Sunday, 5 July 2015

The two pianos/four hands quartet, Estrella are four immensely accomplished musicians who bring us impressive works by six contemporary New Zealand composers on a terrific new release from Atoll

Estrella  is a quartet with a difference – two pianos/four hands. Estrella was formed in 2010 by Somi Kim, Judy Lee, Lorelle McNaughton and Cindy Tsao whilst students at the University of Auckland. The quartet has given performances throughout New Zealand and premiered numerous works by local and overseas composers. In 2011, Estrella was awarded the Pettman/Royal Overseas League International Scholarship, which enabled them to travel to the United Kingdom to give a six week concert tour. Highlights included performing at St Martin-in-the-Fields, St. James’s Piccadilly and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. 

Estrella is the recipient of the University of Auckland Carl and Alberta Rosenfeldt Prize in Chamber Music, the Auckland Chamber Music Society Scholarship, the Bernhardt and Anne Harrison Memorial Scholarship and the Llewelyn Jones Prize in Music for Piano. Their performances have been recorded and broadcast on radio and TV.

Their debut album Tui has been released by Atoll to considerable acclaim reaching number one in the New Zealand classical charts.

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On this new disc Estrella feature works by contemporary New Zealand composers David Hamilton, Gareth Farr, Leonie Holmes, Eve de Castro-Robinson, John Rimmer and Sarah Ballard

David Hamilton’s (b.1955) takes the name of a native New Zealand bird the Tui for his work. Natural sounds including birdsong open before the pianos of Somi Kim, Lorelle McNaughton Cindy Tsao and Judy Lee gently role in with a gently shifting melody. The sound of two pianos/eight hands gives an attractive depth and texture, these four young pianists bringing an impressive ensemble. The music moves through some lovely, gentle harmonies.  

Gareth Farr (b.1968) wrote Into the Chasm in 1988. Dissonant flourishes open before a strident, insistent theme leads ahead. Here we have a complex overlaying of individual piano parts played with supreme virtuosity by this quartet. There are passages of florid, flowing writing against steely chords before a quiet, withdrawn section with little ideas appearing over a repetitive single note. Soon the music increases in tempo, moving through some impressive passages from these players before the intoxicating, complex music returns.

This is an impressive achievement all round.

Gareth Farr’s Bintang was commissioned by Estrella and takes its name from the Indonesian version of the Quartet’s name meaning Star. Indonesian gamelan music was the inspiration for this work which brings a gentler sound, a slowly laid out theme with lovely limpid, dissonant textures. Slowly the harmonies are increased bringing a sumptuous sound, all the while keeping its slow, limpid character. It builds to a climax as these 40 fingers sound out wonderfully before a series of simple, quiet chords conclude.

Leonie Holmes (b.1962) originally wrote Bottom's Dance for a mixed chamber group of nine players. It was arranged for Estrella in 2011. As it begins, a repetitive motif is soon overlaid as the music is developed, gaining in excitement and rhythmic energy with varying moods and tempi as the music progresses. Again this quartet of pianists brings terrific accuracy and ensemble to this fiendishly difficult piece as the various musical lines are overlaid. Bringing many varying textures, the lovely light touch of these artists is impressive.

Eve de Castro-Robinson (b.1956) wrote efflux for piano duet in 1985 when she was a student, inspired by Reich and Ligeti. This arrangement for two pianos/eight hands has a repeated theme to which the pianists slowly add textures, creating a very fine dissonant, attractive sound. The music drops back before new layers are added. There are moments of massive restrained piano power as well as some lovely textures.

John Rimmer’s (b.1939) Hammerheads was written in 2008. In five sections it opens with a gentle descending theme that is ruminated on before slowly gathering its thoughts and leading forward. Moments of agitation begin to appear before the music arrives at a faster forward driving rhythmic section. Eventually there is a sudden stop before a slower, languid section commences. The music builds through some exceptionally fine pianistic moments with spiky rhythms and exceptionally fine playing from this quartet. Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring is rhythmically evoked before the music tumbles towards a more reserved coda.

This is an impressive work, brilliantly played.

Sarah Ballard’s (b.1989) Two Pieces evoke two geological spaces. I Beneath the Antarctic opens with tinkling piano phrases that move around freely, bringing sudden little motifs. These fine players capture the icy sparkle and sudden surprises of this music which soon runs into a florid flow of shifting sounds pointed up by hard hit chords before skittish notes sound the coda. II La Cueva de los Cristales is a cave in Mexico with giant gypsum crystals. Low, quiet insistent chords opens before developing slowly, adding layers of insistent repeated motifs, grows increasingly dramatic before suddenly stopping.

Estrella return to the music of David Hamilton with his Three Rags arrangements of music written by him earlier. Those Ragtime-Caravan Blues, originally written for three violins and horns, immediately opens with a flowing ragtime theme. These terrific players provide a fine blend of sound as they make their way through some terrific passages in this really entertaining little piece.

Mister Bones’ Rag began life as incidental music for a play and very much brings the essence of Scott Joplin in the introductory bars before developing a harmonically rather unusual style of ragtime. The Estrella Rag another harmonically free piece, was, as its title suggests, written to provide a third rag for this quartet to perform. It is a terrific piece that speeds towards the end.

David Hamilton’s Ghost Dance was also written for Estrella and builds insistently from a repeated theme which is interrupted by moments of quieter thoughtfulness. There are flowing, delicate passages that provide this team with moments to show their exquisitely sensitive touch. Towards the end there is clapping from the players though frankly this does not add anything useful to the music. The music builds again to a sudden end on a held note.

What stands out particularly on this new disc is how effectively the featured composers take advantage of 40 fingers. Estrella are four immensely accomplished musicians. The recording is excellent and there are informative booklet notes.

Piano enthusiasts will surely wish to investigate this fine disc. 

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Phenomenal playing from Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow on the latest release from Divine Art in their Schubert series The Unauthorised Piano Duos

Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow  continue to add to their impressive catalogue of recordings for Divine Art with the third volume in their series Franz Schubert: The Unauthorised Piano Duos.

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Anthony Goldstone is something of a Schubert specialist having recorded three volumes of Schubert Piano Masterworks for Divine Art

As a piano duo Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow have already recorded piano duo arrangements of Schubert’s Trout Quintet and Overture to Rosamunde (Volume 1) and Piano Trio in B flat major, D. 898 and Arpeggione Sonata (Volume 2) all containing many other fascinating and rewarding Schubert arrangements. 

This new release has just two works, Schubert’s Death and the Maiden Quartet arranged by Robert Franz (1815-1892) and the Unfinished Symphony which combines Anton Hüttenbrenner’s (1794-1868) transcription of the first two movements with Anthony Goldstone’s own transcription of Schubert’s sketches for the third movement and Friedrich Hermann’s (1828-1907) arrangement of the Entr’acte in B minor from Rosamunde acting as the finale.

The Allegro of the String Quartet in D minor, ‘Death and the Maiden’, D.810 opens with a great assurance, this Duo bringing out all of the intensity and forward drive of the original. They reveal so much of Schubert’s wistfulness and passion whilst providing an accuracy that is quite frankly phenomenal. But there is much more. Their sense of poetry, contrasting Schubert’s many moods, brings so many rewards. Theirs is quite simply an intuitive partnership.

There is a hauntingly withdrawn opening to the Andante con moto before it moves through some wonderful variations, quite mesmerising in these artists’ hands. They have a fine subtle rubato, beautifully controlled with limpid piano sounds, making this music seem so right for the piano. Indeed, one soon forgets that it was originally a quartet. It is wonderful how they slowly build the music in concentration and power. Later, there is an exquisitely delicate passage, beautifully done before the music builds again with both these fine pianists bringing a terrific concentration before the sad resigned coda.

The Scherzo and Trio: Allegro molto has a lovely buoyancy and a Trio section where this duo hold a fine balance between charm and nostalgia.  The duo’s fine, light and lithe touch opens the Finale: Presto - Prestissimo finale with playing of such energy, panache and drive. They follow every detail and nuance with spectacular intricacy bringing a terrific gallop to the music and weaving through some terrific passages of great strength and power. They bring a fine restraint in some passages moving quickly to a terrific coda.

This is great Schubert.  

Despite its title Schubert’s Symphony in B minor, ‘Unfinished’, D.759 and D.797/1 was not the only symphony to be left incomplete (see my blog from March 2012 ). Indeed, Schubert was notorious for laying aside many works before completion.

In the Allegro moderato of Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow’s piano duo performance of the symphony they bring a lovely restraint to the opening that contrasts so well with the stormier passages. There are many thoughtful, haunting, intensely searching moments. One soon finds oneself forgetting the orchestral clothes of the original; such is the power and poetry of this performance. There is an emotional pull in this movement that is often missed in many orchestral performances with the coda bringing a sense of emotional ambivalence.  

The Andante con moto has a directness of utterance in the opening theme before the second subject brings a more withdrawn reticence offset by passages of intense passion. Every turn of emotion is perfectly caught here, this duo picking up on so many of Schubert’s subtle little moments of melancholy. They imperceptibly ratchet up the drama each time the opening theme re-appears, again offset by the most exquisitely poetic moments.

The Scherzo and Trio: Allegro - Poco meno mosso receives a lovely dance like swagger yet harmonically there seems to be an emotional cutting edge, something that this transcription and performance reveals. There are passages of restrained power brilliantly caught.

For the Finale: Allegro this duo use, as in other ‘completions’, Schubert’s Entr’acte in B minor from Rosamunde giving the music a lighter air. – This duo brings out so many fine moments revealing this as a ‘movement’ with moments of great variety and power before a terrific coda.

This is an impressive series from Britain’s premiere piano duo. The recorded sound from St. John the Baptist Church, Alkborough, North Lincolnshire, England is first rate. Anthony Goldstone provides the excellent booklet notes.

See also:

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

One thing that shines through all of these pieces on F L (Laurie) Dunkin Wedd’s new release from Con Brio is the sheer musicality and poetry that he brings

In March this year I welcomed a new release of works for strings by British composer F L (Laurie) Dunkin Wedd  At the time I noted that he is a composer of great versatility yet with a clearly defined personal style and that his music deserves a wider audience.

Dunkin Wedd’s versatility is shown to even greater effect on a new release from Con Brio entitled Lorelei.

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This new release features works for voice and tape as well as a work for choir and organ and is available as a 21 minute ‘EP’ length CD or as a download.

The title work Lorelei (completed 2015) is a tribute to the composer’s late aunt who lived near the sound of waves in Dorset, England. Three female voices speak words and phrases over the sound of waves recorded on the Dorset coast. The beautifully and atmospherically recorded wave sounds are soon overlaid with the word ‘Listen’ by the three voices, Helen Carter, Mary Rae and Carole Howlett who are set in an otherworldly acoustic. The music moves through repeated ‘verses’ or ‘words’ and, although there is no conventionally composed music here, there is a great musicality evocatively produced before the voices disappear, leaving just the sound of the waves.

Brancusi (2008) sets word sounds for alto with taped industrial and other sounds.  The composer tells us that this piece honours one of his favourite sculptors, Constantin Brancusi and like that sculptor’s Bird in Space, speaks of where we have come from and where we are going. 

In this remarkable work, Dunkin Wedd uses the device of musique concrete where, instead of notating ideas on paper for performance by normal instruments, he has collected ‘concrete’ sounds and abstracted the musical values that they potentially contain.

Bird song opens Brancusi behind which the sound of a stream or brook appears. Suddenly the sound of an aircraft and other industrial sounds intrude as mezzo soprano Susan Legg joins. A road drill brings an amazing rhythmic accompaniment to the soloist as do the many other industrial sounds, providing a rhythmic base. Susan Legg is quite marvellous as she flows effortlessly and beautifully over the sounds which at various times include a ringing phone and a crowd of voices. Later there are faster, shorter phrases for the mezzo adding a certain increasing frenzy to the music before the rumble of a storm is heard. The mezzo falls silent as sounds of rain appear, then the sound of birdsong making a wonderfully cyclic return.

It is difficult not to be enthralled and drawn along by this amazing piece.

Ruah - Meditations on the Breath of God (2006) is for choir and organ and sets sacred texts from the Tanakh, Ketuvim, Koran and New Testament, focusing on the Breath of God. It has for its aim the ideal of world peace and is also a thanksgiving for the gift of song.

Here the Tamesis Consort is directed by Jonathan Wikeley with organist Martyn Noble. Deep organ sonorities combined with the voices of the Tameses Consort open as sounds of breath are given in staccato phrases. Soon the hushed, whispered word ‘Generation, generation’ is heard. Slowly a sonorous choral sound arrives on the words ‘These are the generation of the heaven and of the earth…’ There are some passages that bring the most lovely harmonies as Dunkin Wedd combines his own individual style to that of the English choral tradition with tremendous results. There is a particularly lovely moment halfway through when the choir sing ‘Ah’ over a sustained organ motif. As the music develops there is some fine part writing.  

One thing that shines through all of these pieces is the sheer musicality and poetry that Dunkin Wedd brings. The recordings from various locations are first class. Whilst there are no notes in the CD, the full English text of Ruah is given inside the front cover of the CD digipack.

Whilst it is the more conventional choral work Ruah that is likely to immediately appeal to listeners, I do hope that the other two works receive the widest circulation. 

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Proms 2015 – A Great Summer of Music

We have another great summer of music to look forward to when the 121st season of the BBC Proms opens on 17th July 2015 

Once again the breadth of music and artists appearing is impressive. Sakari Oramo will conduct the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in the First Night of the Proms with a programme that includes Nielsen’s Maskarade, Gary Carpenter’s Dadaville, a BBC commission receiving its world premiere, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor with Lars Vogt, Sibelius’ Belshazzar's Feast – suite and Walton’s great choral work Belshazzar's Feast featuring baritone Christopher Maltman.

Celebrating Nielsen’s 150th anniversary, his music will feature in a further six concerts during the season. Sibelius, whose 150th anniversary also falls this year will feature in a further five concerts including all of his symphonies spread over three successive concerts conducted by Thomas Dausgard, Ilan Volkov and Osmo Vanska.  

Whilst the BBC’s own orchestras and choirs will, as usual be the backbone of the Proms, joining the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, BBC Philharmonic, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers, BBC Concert Orchestra will be visiting overseas orchestras such as the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Baroque Orchestra Ghent, West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, SWR Symphony Orchestra, Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Danish National Symphony Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

Other British orchestras and bands appearing include the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Aurora Orchestra, English Baroque Soloists, Guy Barker Big Band, Winston Rollins Big Band, Halle Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Heritage Orchestra, National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique, John Wilson Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, London Sinfonietta, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the English Concert and the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

There are many great choirs appearing including the Cardinall’s Musick, the Monteverdi Choir, Stilo Antico and many more. Ensembles appearing include Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, Royal Northern Sinfonia Winds, the Apollon Musagete Quartet, the Emerson String Quartet and the Benedetti-Elschenbroich-Grynyuk Trio to name just a handful.

Opera is represented by Glyndebourne Festival Opera with Mozart’s The Abduction from Seraglio. Grange Park Opera will be performing the popular Broadway classic Fiddler on the Roof.

The range of music is vast with BBC commissions and premier performances. Special events include a Ten Pieces Prom bringing the first year of the BBC’s Ten Pieces project to a close, a Life Story Prom presented by David Attenborough, A Sondheim Cabaret, Story of Swing and a number of Late Night Proms in conjunction with BBC Asian Network, BBC Radio 1, BBC Radio 6 Music, BBC Radio 1XTRA.

The Last Night of the Proms on Saturday 12th September 2015 promises to be another great evening with pianist Benjamin Grosvenor, soprano Danielle de Niese, tenor Jonas Kaufmann and the BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Chorus and BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Marin Alsop.

There will of course be Proms in the Park at Hyde Park, London, Glasgow Green, Singleton Park, Swansea and Titanic Slipways, Belfast.

I have not been able to do more than scratch the surface of all the concerts taking place so please go to the BBC Proms website for full details and, indeed to book your tickets. The BBC Proms website is a mine of information including much archive material. All Proms concerts can be heard live on BBC Radio 3  

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Vladimir Ashkenazy shows his natural empathy for Scriabin in his new recording for Decca, a composer he has not recorded for 30 years

Is it really 30 years since Vladimir Ashkenazy last recorded a Scriabin album? Decca tells us that it is.

All the more reason to be grateful to Decca  for their release of a new album from Ashkenazy entitled Scriabin: Vers La Flamme marking the centenary of the composer’s death.

This new recording takes us from Scriabin’s earlier romantic works chronologically through to his mystic modernist works, a terrific journey that also provides a very satisfying recital.

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Vladimir Ashkenazy has been a lifelong champion of Alexander Scriabin (1872-2015) . In his Introduction to Faubion Bowers’ 1973 book, The New Scriabin, Ashkenazy writes ‘I consider Scriabin one of the greatest composers. Of course, it is not easy to support such a statement about anyone. But it is my opinion. He had a unique idiom which is full of meaning, at least to me, and I, for one, am convinced of Scriabin’s greatness.’

The early Etude in C# minor, Op.2 No.1 is beautifully shaped by Ashkenazy and makes the perfect opening before three of the Mazurkas, Op.3 (1889). This pianist brings such energy and flair to the odd little Mazurka No.6 in C# minor (Scherzando) following all of Scriabin’s mood changes and, indeed, changes of tempi and dynamics. No.7 in E minor (Con passione) brings some lovely subtle inflections that add so much. No.10 in E flat minor (Sotto voce) has a beautifully dreamy opening before we are led through some moments of great passion, always with a fine subtle rhythmic undertow whilst revealing some lovely introspective moments.

 Ashkenazy follows up with five of Scriabin’s Etudes for Piano, Op.8. No. 5 in E major (Brioso) has a lovely breadth, Ashkenazy always finding a great strength, a lovely touch, subtly sprung. No. 7 in B flat minor (Presto tenebroso, agitato) is also wonderfully sprung before Etude No. 10 in D flat major (Allegro) that is full of rhythmic drive, given a terrifically concentrated performance. No. 11 in B flat minor (Andante) unfolds beautifully and naturally with a perfect poise, Ashkenazy shaping every note beautifully. Ashkenazy shows how he can really whip up a storm in the Etude No. 12 in D sharp minor (Patetico) full of assurance and power.

This is great Scriabin from Ashkenazy setting concentration and power against moments of supreme personal reflection.

With the 4 Preludes, Op.22 No. 1 in G sharp minor (Andante) unfolds beautifully with a lovely poise. After a wistful Prelude No. 2 in C sharp minor (Andante), No. 3 in B major (Allegretto) has an exquisite delicacy. No. 4 in B minor (Andantino) is gloriously done.

8 Etudes, Op.42 follow with No. 1 in D flat major (Presto) revealing a feeling of impetuosity, brilliantly executed here. Ashkenazy reveals the subtle complex rhythms of No. 2 in F sharp minor (= 112) before providing some terrific quicksilver playing in No. 3 in F sharp minor (Prestissimo) where some amazing little details are revealed. With Prelude No. 4 in F sharp major (Andante) this pianist reveals so many nuances within its lovely flow.

Scriabin’s complex textures in his Prelude No. 5 in C sharp minor (Affannato) are finely done with Ashkenazy showing his feel for overall structure. Absolutely superb. After the lovely subtle rubato of No. 6 in D flat major (Esaltato) Prelude No. 7 in F minor (Agitato) brings a certain restraint, subtle, but enough to add a tension. No. 8 in E flat major (Allegro) has a lovely ripping forward drive with a beautifully conceived, thoughtful central section.

Next in this exceptionally fine recital comes Scriabin’sTrois Morceaux, Op.45. No.1 "Feuillet d'Album" in E flat major (Andante piacevole) has a lovely breadth and freedom. With No.2 "Pòeme Fantasque" in C major (Presto) Ashkenazy has the feel of Scriabin’s distinctive rhythms and textures in this tiny piece before a really lovely little No.3 Prélude in E flat major (Andante).

Ashkenazy reveals Scriabin’s Quasi Waltz, Op.47 to be a fantastical, really individual waltz. With Trois Morceaux, Op.52 we move further into Scriabin’s later style especially with No.1 Poème (Lento – Più vivo – Tempo 1), Ashkenazy revealing many subtle details and harmonies. He brings a lovely, limpid light touch to No. 2 Énigma (Étrange, capricieusement) before the languorous No. 3 Poème languide (Pas vite).

Ashkenazy shows 2 Pièces, Op.57 to be real gems, the fleeting No.1 Désir containing so much feeling and a beautifully light and delicate No.2 Caresse dansée.

Ashkenazy allows the strangely beautiful Feuillet d'album, Op.58 to unfold beautifully before 2 Poèmes, Op.63 with the fleeting No.1 Masque (Allegretto. Avec une douceur cachée) wonderfully caught and No.2 Étrangeté (Gracieux, délicat) where Ashkenazy brings his light, delicate touch.

More poèmes follow with 2 Poèmes, Op.69. No.1 Allegretto. Tendre, délicat has a subtle ebb and flow with exquisite phrasing before a fleeting, light footed No.2 Allegretto. Aigu, capricieux.

With 2 Poèmes, Op.71 Scriabin brings a greater focus to No.1 Fantastique, his strange harmonies perfectly caught here. No.2 En rêvant, avec une grande douceur is beautifully built as it subtly increases in strength and power, almost as though a mini sonata, such is its power in this performance.

The apt title piece for this disc is Vers la flamme, Op.72 (Toward the Flame) in which Ashkenazy slowly builds this initially brooding piece gradually allowing light to enter. An absolutely terrific performance.

The final works by Alexander Scriabin on this disc are the 5 Preludes, Op.74 tiny gems, opening with a very fine No.1 Douloureu, déchirant, beautifully formed. There is an exquisite Prelude No.2 Très lent, contemplatif before a perfectly formed little No.3 Allegro drammatico. Ashkenazy finds his way through the meandering Prelude
No.4 Lent, vague, indécis wonderfully in this quite lovely performance before concluding with a tumultuous Prelude No.5 Fier, belliqueux.

An unusual addition to this disc is the inclusion of Yulian Alexandrovich Scriabin’s (1908-1919) Preludes, Op.3 - No.1, written when his son was just 10 years of age. It brings many of the characteristics of his father’s late style, his intervals, sonorities and harmonies, though with a coda that suggests an independent spirit.

Ashkenazy has a natural empathy for Scriabin, bringing many subtleties. He has the ability to capture the fleeting beauties of Scriabin’s later works to perfection. This is a beautifully structured recital finely recorded at Potton Hall, Suffolk, England. There are informative booklet notes.

Whatever new recordings are released this centenary year Ashkenazy’s contribution is very fine indeed.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

A masterly live 2011 performance of Schubert’s Great C major Symphony from Claudio Abbado just released on Deutsche Grammophon

Recordings continue to appear of the great conductor Claudio Abbado who sadly died last year. Thankfully we can remember him through the recordings that he left, not the least of which are those live concerts that are finding their way on to disc.

Deutsche Grammophon have just released a recording with his Orchestra Mozart drawn from concerts in September 2011 at the Bologna Auditorium Manzoni, Bologna, Italy and the Bozen Konzerthaus, Bolzano, Italy. The single work on this disc is Schubert’s Great C major Symphony D.944

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The opening horn bars of the Andante bring a rather nostalgic feel before the orchestra join to bring a beautifully shaped theme.  As the music rises in dynamics to lead into the Allegro ma non Troppo Abbado draws his usual taut playing from his orchestra. There is such fine care of rhythm, phrasing and dynamics; nothing is ever routine, Abbado finding so many points of interest to reveal. This relatively small orchestra really delivers the goods in the broader, more dynamic passages with this conductor beautifully developing the movement throughout.

There is some terrific woodwind playing in the opening of the Andante con moto with Abbado drawing some punchy orchestral playing in the orchestral dynamics. The strings of Orchestra Mozart provide some fine moments, a beautifully silken sound yet with a firmness. There are many fine hushed passages with Abbado revealing all the orchestral lines. He allows the movement to breathe, building centrally and revealing some lovely details.

The Scherzo Allegro vivace – Trio is terrifically paced with Abbado’s subtle flexibility of tempi, his beautiful shaping of phrases as well as some lovely dance like episodes. He really drives the music forward in the long phrases with a gorgeously controlled trio section with so many subtleties revealed.

The Finale Allegro Vivace opens full of dash and energy, pushing ahead. As the movement develops Abbado reveals so many little details, always subtly adjusting the tempo and dynamics. There is spot on playing, taut and full of verve, really pulling the listener along.  There is such fine control in the quieter moments before he moves through some terrific passages as the music develops. Abbado builds the music to perfection showing just how naturally Schubert’s symphony develops over its glorious length. The hushed section towards the end brings a fine tension before we are slowly led to the coda.

This is another recording to treasure. Abbado always seems to bring something special to a performance and in this newly released recording he does so in spectacularly fine fashion. There will always be arguments over tempi and timings for recordings of this great work. Abbado’s performance, longer than many, shows just how to pace this work naturally.

This is a masterly performance from the hands of a master.

I should not forget to mention what a fine orchestra Orchestra Mozart are.

The live recording is first rate, very detailed and clear in a lovely acoustic. There are booklet notes on Abbado, Orchestra Mozart and Schubert.

See also:

Thursday, 18 June 2015

A new release by Somm featuring pianist Simon Callaghan brings rewarding works by Roger Sacheverell Coke that deserve to be heard

Not a lot has been written about British composer Roger Sacheverell Coke (1912-1972). He was born in Alfreton, Derbyshire, England to an upper middle class family. His father was killed during the First World War when Roger was only two years old. He studied with John Frederic Staton and Alan Bush (1900-1995). Mental health problems seem to have played a part in his failure to establish himself as a composer yet he wrote a considerable amount of music including chamber works, a large number of songs, six piano concertos, three symphonies and an opera.

It is no wonder that Rachmaninov became such an influence on Coke. The Russian composer stayed with Coke in Derbyshire and returned the compliment by inviting his fellow composer to stay at his house Senar on the banks of Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. Coke dedicated his Second Symphony to Rachmaninov.

In the absence of other sources, I am grateful to the excellent booklet notes by Robert Matthew Walker included in a new release from Somm Recordings  of Coke’s Preludes, Op.33 and Op.34 coupled with his Variations, Op.37 featuring pianist Simon Callaghan

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Last year EM Records issued Roger Sacheverell Coke’s Sonata for Violin and Piano No 1 on a disc of similar works by Granville Bantock and Cyril Scott So little has been available of this composer’s music that this new Somm recording is most welcome.

Of his Preludes, Op.33 (1938-39) No. 1 Appassionato is very much in the grand manner, full of stormy drama. Prelude No. 2. Andante brings some rather Chopinesque descending phrases before developing in a more advanced direction. No.3. Andantino reveals more of Coke’s distinctive style, rising from a thoughtful opening, through a rather sterner section to a subdued coda. It is hard not to hear the influence of Rachmaninov in Prelude No.4. Molto maestoso but in a wholly engaging manner with distinctive touches, particularly in the coda. No.5. Andantino has a looser feel, a free moving forward motion, again distinctive in character despite the descending phrases part way through that again recall Rachmaninov.

After a stormy, unsettled Prelude No.6 Presto agitato, the Prelude No.7. Grazioso has some lovely harmonies, a gentle dissonance and a lovely hushed coda. No.8. Lento maestoso has gentle, rippling phrases as well as moments of hushed, suspended beauty. Callaghan gives Prelude No.9. Leggiero scherzando a lovely rhythmic lift, beautifully paced and phrased. No.10. Vivace has a fine forward, rippling flow, beautifully played here with this pianist bringing a lovely persuasive touch. The most substantial of the Op.33 set is the Prelude No.11. Andante cantabile, a gentle, finely phrased work with moments of exquisite feeling. Scriabin comes to mind a little as the music builds, Callaghan revealing it as a particularly fine piece.  

The 13 Preludes, Op.34 (1941) make up the total of 24 Preludes. No.12. Allegro scherzando brings an energetic opening before a very Rachmaninovian fall to a quieter section. When the music regains energy I detected a rather more desperate feel to Coke’s imagination. Coke brings some individual touches to the nevertheless rather Rachmaninovian Prelude No.13. Cantabile before No.14. Allegro assai  where Callaghan brings a finely articulated flow, quite lovely. Prelude No.15. Andante cantabile has a rather withdrawn, thoughtful atmosphere before No.16. Andantino pathetico continues with a rather thoughtful, slowly developed idea, oddly distinctive.
The limpid, gentle harmonies of No.17. Moderato bring another distinctive piece, very engaging.

Prelude No.18. Presto agitato fairly hurtles ahead with some very fine fluency from this pianist. In the Prelude No.19. Allegro comodo it is lovely how Coke overlays the stormier motif with the flowing theme of the right hand. Broad phrases allow the gentler Prelude No.20. Languido e rubato to find its way slowly forward, beautifully developed. Prelude No.21. Amabile brings more of Coke’s distinctive harmonies and dissonances whereas No.22. Andantino has broader phrases that bring a more dramatic feel with some fine sonorities. Prelude No.23. Amabile brings some lovely harmonies, again so typical of this composer before No.24. Maestoso brings this cycle to a tempestuous conclusion with a dramatic descending motif showing this fine pianist in some terrific passages.

The Variations, Op.37 (1939) were dedicated to the Russian pianist Prince George Chavchavadze. The opening Theme: Lento sounds like a variation itself, such is its spacious, loosely held theme. It leads quickly into the brief Variation 1: Più Mosso before the rippling, beautifully developed, Variation 2: Allegro. Variation 3: Lento assai, doloroso seems to draw on the variation style of Rachmaninov, here finely phrased and paced. The shifting harmonies and freely felt construction of Variation 4: Allegretto  brings more of Coke’s distinctive personal style before broad, firm phrases lead Variation 5: Moderato maestoso  ahead.

There is a terrific Variation 6: Presto scherzando, fluently and brilliantly played and a Variation 7: Chorale - Andantino cantabile where Coke brings more of his personal touch with a hauntingly felt nostalgia.  Callaghan displays a lovely touch in the rippling Variation 8: Andantino before a lovely, glowing Variation 9: Moderato, a really fine piece. Variation 10: Allegro molto energico is full of energy Coke bringing some unusual harmonies and sonorities, quite individual and finely played, full of brilliance and virtuosity.

Variation 11: Intermezzo - Andante rubato is equally distinctive with a carefully, gently picked out theme and just a hint of Scriabin. Variation 12: Andantino semplice e grazioso brings more attractive and distinctive harmonies, finely nuanced by Callaghan before the brief stormy Variation 13: Moderato appassionato. A fast fluent
Variation 14: Allegro risoluto with some exceptionally fine playing leads to the final
Variation 15: Largo doloroso where the Dies Irae plainchant, much loved and used by Rachmaninov, seems about to emerge, bringing a darker, brooding nature. The
Finale: Tempo di Tema suddenly lightens the mood as it rises up confidently before the quite coda.

For all the references that there are to Rachmaninov and Scriabin, one should not lose sight of Coke’s personal style that does emerge. These are rewarding works that deserve to be heard. This composer could not have a finer advocate than Simon Callaghan who receives an excellent recording from the Old Granary Studios, Suffolk, England. There are useful and informative notes by Robert Matthew Walker as well as a nicely illustrated booklet.