Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Some superb performances from Joel Fan on a new release on Reference Recordings entitled Dances for Piano and Orchestra

Pianist Joel Fan was born in New York City and began early musical studies at the Juilliard School, earning an undergraduate degree from Harvard University and a Master of Music degree in piano performance from the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University. He also attended the Tanglewood Music Center and the Steans Institute at the Ravinia Festival.

Fan is a prize winner of several international competitions, including the Busoni International Piano Competition in Italy. He was also the winner of the Kosciuzko Foundation’s Chopin Prize, and named a Presidential Scholar by the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts. Fan studied with the composer Leon Kirchner and the pianist Leon Fleisher.

As a concerto soloist, Fan has performed over forty different concertos with orchestras worldwide, including the New York Philharmonic, the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, the Odessa Philharmonic, Singapore Symphony, and London Sinfonietta, with conductors such as David Zinman, Zubin Mehta, Alan Gilbert, and David Robertson.

As a recitalist Joel Fan has appeared at numerous venues ranging from the Ravinia Festival in Chicago, Jordan Hall in Boston, Calgary Celebrity Series, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, to the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.

Joel Fan is also recognized for his work with cellist Yo-Yo Ma as a member of the Silk Road Ensemble, appearing at Carnegie Hall and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C., and on the television programmes Good Morning America and Late Night with David Letterman. Fan has also collaborated with numerous leading ensembles, including the Shanghai Quartet, Orion Quartet, Imani Winds, and A Far Cry chamber orchestra.

Fan’s latest recording, for Reference Recordings , is called Dances for Piano and Orchestra and features works by Pierné, Ricardo Castro Herrera, Chopin, Saint-Saëns, Weber/ Liszt, Gottschalk/Kay and Charles Wakefield Cadman. Fan is joined by the Northwest Sinfonietta conducted by Christophe Chagnard

Some superbly laid out chords open Gabriel Pierné’s (1863-1937) Fantaisie-ballet, Op. 6 showing, immediately, Joel Fan’s fine technique. He brings a great breadth and assurance before the orchestra enter to take the music forward. The later, more buoyant, section is finely played by the Northwest Sinfonietta with some beautifully light textured playing from Fan as well as moments of terrific élan.  

Mexican concert pianist and composer Ricardo Castro Herrera’s (1864-1907) Vals Capricho, Op. 1 brings an opportunity for Joel Fan to display his lovely touch in this wonderfully written waltz that slowly builds in dynamics with some fine clashes of cymbals and orchestral outbursts. There are some fine, fluent, downward scales, often rather Chopinesque, before a grand finale.

Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849) Rondo on Cracovian Themes, Op. 14 ‘Krakowiak’ opens with some beautifully conceived orchestral playing from Christophe Chagnard and the Northwest Sinfonietta with Fan bringing a sultry sounding piano part. When the tempo and dynamics suddenly take off, this pianist is terrific, displaying playing of such fine articulation, rhythmic awareness, fine phrasing and light, delicate touch; quite superb. There are further fine orchestral moments with some particularly fine woodwind passages clearly heard in this fine recording. This pianist reveals passages of fine breadth and sweep, showing a great subtlety and fine rubato. A terrific performance.  

Camille Saint-Saëns’ (1835-1921) Valse Caprice in A flat major, Op. 76 highlights something that runs through all of Joel Fan’s playing, that of a lightness of touch, rhythmic buoyancy and a sense of enjoyment and panache. He and the orchestra build some lovely passages as the music progresses, a terrific performance with a fine coda.

The orchestral detail in the opening of the Polonaise brillante, Op.72 by Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826) arranged by Franz Liszt (1811-1886) is quite remarkable, the orchestra under their Music Director, Christophe Chagnard, bringing some very fine playing.  Joel Fan enters with real panache, negotiating Liszt’s take on Weber brilliantly. This is a thoroughly engaging and, indeed, entertaining performance, Fan bringing such a sense of fun to many passages. There are fine orchestral textures with both Fan and the orchestra revealing so many fine details before a terrific coda.

Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s (1829-1869) Grande tarantelle, Op. 67 is orchestrated here by Hershy Kay (1919-1981). The orchestra take off with the light hearted theme, full of ebullience with Fan carried along with them, providing a beautifully delicate, light touch and bringing an engaging and thoroughly captivating performance full of unstoppable forward momentum.

Charles Wakefield Cadman’s (1881-1946) Dark Dancers of the Mardi Gras (Fantasy for Orchestra and Piano) receives a very fine opening from the orchestra with the piano forming part of the orchestral texture. There is much rhythmic interest before the music moves off with some fine use of percussion orchestration. As the music progresses there is often the feel of Gershwin. This is a fine performance from all concerned with very fine playing from Joel Fan, particularly towards the end in the more sustained piano section.

This is a terrific new release with, in my download, a detailed recording full of depth, space and detail.

Monday, 13 April 2015

MSR Classics release Volume 4 of James Brawn’s Beethoven Odyssey with performances that cannot be praised too highly

I have been following James Brawn’s cycle of Beethoven’s piano sonatas with great enthusiasm. He seems so naturally attuned to these great works, combining fine musicianship with a superb technique that produces Beethoven playing of the highest order. has just released the fourth volume of James Brawn’s Beethoven Odyssey with sonatas spanning the years 1798 to 1814.

MS 1468

James Brawn opens with the Piano Sonata No.9 in E major, Op.14 No.1 (1798-99) bringing a beautifully lightly sprung Allegro, exquisitely shaped, so thoughtfully done with little surges of tempo so well judged, the music beautifully developed. The Allegretto & Maggiore has a lovely rhythmic sway with a particularly fine trio section, a lovely contrast with its gentle flow perfectly caught here. Brawn brings all his fine sensibility as we are led back to the opening theme. The Rondo (Allegro comodo) brings some extremely fine, fluent playing, building finely in dynamics with some terrific moments as the movement progresses, this pianist revealing so many lovely facets between the stormier passages.

With the Allegro of the Piano Sonata No.15 in D major, Op.28 (1801) ‘Pastorale’ this pianist displays a fine control of tempi and dynamics, finely phrased with a lovely restraint. Brawn builds some lovely, quietly dramatic phrases, holding back before letting go with passages of great power bringing so much assurance, authority and restraint. Brawn provides lovely gently rhythmic phrases to the Andante over which he lays Beethoven’s melody, revealing this to be a quite extraordinary movement. There is a skittish little middle section, playful yet with little outbursts, before developing a fine flow with the rhythmic pulse still lurking underneath. How much Beethoven packs into this movement, wonderfully revealed by this artist.

The Scherzo (Allegro vivace) & Trio has a really terrific opening with such a lovely touch from Brawn, beautifully crisp, with such fine clarity of phrasing combined with moments of terrific forward flow. The Rondo (Allegro ma non troppo) - Più allegro quasi Presto has a really lovely rhythmic theme, so reminiscent of the pastoral Beethoven. James Brawn shows his fine touch as he builds passages of terrific dynamic grandeur with some lovely limpid little phrases, finely fluent before positively bounding to the coda with some fabulous playing.

This is an absolutely terrific performance.

There is a lovely thoughtful opening to the Adagio cantabile of the Piano Sonata No.24 in F sharp major, Op.78 (1809) ‘À Thérèse’ before this pianist gently moves the music forward with such a delicate light touch, exquisitely phrased with fine control and rubato subtly increasing in power and passion in the Allegro ma non Troppo that follows with Brawn constantly varying the tempi and dynamics to such fine effect. This pianist shows how he can move quickly from thoughtful moments to dynamic passages with ease.  He leaps into the Allegro vivace with a fine forward thrust, always finely controlled before some beautifully intricate passages, to which he brings a crystalline clarity.

The Presto alla tedesca of Piano Sonata No.25 in G major, Op.79 (1809) opens joyously, Brawn bringing a terrific fast flowing outpouring of invention showing his fine articulation and touch, revelling in Beethoven’s fast moving development. This is beautifully controlled playing with fine rubato, lovely phrasing. A real joy. The Andante brings a fine gentle flow, Brawn providing exquisite fluidity with many moments of fine poetic poise and depth. There is a Vivace with crisply pointed dynamic passages showing more of this pianist’s fine phrasing and control.

This is another particularly fine performance.

James Brawn brings a forthright edge to the more dynamic opening phrases of the Mit Lebhaftigkeit und durchaus mit Empfindung und Ausdruck of Piano Sonata No.27 in E minor, op.90 (1814) with moments of gentle fluent flow, such poetry contrasting with the passages of dynamic power. Brawn finds all of Beethoven’s changes of mood. The second movement Nicht zu geschwind und sehr singbar vorzutragen flows beautifully, a fine melody with Brawn subtly bringing out many little variations of tempo and dynamics showing his ability to coax every nuance from this music. There is a terrific outpouring of melodic invention in a wonderfully conceived performance, beautifully controlled, wonderfully done.

I really cannot praise these performances too highly. This new cycle is set to become one of the finest in many years. I was so engrossed in these performances that I initially did not give a thought to the sound quality, surely a testament to the naturalness of the recording which is top notch. There are first rate notes from James Brawn and Linda Marianiello.

See also:

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Varda Kotler brings her distinctive soprano voice to an attractive and extremely varied recital from Forlane

Soprano Varda is a native of Tel Aviv and a graduate of the Rubin Academy of Music at Tel Aviv University. She studied with Netania Dovrat and later with Vera Roze in London and Rita Patane in New York and Italy.

She has performed at festivals, operas houses and concert halls in Israel and Europe and has worked with conductors such as Pinchas Steinberg, Siegfried Köhler, Lawrence Foster, Kees Bakels, Arthur Fagen, Steven Sloane, Andreas Mitisek and Mandy Rodan as well as with the New York Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra, led by Hugo Weisgall. Recitals, operas and concerts have taken her to Monte Carlo, Vienna, Paris, New York, Geneva, Zurich, Lausanne and Messina.

Her first CD recital appeared in 1999 and her CDs Melodies Londonienne and Ben-Haim Melodies were nominated for theVictoires de la musique classique in 2002 and 2005 respectively.

Varda Kotler’s latest recording for Forlane entitled L’Heure Romantique brings a wide ranging recital of songs and arias from Purcell through to Paul Ben-Haim. On this new disc she is joined by pianist Israel Kastoriano.

FOR 16878
It is with Henry Purcell’s (1659-1695), Music for a while that Varda Kotler begins her recital. There is nothing of the historically informed performance movement here. She has a very attractive vibrato as she shapes this lovely song, full of pathos with some lovely, distinctive touches.

Turning to Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) she brings a youthful charm to Ich ging mit lust durch einen grünen Wald (Lieder und Gesange aus der Jugendzeit Book II – 1888-1891) with a very flexible and controlled voice, with lovely upper range. Israel Kastoriano provides sensitive accompaniment, beautifully done.

Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft (from Funf Lieder nach Ruckert - 1901) has almost Debussian rippling piano phrases in the opening with Kotler moving her voice subtly from pure to vibrato with a very distinctive tone. It is only in Liebst du um Schönheit (from Funf Lieder nach Ruckert -1902) that perhaps this soprano allows a little too much vibrato yet there is much gentle feeling here.

Robert Schumann’s (1810-1856)Abendlied (No.5 from Sechs Gesänge Op.17) is very finely sung, a characterful performance with Varda bringing some very attractive tones and textures. Some lovely phrases as Der Nussbaum (No.3 from Myrthen, Op.25) opens revealing the best of this soprano’s voice, finely controlled and phrased with lovely accompaniment from Israel Kastoriano.

With Du bist wie eine Blume (No.24 from Myrthen, Op.25)she subtly allows the music to rise and fall in intensity before bringing a first rate performance of the lively Die Meerfee (No.3 from Fünf heitere Gesänge, Op.125), beautifully shaped. There is an equally fine Erstes Grün (No.4 from Zwölf Gedichte, Op.35) where this soprano follows all the little tempo variations, very nicely paced and phrased, revealing some fine textures.

Varda Kotler’s vibrato brings a naturally Gallic flavour to George Bizet’s (1838-1875) Ma vie a son secret. This is a finely built performance with an idiomatic accompaniment from Kastoriano. I particularly enjoyed Sonnet with its lovely rhythmic poise, drawing so many fine textures and sonorities.

There is a finely controlled Rose d’amour with more lovely colours and warm textures from this soprano. Kotler brings a very flexible, light textured, lively voice to Tarentelle; a difficult piece to bring off which she does with panache. Kotler and Kastoriano bring a fine sweep to Guitare, full of Iberian flavour with some supremely agile singing.

Varda Kotler reveals again her operatic ability to characterise a song with André Caplet’s (1878-1925)Le Corbeau et le Renard, brilliantly done and so well accompanied by Israel Kastoriano.

Kotler showed in Bizet’s Tarentella how well she can vocalise. With Maurice Ravel’s (1875-1937)Vocalise-Etude (en form De habandera)she brings a lovely freedom of expression, finely controlled and full of intense feeling as she does with Paul Ben-Haim’s (1897-1984) Ariozo and Ballad (from Three Songs without Words). She builds Ariozo in intensity with some lovely dissonant harmonies from Israel Kastoriano, showing a fine vocal strength. She brings some fine textures to the Ballad, finely accompanied. These are two particularly fine songs.

There is a lovely Hebraic flavour Alexander Boskovich’s (1907-1964) How Beautiful you are (from Song of Songs), finely wrought by this soprano with sensitive accompaniment, full of atmosphere.

Kotler catches the fleeting atmosphere and beauty of Joseph Cantelube’s (1879-1957) Chorietan buruzagi a lovely folk song arrangement with some particularly fluent piano accompaniment. There is a lovely vibrancy to La pastura als camps with lovely tone and textures from this soprano.

Finally Varda Kotler gives us Giacomo Meyerbeer’s (1791-1864)aria Nobles Seigneurs, Salut! from Les Huguenots, very finely controlled in the decorative passages with this soprano subtly varying her tone and textures.

Varda Kotler has a very distinctive voice. She controls her vibrato exceptionally well, often powering forward to find a purer tone. This is an attractive and extremely varied recital, well recorded. There are brief but useful booklet notes from Varda Kotler as well as full texts with English and French translations.

Friday, 10 April 2015

The Elora Festival Singers bring exquisite performances of choral works by Poulenc on a new release from Naxos

The Elora Festival Singers are a professional Grammy and Juno nominated chamber choir founded in 1980 by Noel Edison as principal choral ensemble of the Elora Festival. In 1992, the Elora Festival Singers was incorporated as a separate organisation to manage its year round activities. Since 1997, the choir has been the core of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and the Toronto Mendelssohn Singers and is the choral ensemble-in-residence of the Elora Festival for four weeks each summer.

Through regular concert series, recordings, broadcasts, and touring, the Elora Festival Singers have established a reputation as one of the finest chamber choirs in Canada and beyond.

This fine choir has already made a number of recordings for Naxos  and now turns its attention to the choral works of Francis Poulenc (1899-1963).


Poulenc’s Sept Chansons (1936) take their texts from Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918) and Paul Éluard (1895-1952).

This fine choir brings a lovely atmosphere to La blanche neige (The White Snow) helped very much by the acoustic of St. John’s Church, Elora, Ontario, Canada. There is spot on precision in A peine défigurée (Barely Disfigured), subtly phrased and beautifully nuanced – really lovely.

The male voices open Par une nuit nouvelle (Through a New Night) a rhythmically changing piece with the sopranos bringing lovely dissonances and a very fine blending of textures. Tous les droits (Every Right) shows a fine control of dynamics and tempo with every section of this choir showing their vocal ability. Exquisitely sung with a fine coda.

There is a sensitively controlled Belle et ressemblante (Beautiful and Alike) with a lovely blend of voices before Marie which brings terrific precision combined with the most mellifluous of sounds, finding much feeling in the later stages. How these singers sound out in the opening of Luire (Gleaming) before bringing lovely textures to the subtler, softer music that follows, leading to a very fine coda.

There is some very fine part singing in the Kyrie of the Mass in G Major (1937), beautifully shaped with, later, a very fine soprano leading the upper voices. The Gloria brings some fine control of dynamics and tempi and Poulenc’s strange rhythms with some rich blends from the men’s voices and finding all of Poulenc’s special charm.

There is a nicely done Sanctus with the choir building the textures finely, rising through some lovely sonorities before the coda. The Benedictus is absolutely exquisite with this choir’s pure voiced sopranos bringing a lovely sound over the rest of the choir, the lower voices later adding a lovely richness. They capture Poulenc’s sound world beautifully, rising with fine strength in the coda.

The choir’s very fine soprano voices again sound out in the opening of the Agnus Dei before the rest of the choir join to lead through some most beautiful textures to the lovely coda.

Quatre Motets pour un temps de penitence (1938-39) sets texts from the offices for Holy Week from the Christian calendar. This choir show their strength and fine overall blend of voices in the opening of Timor et tremor venerunt super me, whilst later finding many subtleties and nuances in this very fine motet, as well as some lovely little dissonances. 

They bring a gentle opening to Vinea mea electa before rising in little peaks before a firm coda. Tenebrae factae sunt rises atmospherically from the lower voices as this choir bring much feeling to this darker and troubled motet on the crucifixion, finding so many subtleties. Some quite lovely vocal sounds are heard in Tristis est anima mea before the tempo picks up with further beautiful mellifluous passages as well as little rhythmic moments. Lovely harmonies lead to the coda. What a really fine choir this is.

The first of the motets from Quatre Motets pour le temps de Noël (1952), O magnum mysterium rises full of mystery before the lovely soprano voices come in over the choir, as this most beautiful motet moves forward. They keep a fine poise with beautifully controlled dynamics before a hushed coda. Quem vidistis pastores dicite brings lovely phrasing as various sections of the choir provide some fine moments with fine precision and control.

There is more exquisite control in the motet Videntes stellam where this choir bring such purity of sound in this lovely performance, superbly judged. Finally there is Hodie Christus natus est that has a lively rhythmic bounce, a suitably joyful motet showing many of this choir’s fine qualities.

The Elora Festival Singers are an extremely fine choir who bring us exquisite performances of these lovely works.

They receive a very good recording, though the acoustic of St. John’s Church does blur the clarity of their diction at times. The recorded balance favours the right hand channel a little but not to the detriment of the recorded quality. There are informative notes as well as full texts and English translations.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Soprano, Sunhae Im’s first recital disc of Italian and French cantatas for Harmonia Mundi is a triumph

South Korean soprano, studied at the Seoul National University under the guidance of Lokyung Pak and at the University of Karlsruhe under Roland Hermann. She made her European stage debut in 2000 and since then her operatic engagements have taken her to La Monnaie, Brussels and the Berliner Staatsoper im Schillertheater.

At the beginning of the 2013/14 season Sunhae Im can be seen as Dorinda in a new staging of Handel`s Orlando in Rennes, Brest, Versailles and at the Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse.

Further engagements will take her to Amsterdam and Rotterdam for Brahms’ Requiem, to France for Mozart’s Requiem, to Brussels, Paris, Madrid and Crakow for Handel’s La Resurrezione, to the Kölner Philharmonie and the Salle Pleyel Paris with Handel’s Orlando, to the Wiener Musikverein and the Palais des Beaux-Arts Brussels for Bach’s Weihnachtsoratorium. She has also been invited to perform Mozart with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in Pittsburgh and at the Carnegie Hall, New York. In Berlin she will do a Christmas programme with the Deutsche Symphony Orchestra.

Sunhae Im has been invited to renowned festivals such as the Edinburgh International Festival, Mostly Mozart Festival, Salzburg Festival and Haydn International Festival and has worked with the New York Philharmonic, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the Munich Philharmonic. She has worked with conductors such as Philippe Herreweghe, William Christie, Fabio Biondi, Thomas Hengelbrock, Herbert Blomstedt, Frans Brüggen, Giovanni Antonini, Iván Fischer, Kent Nagano, Riccardo Chailly, Lothar Zagrosek, Sylvain Cambreling, Ton Koopman, Marek Janowski, and René Jacobs. Many of Sunhae Im`s recordings have received awards.

She has also close ties to the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin as well as the Freiburger Barockorchester.

It is with the Akademie für Alte Musik, Berlin  that Sunhae Im has made her first recital disc for Harmonia Mundi  of Italian and French cantatas on the theme of Orpheus and Eurydice.

HMC 902189
Sunhae Im brings an immediate sense of operatic feeling and drama to the Recitativo - Nel chiuso centro of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s (1710-1736) Orfeo, cantata for soprano, strings and basso continuo (c.1735),  revealing a voice full of strength and drama yet with a sweetness of tone that is completely beguiling. The Aria Euridice, e dove sei? is finely characterised with beautifully shaped accompaniment from the Akademie für Alte Musik, Berlin.

There is a wonderfully wrought, dramatic, deeply felt Recitativo - Sì, che pietà non v'è with the Aria - O d’Euridice bringing beautifully long held phrases. There is some fine incisive playing from the Akademie für Alte Musik with some wonderfully controlled livelier passages from Im that contrast with moments of fine pathos.

With Louis Nicolas Clerambault’s (1676-1749) Orphée, cantata for soprano and chamber orchestra (1710) the Récitatif - Le fameux chantre de la Thrace and Air tendre et piqué - Fidèles échos de ces bois there are some particularly lovely instrumental passages with Sunhae Im bringing much fine expression to the aria.

She brings much drama and beauty to the Récitatif - Mais que sert à mon désespoir with a lovely buoyant, sprung instrumental passage leading into the aria where her singing is never routine, following every rhythmic turn.

There is such a finely shaped Récitatif Cependant le héros arrive before exquisite instrumental sounds lead into the Air fort lent et fort tender - Monarque redouté to which Im adds her beautiful pure toned voice blending wonderfully with the Akademie für Alte Musik. She develops moments of fine textures as the aria moves forward, full of passion as well as a lovely youthful sounding charm. In the moments of pathos this fine soprano finds every emotion.

The Récitatif - Pluton surpris d'entendre is brought alive by Sunhae Im, drawing moments of fine power whilst the Air gai - Chantez la victoire éclatante reveals many aspects of her fine voice, with some lovely, richer timbres as well as great flexibility, sailing over all the little decorations with consummate ease.

The Akademie für Alte Musik bring some lovely textures to the Introduzione of Alessandro Scarlatti’s  (1660-1725) L'Orfeo, cantata a voce sola con violini with a lovely lightness of touch and fine precision. When Sunhae Im enters for the Recitativo - Dall'oscura magion she brings some absolutely terrific drama as she tells of Opheus bringing back the dead Eurydice from the underworld. The Aria - Chi m'invola la cara Euridice has some very fine instrumental passages with this soprano providing a fine sonorous textures, beautifully done.

Im brings real passion to the Recitativo - Ma di chi mi querelo and in the Aria - Se mirando, occhi perversi her passion is palpable. Im is absolutely terrific, full of strength, passion, accuracy and flexibility.

For the Recitativo - Or poiché mi trader, Im holds a fine balance between anger and quieter passion before a nicely paced instrumental entry to the Aria - Sordo il tronco where this soprano brings a superbly controlled voice, velvet textures, such pure sounds against the gently rhythmic orchestra with occasional outbursts of passion.

After the brief Recitativo - Ah, voi m'abbandonate that has a fine rhythmic bounce, the Aria - Il vanto del canto brings lovely turned phrases. There is more fine dynamic singing from this soprano in the Recitativo - Così dicendo il gran cantor often with just a lute accompaniment before the fine Aria - Sì, pietà de' miei martiri where Im brings some terrific singing as she tautly follows every turn.

Jean-Philippe Rameau’s (1683-1764) Orphée, cantata for soprano and "symphony" (flute & strings) opens with a beautifully judged Récitatif - Par le charme vainqueur, with Sunhae Im again bringing this recitative to life with so many nuances. There is a lovely instrumental opening to the Ai - Que du bruit de tes hauts exploits before Im brings her very fine voice responding so well to the Akademie’s instrumental accompaniment, full of strength yet with a beautiful tone.

The Récitatif - Mais son âme sensible brings such passion from this soprano, so operatic, rising with real strength before the Air - J'ai pour témoin de ma victoire.

À ce penser flatteur (Récitatif) brings some terrific deep string timbres from the Akademie and as the Air - Amour, c'est toi qui fais mon crime arrives there are lovely instrumental textures before Sunhae Im brings a tremendous passion as each repeat of ‘Amour’ brings its own variety of feeling.

There is more fine characterisation in the Récitatif - Inutiles regrets as Im sings ‘Vain regrets! All abandon him forever.’ Before the Air - En amour il est un moment is introduced by a lovely combination of instrumental sounds, so French. This soprano brings an uplifting cheer in a really wonderful concluding aria with Sunhae Im’s skilful shaping and characterisation. Absolutely superb.

Sunhae Im’s first recital disc for Harmonia Mundi is a triumph, a really fine collection of 18th century cantatas, brilliantly performed. The fine contribution from the Akademie für Alte Musik, Berlin adds much to these performances. With an excellent detailed recording, informative booklet notes and full texts and translations this is a highly recommendable release.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

A fine new disc from CPO of chamber works by Aulis Sallinen, in first class performances, deserves a wide audience

The Finnish composer Aulis Sallinen (b.1935) studied with Aarre Merikanto (1893-1958) and Joonas Kokkonen (1921-1996) at the Helsinki Academy where he returned to teach in 1970.

Although he began in the 1960s, melding triads with avant-garde techniques, he later revived standard forms and harmonies, putting them together in very contemporary ways though giving his music a strong tonal base. His works to date include operas, vocal and choral works, orchestral works including eight symphonies, concertos, chamber and instrumental works.

It is his chamber works that feature on a new release from CPO performed by Elina Vähälä (violin) , Arto Noras (cello)  and Ralf Gothóni (piano)

777 814-2
Sallinen’s Cello Sonata, Op. 86 (2004) was commissioned by the Naantali Music Festival and first performed there on 10th June 2005 by the artists and dedicatees on this recording, Arto Noras and Ralf Gothóni. It is in four linked movements opening with Barcarole, con variazione where the piano introduces an expansive motif quickly joined by the cello that soon develops a theme above the simple little undulating piano motif. This is a rather lovely movement that has some subtle little piano dissonances as the tension rises. It varies rhythmically at times as the melody is woven, before increasing in tempo for a more frantic passage, creating a swirl of textures from piano and cello. The music eventually slows to a hesitant passage with the cello playing pizzicato before bringing hushed cello phrases over a sturdier piano theme, slowly falling to the hushed coda.

In the Serenata the piano again opens with a little motif that is picked out. The cello soon adds pizzicato phrases as the piano theme is developed before a little rhythmic variation. These players reveal many lovely, subtle little features of Sallinen’s writing. The tempo increases in little runs but soon settles again as the cello develops a more flowing theme. The music later grows in dynamics with some fine pizzicato phrases against a faster piano theme before leading to the sudden coda.

An offset rhythmic theme for cello and piano opens the Scherzo, quasi l'ultimo tango developing into a tango rhythm with the cello spinning a lovely melody, later taken by the piano. There are some lovely, unusual textures from the cello as the movement progresses, with so many varying rhythms and tempi in this rather intoxicating movement.

The cello opens Il modo grave e lirico – Epilogo, introducing a quiet little motif before firmer piano chords are played. We are led through some stirring passages with deeper richer cello lines and fine fluent piano phrases, becoming increasingly passionate. Later a tango rhythm is hinted at momentarily before bold piano chords presage the coda that ends on a rich cello chord.

From a Swan Song, Op. 67 (1990-91) was also commissioned by the Naantali Music Festival for the First International Paulo Cello Competition in Helsinki in November 1991. The title Swan Song is drawn from Sallinen’s opera Palatsi where in the final Act the King sings a plaintive swansong.

Strident repeated piano notes open this work to which the cello delivers phrases in reply before it slowly and subtly develops a theme with a freely developed piano accompaniment. There are some harmonic passages for cello as this strange music develops, soon picking up in tempo before slowing again. The repeated piano notes re-appear before the music speeds again in this rather quixotic piece. Soon the theme is developed by the cello in a richer more flowing manner but the quixotic, hesitant manner returns. Later the music suddenly increases in tempo again, pushing forward with both players responding to each others phrases and motifs, often anguished and passionate, almost schizophrenic at times in its mood changes.

There are longer breathed, richer cello passages, strange cello harmonies and frenetic faster passages amongst the fragmented moments where these players respond with terrific passion and musicianship. Towards the end there is a lovely quieter section, lovely cello textures and a beautiful sensitive piano accompaniment, rising in intensity before a hauntingly strange coda.

Again commissioned by the Naantali Music Festival Piano Trio, Les Visions Fugitives, Op. 96 (2009-10) draws on the idea of ‘the sensuous world of a painter going gradually blind…with only the support of memory…he knows how the yellow and blue colour sound together, but does not hear, nor see it anymore.’ It is in three sections played without a break.

Moderato is opened by the piano with pizzicato cello before the strings provide a longer held theme. The opening motif and longer held theme alternate before each player develops the music. It soon develops rhythmically and flows quickly forward in surges, the short phrases bringing a quizzical feel. There are some very fine string textures and harmonies as the music slows. There is more hesitancy as we fall to a quiet mysterious section. With the adagio there is a sense of foreboding and melancholy with the piano bringing a ghostly feel against the strings. Little downward runs for piano and strings appear, trying to be playful but disappear. A piano flourish announces the allegro where the music tries to gain energy but never seems to manage it, the hesitancy remaining, seemingly unable to shake off the melancholy.  The music does eventually gain a little momentum though still anxious in feel, soon falling back. Strange little textures and motifs scurry by in this deeply troubled music that grows slower and darker with a melancholy, haunted atmosphere before the hushed coda.

I have to admit to being an immense admirer of Aulis Sallinen so this fine new disc is most welcome. The performances are first class and the recording is extremely good. With excellent booklet notes from Martin Anderson I hope this new release deserves a wide audience.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

A first rate disc from Harmonia Mundi of Lalande’s Leçons de Ténèbres, featuring soprano Sophie Karthäuser with Ensemble Correspondances directed by Sébastien Daucé, comes just in time for Easter but will provide much pleasure all year round

Although better known as the leading composer of late Baroque grands motets, writing over seventy such compositions, Michel-Richard de Lalande’s (1657-1726) posts at the Musique de la Chambre du Roi led him to compose smaller scale compositions such as his Leçons de Ténèbres. Written for use during Holy Week they conformed to the guidelines of sobriety and restraint expected by the Church.

A new release from Harmonia Mundi brings his III Leçons de Ténèbres et le Miserere a voix seule (Ténèbre lessons and Miserere for single voice), published in 1730 after the composer’s death, performed by Ensemble Correspondances  and directed by Sébastien Daucé  with soprano Sophie Karthäuser

HMC 902206

Ensemble Correspondances is a suitably small ensemble consisting of harpsichord, two bass viols, theorbo, lute and organ. The choir, used selectively in certain parts of the work, consists of six sopranos and three mezzo-sopranos.

The published score of Lalande’s Leçons de Ténèbres does not give a complete cycle of Leçons, only the third for each of the holy days, Holy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

This recording opens with the antiphon, O Mors (O death) where the choir take the part that would have been sung by nuns, bringing some lovely sonorities.  

Lalande’s Miserere follows with the instrumentalists of Ensemble Correspondances bringing fine rich textures to the opening of Miserere mei Deus - before the pure soprano voice of Sophie Karthäuser joins. The choir alone enters to sing Et secundum multitudinem miserationem tuarum. Karthäuser brings a fine forward moving Amplius lava me with lovely accompaniment from the instrumentalists before the choir returns for the lovely chant, Tibi soli peccavi.

This soprano shows her beautifully controlled and refined voice in Ecce enim in iniquitatibus.  When the choir enters with instrumentalists and soprano for Ecce enim veritatem dilexisti they receive a beautifully sensitive, subtle accompaniment from the organ played here by the director, Sébastien Daucé. Asperges me hyssopo brings some very fine instrumental sounds that complement the soprano extremely well. She has a superbly flexible voice, flowing effortlessly forward with some very lovely long held phrases, before the choir joins bringing mellifluous singing to Averte faciem tuam.

As the soprano pleads Cor mundumcrea in me, Deus (Create in me a clear heart) she brings much feeling with her lovely voice, so suitable to this repertoire. There are more fine sounds from the choir in Ne projicias me (Cast me not away) and the soprano displays fine control and flexibility as she sails through all the little decorations Redde mihi lætitiam before the choir responds in Docebo iniquos vias tuas bringing some lovely textures and layering of voices.

The varying rhythms and tempi of Libera me de sanguinibus are expertly handled by this soprano and instrumentalists with fine decorations before Quoniam si voluisses sacrificium where the choir bring many lovely subtleties of tone. Sophie Karthäuser brings a fine sensibility to Sacrificium Deo Spiritus Contribulatus before the choir sings Benigne Fac Domine. Tunc acceptabis has fine rhythmic bounce as this soprano brings more fine flexibility as the Miserere concludes.

The responsorium Tristis est anima mea (My soul is sorrowful) that follows is simply and gently sung by the choir with fine restraint sounding just right in the fine acoustic of La Courroie, Entraigues-sur-la-Sorgue, France.

With the III Leçons de Ténèbres each verse of the text, excepting the Third lesson for Good Friday, is introduced by a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, elaborately ornamented to contrast with the text that follows. 

With Troisième Leçon du Mercredy saint (Third lesson for Holy Wednesday) soprano Sophie Karthäuser opens Jod. Manum suam misit hostis with a gentle instrumental accompaniment, the Hebrew letter Jod decorated, but in a very gentle manner, before picking up tempo with more finely decorated passages.

There is a lovely pathos to Caph. Omnis populus ejus before Vide Domine that has a vibrant opening before pathos is again allowed to creep in.  The brief Lamed brings some particularly fine, pure voiced singing from Karthäuser before the finely controlled O vos omnes where there are nicely sprung passages, superbly woven instrumental sounds with this soprano bringing much feeling.

The soprano really soars in the beautiful opening to. Mem. De excelso before a beautifully decorated Nun leads into Vigilavit with this soprano providing extremely fine decorations.

Infirmata Est has a lovely flow with the instrumentalists blending their textures perfectly with the soprano’s lovely voice and leading to the final Jerusalem that is full of passion.

The choir bring more lovely simple and direct singing with fine textures to the responsorium Ecce vidimus eum (Behold we shall see him) a lovely contrast to the more elaborate settings that precede.

Troisième Leçon du Jeudy saint (Third lesson for Maundy Thursday) opens with a beautifully decorated, flowing Aleph from the soprano and organ before the instrumentalists lead on with soprano Sophie Karthäuser in Ego vir videns rising in some dramatic passages, full of passion.  Aleph. Me minavit is full of pathos, wonderfully decorated before the instrumentalists lead off with spirit, Karthäuser weaving some fine passages.

There is a wonderfully decorated, fluent ‘Aleph’ before a nicely paced Aleph. Tantum in me vertit such with such fine feeling.  The soprano shows such brilliant vocal control in Beth. Vetustam fecit with some very fine instrumental contributions.

After a lovely opening Beth, Aedificavit in gyro meo brings some lovely phrasing and control in superb singing from Sophie Karthäuser. After the opening Beth, In tenebrosis adopts a slow plodding tempo out of which the soprano brings a fine atmosphere with exquisitely controlled, subtle singing. Ghimel. Circum ædificavit soon finds a lively upbeat manner with some very fine vibrant instrumental playing.

There is much feeling given to Sed, Et Cum Clamavero (Ghimel) by this soprano, full of passion, brilliantly sung. After the brief opening Ghimel, Conclusit vias meas moves ahead with some fine instrumental moments and this soprano in fine voice before the concluding Jerusalem that brings a passionate appeal from the soprano.

Vinea mea electa (O my noble vine) sees the return of the choir bringing a gentle, finely voiced, beautifully nuanced responsorium.

Troisième Leçon du Vendredy saint (Third lesson for Good Friday) opens with Sophie Karthäuser providing a lovely mellifluous tone with fine decorations in Incipit oratio before bringing fine vocal textures and colours to Recordare showing her attractive well controlled vibrato. Pupilli facti sumus has a lovely rhythmic pulse, a gentle mellow instrumental contribution from Ensemble.

There is a finely decorated Cervicibus nostris before a flowing Lassis non dabatur with Karthäuser drawing superb long breathed melodic lines with fine instrumental accompaniment and a gentle rhythmic pulse. This soprano has a superb vocal control. She rises through Recordare  to Ægypto dedimus manum, a passionate section finding much feeling as well as providing some lovely little decorations. In Animabus Nostris is beautifully controlled with Karthäuser’s flexible voice following every little line to perfection, with terrific accompaniment.

There is more, fine instrumental playing in Pellis nostra and the slower Mulieres brings finely drawn lines, lovely textures and this soprano’s lovely tone before the concluding Jerusalem that subtly grows in power as the soprano appeals ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem , return to the Lord thy God’.

The choir bring a suitably subdued ending to Leçons de Ténèbres with the responsorium Plange quasi virgo (Mourn as a virgin).

Lalande’s Leçons de Ténèbres and Miserere provide some fine opportunities for these fine artists who deliver performances that are spectacularly good. Soprano, Sophie Karthäuser is particularly fine, bringing some absolutely terrific moments in these lovely settings.

The recording from La Courroie, Entraigues-sur-la-Sorgue, France is first rate and there are excellent booklet notes as well as full texts and translations.

This is a first rate disc that comes just in time for Easter but will provide much pleasure all year round.