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)

Martha Argerich / Daniel Barenboim MOZART - SCHUBERT - STRAVINSKY Piano Duos

It wasn’t really hype that dictated the word “super” precede the already luminous word “star” in this world. Meaningful distinctions must be made after all. Fame is one thing. Transcendent fame – or fame compounded by transcendent ability – is quite another.
Here are two of the great living superstars of classical piano completely living up to their transcendent reputations in performance together. Add to this live recording of their magnificent two-piano event from Berlin in April some priceless biographical information: that in 1949, a 7-year-old Daniel Barenboim and an 8-year-old Martha Argerich began their lives as piano prodigies in Buenos Aires.
“We sight-read and played with whoever was in town” Barenboim said. “We were two little wunderkinder” Argerich said. “We played children’s games under the table. I used to hide but he would find me.”
Here, then, from 60 years later is a virtuoso piano reunion to end virtuoso piano reunions – four-handed music by Mozart, Schubert and Stravinsky, played by a duo that hadn’t concertized together since the 1980s. Some were played on two pianos (Mozart, Stravinsky), Schubert was played by four hands on one piano.
Works performed are Mozart’s D-major sonata for two pianos K.448, Schubert’s Variations on an Original Theme in A-Flat major D. 813 and Stravinsky’s own arrangement for two pianists of “Le Sacre Du Printemps.”
All of which is performed on the kind of level that gives virtuosity a good name, no matter what peevish puritanism one might bring to the conversation. The piece that may well make this disc an enduring classic in two-piano performance is their searing pyrotechnic performance of Stravinsky’s two-piano arrangement of his “Le Sacre du Printemps.”
The composer once, famously, played it privately with Claude Debussy at the other piano. In this performance, the often astounding Argerich is playing the piece for the first time.
The result, incredibly then, is a level of performance which Barenboim claims left him “flabbergasted.”
You can take that and pass it around. I doubt strongly we’ll ever again hear the likes of this performance of Stravinsky’s two-piano version of “Le Sacre” in our time.
One of the year’s great classical discs. (Jeff Simon)

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.

viernes, 21 de noviembre de 2014

Dennis Russell Davies / Radio Symphonieorchester Wien GIYA KANCHELI Trauerfarbenes Land

Giya Kancheli's fifth album for ECM New Series is the first to be devoted exclusively to the Georgian composer's orchestral music, and features two extended pieces of often volcanic power that bear out the judgement of Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin: "Kancheli is an ascetic with the temperament of a maximalist, a smouldering Vesuvius."
The writing of Trauerfarbenes Land was the direct outcome of the highly successful initial collaboration between Kancheli, Dennis Russell Davies, and the orchestra Davies then conducted, the Orchester der Beethovenhalle Bonn, a recording documented on "Liturgy: vom Winde beweint" (ECM New Series 1471). At the end of that session the Bonn orchestra commissioned a new work from Kancheli, and Trauerfarbenes Land was subsequently given its first performance in Bonn in December 1994. Davies, one of the most ardent champions of Kancheli's music, now presents the premiere recording of the work with the Vienna Radio Symphony, the orchestra for which he has been chief conductor since 1996.
"A combination of sensuality and artistic precision, vitalism and rigour pervades every fibre of Kancheli's work," writes Wolfgang Sandner in the CD booklet notes. And if the composer's choice of titles invites extra-musical associations – critics have found it hard to resist the temptation to interpret his work geopolitically – the music itself "like Beethoven's is 'more an expression of feeling than painting'...These are self-contained works of art, not agitprop." They are, moreover, often named after the event. Kancheli found the title Trauerfarbenes Land ("Country the colour of mourning"), for instance, in a newspaper article about Georgia while he was putting the finishing touches to his score.
Epic in scope – maximal music indeed, to use Shchedrin's term – Trauerfarbenes Land emphasises Kancheli's penchant for extreme dynamic contrasts as it "unfolds like an austere musical procession", building in intensity until "single colours and contours can no longer be recognised." The words of the Los Angeles Weekly in praise of Kancheli's Caris Mere album are applicable here, too: "This is thrilling music, mysterious and distant at one moment, erupting with an astonishing blaze of sound the next. If you treasure the films of Andrei Tarkovsky, the late quartets of Shostakovich, or the great works of Ligeti, this is your music as well."
...à la Duduki is named for the reed instrument of the Caucasus whose piercing, wailing tone is basic to the Georgian folk tradition, but the inspiration for the piece is traceable to a trumpet player, Karlen Avetisian, who contributed his "duduki-esque" trumpet sound to a piece Kancheli wrote for radio in the mid-1960s. Avetisian wasn't a professional musician, he played mostly at weddings, but Kancheli liked his sound, and enticed him to the studio. The old man made several passes at the written notes but the essence of his sound seemed to disappear when confronted with a score. Finally he asked if he could try to improvise, and the music came alive. The trumpeter's playing had an emotional persuasiveness that Kancheli never forgot. When asked to write a piece for the orchestra of Mannheim's National Theatre, he went back and listened again to his tapes from 30 years earlier and rescored that trumpet solo for five brass players, reintegrating it in his new composition. The intermingling of brass and strings in this composition also brings out quite clearly Kancheli's affection for jazz; there are, intentionally, some parallels here with Gil Evans's orchestral arrangements for Miles Davis, always a touchstone for the Georgian composer. But there is much more to be heard. Wolfgang Sandner: "The dialoguing of brass quintet and full orchestra in ...à la Duduki is playfully reminiscent of the Baroque tradition. [Elsewhere] melisma follows melisma, recalling beautiful oriental script. No note is attacked directly, as it would have been in Trauerfarbenes Land: appogiaturas, sighing motifs and ornaments continually obscure the direction of the melodic flow."

jueves, 20 de noviembre de 2014

Ensemble Intercontemporain UNSUK CHIN Akrostichon - Wortspiel

In 2004, Korean-born composer Unsuk Chin pulled off what might seem impossible -- she won the prestigious Grauemeyer Award for her Violin Concerto with no more representation in terms of commercial recordings than a single electro-acoustic piece included on an obscure compilation more than 10 years old. Commonly, to be awarded such a grand distinction, at least some presence in terms of recording is necessary, but the inherent qualities of Chin's music prevailed. If Chin felt somewhat slighted before about the lack of availability of her music on disc, Deutsche Grammophon's Unsuk Chin: Akrostichon-Wortspiel more than makes up for it. Here are four of her works, Akrostichon-Wortspiel (1991-1993), Fantaisie mécanique (1994-1997), Xi (1997-1998), and the Double Concerto for piano, percussion and ensemble (2002), in splendiferous performances by the Ensemble InterContemporain under Kazushi Ono, Patrick Davin, David Robertson, and Stefan Asbury. 
Chin speaks the language of European avant-garde as to the manner born, but does something with it that sets her apart from her peers, demonstrating absorption of pertinent musical ideas long forgotten or abandoned by most of them. Akrostichon-Wortspiel, sung with uncanny virtuosity by Finnish soprano Piia Komsi, features a vocal line that combines a quirky approach to melody with the verbal concretism associated with Dada and sets it to an appropriately wacky instrumental complement. Chin stated, "my music is a reflection of my dreams," and indeed, Fantaisie mécanique is like a dream about a complex gadget made of innumerable gears and cogs taking itself apart, as in a Quay Brothers animation. Xi is scored for chamber ensemble and electronics, and is scored so lightly that it is impossible to tell where one starts and the other ends. The opening of the Double Concerto contains no electronics, but one would swear that they are there, so diaphanous and elusive is the texture. The tonal language of the Double Concerto is reminiscent of impressionism, and the sound of it, like that of Akrostichon-Wortspiel, is strangely "sexy" in a way that defies explanation. 
Unsuk Chin: Akrostichon-Wortspiel is not for those who turn to music to seek repose and relaxation. Yet for those who like a challenge and intellectual stimulation, this is like a seven-course meal. Let us hope this is not the last we will hear from Unsuk Chin. (Uncle Dave Lewis)

miércoles, 19 de noviembre de 2014

Emma Bell HANDEL Operatic Arias

 Emma Bell gets better and better. This sparkling recording confirms her reputation as one of the most exciting of the younger generation of Handelians. Berenice’s arioso ‘Tutta raccolta ancor’ is warmed into life with honeyed tones, and there’s heart stopping decoration as Cleopatra in the central section of ‘Piangerò la sorte mia’ from Giulio Cesare. It’s the suppleness of the voice that excites, with trills that really trill and scales that effortlessly climb the heights above the stave. So who cares if now and again Bell snatches at her topmost notes?
It’s Bell’s instinct for the drama of a Handel Aria that keeps you listening. Technique is always subordinated to psychology as she turns queens, princesses and
sorceresses into flesh and blood women: Melissa spitting fury in ‘Destero dall empia Dite’ from Amadigi or Rodelinda shrouded in deepest sorrow in ‘Se’l mio duol non è sì forte’.
Richard Egarr directs a Scottish Chamber Orchestra on its very best behaviour with fine string playing throughout and a magnificently angry trumpet obbligato in the aria from Amadigi. Soloist and ensemble seem to egg each other on to ever-greater brilliance, which surely is just as it should be in the Baroque. (Christopher Cook, BBC Music Magazine)

martes, 18 de noviembre de 2014

Anna Gourari DÉSIR Scriabin - Gubaidulina

Anna Gourari was born in Kazan, Russia. She began piano lessons at the age of five, and from 1979 attended a special school for gifted children in her home town, studying with Kira Shashkina, the teacher of Mikhail Pletnev, and giving her first recital in the same year. Several master classes with Professor Vera Gornostaeva at the Moscow Conservatory stand out among Anna Gourari’s early and some of the most influential musical experiences; then, in 1990, she moved to Germany and continued her piano studies with Professor Ludwig Hoffmann und Gitti Pirner in Munich. She has won several distinctions including the first prizes at the Kabalevsky Competition in Russia (1986) and the first International Chopin Competition in Gottingen (1990), a bursary from the “Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes”, the “Staatliche Förderungspreis” for young musicians etc.
Since then Anna Gourari has built up an excellent reputation as soloist and chamber musician in the most important centres of music. She regularly performs at international music festivals like the Salzburg Festival, the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival, the Festival Pianistico Internazionale Bergamo-Brescia, the Gustav Mahler Festival in Dobbiaco, the St Moritz Festival, the Bad Kissingen Summer Festival, the Lockenhaus Festival, the Rheingau Music Festival, the Festival of Flanders, the Ruhr Piano Festival, the Septembre Musical Montreux, the European Weeks in Passau, the Musica Insieme festival in Bologna a.o., performing with renowned orchestras such as the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Budapest Festival Orchestra, the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, the St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra, the Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra, the Solistes Européens in Luxembourg, the Russian State Academic Symphonic Orchestra, the SWR Symphony Orchestra, the Vienna Chamber Orchestra, the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra with conductors like Lorin Maazel, Roger Norrington, Zubin Mehta, Colin Davis, Marco Armiliato and Iván Fischer.
“You do not make music, you are music!” That was the opinion of the legendary film and opera director Werner Herzog, who cast Anna Gourari in the lead part in his cinema film “Invincible”, in which she portrays a pianist. The acclaimed premiere of the German-American co-production took place at the Venice International Film Festival in the autumn of 2001.
In February 2007 Anna Gourari returned to Russia for the first time after many years to film six TV articles on art and culture in Moscow for Deutsche Welle.
Numerous radio and CD recordings document her wide-ranging repertoire, including her special interest in twentieth-century music. The album “Désir”, released on Decca, presents works by Alexander Skryabin and Sofia Gubaidulina. Composers like Rodion Shchedrin and Jörg Widmann have dedicated works to her.

lunes, 17 de noviembre de 2014

Thierry Miroglio KAIJA SAARIAHO Six Japanese Gardens - Trois Rivières Delta

Six Japanese Gardens is a collection of impressions of the gardens I saw in Kyoto during my stay in Japan in the summer of 1993 and my reflection on rhythm at that time.
As the title indicates, the piece is divided into six parts. All these parts give specific look at a rhythmic material, starting from the simplistic first part, in which the main instrumentation is introduced, going to complex polyrhythmic or ostinato figures, or alternation of rhythmic and purely coloristic material.
The selection of instruments played by the percussionist is voluntarily reduced to give space for the perception of rhythmic evolutions. Also, the reduced colours are extended with the addition of an electronics part, in which we hear nature's sounds, ritual singing, and percussion instruments recorded in the Kuntachi College of Music with Shinti Ueno. The ready-mixed sections are triggered by the percussionist during the piece, from a Macintosh computer.
All the work for processing and mixing the pre-recorded material was done with a Macintosh computer in my home studio. Some transformations are made with the resonant filters in the CHANT program, and with the SVP Phaser Vocoder. This work was made with Jean-Baptiste Barrière. The final mixing was made with the Protools program with the assistance of Hanspeter Stubbe Teglbjaerg.
The piece is commissioned by the Kunitachi College of Music and written for Shinti Ueno. (Kaija Saariaho)

TERJE RYPDAL Double Concerto - 5th Symphony


Terje Rypdal’s new recording is, in some respects, a continuation of the work documented on such albums as “Whenever I Seem To Be Far Away”, “Undisonus”, and “Q.E.D”. The emphasis is on Rypdal as composer. This side of Rypdal’s work has gradually been gaining ground since “Undisonus” received the “Work Of The Year” award from the Norwegian Composers Association in the mid-1980s; at the time, this was hailed by many as a signal of long overdue acceptance in Norway’s “classical” milieu.
Rypdal, though, is too idiosyncratic a musician, and his influences are too unruly and disparate, for him ever to fit comfortably into any one club for too long. As influences on his orchestral writing he cites Mahler, Grieg, Debussy, Ligeti, Stockhausen, Rolf Wallin, Finn Mortensen, and Arne Nordheim, but when he plugs his Fender guitar into his Marshall amp an altogether different set of role models hove into view, as allegiances to Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix and Steve Winwood – and others of the blues-rock pantheon of the 60s - become paramount. At a further remove, there’s also a third set of icons in the jazz world who have reinforced certain improvisational ideas – including guitarists Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell and Charlie Byrd. For more than 35 years, Rypdal, faithful to all his enthusiasms, has gone his own way, at times closer to one idiom or another, never really belonging anywhere. He has spent his life trying to synthesize or reconcile musical elements that most players would consider mutually and permanently hostile .
His Double Concerto is a further attempt at bridge building. Into his orchestral sound-world he imports, for the first time on an ECM disc, a second electric guitarist. Fellow Norwegian Ronni Le Tekro is Rypdal’s partner here, hard-rock leader/founder of the band TNT.
Rypdal and Le Tekro have admired each other’s work for many years now: Terje declares himself “stunned” by what he calls Le Tekro’s “machine-gun technique and special harmonics.” The TNT guitarist, for his part, praises the originality and the “volcanic aspect” of Rypdal’s playing.

domingo, 16 de noviembre de 2014

Patricia Kopatchinskaja / Anja Lechner / Amsterdam Sinfonietta / Candida Thompson TIGRAN MANSURIAN Quasi Parlando

“Quasi Parlando” is an important addition to ECM’s documentation of the work of Tigran Mansurian, an often breathtaking account of highly original contemporary chamber orchestra music. Issued in the wake of his 75th birthday, the album opens with the Armenian composer’s fiercely-concentrated Double Concerto, and proceeds to new music performed by its dedicatees: the lyrical Romance, dedicated to Moldavian violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja, and the intensely expressive Quasi Parlando, dedicated to German cellist Anja Lechner. Both are world premiere recordings, as is the Concerto No 2, subtitled Four Serious Songs, which concludes the programme. Throughout, the soloists deliver committed performances, as does the Amsterdam Sinfonietta under the direction of Candida Thompson. 
In the liner notes, Wolfgang Sandner describes title piece Quasi Parlando, composed in 2012, as one of the works which best exemplify Mansurian’s aesthetics of reduction: “Every note is exactly where it belongs. Compositional feeling seems at one with the innate potential of the sounds. Yet we are amazed to hear how the cello’s rhetorical figures congeal into an effective and expressive art that transcends the conceptualisations of speech.” The Romance, composed a year earlier, initially retains the four-bar periods of a simple but moving folk song until the strings enter a dialogue with the solo violin, whereupon a transformation takes place... 
In terms of textural density, Mansurian’s music has seen some changes in the thirty years that separate the composing of the Double Concerto and the Four Serious Songs, but his aesthetic stance has been consistent, both works sharing an immediacy of expression and rigorous creative will. At the same time, the composer encourages a degree of creative freedom from his music’s interpreters: “What is important is what the music needs, not what I need”, he said in a talk given at the Muziekgebouw Amsterdam, immediately before the recording of these pieces in October 2012. 
Patricia Kopatchinskaja has described the violin part of Four Serious Songs as “pure spirit and magic... Tigran’s music is some of the strongest of our time.”

sábado, 15 de noviembre de 2014

Sylvia Nopper / Kai Wessel / Olivier Darbellay / Matthias Würsch / Swiss Chamber Soloists HEINZ HOLLIGER Induuchlen

Issued simultaneously with “Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis” (ECM 2229), his dazzling account of Bach’s music for oboe, “Induulchen” puts the focus upon Heinz Holliger as composer of idiosyncratic genius, defining a sound-world of his own. Here, Holliger’s creativity draws inspiration from arcane Swiss sources, setting the poetry of Anna Maria Bacher who writes in the endangered idiom of “Pummattertisch”, and verse by the late Albert Streich, who wrote in Brienz-German. As conductor Holliger draws committed performances from a cast of gifted chamber musicians and singers Sylvia Nopper and Kai Wessel. The outcome is intriguing, mysterious and often strangely beautiful.
Holliger has described Anna Maria Bacher’s poetry as “a force of nature, like an avalanche or a thunderstorm”. It has inspired one of Holliger’s most complex works of verbal art. In the liner notes Michael Kunkel writes that it is near-impossible to describe the cycle Puneigä sequentially: “Multiple sound-worlds coalesce in a single work distinctly rich in connections, contrasts and perspectives that is nonetheless comprised of a number of short, atmospherically and stylistically similar songs and interludes (…)
“New Music’s literary canon revolves around a relatively small selection of names: Hölderlin, Beckett, Celan, Mandelstam, Robert Walser, Nelly Sachs... For Holliger, not entirely uninvolved in the establishment of this canon, it is increasingly difficult to continue working with a body of literature that has worn thin in numerous musical reworkings. In this context, his long-standing penchant for dialects and local idioms, preferably of a Swiss nature, becomes very topical indeed: The poetry of Anna Maria Bacher and Bernadette Lerjen-Sarbach (Gränzä, Borders) or the legends of the Upper Valais (Alb-Chehr) were, from a composer’s point of view, still untouched and had, for Holliger, similar significance as art forms outside the realm of high culture as for his teacher Sándor Veress, for Anton Webern (op. 17) or Béla Bartók (Cantata profana). And in Induuchlen (Darkening), Albert Streich’s Brienz-German verses provide even more opportunity to dip into Bartók’s ‘pure fountain.’”

viernes, 14 de noviembre de 2014

John Holloway BIBER / MUFFAT Der Türken Anmarsch


“Der Türken Anmarsch”, a recording distinguished by extraordinarily inventive and committed performances, marks “the end of an era” for John Holloway. The album brings to a conclusion fourteen years of intensive work on Biber’s music. “I have come to an ever greater admiration of Biber,” Holloway says, “and of his immense contribution to the development of the violin as a serious instrument for Western music.” As with his previous album “Unam Ceylum”, the British violinist and his associates perform pieces from Biber’s 1681 anthology, Sonatae Violino solo, which formed the cornerstone of his reputation. They show how secular and sacred concerns are interwoven in music as arresting and as innovative as the “Mystery Sonatas”.
In the liner notes, Peter Wollny writes: “Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber (1644-1704), chapel-master at Salzburg, has gone down in history as one of the greatest violinists of his age. His astonishing prowess can be seen not only in the demanding violin parts he wrote in his music for instrumental and vocal ensemble, but especially in his many sonatas for solo violin. But Biber, in his compositions, was concerned with more than simply flaunting his extraordinary virtuosity: as he stressed several times in the prefaces to his printed editions, his music was meant to be pervaded - and thereby legitimized - by his compositional skills. In making good this claim, he also acquired the reputation of being one of the supreme composers of his generation.”
Der Türken Anmarsch” takes its title from Biber’s A-Minor Sonata. Some questions remain regarding authorship of parts of the work, for the manuscript is attributed to Schmelzer. Andreas Anton Schmelzer, son of the great violinist composer Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, apparently reworked a piece by Biber to relate it to events of 1683, when the Turks launched an assault on the city of Vienna. Though the programmatic theme – Islam versus Christianity – has lost none of its topicality over three centuries, there is little indication that religious war was on Biber’s mind when he structured the piece. Large parts of the composition clearly stem from Biber’s tenth sonata in the “Mystery Cycle”, intended to depict the crucifixion in the original context.”

jueves, 13 de noviembre de 2014

Myung Whun Chung PIANO


The ECM New Series debut of Myung Whun Chung features the widely-celebrated conductor as pianist. Recorded at Venice’s Teatro La Fenice, in July 2013, the album marks the first occasion that Chung has recorded solo. In a performer’s note, he describes the album as a gift for younger listeners, as well as a personal thanks to those who share his love of this music. Chung’s touch and sensitivity for dynamics cast a new light on familiar pieces – by Debussy, Chopin, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Schubert, Schumann and Mozart – as they are experienced in a gently flowing sequence which also serves to highlight affinities between the compositions. Although conducting now fully occupies his professional life, Chung (born 1953 in Seoul) made his debut as pianist with the Seoul Philharmonic at the age of seven. He later studied the piano with Maria Curcio, the last and favourite pupil of Artur Schnabel. In 1974 he was a prize winner in the Tchaikovsky Competition. He then began his career playing piano trios with his sisters, Kyung Wha Chung and Myung Wha Chung.

miércoles, 12 de noviembre de 2014

David Geringas / Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien / Dennis Russell Davies ERKKI-SVEN TÜÜR Flux

ECM follows up its astonishing debut of Estonian composer Erkki-Sven Tüür with a program of further deconstructions. With his architectonic shovel, Tüür burrows out an idiomatic hovel for himself in the sands of today’s placid musical shores. Every motif is its own voice, building to powerful fruition from the smallest of sparks. To start, the Symphony No. 3 (1997) clicks its tongue with a delicate cymbal. Like the corona of a jazz dream, it wavers through a swarm of failed bass lines and reeds. The lower strings ascend in a brief march before being drowned by a vibraphone. The ensuing cloudbursts recall the composer’s wintry Crystallisatio. Percussion becomes more pronounced as stuttering rhythms break the first movement into pieces. In the second movement, a glockenspiel ruptures the high strings as a snare hit unleashes a brass menagerie. The flute emerges for a solo passage as strings process gently in the background. The string writing recalls Tüür’s Passion, albeit transposed to a different key. The symphony ends with a single note from the vibraphone, dripping like a water clock into mortal darkness.
Tüür’s aesthetic is so fractured that the concerto would seem an anachronism, but his Concerto for Cello and Orchestra (1996) epitomizes the very essence of his craft, planting as it does a single generative seed firmly in the soil of introspection. His background as a rock musician comes through noticeably in his bold rhythmic choices, while the piece’s single-movement structure ensures that its signals remain explicitly contained. The vibraphone reprises its vital role, oozing like plasma from an open wound. It is not the soloist that arises from within the orchestra, but much the reverse. And as the vibraphone weaves its way deftly through the orchestra’s open spaces, a single note on strings hints at relaxation. Tüür gravitates toward higher notes here, so that even in descending motifs the apex gains precedence as pedal point. He ends with a celestial cluster, a galaxy spinning out of control until it implodes.
Lighthouse (1997), for string orchestra, is one of Tüür’s most cinematic pieces, which, if we are to take the title literally, would seem to render its eponymous structure from the outside in. We track its light first, and the afterimage it leaves on the screen, only to be given view of the mechanism that turns and amplifies its voice in the night like a siren to the dark ships of its surrender. The lush scoring painfully picks apart and rebuilds the lighthouse, turning it inside out, so that its column is now made of light and its reassuring beam becomes the mortar of its foundation, sweeping its potent arm through the air and knocking everything in its path. This is not a violent piece but a purposeful one, sustained by architectural consciousness. It tells its story in hefty chunks, if always through the fog of recollection. Its agitation enacts a sort of tragedy, a body descending from its topmost rail, flailing its appendages helplessly before the sand engulfs its last breath. Yet the music is anything but morbid, only mournful in the realization of its own complicity in the ending of a life, and the beginning of a new one.
Tüür’s aphasic approach has made him one of the most sought-after composers of our generation, and not without good reason. His stable foundations allow him to build teetering creations that never quite tumble. His music works very much like thought, constantly rationalizing its decisions in hindsight. The most transcendent passages are always stirred so that they become muddled without obscuring individual colors. Despite the seemingly disparate elements of these mosaics, Tüür’s is not a process that imposes itself upon the elements at hand. Rather, it recognizes and values its inner life and the varied ways in which one can externalize it.

martes, 11 de noviembre de 2014

Patricia Kopatchinskaja / Markus Hinterhäuser / Reto Bieri GALINA USTVOLSKAYA

Russian composer Galina Ustvolskaya (1919-2006) insisted that she wrote no chamber music: instrumentation alone could be no index of her music’s intentions. Her works are infused, she said, with a religious spirit, and the powerful, rhythmic stringency of the music testifies to the relentlessness of her vision. Although Shostakovich had been one of her teachers, Ustvolskaya maintained that her music resembled that of no other composer, living or dead, and put herself outside all stylistic “schools”. She followed only her own austere, unforgiving path. Its sense of concentration is sometimes ferocious; her work, said Viktor Suslin, has the "narrowness of a laser beam capable of piercing metal.” Entering its sound-world calls for a special kind of commitment. With prescience Shostakovich said of her art, “I am convinced that the music of G. I. Ustvolskaya will achieve worldwide renown, to be valued by all who perceive truth in music to be of paramount importance.” Many years had to pass for this prediction to be fulfilled, but Ulstvolskaya’s music is increasingly being taken up by artists. On the present disc, Patricia Kopatchinskaja, pianist Markus Hinterhäuser and clarinettist Reto Bieri rise to its challenges.
The intensity of Ustvolskaya’s music is well-matched with the driven performance style of Patricia Kopatchinskaja who was recently voted “Instrumentalist of the Year” by the Royal Philharmonic Society, its jury of musicians hailing her as “an irresistible force of nature: passionate, challenging and totally original in her approach.” Her aim as an interpretative player, is “to communicate the meaning and inner workings of the music. Curiosity drives me to explore many different musical frontiers." Her repertoire has addressed music from Bach to Cage and beyond. Kopatchinskaja feels that Ustvolskaya’s 1964 Duet is amongst the 20th century’s most powerful compositions: “Here is no place for ‘beauty’. In order to rise to the expressive power of this music the interpretation has to go to the extremes.” The 1952 Sonata, meanwhile, “gains quality and depth with each repeated playing (and listening). In the beginning the violin repeats a hammering phrase, - the stonemason working on a tombstone. This pulse prolongs itself through the whole piece, sometimes interrupted by irregular breaths and sighs – a lonesome soul walking through an endless Russian landscape. The music of Ustvolskaya is like a ritual, taking the listener into a unique and archaic world, where there is no place for comparisons or theoretical analysis.”
The present recording of Ustvolskaya’s music was made at Lugano’s Auditorio Radiotelevisione svizzera in March 2013, and produced by Manfred Eicher.

lunes, 10 de noviembre de 2014

Peter Eötvös ELLIOTT CARTER / PAUL GRIFFITHS What Next?

“What Next?” Carter’s first opera, written in 1997 and 1998, begins with a car crash and follows, obliquely, the development of six survivors crawling from the wreckage. The chain of events has a dreamlike quality. “The survivors are five adults and a child. Mama (a dramatic soprano) is the most insistent of them: as she understands things, the adults were all on their way to the marriage of her son, a clownish baritone who calls himself Harry or Larry, to Rose, a self-absorbed performing artist (a lyric soprano). The glib guru-like tenor Zen is Mama’s former husband, and the astronomer Stella (a contralto) is his current girl friend. The sixth figure, Kid, a twelve-year-old boy alto, is a mystery to Mama, who repeatedly tries to focus everyone’s attention on their joint predicament. While the others generally concede that Mama’s assessment of their relationships may be correct, they have other agendas. Zen seeks to maintain his status as ‘a teacher, a master.’ Rose doesn’t really care who the others are; she is still grooving on the triumph of her last performance, and expects the others to be similarly appreciative. Stella thinks she was on her way to work at her astronomical observatory. Harry or Larry doesn’t care. Eventually, two Road Workers arrive and poke around in the percussive wreckage, initially ignoring the importuning of the crash victims, who finally walk away, still disputatiously engaged.”(David Hamilton, in the CD booklet notes).

“Carter's music, from the opening crash of the prelude, remains active throughout the entire single act - in the spasms and splinterings of the percussion, where the coalescing of the sounds are continually being torn asunder again... So the central interlude of the work provides a great surprise: the lost characters abandon the stage, the dreamlike scenery becomes even more unreal, the wrecked car seems to explode in slow motion. Here Carter suddenly develops, in extraordinarily skilfully constructed music, a powerful sense of poetry, whose magic is sustained through soft sounds and melodic lines. It is the sound of transformation...” Wolfgang Schreiber, Süddeutsche Zeitung

viernes, 7 de noviembre de 2014

Patrick Demenga / Thomas Demenga 12 HOMMAGES A PAUL SACHER POUR VIOLONCELLE

This unique collection features compositions written to celebrate the 70th birthday, in 1976, of Paul Sacher, Swiss conductor and arts patron. Presented together on disc for the first time, the 12 pieces on this double album are effectively a landscape of modern cello music.
Each of the composers were asked to write a piece using, as a starting point, a motif of the 6 letters of Sacher’s name. New Series soloist Thomas Demenga - acclaimed for his sequence of albums juxtaposing Bach and contemporary composers - and his brother Patrick Demenga are the performers.


Nearly two decades ago, Mstislav Rostropovich asked a dozen composer-friends to write short works for him to play as part of the celebration of the 75th birthday of Paul Sacher, arguably the century's greatest patron of music. The theme, based on six notes translated from letters of the name of the honoree, was to be developed by Benjamin Britten for variations by Luciano Berio, Pierre Boulez, Henri Dutilleux, Alberto Ginastera, Cristobal Halffter, Witold Lutoslawski and others.
The composers, however, responded differently in terms of the form, length and, in one instance, number of musicians for their pieces, and Rostropovich never played all of them. Some were recorded by other artists; the present release is the first to offer them in a musical "bouquet," as intended.
Few listeners will want to hear the entire program in a single 83-minute sitting. But the music is for anyone who loves the Bach Cello Suites or the Kodaly solo Sonata. Despite touches of academic severity, there's tremendous variety of sound and expression, with playing of the highest order. It's a challenging collection to come to terms with before the observances of Sacher's 95th birthday next March. (August 06, 1995 / Alan G. Artner)

miércoles, 5 de noviembre de 2014

Patrick Demenga / Thomas Demenga LUX AETERNA



"Few are prepared", wrote The Strad, "for the sensational panache, dazzling virtuosity and sheer musicianship that characterizes the Demenga brothers' playing", and Gramophone magazine has hailed the Swiss cellists' playing as "spectacularly assured". Patrick Demenga ( b. 1962) and Thomas Demenga (b. 1954 ) make an impact, wherever they play. "Lux Aeterna" is their second combined New Series recording, following the critically acclaimed double-album "12 Hommages à Paul Sacher" released in 1995, and it is the first ECM recording to feature them actually playing together. (On the Sacher discs they had shared the programme between them).
Each of the cellist brothers is secure in his own reputation and continues to lead a distinguished solo career; the duo exists to celebrate their shared commitment for music from the baroque to the present day. Theirs is, how-ever, an unusual instrumental combination, and strong cello duo repertoire being in short supply, the Demengas have commissioned pieces from outstanding contemporary composers - and composers, in turn, have also dedi-cated works to them.

The opening work on this ECM New Series CD, Alexander Knaifel's Lux aeterna, is one of the most fascinating, compelling, intriguing, and rewarding compositions ' and perfomances ' that I have heard for quite some time. The sounds that the Demenga brothers achieve, combining their two cellos with their two voices, are haunting and expressive. You will think at times when listening to this cut that you are listening to a chamber orchestra and choir. ... This CD would well be worth purchasing for the title cut alone, but there's more, much more, including a duo for two cellos by Thomas Demenga, a sonata for two cellos by Jean Barrière, which shows that the Demengas can also play expressively in music that the average music listener is more likely to find familiar in style, and compositions by contemporary composers Roland Moser and Barry Guy. ... All in all, Lux aeterna is a CD that will open up your ears and minds to the musical possibilities inherent in two musicians. (Karl W. Nehring, Sensible Sound)

lunes, 3 de noviembre de 2014

Nilsson / Windgassen / Fischer-Dieskau / Adam / Chor und Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin WAGNER Tannhäuser


The leading members of the admirable cast all pay warm tribute to their conductor Otto Gerdes, a name that will be new to most of us. He learned his job in the small German opera houses and graduated to conducting performances in the Dresden, Berlin and Munich State Operas. In 1956 he interrupted his successful career as a conductor by becoming artistic recording supervisor to DGG and then their artistic director, eventually resuming conducting. He here makes his debut as director of a full length opera, having previously only recorded some 'highlights' in this field. He takes a little time to settle down. In the Overture the broken triplets of the violins' counter theme to the Song of the Pilgrims is rather inflexibly treated and the Venusberg music at first lacks sensuousness, but as the music grows more erotic one encounters the vitality that is evidently one of this conductor's characteristics, and one that enables him to keep the music alive, even through dull or banal patches. He is considerate to the singers, capable of poetic feeling, and altogether I can well understand that the artists enjoyed working with him. He is particularly good also in the management of the big ensembles in-the last scene of Act 2. These are well balanced in the recording except that I did find some overloading at the end of the last ensemble.
Windgassen, in the Philips recording, and Fischer-Dieskau in the HMV, gave outstandingly fine accounts of their roles and now even manage to improve on them. Fischer-Dieskau says "much that was new and hitherto unnoticed was still to be discovered on this occasion in a part which is particularly close to my heart" and we shall see how true that is when we come to Acts 2 and 3. I have never cared much for the doubling of parts in opera but it is certainly a pleasure to have Venus's music so well sung as it is by Nilsson. One could not expect from her type of voice the voluptuous appeal that Grace Bumbry brought to the part in the Philips recording, and which made a sensation at the Bayreuth Festival. It is of course written for a soprano not a mezzo-soprano and Nilsson comes off best when Venus upbraids Tannhäuser. It was an inexperienced Wagner who made Tannhäuser repeat his praise of Venus twice and there is nothing which the tenor can do about it. Windgassen, in good voice, is very convincing in his determination to escape from the destructive enchantments of the Venusberg. The Shepherd's little song, with interludes between the verses for the English horn, as in the Paris version, is charmingly sung by Caterina Alda at the start of the following scene.
The excellently played horn fanfares that bring the Landgrave and the minstrels on to the stage foreshadow those in Act 2 of Tristan. Fischer-Dieskau sings the gorgeous melody—old-fashioned or not—set to the words that tell how Elisabeth, in Tannhauser's absence, has absented herself from the contests of the minstrels. This melody is built into a fine ensemble in which the balance of parts with the orchestra is very good. Nilsson's singing of Elisabeth's greeting to the Hall of Song is predictably glorious and I was glad that her duet with Tannhauser, one of the weakest things in the scene, was taken at some speed by Gerdes, which is as it should be. Theo Adam makes an authoritative Landgrave, excellent in declaration, less good in legato passages.
We come now to Wolfram's address to the knights and ladies, which he accompanies on the harp and this is one of the finest things in this recording. Fischer-Dieskau's sovereign way with words is superbly manifested here, and with deeper tones than before. Wolfram is the truly noble character in the opera, worth a bushel of Tannhäusers, and his nobility and compassion are fully brought out by this great artist. I was delighted to find how well Horst R. Laubenthal, whose first Lieder recital I reviewed in November, fared in the part of Walter van der Vogelweide, ancestor of Walther von Stolzing in The Mastersingers: and how well another young artist, Klaus Hirte, also acquitted himself in denouncing Tannhäuser's false conception of love. Nilsson rises to great heights in her pleading for mercy to be shown to her lover and Windgassen is equally good in his defiance and contrition.
Gerdes and his orchestra paint a vivid picture of Tannhäuser's pilgrimage, but I wish Nilsson, in spite of Wagner's doubleforte markings at two points, had sung the prayer to the Virgin with rather more interior feeling. Elisabeth is indeed heartbroken, but she is kneeling at the foot of the statue of the Virgin and a more muted appeal would better convey the full pathos of her situation. Fischer-Dieskau's singing of the celebrated song to the Evening Star is absolutely exquisite; tender and poignant but never sentimentalised. There remains Windgassen's account of Tannhauser's pilgrimage which he sings, as before, with dramatic power and even more poignantly than in the Philips recording. The chorus are admirable throughout and though the German Opera Orchestra may not be up to the standard of the Berlin State Opera Orchestra or the Bayreuth Festival, it plays extremely well thoughout. (Gramophone)