard Skærved on a new Toccata Classics release

Nigel Clarke studied composition at the Royal Academy of Music in London, UK with Paul Patterson, winning the Josiah Parker Prize and the Academy’s highest distinction, the Queen’s Commendation for Excellence. He gained his Doctor of Musical Arts from University of Salford, UK. Clarke was co-nominated in 2006 World Soundtrack Awards in the `Discovery of the Year' category.

He has previously held positions as Young Composer in Residence at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts; Composition and Contemporary Music Tutor at the Royal Academy of Music, London; Head of Composition at the London College of Music and Media; visiting tutor at the Royal Northern College of Music; Associate Composer to the Black Dyke Band; Associate Composer to the Band of HM Grenadier Guards; Associate Composer to the Royal Military School of Music; Associate Composer to Brass Band Buizingen in Belgium and Composer-in-Residence to the Marinierskapel der Koninklijke Marine (Marine Band of the Royal Netherlands Navy). In 1997 Nigel joined the United States International Visitor Leadership Program sponsored by the US Information Agency. He is currently Visiting Composer to Middle Tennessee State University Bands.

Whilst there has naturally been an emphasis on music for brass and wind bands, Clarke’s compositional output is varied including orchestral works, concertos for violin, clarinet and euphonium, chamber works and piano works as well as music for films.

It is his Music for Thirteen Solo Strings that feature on a new release from Toccata Classics with the string ensemble Longbow directed by violinist Peter Sheppard Skærved who are joined by Sébastian Rousseau (flugel horn) and Malene Sheppard Skærved (speaker).

TOCC 0325

Parnassus for Thirteen Solo Strings (1986-87) was written for the ensemble Parnassus founded by Peter Sheppard Skӕrved and was premiered at the Purcell Room, London, UK in 1988.

It leaps into action with a flurry of dissonant strings before a brief pizzicato section. A passage for sonorous lower strings soon arrives over which the upper strings bring a terrific edgy swirl of sound. The music builds in intensity before falling to a quieter section with pinpoints of texture and more swirling string sounds. Clarke creates some marvellous string sounds as the music moves through quieter moments of delicate pizzicato strings and anxious lower strings over which higher strings bring light fleeting textures. Later the basses lead forward in a slower section to which other strings slowly add some absolutely lovely textures. There are slowly drawn light high sounds, exquisitely done with some lovely little details as the high strings conjure strange little motifs. Clarke slowly develops the textures, increasing subtly in dynamics until reaching a flurry of swirling strings in a tremendous moment before the music curls in on itself for the hushed coda with lovely little string phrases.

This is a very attractive work that receives a very fine performance here.

The Scarlet Flower for Flugal Horn and Thirteen Solo Strings (2014) was written as a memorial for Edith Cavell with the solo part acting as the voice of Cavell.

The flugal horn opens with a bright and buoyant theme that moves around cadenza like displaying some tremendous solo playing before the strings enter alone to develop the theme with some fine textures. The flugal horn re-joins as the music soon falls quiet as the opening theme is developed, pointed up by string accompaniment. The music leads through passages that are a test for any brass player with some terrific playing from Sébastian Rousseau. Later there is a hushed section for strings and muted flugal horn providing some lovely subtle touches. The soloist rises over the hushed strings as he leads into a mellow flowing section for livelier strings.  Eventually the soloist rises out of a softer, slower string passage for a fast, wonderfully played section. There is a short section with a rather romantic feel before the music becomes livelier leading to a lovely section for hovering strings over which a gentle melody is played. The music falls to a hush before, after a sudden pizzicato outburst, the music fades.

Nigel Clarke writes in his CD booklet note of the importance of collaboration. With the next work, Dogger, Fisher, German Bight, Humber, Thames, Dover, Wight for Speaker, Thirteen Solo Strings and Sound Design (2012-14) that is especially true. Writer and poet Malene Sheppard Skærved has provided the text for this work and is the speaker on this recording. It is performed by Longbow whose artistic directors are Peter Sheppard Skærved and Nigel Clarke.

It was commissioned from Nigel Clarke and Malene Sheppard Skærved by Dover Arts Development as part of their War and Peace project, exploring Dover’s history and including recorded sounds from Dover beach.

The work opens with the speaker, Malene Sheppard Skærved reciting the words ‘Dābras Dubris – waters – Dufras Douvres Cinque Ports – Dover Sandwich Hastings Romney and Hythe Dour River ‘There is something special in the waters…’.’ Around eight minutes in, seagulls are briefly heard behind the speaker as she reaches the words ‘Captain Webb (an English gentleman) used breast stroke…’. Soon there are sounds of water trickling out of which waves and strings are gently heard as the narration concludes leaving just the waves crashing onto shingle.  Gulls, then strings and the sounds of water lead forward as a gently undulating melody is heard that perfectly takes the atmosphere of the preceding text. Here Clarke brings some lovely string sonorities and phrases, so much appearing out of the texture in this fine string writing. The most exquisitely shaped phrases are conjured out of the texture by individual instruments before both the textures and tempo become ever more complex and impassioned. There is playing of superb virtuosity through which a longer theme can be heard. Eventually the music falls to a quiet, static section out of which a little violin motif appears that soon flourishes. Basses rise, up through the other strings as the seagulls and waves return with quiet static strings phrases. The strings fade leaving the waves and sounds of water to lead very slowly to the coda.  

This is a very fine work which perhaps will only be prevented from having future performances due to the length of the unaccompanied text. This would be a great pity given the great beauties that lie within.

Pulp and Rags for Thirteen Solo Strings (2012-15) again arose from the War and Peace project. The work takes its inspiration from the old, now closed, Buckland Paper Mill near Dover particularly in its rhythms, sonorities and fingerboard slaps.

Rhythmic fingerboard slaps and hushed vocal sounds open before pizzicato descending string phrases slowly take over and shards of sound from the strings can be heard. This is terrific pizzicato string writing and playing, bringing such variety and forward propulsion, occasionally pointed up by fingerboard slaps.  The music falls quiet before a faster, furious swirling theme appears leading to passages of softer whirling string phrases as the music dances and moves around at a pace. There are passages of rhythmically leaping and buoyant strings before fingerboard returns and the strings quieten. Hushed vocal sounds are heard before a final quiet string chord.

This a terrific work that no string orchestra should ignore when planning a concert

Epitaph for Edith Cavell for solo violin (2015) is a reworking for muted violin of the flugal horn solo that opens The Scarlet Flower. It was first performed at the National portrait Gallery, London, UK in 2015.

Peter Sheppard Skærved weaves some very fine textures as he takes this piece forward, a rather plaintive melody that, nevertheless, has a textural strength. It travels through some beautifully controlled, quieter passages before the hushed coda is reached. This is a particularly lovely and moving work.

This new release contains some very fine works for strings played phenomenally well by these players. As a string player himself Peter Sheppard Skærved extracts the very best form his players. They receive a first rate recording and there are excellent notes from Nigel Clarke and Peter Sheppard Skærved.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

There are some strikingly wonderful moments in Arthur Gottschalk’s Requiem for the Living recently released by Navona Records

Composer, Arthur Gottschalk has had a varied career in the music world. He was born in California but raised in the North Eastern United States. He attended the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor as a student in the Honors College and in Pre-Med. After two years he switched to music, studying with William Bolcom, Ross Lee Finney, and Leslie Bassett, receiving a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Composition, a Master of Arts degree in Music Composition and English Literature and his Doctorate in Music Composition.

He is currently a Professor of Music Theory and Composition at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music where he chaired the department until 2010. In 1986 he co-founded Modern Music Ventures Inc a company which held a recording studio complex, a record production division, four publishing firms, and an artist management division, and for whom he produced records for PolyGram and Capitol.

In 1998 Gottschalk abandoned these pursuits, in order that he might devote himself more fully to music composition. Gottschalk's teaching specialties include music business and law, film music, music theory, music composition, and counterpoint. As a film and television composer he numbers six feature films, twelve television scores, and numerous industrial films and commercials among his credits.

He is a recipient of the Charles Ives Prize of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, annual ASCAP Awards since 1980, and has been a Composer-in-Residence at the Columbia/Princeton Electronic Music Center and the Piccolo Spoleto Festival. He has recently been honoured with the First Prize of the Concorso Internazionale di Composizione Originale of Corciano, Italy for his Concerto for Violin and Symphonic Winds, a First Prize from the Bassoon Chamber Music Composition Competition, and a First Prize from the Ridgewood Symphony Orchestra. He was recently awarded a prestigious Bogliasco Fellowship for continued work and study in Italy.

Having written nearly two hundred works, his music is performed regularly in Europe, Asia, and Australia and has been recorded by many record companies. His book, Functional Hearing, is published by Scarecrow Press, a division of Rowman & Littlefield, and will soon be released in its second edition.

The latest recording, from Navona Records features his Requiem for the Living performed here by the St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra and St. Petersburg Chamber Choir  conducted by Vladimir Lande with Lauren Snouffer (soprano), Alberto Mizrahi (tenor) , Daniel Mutlu (tenor) , Andrea Jaber (alto) and Timothy Jones (bass)


Phillip Kloeckner tells us in his very useful booklet notes that Arthur Gottschalk’s Requiem for the Living uses the traditional Latin text from the Mass of the Dead (Missa pro defunctis) combined with a wide variety of texts and, indeed, musical styles in order to illustrate the variety and texture of our common diversity. It is intended to be a commentary on life whilst re-evaluating the many facets of death and the afterlife.

The first movement includes the traditional Hebrew prayer for the dead (Yizkor), the second movement a verse from the Qur’an, the third the wisdom of Buddha, the fourth Duke Ellington’s conviction about the nature of the Divine, the fifth words by George Eliot, the sixth Muhammad’s prayer for light and the seventh movement two American folk idiom, Bluegrass Gospel and Blues Spiritual.

In eight movements it opens with Introit - Yizkor – Kyrie that leaps up in a dramatic Requiem aeternam before an impassioned plea from tenor, Alberto Mizrahi ‘God, remember the souls of our beloved…’ moving around in the manner of a Jewish cantor before the choir bring back the Requiem. The music becomes quieter as the Kyrie arrives with some finely overlaid choral voices, Gottschalk showing a very light touch with the orchestra.

Dies Irae - Night of Power - Rex tremendae brings staccato choral phrases for the ‘Dies Irae, dies illa…’ often surprisingly restrained in both the choir and orchestra, more with a sense of foreboding. Soprano, Lauren Snouffer and alto Andrea Jaber appear bringing a sense of anguish before Snouffer takes the text with ‘Those who believe in God and the final day…will not grieve’ bringing a sense of hope and light. The chorus return with increasing passion and drama and later the ancient Dies Irae plainchant appears more openly. Gottschalk finds some fine variety in the dramatic presentation of this section with a magical moment as the alto returns for the final ‘Dona eis requiem.’

There is a lighter, more buoyant Offertorium - Buddha – Canzonas that opens orchestrally with some distinctive woodwind textures. The choir enter in ‘Domine Jesu Christe…’ before soprano Lauren Snouffer enters with ‘The thought manifests as the word.’ The orchestra then lead on as the choir join with the soprano rising up on ‘And habit hardens into character.’ Later the choir bring a lovely mellifluousness in ‘Tu suspice pro animas illis…’ before a terrific coda.

The fourth movement, Sanctus - Ellington - Benedictus – Hosanna finds the chorus rising out of the lower strings in the Sanctu, a particularly fine moment. Soon the music finds a lovely forward flow, beautifully orchestrated before rising up on ‘Gloria.’ The music then adopts a vibrant jazz style for ‘Hosanna in excelsis’ with bass, Timothy Jones bringing a bluesy, fast and rhythmic ‘Every man prays in his own language…’ to which the choir respond with an equally racy ‘Benedictus’ with the orchestral delivering a real big band sound to the coda.

With George Eliot - Agnus Dei the soprano and alto join for ‘May I reach that purest heaven…’ bringing a lovely blend of voices before the choir sing the Agnus Dei. The orchestra bring dissonant and drooping orchestral phrases as the strings swirl and there is a sense of unease pervading. The music slowly builds in drama and intensity before finding a more peaceful end with female voices in ‘Dona nobis pacem’

In Lux Aeterna – Mohammad the chorus open with a beautifully conceived ‘Lux aeterna’ which has a slightly swaying motion. Bass, Timothy Jones enters to sing ‘O God, Give me, I pray Thee Light on my right hand…’ followed by soprano, Lauren Snouffer and alto Andrea Jaber, then tenor, Alberto Mizrahi as they all weave the text most effectively. The chorus return for the gentle ‘Cum santis tuis aeternum…’ but rising before ‘Requiem aeternum dona eis, Domine’ and a quiet coda pointed up by harp.

There is a lovely orchestral opening to Gospel - Spiritual - Libera me that soon reveals a gentle gospel swing. The music soon picks up for a really fast orchestral gospel style ‘Libera me…’ before falling for a gentle lead into ‘Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on…’ a spiritual for choir and orchestra that works really effectively. The orchestra picks up for the choir to enter in ‘Quando coeli…’ again in a gospel style, full of energy and feeling. There is a slow, bluesy orchestral passage before the music builds in strength only to lead to a hushed coda on ‘Libera me, Domine’ – a wonderful conclusion.

Brass open in the Fanfare - In Paradisum weaving some lovely textures with the full orchestra eventually joining in a spectacularly fine culmination. The chorus enter with ‘In paradisum…’ where there is a breadth of choral and orchestral sound that brings a visionary quality of something to come before a tremendous conclusion.

The last track in an alternate version of the Introit - Yizkor – Kyrie, with timpani and orchestra then chorus bringing a dramatic Introit. Tenor, Daniel Mutlu joins for ‘God, remember the souls…’ bringing a lovely flow with the orchestra and later weaving the text in the fashion of a Jewish cantor. There is a lovely Amen before the chorus continue with ‘Requiem aeternum …’ full of fire and drama before a gentler Kyrie that leads to a more resolute conclusion.

There are some strikingly wonderful moments in this Requiem. If there are times when one finds a certain lack of coherence in this work it is surely because of our natural tendency to be wrong footed by unexpected musical styles. The orchestra and choir are excellent with the soloists bringing some effective singing in this varied work. They are well recorded.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Some quite stunning playing from Natalia Lomeiko on her new disc of Prokofiev’s Violin sonatas for Atoll

Violinist Natalia Lomeiko was born into a family of musicians in Novosibirsk, Russia. She studied at the Specialist Music School in Novosibirsk with Professor A. Gvozdev, at the Yehudi Menuhin School in England with Lord Menuhin and Professor N. Boyarskaya, at the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music with Professor Hu Kun. 

She has since established herself internationally winning numerous prizes in the Tibor Varga, Tchaikovsky, Menuhin and Stradivari International Violin competitions. In 2000 she received the Gold Medal and 1st Prize in the Premio Paganini International Violin Competition (Genoa, Italy) and the 1st prize in the Michael Hill International Violin Competition (Auckland, New Zealand) in 2003. Natalia Lomeiko was appointed a Professor of Violin at the Royal College of Music in London in 2010.

Since her debut with the Novosibirsk Symphony Orchestra at the age of seven, she has performed as soloist with many orchestras around the world under many distinguished conductors. Her recordings for Dynamic, Fone, Trust Records and Naxos have received an enthusiastic response.

Natalia Lomeiko’s latest recording of Prokofiev’s Violin sonatas for Atoll  has just been released. She is joined by violinist Yuri Zhislin  and pianist Olga Sitkovetsky

ACD 513
2 CDs
Great care and thought is given by Olga Sitkovetsky to the opening of the Andante assai of Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 80 before Natalia Lomeiko brings some fine violin textures.  These two players develop the music through some passionate passages bringing intense emotion. Lomeiko provides superb textures with bold, dynamic piano accompaniment and later some exquisite little rapidly rising and falling decorations.

There are razor sharp short phrases with pinpoint accuracy from both soloists in the Allegro brusco where they find an intuitive response to each other. This violinist provides some extremely fine tone in the more flowing central section before some intensely dramatic passages. In the quieter moments they bring some fine poetry with Lomeiko finding a very fine, spontaneous delicacy.  

There is a whimsical opening to the Andante before these players slowly reveal the melody.  Lomeiko provides some lovely gentle, rather withdrawn harmonies, Sitkovetsky adding an equally haunting accompaniment. This is an exquisite performance of one of Prokofiev’s most lovely movements with a continuous flow of invention before the strange little coda.

These players launch quickly into the Allegrissimo - Andante assai, come prima with some terrific, free flowing, brilliantly phrased and shaped playing, really catching Prokofiev’s rather brittle ideas. They move through passages of relentless development and flow with some quite stunning playing before returning to the rising and falling motif of the first movement as the andante arrives before leading to the resigned coda.

Natalia is joined by violinist Yuri Zhislin for Prokofiev’s Sonata for Two Violins in C Major, Op. 56. There is a lovely sweetness of tone in the Andante cantabile as Lomeiko enters, soon joined by Zhislin as they weave a lovely melody together, both bringing a fine tone and some lovely interplay of lines. Their individual tones complement each other wonderfully, each finding quieter moments of fine detail.

Short staccato phrases from both players open the Allegro before we are taken forward with these two players finding a terrific rapport, rising through some wonderful passages before the coda.  

There is a slow, finely paced Commodo  (quasi allegretto) which finds these players revealing much quiet, intense emotion. There are some exquisite higher textures as well as perfect control and restraint.

They bring much wit and playfulness to the opening of Allegro con brio with fine phrasing as well as lovely textures and harmonies. There are many moments of exquisite detail with some lovely little phrases, finely shaped before a lovely coda.

There is a beautifully relaxed, flowing opening to the Moderato of the Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 in D Major, Op. 94a, Lomeiko bringing some lovely little decorations before the music picks up in energy momentarily. The music soon finds its poise to flow forward, Lomeiko and Sitkovetsky revealing an underlying disquiet that seems to hide under the quieter passages between the short outbursts of energy. The music subtly gains in intensity as the movement progresses before regaining the more relaxed nature for the gentle coda.  

A spiky piano motif opens the Presto - Poco piu mosso del – Tempo 1 soon joined by the violin with Lomeiko helping to push the music forward through some tremendously fluent passages.  These two fine musicians always find the poetry in this music with Lomeiko providing exquisite violin textures and sonorities through the gentler, quieter, thoughtful Poco piu mosso del with some rather quixotic phrases before picking up again with the opening theme to drive forward, both bringing some fine rhythmic phrases, finding a terrific buoyancy before the sudden coda.

In the beautifully conceived Andante Lomeiko and Sitkovetsky bring a wonderfully controlled flow, a subtle ebb and flow, with wonderful phrasing and some subtle dissonances that are rather fine. The Allegro con brio – Poco meno mosso – Tempo 1 - Poco meno mosso - Allegro con brio brings a buoyant, determined theme for violin and piano to which these two bring a fine rhythmic bounce. They weave some fine phrases around each other as the movement develops as well as moments of quite lovely beauty, Lomeiko always finding variety of textures and timbres. They later pick up the pace to move rhythmically and buoyantly to the coda.

This is another terrific performance. 

The poetic side of Natalia Lomeiko and Olga Sitkovetsky is to the fore in Prokofiev’s Five Melodies for Violin and Piano, Op. 35 that is on the second disc. There are some lovely gentle phrases from both violin and piano in the Melody No. I. Andante yet these two players always find the subtle increases in passion. There is a lovely gentle, forward pulse from the pianist in No. II. Lento, ma non troppo over which Lomeiko lays a free flowing melody before briefly picking up rhythmically and moving to the relaxed coda. They move into No.III. Animato, ma non allegro with a passion before slowing and finding a gentler nature, reflective and restrained with exquisite violin phrases and a most sensitive piano accompaniment. There are some lovely violin harmonies towards the end. They bring some lovely shaping to the delightful No. IV. Andantino, un poco scherzando, a light and attractive piece with a super coda. Finally there is a lovely flowing No. V. Andante non troppo that soon picks up with some spiky rhythms so typical of this composer before finding a flow. These two players provide a lovely tempo and phrasing before Lomeiko brings the most exquisite phrases in the quiet coda.

These are absolutely terrific performances from all concerned. They receive first rate recordings from Andrew Keener made at the Concert Hall, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, UK and Henry Wood Hall, Southwark, London, UK. The booklet notes are confined to a personal view from Natalia Lomeiko.

The one oddity with this release is that the 80’ 54’’ total playing time for both discs would surely have fitted on one CD. Indeed, the tracking information on the rear insert shows these works as on one single CD. 

However, for all the confusing tracking problems this is a most beautiful new release that is available from Amazon for the price of one CD. 

Since reviewing this disc, distributor's Nimbus have informed me that the tracking information on the rear insert of the CDs will be corrected on all existing stock. 

Monday, 16 November 2015

On her new recording for Harmonia Mundi cellist, Emmanuelle Bertrand provides extraordinarily fine playing, capturing so many details and expressive moments

The French cellist, Emmanuelle Bertrand (cello) has just released for Harmonia Mundi  a recording of French music. She is joined by pianist, Pascal Amoyel and the Luzerner Sinfonieorchester under their Chief Conductor James Gaffigan  in works by Dutilleux and Debussy.

CD and free 24 Bit Hi-Res Audio Download
HMC 902209

Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013) studied with Jean (1878-1959) and Noël (1891-1966) Gallon, Henri Büsser (1872-1973) and Maurice Emmanual (1862-1938) at the Paris Conseratoire where he was later appointed professor. From early influences of Debussy, Ravel, Roussel and Honegger he developed his own style in a relatively small output of works that include two symphonies, orchestral pieces, piano music and a string quartet.

The first part of his Trois Strophes sur le nom de Sacher pour violoncelle solo was originally composed on the occasion of the great Swiss conductor, patron and impresario, Paul Sacher's 70th birthday in 1976, following a request by the Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich to write compositions for cello solo using Paul Sacher's name spelt out in musical notes. Two more pieces for solo cello followed in 1982, again derived from the notes that spell out Sacher.

Emmanuelle Bertrand produces some remarkable tones and sonorities as Un Poco indeciso opens, finding much beauty in the lovely little harmonies that appear. There are some terrific pizzicato passages and many exquisite details before this piece tails off beautifully at the end. Rich, dark sonorities open the Andante Sostenuto before this cellist weaves some wonderfully rich, mahogany phrases, such a fine tone. The fast moving Vivace follows into which pizzicato and many other textural devices are thrown with Bertrand delivering absolutely wonderful virtuosity combined with the most exquisite sensitivity to detail before a gentle section with lovely high sonorities and a vibrant coda.

Claude Debussy (1862-1918) wrote his Sonate pour violoncelle et piano en ré mineur in 1915, coincidentally only a few months before Dutilleux was born.

Pascal Amoyel brings a lovely opening to the Prologue. Lent, sostenuto e molto risoluto, broad and languid before Emmanuelle Bertrand joins with her lovely tone. She brings fine phrasing with a lovely thoughtfulness. There are some light, fleet playing from both these musicians as the tempo picks up, leading through some light textured, quieter moments before the lovely coda. Pizzicato cello opens the
Sérénade. Modérément animé with staccato piano phrases. These two artists bring a fine accuracy in this rather quixotic movement, revealing some particularly attractive little details. They move quickly ahead into the Finale. Animé, léger et nerveux providing moments of languid beauty as they extract so much feeling from Debussy’s score. They bring a lovely ebb and flow and beautifully judged tempo before a brilliantly fluent run to the coda.

Henri Dutilleux wrote his Concerto pour violoncelle et orchestre ‘Tout un monde lointain’ (‘While a distant world’) for Mstislav Rostropovich after visiting the cellist’s dressing room after a concert in Salle Pleyel in Paris in 1961and unexpectedly receiving a commission.

A swish of cymbals opens Énigme as the cello of Emmanuelle Bertrand brings a motif. There is another swish of cymbals as well as other subtle percussion sounds as the cello weaves its theme and the orchestra join. Bertrand delivers some extraordinarily fine playing, capturing so many details and expressive moments, with moments of fine passion as well as virtuosic skill. Dutilleux brings some fine colours and textures to his score before it rises in drama, often with a fine dialogue between soloist and orchestra. Both the orchestra under James Gaffigan and Bertrand are spot on, demonstrating fine accuracy. One just has to listen how, later in this movement, soloist and orchestral strings weave around each other. There are some terrific slides from soloist before finding the magical hushed coda.

Regard brings a heartfelt theme for cello as the soloist moves around some finely conceived orchestral textures, moving through a strange landscape with much beauty. James Gaffigan draws some fine orchestral playing, both the orchestra and soloist providing a real ebb and flow. Bertrand creates a magical atmosphere with some exquisitely controlled phrases as she teases out a real depth of feeling right up to the softly toned coda.

The cello rises up as cymbals swishes are heard gently in the opening of Houles. The orchestra joins to provide lovely points of light before rising to a climax after which the cello brings some finely wrought phrases, with much orchestral colour revealed. Bertrand, Gaffigan and the orchestra find all the sudden forward surges of flow before a wonderfully luminous passage for orchestra. There is more sparkling orchestration before the music descends to a hush for cello and harp at the coda.

In Miroirs the harp picks up, along with a shimmering orchestral layer, to take the movement on. The cello enters with another fine, heartfelt melody, Bertrand achieving some fine emotional depth. There is more finely developed and coloured orchestral sound from Dutilleux, lovely little textures and points of sound from the orchestra. As the movement develops the cellist brings a lovely tone before opening out and rising in dynamics to lead into the final movement.

Hymne is fast and often impassioned, striding forward with the orchestral lines flowing and bubbling over each other. There is such fine transparency in the orchestra with Bertrand spinning some terrific phrases before she brings the coda holding a lovely final phrase.

These are very fine performances indeed. Given that the comparative recording of the concerto on my shelves is by Rostropovich himself, this is no mean accolade.

In the first two works the recording is slightly on the plummy side but certainly brings a warmth of tone. In the concerto, given an excellent recording at a different venue, there is a more open and transparent sound.

There are useful booklet notes

See also: 

Wayward, unconventional and often wild, Nigel Kennedy’s New Four Seasons may be but they are so tremendously musical and infectious

Anyone who has heard Nigel Kennedy  live with the Orchestra of Life will know what a unique musical experience it can be.

His much publicised New Four Seasons recording for Sony Classical  is sure to delight supporters and annoy detractors in equal measure. What should not be in doubt is the unique musicianship of Kennedy and his band.


Nigel Kennedy puts his own titles against each section of each concerto in what are effectively arrangements of Antonio Vivaldi’s (1678-1741) Concertos for violin and strings, Op.8 No’s 1-4, The Four Seasons (Le Quattro Stagioni). He has also added linking sections that he calls Transitoire.

The opening of the first movement of Spring, Melodious Incantation will come as an immediate shock with electric guitars and a drum setting the beat before the strings enter with the familiar Vivaldi theme to which the Orchestra of Life add some subtly unusual instrumental textures. Bird twitterings are heard as well as a female spoken ‘tweet, tweet.’ Nigel Kennedy proves, as would be expected, a phenomenal soloist.

Electronic sounds rise as we enter Transitoire #, with a piano joining as Kennedy introduces a mysterious, shifting texture around a Vivaldian rhythmic motif in this strange yet oddly beautiful and hypnotic section that leads straight into the next movement, The Goatherd Sleeps With His Trusty Dog Beside Him . Kennedy weaves a rather romantic version of the theme over more vibrant string textures of the other instrumentalists bringing a lovely flow and some lovely decorations.

These musicians flow straight into a brief but beautifully conceived 4 Transitoire ## before a rhythmic pounding of hand drums introduces a bright and rhythmic Nymphs And Shepherds Dance. It has a real swing with some exceptionally fine string playing from both soloist and members of the Orchestra of Life. There is a fine sweep with some intense textures developed before a rather mad section of voices and drums. The strings sweep all aside before a slow contemplative section though the voices, presumably the dancing shepherds, and drums appear again before the end.

As the first movement of Summer, Destiny opens it appears to be a pretty straight version but soon the music suddenly livens up with a fast and furious section pointed up by a drum and other percussion rhythms. Strange little instrumental timbres are heard in slower moments with Kennedy creating some terrific little trills. Eventually the music goes at a terrific rhythmic pace spurred on by drums. There are some lovely flowing sections where Kennedy produces the most exquisite tone. 

Light drumming taps, electric guitar and electronic twitterings open this jazz inspired Transitoire # where strings are subtly heard in long held rising phrases before this short section fades out.

There are some glorious string textures in Fear, strange yet beautiful as this movement slowly opens. Soon there is a tremendous outburst before the music returns to its quieter, slow nature. Further outbursts occur with voices that are more blended than before.  There is some quite exquisite string tone over a piano and bass rhythm before a further outburst with drums and we are led into Transitoire ##. This brings a gentle, hushed string line over accompanying piano chords as it moves forward to the next movement.

His Fears Are Only Too True brings sudden loud, frantic and incisive string phrases of Vivaldi’s own creation but with more subtly unusual instrumental textures. These musicians produce some terrific sonorities and, indeed, volume. They are soon interrupted by vocal sounds and rather strange electronic noises. Despite all the somewhat eccentric sounds it is hard not to get carried away with these players.

The opening movement of Autumn, The Peasant Celebrates the Rich Harvest brings a jazz trumpet and drum complete with faux Louis Armstrong growls before the strings weave Vivaldi’s music around the trumpet tune. Here Vivaldi’s music is varied and pulled around more than anywhere with Kennedy bringing some extraordinarily virtuosic moments. Later there is a slow section in which these performers create a quite different sound world, distant, melodic, slow and flowing – before the fast and furious music returns.

Pizzicato strings introduce Transitoire #, moving around the sound stage before Kennedy’s solo violin gently rises over the other instrumentalists and electronic sounds before gently, quietly and imperceptibly moving into Pleasure of Sweetest Slumber  where these players bring an almost sacred atmosphere with electronic organ textures underlaying the strange sounds through which pizzicato strings move. Kennedy weaves some exquisite sonorities through the haunting background before flowing quietly into the next section.

Transitoire ## opens with a held chord with constantly shifting textures. Slowly a lovely melody arises, melancholy and atmospheric, bringing a rather Celtic feel. A trumpet eventually joins to add a nonchalant jazz accompaniment as some very fine textures are created between various instruments in this quite extended piece.

A vibrant, heavily rhythmic Horns, Guns, and Dogs brings some quite unusual, slightly nasal sounds from the orchestra. Kennedy seems to have great fun in his interplay with the other musicians, moving through a myriad of unusual textures and sounds whilst still basically observing Vivaldi’s theme. There are sections of wild electronic sounds before quietening briefly but rising to a terrific coda with a last shout.

There is a slow pulsing opening to Prolitoire # an introduction to Winter where piano chords are played gently over a sustained string layer before Kennedy’s violin rises out of the sound before fading and we are suddenly into the first movement, To Shiver, Frozen with pounding strings. A piano provides the theme before the soloist and strings take Vivaldi’smelody, rising up to a tremendously vibrant statement of the theme. Kennedy is remarkable here creating some subtle and unusual textures.

There is a fast flowing, more conventional The Rain Outside yet with textures always bringing a different feel. Kennedy finds a lovely sweep, with such a glorious tone, beautifully controlled playing.
Transitoire # opens gently with drooping and shifting strings phrases, gently moving into the next movement, Walk on the Ice with no obvious transition as Kennedy weaves a lovely little motif that suddenly turns into Vivaldi’s theme, brilliantly done. It has a fine rhythmic pulse and lovely string textures, a real Vivaldian beauty, interrupted by sudden faster passage. Eventually this violinist pulls the theme around a bit but always musically and there is a real vibrancy towards the coda.

Nigel Kennedy and his fellow musicians conclude with The End where pizzicato strings move quickly around in this brief final section.

It is obvious that much care and creativity has gone into these performances, as well as much sheer enjoyment. These musicians throw their all into their playing. Wayward, unconventional and often wild these performances may be but they are so tremendously musical and infectious. My one problem is merely that the vocal interjections work less well on a recording than in a live performance.

They are vividly recorded.

Of course this isn’t intended to be anything like a straightforward performance of Vivaldi’s original. For that, one should go to recordings such as La Serenissima’s on Avie.

Taken on its own terms this New Four Seasons will bring much enjoyment for those sympathetic to what Nigel Kennedy and his players achieve.

If you want a taster then click here for the Album Trailer video: