jueves, 26 de febrero de 2015

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra / Marin Alsop BARTÓK Concerto for Orchestra - Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta

Almost from its inception, and into the 1980s, Bartók's Concerto for orchestra was one of the few orchestral works of the 20th century regularly programmed by major orchestras. Since the repertoire has opened up a bit, the listener of a certain age may revisit the work almost with a sense of nostalgia. In the concerto, the refugee Bartók brilliantly fused his rigorous, Hungarian-based style with the American desire for broad gestures and big tunes. One wonders whether he had heard some Copland before sitting to compose it. There's nothing to object to in this reading by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and its conductor, Marin Alsop, who has turned the orchestra into a world-class instrument and has shown a real gift for addressing general musical audiences. But the recording adds little to what has already been done, and the sentiment quotient in the big tune in the fourth movement, which doesn't really resemble anything else in Bartók's output, is too low. In the Music for strings, percussion, and celesta that follows, the news is much better: the orchestra's percussion section shines in crisp, compelling solos. Credit is due above all to the celesta player, who might have merited a mention or even a name. That performance, unlike that of the Concerto for orchestra, makes the album a worthwhile addition to a Bartók collection. The orchestra sounds fine in its home base, Baltimore's Meyerhoff Hall. (James Manheim)

miércoles, 25 de febrero de 2015

Lina Tur Bonet / Musica Alchemica VIVALDI Violin Concertos & Sonatas

In view of the vast number of recordings of concertos by Antonio Vivaldi, it may come as a surprise that there are still works that have not so far been documented on recordings. The Spanish violinist Lina Tur Bonet and the renowned Vivaldi expert Olivier Fourés have compiled a programme with such 'premieres' for the present recording. These include the so-far unrecorded Violin Concertos, RV218 and RV346, the incompletely handed-down RV771 as well as two so-called 'Graz' Sonatas, for which Fourés reconstructed the cello part in the present version. In these works, Vivaldi shows a rather unusual aspect of himself - very diversified and variegated. Lina Tur Bonet, at the helm of her ensemble Musica Alchemica, plays with a full and round tone: with virtuoso élan in the fast movements and with dreamy lyricism in the slow passages.

martes, 24 de febrero de 2015

Clare Hammond ETUDE Chin - Kapustin - Lyapunov - Szymanowski

The six études by the South-Korean composer, Unsuk Chin, form the centrepiece of this disc. Some of the most significant pieces to be written for the piano in recent years, these are natural successors to the piano études by György Ligeti and are already of international prominence. With their scintillating textures and inventive use of timbre, they are entirely absorbing and electrifying works which are rapidly becoming a keystone of the piano repertoire.
These have been combined with a variety of études from either end of the twentieth century. The three by Lyapunov are very much in a late-Romantic, Lisztian mould with descriptive titles and compelling narratives.The first, ‘Terek’, is named after a river which flows from Georgia into Russia and is prefaced with a dramatic poem by the Russian poet Lermontov. ‘Nuit d’été’ is more contemplative and is followed by the impassioned and explosive ‘Tempête’.
Szymanowski’s Op. 33 were written less than 20 years after Lyapunov’s yet they inhabit an entirely different sound-world. With mercurial timbres and fleet textures, they are similar to Debussy’s études, written in the same year. The programme ends with 5 Studies in Different Intervals by Nikolai Kapustin. Each study is structured around a specific interval yet, despite this rather rigid concept, they are in a free- formed jazzy style and provide an exuberant finale to the disc. 

Acclaimed by The Daily Telegraph as a pianist of “amazing power and panache” , Clare Hammond gave debut recitals at the City of London, Cheltenham and Presteigne Festivals, and made return visits to the Wigmore and Bridgewater Halls in 2013. The Guardian wrote of her performance of Ken Hesketh’s Horae at Cheltenham that she “displayed its scintillating passagework and poetic calm with great flair” . A passionate advocate of twentieth and twenty-first century music, Clare combines a formidable technique and virtuosic flair onstage with stylistic integrity and attention to detail. 
Clare’s first disc for BIS, Reflections , of the piano music of Andrzej and Roxanna Panufnik, was featured on BBC Radio 3’s ‘CD Review’ and her performance described as“commandingly virtuosic” in BBC Music Magazine. International Piano Magazine recommended the disc as a “fascinating compendium, expertly executed” and it was awarded 5 stars in Diapason who stated that “Hammond excels at instilling each piece with an atmosphere” . Highlights in 2014 include 3 BBC radio broadcasts, debut performances at 7 festivals across Europe, including the ‘Chopin and his Europe’ Festival in Warsaw, the world premieres of works by 10 composers, and a Panufnik Centenary tour of Poland under the aegis of the British Council’s ‘Artists’ International Development Fund’.

lunes, 23 de febrero de 2015

Lena Neudauer W.A. MOZART Violinkonzerte 1 - 5, Adagio KV 261, Rondos KV 269 & 373

As the blood began to spill in Lexington and Concord in 1775, triggering the Revolutionary War, Mozart was nineteen years old, composing safely in Salzburg. And though most well known as a piano prodigy, he was also quite the violinist, having toured Europe to perform for royal courts during his childhood. The love of his second instrument is apparent given the diversity of repertoire written for it, ranging from string duets to full symphonic works. That is most explicitly on display in his five violin concertos, all written within the same two years of that era of great revolution and political upheaval.
This intense focus on violin concertos was short-lived, and it is a mystery why Mozart stopped writing them altogether after 1775. But even during this brief period in Mozart’s life, the five concertos he wrote serve as a microcosm for his evolution as a composer.
 In the Violin Concerto No. 1, written in 1773, elements of baroque music are the building blocks, with a fairly strict adherence to the norms of the era, not unlike the nascent and abiding pre-Revolution America. Fast-forward two years, though, and Mozart’s violin concertos of 1775 – beginning with the second – take on a more subversive shape, mirroring the unrest in the American colonies.
Continuing the revolutionary undertones of these pieces, German violinist Lena Neudauer brings more than just notes on a page to these performance. In addition to masterfully crafted interpretations, Neudauer has composed all-new cadenzas, injecting her own voice into music that might otherwise be a simple following of a black-dotted roadmap to conformity. Neudauer’s recording presents all five of Mozart’s violin concertos, in addition to a string adagio and two rondos, transmitting both the elegance of their time and a hint of the turbulence yet to come. 

domingo, 22 de febrero de 2015

Paul Lewis MUSSORGSKY Pictures At An Exhibition SCHUMANN Fantasie Op. 17

The pairing of the piano version of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition with Schumann's Fantasie, Op. 17, here is a little odd. The supplied notes by Roman Hinke point to an explanation involving the two works being less programmatic than they first seemed; Schumann discarded descriptive titles for his work, and Mussorgsky's little pieces, Hinke contends, are less closely tied to the paintings by Viktor Hartmann referred to in the work's title than generally thought. It's questionable whether this really holds up: Mussorgsky's framing movements really evoke a great gate at Kiev. But leave this concept aside and it's a satisfying performance of, especially, the Mussorgsky. Part of the reason Pictures at an Exhibition is so much more often heard in Ravel's orchestration is that it's a pretty unconventional piano work, sort of irregularly hewn out of musical stone. In its own time, even in Russia, it must have seemed all the more unconventional, and Lewis gets this radical quality even as he delivers a rather precise performance. In his hands the work feels more modern than Romantic, and one feels that he contributes something to the musical dialogue surrounding this work that even casual classical music listeners know, yet that remains imperfectly understood. The Teldex Studio sound from Harmonia Mundi perfectly complements the music's edgy quality. (James Manheim)

viernes, 20 de febrero de 2015

Alice Sara Ott / Francesco Tristano SCANDALE

The disc’s title and raison d’être escape me: ‘Scandale’ says the cover in shocking pink. The ‘Rite of Spring’ premiere is presumably the eponymous ‘scandale’, but Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade? Ravel’s La valse? Rimsky’s widow objected fiercely to Diaghilev using the former as a ballet and Ravel never spoke to the impresario again after he refused to turn it into a ballet. Hardly scandals. The booklet bleats about both performers being ‘keen to return to a starting point that is free from expectations and in doing so they allow themselves – scandalously so – to create something entirely new’.
Better to ignore such waffle and enjoy these dance pieces at face value, the performances and recording of which are terrific. If it is hard to forget Stravinsky’s orchestration, the sections of motoric rhythm in his two-piano version of The Rite seem made for the percussive character of the instrument, while some of the slower passages reveal more so than in their original garb the challenging harmonic language that so provoked the first audiences. ‘The Kalender Prince’ by Stravinsky’s teacher in his own duet version provides lyrical contrast before La valse, deftly, brilliantly executed, the final pages more dogged and relentless than the increasingly frantic view taken by the thrilling Argerich and her many different waltzing partners. The final piece is the world premiere of Tristano’s A Soft Shell Groove which, with its foot-tapping (literally) rhythm, is bound to find many friends among listeners and other two-piano teams. (Gramophone)

jueves, 19 de febrero de 2015

Vilde Frang MOZART Violin Concertos 1 & 5 - Sinfonia Concertante

Norwegian violinist Vilde Frang made her orchestral debut to great acclaim at the age of just 13, with the Oslo Philharmonic and Mariss Jansons. On that occasion, she chose Sarasate's Carmen Fantasia, and in the fifteen years that have followed she has taken on the great Romantic and moderns, the Nordics and Russians: Sibelius and Prokofiev concertos for her debut album, followed by Tchaikovsky and Nielsen. 
Now, at 28, this young but serious star violinist at last commits Mozart concertos to disc, in lively, intimate readings with English chamber orchestra Arcangelo, led by Jonathan Cohen. 
The impetus for this album was a 2012 orchestral tour of Asia conducted by Cohen in which Vilde Frang performed Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5. The vibrancy of their musical collaboration was something both artists were keen to repeat and commit to disc. 
Jonathan Cohen writes: “This was an important project for us to do with Vilde. Her poetic and sensitive playing and her beautiful silvery sound really serves Mozart and she was looking to collaborate with an ensemble such as ours well versed in the style and culture of Viennese classicism." 
As complement to Mozart's First and Fifth Violin Concertos, Frang chose the beloved Sinfonia Concertante, enlisting Ukrainian viola virtuoso Maxim Rysanov as her duo partner. 
"She and Maxim I think have produced a very special Sinfonia Concertante, which is a particularly extraordinary composition," says Cohen. 
The album has already been praised for the lightness and warmth, elegance and playfulness of the dialogue between soloist and ensemble. "The solo concertos are terrific. The First is often seen as slight, but Frang, with an endlessly varied palette of colours, delights in showing us how wrong we are," declares Sinfini Music. "She melds eloquently with the ensemble and manages to convey an artless simplicity."

miércoles, 18 de febrero de 2015

Rolando Villazón / London Symphony Orchestra / Antonio Pappano MOZART Concert Arias

In recent years, Rolando Villazón’s career has become inextricable from the world of W.A. Mozart. The tenor has begun recording a cycle of Mozart’s seven mature operas, live from the Baden-Baden Festspielhaus. The cycle began with Don Giovanni in 2011 and continued with Così fan tutte last summer. Next up is Die Entführung aus dem Serail in the summer of 2014 – the cycle is an ambitious undertaking which Rolando curated and for which he serves as artistic consultant. His latest album with Deutsche Grammophon, Mozart Concert Arias, recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra under Sir Antonio Pappano, explores a lesser-known side of the composer. This collection of arias was penned under the radar: for the operas of other composers, at the service of individual singers, for stage works of his own which never came to fruition – works that have rarely been recorded. Villazón set out to uncover rare musical gems and, in the process, discovered a friend: Mozart.
“I think the big challenge is that it’s new for all of us. In that it is different from singing ‘Il mio tesoro’, of which we’ve heard so many great interpretations by so many great tenors, under so many great conductors,” he says.
Although he had already fallen in love with Mozart during recording sessions of Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte, the tenor forged an even deeper connection through this project. “No composer has spoken to me as directly. I feel like I have found a dear companion in him. In these pieces, just as in everything he wrote, Mozart demands the personality of the artist. He wants you to give yourself.”
The selection of ten arias covers a wide range of emotion and historical territory. For Villazón, numbers such as Se al labbro mio non credi, composed for the celebrated tenor Anton Raaff – who would sing the title role of Mozart’s Idomeneo – deserve to be heard more often: “Se al labbro is worthy of a place alongside Mozart’s best-known arias.” The most mature work on the album, Müsst ich auch durch tausend Drachen, dating to around 1783 and the only German-language track, was most likely intended for a comic opera that Mozart never completed. At the other end of the spectrum, Va’, dal furor portata was written when the composer was only nine years old.
“It’s fantastic to compare the very young Mozart with the mature Mozart and track his development,” says the tenor. “Who knows what he would have left to us had he lived a bit longer.”
As fate would have it, Villazón stumbled upon the music while sifting through scores at a shop in Munich. “I was actually looking for Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte, when I discovered this edition of concert arias for tenor,” he recalls. “I went through it and said: ‘This is it. This is a project.’” In 2011, while singing the title role in Massenet’s Werther at the Royal Opera House in London, he approached Pappano about making a recording. 
For the conductor, some arias resemble entire scenes in their dramatic structure. “It’s quite a challenge because a lot of these pieces are from a very young Mozart. They’re not the Mozart we know. They have an identity all their own. There’s a tremendous energy to them, and the singer and orchestra have to go at them with so much fire: you have to find the freedom, the newness and the youth of the music.”
Villazón notes that the recitative Misero! O sogno and following aria Aura che intorno spiri demand the full gamut of technical skills from a singer: Bravura, interpretation, how to manage the text. And the high notes! But the beauty of Mozart is that it’s not suddenly, ‘Bang! A high note.’ It’s simply another note that you need to go through to maintain the melody.” The tenor found an ideal partner in the London Symphony Orchestra. “These are players who listen, who search and work together with the singer and the conductor. It felt wonderful, as if I was suspended from the gorgeous line that the orchestra was playing. From every point of view this music has been a treat to perform.”
Pappano, who has been recording with the orchestra since 1997, praises the musicians’ energy and intuition. “They create an environment where the singer can be alive and inhabit the character, an essential element in opera, where the exchange of energy is so important.” This is also no small feat given Mozart’s high demands on the orchestra to create its own drama in exchanges with the singer. “They want the best and will follow you to achieve a certain expression,” says the conductor. “The sound is gleaming, full of youth and shine. That is what I really love.”
And he found it a joy to hear Villazón indulge himself in comic numbers such as Con ossequio, con rispetto, written for Salzburg performances of Niccolò Piccinni’s opera, L’astratto, ovvero Il giocator fortunato, in 1775. “The character is paying compliments in one voice, while expressing what he feels in the asides – under his breath, so to speak,” explains Pappano. “That gave Rolando the opportunity to show his feeling for comedy. And I’ve experimented a little bit by changing the colours in the orchestra. When he’s insulting, I have the violins use a chatter-like articulation, and then at the end, a more nasal, snarly sound. Somehow I think Mozart would have approved. People need to laugh and enjoy.”
Villazón observes that even in humorous moments, Mozart’s music can convey the most profound insight – allowing his affinity for the composer to constantly grow. “There are moments performing this music when you are suddenly in heaven,” he says. “Mozart makes you laugh but also, perhaps most importantly, makes you dream. Somehow the fun qualities co-exist with the serious. This almost impossible combination is what makes him unique.”

martes, 17 de febrero de 2015

Sol Gabetta / Bertrand Chamayou THE CHOPIN ALBUM

On her new album, cello superstar Sol Gabetta teams up with one of the best young artists, French pianist Bertrand Chamayou. Gabetta and Chamayou have played together on many occasions and quickly became both friends and artistic partners. They collaborated on the album concept and will tour this repertoire in Europe throughout 2015. The Chopin Album contains a selection of pieces by well-loved composer Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) as well as music by his close friend, the composer and cellist Auguste-Joseph Franchomme.
The centrepiece of this album is Chopin's striking sonata for cello and piano in G minor, op. 65, written in 1846; one of the rare pieces Chopin wrote for a solo instrument other than the piano. The duration is over 30 minutes and was written for and dedicated to Chopin's close friend Franchomme. The cello sonata was the last work published during Chopin's lifetime before he died in October 1849.
The Grand Duo concertant in E major, B. 70 was written jointly by Chopin and Franchomme in 1832. Chopin had initially been contracted by his publishers to write a work for piano based on Meyerbeers opera ‘Robert le diable’. He had attended a performance and liked the work, but was disinclined to write a ‘fantasia’ on another composer's music. Franchomme persuaded him to jointly write a piece for cello and piano, using themes from the opera. Chopin delivered the general structure of the piece and wrote the piano part and Franchomme wrote the cello part. The piece was published under both their names, and was favourably reviewed by Robert Schumann.
Chopin's Polonaise brillante in C major, op. 3 for cello and piano is one of Chopin's first published compositions and was written in October 1829, dedicated to the Austrian cellist Joseph Merk. Chopin composed the famous Nocturne in F major, op. 15, no.1 for piano in 1832. The transcription for cello and piano on this album was done by Franchomme.
Auguste Franchomme was one of the best and most celebrated cellists and persons of the musical life in Paris of his time. He also worked as a composer and published around 50 works for cello, among them his Nocturne for Cello and Piano, op. 15, no.1 which Gabetta and Chamayou selected for this album. Chopin's Étude, op. 25, no.7 (1836) for piano solo is part of the famous 12 etudes op. 25 and was arranged by composer Alexander Glazunov for cello and piano. (Presto Classical)

lunes, 16 de febrero de 2015


 Five years after their widely acclaimed recording of Béla Bartók’s fourth string quartet the Zehetmair quartet (in new line-up) play the Hungarian’s masterly fifth quartet, written in 1934, coupled with Paul Hindemith’s fourth from 1921 which is marked by a neo-classicist return to elaborate polyphony and baroque forms: landmarks of 20th century chamber music in interpretations of analytical clarity and emotional intensity.

The Zehetmair Quartet was founded in 1994. After its first tour in spring 1998 it received invitations to return from every concert organizer. Its annual European tours have been augmented by concerts in the United States (2001 and 2003) and Japan (2002). Highlights of 2004 were guest appearances at the Edinburgh Festival, the Helsinki Festival, and the Schleswig-Holstein Festival and in spring 2006 a highly successful tour took it to Vienna, Berlin, Cologne, Zurich, Madrid, Lisbon, Manchester, and other capitals. The four musicians also made guest appearances in Japan in February 2007.
In 2000 the Quartet made its ECM début with Bartók’s Fourth and Karl Amadeus Hartmann’s First, an album that won the quarterly German Record Critics’ Prize. Their 2004 release of Schumann quartets received Gramophone’s Record of the Year Award, the Diapason d’Or, the Edison Classical Music Award (Netherlands), and two Belgian awards: the Caecilia Prize and the Klara Prize for the year’s best international release.
Second violinist Kuba Jakowicz and cellist Ursula Smith joined the quartet in 2005. (ECM Records)

domingo, 15 de febrero de 2015

The Parley of Instruments DOWLAND Lachrimae or Seaven Teares

There have only been  two occasions when English composers have profoundly affected the course of European musical history. The first was in the early fifteenth century when the motets, Mass movements and chansons of John Dunstable and his contemporaries became the models for subsequent developments in Flanders and Burgundy. The second was two centuries later, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, when a number of English composers and instrumentalists found work at northern European courts. They went abroad for three main reasons. Some, like Peter Philips and Richard Dering, were religious refugees, in flight from Queen Elizabeth’s persecution of Catholics. Some, such as William Brade and Thomas Simpson, were probably attracted by the lucrative opportunities available in the prosperous small courts and city states of northern Europe. Others were associated with the English theatre companies that began to tour the Continent in the 1580s and ’90s following the 1572 Act of Parliament that restricted the activities of ‘common players in interludes and minstrels’. Henceforth, actors were forbidden to work in England unless they were under the patronage of the Queen or a prominent courtier. 
John Dowland probably had mixed motives for leaving England in 1594. He had just been turned down for a post as a court lutenist, but he also had Catholic sympathies. He worked first at Wolfenbüttel and Kassel, and in 1598, after a second attempt to obtain a court post, he joined the group of English musicians in the service of Christian IV, King of Denmark. He remained in Copenhagen until 1606, though he visited London in the summer of 1603 ‘on his own business’, as a Danish court clerk put it. By 1603 he was one of the most famous lutenists in Europe and could reasonably have expected a court post in the wake of Queen Elizabeth’s death in March of that year, for the wife of the new King James I was Anne of Denmark, sister of Christian IV. In the event, it still eluded him, perhaps, as Peter Warlock once suggested, because Anne did not wish it to be thought that she had poached one of her brother’s musicians. When he finally became one of James I’s lutenists in 1612 he had long left the Danish court. Dowland probably hoped to attract Anne’s attention by dedicating Lachrimae, or Seaven Teares to her. In the dedication he states that he had ‘access to your Highnesse at Winchester’ (the court was there in September and October 1603), and that he had twice tried to sail back to Denmark but had been compelled to winter in England ‘by contrary windes and frost’. 
Dowland broke new ground with the publication of Lachrimae. At the time, dance music was usually written or printed in sets of separate quarto parts, but Lachrimae is a folio volume and has the parts for each piece distributed around each side of a single opening, so that in theory they could be performed around a table from a single copy. Dowland may have adopted this format, the one he used for his lute songs, because he included a lute part in tablature, which could not easily be accomodated in a small set of part-books. Lachrimae is certainly the first English collection of five-part dance music, manuscript or printed, to include a lute part, though lutes often appear in contemporary pictures of violin bands accompanying dancing. (Peter Holman)

viernes, 13 de febrero de 2015

Garrick Ohlsson SCRIABIN Complete Poèmes

Initially idolised by a small coterie, Scriabin was also vilified by those who placed reason above passion, clarity above obscurity. Today he enjoys a near classic status and Garrick Ohlsson’s disc of the complete Poèmes provides ample food for thought. Having notched up a huge array of recordings combined with an intensive concert career, his playing now reflects rich experience and musical quality. True, those accustomed to Horowitz’s incandescent response to Scriabin’s neurosis may feel themselves short-changed by Ohlsson’s restraining hand, by a more settled view of an unsettled genius. But there are admirable compensations in playing that can contain even Scriabin’s wilder, least accessible outpourings.
At the same time, even Ohlsson cannot entirely erase evidence of writing of such self-conscious liberation that it finally and ironically becomes caged in its own conventions. Whether frantic or remote, one poème becomes much like another and many of the composer’s more bizarre titles and instructions (Désir, Caresse dansée, Festivamente, fastoso, Etrange, capricieusement, etc) come to seem like a form of desperation, of special pleading in the face of public and critical bafflement. But whether in the Scherzo, Op 46 (jocular in an ironic sense), in the gazelle-like leaps of the Poème ailé, Op 51 No 3, or in the one substantial offering, Vers la flamme, you feel grateful for Ohlsson’s refusal to indulge or over-reach. Finely recorded, his empathy with so many fragmented dreamscapes is lucid and sensitive. (Gramophone)

jueves, 12 de febrero de 2015

Angela Hewitt FRANZ LISZT Piano Sonata - Dante Sonata - Petrarch Sonnets

Elegant and immaculate in both musicianship and platform wardrobe, the pianist Angela Hewitt doesn't immediately rush to mind when considering the wild music of Liszt. Well-ordered Bach is more her cup of tea. She's equally a natural in the piquant French delights of Ravel and Debussy. Yet here she is, with an album of Liszt, Liszt and Liszt.
The first paragraph in her programme note doesn't exactly bode well: 'After hearing the Liszt Sonata as a teenager, I came away thinking what an awful piece it was. It just seemed a vehicle for banging the piano.' That's my point: I can't even imagine Hewitt banging a door, still less a concert grand. She thinks differently now, or so she says she calls this big B minor sonata masterful and thrilling. Yet probably a secret residue of teenage distaste remains: she certainly stays determinedly fastidious throughout the work's fortissimo thunder or the Dante fantasy's mad ride to hell  …
Even if her approach sometimes rubs against the music's grain, the poise and clarity of her textures and phrasings still brings major pleasures. She elucidates the B minor sonata's structural subtleties and balances its boarding power with scintillating details like the silver arpeggios circling round the second subject about nine minutes in. In the three Petrarch sonnets, the kaleidoscope of emotions is exquisitely traced. If only she could enjoy Liszt's flamboyance more: I'd almost buy this album for the piano's numerous dying notes, reverberating long and exquisitely toward the end of time. (Geoff Brown /The Times)

miércoles, 11 de febrero de 2015

Rolf Lislevand NUOVE MUSICHE

Is it fair for baroque to sound so sensual? An elegiac soprano voice wafts above an instrumental piece by Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger. Flamenco rhythms underpin a passacaglia. Then suddenly we hear the typical harmonies and ornaments of Celtic folk music. Is that how this music really sounded in Italy in the early 1600s? Of course not. But what the Norwegian lutenist and guitarist Rolf Lislevand and his six colleagues bring off on Nuove musiche, their début album for ECM, has all the earmarks of a manifesto. Their vibrant and literally unheard-of readings of early baroque music from Italy are meant to grab the listener directly, as if it really were 'new music'.
'For years people tried to play early music as closely as possible to the way it was played at its time of origin', Lislevand explains 'But that's a philosophical self-contradiction. The first question is whether it's possible at all to replicate the performance of a musician who lived centuries ago. As far as I'm concerned, reconstruction is not really interesting at all. Do we really want to act as if we hadn't heard any music between 1600 and the present day? I think that would be dishonest. With this recording we say goodbye once and for all to early music's authenticity creed.'
This doesn't mean that anything goes - on the contrary. Lislevand, who learned his craft at the famous Schola Cantorum in Basle, has been professor of lute and historical performance practice at Trossingen Musikhochschule since 1993. He has turned out many prize-winning recordings, some of them with his Kapsberger Ensemble, which forms the core of the musicians on Nuove Musiche. He avidly scrutinises every available scrap of information on what he plays and how to play it properly. But those are only the preconditions for a convincing performance. After all, one vital element in baroque music was improvisation: 'Pieces were played to meet the needs of the moment', Professor Lislevand points out. 'To play strictly according to the notes on the page would be tantamount to lying, for the scores were written in a sort of shorthand. They presuppose a good deal of knowledge and self-assurance from the player.'
Take the percussion instruments, for instance. We know they were used, but nobody around 1600 bothered to write down the parts. So we have no way of knowing for sure how they were used. Did they only serve as timekeepers, or was their timbre exploited as well? Lislevand has very strong views on the subject: 'The idea that it wasn't until today that we could freely express our feelings is not only naive but arrogant. Personally I believe that the people of the 17th century were much richer and more self-aware than we assume today.' It is only natural, then, that the percussionist Pedro Estevan offers a huge range of expressive sounds and rhythms on Nuove musiche.
Lislevand searches for points of contact between the 400-year-old pieces on this recording (by Kapsberger, Pellegrini, Piccinini and others) and the musical horizons of today's performers. Usually the starting point is the passacaglia, a set of increasingly dramatic variations on an unchanging bass pattern. Passacaglias formed the core repertoire of the lute and guitar books of the 17th century. 'They thrive on chromaticism, harsh dissonances and offbeat rhythms. If the composers tried to get these effects, then we have every right to go even further. My idea is simply to develop and elaborate things already there in the material. Arianna Savall's melody really does come from the Kapsberger toccata itself. Everything there that smacks of echoes from current popular music is already contained in the pieces. I just coax it out.' (ECM Records)

martes, 10 de febrero de 2015


“If you can imagine a flower that makes its way through asphalt, that’s exactly what you find in my compositions. In my works I’m always trying to get the flower through the asphalt.”
Giya Kancheli

The present disc features premiere recordings made – as has been the case with all of Kancheli’s ECM recordings – with the participation of the composer. “Valse Boston”, written in 1996, bears two dedications, one to its conductor and pianist Dennis Russell Davies, the other to the composer’s wife (“with whom I have never danced”). If Kancheli has made a point of avoiding the dancefloor he has created a piece that moves uniquely, if not in ¾ time, and makes sometimes devastating use of the abrupt dynamic contrasts that have become almost a trademark. Hans-Klaus Jungheinrich in the liner notes:
“The metaphor of ‘dancing’ should be interpreted less as a profound than as an ironic comment – but it is also an allusion to the vast distance that separates Kancheli’s music from the apotheosis or demonic fury of the dance. The Boston Waltz is generally associated with the louche, slightly faded realm of urbane entertainment; for Kancheli this is at most a ‘distant echo’ buried beneath the rubble of the ages.” Kancheli has, however, said that he was inspired, in writing this piece, by the visual image of Davies conducting this piece from the piano stool, half standing, gesturing with a free arm or nods of the head while playing; this was also a dance of sorts. Jungheinrich: “Three-quarter time is never used as the vehicle, elixir and essence of dance-like energy. What does occur at the beginning is a slow triplet movement; but instead of introducing spirited movement, the consistently gentle sonorities retain a heavy, clinging, glutinous quality. The first violins seem to want to counter the persistent, grinding slowness of the tempo with their own abandoned song, a mercurial line in the highest register.”
Davies and the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra have included “Valse Boston” in their touring programmes on both sides of the Atlantic. The Chicago Tribune wrote, “Don't let the innocuous title fool you: Giya Kancheli's ‘Valse Boston’ is a powder keg of a piece. It is a secular prayer veering between extremes of dynamics, tempo and mood. One moment the piano is goading the strings to produce angry, stabbing dissonances. The next moment, it is quieting the orchestra with tiny fragments of waltz-time, deceptively merry. Nobody conjures troubled landscapes in sound like Kancheli. He has given us a bleak, very Eastern view of modern existence, but the effect is cleansing.”
“Diplipito, written in 1997, is named for the little, high-tuned Georgian drums – in the range of the darbouka or the bongos – that are frequently used to accompany dancing. And the percussive syllables that Kancheli gives to American countertenor Derek Lee Ragin are a kind of concrete poetry inspired by the drum’s rhythm patterns. Giya Kancheli was greatly impressed by Ragin in 1999 when he sang the world première of the composer’s “And farewell goes out sighing”, alongside Gidon Kremer with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under Kurt Masur and the countertenor was an essential choice for the recording of “Diplipito”, where he is partnered with Thomas Demenga. Ragin makes his New Series debut here while Demenga has been a mainstay of the label since its inauguration.
Jungheinrich: “The vocal part in ‘Diplipito’ finds an equal partner in the solo cello. The orchestra rarely play tutti, there are no winds or brass at all, and the guitar, piano and percussion come in individually, functioning alternately as solo and secondary presences. The terse, tentative figures in the cello contrast with the cluster-like chords typifying the piano line. For long stretches, the sonic space is chromatically measured – often in small, careful interval steps…. The mood of tranquillity, even latent immobility, that dominates the first half of the piece is suspended by the entry of a vigorous ornamental figure on the guitar (which is immediately picked up by the cello), followed by several explosive fortissimo passages. The soft murmur of a bongo rhythm increases the restlessness. This is the preparation for the final phase, the disembodiment of sonic materiality.”  (ECM Records)

lunes, 9 de febrero de 2015

Kavakos / Chailly / Gewandhausorchester BRAHMS Violin Concerto - Hungarian Dances BARTÓK Rhapsodies

To hear Leonidas Kavakos play the Brahms Violin Concerto is to be newly apprised of the work’s reputed difficulties. Not that Kavakos struggles with the solo part—far from it. But he presents the myriad double-stops, compound-chords, and wide leaps with such clarity and vividness that your ear is drawn to these effects more than usual. Yet for all this, Kavakos’ rendition is a thoroughly musical one, fully cognizant of Brahms’ structure and overall symphonic plan. Riccardo Chailly’s cleanly articulated, tersely-romantic accompaniment makes an apt foil for his soloist, as do the clear textures and lean string sound he evokes from the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra.
That Kavakos would choose the warhorse Joachim cadenza at first seems at odds with his interpretive stance, but his fresh approach proves otherwise. By sculpting each phrase so inventively, Kavakos rivets your attention and at times gives the impression that he’s improvising. In the songful slow movement (which showcases beautiful playing by the Leipzig winds) Kavakos soothes without sounding saccharine, while the finale crackles with life, thanks in part to the violinist inserting a bit of gypsy flair into the famous “Hungarian” tune.
This Hungarian flavor, albeit of a more rustic variety, carries over to Bartók’s Rhapsodies for violin and piano, which Kavakos and pianist Péter Nagy dispatch with jaunty bravura and folksy style. These same characteristics lend the more cosmopolitan Brahms Hungarian Dances a certain authenticity that the orchestral versions lack.
The recording places the orchestra slightly to the rear in the acoustic, but produces a satisfying full sound in louder passages (although the violin is oddly more prominent when playing with the orchestra than with just the piano). This is a fine modern Brahms Violin Concerto that can hold its own in a crowded catalog. (Victor Carr Jr)

jueves, 5 de febrero de 2015

Riccardo Chailly / Gewandhausorchester BRAHMS Serenades

Riccardo Chailly and the Gewandhaus Orchestra take another significant step in an extraordinary musical journey with the release of the two Brahms Serenades. The Serenades have been unjustly neglected and are rarely heard in concert, making them perfect repertoire for Chailly’s enquiring mind. Widely respected as a conductor with a “rare talent for transforming music ripe for rediscovery” (Gramophone), his reading of the Serenades fits with his philosophy that “all music must aspire to be ‘new music’ again”. The recording follows Chailly’s multi-award-winning sets of the Brahms and Beethoven symphonies.
Chailly’s radical approach to the symphonies produced a recording of “trademark clarity” according to Gramophone, which made the set its “Record of the Year 2014”. It also won aBBC Music Magazine Award, the jury commenting: “Chailly combines fiery athleticism with the warmly blended tonalities of the wonderful Leipzig orchestra. The results tingle with immediacy and a pulsating sense of momentum.” Now Chailly brings the same questing spirit to the Serenades. The release highlights the importance of this repertoire in Brahms’s evolution as a composer and orchestrator, making a significant statement and allowing the Serenades to emerge from the shadow of the symphonies. Newly reassessed as substantial masterworks in their own right, they show Brahms in an unexpected light: the Op. 11 offering “a brightness, waggishness and humour that would later become rare in Brahms,” in the words of musicologist Peter Korfmacher, while the Op. 16 Serenade is exotically scored for just wind and lower strings, creating a sense of pleasant shade rather than darkness. With playing that is multifaceted, multi-coloured light and delicate. “The double-bass jokes can generate their wit, the music swings, and the colours glow,” says Chailly.
With his extraordinary attention to detail and keen ear for musical nuance, Riccardo Chailly really gets to the heart of this richly rewarding music. This is the first Decca recording of these works since István Kertész recorded them in 1968. It is a worthy successor to another great Brahmsian and a historic recording which will bring new life to concert-hall rarities that are ripe for rediscovery.
“For an orchestra as steeped in the Austro-German tradition as the Gewandhaus is, playing Brahms has always been part of its raison d’être. But Chailly brings a different perspective: as with Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Mahler, his approach is both mindful of the performing traditions and critical of them in the best, most constructive way. His Brahms is neither massive nor self-consciously sculpted, but still totally coherent.” (The Guardian)

miércoles, 4 de febrero de 2015


Good news for pianophiles everywhere that Grigory Sokolov has, as DG put it, now signed an exclusive contract. This is of course not taking him into the studio or anything as workaday as that. No, he has allowed them to release a live recital from the 2008 Salzburg Festival. But let’s not knock that: it’s difficult to imagine just how much negotiation that must have taken. Comparisons are irrelevant (except perhaps with himself): this is Sokolov we’re talking about. But in this cult of celebrity, his very aversion to the notion has turned him into one – a bit like Glenn Gould in an earlier era.
Of course, all of this would be beside the point if he didn’t produce the goods. It’s an overused word, but he is inimitable. His Chopin Preludes, for example, have no time for the notion of a freely Romantic melodic line being kept in check by a Classical accompaniment. Sokolov’s reading as a whole is remarkably consistent with that of his live 1990 recital released on Opus 111. In both, he begins unhurriedly, as if the music were gently rousing itself into life. But whereas in less imaginative hands the results could seem mannered or overly drawn out, here it’s mesmerising. In the Sixth Prelude, for instance, the upward curling arpeggio has a rare poignancy, while the Tenth glistens but also has an unexpected hesitancy about it. In No 13, the glorious melody of the middle section is given with a freedom that would simply not work in a lesser musician; while in the infamous ‘Raindrop’, Sokolov replaces the constant dripping with a shifting pulse that has a real urgency, albeit an unconventional one. No 19 is a particular highlight, its delicacy quite heart-stopping. He ends as he began, with a tempo for No 24 that has gravitas (not to be confused with heaviness), the effect granitic, magisterial.
The Mozart is treasurable too, though – of course – you have to take it on its own terms. What he does with the slow movement of K280, for instance, gives it a kind of operatic reach and breadth, though never does it lapse into histrionics. And in the finale he brings out the main theme’s stuttering quality superbly, lending the music not just a mercurial quality but a dramatic one too. His delight in the chewy harmonies of the opening movement of K332 is palpable, his phrasing iridescent in its range.
The Salzburg audience (who are generally reasonably silent except for the tumultuous applause) were lucky enough to get six encores. The Scriabin Poèmes are more than usually clear descendants of Chopin in Sokolov’s hands and the filigree is out of this world. By contrast, Rameau’s Les Sauvages is unexpectedly playful and whimsical, and we end with a clear-sighted Bach chorale prelude that is all the more moving for its apparent simplicity. As Sokolov says in the booklet: ‘I play only what I want to play at the current moment.’ Perhaps that’s what gives this set such integrity. (Gramophone)

martes, 3 de febrero de 2015

Thord Svedlund / Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra WEINBERG Chamber Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4

Mieczysław Weinberg’s time would certainly seem to be now. Advocacy plays a big part in that, of course, and recent champions such as the young German violinist Linus Roth – whose recordings of the Violin Concerto and sonatas (Challenge Classics, 9/13, 7/14) have really whetted appetites – can really bring about a sea change in interest. This latest release of late chamber symphonies (and be advised the numbering belies the presence of 21 earlier symphonies) further adds to the fascination, and such is the emotional and highly personal nature of Weinberg’s musical language that it’s nigh on impossible not to be drawn into his confidence.
The opening Lento of Symphony No 3 for string orchestra, which is in turn directly derived from his String Quartet No 5 (these pieces not only evolve from earlier works but thrive on self-quotation from elsewhere in his oeuvre), is entitled ‘Melody’ and that is precisely what you get – an unvarnished unison in search of harmony and development (very Bartókian), both of which it finds before emerging once more as the purest ‘confessional’. In the boisterous and explosive second movement it’s as if both Britten and Shostakovich have morphed into a dynamic and wilful alliance. Weinberg undoubtedly gets his immediacy and nose for atmosphere from Shostakovich (his self-confessed idol – and there was mutual admiration) but he is his own man and full of surprises. A boldness and directness prevails and he clearly relishes the gamesmanship of composition – like the freewheeling Andantino finale of this piece.
The Fourth opens with a great example of what makes Weinberg’s themes so individual: a ‘Chorale’ borrowed from his opera The Portrait, it’s a total ‘earworm’. But suddenly there is an obbligato clarinet among the strings and with it a multitude of Klezmer associations. That clarinet enjoys a wild ride in the second-movement Allegro molto, and again the rug is pulled from beneath us at the close when solo violin and cello are given quite unexpected monologues like afterthoughts on what has passed. An aching folksiness pervades the slow movement and a triangle offers two single shafts of light at the beginning and very end (a tiny touch of genius) of a final movement which seems to have been composed in the playing of it.
The Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra under Thord Svedlund make an excellent case for these intriguing pieces and Chandos brings them to us with vivid immediacy. Weinberg is coming in from the cold. (Gramophone)