sábado, 27 de diciembre de 2014

Paul Lewis SCHUBERT The Late piano Sonatas D. 784, 958, 959, 960

Paul Lewis spent much of the two-year period from 2011 to 2013 performing and recording the late piano music of Franz Schubert, focusing on pieces written during the last six years of Schubert's life, from 1822 to 1828. After previous instalments in the series which included various sonatas and other pieces such as the 'Wanderer' Fantasy and the Impromptus, we now have a new volume of four sonatas, including the final three which were written in the last months of Schubert's life.
The significance of the chosen time period is that it was in 1822 that Schubert contracted syphilis, and for Lewis this marked a complete change in the composer's musical voice. You can hear this, I think, in the A minor Sonata D784, composed in February 1823, and therefore the first of the sonatas to be written after his diagnosis. Although usually when one thinks of the late Schubert piano sonatas, it's often just the final three that come to mind, I'm glad that Lewis has also included this sonata, as it's a wonderful piece, full of tragic, poignant nobility.
He really brings out the heaving turmoil that is present from the very first bar, and his playing acquires an appropriately heavy tread in the initial statement of the first movement's principal theme. A good proportion of this movement is in bare, unharmonised octaves, and Lewis plays up this bleakness to great effect. It's a powerfully affecting performance.
Alfred Brendel, Lewis's mentor and a renowned Schubert interpreter in his own right, described the Sonata in C minor D958 as “the most neurotic sonata Schubert wrote”, and that is an aspect that Lewis seems not afraid to confront, notably in the last movement, a kind of nightmarish tarantella. Furthermore, his way with rubato in the first movement is quite magical, and his always-thoughtful dynamics and phrasing highlight the unexpected harmonic twists and turns that Schubert throws at the listener.
The range of colours that Lewis draws from one bar to the next is superb; soft, tender lyricism seamlessly giving way to crisp, immaculately clean passagework. In the Adagio second movement, Lewis judges the transitions back and forth between the sublime opening melody and the somewhat stormier sections perfectly.
While there's no doubt about the virtuosity and authority of Lewis's playing, there's certainly nothing superficially flashy about his performance either. I remember reading an interview with him in which he mentioned that when he attends concerts, he sometimes feels the focus is more on the performer rather than the music they are playing, noting that this is something he is constantly at pains to avoid. I definitely feel he has achieved that here: throughout these sonatas I sensed a deeply considered performance where the primary concern was merely letting this extraordinary music speak for itself.
The set is completed with a second disc containing Lewis's previous recordings (from 2002) of the final two sonatas, D959 and D960. Although one might argue that it would have been nice to have had new recordings of these as well, I can understand why Lewis didn't feel the need to do so, as these are fine performances, particularly of D960, where he beautifully captures the serenity of the first movement. In any case, the album has been priced as if it were just a single disc, so especially if you don't already own the final two sonatas, this is an absolute bargain, with masterful recordings of all four works. Thoroughly recommended!

viernes, 26 de diciembre de 2014

Arditti String Quartet & Stefano Scodanibbio JULIO ESTRADA Chamber Music for Strings

Estrada was born in Mexico City, where his family had been exiled from Spain since 1941. He began his musical studies in Mexico from 1953–65, where he studied composition with Julián Orbón. In Paris from 1965-69 he studied with Nadia Boulanger, Olivier Messiaen and attended courses and lectures of Iannis Xenakis. In Germany he studied with Karlheinz Stockhausen in 1968 and with György Ligeti in 1972. He completed a Ph.D in Musicology at Strasbourg University from 1990–1994. Since 1974 he became researcher in music at the UNAM Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, where he was appointed as the Chair of a project on Mexican Music History and as the head of "Música, Sistema Interactivo de Investigación y Composición", a musical system designed by himself. He is the first music scholar to be honored as member of the Science Academy of Mexico, and by the Mexican Education Ministry as National Researcher since 1984, and since 1985 at the top level. He created the Laboratorio de Creación Musical at UNAM, where he has been teaching theory and philosophy of musical creation.

Neo-renaissance man Julio Estrada has already made his mark clearly through publications in Mexican musicology, aesthetics, and music theory. Now for the first time, his groundbreaking music is available outside of Mexico. Armed with Xenakis-mathematics and a poetic heart, Estrada has welded his research in Native American music with the most radical compositional techniques to forge an absolutely new sound! Glissandi and "noise" effects constitute Estrada's new language, capable of discourse on the 21st-century relevance of Aztec mythology. Structurally, Estrada's escape from time fits with the Scelsi-Nono-Dumitrescu continuum. Excellent notes and bibliography enhance this essential recording. (Robert Reigle)

miércoles, 24 de diciembre de 2014

The Choir of Trinity College Cambrdige / Orchestra of The Age of Enlightenment / Stephen Layton BACH Christmas Oratorio

 Two new Christmas Oratorio recordings in time for Christmas, and both from forces that give regular concert presentations of the piece, one at St Thomas’s Church, Leipzig, and the other at St John’s Smith Square in London. As such they are not greatly challenging to ‘normal’ expectations, but then that is the point: what you get here are good, sound performances that will not upset anyone and will surely give pleasure to most who hear them.
I mean that about not upsetting anyone: not so long ago a recording of this music by the 84-strong Leipzig Thomanerchor and the Gewandhaus Orchestra would have stayed many a buying hand, but things are different now. Germany has become the place where ‘modern-instrument’ orchestras play Baroque music best; and, except for a slight blandness in the continuo, the once-stodgy Gewandhaus’s grasp of current Baroque stylistic orthodoxy under Thomas cantor Biller seems total, while their technical ease (particularly in the brass) is a genuine enhancement. As for the Thomanerchor, the relevance to listeners of its tradition as ‘Bach’s choir’ is probably more romantic than realistic but the thrill of it is still there and can perhaps be detected in a recording at least partly made at live concerts in St Thomas’s. What we can say is that they have a typically fruity German boy sound, never seem like 84 singers (in a good way), and, despite strong underlying discipline, seem able to enjoy the more joyous moments with true enthusiasm. Except for the tenderly comforting Ingeborg Danz, the soloists (including two boy sopranos) are adequate without offering any particular insights.
Older, though not by all that much, are the 38 mixed voices of Trinity College Choir, again very well trained, especially in matters of firm text enunciation. They are less raw in the lower voices, more focused overall than the Thomaners and more agile, too, in numbers such as ‘Ehre sei Gott’ or the opening of Part 5. The soloist line-up here is in general superior both technically and interpretatively, especially the ever-incisive James Gilchrist. Newcomer Katherine Watson’s fresh-voiced sound is a world away from the Leipzig boys but lestyn Davies’s impressive messa di voce in ‘Schlafe, mein Liebster’ is not the start of a performance to match the protective warmth of Danz. If not quite at its best, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment sounds thoroughly at home (David Blackadder gives a very suave trumpet solo in ‘Grosser Herr’), and Stephen Layton conducts with care and expertise. But of the two recordings it is somehow the Leipzig one that has that little bit more heart. (Gramophone)

martes, 23 de diciembre de 2014

The Brabant Ensemble / Stephen Rice JEAN MOUTON Missa Tu Es Petrus

Jean Mouton was a Renaissance French composer and choirmaster, much acknowledged but more rarely recorded, who wrote a body of music that’s both technically inventive and immediately appealing. Here Stephen Rice and The Brabant Ensemble—renowned exponents of sixteenth-century Franco-Flemish repertoire—perform all Mouton’s eight-part music, two four-part motets, and his only five-part Mass setting, the Missa Tu es Petrus. The latter is characterized by light, clear textures and a soaring cantus firmus, while the double-choir Nesciens mater is rightly famous for its ingenious canon. Sheer compositional skill aside, all these works demonstrate Mouton’s vivid and original imagination—one that has the ability to speak directly to our time.

'This gorgeous album presents all the works for eight voices which are certainly attributable to Mouton, plus one for five and two for four voices … these pieces are refreshingly airy and transparent. Mouton's exquisite music and The Brabant Ensemble's graceful performances are well-served by Antony Pitts' production and the acoustic of St Michael and All Angels, Oxford … highly recommended' (BBC Music Magazine)

'The lucidity of both The Brabant Ensemble's singing and Rice's direction is hugely accomplished … [Missa Tu es Petrus is] a work of radiance and clarity … strikingly well sung … Hyperion is still setting the standard in this infinitely rewarding repertory' (International Record Review)

lunes, 22 de diciembre de 2014

András Schiff BEETHOVEN Sonatas opp. 109, 110 and 111

When I'm so deeply absorbed in a composer, as I have been with Beethoven, then I physically and mentally begin to feel like him. Beethoven changed me as a person. There are composers who enrich you and uplift you - Beethoven is the best example. As a composer and as a person, I feel he has a lot of generosity, I have enormous choices. (András Schiff, The Guardian, September 2008)

In his final program Schiff unflinchingly abandoned his principle of live recordings. Beethoven’s music, he maintains, “needs great moments and spontaneous instants that only happen ‘live’ – if we’re lucky. And what happens if the concert doesn’t work? Then you don’t have to issue the results. For this reason I decided to record the last three sonatas again in the empty hall of the Reitstadel in Neumarkt, Germany, a few months after the Zurich performance. The recordings of all the other sonatas took place at the matinees in Zurich, with small corrections from the rehearsals. What we were trying to achieve were ‘valid’ performances of the works, and for that reason we deliberately did without any applause, which is always somehow disturbing in recordings.”

domingo, 21 de diciembre de 2014

Trio Mediaeval AQUILONIS

Trio Mediaeval offers a collection of music from the medieval to the modern with the group’s sixth ECM New Series release, Aquilonis, titled after the North Wind. One can sense a reference in that title to the Nordic roots of the three Scandinavian singers, as well as to the bracing purity of their voices; moreover, the album’s repertoire travels from Iceland to Italy, from north to south like the Aquilonis wind. Trio Mediaeval re-imagines Icelandic chant and early Italian sacred songs, along with performing custom arrangements of timeless Norwegian folk melodies – with the vocalists often accompanying themselves with textural instrumentation. The group also sings 15th-century English carols, as well as contemporary works written by the Swede Anders Jormin, American William Brooks and Englishman Andrew Smith. The trio’s own composing can be heard in a sequence of atmospheric interludes. In his liner notes to Aquilonis, John Potter aptly describes the group’s ability to “create a synthesis of sound and atmosphere… history and geography blending seamlessly.”
With Potter as recording supervisor, Trio Mediaeval convened for Aquilonis in the label’s favored venue for vocal repertoire, the Alpine monastery of St. Gerold in Austria. Alongside founding trio members Anna Maria Friman and Linn Andrea Fuglseth was Berit Opheim; although she has sung with the group regularly since 2010, Opheim joined Trio Mediaeval full-time at the start of 2014, so this is her first recording with the group.
Trio Mediaeval’s ECM discography is marked by a distinctive blend of the ancient and the modern. In praising the “mellifluous” quality of the group’s “pure, cool sound,” the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph went on to note that this “makes everything they sing – from the earliest polyphony to newly composed pieces that, to some extent, inhabit the same sound-world – wonderfully rewarding.” Trio Mediaeval’s aim is “making medieval music come alive in the present, alongside modern compositions and our own arrangements,” Friman explains. “This is very exciting for us. The contemporary music has dissonant chords and independent lines that do not appear to the same extent in the medieval music we perform, but we feel that it all melts together in the Trio Mediaeval sound world. For this recording, we have for the first time arranged medieval monophony to create something new. Previously, we had only arranged folk songs, but we find that ‘gentle’ arrangements of chant work very well, merging with the folk music and the rest of the repertoire.”
For the first time on record, the singers of Trio Mediaeval accompany themselves instrumentally on some pieces, with traditional Norwegian hardanger fiddle, portable organ and melody chimes. Also for the first time on a Trio Mediaeval album, there are interludes composed by the singers: Morgonljos, Klokkeljom and I hamrinum, each with atmospheric accompaniment on the portable organ by Fuglseth or the hardanger fiddle by Friman. The moving arrangement of the Norwegian folk tune Ingen vinner frem til den evige ro ("Eternal Rest Is the Reward") also features Friman on hardanger fiddle.
Regarding the arrangements of chant associated with St. Thorlak, the patron saint of Iceland, Friman explains: “The antiphons and psalms in the Office of St. Thorlak were originally monophonic, but we immediately felt inspired to color the beautiful melodies and arrange them both vocally and instrumentally. We first sang it all through in unison, and then we improvised parts that gradually evolved into arrangements, with the instruments adding a new texture to the material.”

sábado, 20 de diciembre de 2014

András Schiff BEETHOVEN Sonatas opp. 90, 101 and 106

Three years after the release of the first volume, András Schiff‘s highly acclaimed Beethoven cycle is now complete. In his afterword to the eighth installment he described the challenges he faced with this project: “Like picture restorers, we performers have to scrape off the layers of convention, have to remove the dust and dirt, in order to reproduce the work in all its original freshness.”
Only now is it fully clear why he waited until his fifth decade before embarking on a complete survey of what Hans von Bülow once called the “New Testament of piano music,” a body of music that has occupied him since his youth. The veneration that this celebrated interpreter of Bach, Haydn, Mozart and Schubert has felt toward such works as Beethoven’s final two sonatas involved above all the aspect of sound: “Beethoven’s piano sound is hugely complex: it’s less a matter of loudness, as of inner intensity and strength, and these qualities are also a question of richness. A ‘piano’ in Beethoven is thicker and fuller than it is with Mozart or Schubert. Why do all pianists find the beginning of the G-major Piano Concerto so problematic? Certainly, it carries the subtext of a simpler G-major triad, but its eight voices have to be balanced with the greatest refinement. Therein lies the art, and this regard I’ve spoken about not wanting to try this suit of clothes on until I had really grown into it.”
As a Beethoven performer Schiff aspired to nothing less than a contemporary synthesis of everything the music conveys from a present-day vantage point. The first task was to combine a scrupulous re-reading of the musical text with the level of interpretation achieved by the great pianists of the past. Although Schiff is a connoisseur of period keyboard instruments and an avid practitioner of new discoveries in performance practice, he did not want to dispense with the performer’s interpretive license. This explains the underlying concept of his Beethoven cycle: the thirty-two works, composed between 1795 and 1822, appear in chronological order to illuminate the compositional process at work within them. Beethoven’s piano sonatas, after all, stand alongside his string quartets as his principal vehicle of stylistic experimentation. To approach the variety of Beethoven’s inflections, three different grand pianos were used: two Bösendorfers and one Steinway. Finally, the recordings were preceded by at least fifteen public recitals to achieve the luminous superiority of Schiff’s live performance in the Zurich Tonhalle – with all the attendant perils of the “here and now.”
Now the final two albums present the complete sonatas from Beethoven’s late period – opp. 90, 101, 106, 109, 110 and 111 – thereby unveiling the full range of Schiff’s reading. To paraphrase Goethe’s Italian metaphor, “only now do we have the key to it all.” One highlight of any cycle is the forty-five-minute Hammerklavier Sonata. With a glance at the fast metronome marks, Schiff calls it “probably the most difficult work in the piano repertoire in whatever terms you choose to name: technique, structure, atmosphere, or metaphysics.” Following Schiff’s recitals of May 2006, reviewers in England, Switzerland, and Germany again heaped praise on his structural clarity coupled with superior pianistic control and an entirely personal approach to character. The end of the first cycle, given in Europe in late 2006, found an equally broad response from the press. “The three sonatas,” wrote Julia Spinola in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, “sounded like the purest essence of Beethoven’s late style – preternatural, as if hewn from precious marble.” No less impressed was Peter Hagmann of Zurich: “Even when the music rises to speak of the Ineffable, Schiff remains beholden as an interpreter to the laws of moderation and form. This belittles nothing: on the contrary, it allows the emotional and ideational profundity of these works of art to emerge with all the more clarity.”

viernes, 19 de diciembre de 2014

Cuarteto Latinoamericano SILVESTRE REVUELTAS Música de Feria The String Quartets

Silvestre Revueltas, the "great free spirit of Mexican music," was born on the very eve of the 20th century, on December 31, 1899. His work as a composer came relatively late in his life, beginning when he took on the duties of associate conductor of the Mexico Symphony Orchestra (1931–34). Before that he played violin in a theater orchestra in San Antonio, Texas, and conducted an orchestra in Mobile, Alabama. He also studied in the United States (in Chicago, IL and Austin, TX), building on his early training in Durango and Mexico City. In the last years of his life, which ended early due to complications of alcoholism, he taught at the conservatory in Mexico City. The music of Revueltas is striking in its use of distinctive tone colors and complex rhythmic structures, often showing the influence of European composers such as Igor Stravinsky. More importantly, however, Revueltas strove to create a music that reflected the indigenous Mexican culture. To do this, he often used elements of the folk songs and dances of the mestizo culture (a blend of European and native traditions that we recognize in styles such as mariachi music). Revueltas also took elements of the so-called Aztec Renaissance, which tried to evoke pre-Columbian musical and cultural practice. All of this creates a musical style of great variety, one infused with Revueltas's distinctive wit. (Sony/BMG)

jueves, 18 de diciembre de 2014

András Schiff BEETHOVEN Sonatas opp. 54, 57, 78, 79 and 81a

András Schiff’s Beethoven cycle, recorded live in chronological order at Tonhalle Zurich, continues to collect critical praise as it moves forward to the later “middle” period. Lorenzo Arruga, writing in Italy’s Il Giornale on Volume V (including the three sonatas Op. 31 and the “Waldstein”) billed it as “sublime and revelatory”, while Philip Clark (Classic FM Magazine) spoke of a rendering that “isn’t for the faint-hearted who like their Beethoven all cosy and neat”, particularly admiring “bold brushstrokes” and “vivid inner details”.
Egon Bezold in Klassik.com pointed at the “extraordinary representation of the overall architecture and expressive variety”, and Gramophone’s Jed Distler highlighted the “remarkable timbral distinctions, fastidious execution of turns and other ornaments, plus painstakingly differentiated accents, articulation marks and dynamics.” Michael Stenger commented in FonoForum: “Schiff achieves clarity and yet a magic of atmospheres which is far away from the tedious pseudo-objectivity many performers offer here. There is great explosiveness but still warm contemplation in the slow movements…Exemplary!” A much more general point was made by Carl Rosman in the International Record Revue: “There is in any case no other pianist on the major recording scene currently bringing such a new and refreshing perspective to these pillars of the repertoire.”
Volume VI, including sonatas from the period between 1804 and 1810, offers some of the most famous and widely-known works together with an astonishing variety of forms and concepts, a constellation which, once again, highlights the attractiveness of Schiff’s chronological approach: “It provides evidence of a progressive journey which comes to a temporary halt with the completion of the ‘Appassionata’ in 1805, before continuing again some four years later with the F-sharp major Sonata Op. 78. But Beethoven varies the design of these five sonatas in a wholly adventurous way. The ‘Appassionata’ is preceded by the two-movement F-major Sonata Op. 54, whose mood is partly song-like, and partly heavily accented. The Op. 78 Sonata takes us into a very lyrical as well as capriciously playful world. On the other hand, the next sonata, Op. 79, whose first movement is headed ‘alla tedesca’, is generally incisive and extrovert; and finally the ‘Les Adieux’-Sonata presents us with a wonderful portrayal of a spiritual state between farewell, absence and joyful reunion.”

miércoles, 17 de diciembre de 2014

Anastasia Injushina / Hamburger Camerata / Ralf Gothóni C.P.E. - J.C. - J.S. BACH Keyboard Concertos

Always full of surprises, CPE Bach sharply puts the brakes on in the first movement of his D major Concerto, halting the music’s helter-skelter sprint to accommodate a second subject in the shape of a minuet. As in the conventional way of things, he does it twice, so second time round in the recapitulation it is not quite so alarming. A third tug on the reins leads directly into a slow movement typical of CPE’s Empfindsamkeit (‘sensibility’), with lots of keyboard decoration embellishing the simple melody, and then we’re off again at full tilt for the finale. This music is an apt vehicle for Anastasia Injushina’s limpid pianistic facility and taste, but the touches of individuality in the writing and the work’s significance in the development of the keyboard concerto are outweighed by reams of stock, note-spinning gestures. For repeated listening? Probably not.
The two JC Bach concertos are neat products of their time (1770), elegantly shaped and, particularly in the E flat Concerto, Op 7 No 5, with a strength of idea that might not have shamed Haydn or Mozart. Injushina plays this one with grace and spirit, underpinned by spry orchestral support from Gothóni and the Hamburg Camerata. Bach père then has the last word with his E major Concerto, BWV1053, the unassailable masterpiece in a strangely uneven if historically interesting compendium of concertos by different generations of the Bach family. In all of them Injushina, on a modern Steinway, is discreetly expressive and rhythmically buoyant. (Gramophone 06/2013)

lunes, 15 de diciembre de 2014

András Schiff BEETHOVEN Sonatas opp. 31 and 53

When András Schiff performed the “Waldstein sonata” in New York’s Avery Fisher Hall in November 2005, Jeremy Eichler, writing in the New York Times, spoke of a “breathtaking reading”: “This music of great depth and surface complexity seemed to unite Mr. Schiff’s strengths as a pianist. Even the most densely layered keyboard textures became a pellucid frame for the work’s tense and swirling energy.”
In the interview with Martin Meyer which is printed in the booklet to the present recording, Schiff himself emphasizes the special character of this famous op. 53: “The ‘Waldstein’ sonata is certainly an overwhelming work that was not only of great significance to the composer, but also occupies a special place in the history of piano music. Its spatial dimensions alone are enormous, and were only exceeded later by those of the ‘Hammerklavier’ sonata. Furthermore, Beethoven takes a giant stride forwards in respect of new-found pianistic sonorities, at the same time creating a huge ‘tone-poem’”. In the recital in the Zurich Tonhalle that was recorded live for this CD Schiff added the original slow movement from the “Waldstein” sonata, the “Andante favori” (which Beethoven later dismissed out of formal considerations), as an encore. “It was like a salute from another world” wrote Peter Hagmann in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung after this concert in December 2005.
Volume V of Schiff’s much acclaimed Beethoven cycle in chronological order, recorded live in Zurich, offers four masterworks dating from the so-called “middle period” i.e. the first years of the 19th century, when, among other groundbreaking compositions, the “Eroica” symphony was written. Like all his Beethoven recitals the programme was played on a Bösendorfer (op. 31) and on a Steinway grand (op. 53).
Op. 31 is the last group of three piano sonatas under one opus number in Beethoven’s oeuvre, once again highlighting the composer’s genius in creating very differently shaped works at the same time. Schiff: “The first sonata, in G major, is an extremely witty work, and perhaps Beethoven’s wittiest sonata altogether. It is also virtuosic and extrovert, and full of surprising inspirations. The second sonata, in d minor, carries the not inappropriate nickname of ‘The Tempest’. It is altogether dark in tone and its effect is highly dramatic, with a ‘literary’ mood throughout. And the third sonata, in E-flat major, is probably the hardest to paraphrase in words: on the one hand it seems tender, entreating and pleading, with a lyrical basic mood strongly in evidence; and on the other hand, in the scherzo and finale it maintains a high-spirited and urgent sense of motion.”

domingo, 14 de diciembre de 2014

Carmina Quartett / Æquatuor / Aria Quartett ALFRED ZIMMERLIN Euridice

“Alfred Zimmerlin is interested in the heterogeneity of musical phenomena, in temporal layers within the present, in ‘cultural memory’. His music is the result of an ongoing confrontation with musics from a very wide range of times, places and realms.” This is how the Swiss composer Alfred Zimmerlin, in a self-portrait, outlines his personal aesthetic. Born in Zurich in 1955, early in his career he became well-known far beyond the borders of Switzerland for his improvisations on the cello and guitar. More recently he has earned a reputation as a voluminous and deeply reflective composer. His more than 70 works reveal a subtle sense of timbre, profound craftsmanship and great aesthetic open-mindedness. This CD, with three major new pieces of chamber music, is the first to present his art to an international audience.
Some time around 2000 Manfred Eicher heard a broadcast of Zimmerlin's Concerto for Piano and Strings on Swiss Radio. He was immediately struck by it and decided to issue a chamber music album played by three Swiss ensembles, each of which had commissioned a work from Zimmerlin and rehearsed it with him. For a while Zimmerlin had avoided the string quartet genre altogether: as a trained musician and performing cellist he was keenly aware of the danger of falling back onto familiar sounds and performance techniques - and thereby shackling his creative imagination. But having made a start in 2001-2, two further quartets followed in relatively quick succession.
Yet the heart of this album is not the Third String Quartet but the extended scena Euridice singt (“Eurydice sings”), premièred at the Lucerne Festival in 2005. The commission came from Ensemble Æquatuor, with its distinctive combination of soprano, oboe, cello and piano, and it left the subject-matter completely open, offering leeway for a wide range of solutions. At the onset of the new millennium Zimmerlin began to take a stronger interest in theatrical and narrative art. Before deciding on a subject he explored the role models in a piece of instrumental theatre, drawing on the personalities of the four musicians.
A year-long visit to Cairo at the invitation of Pro Helvetia brought him into contact with the Swiss writer Raphael Urweider (b. 1974), a leading lyric poet of the younger generation and also an active jazz musician and rap artist. Their collaboration ultimately gave rise to the idea of a piece on the Orpheus legend, this time viewed from a fresh “emancipated” perspective. It is not Orpheus that sings but his bride Eurydice, and rather than staying mutely behind in Hades she becomes an eloquent catalyst for her husband's artistic evolution, while Orpheus, basking in artistic amour propre, is feted by rapping groupies.
One of the main features of Zimmerlin's music is the way it integrates sometimes extremely heterogeneous resources in flexible forms: “The ear rises above systems and constructs”, he recently explained in an interview. “I never use only one system for a piece. Instead I take many tools in hand, 30 or 40 of them, sometimes using a different one for each layer. The confluence of the heterogeneous can't be constructed; you have to spread your net and keep the music inside it.” Zimmerlin is interested in heterogeneity not only because of his own complex musical background - his experience in free jazz and the entire European improvisational scene no less than the inspiration he received from Helmut Lachenmann and Brian Ferneyhough at Darmstadt. Even more crucial is his special awareness of the past: “We live at the top of a time column. Many lives have been here before me, and thanks to them I am where I am. Composing with this thought in mind is important to me - to sense lives that were already here.”

sábado, 13 de diciembre de 2014

András Schiff BEETHOVEN Sonatas opp. 26, 27 and 28

 The first three instalments of András Schiff’s Beethoven cycle in chronological order have met with great critical acclaim. “This will be one of the great Beethoven sonata sets” was the verdict of ‘Fanfare’ while ‘Die Zeit’ saluted an “outstanding Beethoven interpreter”. On volume III released last autumn, Anthony Holden wrote in Britain’s ‘Observer’: “As always, Schiff is a master of detail, often rephrasing bars you thought you knew well, coming up with fine nuances while never losing sight of the work’s overall architecture. Recorded live in Zurich’s Tonhalle, thanks to Schiff’s belief that it’s vital to play in front of an audience, this is a distinguished instalment in an outstanding cycle.”
Volume IV includes four masterworks of strong individual features dating from 1800 and 1801 which in Schiff’s view conclude his “early” period. “Between 1795 and 1801 Beethoven establishes himself as a superb master of the art of characterisation, and is also revelling in experimentation”, he explains in the booklet-interview with Martin Meyer stressing the formal innovations in the sonatas recorded here. “While the A flat Sonata op. 26 for the first time places a variation movement at the start of the work, the two op. 27 Sonatas are specifically described as being ‘quasi una fantasia’. The D-major Sonata op. 28 makes a return to the ‘classical’ four-movement design, but once again we find very surprising solutions, above all in the realm of a differentiation between sonorities.”
Even in the famous “Moonlight” sonata Schiff’s attention to detail leads to unexpected listening experiences. “Nobody in the hall will have heard this first movement like that before” wrote Peter Hagmann in the ‘Neue Zürcher Zeitung’ after the recital in Tonhalle Zurich that was recorded live for ECM. “Not the kind of over-demonstrative approach which has become common these days lies at the heart of this interpretation but the consequent and courageous scrutiny of the musical text.”
In November 2006 Schiff completed his Beethoven cycle in major European cities playing the sonatas opp. 109–111. In the ‘Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’ Julia Spinola writing on the Munich recital observed that the sonatas “sounded like the purest essence of Beethoven’s late style, as if they were extracted from marble.”

miércoles, 10 de diciembre de 2014

Michael Tilson Thomas / New World Symphony Orchestra MORTON FELDMAN Coptic Light

It's difficult to explain why Morton Feldman's music is so hot these days. Quiet, uneventful, dissonant, and often extremely lengthy, his works don't seem all that accessible on paper. But hearing is believing, as they say, and unlike some avant-garde music, appreciation of Feldman's art requires no understanding of arcane forms or compositional techniques. Perhaps this is because Feldman was influenced more by the abstract paintings of Philip Guston and Mark Rothko than by the music of any of his contemporaries. Listen to "Coptic Light" 1986 -- one of the composer's final works and his orchestral masterpiece -- a hypnotic kaleidoscope of slowly shifting colors, with no melody and no discernible rhythmic patterns, just wave after wave of gorgeously gauzy sound. This music is so colorful and finely textured that you can almost see and feel it. In fact, experiencing it fully requires your visual and tactile senses as much as your hearing. Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas draws expressively serene performances from the Miami-based New World Symphony. Pianist Alan Feinberg finds infinite shades of pianissimo in the simply-titled "Piano and Orchestra," and cellist Robert Cohen imbues the spare yet profound lines of "Cello and Orchestra" with intensely quiet yearning. This extraordinary recording should be snatched up by Feldman's growing legion of fans and win many new converts, as well. (Andrew Farach-Colton)

Overlapping textures and soft, shifting timbres are the most recognizable features of Morton Feldman's music, and his attractive sonorities draw listeners in ways other avant-garde sound structures may not. This music's appeal is also attributable to its gentle ambience, a static, meditative style that Feldman pioneered long before trance music became commonplace. The three works on this disc are among Feldman's richest creations, yet the material in each piece is subtly layered and integrated so well that many details will escape detection on first hearing. In "Piano and Orchestra," the piano is treated as one texture among many, receding to the background and blending with muted brass and woodwinds in a wash of colors. "Cello and Orchestra" might seem like a conventional concerto movement, especially since the cellist is centrally placed on this recording and plays with a rather lyrical tone. However, Feldman's orchestral clusters are dense and interlocked, which suggests that the cello should be less prominent and blend more into the mass of sounds behind it. No such ambiguity exists in the performance of "Coptic Light," which Michael Tilson Thomas and the New World Symphony Orchestra play with even dynamics and careful attention to the work's aggregate effect, which is mesmerizing. (Blair Sanderson)

lunes, 8 de diciembre de 2014

The Hilliard Ensemble TRANSEAMUS

Having recorded more than 20 albums for ECM since the mid-’80s, the Hilliard Ensemble caps its sublime discography before retirement with a final release: Transeamus: English Carols and Motets, a collection of polyphony – in two, three and four parts – from the 15th-century. The album’s main title translates as “we travel on,” fitting as a nod of goodbye from one of the most venturesome and beloved of classical vocal groups. Also fitting is the fact that this British vocal quartet’s very first recording included music from the court of Henry VIII, so Transeamus brings their odyssey through the ages full circle. The album includes many of the group’s favorite pieces from this era, including previously unrecorded items from its concert programs by the likes of John Plummer, Walter Lambe and William Cornysh. More of the album’s works are by composers rendered anonymous by time, yet all of this music is rich with enduring personality.
Hilliard Ensemble countertenor David James writes in his album note: “The sweet harmonies might appear uncomplicated, but this transparency of sound creates a cumulative effect that is mesmerizing. The album ends with ‘Ah gentle Jesu.’ We know the composer’s name, Sheryngham, but virtually nothing else. On paper, it is a simple dialogue between Christ on the cross and a penitent sinner; however, the intensity of the music is so overwhelming that, from our experience in concert, both listener and performer are left in stunned silence.”
Transeamus includes several ancient carols on a Christmas theme, including ‘Marvel Not Joseph’, ‘Ah! My Dear Son’ and ‘There Is No Rose’. But the lyrical matter varies through the album. Hilliard baritone Gordon Jones explains: “The subject of the carol at this time is mixed, but it’s usually Christmas, the Virgin Mary and the Saints. The type of carol represented on this album is a sacred – but probably non-liturgical – piece in Latin and/or English.
They were in popular use and are sometimes associated with dance. It has been suggested, because of their form – burden/refrain, similar to the continental rondeau – that they were used as processional pieces in church. Yet the evidence for this seems to be vanishingly slim. The pieces about St. Thomas manage to weave matters of English history and politics into the texts.”
About the repertoire, James adds: “This is music that we were born and bred to sing – it’s quintessentially English. We started singing many of these pieces as boys in choirs, so singing this music is for us like going home.”
The Hilliard Ensemble recorded Transeamus at their favourite recording venue, the Alpine monastery of St. Gerold in Austria, a stone’s throw over the border from Switzerland. “Most of our ECM albums have been recorded in the chapel at St. Gerold,” James explains. “It’s very quiet, being high up in the mountains – a wonderful place for recording our kind of music.
It’s a very intimate space, and with just the four of us in there, it gives the music a warm sound. I think it’s the sound we have carried with us – or within us – wherever we travelled, in a way.”
Reflecting on decades of documenting music from the Middle Ages to modern times for ECM, James says: “We’ve been blessed to only record music that we really wanted to record – projects based not on commercial criteria but rather on artistic impulse. Manfred Eicher wanted us to propose music to him, and if he agreed that it seemed special and right at the time, we were off to record – even with some very obscure repertoire that another label might not have been so excited about. Manfred’s idea was always, ‘If this music moves me, then it will surely move other people.’ That sort of approach has been fantastically inspiring for the Hilliard Ensemble over the years and, I hope, for listeners around the world for many years to come.”

domingo, 7 de diciembre de 2014

András Schiff BEETHOVEN Sonatas opp. 14, 22 and 49

International critics writing on the first two volumes of András Schiff’s Beethoven cycle have praised a particularly “sharp attention to detail” (Jed Distler in Gramophone on volume II) and expressed their high expectations for the edition as a whole, with Le monde de la musique saluting Schiff as one of the “great Beethoven interpreters of our time.” Michael Church’s remark on Volume II of Schiff’s cycle in The Independent applies no less to this third instalment: “These are early works, but he shows them to be fully fledged masterpieces: their contours are sharpened, and their emotional depths plumbed, with each becoming a musical drama.”
Schiff’s concept to approach the sonatas in strict chronological order proves especially successful in this volume which combines the four smaller sonatas opp. 49 and 14 with the brilliant op. 22, all composed between 1796 and 1800. “It’s fascinating for me to reconstruct this creative arc as though I were taking an overview of it for the first time, and assembling it into a large-scale narrative”, says the pianist in the introductory interview with Martin Meyer printed in the CD-booklet.
In an interview for the Swiss magazine Musik und Theater Schiff recently once again laid out his reasons to record the sonatas live in the Zürich Tonhalle: “I’m fully convinced that vivid performances are possible only in front of an audience. I obviously don’t share Glenn Gould’s opinion that concerts are superfluous and that work in the recording studio is so much more important. Being an artist you live for those very moments when music really happens.” Schiff plays every programme in 15 different cities before recording it: “I really feel that my performances get more mature from concert to concert. The repetitions are a very valuable lesson.”

sábado, 6 de diciembre de 2014

Jonathan Biss / Elias String Quartet SCHUMANN & DVORÁK Piano Quintets

Jonathan Biss and the Elias Quartet deliver highly assured performances of these two marvellous chamber works. The opening of the Schumann is projected with suitably impetuous energy, and Biss brilliantly negotiates the tricky piano-quaver passagework in the first movement’s development section, balancing a growing sense of unease with exciting forward momentum. Occasionally, however, I find the players’ use of rubato a bit self-conscious. For instance, there seems no logically musical reason for the cello to elongate the first note of the lyrical second subject to such an extent. A similar issue resurfaces in their phrasing of the contrasting major-key idea in the second movement, the tendency to hold back the resolution of a particularly poignant harmonic progression becoming an irritating mannerism.
In general, this warmly recorded performance is most compelling when Schumann explores the extrovert side of his musical personality. The Scherzo’s sequence of ascending and descending scales is particularly exhilarating, as is the suitably rustic articulation of offbeat sforzando semiquavers in the second trio. Yet the interpretation as a whole doesn’t provide as many insights as the remarkable Harmonia Mundi release from Alexander Melnikov and the Jerusalem Quartet, which remains a clear first choice.
While there are some caveats about the Schumann, the Biss/Elias partnership produces a wonderful performance of the Dvorák, conveying not only the freshness of its invention but also probing darker melancholic undercurrents in the Dumka and Finale that are all too often overlooked by other interpreters. (Erik Levi, BBC Music Magazine)

miércoles, 3 de diciembre de 2014

András Schiff BEETHOVEN Sonatas opp. 10 and 13

International press reactions to the first volume of Schiff’s Beethoven cycle released in October 2005 were unanimous in their praise and critics expressed high expectations for the edition as a whole. “If the first volume (superbly recorded and annotated by ECM) is anything to go by, this Beethoven cycle will not only provoke and illuminate but give the lie to those who wonder if there is room for yet another”, wrote Jeremy Nicholas in Gramophone while Hugh Canning, in the Sunday Times, drew a similar perspective: “If the results match this volume we are in for a memorable cycle“. And in the German weekly Die Zeit Wolfram Goertz spoke of “an integral that deserves our most thorough attention as the beginning is spectacular”. Le monde de la musique on the other hand quite laconically greeted one of the “great Beethoven interpreters of our time.”
Schiff who early on played and recorded comprehensive cycles of Bach, Mozart and Schubert, has taken his time with Beethoven. Until he was 50, the 32 sonatas marked an obvious gap in his repertoire. The pianist has always emphasized his respect for the extreme demands of this repertoire and its intimidating performance tradition built up by the legendary masters of the past like Schnabel, Fischer, Kempff or Arrau to name but a few. Beethoven’s piano sonatas, written in a fairly steady flow of productiveness between 1795 and 1822, are the composer’s very laboratory. No single opus resembles another; each of them arrives at completely new solutions – in extreme concentration and density. The cycle, which Hans von Bülow once called the pianist’s “New Testament”, forms the central compendium of Beethoven’s creative work and no other group of pieces allows for a comparably detailed overview of his stylistic development.
Schiff’s concept to record the sonatas live and on two different pianos has found much respect with reviewers. In an interview for the Swiss magazine Musik und Theater Schiff again outlined his unconventional approach: “I’m fully convinced that vivid performances are possible only in front of an audience. I obviously don’t share Glenn Gould’s opinion that concerts are superfluous and that work in the recording studio is so much more important. Being an artist you live for those very moments when music really happens.” Schiff plays each programme in 15 different cities before recording it in the Zürich Tonhalle, famous for its outstanding acoustics. “I really feel that my performances become more mature from concert to concert. The repetitions are a very valuable lesson.” As to his alternating use of a Steinway and a Bösendorfer, both maintained by the renowned piano technician Fabbrini in Italy, Schiff emphasizes Beethoven’s versatility as a composer and his great range of sonorities: “Most of his piano sonatas are rather lyrical and smooth pieces – they are poetic, philosophical, sometimes even humorous creations that don’t ‘bite’ in the way the ‘Appassionata’, the ‘Pathétique’ or the ‘Hammerklavier’ sonata do. They have nothing in common with the cliché of the heroic and dramatic Beethoven. That’s why I prefer the Bösendorfer in these works.”
Schiff has repeatedly claimed that Beethoven’s early sonatas need to be taken absolutely seriously as they offer highest compositional quality right from the start with op.2. The sonatas op. 10, written between 1796 and 1798 when the composer was not yet thirty years old, form a group of subtly interrelated masterworks. In Schiff’s view they are pieces for “connoisseurs and amateurs”, each of them displaying its own clearly defined character while the famous ‘Grande Sonate Pathétique’ dating from 1798/99 introduces a dramatic attitude and a symphonic writing that was to become a central trait of some of Beethoven’s most important works.

martes, 2 de diciembre de 2014

Ingrid Fliter FRÉDÉRIC CHOPIN Preludes

It says a lot for this disc that, when Gramophone's Editor chose it as his Recording of the Month and asked me for five listening points, I came up with nearly four times that number. No single interpretation of Chopin's Preludes will ever be enough but - just as she demonstrated in her previous disc of the two Chopin concertos (3/14) - the Argentinian Ingrid Fliter seems to be able to achieve individuality seemingly effortlessly, with cherishable and memorable results.
Truly innate Chopin players are rarer than you might think. From obvious examples such as Rubinstein and Cortot via Argerich and Freire (what is it with these South Americans?) I would add to that illustrious list Fliter. She has that magical way of creating an easeful rubato without ever sounding studied, and holds Classicism and freedom in perfect accord. Add to that a clarity of vision and a tremendous sense of purpose and you have a mesmerising set of Preludes. She doesn't ever sweeten the more acerbic moments: in the Second Prelude, for instance, she makes no attempt to soften the contours of the left-hand phrases in the manner of pianists such as Trifonov, who is altogether more consoling here. And in No 4 Fliter lays bare with utter naturalness the insistent falling semitone, forming a piquant contrast with the following Prelude, in which she gives Cortot a run for his money in terms of shimmery, shadowy elusiveness. In Fliter's readings you truly feel the complexity and ambiguity of works once described by Schumann as ‘sketches, beginnings of études...ruins...all disorder and wild confusion'.
One of the aspects that particularly compels about this CD on repeated listening is the way Fliter encompasses the diversity, the sometimes shocking juxtaposition of the Preludes, but within a range that gives them a coherence, a sense of an interpretation as a whole. Take Nos 6 and 7, for instance: here they acquire a kinship despite their different moods - and despite the fact that No 6 is pretty slow, possibly too slow for some tastes. But I find myself hypnotised rather than (perish the thought!) bored: contrast it with Kissin's approach, which ruffles the melody rather too insistently. Then compare her with Trifonov, whose live Preludes from Carnegie Hall provide a thrill a minute but who seems altogether too fast here. In fact he isn't by most standards: it's simply that Fliter draws so much from the music.
It's not just in slower preludes that Fliter flouts received wisdom (something she did so gloriously in the concertos, scotching the notion, aided and abetted by Jun Märkl's charismatic way with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, that these are little more than a pianistic vehicle); she does it too in the 16th Prelude, where the étude-like moto perpetuo of the right hand is effortless but suitably ‘notey' thanks to her pinpoint phrasing, while the muscular left hand gains in power rather than steamrollering its way in, as can happen in some readings (Kissin, for instance, who is relentless in his strength). By comparison, Trifonov is faster but he doesn't develop such a sense of menace as Fliter.
After this, the songful Allegretto of No 17 comes as balm, here given the range and story-telling quality of a Ballade. It starts innocently enough; but what is striking is the way she grounds it with the deep left-hand notes, the repeated A flat at the end tolling like some great bell but never overshadowing the interplay of the other lines, which Fliter balances to perfection.
She is a virtuoso of the first order but she holds this in reserve, so when she does unleash her full technical armoury, it's extraordinarily potent. She does so in No 14, for instance, matching Trifonov in powerful élan. On the other hand, the 19th Prelude eschews its Vivace marking. It's daringly dreamy, perhaps too much so for some tastes but not mine. The final trio of preludes takes us from the proto-Prokofievian toccata figuration of No 22 via the most restrained haloed playing in the daringly withdrawn F major, Fliter really bringing across its tinkling musical-box qualities, which is all the more touching when it is banished by the seismic drama of the final Prelude.
Of the remaining works, the two Nocturnes are particularly fine, the Mazurkas sometimes a degree less inevitable-sounding than some, though she bewitches in the quick-shifting moods of Op 6 No 1, which prefaces the third Op 9 Nocturne very effectively. The final Nocturne on the disc (Op 27 No 2) takes nothing for granted in spite of its fame, less lushly beautiful than some but altogether more complex, more intriguing. The recording captures well Fliter's innate beauty of sound, encompassing the dynamic range with ease. A gem of a disc. (01 December 2014 / Gramophone / Harriet Smith)

András Schiff BEETHOVEN Sonatas opp. 2 and 7

ECM now presents Schiff’s long awaited first cycle of the complete 32 sonatas. The pianist opted for live-recordings. The concert situation not only facilitates communicative immediacy, but also creates musical suspense. András Schiff uses two different grand pianos: a Bösendorfer, which, as he says himself, “is adequate to the Vienna dialect”, which he likes in the early Beethoven, and a Steinway maintained by the internationally renowned piano technicians Fabbrini from Italy. Schiff rates the Steinway as the more objective and powerful instrument he prefers in the more dramatic sonatas. His approach to Beethoven is characterised by utmost conscientiousness: The pianist, who will be touring this fall (with a programme including the Sonatas op. 31 and the “Waldstein” Sonata), not only scrutinizes the composer’s manuscripts kept in various libraries and institutes, but also studies the sound and playing techniques of the pianos Beethoven had at his disposal.
The recordings are made at Schiff’s recitals in the Zürich Tonhalle, a concert venue which is famous for its outstanding acoustics. Starting in October 2005, the complete cycle will be released on ECM New Series in eight volumes. The Sonatas will be issued in chronological order as single or double albums respectively.
Ludwig van Beethoven’s first Piano Sonatas op. 2 Nos. 1 to 3, written in 1795 when the composer was 25 years old, mark a debut of stunning confidence. Basically holding on to the tradition of their dedicatee Joseph Haydn who had been Beethoven’s teacher in composition during his first time in Vienna, the op. 2 sets new standards right away. The four-movement layout is introduced as new model, with the third movement already developing into the typical Beethoven Scherzo.
Beethoven’s technique of working with small and seemingly inconspicuous motifs is evident right from the start. Unlike Mozart and Haydn the young composer searches for expressive extremes: The finale of the first sonata is marked “prestissimo”. Each of the sonatas exhibits a distinctive individual character; each explores a different aspect of piano writing.
The first one in f minor, not much longer than a quarter of an hour, demonstrates utter concentration, its initial movement being a prime example of sonata form. The second in A major is lyric, playful and full of humour, while the final C major piece displays elegant and daring virtuosity that brings the sonata close to concerto writing.
The fourth sonata op. 7 in E-flat major, composed 1796/97 is his second longest, surpassed only by the monumental “Hammerklavier” Sonata op. 106. Dedicated to his young pupil, Countess Babette von Keglevics, the piece was first published under the title “Grande Sonate”. Rightly so: Its dimensions and impassioned gesture demonstrate a symphonic ambition.

lunes, 1 de diciembre de 2014

JEAN FRANCAIX Concerto pour clavecin et ensemble instrumental - Trio pour violon, violoncelle et piano - Concerto pour guitare et orchestre à cordes

Jean Françaix was born on 23.5.1912 in Le Mans in France. He received his first music lessons at home: his father was a composer and pianist and also director of the Conservatoire and his mother a singing teacher and the founder of a renowned choir. In 1922 at the age of only 10, Françaix received his first tuition in harmony and later also counterpoint from Nadia Boulanger. The young composer wrote his first composition the very same year: a piano piece entitled “Pour Jacqueline”, dedicated to a cousin, which was printed two years later. Encouraged by Maurice Ravel, he continued his studies at the Paris Conservatoire. Alongside his compositional training, Françaix embarked on a career as concert pianist. At the age of 18, he received the first prize in the piano class of Isidore Philipp. Two years later, he represented the young French school of composition together with Claude Delvincourt at the international music festival in Vienna where his Huit Bagatelles were performed. Jean Françaix achieved international success in 1936 with the first performance of his Concertino for piano and orchestra at the chamber music festival in Baden-Baden. During the ensuing years, the composer extended his oeuvre with numerous works in a wide range of genres including operas, ballets, orchestral works and also solo concertos, film music and vocal works. The composer also focused intensively on chamber music. Françaix taught at the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris from 1959 to 1962. He participated actively in concert life, frequently together with his daughter Claude as partner at the piano, right up to shortly before his death on 25.9.1997 in Paris.

domingo, 30 de noviembre de 2014

Nicolas Hodges ROLF RIEHM Hamamuth – Stadt der Engel / Wer Sind diese kinder

 Both the piano work “Hamamuth – Stadt der Engel”, premiered at the Darmstadt Summer Courses in 2006, and the piano concerto “Wer sind diese Kinder”, premiered at the Donaueschingen Music Festival three years later, are two of the major artistic attempts of the past decades which try to substantially broaden the spectrum of political music.
In “Hamamuth – Stadt der Engel”, the composer Rolf Riehm intends to respond as an artist to the omnipresence of violence experienced during the Iraq War. “This is about prevailing perceptions. 'Stadt der Engel' [City of Angels]: They refer to the pictures of devastation in Iraq which can be regularly seen on TV” – this is the beginning of Riehm's detailed introductory text which is incorporated in the score of the work. In “Wer sind diese Kinder” [Who are these children], this approach is continued.
Both works show that it would be insufficient to look for their political facets exclusively on a semantic level. The physical understanding of music appears to be almost equally important: As a consequence, the political is deeply engrained in the texture of Riehm's works – as a reflection on the omnipresence of international political conflicts and on how to deal with it appropriately. “Hamamuth – Stadt der Engel” and “Wer sind diese Kinder” are examples of how both dimensions are interwoven with each other in Riehm's works in a fascinating way.

sábado, 29 de noviembre de 2014

András Schiff BEETHOVEN Diabelli-Variationen

The Diabelli Variations have long been considered a magnum opus in Beethoven's piano music and a towering historical contribution to the genre, with Bach's Goldberg Variations as their forebear and Brahms's Handel Variations as their heir.
Yet many pianists, even great pianists, have been intimidated by their sheer immensity. Throughout their careers Edwin Fischer and Wilhelm Kempff gave a wide berth to this allegedly unwieldy masterpiece, a work that sometimes sounds like a melancholy or grimly humorous commentary on the whole of music history and seems to cast an avant-gardist glance at 20th- or even 21st-century music.
Hans von Bülow called this musical monument a microcosm of Beethoven's genius. It is not a set of variations in the traditional sense, for rather than weaving ornamental garlands around its simple theme, it dissects it in order to develop an entire encyclopaedia of pianism from its material.
Now András Schiff has followed up his prize-winning complete set of Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas for ECM with a recording of the Diabelli Variations that is remarkable in many ways.
First, this Hungarian pianist combines the colossal variations with two other major late works from Beethoven's pianistic œuvre: the Sonata op. 111 and the Bagatelles op. 126 (the former having concluded of course his traversal of the complete Sonatas for ECM). This new recording impressively draws attention to these works’ intrinsic ties to the Diabelli Variations. The Arietta theme in op. 111 and Diabelli's waltz are both set in C major in triple meter, and both begin with an upbeat. Still more striking are the identical intervals that define both themes: the descending 4th from C to G, and the descending 5th from D to G. Further, the bagatelles are far removed from what their title might seem to imply: they are Beethoven's final utterances on his preferred instrument. András Schiff has referred to them as aphorisms, as poetic as they are profound, and even calls the Fourth Bagatelle 'an almost demonic piece of astonishing modernity'.
But the recordings are remarkable for other reasons, too. Rather than using a modern Steinway, András Schiff has recorded them in two different versions on two period instruments. CD 1 (op. 111 and the Diabelli Variations) on an original Bechstein grand from 1921, the instrument preferred by Wilhelm Backhaus and Artur Schnabel, and one in which András Schiff sees an almost forgotten sound-ideal. CD 2 (a second reading of the Diabelli Variations and the op. 126 Bagatelles) is recorded on a Hammerflügel fortepiano from Beethoven's own day which, with its extraordinary extra pedals, reveals the full rich panoply of the composer's sonic universe. This gives listeners a unique opportunity to compare these highly contrasting sonic universes with their rich range of sound, so very different from the balanced, disengaged sound of a modern day instrument.
Finally, András Schiff has been able to consult Beethoven's previously unknown original manuscript of the variations for his recording. Thanks to his initiative and support, this manuscript has been preserved among the holdings of the Bonn Beethoven House since 2009. More than any other source, it sheds light on the compositional process, with Beethoven's penmanship and writing speed offering subtle hints as to crescendos, tempos and arcs of tension. Not only does this source provide insight into the composer's workshop, it also forms an invaluable bridge to Beethoven's intentions.

viernes, 28 de noviembre de 2014

Anna Netrebko / Daniel Barenboim / Staatskapelle Berlin RICHARD STRAUSS

Deutsche Grammophon have certainly worked on the principle of saving the best until last when it comes to Richard Strauss’s 150th anniversary: it doesn’t get much starrier than Daniel Barenboim and Anna Netrebko taking on the mighty Four Last Songs with Barenboim’s long-term collaborators the Staatskapelle Berlin.
As I’ve discussed in reviews of her recent Verdi recordings, the Russian-born soprano’s voice has expanded and gained exciting new colours over the past few years – her operatic work has seen her moving away from the Susannas and Manons with which she made her name and into heavier repertoire such as Verdi’s Lady Macbeth. German repertoire has yet to play a part (the only such music I’d previously heard from her was a radiant, sensual Morgen! at the Last Night of the Proms in 2007, though there are rumours of a forthcoming Elsa in Lohengrin under Christian Thielemann), so I was intrigued to see what she’d do with Richard Strauss’s late, great meditations on twilight and mortality.  
She brings a suitably dusky, veiled tone to the entire cycle, with plenty of colour and presence in the middle and lower reaches of the voice (the first phrase of ‘Frühling’, which can sound undernourished in some hands, made me sit up and listen immediately!). Her big lyric voice floats effortlessly over the sensitively-handled Staatskapelle forces, with no sense of driving the voice too hard, and a wonderful sense of intimacy in moments like the depiction of summer ‘shuddering erotically’ in the second song. The Staatskapelle players enter fully into this mood of interiority, approaching the songs almost like chamber-music – the recessed horn and violin solos in the third song are quite magical (having reviewed this from a preview-copy without full sleeve-notes, I can’t alas, credit the players by name), and there are some exquisite soft-focus string sonorities here and in the transcendent final song.
So how does Netrebko’s interpretation compare to her esteemed predecessors in this holy of holies? First, a word on the language issue: despite being a fluent German-speaker and long-term Vienna resident (she’s held Austrian citizenship since 2006) Netrebko’s sung German may sound rather cloudy and occluded to those used to the crisp precision of a singer like Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, and she doesn’t go in for the very detailed word-painting of some earlier recordings. However, her broader approach to text comes with its own pay-offs: the mood of each phrase is exquisitely judged, and everything feels fresh and spontaneous rather than micro-managed or cerebral. She allows herself the occasional breath in places which you may not expect, true, but is still more than capable of soaring to thrilling effect in the big moments like the climax of ‘Beim Schlafengehen’.
I’d originally hoped that we’d get more orchestral songs as companion-pieces (I’d love to hear her in the big dramatic ones like Cäcilie and Zueignung!), but Daniel Barenboim’s take on Strauss’s great heroic tone-poem Ein Heldenleben is more than fair compensation. What struck me from the very beginning was how well matched this particular take on a ‘Hero’s Life’ is to the Four Last Songs: there’s a nobility and maturity about this interpretation which somehow mirrors the autumnal mood of the song-cycle, with the distinct sense that our eponymous hero is looking back on his youthful exuberance and struggles from the vantage-point of his twilight years. The grandiose opening statement, for instance, is less brash and exuberant than it can sometimes seem, but grips you from the off with its expansive authority. The carping critics in the second section are personified to perfection by the Staatskapelle winds, and the great battle-scene rages with almost Mahlerian intensity. But once again that superb first horn and leader are first among equals in the rapturous love-duets, particularly the glorious final pages of the score. (Presto Classical)

jueves, 27 de noviembre de 2014

Angela Hewitt BACH The Art of Fugue

Two mature pianists, both renowned for their Bach interpretations and with numerous acclaimed recordings to their names—but both of whom, until now, have fought shy of Bach’s final, uncompromisingly contrapuntal masterpiece. In the booklet notes with their respective new recordings, Angela Hewitt and Zhu Xiao-Mei both admit to having put off the inevitable: coming to terms with The Art of Fugue.
Unlike the rest of the established Bach keyboard repertoire, The Art of Fugue’s scoring is ambiguous, each line written out on a separate stave. For the first edition published in 1751, a year after Bach’s death, his son Carl Philipp Emanuel is clear: ‘everything has ... been arranged for use at the harpsichord or organ’—yet it has been argued that the occasional awkward leap means the work is not fully renderable on a keyboard (opening the door to some highly effective performances by all manner of instrumental ensembles). Interestingly, though, neither Hewitt nor Xiao-Mei cites this as a reason f or her lack of enthusiasm for the task.
With its intensely concentrated and complex fugal writing, and devoid of the light relief provided by the preludes in The Well-Tempered Clavier, it is easy to see why The Art of Fugue can appear, in Hewitt’s words, severe, daunting and completely overwhelming, even to musicians like her and Xiao-Mei who live and breathe Bach. Hewitt says she needed ‘great determination’ to get to grips with a work which had never excited her very much on account of its perceived dryness, and once she had finally set to work on it in 2012, its technical complexity made the Goldberg Variations and The Well-Tempered Clavier ‘seem like child’s play in comparison’; Xiao-Mei ‘has never suffered so much when practising a work’, such are its emotional and physical demds—'I was sore all over’.
We can only be thankful that they persevered. Each pianist brings her considerable experience and expertise to bear, meeting the work’s formidable challenges with individual, complementary performances. Both, in their different ways, are deeply musical, finding satisfying and engaging solutions to a potentially unpalatable 72 (Xiao-Mei) to 84 (Hewitt) minutes’ worth of fugues and canons in a single key, D minor, all based on a single portentous theme.
Hewitt’s account, characteristically, is clean and precise but always pianistic—she never seems, like some pianists, to be imitating a harpsichord, whereas her delicate touch means that the music is not burdened with undue heaviness. Her ‘Contrapunctus 2’, for example, dances with (relatively) carefree abandon. Hewitt is fluent and homogenous, her effective expressive and dynamic contrasts made subtly within an overarching, unifying concept, solemn but not overbearing.
Xiao-Mei is more robust, and more extreme in terms of dynamics. In her hands the austere fugal theme often grabs attention from within the texture with prominent weight (occasionally too forcibly), but this is tempered with flowing gentleness—the opening of ‘Contrapunctus 3’ and the ‘Canon alla decima in contrapunto alla terza’, for example, softly caress the ears. Xiao-Mei is consistently faster too, but she never feels rushed or perfunctory (just as Hewitt never feels too indulgent—perhaps proving that The Art of Fugue stands outside usual measures of time). A direct comparison with the piece in which the two versions differ most widely duration-wise—‘Contrapunctus 11’ (5'30" against 7'03")—reveals Hewitt to be dreamy and possibly a shade pedantic, while Xiao-Mei is alert and forthright, taking the bull by the horns. Both versions work in the context of their respective wholes.
To maximise the variety, Xiao-Mei intersperses the 14 ‘Contrapunctus’ fugues with the ‘Canons’, which, in the score, follow; Hewitt plays everything in published order. In both versions, ‘Contrapunctus 14’—by far the longest of the fugues—is cut off abruptly in its prime, unfinished as Bach left it. It’s an arresting conclusion—a powerful reminder of mortality following such ethereal music—but for those who need closure, Hewitt offers the chorale prelude BWV668a, which C. P. E. Bach inserted on the last blank page of the score, as a cathartic final track. This is especially fitting for a performance, recorded at the Jesus-Christus Church in Berlin, which, despite its clear textures, is above all contemplative and other- worldly. Xiao-Mei, recorded at the Leipzig Gewandhaus’s Mendelssohn Hall, and also well defined, is more exciting and more alive, gripping where Hewitt is entrancing.
Both versions, highly recommendable, have much to offer. If your budget will stretch only to one (both are full price—Hewitt’s comes on two CDs for the price of one), I would edge towards Xiao-Mei for the vitality she brings to potentially prosaic music—heavenly, yes, but also very human. It’s a personal choice, though—both views of the work are valid, and you won’t go wrong with either. (International Record Review)

miércoles, 26 de noviembre de 2014

Martha Argerich / Claudio Abbado / Orchestra Mozart MOZART Piano Concertos K 503 & K 406

Recorded live in Lucerne, Switzerland, in 2013, shortly before the death of conductor Claudio Abbado (who must have been quite ill at the time), this pair of Mozart piano concertos stands as a fitting valediction to his legacy. The liquid playing of star pianist Martha Argerich is a major contributor to the success of the performances, it's true. But really this is a Mozart performance shaped by the conductor, and Abbado's subtlety in his old age is remarkable to hear. In the Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466, he generates a great deal of tension without resorting to the Beethovenian mode of expression that is the norm for this concerto these days. The turn to D major at the end of the finale is utterly delightful in the hands of Abbado and Argerich, not a Romantic conceit like sunlight breaking through storm clouds but a quintessentially ingenious Mozartian ornament. The Piano Concerto No. 25 in C major, K. 503, Mozart's longest concerto, offers a lot to chew on, with the framework of the vast first movement and its almost neutral thematic material developed in large motions. The live sound is impressively clear, and in general this is a marvelous statement from the last months of a great conductor's life. ( James Manheim)

martes, 25 de noviembre de 2014

Cecilia Bartoli ST PETERSBURG

This latest disc from mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli is full of arias you have never heard from unknown operas by obscure composers, but that is nothing new. In her recent discs, Bartoli has showed a knack for discovering and re-animating forgotten repertoire. On this disc from Decca, recorded with Diego Fasolis and I Barocchisti, investigates the music written for the opera in St Petersburg in the 18th century. During this period the Russian Court relied on foreign models for much of its high culture and for opera they looked to Italy. On this disc there are arias from operas by Francesco Araia, Hermann Friedrich Raupach, Vincenzo Manfredini, Domenico Dall'Oglio and Luigi Madonis, and Domenico Cimarosa. This latter being the best known of the group. The music is all taken from manuscripts houses in St Petersburg's Mariinsky Theatre Library, coming from the Italian Collection.

lunes, 24 de noviembre de 2014

Kim Kashkashian / Robert Levin / Robyn Schulkowsky DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH - PAUL CHIHARA - LINDA BOUCHARD

 Kim Kashkashian’s third disc for ECM is a curiously mixed bag. Although the liner notes give some delightful anecdotes and insider’s information, I am torn over how much said information enriches my experience of the whole. For example, Kashkashian points to the percussiveness of Shotakovich’s piano writing in his Sonata for Viola and Piano op. 147 as justification for the two companion pieces scored for “actual” percussion and viola. To be sure, this is a fascinating connection, though one that perhaps only the performers can intuit with such immediacy. Either way, the knowledge does guide my listening in new directions and pushes me to burrow into the music wholeheartedly.
We begin with Pourtinade by Linda Bouchard, consisting of nine sections that may be rearranged at will and which are otherwise meticulously notated. Each chapter breeds freshness in this indeterminate order and points to a hidden vitality behind the deceptively ineffectual surface. This is a piece that finds precision in its looseness. Deftly realized, Schulkowsky’s percussion work is porous and minutely detailed like a spiked pincushion through which Kashkashian threads her song.
Next we have Paul Seiko Chihara’s Redwood. Chihara, a film composer who has collaborated with such greats as Louis Malle, was inspired by Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints for this piece largely built around melodic phrases volleying between viola and tuned drums. I doubt that one would ever guess its source from the music alone, and I can’t say for sure whether this really informs the way I listen to it. Nonetheless, the programmatic music has its heart set on something beautiful.
Last but not least is Dmitri Shostakovich’s Sonata for Viola and Piano op. 147. This being his final work, it unfolds like the imminence of death and the timid promise of afterlife. The central Allegretto is filled with concentrated ardor, held back every time it threatens to transcend its cage, and the final 15-minute Adagio is as visceral a swan song as one could expect from such a towering figure in modern music. While this sonata does sound haggard, conserving its energy for selective crescendos, there is a glint of affirmation for every cloud of resignation, so that by the end there is only neutral space.
Even after repeated listenings, I am still not sure how successful this program is as a whole. While the Bouchard and Chihara pieces have their own merits, knowing that Shostakovich is waiting around the corner throws a much different shadow on already obfuscated atmospheres. It’s not that the conceptual approach of the percussion pieces is out of place with the op. 147, but simply that they feel like different languages in want of an intermediary (and, to Kashkashian’s credit, she tries her best to fulfill that role). They rather put me in mind of the stark stop-motion artistry of the Brothers Quay, and would perhaps be better suited to such imagery, crying as they are for visual accompaniment. Nevertheless, all three musicians’ rich talents scintillate at every moment, breathing vibrancy into still notes on a page with oracular fervor.
Knowing the context of a piece biases our interpretation of it. This can be a hindrance, or it can lead to an enlightened understanding. In this case, I find it to be both—hence my complicated reactions to this release. Sometimes the most memorable musical experiences are also the most unexpected. Albums such as this remind us that music is its own reward.

domingo, 23 de noviembre de 2014

Kim Kashkashian HAYREN Music of Komitas and Tigran Mansurian

Tigran Mansurian’s composition “Nostalgia” was recently hailed as a highlight of Alexei Lubimov’s recital disc Der Bote. Now an important new recording from Kim Kashkashian brings Armenia’s leading contemporary composer to ECM New Series in a programme that also explores the roots of Armenian music. Compositions by Mansurian for viola and percussion, played by Kashkashian and Robyn Schulkowsky, receive their premiere recordings here, and frame a selection of Mansurian’s arrangements of the music of Komitas.
Komitas (1869-1935) is revered by Armenians as his nation’s most brilliant songwriter. He was also more than this. Composer, priest, philosopher, poet, ethnomusicologist, collector of folk songs, writer of sacred and secular music that bridged the old and the new …. The fine line that connects the melodic character of the most ancient Armenian music with the works of contemporary Armenian composers runs through Komitas.
In his settings of the Komitas pieces, Mansurian shows us the rich soil from which his own music springs. Analogies can be drawn also with Kashkashian’s last disc, the widely acclaimed “Voci”, on which Berio’s music was set alongside the folksongs that inspired it. In exploring Komitas, American-Armenian violist Kashkashian is also contacting her own roots. Kashkashian and Mansurian understand each other perfectly here. When they first met, the music of Komitas proved a common bond. “The necessity to live with our traditional melodies was already apparent to both of us,” says Mansurian, “and I understood that these pieces belong as much to Kim as they do to Komitas.”
The Mansurian/Kashkashian association was further strengthened by an “Armenian Night” realized with the help of Manfred Eicher, at the 1999 Bergen International Music Festival, in which Kashkashian, Robyn Schulkowsky, and Jan Garbarek participated, along with the Yerevan Chamber Choir and leading Armenian soloists. During the concert some of Mansurian’s works were played for the first time, including the Duet for Viola and Percussion, and “Havik”. Mansurian: “The poetical text and the melody of this song were written by the great 10th century Armenian mystic Grigor Narekatsi.” An early 20th century recording of Komitas singing this song exists, and it inspired Mansurian’s composition, in which he “tried to retain all the nuances of Komitasian performance.”
The album’s title, Hayren alludes to the “poetical style most beloved by Armenians, which has a tradition of centuries.” Mansurian continues, ‘Hayren’ is dense with the phonetics and intonation of our language, and the Armenian landscape and aspects of Armenian worldview and sentiment are also present."

sábado, 22 de noviembre de 2014

Anee Akiko Meyers THE AMERICAN MASTERS Barber - Corigliano - Bates

While I have written many program notes for my own CDs, this is the first time that I have done so for other composers.
There is a reason I agreed so readily to do it this time: Both composers have shared the intimate quality of mentorship with me – Samuel Barber was my mentor, and I was Mason Bates’s mentor. That sense of connection extends to the artists heard here: Anne commissioned both the concerto and lullaby from Mason and me, and Leonard Slatkin, a close friend of mine, has championed all three composers on this disc. Three generations of friendship and shared ideas are captured in this recording.
I met Samuel Barber in the 1960s after sending him my setting for chorus and orchestra of Dylan Thomas’s Fern Hill. He sent it on to his publisher, G. Schirmer, with a recommendation to publish it, and they agreed. I asked Hans W. Heinsheimer, at the time the famous head of publications at Schirmer, if I could meet Barber, and he arranged for me to see him. At the meeting, Barber gave me some important criticisms of my work, in addition to a lot of encouragement, and this occasion began a mentorship that lasted through the rest of his lifetime. I would show him my work, and he always had something important to say about it. As I developed and grew older, our relationship also grew into a deep friendship that lasted until his death in 1981.
I met Mason Bates, then a Juilliard student, when he brashly interrupted a dinner party I was giving. While my guests stayed in the dining room, he explained that although he knew my studio was full, he had to study with me. I made an exception and took him on as an extra student, both because I had heard his music and felt he had enormous potential, and because of his conviction that working with me would help him. We worked together for several years, and after graduating, he went off into the world and has established a considerable reputation. Mason and I have become colleagues and friends, and even now, he often speaks to me about works he is immersed in. So the mentorship (and friendship) continues… (John Corigliano)

Dana Zemtsov ENIGMA Works for Solo Viola

Unlikely other stringed instruments the viola repertoire hasn't been as thoroughly explored, but this colourful anyhology of music for solo viola contains some of the most challenging works. Famous for her soulful dedication to the viola Dana Zemtsov takes the listener along to a world of warm, deeply touching sounds. She wants to warn the listener for the music on her debut recording: ... here one will scarsely find
lyrical melodies and heartwarming beauty with which music is so often associated.
Instead, there will be tales of war, perplexed wanderings through obscured labyrinths, intense cries of despair, sour tears of sorrow, maybe at places an ironic grinn...
For 2014 and 2015 Channel Classics and Dana agreed on two more recordings, one with piano acccompaniment and another with orchestra.
Winner of numerous competitions and developing an outstanding career, Dana Zemtsov (b. 1992) is one of the most promising international viola soloists of her generation.
Highlights in the 2012 / 13 season include Dana’s performance of the Bartók Viola Concerto in the Great Hall of the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, chamber music with Janine Jansen and Martin Frost during the Utrecht Chamber Music Festival and a recital in Carnegie Hall of New York.
Dana is First Prize laureate of several competitions in Luxemburg, Italy, Austria, Germany, Portugal and the Netherlands. In 2010 she won the Dutch Television competition ‘Evening of the Young Musician’ becoming the ‘Young Musician of the Year’ and representing The Netherlands at the Eurovision Young Musicians Competition in Vienna.
Dana is regularly appearing on the most important international stages and festivals as well as chamber music partner as soloist.
Dana Zemtsov was born in 1992 in Mexico City. She comes from a family of musicians. At the age of 5 she received her first music lessons from her grandmother and from her parents, both viola players, Mikhail Zemtsov and Julia Dinerstein. Since 2012 she studies with the famous viola virtuoso Michael Kugel.