Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Given the spectacular nature of Adriana Hölsky’s sound world, many contemporary music enthusiasts will be rewarded by a new release from Wergo of works that feature the organ

Music educator, composer and pianist Adriana Hölsky (b. 1953) was born in Romania where she studied piano with Olga Rosca-Berdan at the music school in Bucharest and, later alongside her piano studies, composition with Ştefan Niculescu at the Bucharest Music Conservatory.

Following her move to Germany in 1976, she continued her studies at the Musikhochschule in Stuttgart, studying composition with Milko Kelemen and chamber music with Günter Louegk. She regularly attended the Darmstadt Summer Courses for New Music and, in 1980, received a teaching position at the State University of Music and Performing Arts Stuttgart. Between 1997 and 2000, Hölszky was professor of composition at the Rostock University of Music and Theatre and since 2000 she has been professor of composition at the Mozarteum University of Salzburg. Since 2002 she has been a member of the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin. She has been the recipient of numerous prizes including most recently the Bach Prize of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg (2003).

In addition to a number of works for the stage, Hölsky’s compositions include choral and vocal works, orchestral and chamber works, instrumental works and works for percussion.

A new release from Wergo www.wergo.de/shop entitled Wie ein glasernes meer, mit feuer gemischt…(What looked like a sea of glass mixed with fire…) brings together three significant works that feature the organ. …und ich sah wie ein gläsernes Meer, mit Feuer gemischt… for solo organ, Efeu und Lichtfeld for violin and organ and …und wieder Dunkel I for percussion and organ.

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Organist Dominik Susteck www.dominiksusteck.de has made contemporary music something of a speciality working with students to whom he devoted numerous projects with compositions by György Ligeti, Kurt Schwitters, John Cage and Terry Riley. Susteck has played numerous first performances of works by Erik Janson, Luis Antunes Pena, Stefan Froleyks, Peter Köszeghy, Timo Ruttkamp and Joana Wozny.  As a composer and organist Susteck has received many awards and, since 2007, has been the composer and organist at St. Peter Art Centre, Cologne. For Wergo www.wergo.de/shop  he has already recorded organ works by Stockhausen's, Ligeti and Rihm. 

A high metallic motif over a pedal underlay opens …und ich sah wie ein gläsernes Meer, mit Feuer gemischt… (…and I saw what looked like a sea of glass mixed with fire…) for organ (1996/97). Soon there is an organ outburst followed by a series of sudden phrases and outbursts. There is a steely quality to much of the writing as shafts of sound or fire, interact with glacial chords. Susteck is a fine soloist, managing all of this work’s unpredictable moments with panache. Later the organ fairly roars with life, interspersed by a little staccato motif. There are some terrific dissonances and slurred phrases. Hölsky creates an amazing tapestry of sounds, often hardly sounding like an organ, otherworldly, angular, complex in structure and rhythms, creating so many colours and textures before dancing to an overpowering coda.

This is an amazing work that vividly creates what the composer describes as ‘…vivid pictures of light and colour alternate with calm and mysterious moments…’

Efeu und Lichtfeld (Ivy and Field of Light) for violin and organ (2008) is said by the composer to be a poetic metaphor for ‘the restrained yet lively simultaneity of these two very different instruments’.

Violinist Sabine Akiko Ahrendt www.wergo.de/shop/en_UK/artists/23/sabine-akiko-ahrendt  joins Dominik Susteck, opening with rapid, shrill violin bowing that adds even more to Hölsky’s organ textures. The music is often percussive, often shrilly bowed with sudden pin point notes and chords from the violin punctuating this sound world. The organ provides a background out of which it too sends sudden sounds, often with pulsating, longer held notes that strangely compliment the violin figurations. Ahrendt draws a tremendously raw sound as the work ends.

One feels that, despite little forward momentum, a tremendous journey has been completed. This work is brilliantly played. With both instruments very well balanced.

Percussionist, Jens Brülls https://myspace.com/percussionmalletsdrums , https://en-gb.facebook.com/jens.bruells  joins Dominik Susteck for …und wieder Dunkel I (…and again Darkness I) for percussion and organ (1985/90). Again I am grateful for the composer’s comment that each movement of this work is ‘associated with a fragment from Gottried Benn’s poem ‘Ein Wort’ – the composition can also be understood as a musical realisation of the patterns of movement in the poem as a whole’. The text of the poem is given in the CD booklet.

The first movement, …ein Wort (…a word) opens with an animated organ motif soon joined by a variety of drums giving a wealth of texture to the organ that provides a staccato motif in a variety of textures. Both percussion and organ seem to have their own musical line yet strangely complement each other. At times it sounds as though the drums are trying to conquer the organ as it continues its unstoppable phrases. Both seem to run out of steam at the end.

Movement II, …ein Glanz (…a glow) brings a mysterious, pulsating organ over which percussion rumble before the music slowly heaves itself up with unearthly sounds. Hölsky creates what in many ways is closer to that of an electronic sound world, so unlike conventional instrumental sounds are these. This is quite remarkable music showing that Hölsky has a very fine ear for colour and texture. As the organ pulsates louder the percussion counter with louder rolls of tam-tam before the music fades to the end.

Rhythmic percussion opens the third movement, …ein Flug, ein Feuer, ein Flammenwurf, ein Sternenstrich… (…a flight, a fire, a burst of flames, a steak of stars…) to which the organ adds loud chords. Organ bursts occur against colossal drum rolls with further thundering deep pedal notes against lighter percussion creating squalls of sound. As the coda arrives, individual percussion instruments allow the music to gently and delicately fade.

Finally we come to Movement IV …und wieder Dunkel, ungeheuer, im Ieeren Raum um Welt und ich. (…and again darkness, awesome, in the empty space around the world, and I) that brings a broad spacious, cavernous atmosphere with the organ providing an underlying surface over which a multitude of percussion sounds appear. This is otherworldly music again. There are arpeggios on organ against rhythmic percussion, pulsating organ sounds and much detail going on, brilliantly captured by these artists before the music fades at the end.

This is a strangely captivating work that creates the most remarkable sounds from both organ and percussion.

Lovers of contemporary organ music will want to have this disc but, given the spectacular nature of Hölsky’s sound world, many contemporary music enthusiasts will be just as rewarded by this new release.

The performances are spectacularly fine and the recording is absolutely first rate. There are excellent booklet notes. Whilst the playing time is just over 44 minutes in duration, the spectacular content more than compensates, in fact one feels that nothing could really follow.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Audite’s fourth volume in their edition of The Complete Symphonic Works of Edvard Grieg is another fine release that leaves this series set to become a real winner

Audite’s www.audite.de excellent series of The Complete Symphonic Works of Edvard Grieg has been winning awards galore. Volume I brought us the Symphonic Dances Op. 64; Peer Gynt Suite No.1 Op. 46 & No.2 Op. 55 and Funeral March in Memory of Rikard Nordraak and received a number of accolades including Gramophone magazine’s Editor’s Choice.

Volume II gave us the Two Elegiac Melodies Op. 34; From Holberg’s Time Op. 40, Two Melodies Op. 53 and Two Nordic Melodies Op. 63 being chosen as RBB Kulturradio CD of the Week and receiving a top rating from Klassic.com.

Volume III featured the Concert Overture 'In Autumn', Op. 11; Lyric Suite, Op. 54; Klokkeklang, Op. 54, No. 6; Old Norwegian Melody with Variations, Op. 51 and Three Orchestral Pieces from ‘Sigurd Jorsalfar’, Op. 56 bringing more awards including a Gramophone Choice. I was particularly enthusiastic about this, the first volume that I reviewed in this series finding it to be ‘the finest Grieg disc to be issued for a long time’ http://theclassicalreviewer.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/the-finest-grieg-disc-to-be-issued-for.html

Audite www.audite.de continue their five CD Complete Edition of The Symphonic Works of Grieg with Volume IV featuring this composer’s early Symphony in C minor and his popular Piano Concerto in A minor.

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As with all of this series the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln www.wdr.de/radio/orchester/sinfonieorchester/index.html  is conducted by Eivind Aadland www.maestroarts.com/clients/index.php?title=Eivind%20Aadland joined on this disc by pianist Herbert Schuch www.herbertschuch.com

There have been a number of recordings of Grieg’s Symphony in C minor, EG 119 in recent years despite Grieg having withdrawn the work. There is a purposeful opening to the Allegro molto before the main theme appears, with Eivind Aadland and the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln teasing out hints of Grieg’s later, mature style in the gentler passages. Whilst it is true that much of this symphony has the influence of Schumann and Gade, Grieg does bring a distinctive voice already, if not fully mature. These players do a tremendous job keeping the movement from flagging and highlighting the attractive moments.

They bring a lovely quality to the tranquil Adagio espressivo, a lovely, gentle ebb and flow allowing Grieg’s already fine orchestration to emerge. There is a nicely sprung Allegro energico offset by a spirited second subject before the opening tempo returns, all given a nice rhythmic lift before the lively coda.

More than anywhere else in this symphony it is the Allegro molto vivace that is so Schumannesque. It has a fine forward flow with some attractive ideas with these artists bringing out the best in the music by fine phrasing, rubato and attention to details. There are little hints of the mature Grieg in the quieter moments towards the coda.

Whilst this symphony lacks Grieg’s later, atmospheric sense of place and style, it is, nevertheless, an attractive work particularly when finely played as here.

One of the difficulties that can often arise with complete editions is when the series arrives at an extremely popular work that has been recorded many times. With Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.16 there is no such difficulty with Herbert Schuch giving us very distinctive performance.

Following on from the Symphony in C minor one notices, immediately, what a difference four years had made; with Grieg’s Piano Concerto showing clearly his recognisable style beautifully wrought by these players. They bring nicely rounded phrasing and a measured tempo to the Allegro molto moderato. Herbert Schuch, after a strong opening, brings a lovely breadth to his playing, revealing this to be just as much the poetic Grieg. This approach makes the surges into the more virtuosic passages have more impact. Schuch brings some terrific changes of tempi that really lift the music with some sprightly little rhythmic touches. This pianist also brings poetry to the cadenza ,remarkably so, with some very fine touches as he builds to the more technically challenging part with formidable playing marked by fine touch and phrasing before the brilliant coda.

Schuch and the WDR Sinfonieorchester really shine in the Adagio. A lovely orchestral opening sets the scene for Schuch’s poetic entry. There are some exquisitely gentle passages, with this pianist picking out lovely little phrases and details. Schuch and the orchestra let the brakes off for the opening of the Allegro moderato molto e marcato, always beautifully controlled and with a lovely transition to the slow central section.  There is some beautiful rubato from this pianist, with delicate filigree passages and some spectacularly fine playing as the movement moves toward the coda.

Altogether this is another fine addition to Audite’s ongoing complete symphonic cycle. The recording from Köln Philharmonie is excellent and there are informative booklet notes. This series is set to become a real winner.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

A new release from BIS shows that, with such colours and textures and sheer brilliance of writing, John Pickard’s Gaia Symphony for brass band and percussion is a tremendous achievement

John Pickard (b.1963) http://johnpickard.co.uk began composing at an early age going on to read for a B.Mus. degree at the University of Wales, Bangor, where his composition teacher was William Mathias. He later studied with Louis Andriessen at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, Netherlands on a Dutch Ministry of Culture Scholarship. He is currently Professor of Composition and Applied Musicology at the University of Bristol.

Pickard’s compositions to date include choral, orchestral, chamber, instrumental, vocal works as well as a number of works for brass, in particular the two works for brass band featured on a new release from BIS Records www.bis.se , Eden and Symphony No.4 ‘Gaia Symphony’.

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Eikanger-Bjørsvik Musikklag http://ebml.no brass and percussion ensemble are based in Lindås, Norway. They are probably the best known brass band in Norway having won the Norwegian Brass Band Championships fifteen times. Here they are directed on this disc by the Swedish conductor, Andreas Hanson.  http://onstageartists.com/andreas-hanson-uk Hanson is one of Scandinavia’s most established conductors having conducted all of the finest Swedish orchestras such as Kungliga Filharmoniska Orkestern in Stockholm, Sveriges Radio Symfoniorkester, Malmö Symfonirorkester as well as conducting opera and ballet at, among others, Kungliga Operan in Stockholm. He has been engaged as a guest conductor in Russia, Great Britain, Poland and Lithuania. In 2000 he made his debut in London at a Proms-concert.

In 2005 John Pickard was commissioned to compose the test piece for the finals of the 2005 National Brass Band Championship, held at the Royal Albert Hall, London. This piece, Eden for brass band (2005), has since been performed all over the world and is widely acknowledged to be one of the finest works written for brass band. Pickard tells us in his excellent booklet note that the work is prefaced by the final lines from Milton’s Paradise Lost. It is in three linked sections, the first representing Adam, Eve and the serpent; the second, an interpretation of the Eden story as a modern metaphor for the havoc inflicted on the world and the third a lament.

The work opens with the instruments of Eikanger-Bjørsvik Musikklag slowly joining against the tinkle of a bell, giving very much the feel of dawn.  Rich deep lower brass add a richness as the music gently moves forward in short surges. Pickard’s use of his instruments is skilfully done, beautifully orchestrated. The music moves from rich sounds to passages of great luminosity. Soon there are courser, rasping, agitated, sounds with a trombone leading the ensemble. Drums beat out as the music becomes increasingly dramatic with further percussion joining as the music drives forward, full of energy. Later a trombone takes on a jazzy feel as the music is driven along, achieving a tremendous pitch with playing of supreme virtuosity. Eventually a tolling bell introduces a slow section full of regret and sorrow. The rich, lower brass enter as the music seems to gain a reflective air before building again in dynamics as the coda is reached, surely giving a sign of hope. The work concludes on a settled final loud flourish.

This is a beautifully structured piece, full of fine orchestration and colourful ideas.

The sixty five minute Symphony No.4, ‘Gaia Symphony’ for brass band and percussion (1991-2003), was first heard in its complete version at the 2005 Cheltenham Music Festival. Gaia was the Greek goddess of the earth. Wildfire and Men of Stone were the result of earlier individual commissions. Tsunami and Aurora followed, later connected by three short movements entitled Windows to form the symphony. The Windows are openings in the continuous brass sonorities to offer a glimpse of another sound world built of percussion.

Tsunami has a forceful opening followed by a steady beating rhythm from the timpani over which the band slowly build a theme. Soon a more animated section arrives with the music dancing around against percussion, full of syncopated, dramatic music. The music quietens momentarily but soon picks up to a violent forward thrusting pace before falling to a longer sustained hushed section. Cymbals appear to give the sound of water as individual instruments quietly join with a stillness and tension as a drum beats quietly. Eventually the drum beat speeds up and becomes more dominant as the music regains its dynamic, violent nature, going through a number of surges, growing in strength to lead into Window 1 (Water – Fire) where drums and percussion hammer out a primeval rhythm that shows the ensemble’s percussion section to be first rate.

We are led straight into Wildfire where staccato brass outbursts are interspersed by longer held passages. A side drum drives the music forward with brass outbursts before more of a forward momentum is gained with some extremely fine playing from this band. Soon a quieter, slower section arrives but the music slowly builds again with increased rhythm and dynamics and some particularly fine orchestration.  There are quieter moments, full of increasing tension, as the music pushes forward to the colossal coda that ends with strange tapping sounds from the percussion as we are led into Window 2 (Fire – Air) where repeated tapping leads to the entry of drums that take over in a faster rhythm before a variety of percussion instruments have their say, bringing a variety of textures. Eventually the music falls to a tolling bell with tinkling bells adding to the texture as we are led into the next movement.

Aurora brings a peaceful passage with mellow brass as higher instruments emerge from the background bringing a sense of light. There is a lovely rising and falling passage and some gloriously written hushed passages, beautifully played. Timpani then point up a rhythm, leading the ensemble to a faster pace and rising to a series of climaxes, finely pointed up by surges of percussion. Eventually the music falls with a return of the mellow brass of the opening, becoming quieter in the magical coda and leading into Window 3 (Air – Earth) where a drum taps a short motif before a bell chimes and a vibraphone subtly joins. The music rises in dynamics a little in this strangest and most inventive of sections.

The final movement, Men of Stone is in four linked sections. It rises quickly to an outburst in the opening of Avebury (Autumn, morning) before a lone cornet plays a lovely melody. Soon there is another surge from the full ensemble before building, with lovely little brass decorations, to the final climax and speeding into Castlerigg (Winter, afternoon) a rhythmic, dynamic section with violent drums, full of fierce energy that falls, falteringly to Barclodiad y Gawres (Spring, evening) a lovely section, a complete contrast to Castlerigg with some glorious moments, full of exquisite colours and textures as a spring evening is depicted. The music rises in passion before quietly leading into a rhythmic drumming passage, with snarling brass, as Stonehenge (Summer, night/dawn) appears, full of primeval violence. The music falls with a sense of menace still remaining before an outburst followed by surges of brass lead to the dynamic coda.

This symphony is a tremendous achievement both by composer and the band. At times one forgets that one is listening to a brass band such are the colours and textures and sheer brilliance of Pickard’s writing.

As for the performances, they are absolutely first rate. To call this band amateur seems inappropriate such are their skills. The recording is well up to BIS’ high standards, allowing every little detail and texture to emerge. There are informative booklet notes from the composer. By including the related work, Eden, BIS have given us a very generous 81 minute disc.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Performances ranking amongst the very best, as Leif Ove Andsnes and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra complete their Beethoven Journey for Sony with the Emperor Concerto and Choral Fantasy

The Beethoven Journey has taken Leif Ove Andsnes www.andsnes.com and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra www.mahler-chamber.de through the first and third concertos, recorded in the Dvorak Hall, Rudolfinum, Prague on 22nd and 23rd May 2012, through concertos two and four recorded at St. Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, England on 22nd and 23rd November 2013 to their final destination - the latest release from Sony Classical.

And what a journey it’s been. With the first two issues I used terms such as ‘deeply probing and distinguished performances’, ‘subtle details and depth of feeling’, ‘provides wonderful insights’ and ‘hugely recommendable’.

Andsnes has not rushed into these recordings, taking them into concert and absorbing the music before committing them to disc.

Now to the final release from Sony Classical of Piano Concerto No.5 in E flat major, Op.73 ‘Emperor’ and the Fantasy for Piano, Chorus and Orchestra in C minor, Op.80 ‘Choral Fantasy’. 


The Allegro of Piano Concerto No.5 opens with a strength and assurance from both soloist and orchestra with Andsnes providing fine delicate phrasing. The orchestra moves ahead decisively, full of authority and with beautifully wrought quieter passages. When Andsnes enters again he provides clear, beautiful phrases, observing every dynamic. The orchestral textures are extremely fine showing how much Andsnes has worked with this orchestra. Andsnes moves through some wonderfully well sprung, dynamic, fast flowing passages with such élan. This is musicianship of a particularly high order.  Centrally Andsnes brings a light-heartedness before the climactic chords for piano against the orchestra. Andsnes’ fluency and touch are superb. There is a superb little cadenza that is sensitively carried through to the huge scales that follow.

There is a beautifully paced orchestral opening Adagio un poco moto, with just the right amount of forward push. Andsnes brings a similar forward urge to his playing, with very fine purity of tone and exquisite phrasing. It is Andsnes’ subtle, almost imperceptible changes of tempo and dynamics that bring such a mesmerising effect.

The Rondo. Allegro brings taut, rhythmically well sprung playing that fairly bounces ahead, full of joy. Andsnes and his players seem to really throw themselves into the music with magnificent results. This pianist’s pure tone comes through in the quieter passages with a delicacy that is extremely fine. The coda is simply terrific.

Just as in the previous releases, Leif Ove Andsnes has brought a subtlety and depth to this concerto revealing its many moods and depths.

The Prague Philharmonic Choir www.filharmonickysbor.cz join Andsnes and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra for Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy. The Adagio opens with some fine, broad piano chords before falling to the intricate little phrases that Andsnes works up so well. There are phrases that recall the Fifth concerto with Andsnes bringing much to the attractions of the piano part of this work, showing that, for all its oddities, there is much inventiveness and entertainment.

After the orchestra enters for the Finale the piano joins with its sprightly motif before the music takes off, full of wit and charm highlighted by Andsnes’ amazing ensemble with the orchestra. The finale of the ninth symphony is foreshadowed before some terrific, dynamic playing. Andsnes also brings much sensitivity to this rather extrovert work, showing a subtlety that could easily be lost and, indeed, often is. There is spontaneity galore in the sudden piano flourishes before the chorus enters and some tremendous playing as the chorus and orchestra head forward with Andsnes achieving a fine balance of his forces right up to the coda.

These performers tend to make the Choral Fantasy sound greater than really it is with a direct spontaneity coupled with fine sensitivity. All in all this is a very fine performance. 

Leif Ove Andsnes and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra have topped off a considerable cycle with a real winner. There is something in these performances that just lifts the music. It all sounds just so right.

These are performances to live with and, surely must rank alongside the very best committed to disc. The recording made at the Dvorak Hall, Rudolfinum, Prague on 20th and 21st May 2014 is excellent. There are informative booklet notes.

See also:



Wednesday, 15 October 2014

As fine a collection of piano trio performances you could wish for from the Petrof Piano Trio on a new release from Nimbus of works by Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn

The Petrof Piano Trio www.upbeatclassical.co.uk/petrof-piano-trio.html was created in 2009 by Wihan Quartet www.wihanquartet.co.uk violinist, Jan Schulmeister. The members, that also include Martina Schulmeisterová (piano) and Kamil Žvak (cello), are renowned chamber-music players and bring to the ensemble over thirty years’ experience of concert activity.

In the same year as it was formed, the ensemble became the Resident Trio of the Petrof Piano Company. Since 2011 they have been the Resident Trio at the International Chamber Music Course in Zábřeh na Moravě in the Czech Republic.

The Trio gave the world premiere of Janáček ́s “Kreutzer ́s Sonata”, arranged for the Trio by the leading Czech musicologist, Miloš Štědroňat, at the international music festival in Kroměříž in September 2014.

Following the Trio’s last CD release for Nimbus Alliance www.wyastone.co.uk/all-labels/nimbus/nimbus-alliance.html , with trios by Mendelssohn, Bruch and Lalo, they have now released a recording on that label of Beethoven’s ‘Ghost’ Trio and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio in A minor coupled with three arrangements of Mendelssohn: Songs without Words.

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The Petrof Piano Trio grab the listener’s attention straight away in the Allegro con brio of Beethoven’s Piano Trio in D minor ‘Ghost’ Op.70, No.1 with playing that is taut, dynamic and urgent. They are fully alive to every dynamic and nuance.

The Petrof’s lyrical, poetic side, that was glimpsed in the Allegro, is fully revealed in the Largo assai ed espressivo where the Trio draw much fine expression. There is a beautiful balance between piano and strings in some exquisitely hushed passages, rising to moments of intense passion. It is terrific how they slowly build the emotions before easing back.

The Presto brings a lively dialogue between the players with moments of fine, incisive playing. This Trio show some terrific ensemble before the decisive coda.

This is a particularly fine ‘Ghost’ Trio displaying layers of emotion often not revealed.

With the Pezzo elegiac of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio in A minor, Op.50 the Petrof’s open beautifully with a broad, rolling sweep before the lovely main theme emerges. There is a lovely building in dynamics with all of Tchaikovsky’s intricate writing showing through. The music rises in great passion with these players drawing out the many moods. Centrally there is an exquisite section as the main theme is slowly, gently and passionately revealed in its lovely variation, quite beautifully played before rising to a direct and passionate sequence, beautifully controlled as it falls back to the lovely coda.

There is a gloriously played opening to the Tema con Variazioni from Martina Schulmeisterová, beautifully phrased and poised before the gently rolling theme appears and is taken through its twelve variations. There are some lovely passages from string players, Jan Schulmeister and Kamil Žvak, often full of intense emotion and really bringing the music alive. In the rhythmic sections these players provide some fine playing, responding so well to each other. As we are led into the Variazioni Finale e Coda these players really throw themselves into the fast and furious passages, bringing joy before slowing for the massive coda where they bring great power to the restated theme before the quiet coda.

The Petrof Piano Trio conclude this recording with three arrangements of Mendelssohn: Songs without Words by Jakub Kowalewski (b.1977), acting as attractive encores. There is a lovely rocking motion to the attractive arrangement Allegro con anima, op.62 No. 4 with opening and closing pizzicato strings, a simple yet attractive arrangement of Un poco agitato, ma andante, Op.101 No.4 with the strings taking the melody and the well known Andante con moto, Op.19 No.1 with the violin and cello sharing the melody over a piano accompaniment with a lovely sweep and flow.

This is as fine a collection of piano trio performances you could wish for. The recording from the Sound Studio HAMU, Prague is first rate and there are informative notes from the trio’s violinist Jan Schulmeister.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Excellent performances from harpsichordist, Terence Charlston in works by Bach, Handel and music by composers of their youth on a new release from Divine Art entitled The Harmonious Thuringian

Thuringia is a federal state of Germany set right at the heart of Germany with beautiful countryside and cities and a great history and culture. It is an area with strong links to Goethe, Schiller, Liszt, Wagner, Gropius and Feininger as well as Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) who was born in Eisenach.

Saxony is a federal state of Germany, bordering Thuringia and also having a great natural beauty, a rich historical and cultural landscape and particularly linked to George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) who was born in Halle.

Combine music from the early years of these two composers with music they may have heard in their youth; add a copy, by David Evans, of a lovely old Thuringian harpsichord dating from c. 1715 and you have the basis for a very interesting recital.

This is exactly what harpsichordist, Terence Charlston www.ram.ac.uk/find-people?pid=363  has done on a new release from Divine Art Recordings www.divine-art.co.uk entitled The Harmonious Thuringian.

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David Evans’ http://uk.linkedin.com/pub/david-evans/81/854/8a1 instrument is a single manual harpsichord, a 2010 copy of an anonymous Thuringian harpsichord c. 1715 in the Eisenach Bachhaus, Eisenach, Germany www.bachhaus.de . This new CD gives full details of compass, pitch and temperament of this fine instrument.

Terence Charlston is an early keyboard player, chamber musician, choral and orchestral director, teacher and academic researcher. As a harpsichord and organ soloist he has toured worldwide. His repertoire spans music from the 16th century to the present day, reflecting an interest in keyboard music of all types and styles.

He was a member of London Baroque from 1995 until 2007 and is a member of the ensemble, Florilegium as well as being a member of The Society of Strange and Ancient Instruments.

Charlston has performed on a large number of recordings playing harpsichord, organ, virginals, clavichord and fortepiano. He founded the Department of Historical Performance at the Royal Academy of Music in 1995 and in September 2007 he was invited to join the staff of the Royal College of Music, London as professor of harpsichord. He is International Visiting Tutor at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.

Terence Charlston opens this new recording with Johann Sebastian Bach’s Toccata in E minor, BWV 914 (c. 1706-1710) written around the time he would have been in either Arnstadt, Mühlhausen or Weimar, all Thuringian towns. Charlston brings a beautifully phrased flow to the opening of Toccata followed by some finely structured passages in the second half. In the Fugue he pushes forward with the musical lines very finely drawn.

We move from Bach to a contemporary, Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer (1656-1746) sometime Kapellmeister to Ludwig Wilhelm of Baden and represented here by his Suite VIII in G major. The Prelude has some beautifully florid passages with exceptionally fine playing from Charlston and a lovely, finely detailed Chaconne with, again, this player allowing the lines to clearly flow.

Louis Marchand (1669-1732) was a French Baroque organist, harpsichordist, and composer some of whose organ works were lauded as classics of the French organ school and may well have been heard by Bach and Handel. Deep resonant sounds are drawn from this fine harpsichord as his Prelude in D minor unfolds; a really attractive piece that moves around considerably as the theme is worked out.

Johann Philipp Krieger (1649-1725) is represented here by his Passacaglia in D minor. Krieger was the elder brother of Johann Krieger featured below, both being musicians from a Nuremberg family. His Passacaglia opens with a series of slow chords before developing. Charlston is a sensitive musician who knows just how to extract beautiful sounds from such a piece. The piece has an affecting, simple rising and falling theme that is, nevertheless, developed in an attractive and skilful manner with some unusual, repeated phrases towards the end, as well as some beautifully florid passages.

We return to the great Bach with his Fantasia in G minor, BWV 917. In many ways a quintessentially Bachian piece it receives a really fine performance with a great flow and clarity of line.

With Johann Krieger’s (1651-1735) Ich dich hab ich gehoffet Herr the different musical lines could prove problematic in some hands but not here, where Charlston beautifully contrasts the two lines as the music is developed.

Christian Ritter (1645/1650-1717) is believed to have been a pupil of Christoph Bernhard in Dresden. He is thought to have later been Kammerorganist in Halle in 1666 before, later, moving to Sweden. His Allemande in descessum Caroli xi Regis sveciae is very attractive, nicely developed, unfolding naturally for all its intricacies.

Johann Christoph Bach (1642-1703) was the eldest son of Heinrich Bach, Johann Sebastian Bach's great uncle. Born at Arnstadt, he was organist at Eisenach and later a member of the court chamber orchestra there. His Prelude and Fugue in E flat major, BWV Anh.177 has a Prelude as fine as any by J. S. Bach, with richly decorated passages finely played by Charlston. There follows a beautifully paced Fugue, revealing its fine invention as it is allowed to unfold.

The fast Fugue in C minor that follows, full of attractive invention during its short duration, is an anonymous work attributed to Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706), another composer born in Nuremberg, brilliantly played by Charlston.

The Italian composer, Tarquino Merula’s (1594/95-1665) organ works would have been in general circulation during the 17th century.  His Capriccio Cromatico Capriccio…perle semi tuoni opens on a rising scale which the left hand continues under a right hand motif. This is then developed with Charlston’s fine musical clarity and sensitivity.

Johann Sebastian Bach is again represented by the Prelude from his Prelude and Fugue in A major, BWV 896 (c.1709). This tiny little piece receives an exquisite performance.

Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow (1663-1712) was born in Halle, going on to be Kantor and organist of Halle's Market Church, the church where Handel was baptised. He was Handel’s teacher in Halle. Charlston gives Zachow’s  Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland a stature that perhaps wouldn’t normally emerge in the way he develops the ideas, thus adding a degree of depth.

Johann Kuhnau (1660-1722) was, like Handel, a Saxony born composer. Charlston produces unusual timbres from his harpsichord in the Prelude, a really unusual piece where a single theme is simply worked out.

Finally we come to George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) with his Suite No.5 in E minor, HWV 430 from his Eight Suites de Pieces HWV 426-433 (1720). Though Handel was in London by 1710, leaving Halle in 1703 and Hamburg in 1706 to travel to Italy, these works were surely assembled for publication from works written earlier.

Charlston brings a fine breadth and spaciousness to the Prelude with a terrific display of virtuosity in the florid coda. There is a flowing Allemande with Charlston bringing out all the intricacies of this piece. The Courante has a lovely ebb and flow, with finely played little details before the Air and Variations, better known as ‘The Harmonious Blacksmith’. For all its popularity it is a fine piece and gets a terrific performance here.

There are some extremely interesting and attractive works on this new disc from composers probably not heard of by most listeners. David Evans’ fine instrument adds much to Terence Charlston’s excellent performances. The CD booklet is up to Divine Art’s usual high standards with colour photographs, including one of the instrument, excellent notes by Terence Charlston together with details of the harpsichord including pitch and temperament.  

Monday, 13 October 2014

Celebrating their thirtieth anniversary, Concerto Italiano directed by Rinaldo Alessandrini bring a feast of Monterverdi in an imagined Vespri Solenni per la Festa di San Marco on a new release from Naïve

Rinaldo Alessandrini www.naive.fr/en/artist/rinaldo-alessandrini, renowned as a recitalist on the harpsichord, fortepiano and organ and considered one of the most authoritative interpreters of Monteverdi, founded Concerto Italiano www.concertoitaliano.it which celebrates its thirtieth anniversary this year.

Rinaldo Alessandrini is worldwide. His profound knowledge and love of the Italian repertoire is naturally reflected in programmes in which he seeks to reproduce the essential, but often elusive, expressive and cantabile elements so fundamental to Italian music in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

The ensemble’s current schedule features sacred music by Handel, Scarlatti, Legrenzi, Vivaldi, Melani, Pergolesi, and Stradella; instrumental works by Bach, Vivaldi, Corelli, Geminiani, Locatelli, and Rossini; and secular vocal music by Monteverdi, Marenzio, De Wert, Charpentier, Nenna, and De Monte.

In celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of Concerto Italiano, Rinaldo Alessandrini returns to his preferred composer, in the magnificent Basilica of Mantua, with a recording for Naïve www.naive.fr of an imagined Vespri Solenni per la Festa di San Marco (Vespers Service for San Marco) assembled from various parts of the Selva Morale. This represents a first step in the recording of the Selva morale e spirituale, a collection of sacred music by Monteverdi, published in Venice in 1640, to be completed in the coming years.

CD + bonus DVD
OP 30557

Selva morale e spirituale contains various forms of sacred music, from madrigals to a complete Mass, varying between a single voice to eight voices with instruments. The collection also contains Marian hymns such as the Magnificat in two versions and three settings of Salve Regina.

On this new release sections of the Selva morale are interspersed in the appropriate places with motets by Monteverdi, instrumental sonatas by Giovanni Gabrieli (c.1554/1557-1612), Francesco Usper (1561-1641) Usper and Giovanni Battista Buonamente (c.1595-1642) as well as plainchant  Antiphona and a grand opening Responsorium from Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers.

Even though much of the music was written after Monteverdi’s employment by Vincenzo I, Duke of Mantua from c.1590 to 1612, the venue, the basilica of Santa Barbara, Mantua, Italy, as an alternative to St. Mark’s itself, is appropriate given its links to the composer and its architecture and acoustics.

The Vespers open with the fine voice of tenor Gianluca Ferrarini in the Responsorium: Deus in adiutorium meum intende from Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610, to which the choir and instrumental ensemble of Concerto Italiano join in some of the best of this composer’s ceremonial liturgical style. Concerto Italiano, consisting of a small ensemble of eight singers and an ensemble of just fourteen instrumentalists, provide a very fine sound in the acoustic of the basilica of Santa Barbara, Mantua. Alessandrini brings a real blend of fine textures from both choir and instrumental ensemble. In fact, to call the vocal ensemble a choir does it less than justice given the individual strength and qualities of the voices.

It is Gianluca Ferrarini who returns for the Antiphona: Egregrius Christi petrus apostolus, as he does in all of the Antiphona, before Psalmus 109: Dixit Dominus, the first of the pieces from Monteverdi’s Selva Morale, 1640. The choir supported by the splendid sounds of the instrumental ensemble provide some gorgeous textures and harmonies with particularly fine individual voices blending finely together and some terrific rasping, brass textures from the instrumental ensemble. There is much felicitous, flexible singing from individual voices.

Concerto Italiano provide many lovely subtleties in the beautifully played music instrumental Sonata in loco antiphonae: Canzon ottava a 8 from Giovanni Gabrieli’s Canzoni e sonata, 1615 before Ferrarini returns for the Antiphona: Doctrinam apostolicam evangeliste marco committens.

There follows a lively, buoyant Psalmus 110: Confitebor tibi domine from Selva Morale with the fine voice of soprano Anna Simboli, soon joined by tenor Luca Dordolo who also brings a fine, flexible voice. When bass, Matteo Bellotto joins he has a rich and secure tone. Together with the beautifully nuanced instrumental accompaniment these singers blend extremely well together.

Motectus in loco antiphonae: Christe adoramus te is the first of Monteverdi’s motets from his Bianchi, Libro primo mottetti of 1620 where Concerto Italiano bring lovely sonorities of both voice and instruments in this melancholy piece. After the Antiphona: Ad hec disponente dei gratia comes Psalmus 111: Beatus vir (Selva Morale) which has a lovely lightness of texture, a lovely sprung buoyancy with the voices nicely set against the instruments, these singers showing a fine flexibility of voice.

Fine brass timbres combine with the other instrumentalists, including the deep rich resonances of the archlute, in Francesco Usper’s Sonata in loco antiphonae: Sonata a 8 from his Composizioni armoniche Op.3 (1619). These really are fine players brining out all of the lovely textures of the music.

Another Antiphona, Beate sancta marce, follows, again with the fine clear voice of Gianluca Ferrarini before Psalmus 112: Laudate pueri (Selva Morale) which brings some lovely blending of individual voices in the opening and later, slower passages before the music picks up its rhythmic bounce with each of these fine singers providing a terrific voice. Towards the end there is some particularly fine singing in the difficult intricate decorations.

Another of Monteverdi’s motets from his Bianchi, Libro primo dei mottetti of 1620 is Motectus in loco antiphonae: Cantate domino, a brilliantly lithe, rhythmically sprung work with glorious long held textural phrases. After the Antiphona: Sancte evangelista marce comes Psalmus 116: Laudate dominum (Selva Morale, 1640). It is lovely how Alessandrini moves from quiet, controlled passages for a single soloist with lute to the impressive choral and instrumental passages.

Giovanni Battista Buonamente’s attractive Sonata in loco antiphonae: Sonata a 6 per violin, cornetto, tre trombone at liuto tiorbato from his Sonate, et canzon…libro sesto (1636) brings some fine string and wind sounds before we turn to another piece from Monterverdi’s Selva Morale, the Hymnus: Athleta Christi bellinger. It brings more fine individual singing from tenors, Raffaele Giordani, Luca Dordolo and bass, Salvo Vitale as this ensemble weave their lovely vocal sounds, so finely accompanied by the strings of Concerto Italiano, with some lovely, subtle little harmonic shifts.

The Versus/responsorium: Pulchra facie et alacri vultu/deprecare, pastor bone  brings back Raffaele Giordani together with tenor Gianluca Ferrarini and bass, Matteo Bellotto providing  a lovely blend in this attractive plainchant, beautifully controlled, not to mention very fine individual contributions.

Gianluca Ferrarini shows his impressive range in the lower rich textures of Antiphona: Post angelicam allocutionem before the final Magnificat Primo a 8. Voci & due violini & quarto viole ouero Quattro Tromboni quali in accidente si ponno lasciare again from Monteverdi’s Selva Morale of 1640. This Magnificat has a terrific opening with full ensemble as many fine passages with groups of these fine singers and quieter instrumental moments, contrast with the rich outpourings of Monteverdi’s more dynamic music. There is a wonderful blending of Monteverdi’s individual instruments with individual voices and more fine individual flexibility of voice before the glorious conclusion.

This ‘imagined’ Vespri Solenni per la Festa di San Marco is a fine achievement by Rinaldo Alessandrini and his terrific Concerto Italiano. So many of the pieces here stand as great works in their own right and, as an overall group, stand extremely well together.

This release comes with a bonus DVD, The Human and the Divine, a 51 minute film (with sub-titles in English and French) by Claudio Rufa that is a feast in more ways than one with shots of Mantua’s beautiful architecture and paintings, extended musical extracts, food from Monteverdi’s time being prepared and served as part of an informal gathering to discuss Monteverdi and his developing style.

The recording from the Basilica of Santa Barbara, Mantua, Italy is first class and there are excellent notes by Rinaldo Alessandrini together with full texts and French and English translations.

All in all this is a release that should not be missed.