jueves, 31 de octubre de 2013

Janine Jansen BACH Concertos

Janine releases a brand new Bach recording, joined by a hand-picked group of friends - all exceptional musicians. Recording the popular E major and A minor concertos alongside the Violin and Oboe Concerto in C minor and two violin sonatas for the first time, Jansen and her ensemble explore these well-known works with a spirit of complete freshness. In the double concerto she is joined by two-time ECHO Award winner Ramón Ortega Quero. Janine's ensemble accompaniment on the recording includes her brother, cellist Maarten Jansen, and her father, harpsichordist Jan Jansen.
This record follows the unique chamber footprint that characterize many of her bestselling recordings. Janine has been a top selling artist since her debut recording in 2004 for Decca, and has sold more than 300,000 records. Her most recent album, a Prokofiev disc with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Vladimir Jurowski, went Gold in the Netherlands soon after release last autumn.
Her recording of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons has sold more than 20,000 albums digitally since February this year, became the iTunes #1 classical album in 37 countries from Austria to Vietnam, the #1 iTunes pop album in nine countries and hit the Top 10 iTunes pop chart in Brazil, India, Hong Kong, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands and Singapore. To date the recording has sold 147,000 units since release, with 50,000 of these being digital sales. In addition the Vivaldi release has sold 100,000 single tracks downloads.

Momo Kodama LA VALLÉE DES CLOCHES Ravel / Takemitsu / Messiaen

Momo Kodama’s first ECM New Series album is a marvel, a mesmerizing journey from the shimmering surfaces of Miroirs, Maurice Ravel’s piano cycle of 1904-45 to Olivier Messiaen’s Fauvette des jardins (written in 1970), a late masterpiece of piano music from the visionary composer. Kodama’s insights into Messiaen’s sound-world enable her to convey his religious feeling for nature, for birdsong transfigured, through the compelling, insistent piano figures, into spiritual utterance. Linking Ravel’s valley of the bells and Messiaen’s open sound field is Toru Takemitsu’s Rain Tree Sketch (1982), music from the East informed by Western experiment, a Japanese reflection on French music. “Its opening bars” writes Hans-Klaus Jungheinrich in the liner notes, “evoke not only the rapturous crystalline chord progressions of Messiaen, but also the flashing, glittering sophistication of Ravel.”
Kodama has a personal perspective on dialogues of Orient and Occident. Born in Osaka, she spent her early childhood in Germany, moving to France at 13 to become the youngest student ever accepted at the Conservatoire national supérieur de musique in Paris. Later there were studies with great pianists including Murray Perahia, András Schiff, Vera Gornostaeva and Tatiana Nikolaïeva. At 19 Momo Kodama was the Munich International Competition’s youngest prize winner.
She has gone on to play with leading orchestra of Japan, Europe and the US and worked with conductors including Seiji Ozawa, Kent Nagano, Roger Norrington, Charles Dutoit, Eliahu Inbal, Valery Gergiev and Lawrence Foster. Her chamber music partners include Steven Isserlis, Rohan de Saram, Renaud Capucon, Augustin Dumay and Jörg Widmann. Momo and sister Mari Kodama, meanwhile, form a piano duo that plays the core repertoire and premieres new works.
Momo Kodama’s recital repertoire reaches from Bach to the avant-garde. A major part of her performance schedule is dedicated to contemporary music, and Messiaen has been a special focus. In 2002, on the 10th anniversary of Messiaen's death, she performed his Turangalîla Symphony, Les Visions de l'Amen with her sister Mari, and Les vingt regards sur l'enfant-Jésus in a series of highly successful concerts. In the Messiaen centenary year 2008 she received awards in Japan for a concert series dedicated to the composer. At the Festival La Roque d'Antheréon 2006, at the urging of Yvonne Loriod-Messiaen, she premiered, with Isabelle Faust, Messiaen's Fantasie for violin and piano, a piece written in 1933 but never previously performed. Her recordings of the Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus and the Catalogue d’Oiseaux for Triton, received high critical acclaim. In 2008 she commissioned Toshio Hosokawa’s Stunden Blumen, a work with the same instrumentation as Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps, and performed both pieces at festivals in Lucerne, Paris, Hamburg and Vienna.
A number of composers have written works for Kodama. She is also the dedicatee of works including Lichtstudie 3 by Jörg Widmann, which she premiered at the Lucerne Festival, and Echo by Ichiro Nodaira, which was composed for Momo and Mari Kodama.

Patricia Petibon AMOUREUSES Mozart / Haydn / Gluck

Barbarina and Susanna, Armida and Zaide, Giunia and Iphigénie: these complex portraits of several different kinds of women provide the theme for French soprano Patricia Petibon’s debut recital for Deutsche Grammophon. Above all, however, they are portraits of women in love. The range of emotions and situations could hardly be greater, extending from the first innocent thrill of love to despair and feminine guile to the end of love, attended by anger and even hatred. “It’s a musical and vocal approach”, she explains, “but also a theatrical and dramaturgical one. Amoureuses depicts various characters who may in fact represent no more than facets of a single figure. On the one hand, we have Barbarina in Le nozze di Figaro, a character of great purity who could even be described as angelic, while on the other hand we have the Queen of Night in Die Zauberflöte, a mature woman who once knew love but who has now lost her way and who loves only herself and power.” It goes without saying that such contrasts, emotions and passions demand a response that goes far beyond mere beautiful singing. Patricia Petibon uses vocal colours and shadings, risking extremes of expression and emotion and exploiting her voice’s fullest potential in order to reveal the countless facets of these roles. “If the text demands a certain sharpness, harshness or roughness, then vocally, too, I choose to go down this particular path. What I do not want is aesthetic homogeneity and superficial beauty”, she describes her approach to the music. She owes this search for the artistic truth to two great conductors above all. “I come from two different schools: those of Nikolaus Harnoncourt and William Christie; both have strongly influenced me and have taught me to interpret music in my own, highly distinctive way and to be true to myself and to others.” (Excerpts from the booklet text accompanying the album)

miércoles, 30 de octubre de 2013

Steven Osborne / Paul Lewis SCHUBERT Piano Duets

'In this repertoire Lewis and Osborne are as one, touch and tone indistinguishable from one another (they swap Primo and Secondo roles throughout, apparently, though it’s impossible to tell who is playing which in what), playing with a delicious fluency and obvious affection that is a joy to hear. They open with the Allegro in A minor in a finely graded and characterised reading that puts Jenö Jandó and Illona Prunyi (12/92), for example, in the shade. To conclude, there is the great F minor Fantasie in which the incomparable opening is leant a hint of optimism, even jauntiness, before the subsequent journey to a pathetic conclusion. This is a reading that compares favourably with the benchmark recording by Radu Lupu and Murray Perahia (3/86) … this is a Schubert disc to return to and live with' (Gramophone)

'For those who were fortunate enough to be there, and just as importantly for those who missed it, this disc captures all the exuberance, finesse and camaraderie with which Steven Osborne and Paul Lewis gave their recital of Schubert duets at London’s Wigmore Hall in January. Shortly afterwards they went into the studios to record the same six works, and the result is a pure delight … The quality that shines through in these performances is the way in which Schubert so intuitively judged the special medium of the piano duet. The music is specifically imagined with four hands in mind, at times taxing from the point of view of the two pianists amicably accommodating and coordinating with one another but always with the sense that the potential for varied sonority, expressive breadth and, without doubt, a degree of fun is being broadly and knowledgeably exploited. The F minor Fantasie enshrines some of Schubert’s most sublime ideas, but his range throughout embraces vigour, subtlety, daring, charm, delicacy and drama. Osborne and Lewis have full measure of its inventive scope on a disc of outstanding, enlivening musicianship' (The Daily Telegraph)

'The Fantasie in F minor would earn its place in any list of Schubert's supreme masterpieces. Osborne and Lewis predictably reserve their finest, most perceptive playing for the Fantasie, giving its infinitely regretful main theme a different shading on each of its appearances and colouring the work's harmonic shifts and modulations impeccably. None of their performances could be described as route, though, even when the music is less than top drawer, and in works such as the A flat major Variations and the deceptively modest-sounding Allegro in A minor, both of which approach the Fantasie in scale, they find emotional depths and dramas that unmistakably identify both as products of Schubert's final year' (The Guardian)

Patricia Kopatchinskaja BARTÓK / EÖTVÖS / LIGETI

Peter Eötvös evidently wants us to hear his music as the continuation of a grand Hungarian tradition, in which he is only two steps removed from the country’s greatest ever composer. This album makes the case, and without over-emphasizing the connections. The individuality of each composer is just as evident as their similarities, and the connections themselves are subtle. The portamento-based sliding textures, for example, in the Eötvös concerto, when heard in any other context may seem like a legacy from electronic music, but when placed directly after Bartók’s Second, there is a clear link with the earlier composer’s trombone glissandos. There’s Bartók in the Ligeti too, or rather, there’s Ligeti in the Bartók; the strident woodwind chords in Bartók’s second movement sound surprisingly similar to Ligeti’s ocarinas and distuned horns.
But this narrative is merely a subplot to the album as a whole, and despite the fact that one of the featured composers stands at the podium, it is the soloist who dominates proceedings. Patricia Kopatchinskaja has a distinctive voice as a violinist, with both her style and her technique marrying Eastern European Gypsy music with Central European classical traditions. She is drawn to classical works that include folk elements, and by emphasizing their earthy textures and infectious rhythms, she is able to rescue them from both the formality and the arbitrary sophistication of the concert hall.
The distinctive flavor of Kopatchinskaja’s playing is most clearly evident in the Bartók, where comparison with the already burgeoning catalogue demonstrates just how different her approach is. Kopatchinskaja’s tone is focused and vibrant. It has a kind of neon aura that could almost suggest electronic manipulation of the sound. The cult (or myth?) of naturalness that pervades the classical recording industry means that this sort of sound is all but unheard in the concerto repertoire. As a result, her timbre alone makes Kopatchinskaja sound like an import from the folk world. Something has to give, of course, and while Kopatchinskaja gives an intensely musical reading of the Bartók, many will find it lacking in a number of respects. Kopatchinskaja’s sound is either on or off: She can play quietly, but even then she dominates proceedings. And the quieter passages, especially in the first movement, don’t have that urbane late-Romantic sensibility that most violinists find there. The payoff is in the loud and propulsive music, and here Kopatchinskaja comes into her own, dropping all pretentions to classical respectability and going back to her roots as a folk fiddler, roots Bartók himself would surely have recognized.
The Eötvös concerto is entitled Seven and was written in memory of the seven astronauts who died in the Columbia space shuttle disaster in 2003. Not that it is a particularly mournful piece. The emotional profile of the work balances the enthusiasm and excitement of space exploration with this significant reminder of its dangers. So the music is full of invention and sonic exploration, but is continually reined back to a human scale, not least by the focus on the soloist within the large ensemble. (In fact, seven ensembles are used, spaced judiciously around the hall—there’s certainly a case here for a surround-sound recording.) The most radical aspect of the concerto is its form: four accompanied cadenzas, each more substantial than the last, and culminating in a finale proper. The work was not written for Kopatchinskaja (it was premiered by Akiko Suwanai) but her insistent and incisive tone works to the benefit of the complex textures. Eötvös lets his imagination run free in his use of the orchestra, but there is never any danger of the soloist getting lost in the sound. Her playfulness is also an asset here, and when Eötvös’s score begins to sound too intellectual for its own good, the vibrant musicality of the soloist always ensures a sense of immediacy and emotional engagement.
Ligeti’s Violin Concerto is possibly the ideal vehicle for Patricia Kopatchinskaja’s unique approach. Elsewhere she seems to be continually fighting against classicized and normative models of Eastern European folk music within the established canon—even in the Bartók. But Ligeti speaks her language. Ligeti’s late music relies heavily on intractable sound complexes, and on mind games of order and chaos. But both are motivated by a desire to get back to his Eastern roots, to short-circuit the sophisticated mechanisms of new music and reveal beneath them the more astringent and primal sounds from which all music originally grew. And there is no violinist better suited to this paradigm than Kopatchinskaja. Comparisons between her reading and those already available—Saschko Gawriloff, Christina Åstrand, Frank Peter Zimmermann—show that the qualities she brings to the work are similar to those we find in the Bartók. Her focused ever-present tone prevents the opening appearing out of nothing. And the solo line always dominates, even on the rare occasions when it shouldn’t. But the polyrhythmic complexity of the solo writing is clearer and more engaging here than on any previous recording. And, most importantly, there is never any feeling that Kopatchinskaja is trying to civilize this music. She knows exactly where Ligeti is coming from, and like him, she has no intention of rounding off the edges in pursuit of spurious classical elegance.
Eötvös the conductor is a sensitive and perceptive accompanist. Twenty years ago, Pierre Boulez would have been the natural, perhaps only, choice for conducting a program like this (he conducted the premiere of the Eötvös and the first recording of the Ligeti). Eötvös has been gradually taking over that role in recent years, and the clarity he brings to the textures, the impeccable orchestral discipline, and the feeling of life and vibrancy in every orchestral passage show him to be ideally qualified as Boulez’s successor. Great playing too from both the Frankfurt RSO and Ensemble Modern, with both ensembles and soloist recorded in transparent and immediate audio.
A triumph, then, for all concerned, and a must-have for anyone interested in the music of Ligeti or Eötvös. Those thinking of buying the set for the Bartók should be warned that Kopatchinskaja’s reading is idiosyncratic and bypasses much of the classical sophistication heard on other recordings. But Kopatchinskaja works only on her own terms, and as with her previous discs, everything here is as distinctive as it is compelling. (FANFARE: Gavin Dixon)

martes, 29 de octubre de 2013

Maria Pia de Vito / François Couturier / Anja Lechner / Michele Rabbia IL PERGOLESE

A project paying tribute to 18th century composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710 – 1736), Il Pergolese presents new arrangements and improvisation inspired by opera and sacred music. Singer Maria Pia De Vito, pianist François Couturier, cellist Anja Lechner and percussionist Michele Rabbia also consider Pergolesi’s relationship to the art music and the popular music of Naples from a contemporary perspective,. The text of the Stabat Mater – translated into Neapolitan by Maria Pia De Vito – and the opera arias, are transformed into songs and vivid narrative, open frames providing the key to reinterpreting Pergolesi. François Couturier's arrangements widen Pergolesi's structures, offering space for much improvisational interaction. For Il Pergolese is a real group project with creative from all participants, a discourse among sounds with rhythms generated by drums and metals and sampled and real-time electronics. “Sound textures grow dense with the richness of instrumental counterpoint or are set free in electronic soundscapes and along coloristic, percussive lines, as cello becomes voice or voice becomes an instrument” says Maria Pia De Vito in a performer’s note in the CD booklet.

The project was commissioned by the Festival Pergolesi-Spontini of Jesi in 2011. Reviewing the premiere performance, Augusta Franco Cardinali of Voce della Vallesina wrote of “unforeseen impressions for the listener. Crystallized sound fragments expand into flares of notes like meteors. Pergolesi’s music emerges, becomes increasingly recognizable until it is transformed into prayer... This music, in which different styles are blended together, cannot be categorized. It would be inexact to call it ‘experimental music’, since its sound material, both vocal and instrumental, is treated with uncommon sensitivity, competence, intelligence, and stylistic elegance as well as technical expertise...” The improvisational component ensures that each performance of Il Pergolese is unique. The present interpretation was recorded in Lugano in December 2012, with Manfred Eicher as producer.
Three of the protagonists of Il Pergolese – François Couturier, Anja Lechner and Michele Rabbia are well-known to ECM listeners. German cellist Lechner has appeared on more than twenty ECM recordings playing everything from tango with Dino Saluzzi to compositions of Mansurian and Silvestrov with the Rosamunde Quartet or arrangements of Gurdjieff with Vassilis Tsabropoulos. At home with both improvisation and the classical tradition, Lechner is, with Dino Saluzzi, the subject of the documentary film “El Encuentro” made by Norbert Wiedmer & Enrique Ros and recently issued by ECM on DVD.
French pianist François Couturier is the founder-composer of the Tarkovsky Quartet, of which Anja Lechner is a member, and also plays in duo with the cellist. Couturier’s other ECM albums include a solo recording Un jour si blanc, and a duo disc with violinist Dominique Pifarély, as well as recordings with Tunisian oud master Anouar Brahem.
Italian percussionist Michele Rabbia has been the principal drummer of Stefano Battaglia’s projects since 2000 and appears on several ECM discs with the pianist including Raccolto, Re: Pasolini and Pastorale a disc of duets incorporating his live electronic treatments. Rabbia has collaborated with numerous musicians, the long list including Enrico Rava, Charlie Mariano, Antonello Sallis, Dominique Pifarély, Rita Marcotuli, the Italian Instabile Orchestra, Sainkho Namchylak, Paul McCandless and many others.
Singer Maria Pia De Vito makes her ECM debut with Il Pergolese. She has long been active in improvisation and jazz with musical partners including John Taylor, Ralph Towner, Rita Marcatouli, Norma Winstone, Steve Swallow, Paolo Fresu, Gianluigi Trovesi, Giorgio Gaslini, Colin Towns and many more. Musical research, exploring beneath the work’s surfaces, has been a key element of her performances from the outset, whether the music at hand has been jazz of the American songbook, idiosyncratic Neapolitan vocal music (De Vito is herself a native of Naples), adaptations of Monteverdi with Bruno Tommaso or – as on the present disc – Pergolesi as an improvisational resource.

Hélène Grimaud / Claudio Abbado A RUSSIAN NIGHT (RACHMANINOV Piano Concerto No. 2 / TCHAIKOVSKY The Tempest / STRAVINSKY The Firebird)

When Claudio Abbado conducts the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, he feels, by his own admission, to be “among old friends" and has “the special sense of being back home". This familiarity is due above all to his close links with Lucerne, for it was here that he chose to revive the idea of an elite orchestra similar to the one formed by Arturo Toscanini for Lucerne Festival in 1938. The result was the Lucerne Festival Orchestra that Abbado helped to establish in 2003, drawing on a select band of hand-picked musicians and realizing his vision of an orchestra close to his ideal of an enlarged chamber ensemble: the nucleus of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra is the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, which is complemented by members of other international orchestras and by outstanding chamber musicians, with soloists of the calibre of Sabine Meyer, Wolfram Christ, Clemens Hagen and Reinhold Friedrich on the front desks. The orchestra's concertmaster (leader), Kolja Blacher, has sought to account for the uniqueness of an ensemble which, under its artistic director Claudio Abbado, is characterized by friendship and respect: “What is so special about our orchestra? We don't have to play together, we want to!"
During the summer of 2008 Claudio Abbado conducted a concert with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra that threw light on various facets of Russian life and music. Two works - Tchaikovsky's symphonic fantasia inspired by Shakespeare's The Tempest and Stravinsky's concert suite from his fairytale ballet The Firebird - depict the dramatic struggle between the forces of good and evil and the ultimate triumph of the former. And Hélène Grimaud was the soloist in a performance of one of the classics of the late Romantic repertoire, Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto.

Rachmaninov's piano works have long featured in Hélène Grimaud's repertory. She devoted her very first recording to solo works of the Russian composer in July 1985, and his Second Piano Concerto of 1900­01 was the work with which she made her debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker under Claudio Abbado in 1995. Since then this dark, soulful and “most Russian" of Rachmaninov's works has continued to haunt her: “It was love at first sight," Hélène Grimaud enthuses, even today. “Afterwards, it's true, I rather neglected the work, but that neglect was intentional because at one time I played it often." Today, however, the Second Piano Concerto again accompanies the pianist on her concert tours all over the world: “It's a work that is noble, pure and of very harmonious proportions, but it also involves a certain risk, because you must stay focused on the structure of the piece, on the line, and on the overarching form."
For Hélène Grimaud, to rehearse the concerto with Claudio Abbado at Lucerne Festival in August 2008 was, as she put it, “a dream". For her, the conductor is “a man of great depth and kindness, yet he also has a very special aura to him". His love of the music, the pianist goes on, communicates itself to the players and audience and fosters a wordless agreement between conductor and soloist. “You really don't need to speak or to translate an emotion or a sentiment into words", because Abbado himself already expresses all that is necessary. “You can read it all in his glance, in his face. There's a great clarity about it all, the way in which he conducts and his intentions are absolutely clear". It was also a stroke of good luck for Hélène Grimaud to work with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, “an orchestra that has a magnificent commitment to the music, one that has density and lightness at the same time". In this way, “pure music" could be produced in an atmosphere far removed from the usual routine of rehearsals. Perhaps it was the intensity of her work with Claudio Abbado and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra that ultimately helped Hélène Grimaud to approach the concerto afresh: “The piece continues to develop within you, even when you're not actively involved with it, so that when you return to it, it has clearly become a completely different work. That is always fascinating but sometimes more complex than developing a new relationship with a new piece."

The extent to which vivid characterization depends on orchestral playing that is alert, vital and at the same time subtly balanced with chamber-like translucency is clear from the three characters that inhabit Tchaikovsky's symphonic fantasia, The Tempest: the radiant lovers Miranda and Ferdinand and the monster of the darkness, Caliban. When the composer's patron, Nadezhda von Meck, first heard the work, which had received its triumphant first performance at a Russian Music Society concert in Moscow on 19 December 1873, she summed up its impact on her as “magnificent sounds, capable of filling the whole world and affording a person happiness, enjoyment and delight". With its atmospheric reminiscences of Wagner, its thrilling account of the sea and the storm and its lyrical love themes, The Tempest was long regarded as Tchaikovsky's best-loved concert work.
But the most striking demonstration of an orchestra casting aside all sense of routine was afforded by the final piece in Claudio Abbado's Russian programme, Stravinsky's The Firebird, a score that made its composer famous overnight when it was unveiled in Paris on 25 June 1910. Lucerne's listeners were regaled with pianissimos that grew more intense, the quieter they became. No less impressive were the subtlest transitions and shadings, which none the less emerged with the most thrilling sense of drama. For the performance in Lucerne, Claudio Abbado opted for a composite version of the score, taking over the sequence of movements from the second, five-movement concert suite of 1919 but eschewing the reduced orchestra of twenty players that Stravinsky, taking account of post-war shortages, envisaged for this second suite. With its sumptuous forces, this performance was entirely in the spirit of the programme as a whole: firmly rooted in the Russian tradition - after all, Stravinsky originally wrote the piece for the famous Ballets Russes. But the forces of good and evil confront one another in richly colourful and exotic sounds, forces embodied, on the one hand, by the young Prince Ivan, whom the liberated Firebird helps with a miraculous feather, and, on the other, by Kashchei, the prince of Hell. But perhaps Claudio Abbado's decision to opt for the full orchestral version was motivated simply by his desire to feel “among old friends". 
(Susanne Schmerda)

lunes, 28 de octubre de 2013

Paul Lewis / Jiří Bělohlávek / BBC Symphony Orchestra BEETHOVEN Complete Piano Concertos

With this three-disc album of Beethoven’s piano concertos Paul Lewis complements his earlier set of the 32 sonatas and also his appearances at the Proms this summer where for the first 
time all five concertos will be played by a single artist. So may I say at once that Harmonia Mundi’s eagerly awaited set is a superlative achievement and that Lewis’s partnership with Jiří Bělohlávek is an ideal match of musical feeling, vigour and refinement. True, for aficionados of eccentricity – even of brilliant eccentricity – from the likes of Gould, Pletnev and Mustonen, Lewis may at times seem overly restrained but the rewards of such civilised, musically responsible and vital playing seem to me infinite. Above all there is no sense of an artist looking over his shoulder to see what other pianists have come up with. Throughout the cycle Lewis is enviably and naturally true to his own distinctive lights, his unassuming but shining musicianship always paramount. His stylistic consistency can make the singling-out of this or that detail irrelevant, yet how could I fail to mention Lewis’s and Bělohlávek’s true sense of the Allegro con brio in the First Concerto, in music-making that is vital but never driven? Less rugged than, say, Serkin, such playing is no less personal and committed. In the central Largo Lewis achieves a quiet, hauntingly sustained poise and eloquence, while in the finale his crisp articulation sends Beethoven’s early ebullience dancing into captivating life.
The same virtues characterise the Second Concerto; but when it comes to the Third, Lewis and Bělohlávek (and one is always aware of a true partnership) hit a more controversial note. The first movement is less con brio than from 
most, as if to emphasise Beethoven’s step towards a darker region of the imagination (what EM Forster memorably called “Beethoven’s C minor of life”), while the finale is thought-provoking in its restraint. Yet once again Lewis’s comprehensive mastery is devoid of all overt display, and in the Fourth Concerto his playing achieves a rare nimbleness, affection and transparency. And if there are those who, again, wish for a higher degree of drama and assertion, others will recognise an artist who, in Charles Rosen’s words, achieves so much while appearing to do so little (pianists such as Lipatti, Solomon and Clara Haskil come to mind). At the same time the Fourth Concerto contains some delightful surprises. Lewis’s ad libitum flourish at 6'12" in the finale provides an exuberant touch, as do his deft and witty arpeggiations of the chords just before the concerto’s homecoming. Here in particular is an engaging and playful rejoinder to the Andante con moto’s introspection, the entire performance delectably animated and light-fingered. Nor is there a hint of strain or strenuous characterisation in the Fifth Concerto. Lewis’s first entry in the Adagio has a slight catch in the voice, as it were, to register the music’s sublimity, and his overall approach is devoid of the tub-thumping rhetoric familiar from too many Emperors.
And so, all in all, these records take their place among the finest Beethoven piano concerto performances so that even when you recall beloved issues by Wilhelm Kempff, Emil Gilels, Radu Lupu and Murray Perahia (to name but four), Lewis ensures that you return refreshed and with a renewed sense of Beethoven’s range and beauty. Personally I would never want to be without any of those previous discs, nor without Argerich’s never-to-be-completed recordings (sadly she considers the Fourth Concerto outside her scope; can her friends and musical partners Nelson Freire and Stephen Kovacevich persuade her otherwise?). Balance and sound are natural and exemplary, leaving us to look forward to Lewis’s forthcoming CD of the Diabelli Variations, for Brendel the greatest of all keyboard works. This is a cycle to live with and revisit. 

Bryce Morrison

domingo, 27 de octubre de 2013

BEETHOVEN # 4 Paul Lewis

Every one of Paul Lewis’s now-complete Beethoven Sonatas series has been selected as an Editor’s Choice. Deservedly so. This final instalment boasts all the virtues of its predecessors – a pianist nimble of mind and fingers, penetrating interpretations delivered with just the right lightness of touch and bold imaginative leaps that can leave the listener staggered.” (Gramophone Magazine)

“Paul Lewis ends his Beethoven sonata cycle for Harmonia Mundi with another wide-ranging collection; like its predecessors, it contains some outstanding performances and some that do not quite reach the same exalted standard. The major disappointments here come in two of the best known sonatas. Op 81a, Les Adieux, seems far less crisp and precise than one would expect, while, after a suitably pellucid opening, the E major Op 109 becomes unexpectedly feisty and never quite regains its poise. To set against that are a beautifully paced and unfolded account of Op 28 in D, the so-called Pastorale, and impressively thoughtful performances of the two most challenging works here: the A flat Op 110 and C minor Op 111. In Op 110, Lewis creates a glowing soundworld out of which every element seems to take shape perfectly naturally, while in Op 111, he plays down the drama of the first movement to integrate it more completely with the transcendental variations that follow. The transition from one to the other is perfectly managed so that they become a seamless whole, and a perfect finale to the entire enterprise.” (The Guardian, 2nd May 2008)
“At times in the towering final sonatas Lewis perhaps holds too much in reserve. Greater firepower could only enhance Beethoven’s visionary thinking, even when the marking for No 30’s finale indicates “mezza voce”, a half-voice. But this reserve also leads to masterful moments. There’s No 15’s balm and calm, plus the fluent grace in the Op 49 duo – pedagogic trifles for which any overkill would be fatal...buy Lewis’s Beethoven with confidence, and listen and explore for many years to come.” (The Times, 2nd May 2008)
“Somehow, Lewis's quiet and distinctive voice can lift even the most familiar phrase on to another sphere.” (Gramophone Magazine, June 2008)
“…appropriately enough this final volume ends with the last sonata triptych of Opp. 109-111. Lewis plays all three works with characteristic warmth and beauty of tone, and you're not likely to hear them more sensitively and intelligently done.” (BBC Music Magazine, June 2008)
“Only an extended essay could do justice to the fourth and final volume of Paul Lewis's Beethoven sonata cycle… You may well cherish your beloved sets by Schnabel, Kempff and Brendel (to name but three), but Lewis surely gives you the best of all possible worlds; one devoid of idiosyncrasy yet of a deeply personal musicianship.
Where else can you hear Op 10 No 2's madcap finale given with such unfaltering lucidity and precision? Try Op 28's finale for an ultimate pianistic and musical finesse or the opening Allegro where Lewis makes you conscious of how the music's gracious and mellifluous unfolding is momentarily clouded by mystery and energised by drama. In such hands the final pages of Op 111 do indeed become 'a drift towards the shores of Paradise' (Edward Sackville-West) and throughout all these performances you sense how 'the great effort of interpretation' (Michael Tippett) is resolved in playing of a haunting poetic commitment and devotion. Such playing is hardly for lovers of histrionics or inflated rhetoric, but rather for those in search of other deeper, more refreshing attributes, for Beethoven's inner light and spirit.
Somehow Lewis's quiet and distinctive voice can lift even the most familiar phrase on to another sphere and his playing throughout, shorn of accretion, makes all these sonatas shine with their first radiance and eloquence. Admirably recorded, this three-disc set is crowned with a scholarly and illuminating essay by Jean-Paul Montagnier.” (Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010)

BEETHOVEN # 3 Paul Lewis

“As always, Paul Lewis offers playing of rare insight and intelligence. He is just as much at home in the dazzling brilliance of the C major Sonata, Op. 2 No. 3...as in the graceful lyricism of the concluding rondo from Op. 7” (BBC Music Magazine, November 2007)

“These performances are a transparent act of musical love and devotion. Nothing is exaggerated yet virtually everything is included. Of all the modern versions of the sonatas (an there are many either complete or in progress), Lewis's is surely the most eloquent and persuasive.” (Gramophone Magazine, November 2007)
“There isn’t a bar in any of these sonatas that seem ill-considered or hastily characterised; if tempos are generally on the measured side, Lewis’s sense of structure and constant awareness of what the harmonic rhythm is doing allows him to generate tension in the most subtle ways.” (The Guardian)
“Paul Lewis's third volume of his Beethoven sonata cycle once more shows him playing down all possible roughness and angularity in favour of a richly humane and predominantly lyrical beauty. Again, here is nothing of that glossy, impersonal sheen beloved of too many young pianists, but a subtly nuanced perception beneath an immaculate surface.
His technique, honed on many ultra-demanding areas of the repertoire allows him an imaginative and poetic latitude only given to a musical elite. Telescoped phrasing, rapid scrambles for security, waywardness and pedantry he gladly leaves to others, firmly but gently guiding you to the very heart of the composer. His Appassionata is characterised by muted gunfire, as if the sonata's warlike elements were heard from a distance. Yet the lucidity with which he views such violence easily makes others' more rampant virtuosity become sound and fury, signifying little. His way, too, with the teasing toccata-like finales of Nos 12 and 22 is typical of his lyrical restraint, a far cry, indeed, from a more overt brilliance. How superbly he captures Beethoven's over-the-shoulder glance at Haydn, his great predecessor, yet gives you all of his forward-looking Romanticism in the early F minor Sonata (No 1). Again, how many pianists could achieve such unfaltering poise and sensitivity in No 4's Largo, con granespressione? These performances are a transparent act of musical love and devotion. Nothing is exaggerated yet virtually everything is included. Of all the modern versions of the sonatas, Lewis's is surely the most eloquent and persuasive. And, as in previous issues, Harmonia Mundi's sound is of demonstration quality.” (Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010)

sábado, 26 de octubre de 2013

BEETHOVEN # 2 Paul Lewis

“Paul Lewis is a serious artist, and the quality of his playing, beautifully captured by Harmonia Mundi's engineers, is of a very high standard throughout. Particularly fine is the Waldstein Sonata… a performance that can stand comparison with the very best. His Hammerklavier is tremendously impressive, leaving us in no doubt of the music's weight and grandeur.” (BBC Music Magazine, November 2006)
“Throughout all 10 sonatas Lewis's unswerving authority thinly veils his profound immersion in the very wellspring of Beethoven's creative genius. Even the composer's relatively carefree or lightweight gestures are invested with a drama and significance that illuminate them in a novel but wholly natural light. Here is one of those rare pianists who can charge even a single note or momentary pause with drama and significance and convince you, for example, that his lyrical, often darkly introspective way with Beethoven's pulsing con brio brilliance in the Waldstein Sonata is a viable, indeed, memorable alternative to convention.
So, too, is his way with the Hammerklavier, that most daunting of masterpieces, where he tells us that even when the composer is at his most elemental he remains deeply human and vulnerable.
Not for him Schnabel's headlong attempt to obey Beethoven's wild first-movement metronome mark; nor does he view the vast spans of the Adagio as 'like the icy heart of some remote mountain lake' (JWN Sullivan) but rather a place of ineffable sadness. And here as elsewhere he is able to relish every detail of the composer's ever-expanding argument while maintaining a flawless sense of line and continuity.
Faced with such excellence a mere critic can only abandon paper and pencil and listen to this heroic but deeply moving young artist with awe and amazement. These are early days but Paul Lewis's superbly recorded and presented Beethoven may well turn out to be the most musicianly and ultimately satisfying of all recorded Beethoven piano sonata cycles.” (Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010)

viernes, 25 de octubre de 2013

BEETHOVEN # 1 Paul Lewis

Paul Lewis’s Beethoven sonata cycle shows him playing down all possible roughness and angularity in favour of a richly humane and predominantly lyrical beauty. Again, here is nothing of that glossy, impersonal sheen beloved of too many young pianists, but a subtly nuanced perception beneath an immaculate surface.
His technique, honed on many ultra-demanding areas of the repertoire, allows him an imaginative and poetic latitude only given to a musical elite. Telescoped phrasing, rapid scrambles for security, waywardness and pedantry he gladly leaves to others, firmly but gently guiding you to the very heart of the composer. His Appassionata is characterised by muted gunfire, as if the sonata’s warlike elements were heard from a distance. Yet the lucidity with which he views such violence easily makes others’ more rampant virtuosity become sound and fury, signifying little. His way, too, with the teasing toccata-like finales of Nos 12 and 22 is typical of his lyrical restraint, a far cry, indeed, from a more overt brilliance. How superbly he captures Beethoven’s over-the-shoulder glance at Haydn, his great predecessor, yet gives you all of his forward-looking Romanticism in the early F minor Sonata (No 1). Again, how many pianists could achieve such unfaltering poise and sensitivity in No 4’s Largo, con gran espressione?
Sometimes his warmth and flexibility suggest Beethoven seen, as it were, through Schubert’s eyes (the finale to Op 31 No 1), and he often suggests a darker, more serious side to the composer’s laughter and high jinks. But he plays Beethoven’s humorous afterthought at the close of the Op 31 No 1’s Allegro vivace as to the manner born and his presto coda to the finale becomes a joyous chase. His way with the Tempest Sonata is a reminder, too, of his outwardly relaxed mastery, quite without a sign of a skewed or telescoped phrase and with page after page given with a quiet but superbly focused intensity. His Adagio is gravely processional, his finale acutely yet subtly and unobtrusively characterised.
Even the composer’s relatively carefree or lightweight gestures are invested with a drama and significance that illuminate them in a novel but wholly natural light. Here is one of those rare pianists who can charge even a single note or momentary pause with drama and significance and convince you, for example, that his lyrical, often darkly introspective way with Beethoven’s pulsing con brio brilliance in the Waldstein Sonata is a viable, indeed, memorable alternative to convention.
So, too, is his way with the Hammerklavier, that most daunting of masterpieces, where he tells us that even when the composer is at his most elemental he remains deeply human and vulnerable. Not for him Schnabel’s headlong attempt to obey Beethoven’s wild first-movement metronome mark; nor does he view the vast spans of the Adagio as ‘like the icy heart of some remote mountain lake’ (JWN Sullivan) but rather a place of ineffable sadness. And here as elsewhere he is able to relish every detail of the composer’s ever-expanding argument while maintaining a flawless sense of line and continuity.
These performances are a transparent act of musical love and devotion. Nothing is exaggerated yet virtually everything is included. Of all the modern versions of the sonatas, Lewis’s is surely the most eloquent and persuasive. Harmonia Mundi’s sound is of demonstration quality.

jueves, 24 de octubre de 2013

Patricia Petibon / Michael Boder / Symphony Orchestra of the Gran Teatre del Liceu ALBAN BERG Lulu (mkv / 320 kbps)

ALBAN BERG (1885-1935) : LULU (2DVD)
Opera in three acts, after the tragedies Earth Spirit and Pandora’s Box by Frank Wedekin. Orchestration of the third act completed by Friederich Cerha.
Patricia Petibon is Lulu to the life.
She sings Berg’s taxing music with easy, tonal beauty; the roles numerous acuti pose no problem. As The Weekend Australian observed: “Her top register, in particular, has a rich, luminous quality ... that she exploits to great effect”.
Lulu is opera’s rawest exposition of the fatal risks of untamed erotic power. No man who meets Lulu does not want her − but, like the wind, she cannot be possessed. As happens to the heroine herself, the men who attempt to subdue her, and the one woman who also adores her, are destroyed by the flip side of the life force that pours through Lulu: death.
This is one of the most remarkable productions of the 21st century – matched by the remarkable Patricia Petibon. Acclaim for this Lulu: “Using her light, supple voice like a musical instrument, Petibon slithers into each successive skin with which Olivier Py sheathes this timeless mythic character” (Le Figaro). “The French director presents a terrifying tragedy, with a colourful human circus ... Petibon has the right degree of sensuality and a highly charged style...” (Opera).
This live DVD of the Liceu’s 2010 hit production by Olivier Py also stars Franz Grundheber and Julia Juon. Michael Boder’s conducting brings out the sensuality and psychological disequilibrium of Berg’s 12-tone score.
The New York Times praised Petibon’s “earthy rawness”.
Patricia Petibon . Julia Juon . Paul Groves
Ashley Holland . Will Hartmann . Robert Worle
Franz Grundheber . Andreas Hörl . Silvia de la Muela
Symphony Orchesttra of the Gran Teatre de Liceu
Michael Boder
Format: mkv (Part I: 2 files / Part II: 3 files)
Language : German
Subtitles: German (Original Language), English, French, Spanish, Catalan
A co-production of the Gran Teatre del Liceu and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.
Directed for television and video by François Roussillon. Recording : Liceu, Barcelona, 2010
2011 Deutsche Grammophon

miércoles, 23 de octubre de 2013

Anne-Sophie Mutter / Lambert Orkis BRAHMS The Violin Sonatas (CD 38 / ASM35)

Anne-Sophie Mutter: The first time I came across the Brahms sonatas was very much at the beginning of my musical life, I’d just started to play the violin. I was five and a half years old, and David Oistrakh visited Basle. He was playing the three Brahms sonatas with Frieda Bauer, I was totally immersed in the music. And it was not only David Oistrakh’s personality, the warmth of sound and the lushness of expression, and of course the love for the violin, which was deepened by this concert, but it was Brahms’s music which was engraved from that moment on as something perfectly suited for the violin, understanding the singing quality of this instrument. When I was fifteen or sixteen, I started to play the Brahms sonatas. There have always been cycles in my life where I’ve dedicated time to one particular composer, like the Mozart cycle we did a few years ago, or the Beethoven cycle in ’98. So there was this period in my early teenage years where I was very dedicated to Brahms - the Violin Concerto, the Double Concerto, because I recorded them with Herbert von Karajan, and the Brahms violin sonatas.
Lambert Orkis: As far as my first experiences with the violin sonatas go, it was not so much of a listening but a playing experience. It was at Curtis. I was a young man, maybe fourteen or fifteen, and a fellow student needed a pianist to read through the “Rain” Sonata for his lesson. I went in there basically thinking I was going to sight-read this piece. And it was: Oh, my! This is more than I bargained for. Brahms’s pianism is very rich. I didn’t know then but realize now that it was very much influenced by his choral writing. The voice-leading is fantastic in Brahms. And don’t you find that these sonatas are quite different from the Beethoven and Mozart sonatas for the same combination? It’s not that there’s a lack of dialogue, but there tends to be more of a realization of what each instrument is really best at doing. And he certainly knows how to create moods using the various abilities of the instruments. You can whisper so much. The piano can whisper, too, but I also have the pedal to create this almost Impressionistic gloss. And those moments of quiet, when that whispering comes in with this kind of mist that the piano’s capable of creating, that’s Brahmsian.
Anne-Sophie Mutter: Beethoven was a rotten composer for the fiddle in terms of comfort. But Brahms really knew how to embrace the violin, and he learned quite a bit from knowing Joseph Joachim from the age of twenty.
Lambert Orkis: However, Brahms was a pianist, not a violinist. It’s a kind of truism that Brahms’s piano writing is not necessarily pianistic. In fact, in many ways it’s considered clumsy. There are just fistfuls of notes, and they don’t serve any kind of self-glorification. Rather, it’s serving musical functions. And Brahms would send these sonatas to Clara Schumann. He really trusted her instincts. With the D minor Sonata he goes so far as to say that, if you don’t like it, I won’t play it. Of the three sonatas, that is probably the most complex for the piano, especially the first movement and the last movement.
Anne-Sophie Mutter: I can’t say which of the three sonatas is the most difficult one for me as a violinist because each has its very specific characteristics, which you have to meet.
Lambert Orkis: Sometimes I hear that you’re more concerned about the G major, just from an instrument’s health point of view, whether or not you’re going to have whistles because of the humidity, dryness . . .
Anne-Sophie Mutter: That’s true, because I have to play it so delicately that the horse hair of the bow is very much under the influence of humidity.
Lambert Orkis: That influences my playing of the G major as well, the last movement with those very delicate raindrops: if the humidity rises or falls, it can really affect how the repetition on the piano works. People ask why we rehearse so much: because of these changes.
Anne-Sophie Mutter: To me, the G major holds a very special place because it’s such a private piece; it uses Clara Schumann’s favourite Regenlied punctuated theme for all three movements. Clara had just lost another child, and her son Felix had tuberculosis. So she was in a very bad state of mind, and Brahms wanted to give her this sonata to comfort her.
Lambert Orkis: He sent it to her, and apparently she was so taken with it that she was in tears.
Anne-Sophie Mutter: The A major Sonata, which was written eight years later, is much sunnier. Brahms had his eye on a soprano and was once again on vacation on Lake Thun. He was tremendously fond of composing while on holiday. All three sonatas were written in this way. The A major Sonata is very open, very joyous, the exact opposite of the G major piece, with two very difficult Vivaces and a wonderfully cantabile final movement that sounds almost like a welcome greeting to Frau Spies, whose arrival he was expecting. The D minor Sonata was begun at the same time and can be described as a concerto for violin and piano, with very dark features, almost demonic, a wonderful Adagio, an eerie Scherzo and a Presto just like a tornado, which Lambert and I regularly throw ourselves into at the end of a long evening.
Lambert Orkis: There’s more complexity in a certain way in the D minor, and maybe he’s getting more clever with the use of his materials. Brahms has always been somewhat clumsy for the piano. In the D minor Sonata he achieves his musical demands with the usual great leaps on the keys and lots of big chords. But it’s written in a much more masterly fashion. It’s as though he has finally discovered a better way of achieving his musical goals.
Anne-Sophie Mutter: For the violin I can’t say such a thing, it’s just as equally perfectly shaped, maybe because it wasn’t his instrument and Joachim was such a tremendous influence. We have played these sonatas for twenty years. Of course, my view of Brahms, my view on anything I play today has changed. I have a deeper understanding of music and, if you want it or not, life does leave its marks not only in your brain but in your heart and in your soul, the understanding of things deepens. And in the case of the sonatas I do see in the interaction between us much more awareness for details, for sound colours, for interwoven dialogues.
Lambert Orkis: We’ve learned them, we’ve lived with them, and we’ve played them on various continents together, and we go through life experience, and now we’d bring it all to this music. Brahms is a composer who’s not showing off: he’s showing life, beauty, art. It’s wonderful.
(The conversation was recorded on 4 December 2009)

martes, 22 de octubre de 2013

Angela Hewitt BACH Fantasia and Fugue in A minor / Aria Variata / Sonata in D Major / Suite in F minor and other works (15 / 15)

Angela Hewitt writes … On this, the last planned CD of solo keyboard works by Johann Sebastian Bach in my cycle for Hyperion, I have put together a programme of separate pieces from different periods of Bach’s life. I am well aware that there are others that I have not included, but, with the exception of The Art of Fugue and the two Ricercars from The Musical Offering (as well as the easy pieces from the Anna Magdalena Notebook), I believe these to be ‘the best of the rest’. Arranged as they are on this CD, they also show Bach’s great variety of form, style, influence and scope.
Two pieces entitled Fantasia and Fugue in A minor begin and end this recording. They probably date from the end of Bach’s stay in Weimar (1714–1717) because of their similarity to the big organ works known to have been composed at that time, and to his wonderful Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor, BWV903, for harpsichord. The first one, BWV904, does indeed seem like an organ piece at times. It is not hard to imagine the descending bass at the opening of the fantasia doubled by the pedals, giving it even more gravity and weight than it already has. (Some pianists try to imitate this by adding the extra octave, but this is a case where that can only be done with the addition of a lot of sustaining pedal, thus blurring the wonderful counterpoint.) It is marked alla breve and resembles the stile antico style of writing (the Baroque adaptation of Renaissance polyphony). The opening ritornello appears four times with three interspersed episodes, all emphasizing the contrapuntal nature of the piece. The fugue has two subjects: the first boldly characterized by leaps and punctuated by rests; the second a slow, descending chromatic scale that makes a dramatic appearance halfway through. They could not be more different. But that is exactly what Bach wants, especially when he combines the two in the final section. That way there are easily distinguishable. Making that audible to the listener, however, is not easy as his counterpoint in this case is awkward and doesn’t lie well under the fingers. It is thought that Bach was not responsible for placing these two movements together; in fact they don’t appear that way until early in the nineteenth century – and then only by accident. However, I don’t think we would realize this if we didn’t already know, as they make such good companions.

lunes, 21 de octubre de 2013

Angela Hewitt BACH The Toccatas (14 / 15)

The Toccata in C minor, BWV911 opens with a flourish, and quickly establishes the no-nonsense mood that pervades the work. A motet-like adagio then appears, the end of which returns briefly to the improvisatory style of the beginning. The rest of the toccata is taken up by one of Bach’s longest but most arresting fugues. Its very extended subject, with the teasing repetition of the opening motive, is typical of his younger years. After already going on for four pages, he introduces, after a pause, a second subject that is a terrific accompaniment to the original one, adding rhythmic impulse and excitement. Not quite content to end there, Bach returns briefly to an adagio, only to let loose in the final line with a presto descent to a low C.
The Toccata in G major, BWV916 is different from the others in that it is clearly in three movements. The opening allegro is somewhat concerto-like in its use of solo and ritornello passages. Scales, broken chords, and cascading solid chords are used to make a brilliant opener. The second movement is a lyrical adagio in E minor where a fair amount of embellishment seems to be called for. The Bärenreiter edition gives no fewer than three different versions – including one by Bach’s son Johann Christoph. The final fugue (marked ‘Allegro e presto’) is a gigue in the French style, using the characteristic dotted rhythm. Like many of Bach’s early fugues, this one has some passages that are awkward to play, yet it certainly doesn’t lack charm. At the end the texture unravels very quickly, leaving us surprised at the finish.

The Toccata in F sharp minor, BWV910 is, I think, the least well-known of the seven. It’s written in an unusual key for Bach’s time, and contains two fugues, quite different in character. After the ‘warming up’ section of scales and descending figures (which would certainly not be out of place on the organ), we come to a noble adagio that is very chromatic, the subject of which will reappear in the final fugue in a different guise. The rhythm is that of a sarabande. Bach’s embellishments seem only to be a start, and the performer can certainly add more here according to his taste. The first of the fugues is marked ‘Presto e staccato’ and its pointed subject no more than a descending scale with a short cadential trill attached. The semiquavers around it add brilliance. There is some rhythmic interest in a hemiola passage which suddenly sounds as though the time signature has switched from four to three beats in the bar. Following that, we have a rather startling section in which the same arpeggiando figure is stated 21 times in a strange series of harmonic progressions, a procedure we also find in the D minor toccata. This leads us to the final fugue in 6/8 time, where the chromatic theme of the adagio is livened up, but made to be no less expressive. Wanda Landowska writes of the toccatas as being ‘incoherent and disparate’ at first sight, mentioning this toccata as an example of that. The difficulty is in finding their shape. She goes on to say: ‘What strikes us above all is the unrelenting insistence with which Bach holds on to a motive, repeating it indefatigably on every step of the scale.’ That is certainly true, though the writing, as shown in this toccata, is nevertheless impassioned.
The Toccata in E minor, BWV914 is another well-constructed and appealing work. The main curiosity here is the origin of the concluding fugue. Large parts of it seem to be borrowed directly from an anonymous composition discovered in a Naples manuscript. The subject, which certainly has elements of the Italian violin style, is almost identical. The episodes, however, contain material by Bach that is more refined and complex than anything written by the mysterious Italian. Preceding it are three sections: a brief introduction in the lower register of the keyboard; a double fugue marked ‘Un poco Allegro’; and a cadenza-like adagio that is written over a descending bass line. The latter is marked ‘Praeludium’ in one copy made by a Bach student, which leads us to think that it was perhaps, along with the fugue, an independent composition before being recycled as part of the toccata.
The Toccata in D minor, BWV913 was possibly the first to be composed. It is one of the longest of the seven but, in a lively interpretation, holds our interest throughout. The counterpoint in its two fugues is slightly less complicated, making it easier for students to grasp. The other sections, however, require an excellent sense of timing and understanding of harmonic progressions which need to be innate. There are quick changes of mood and tempo in the opening pages, the bulk of which are occupied by a passage including the ‘sighing’ motif that was very prevalent at the time (and which we also hear in the early Capriccio on the Departure of his Beloved Brother, BWV992). Both fugues are built on fairly short subjects that stay rooted in D minor, rapidly moving from voice to voice. The concluding one is very orchestral in style, ending abruptly in the major key. In between the fugues we have another of those curious bridge passages where Bach seems to wander (as much as he ever wanders!) from key to key, repeating the same figuration. In this case the wandering has the effect of calming us down, and preparing us for the final allegro.

The Toccata in G minor, BWV915 has many distinctive features, including a cyclic feeling (the opening flourish returns at the end of the piece), and a concluding four-part fugue that obstinately remains in dotted rhythm throughout. In between we have a short adagio, and a cheerful allegro in B flat major which is in total contrast to the difficult, but very exciting fugue. Concerning the latter, only Bach could write so imaginatively on what seems at first like a very dull subject. With him, repetition of a motive only builds excitement and strength rather than causing us to lose attention. This is one fugue that, for me, is a perfect example of what the piano can bring to Bach. On the harpsichord it is relentless. On the piano one can lighten the second and fourth beats, giving the subject a welcome buoyancy which serves to enhance its power and character. The episodes can also be coloured differently, especially the one in E flat major which provides some welcome relief. The insistent character of the fugue is emphasized in a passage right before the end where part of the countersubject is presented in both hands simultaneously in parallel thirds.
The Toccata in D major, BWV912 is no doubt the most popular today. The brilliant opening bars, reminiscent of the Prelude and Fugue, BWV532 for organ in the same key, already contain a tremolo figure that will reappear later on. Then comes an allegro that happily exchanges the motifs between treble and bass. After its final flourish, Bach introduces an adagio in recitative style – the melody being interrupted by the tremolo figure, now heard as a distant murmur rather than a brilliant rattle. An expressive bridge, using the ‘sigh’ motif, leads us into a fairly tranquil fugue in F sharp minor. Another transition, this time marked ‘con discrezione’, suddenly turns into a presto in which the excitement can hardly be contained. It then breaks loose into a gigue fugue of tremendous energy and rhythm. Then Bach goes one step further and writes a truly virtuoso passage to finish with – or at least almost, as he returns to the improvised adagio style for the final cadence.
Angela Hewitt © 2002

domingo, 20 de octubre de 2013

Anne-Sophie Mutter / Daniel Müller-Schott / André Previn MOZART Piano Trios K. 502, 542, 548 (CD 35 / ASM35)

Anne-Sophie Mutter describes Mozart as “the composer I have grown up with, who was always there waiting for me at every juncture of my career”; and she quotes with approval Tchaikovsky’s description of Mozart’s music as “filled with unapproachable, divine beauty”. For this latest instalment of her Mozart project, conceived to mark the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth, she has chosen the three finest works among his half-dozen completed trios for violin, cello and piano. In these, he developed the medium beyond its original conception as an accompanied keyboard sonata, giving the cello and, especially, the violin a much greater degree of independence, and so putting the latter on what Ms. Mutter calls “a level of equality” with the piano. She adds: “This is Mozart writing for pure enjoyment – his own included – in the best sense of the word.”
There is a hint that Mozart might have partaken of that enjoyment as a player in the postscript of a letter he wrote to his friend and fellow-Freemason Michael Puchberg in June 1788, around the time he completed the E major Trio, K.542: “When are we to have a little musical party at your house again? I have composed a new trio!” But his relish for private music-making during his later years in Vienna must have been clouded by his recurring financial problems. The same letter to Puchberg also contains a plea for a loan to be repaid over the next year or two, and for an immediate advance to help him out of a temporary difficulty. These three piano trios were presumably composed with the primary intention of improving Mozart’s long-term financial situation, since he sold them to his regular Viennese publisher Artaria: they were issued in November 1788 as his op. 15.
In fact, this set was completed at the same time as Mozart was composing his last three symphonies, nos. 39 to 41, which may also have been written with one eye on the possibility of publication. And, with the trios as with the symphonies, Mozart seems to have gone out of his way to create a triptych of pieces with strongly defined and differentiated characters – something which he ensured not least by his choice of keys.
The first of the three, completed well before the others in November 1786, is in B flat major – a key which seems to have been something of a favourite of Mozart’s, and one which usually conveys a sense of robust well-being. An oddity of Mozart’s use of it is the number of sonata-form first movements in B flat in which the first and second subjects are closely related, but a brand new theme is introduced at the start of the development section – as happens here, with the initial idea in sweet parallel thirds dominating the opening exposition section, and a new lyrical melody on the violin at the double-bar. The slow movement, in the warm, solid key of E flat major, is in triple time; its recurring main theme begins with an upbeat of three quavers (eighth-notes), and so do the themes of the subsidiary episodes, which makes possible some neat overlapping between sections and, later, between individual phrases. The finale has a main theme in gavotte time with two crotchet (quarter-note) upbeats; as Alfred Einstein pointed out in his study of the composer, this movement begins “like the rondo of a concerto, as if with a solo passage, piano, answered by a tutti passage, forte, but without any sacrifice of the finely wrought detail of chamber music”.
The key of the second trio, E major, is rare in the classical period and has something ethereal about it, as if its distance from more common tonalities removes the music from everyday reality. In the opening movement – in a smoothly flowing triple time, like the first Allegro of the Symphony no. 39 in E flat which Mozart also wrote in June 1788 – this feeling of remoteness is pointed up by an unexpected modulation towards the end of the exposition, from B major to the more down-to-earth G major; Mozart repeats this exactly in the recapitulation, from E to C, so that we can again enjoy the surprise, and appreciate the ingenuity with which he works his way back to his tonal starting-point. The delicate central movement, in a 2/4 version of gavotte time, is in a limpid A major, with a middle section in A minor which includes a haunting series of key-changes anticipating Schubert’s poetic use of modulation. The rondo finale, with its jaunty violin triplets and brilliant piano passage-work, makes a more determined attempt at jollity than the other two movements; but even here the violin’s C sharp minor melody in the central episode strikes a note of tender seriousness which is never wholly dispelled.
Mozart entered the last of the three trios in his catalogue of his works in July 1788 – less than a month before his last symphony, the so-called “Jupiter”, which is in the same open, serious, ceremonial key of C major. The first movement of the Trio indeed shows some affinities with that of the Symphony, in its strong opening gesture, followed by a gentle answer, and in the restlessness of its development section. The slow movement, like that of the Symphony, is an Andante cantabile in F major and in 3/4 time; its serene flow is merely ruffled by patches of lightly touched-in demisemiquavers (thirty-second-notes), but is disturbed for a moment by the sternly dramatic octaves after the half-way double-bar. The last movement, rather than adopting the sonata form and fugal texture of the “Jupiter” finale, is a rondo in dancing 6/8 time – though it is still closely worked in the manner of the Symphony, with the arpeggio figure of the main theme passed round all three members of the ensemble almost to the end.
Anthony Burton

Angela Hewitt BACH Goldberg Variations (13 / 15)

At the outset we hear the Aria; the G major Sarabande 3/4 from ‘Anna Magdalena’s Notebook’. This has an elaborate treble line, already a variation above the bass. Tovey observed of the Aria: ‘Its phrasing is as uniform as a chess-board; and if its harmonies had not a one-to-one correspondence with each variation, the form would be lost.’
Variation 1 3/4 is a duet with a quaver figure in the left hand, a semiquaver in the right, and the two interchanged. Rosalyn Tureck sees it as ‘an archway’ to the subsequent unfolding of Bach’s vast, expressive structure. With Variation 2 2/4 Bach introduces a delicate three-part cantabile; the upper parts pursuing a imitative dialogue, at variance with the bass line.
Variation 3 becomes the first of Bach’s canons; his canon on the unison 12/8. A trio with even-handed upper parts; these voices cross paths and through the bass its harmony is kept in motion. A constant overlapping of entries characterizes the ensuing four-part 3/8 fugal discourse with a sole three-note figure and its inversion.
The next, extrovert 3/4 duet called for two keyboards ‘a 1 Clav’ and ‘a 2 Clav’ as Bach originally dictated (Balthasar and Schmid) in his reference to the seperate manuals. A bouyant variation with frequent crossing of hands.
Variation 6. At the Canon on the second 3/8 we are on serene territory while upper discords resolve naturally to a third against a striding bass.
There follows a thematic duet 6/8; Bach’s sole variation in the manner of a binary gigue; commonly an animated fourth movement of the classical French-style suite.
Variation 8—yet another duet 3/4, originally assigned to the second manual. The first pair of statements are eventually inverted.
Bach’s ‘Canon in the third’ 4/4 is an essay in consonance with the bass more unconstrained, yet still making regular reference to the original harmony.
Variation 10 is a four-part fughetta 2/2. The four-part bass theme reminds us plainly of Bach’s harmonic starting point.
More outwardly virtuosic duet writing 2/2 characterizes Variation 11.
With the Canon in the fourth 3/4 entries are re-ordered and themes capriciously inverted in the latter half. Here the inversion is as clear and expressive as its original form. Bach must have smiled inwardly at his tacit, jestful approach to the prevailing formal structure.
In his embellished aria for Variation 13 Bach proceeds 3/4 with a rich, lyrical upper statement and the lower accompanying voices doubled; its style is ornamental throughout.
The 14th Variation is an outgoing duet calling for dazzling fingerwork 3/4. Each of four statements is eventually inverted.
With the Canon in the fifth and inversion 2/4 the work has deepened and a more elegiac note appears. This more sober, strongly emotional, chromatic writing finishes not on the conventional tonic, as one might expect, but on the fifth; ascending as one commentator remarks ‘into silence’.
Variation 16 is a bold, massive, French-style overture 2/2, still in binary form and generally regarded as Bach’s preparatory nod toward part two of the Aria and Variations. In strict form, as introduced by Lully (1685), the variation opens with dotted rhythms and ends with an accelerated fugue, in this instance the 3-part fughetta 2.
A straightforward yet highly complex duet 3/4 forms Variation 17.
It is followed by Bach’s Canon in the sixth 2/2. As the canonic parts move in sixths with the pause of a minim, accents of the upper parts are reversed. Resulting suspended discords give variation 18 a distinctive harmonic ‘thumbprint’. The polyphony is further ‘clarified’ and the Variation’s original bass also evident within the canonic lines.
In the trio 3/8 of Variation 19 brief figures (quaver and semiquaver) are periodically interchanged as the Variation progresses.
Bach’s duets become increasingly virtuosic as Variation 20 demonstrates. This one 3/4 has fast semiquaver triplets in two of its three sets of figures.
Canon in the seventh. A gentle, contemplative mood 4/4 is established as the closely-spaced parts succeed one another.
Variation No 22 is a four-part fugue 2/2; its guileless motif builds up with inexorable, structural splendour to full, ringing chords.
An exuberant, comic duet 3/4 with dashing double third and double sixth figures; Variation 23 includes tongue-in-cheek mordents and sobriety is cast to the winds.
Canon in the octave 9/8. This rural theme and answer proceeds with an aura of timelessness, while the melody moves to adjacent notes.
Variation 25: this highly charged G minor Variation 3/4 is a powerful, profoundly tragic utterance. A further embellished aria: the brilliant, chromatic bass structure and the unusually specific treble melody interact with unsettling intensity, almost threatening tonal stability.
Bach combines both duet and trio 3/4 in his 26th Variation. A two-part Sarabande is woven around with coursing triplet figurations.
Here, with the final Canon in the ninth 6/8 the bass is silent; the mood relaxed.
Both No 28 3/4 and the following Variation anticipate the work’s conclusion. Here the part-writing is supplanted in part by complex two-part embellishments. Karl Geiringer notes that this Variation and No 29 appear to anticipate a nineteenth-century style of keyboard writing.
With the penultimate Variation excitement is further heightened in chord sequences and fleet-fingered one-part passages.
Variation 30. At this point we might reasonably expect to discover a canon at the 10th. Instead Bach confounds and delights with his Quodlibet, a divertissement on popular tunes, rounding off the work in a genuine mood of humour and congeniality. It recalls the social fun enjoyed by the Bach family and their friends. The principal quodlibet tunes are German folksongs: ‘I have not been with you for so long’ and ‘Cabbage (Kraut) and turnips (Ruben) have driven me away’. The German saying ‘Durcheinander wie Kraut und Rüben’ can also mean ‘in complete confusion’ and some commentators believe this more idiomatic translation is clear evidence of Bach’s own (intentional) hearty laughter when recollecting the complexity of all that precedes his quodlibet.
Beneath the fugal treatment of these folk tunes Bach returns to his original bass. In doing so he leads listeners back to that generating Aria, the life source from whence these encompassing Variations stemmed and to which they now return. Finally, via immeasurable complexities, their wellspring is enhanced and re-invested with a profound, affirmative sense of renewal. For many listeners these closing sequences are the work’s most surpassing.
from notes by Howard Smith © 1992

sábado, 19 de octubre de 2013

Gustavo Dudamel / Los Angeles Philharmonic THE INAUGURAL CONCERT (mp4 / AAC 320 kbps)

LOS ANGELES — That Gustavo Dudamel began his tenure as the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic with a free concert last Saturday night at the Hollywood Bowl, a multicultural community love fest, will always be a point of pride for citizens here.
Mr. Dudamel’s much-anticipated official inaugural came on Thursday night at Walt Disney Concert Hall, a formidable program with Mahler’s First Symphony and the premiere of a new work by John Adams. This was a black-tie gala, complete with a red- carpet procession of celebrities and patrons, and a South American-themed post-concert dinner in a makeshift tent set up outside the hall, smack in the middle of South Grand Avenue.
For all of Mr. Dudamel’s innate abilities to connect with audiences and inspire young people, he was hired to conduct a major American orchestra. The 10-minute ovation that erupted at the end of the Mahler made clear that supporters of the Los Angeles Philharmonic are thrilled with their new 28-year-old music director. But this was an exceptional and exciting concert by any standard.
Making a telling artistic statement, Mr. Dudamel began his tenure conducting the premiere of the new Adams piece, “City Noir,” a bustling, complex 35-minute work in three movements: the final panel in a triptych of orchestral works inspired by what Mr. Adams calls the “California experience,” its “landscape and its culture.” (The first two are “El Dorado” and “The Dharma at Big Sur,” a violin concerto.) 
The piece was suggested, Mr. Adams has written, by the richly evocative books on California’s social history by Kevin Starr, especially a chapter called “Black Dahlia,” which explores the sassy, shoddy and sensational era of the 1940s and ’50s, which gave rise to film noir. It is not easy to evoke the milieu of an era in music. But this score was also inspired by jazz-inflected American symphonic music of the 1920s through the ’50s, from Gershwin to Copland to Bernstein, something that is a lot easier to evoke.
Mr. Adams does so brilliantly in this searching, experimental de facto symphony. The first movement, “The City and Its Double,” begins with a wash of orchestral sound, murmuring motifs and rhythmic shards. Scurrying figurations break out and whirl around, getting stuck in place one moment, spiraling off frenetically the next. Is this harmonically astringent be-bop or weird echoes of a Baroque toccata?
Eventually the violins begin a winding, sometimes aimless-sounding episode of fitful, churning lines. Mr. Adams has become a master at piling up materials in thick yet lucid layers. Moment to moment the music is riveting. Yet, as in some other Adams scores, I found it hard to discern the structural spans and architecture of this one.
The pensive second movement, “The Song Is for You,” with its hazy sonorities, slithering chords, sultry jazzy solos and undulant riffs, does somehow convey California. The third movement, “Boulevard Night,” begins languorously but soon erupts, all jagged, quirky and relentless. Call it “The Rite of Swing.”
Mr. Dudamel, gyrating on the podium and in control at every moment, drew a cranked-up yet subtly colored performance of this challenging score from his eager players. He seemed so confident dispatching this metrically fractured work that I was drawn into the music, confident that a pro was on the podium.
Like Mr. Dudamel’s Beethoven Ninth at the Hollywood Bowl, the Mahler performance was not what you might expect from a young conductor. For all the sheer energy of the music-making, here was a probing, rigorous and richly characterized interpretation, which Mr. Dudamel conducted from memory. The suspenseful opening of the first movement, with its sustained tones and cosmic aura, had uncannily calm intensity. But when bird calls and genial folk tunes signaled the awakening of nature, the music had disarming breadth and guileless tenderness. And Mr. Dudamel was all ready-set-go when Mahler’s wildness broke out.
In the rustic second movement, he captured the music’s beery, galumphing charm, and milked the Viennese lyricism with the panache of a young Bernstein. He and his players uncovered the slightly obsessive quality of the songful slow movement, with its droning repetition of tonic-dominant bass patterns. And he viscerally conveyed the fits and starts of the mercurial finale, building to a brassy climactic fanfare almost scary in its ecstasy.
The musicians were with him all the way, though the playing was rough at times, with patchy string tone and scrappy execution. For all the important accomplishments, of Mr. Dudamel’s predecessor, Esa-PekkaSalonen, he was not the most gifted orchestra builder. The vitality of the playing was always inspiring. No one wants the slick virtuosity that some orchestras are content with. Still, Mr. Dudamel and his players may have work to do.
At the end, as a confetti shower of Mylar strips fell from the ceiling, Mr. Dudamel returned to the stage again and again. But he never took a solo bow from the podium. Instead, he stood proudly with his players on stage. (By Anthony Tommasini / Published: October 9, 2009/ New York Times)

Angela Hewitt BACH French Overture / Italian Concerto / Four Duets / Two Capriccios (12 /15)

It wasn’t until 1731, the year he turned forty-six, that Johann Sebastian Bach published his Opus 1, the six Partitas for solo keyboard that make up the first volume of his Clavierübung (Keyboard Practice). It proved to be such a success (we know of at least two printings) that four years later a second volume appeared bearing the title page:
Second part of the Keyboard Practice,
consisting of a Concerto after the Italian Taste and
an Overture after the French Manner,
for a harpsichord with two manuals.
Composed for music lovers, to refresh their spirits,
by Johann Sebastian Bach,
Capellmeister to His Highness the Prince of
Saxe-Weissenfels and Directore Chori Musici Lipsiensis.
Published by Christoph Weigel, Junior.
By choosing to write both an Italian Concerto and a French Overture, Bach not only demonstrated his skill in translating to the keyboard two of the most popular orchestral genres of the time, but also showed how marvellously he had assimilated the prevalent national styles of composition and performance, yet always sounding unmistakably like himself. The musical battle between the French and Italians goes as far back as Charlemagne, who returned from Rome with a group of Italian musicians, much to the displeasure of their French colleagues. Quarrels were still raging when Italian musicians were brought to Paris to sing in operatic productions in the early 1700s. Mattheson, the German composer and theorist, wrote in 1713: ‘The Italians may well boast as they please of their voices and of their arts, but let them try to write a real French overture, and in its true character at that … This means that French instrumental music has something particular to itself; although the Italians make the greatest efforts to excel in their sinfonias and in their concerts, which, truly enough, do not lack beauty, one has to prefer, however, a lively French overture.’ Not everybody stood up for the French. In 1753 Rousseau made the provocative remark: ‘The French have no music and cannot have any, but if they ever do, it will be all the worse for them.’ He also stated that ‘French singing is like an uninterrupted and unbearable barking’.
In the midst of these rivalries, German music was neglected. Le Cerf de la Viéville wrote that Germany ‘was not great in music, their compositions being as harsh and heavy as their genius’. Handel was no doubt the first German composer to be presented in France, but not until 1736. Bach was ignored. The latter faced criticism closer to home when Johann Adolf Scheibe wrote in his journal Der Critische Musicus (1737): ‘The great man would be the object of admiration if he possessed more pleasantness and made his compositions less turgid and sophisticated, more simple and natural in character.’ Bach was very hurt by this attack, and asked a friend, J A Birnbaum, professor of rhetoric at the University in Leipzig, to reply. The battle went on for months and ended in a stalemate. Yet in 1739 Scheibe published a review of Bach’s Italian Concerto that seemed to reverse his earlier decision: ‘… pre-eminent among works known through published prints is a clavier concerto of which the author is the famous Bach in Leipzig … Since this piece is arranged in the best fashion for this kind of work, I believe that it will doubtless be familiar to all composers and experienced clavier players, as well as to amateurs of the clavier and music in general. Who is there who will not admit at once that this clavier concerto is to be regarded as a perfect model of a well-designed solo concerto? But at the present time we shall be able to name as yet very few or practically no concertos of such excellent qualities and such well-designed execution. It would take as great a master of music as Mr Bach, who has almost alone taken possession of the clavier.’
Scheibe was a follower of the new ‘Art Galant’ which favoured the more melodic style of Bach’s sons rather than the formal counterpoint of their father. Perhaps that is why he was so taken with the Italian Concerto, as it leans more in this direction. All through his life, Bach learned by copying out works of other composers, among them Vivaldi, Albinoni, Corelli and Marcello. He was particularly drawn to the concerto grosso and transcribed many by Vivaldi for keyboard. Writing for a two-manual harpsichord gave him the opportunity to distinguish between tutti (full orchestra) and solo passages, indicating them with the words forte and piano. A pianist, having only one keyboard, must do this by changing dynamic level and tone colour. This distinction, however, is far from clear-cut all the time, and still requires a great deal of imagination on the part of the player. Often one hand is marked at a different dynamic level from the other.