Monday, 15 September 2014

Mary Dullea’s new recording from Metier, realising Eric Craven’s fascinating and often captivating sonatas, is a very fine achievement

I have sought in vain for comprehensive biographical information about British composer, Eric Craven. Indeed it is only recently that his music has come to a wider public through the encouragement of pianist Mary Dullea and the recording company, Metier (a division of Divine Art Recordings) together with their associate, the publishers, Brandon Music . It appears that he taught music and mathematics in secondary schools in his home town of Manchester and has composed music since his teens.

On his blog site, the composer gives no biographical information but, more importantly, does explain his method of composition, stating that over the last fifteen years or so he has become increasingly focused on developing an experimental compositional technique which he refers to as Non-Prescriptive. Essentially this means a method of writing music which permits the performer to determine some or most of the musical parameters which normally constitute the bricks and mortar of a piece of music. Furthermore, the performer may opt to alter these parameters, the consequences of which result in the particular piece being open to any number of different interpretations. The performer thus becomes involved in the compositional process and, as a consequence, the historical relationship of the composer, the performer and the performance are realigned.

He goes on to state that his Non-Prescriptive technique allows him to give to his music a freedom of interpretation by not fixing or dictating any performance or outcome. There is a Lower Order of Non-Prescription where several parameters, pitch, rhythm and duration of the notes are given. The performer decides upon such omitted parameters as tempo, dynamics, phrasing, pedalling and the articulation of the notes. Then there is the Higher Order of Non-Prescription where only the pitch is given and this pitch is not fixed, it can be played at any octave above or below the given pitch. The pitches may be played in any order or repeated or omitted. They may be grouped together vertically to form chords or clusters. The realisation of the music can commence and end at any point on the score. This results in the duration of the piece being controlled and determined by the performer.

Metier has already issued a recording of Craven’s Set for piano realised and performed by Mary Dullea (MSV 28525). Now they have released a 2 CD collection of three of his piano sonatas, again realised and performed by Mary Dullea.

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Given the degree of input from Mary Dullea in realising these sonatas, it is only right that I should give some biographical information about her.

A native of Ireland, she studied at The Royal College of Music, London, with Yonty Solomon and holds a MMus in Contemporary Music Studies from Goldsmiths University of London and a PhD in Performance from The University of Ulster

As a soloist and chamber musician, she has performed internationally at venues such as London’s Wigmore Hall, Casa da Musica (Porto), Shanghai Oriental Arts Centre, Phillips Collection Washington D.C., Symphony Space New York City, Palazzo Albrizzi Venice (Italy), Johannesburg Music Society and National Concert Hall Dublin.  She has appeared at many Festivals throughout the world and has broadcast frequently. She has recorded for record labels such as NMC, Delphian Records, Altarus, Col Legno, MNR, Naxos, Convivium and Lorelt, as well as Divine Art.

A sought-after interpreter of new music, she has commissioned and premiered works from composers as varied as Michael Finnissy, Johannes Maria Staud, Michael Nyman, Donnacha Dennehy and Gerald Barry. Mary Dullea is the Director of Performance at The University of Sheffield and is also on the teaching staff of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.

Craven’s Piano Sonata No. 7 is constructed as an arch with the fast outer movements sharing the same material based on the musical interval of a fifth. In this work Craven uses Low-order Non Prescription.

The first movement opens with some fine rhythmic playing as the music moves around tonally, seemingly not rooted other than by the phrasing that gives the music form.  A single high note opens the second movement, followed by broader motifs interspersed by high fragmentary notes. Subtle use of pedal allows the dying notes to sound beneath the slowly developing theme. Craven’s use of the piano has a percussive nature, just offset by longer phrases. There is some especially fine playing from Mary Dullea. Eventually the music develops into some richer, fuller sounds as the music becomes more dramatic though ending suddenly, the notes dying away.

The third movement opens with an oddly attractive, somewhat fragmented theme that develops some particularly fine moments with, at times, a playful nature to the skipping notes. The fourth movement brings limpid notes that are scattered around with strumming of the piano strings. The keyboard motif is interspersed by the gentle sounds of strummed and plucked strings. Slowly the keyboard phrases become more dynamic, though always returning to their gentler nature. There is a great delicacy to Craven’s writing before the music drops away to little fragments that end the movement.

The fifth and final movement brings some fuller, richer sounds before the music takes off in a more decisive theme which, like the first movement, moves around tonally and creates a sense of completion to the whole sonata, showing how much Craven retains a real sense of form within which to hold his creation. The music moves decisively forward to the coda.

There are moments in this sonata that some listeners might find challenging, but overall this is an enormously interesting work, full of fine moments, played brilliantly by Mary Dullea realising Craven’s ideas to remarkable effect.

Piano Sonata No. 9 retains an arch like sonata structure but brings more lyricism. The middle of the three movements uses Craven’s High-order Non prescriptive technique.

The first movement opens with an attractive theme that appears to have its roots in British music of an earlier era, though here given a modern free-flowing twist with harmonies of a more European outlook. This sixteen minute movement develops through some quite beautiful ideas, wonderfully realised by Mary Dullea. Craven’s endless outpouring of melodic ideas is really quite beguiling. Centrally, there is a particularly lovely section with bell like tones sensitively played by Dullea.

The second movement introduces a more skittish theme, underlaid by lower chords as the music dances around somewhat playfully. The deeper, firmer chords offset the lighter feel, eventually becoming more aggressive and taking the music into a dramatic passage. The music eventually falls back as it makes its way to the coda but, however, the violence returns leading to a spectacularly virtuosic and stormy coda.

The third movement retains a little of the nature of the middle movement but with more of the flow of the first movement, neither of which seems to be able to dominate, creating a tension and contrast. When the more flowing, melodic elements appear, they bring a warmth and assurance.

This is a particularly fine work played with great empathy and understanding.

The second disc in this set is devoted to just one work, the single movement Piano Sonata No 8. This work uses Middle-order Non- Prescription methods. Scott McLaughlin, in his essential booklet note, tells us that Craven’s notation in this sonata presents the player with snippets of music, presented as singular objects on the page separated by whitespace. These snippets or events are written in low-order notation with only pitches and rhythms given, but allow the freedom to vary or ignore that which is allowed with high-order notation.

As the design of the work is intended to be open ended, the duration will, of course, vary. Here Mary Dullea realises this sonata as a work lasting around 48 minutes.

A hesitant little motif built on two notes opens this work and is developed with, occasionally, elements of Messiaen. Soon the music broadens a little whilst becoming more dynamic. It moves forward in little surges as a melodic idea emerges, still broken up by little motifs in the right hand. The music becomes more skittish and descends into the depths of the keyboard before moving forward a little more melodically. The surges of melodic and fragmented staccato ideas continue with many intensely impressive still, quiet moments, beautifully realised by this pianist.

Eventually the music grows a little passionate but falls back leading to more staccato phrases. More dynamic deeper chords are sounded in music that, in the most tantalising way, holds one in its thrall, often waiting to see how it will develop, when certain motifs and themes will reappear. Towards the middle of the work, a rolling, vibrant melodic theme appears, growing faster before quietening and becoming more thoughtful, with some lovely harmonies. As the sonata moves forward, there are lovely chords that slowly become discordant.

The music continues to juxtapose the melodic with the shorter staccato phrases before arriving at some more attractive chords that resonate and overlay, showing more of Craven’s fine ear for sonority. Indeed, it is often the sustained resonance of dying chords that adds so much to the texture of many fine passages in this work. The repeated chords reappear, more gently this time, adding a magical simplicity before the staccato phrases return to dominate.  Towards the end the longer melodic phrases peer through again, but it is the broken staccato phrases that lead slowly to what might have been an open ended coda, except we are given a little spread chord that adds a conclusion.

This performance is an extremely fine creative achievement for both Craven and Dullea.

Indeed, all of these performances are a very fine achievement by Mary Dullea, realising these fascinating and often captivating works that have moments of real beauty.

The recording made at the Wyastone Concert Hall, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, Wales is excellent. Scott McLaughlin’s booklet notes are an essential addition to this release giving, as they do, detailed information concerning the music and its construction, interspersed with comments by the composer.

For those new to Eric Craven’s music, as many will be, I would recommend listening to his very fine Sonata No.9 first.

Friday, 12 September 2014

This new release from BIS is a terrific addition to the catalogue of recordings of works by Sofia Gubaidulina, one of contemporary music’s most individual voices

Sofia Gubaidulina (b.1931)  is now one of Russia’s most distinguished composers. Born in Chistopol, a small town in the Soviet Republic of Tatar, her family moved to Kazan where she attended the Kazan Conservatory in 1954, before moving to the Moscow Conservatory, where she studied as a post-graduate student of Vissarion Shebalin (1902-1963).

It was as a film composer that she made her living during the Communist years, whilst leaving part of every year for her own compositions.  She was early attracted to the modernist enthusiasms of her contemporaries. A period of experimentation led to works such as the Concerto for bassoon and low instruments (1975), The Hour of the Soul (1976, rev.1988), and ground-breaking pieces such as De Profundis (1978).

From the late 1970s, religious elements became more obvious in Gubaidulina’s work with pieces such as the piano concerto, Introitus (1978), the violin concerto, Offertorium (1980, rev.1986), and Seven Words for cello, accordion and string orchestra (1982). Many of her religious works are on a large scale, including a cello concerto inspired by a poem about the Last Judgement, And: The Festivities at their Height (1993), Alleluia (1990), for chorus and orchestra, a Concerto for Cello and Chorus and the Passion according to St. John (2000). Much of Gubaidulina’s more recent work also reflects her fascination with ancient principles of proportion such as the Golden Section.

Since 1992, Gubaidulina has lived in Hamburg, Germany. She is a member of the musical academies in Frankfurt, Hamburg and the Royal Swedish Academy of Music.

BIS Records have just released a recording of Gubaidulina’s works for various instruments and in particular the guitar.

Entitled Repentance, after the title of the first work on this disc, for cello, three guitars and double bass, it also includes Serenade for solo guitar, a Piano Sonata and Sotto Voce for viola, double bass and two guitars performed by Jacob Kellermann, Lucas Brar and Franz Halász , (guitars) Hariolf Schlichtig (viola) , Wen-Sinn Yang (cello), Philipp Stubenrauch, (double bass)  and Débora Halász (piano)


Repentance for cello, 3 guitars and double bass was written in 2008 in response to a commission from the San Francisco Symphony of which members gave the first performance in San Francisco in 2009.

Deep pizzicato descending notes from the double bass, open this piece and are reflected by the guitars before leading to a cello melody, picked up by the guitars. The cello weaves around before more resonant guitar phrases appear, punctuated by a low double bass motif. Soon more incisive guitar chords introduce a passionate cello part that becomes more thoughtful as the cello develops the theme against strummed guitars. The guitars are allowed to expand on the theme, becoming quite florid whilst the cello interrupts passionately. Deep, ruminating double bass sounds appear with the guitar theme picked out. The music rises up with many little guitar effects and intricate cello motifs. These guitar effects include slides, use of plectrum and rubber balls falling on guitar strings, all adding their unusual effect.

The double bass leads the way as the music rises up with the cello taking a stridently passionate nature, as do the guitars. There is a pause as the guitars quietly strum with the cello adding a plangent melody that leads to a short working out of the material. The guitars gently re-enter, subtly raising the drama as the cello enters again in the rising theme, becoming intensely passionate with dynamic, strummed guitars. Eventually a rather manic sound emanates from the ensemble, high in pitch, slowly underpinned by the double bass that introduces a rapidly bowed motif.

A gentler guitar motif pulls the double bass back, quietening before the cello enters to add a sonorous, rich, deep theme that rises higher with harmonics as a repeated motif for guitars is picked out. The cello wavers its way lower, fading to silence, leaving a single guitar chord to end.

This is an entrancing, highly original work full of attractive ideas and melodies. The performers here, Jacob Kellermann, Lucas Brar and Franz Halász, (guitars), Wen-Sinn Yang (cello) and Philipp Stubenrauch, (double bass) are superb.

Serenade for solo guitar is a much earlier work dating from the early 1960’s and commissioned by the Moscow publisher Muzyka. Franz Halász is the soloist in this tonally free yet entirely melodious work that must be a real gift for guitarists in the way it combines traditional elements with more advanced ideas.  Halász provides a really fine performance.

Another work from the 1960’s is the Piano Sonata (1965) performed here by Débora Halász. It is dedicated to Henrietta Mirvis and given its Moscow premier in 1967 by Maria Gambryan.

It is the strummed piano string chord that opens the Allegro of this work that stands out as much as the virtuosic piano theme that follows, full of hints of jazz in its varying rhythms. Soon the music quietens to a plucked motif, alternated with a keyboard motif. This develops into a staccato repeated left hand rhythmic motif, against which the right hand creates a jazz like theme, though with its lack of a tonal base, it is beyond conventional jazz. The music moves through a myriad of ideas on this theme, seamlessly, with Débora Halász providing a very fine performance. Eventually the music quietens with wiry plucked strings occasionally sounding as a four note motif slowly leads to the coda, the music rising higher and fading.

In comparison with the Adagio, the first movement is more conventional. A scrape of string sounds opens this movement before the piano keyboard introduces a theme interspersed by more strummed strings. The keyboard motif tries to develop, continuing to slowly work out a theme, now higher on the keyboard and offset by intermittent lower chords. More strummed chords appear before deep keyboard chords are sounded, the music having become dark and somewhat menacing. The music rises up dramatically with strange wiry string sounds. A little motif higher up the keyboard sets a lighter contrast before the gentler coda.

A syncopated Allegretto brings a lightening of mood, though still with a formidable forward energy, superbly caught by this pianist and leading to a spectacularly dynamic coda.

This is a most imaginatively conceived sonata with moments of supreme virtuosity brilliantly handled by Débora Halász.

Sotto Voce brings us back to a similar grouping of instruments as Repentance, this time for viola, double bass and 2 guitars. Written at the request of double bass player, Alexander Suslin, a close friend of the composer, it was premiered in Passau in 2010 by Suslin, with Vladimir Bochkovsky (viola) and Pavel Khlopovsky and Yvonne Zehne (guitars). Sotto Voce receives its world premiere recording here by Jacob Kellermann and Lucas Brar (guitars), Hariolf Schlichtig (viola) and Philipp Stubenrauch, (double bass).

Hushed string sounds emerge against plucked notes, before the viola and double bass rise up with a melodic idea. The two guitars provide a contrasting line as the viola slides downwards. Soon the melody returns for viola and double bass, leading to variants. The viola slides downwards again as a little motif is plucked before the guitars and pizzicato viola launch a new idea through which a longer viola melody appears, supported by double bass – a beautiful section.

Soon a rhythmic section for guitars arrives with taps on the sound board and strange sliding, string sounds. The viola commences a solo theme soon joined by languid guitars and the double bass adding its deep resonance. More strange sliding strings appear as the guitars continue the melodic theme, joined by viola and double bass. Eventually the music speeds and becomes a little passionate with sliding string notes for guitars before the viola slowly rises up. There are more strange sliding strings before the double bass and guitars lead forward more quickly to a rhythmic section.

As the work progresses it becomes more passionate with string slides, then firm chords from all the players. There are more rapid bowed sounds with slides before a momentary pause that introduces a decisive theme for viola, double bass and guitars. There is a dramatic section before the coda is reached with little plucked and harmonic sounds that fade away.

This is a fascinating work that receives a terrific performance from these fine players.

This new release is a terrific addition to the catalogue of recordings of works by Sofia Gubaidulina, one of contemporary music’s most individual voices.

The recording made at Studio 2 of Bayerischer Rundfunk, Munich, Germany is excellent as are the booklet notes.

See also:

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Benjamin Grosvenor’s latest release from Decca, entitled Dances, brings together works by Bach, Chopin, Scriabin, Granados, Schulz-Evler, Albeniz and Gould in a remarkably fine recital that should not be missed

It cannot be doubted that Benjamin Grosvenor is one of the finest young pianists anywhere in the world today.

Born in 1992, Grosvenor began playing the piano aged 6 going on to study at the Royal Academy of Music, where he was awarded the The Queen’s Commendation for Excellence and has had lessons with Christopher Elton, Leif Ove Andsnes, Stephen Hough, and Arnaldo Cohen.

Grosvenor first came to prominence as the outstanding winner of the Keyboard Final of the 2004 BBC Young Musician Competition at the age of eleven. Since then, he has built an international reputation performing with orchestras around the world, working with such conductors as Vladimir Ashkenazy, Jiří Bělohlávek, Semyon Bychkov, Andrey Boreyko and Vladimir Jurowski.

He was aged just nineteen when he performed with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the First Night of the 2011 BBC Proms. He returned to the BBC Proms in 2012, performing with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Charles Dutoit and this year performing with Gianandrea Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra

In 2011 Grosvenor signed to Decca Classics and in doing so became not only the youngest British musician ever to sign to the label, but the first British pianist to sign to the label in almost 60 years.

His three previous recordings for Decca have received enthusiastic reviews. His latest release from Decca is entitled Dances and brings together works by Bach, Chopin, Scriabin, Granados, Schulz-Evler, Albeniz and Gould, showing a variety of dance forms to remarkable effect.

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Bach’s Partita No.4 in D major, BWV 828 is striking right from the opening chord Ouverture, beautifully nuanced and shaped. Grosvenor is alive to every dynamic and knows just how to lift the music from the page. There is a beautifully paced Allemande, exquisite in its gentle flow with lovely phrasing and a Courante that shows his beautifully light touch, where he keeps up a fine tempo. The varying rhythms of the Aria are equally finely done. Grosvenor’s thoughtful, perfectly paced and phrased Sarabande precedes a beautifully judged and mesmerising Menuet and a crisp flowing Gigue, full of clarity. This is very fine Bach indeed.

His performance of Chopin’s Andante spianato et Grande polonaise brillante, Op 22 brings delicacy and hushed restraint whilst keeping a forward movement in the Andante spianato. With the Grande Polonaise, again it is Grosvenor’s fine control of dynamics and phrasing as well as a crystal clear clarity that makes this such a fine performance. He is muscular when the music requires it with his superb technique shown to the full in the coda.

All the same qualities appear when he brings us Chopin’s Polonaise in F# Minor, Op 44 to which he brings power, breadth and subtlety with some fine control in the more poetical moments.

Benjamin Grosvenor then turns to Scriabin, giving us three of the 10 Mazurkas, Op 3. It is lovely how Grosvenor handles the little rhythmic oddities of the Mazurka No.6 in C sharp minor with such fine phrasing. He again puts a lovely lift in the rhythms of No. 5 in E major, with more lovely subtleties. An especially fine performance. Finally there is the particularly Chopinesque Marzurka No. 9 in G sharp minor, beautifully controlled, rising so naturally to its central climax with exquisite moments either side.
He catches Scriabin’s freer harmonies of his later Valse in A flat Major. Op 38 perfectly with his silken, light touch bringing some lovely moments.

Granados’ 8 Valses poéticos bring many changes of mood and rhythm with a wonderfully direct Preludio: Vivace Molto, a Melodioso that is beautifully phrased with fine rhythms, light, transparent Tempo de Vals noble, catching its fleeting moments and showing his subtle ability to change mood in Tempo de Vals lento.

There is a rhythmically well sprung Allegro humoristico, a beautifully phrased Allegretto, a Quasi ad libitum that brings a breadth of poetic charm and a wonderfully light and dexterous Vivo before the Presto brings us full circle to the theme of the Melodioso.

The Polish born, Adolf Schulz-Evler (1852-1905) will be unknown to most people yet his Arabesques on Johann Strauss’ ‘By the Beautiful Blue Danube’ is an attractive work. In Benjamin Grosvenor’s hands it is simply terrific, as this pianist brings all his lightness of touch, fine rubato, lovely phrasing, and wonderfully rhythmic qualities to these variations on Strauss’ famous waltz.

Leopold Godowsky’s arrangement of Albeniz’s Tango: España, Op 165, No. 2 wears its virtuosity lightly in Grosvenor’s fine performance. To end we have Morton Gould’s Boogie Woogie Etude where Grosvenor really fuses Boogie-Woogie with the nature of a serious study, with playing that provides a terrific conclusion to this disc.

I cannot think of a more satisfying recital from one of our finest young pianists. With an especially fine recording made at Potten Hall, Suffolk, England and informative booklet notes this new release should not be missed.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Excellent performances of string sonatas by Arnold Cooke from Susanne Stanzeleit, Morgan Goff, Raphael Wallfisch and Raphael Terroni on a release from Naxos

An obituary written for Arnold Cooke (1906-2005), in a UK national newspaper referred to his music as urbane, accessible, tonal and contrapuntally based, displaying the influence of his teacher, Paul Hindemith. Cooke’s entry in Groves talks of how decisive Hindemith was in the formation of Cooke’s lyrical, contrapuntal style.

That certainly goes some way to describing his music but leaves aside the sheer energy that can often occur in his chamber works. My first introduction to the music of this composer was through his Third Symphony written in 1967 and recorded by Lyrita in 1975 . This is a work has some of the same kind of urgency as his chamber works but more of a hint of Hindemith’s rhythms and orchestration, something not heard in the sonatas.

Naxos  have now re-released a British Music Society  recording, made in 2005, of Cooke’s Sonata No.2 for Violin and Piano, Sonata for Viola and Piano and Sonata No.2 for Cello and Piano played by Susanne Stanzeleit (violin) , Morgan Goff (viola) , Raphael Wallfisch (cello)  and Raphael Terroni (piano).

It is announced that the extensive discography of BMS, many world premieres of neglected British works, is to be re-released by Naxos. Good news indeed.

Arnold Cooke was born near Leeds, England, the son of a carpet manufacturer, whose uncles and grandfather were musical. He learned to play the cello and organ as well as taking composition lessons from his piano teacher. After studying history at Cambridge University, Cooke went to Berlin to study composition with Paul Hindemith at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik. In 1947 he was appointed professor of Harmony and Composition at Trinity College of Music, a post he kept until his retirement.

Cooke’s compositions include an opera, six symphonies, concertos and chamber music.

Arnold Cooke’s Sonata No.2 for Violin and piano (1951) was commissioned by Gerard Heller for Rosemary Rapaport and Else Cross who gave the first performance in 1951. Played here by Susanne Stanzeleit (violin) and Raphael Terroni (piano) the Allegro con brio opens with a rhythmic piano motif immediately joined by the violin that sets this movement bouncing forward. The music relaxes briefly but soon picks up again. When the pace slackens a second time it is for an extended piano passage, though a sense of impending forward momentum is never far away. Soon the pace quickens but, towards the end, drops to a relaxed, gentle and somewhat wistful passage before racing to the conclusion. Perhaps this movement is a little overlong but, nevertheless, is sustained by an overall forward driving momentum.

The violin leads the music in the gentle rocking Andante con moto before sharing the theme. These players bring a lovely lilt to this lovely, flowing movement, a real free flow of melodic invention that eventually leads to a reflective, quiet coda.

The sunny Allegro vivace pushes forward, equally flowing in character with some lovely, intricate piano phrases as Cooke works out his material in this endlessly attractive movement beautifully performed by these artists.

The earliest work on this disc, the Sonata for Viola and Piano (1936-37) was dedicated to Keith Cummings and Lucy Pierce who gave the first performance at the Aeolian Hall, London in 1937.  Morgan Goff (viola) joins Raphael Terroni (piano) in this performance with the darker sound of his viola opening the Allegro, a rather earnest and fast moving piece. There is a slightly unstable rhythmic rocking motion to the music. After a short solo viola section that, whilst slower, is nevertheless, quite virtuosic; the piano re-enters to lead the music forward again with the viola weaving around the piano theme. Soon there is an odd little section, slower and quieter, but soon the music takes off again until slowing before heading to resolve the coda.

The gentle Andante con moto is the longest movement and has a reflective nature with much subtlety brought out by these players.  There are strange harmonics with lovely little phrases from the piano before a piano solo, which is full of breadth. Soon the viola joins this lovely broad theme as it becomes increasingly passionate before relaxing in a quiet, darker section, just about lightened by the piano’s happier mood. The music slows for the hushed coda.  

The Allegro vivace has a playful feel as the music rises and falls, rushing ahead in surges, in music that requires great agility from the violist. The music slows towards the end whilst retaining its flow but soon recovers to drive forward to the coda.

Morgan Goff and Raphael Terroni give terrific performances of this most attractive work.

The Sonata No.2 for Cello and Piano (1979-1980) received its premiere concert performance by the artists on this recording, Raphael Wallfisch (cello) and Raphael Terroni (piano) at a centenary concert in 2006 at Gresham’s School, Norfolk, England.

There is a seriousness to the opening of the Allegro moderato with the cello keeping to its lower register. The music soon picks up, becoming more animated with the cello losing some of its darkness. Soon, indeed, there is a slightly skittish passage for cello and piano before the opening theme returns. As the movement progresses, becoming more and more free and animated, one is aware of just how greater a freedom of flow and tonality Cooke was able to bring to this later piece. Towards the end the music becomes ever more animated as it heads to the coda.

The Lento has a melancholy feel, a reflectiveness, with hints of passion just about peering through. A trilling piano motif and pizzicato cello soon add to the depth of feeling in this movement that often tries to rise up but doesn’t quite manage it. Eventually the music does rise to a slight climax but soon drops, with harmonics on the cello against a tolling piano motif as the music slowly moves toward the hushed coda that concludes on high cello harmonics and a piano chord to end.

The Scherzo: molto vivace is a rollicking affair with the music rhythmically bouncing forward, full of life. There is some lovely interplay between these fine artists in Cooke’s attractive writing.

The Allegro shoots off full of impetus and energy. Again the interplay between Wallfisch and Terroni is brilliantly done, with Wallfisch bringing much feeling to his playing, at turns fierce, passionate and delicate.

This is a really fine later work of Cooke brilliantly performed by Wallfisch and Terroni.

There are lovely moments in these works that bear repeated listening. These artists provide excellent performances. This disc is a further fine tribute to the late Raphael Terroni. They receive a fine recording made in the Music Room of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London, England.

There are informative booklet notes on the composer and artists.

See also:

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Fine performances of percussion works by Axel Borup-Jørgensen that really catch the ear on a new release from OUR Recordings

The composer Axel Borup-Jørgensen (1924-2012) was born in Hjørring in Denmark, but grew up in Sweden. It was the countryside and experience of nature of his childhood in Sweden that became a lifelong inspiration to Borup-Jørgensen. He returned to Denmark to study piano at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen and instrumentation with Poul Schierbeck and Jørgen Jersild. He was one of the first Danish composers to go to the Darmstadt School. Borup-Jørgensen's works include music for orchestra, chamber music, songs with piano and other instruments.

I was particularly impressed by OUR Recordings’ release of Borup-Jørgensen’s works for recorder, harpsichord and percussion, when I reviewed it in January 2014.

OUR Recordings have now released a recording entitled The Percussion Universe of Axel Borup-Jørgensen which features percussionist Gert Mortensen together with Tim Frederiksen (viola) , Michala Petri (recorder) , Percurama Percussion Ensemble , Duo Crossfire and the Danish National Symphony Orchestra Brass Quintet.

This new release brings us five of Borup-Jørgensen’s works for percussion and various instruments including no less than three world premiere recordings.


Gert Mortensen is the solo percussionist in Solo, Op.88, written in 1979 and which uses a large assortment of percussion instruments including drums, bells, cymbals, gongs, bottles, a feather and a steel drum to name but a few. A gong stroke quietly opens this piece and fades into silence. A louder gong stoke is heard which, together with drums, creates an immediate effect of drama. There is spaciousness to the sound that gives an aura of distance between the various percussion instruments – a great effect. Add to this the moments of silence and you have a wonderful breadth of vision. The use of various bottles could almost be a tuned percussion instrument. Gert Mortensen uses all these aspects to great effect as he does with all the timbres and colours he extracts from his disparate instruments. Later the music quietens significantly as tiny motifs are picked out, though with contrasting outbursts of drum and cymbal. The notes are allowed to die away naturally with sensitive playing from Mortensen.  Eventually a deep, resonant gong heralds a darker atmosphere. There are drum beats and gong sounds that die away before drum beats lead us to the conclusion.

There is a real sense of power and forward movement in this work as well as moments of stillness.

Music for Percussion and Viola, Op.18 brings Tim Frederiksen (viola) and the Percurama Percussion Ensemble conducted by Gert Mortensen. It is the earliest work on this disc, written in the 1950’s for Knud Frederiksen, the father of the soloist on this recording.

The percussion ensemble opens this music, in which little harmonics on the viola can be heard. Soon the viola joins in a more clearly defined passage that is developed into a rising and falling theme pointed up by the percussion. Soon a propulsive, repeated motif is heard that leads into more complex sounds, the viola weaving through the percussion. Soon there is a solo viola passage, quiet and ruminative and often melodic though clearly wrought form the same material. The percussion gently and subtly re-enter as the viola continues to ruminate. There is effective use of a piano within the percussion ensemble as the music becomes ever more fragmented. The viola tries to maintain a melodic element despite the quiet, subtle, fragmented percussion that rises up toward the end, soon joined by the viola, as the music becomes more dynamic to end.

This is a striking work, amazingly performed with terrific accuracy and ensemble. Though an early work, the composer’s later development can be clearly detected.

La Primavera (Spring), Op.97, performed here by Duo Crossfire (Gert Mortensen and Qiao Jia Jia), dates from 1982. There is an exquisitely hushed opening with tinkling bells, hushed metallic taps and marimba creating a ripple of sound. Slowly the sound of a gong emerges which is repeated. There are drum beats and rippling outbursts of sound. This is music of much delicacy, beautifully coloured.  There are further sudden outbursts set against moments of great delicacy before another sudden outburst leads to fuller and deeper drum sounds. There are occasional pauses, moments that allow the ear to assimilate what has gone before.  What terrific performers this duo are, bringing out so many tiny elements, superbly combined. Later there is a dynamic passage that nevertheless maintains a fine transparency. Soon the deeper, more resonant drums appear, thundering out, suddenly contrasted by the quiet, delicate sounds including xylophone. Eventually the music becomes rather playful with rising and falling scales for xylophone, but cymbal and drum crashes enter, leading to one of the most aggressively dynamic sections of the work. Yet the coda returns to the hushed delicate sounds of the opening as the music fades to silence.

Gert Mortensen (percussion) and Michala Petri (recorder) come together for Periphrasis, Op.156 using the Greek word that can mean derivations of words as a kind of variation or and the use of indirect and circumlocutory speech or writing. Borup-Jørgensen uses musical phrases as a kind of chase between recorder and percussion.

Drums sound out to open this work, soon joined by the recorder playing a single sustained note. This continues until the recorder slowly varies the note. Drums lead forward with the recorder providing a little tune, higher up the range with percussion clashes behind the recorder adding to the dynamics and texture. Michala Petri brings all her customary musicianship and skill to this performance with some simply stunning playing. Mortensen and Petri play off of each other brilliantly with the composer’s subtle sounds of delicate percussion and pure recorder timbres making for some entrancing listening. Eventually a lovely mellow recorder sound arrives, gently pointed up by Mortensen’s subtle percussion, leading to a gentle coda.

Winter Music, Op.113.1 is for the unusual combination of percussion and brass quintet, performed here by Gert Mortensen (percussion) and the Danish National Symphony Orchestra Brass Quintet. Written between 1981 and 1084, it is a description of a particularly hard winter season with the percussionist playing a distinctively separate role to the brass ensemble, almost as a duet.

Drum beats open this piece, with subtle brass sounds underlying the drums. Soon the brass ensemble breaks out with phrases that are heard between the dynamic percussion sounds. Eventually, as the piece progresses, the brass ensemble and percussion sound as though they are about to combine, but throughout they continue to make their own way. Eventually the percussionist’s role becomes pretty dynamic with brass intoning longer phrases. The brass quintet continue to provide a firm, more dynamic sound that begins to rival the percussion, becoming an equal force as the music is fully unleashed. The music quietens as both percussion and brass tentatively move forward with short phrases. A gong sounds to bring about the coda that leaves us with the sound of the gong fading to silence.

This is another fine performance from Gert Mortensen with the DNSO Brass Quintet in a work that is enormously descriptive of winter’s harsh extremes. 

These really are fine performances of works that really catch the ear and provide many entrancing moments. The recording couldn’t be finer, bringing out all the delicate details, textures and colours as well as the dramatic outbursts.

There are excellent booklet notes on the composer, music and artists.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

There are so many fine gems beautifully sung by the Latvian Radio Choir directed by their Chief Conductor, Sigvards Kļava on Ondine’s new recording of works by Yuri Falik, Arturs Maskats and Georgy Sviridov that it deserves to be a very popular release

Of the names Yuri Falik, Arturs Maskats and Georgy Sviridov, only the last might be known to most people. Ondine have just released a recording of choral works by these three composers under the title Sacred Love.

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On this new release The Latvian Radio Choir  are directed by their Chief Conductor, Sigvards Kļava with soloists Ieva Ezeriete (soprano) and Aleksandrs Antoņenko (tenor).

Founded in 1940, this full time professional choir is the seven-time recipient of the Great Music award of the Latvian government and has collaborated with such well-known names as Stephen Layton, Tönu Kaljuste, Lars Ulrik Mortensen and Esa-Pekka Salonen.

The choir have made a number of recordings for Ondine including Rachmaninov’s All-Night Vigil and Liturgy of St. John Chrystostom, Rautavaara’s Missa a Capella, and Pēteris Vasks’ Plainscapes.

Russian composer and cellist, Yuri Falik (1936-2009) was born in Odessa where he studied cello before moving to the Leningrad Conservatory where he studied with Alexander Shtrimer (1888-1961). He later studied under the legendary Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007) and Boris Arapov (1905-1992). As well as composition he taught cello and instrumentation as well as directing the student’s chamber orchestra at the Leningrad Conservatory.

His short choral work A Stranger has the curious rhythm of a tango that moves quickly through all the six verses of Aleksandr Blok’s poem in a highly attractive and impressively sung setting.

Your Temple, Lord, a setting of verses by Nikolay Gumilyov, brings some of the atmosphere of a Russian Orthodox Church piece, complete with soprano rising over the choir in this contemplative, beautifully conceived setting, beautifully sung by Ieva Ezeriete and the choir.

A lovely rhythmic Habanera sets verses by Igor Severyanin with the opening words    ’In claret induced dreams I see rubies’ bringing a dramatic change of sentiment with its text. This choir are particularly fine in these sorts of pieces, beautifully controlled and easily able to cope with Falik’s sliding phrases.

Autumn returns us to a reflective mood with the melancholy thoughts of Aleksandr Pushkin. Tenor, Aleksandrs Antoņenko, sings over a wordless choir providing a very Russian sounding voice before the choir bring a beautifully hushed end.

Latvian composer, Arturs Maskats (b. 1957), was born in Valmiera and studied composition with Valentins Utkins (1904-1995) at the Latvian State Conservatory. He has worked closely with theatre, having written music for over one hundred productions. He has been Chairman of the Latvian Composer’s Union as well as Music Director of the Rainis Dailes Theatre and Latvian National Opera.

A soprano voice opens Let My Prayer Be Granted high and ethereally, soon joined by the rest of the choir in this entrancing work. This setting of psalm texts is shared between the soloist and the choir with some lovely weaving of vocal sounds with moments of pure magic. There is a dramatic section with timpani joining with a bass voice bringing increasing passion. The music drops but rises again with the choir providing a terrific sound. The soprano voice enters alone before the choir intone with some beautiful vocal sounds before the gentle coda.

Spring, a setting of verses by Boris Pasternak (1890-1960), brings a wordless opening from choir with gentle bell chimes.  Tenor, Aleksandrs Antoņenko enters in this slow contemplation of spring that gently rises as the choir takes over the text soon joined by Antoņenko. A climax is reached with tenor providing much emotion,            even terror, before dropping back as a soprano rises up over the choir.  Antoņenko joins again though now more restrained but soon a tremendous climax for tenor and choir is reached. At the words ‘…And the singing lasts until dawn…’ all quietens to a hush, bells re-appear quietly and the sound of a vibraphone. There is a final outburst from the tenor before the choir leads to a lovely, quiet coda.

The Russian composer, Georgy Sviridov (1915-1998) was born in the town of Fatezh in the Kursk Governorate of the Russian Empire (present-day Kursk Oblast). He initially studied at a local music school but later moved to the Leningrad Central Music College where he studied piano.  He went on to study at the Leningrad Conservatory under Peter Borisovich Ryazanov (1899-1942) and Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975).

Sviridov’s compositions include choral works, orchestral works, concertos, chamber works and piano works as well as film music.

Winter Morning is another Pushkin setting that has an upbeat opening before settling to a steadier, flowing, and thoughtful nature. There is some lovely part writing with a section of the choir providing a wordless support of the sung text.

Tenor, Aleksandrs Antoņenko opens About Lost Youth over a wordless choir in Nikolay Gogol’s lament for lost youth, beautifully done by this choir where they bring some superb sounds, so sensitive and expertly controlled. There are lovely little details in this setting with Antoņenko providing some very fine singing.

The lively Christmas Carol is a setting of a folk song text with a cantering rhythmic pulse and some terrifically robust singing before the exquisite, hushed coda.

Sacred Love, which provides the title of this disc, sets the single four line verse of Aleksey Tolstoy’s poem. Soprano, Ieva Ezeriete sings the text over a wordless choir in this really lovely setting.

There is more Pushkin with Natasha, a setting that pushes the text gently forward with Sviridov somehow managing to achieve a gentle, quiet feel yet with a forward propulsion. 

With Icon we have another setting of texts by Blok.  Hushed sections of the choir individually join before Aleksandrs Antoņenko enters to sing over the wordless voices. Slowly the music rises with Antoņenko providing such a lovely emotional thrust and passion on the words ‘Until you do not become this poor, And do not lie, trodden on…’

With so many fine gems on this disc, beautifully sung this deserves to be a very popular release. It is beautifully recorded at St. John’s Church, (Svētā Jāņa Evaņģēliski luteriskā baznīca) Riga, Latvia. There are informative booklet notes as well as full texts and English translations.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Fine performances of works by Heinrich von Herzogenberg from the Monteverdichor Würzburg and the Thüringen Philharmonie Gotha conducted by Matthias Beckert on a new 2 SACD release from CPO

Heinrich von Herzogenberg (1843-1900) was born in Graz, Austria and studied at the Vienna Conservatorium, thereafter dividing his time between Graz and Vienna. In 1872 he moved to Leipzig where, from 1875 to 1885, he was conductor of the Bach-verein. He was subsequently appointed head of the department of theory and composition at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin, becoming professor in 1886.

Herzogenberg was a lifelong friend of Brahms and, with a colleague, Philipp Spitta, founded the Bach Society. His compositions include choral works, vocal works, orchestral works, chamber works, piano music and organ works.

It is his choral works that feature on a new 2 SACD release on CPO from the Monteverdichor Würzburg  and the Thüringen Philharmonie Gotha  conducted by Matthias Beckert  with soloists Franziska Bobe (soprano) , Barbara Brackelmann (alto) Maximilian Argmann (tenor)  and Jens Hamann (bass)

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The first disc brings us Herzogenberg’s Totenfeier, Op.80 for soloists, choir, orchestra and organ. A cantata using biblical texts and hymn strophes, it was written in 1892 and moves from a condition of despair to an ultimate acceptance. It was written whilst the composer was dealing with his own grief following the death of his wife.

The Introduction and Funeral March with Choir brings a weighty orchestral opening followed by a directness of utterance as the choir sings ‘Man, born of woman, lives only a short time and is very troubled.’ There is often a funereal measured tread, pointed up by timpani, that contrasts with dramatic outbursts An extended orchestral passage, full of drama, leads the music into A Recitative and Aria with bass, Jens Hamann entering in this pleading section, ‘Lord! Why do you stand so far away?’  Hamann weaves the text, delivering finely controlled emotion.

We are immediately led into an Alto solo and Chorale where the lovely voice of boy alto, Jaro Kirchgessner, opens with just organ, before the orchestra and choir enter, slowly and gently lifting the music. The choir and orchestra alternate with alto and organ to terrific effect. Franziska Bobe, arrives, in terrific voice, for the Soprano Solo and Choir, ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ soon joined by the choir and orchestra bringing an upbeat joy to the text. When Bobe returns she brings a clear voice, full of light before the chorus and orchestra return who, with soprano and orchestra lead to the end. Bass, Jens Hamann returns heavy with emotion for the Recitative and Aria, ‘When I sought the Lord.’ with the Thuringen Philharnonie Gotha adding fine orchestral drama, passion and weight.

Pizzicato strings quietly open the Solo Quartet section before the quartet of soloists enters with brass, adding light to the texture of this slightly Bachian chorale. The chorus and orchestra gently and smoothly open the Chorus, ‘When the Lord redeems the captives of Zion’ bringing a feeling of comfort to the words. This is a beautifully subdued and mellifluously sung section which, centrally, rises in passion before speeding forward at the words ‘Then our mouths shall be filled with laughter’ before being led back to the opening tempo.  

There is an attractive instrumental opening to the Soprano Aria, ‘How lovely are your dwelling places’ before the soprano enters in this distinctive and lovely setting where the soloist and instruments weave around each other with Herzogenberg’s orchestration so transparent and light. This lovely section, a kind of pastoral section, is beautifully sung.

Bass, Jens Hamann returns for the Bass Solo and Concluding Chorale with an impassioned ‘The Lord has given, the Lord has taken away’ before the choir and orchestra enter to bring a resolute conclusion. The weighty orchestra of the opening returns but this time to affirm ‘The King’s Glory shines’ –with, again, hints of a Bach chorale.

This is a particularly distinctive and attractive work, well worth getting to know. It is beautifully orchestrated, with Herzogenberg bringing drama and poetry to his distinctive style.

Begräbnisgesang, Op.88 for tenor, male voice choir and wind ensemble was written in 1895 following the death of his good friend Philipp Spitta and sets the composer’s own texts. It is a short work, lasting only around five minutes but delivers much passion and feeling.

The wind ensemble open, followed by tenor, Maximilian Argmann then the male voices of the choir in another distinctive work that for all its debt to Bach is distinctively Herzogenberg’s own style such is the beautiful way he layers the tenor over the choir and brass.

The second disc contains Herzogenberg’s Requiem, Op.72 was written in 1890 and first performed, with the composer conducting, in St. Thomas’ Church, Leipzig – Bach’s old church.

The orchestral opening of Requiem is more symphonic than ecclesiastical. When the Monteverdichor quietly enter, they reinforce just how good a choir they are. There are gentle surges of dynamics, finely controlled, beautifully blended and with a lovely tone right across their range. There is a feeling of controlled tension, pointed up by occasional timpani.

The Dies Irae, the longest section part, opens in a fairly subdued manner with timpani rhythms and a slow building of dynamics. When the music drops back it leads to a quickening of tempo with a kind of scurrying nature. The choir and orchestra provide much drama and tension but there is none of the violence found in other Requiems. At times the choir really soar over the dynamic orchestra. There are occasional vibrant string passages reminiscent of Mozart in his Requiem. Later the male voices lead to a more dramatic section but it is, nevertheless, more an intense drama than an out and out ‘Day of Wrath.’ This is a pleading Dies Irae not a frightening premonition. The end is hushed.

It is lovely the way Herzogenberg divides female and male voices in Offertorium. There is a beautiful flow in this glorious section and a particularly affecting Hostias, exquisite and distinctive in its writing.

In the Sanctus the orchestra leads the music, rising up, with the choir joining in this joyful section. There are some lovely moments as the music swirls around, full of joy and light, with the orchestra underpinning the choir magnificently.

The Agnus Dei has a quiet, tentative orchestral opening leading to a slow plodding orchestral theme before the male voices of the choir enter just as tentatively. The female voices then enter over the male choir, adding a spiritual feeling. Midway the orchestra raises the dynamics a little but the choir then continue their gentle, rather mystical way.

6The orchestra opens Communio with an upward theme soon joined by the whole choir, flowing beautifully forward with a rich orchestral contribution. There is a particularly lovely section at ‘…for you are merciful’ and a lovely feeling of peace when they sing ‘Grant them eternal rest, O Lord.’

On the evidence of these discs Herzogenberg is a composer worth exploring. I will certainly return to these works again.

The Thüringen Philharmonie Gotha conducted by Matthias Beckert provide fine, taut playing, great dynamics and sensitivity and the Monteverdichor Würzburg prove themselves to be a first rate choir. All of the soloists are excellent as is the recording from Neubaukirche, Würzburg.

There are excellent booklet notes and full Latin, German and English texts.