Classical Editor: Rob Barnett
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COMPETITION WIN a CD of your Choice from Crotchet
Eugen D'ALBERT Tiefland Eva Marton; René Kollo; Bernd Weikl; Kurt Moll. Münchner Rundfunkorchester conducted by Marek Janowski ARTS 2CD 47501-2 (134:46) superbudget price
My curiosity about this opera was fired when I noticed a number of references to it scattered through the life of Erich Wolfgang Korngold in Brendan Carroll's biography, The Last Prodigy. When Korngold was only nine years old he composed a cantata for solo singers, chorus and piano entitled Gold, the opening of which showed the influence of Tiefland. Then, Korngold resigned his professorship at the State Academy in Vienna, in 1931, because his perfectionism would not allow him to tolerate a particularly embarrassingly poor orchestral rehearsal of Tiefland by the institution's indolent pupils. Finally we learn that Hollywood exile, Rudolf Lothar, the librettist of d'Albert's Tiefland contributed to the story for Korngold's Die stumme Serenade (The Silent Serenade) first performed in March 1951. So, thinking that whatever influenced the opulent Romantic style of Korngold was worth pursuing and having been impressed with D'Albert's Piano and Cello Concertos, I invested in this super-budget Arts release. I was not disappointed.
Eugen D'Albert was born in Glasgow in 1864. He bore a French name of Italian origin, was German by adoption and died a Swiss citizen in 1932 in Riga! His parents moved south to Newcastle when he was very young and he was drilled as a public pianist at a very early age. He hated England and after several years in London made his way to Vienna at the age of 17. He composed 22 operas taking in every "problem" story ever tackled in opera from Wagner to Krenek's "Johnny spiel auf". Tiefland (1903), in the Italian 'verismo' style, shows influences of Wagner and Richard Strauss and there is much use of Viennese waltz forms. D'Albert's orchestration is sumptuous. It is set in Spain; partly on an isolated mountain slope in the Pyrenees and partly in a lowland valley in Catalonia. D'Albert always keen to soak up local colour and atmosphere, went on a walking tour of the region and had a musical scholar obtain Spanish dance tunes and shepherd's call s for him. For D'Albert, authenticity was an integral part of naturalism.
The drawback with this 2 CD set is that although there is a substantial enough booklet with good notes in English, French and German, the libretto is only in German so unless the listener is fluent in that language, it is impossible to appreciate all of D'Albert's subtleties and nuances. Briefly, the story concerns a rather naive and lonely young shepherd, Pedro who is persuaded by landowner, Sebastiano to descend from his mountain home to the plains below and to marry the lovely Marta.
Marta is Sebastiano's young ward and mistress. Sebastiano has an ulterior motive because he wants to make a good profitable marriage to bolster his dwindling assets - but he also wants to keep Marta as his mistress. At first Marta is repulsed by the guileless Pedro who she thinks is a rogue but when she realises that he is innocent and really loves her, she falls in love with him when she discovers Sebastiano's deception. Pedro and Marta confront Sebastiano with their love but he will not let Marta go particularly as he knows that he has now lost everything because his intended bride has also been told of his duplicity. In the ensuing fight between Pedro and Sebastiano, Sebastiano is killed and Pedro and Marta flee for the purer atmosphere of the mountains.
The cast is impressive in this 1983 recording. René Kollo is as magnificent as he was as Walther in the 1971 Karajan recording of the Die Meistersinger as he ranges from incredulous innocent, to ardent lover, to vicious avenger. Bernd Weikl is also excellent as Sebastiano, the scheming villain with a heart. Eva Marton also impresses as Marta but curiously the important role of Nuri is not credited in the booklet's cast list (although more minor characters are!). The best material is given to the men. Highlights include: the evocative orchestral opening vividly portraying life in the high mountains; the Act I scene when the village maidens make fun of what they perceive as the boorish naivety of Pedro and Marta's anxiety about being separated from Sebastiano against lively Richard Strauss/Viennese-like material followed by Sebastiano's Ochs-like reassuring serenading of Marta to similar material found in Der Rosenkavalier but with more passion and irony (the orchestral accompaniment at the end of this scene is positively ravishing). Act II highlights include Pedro's big aria the wolf song in which he tells Marta of the wolf he had killed on the mountains to protect his sheep (serving as an allegory for the situation between Marta, Sebastiano [the human wolf] and himself); this is followed by the glorious love duet between Marta and Pedro as Marta realises the truth of the situation.
Janowski leads his his choir, orchestra and soloists in a passionate and moving performance of this much negelected opera - little wonder that it had such an effect on Korngold! At such a bargain price this is an operatic set that everyone who loves full blooded late Romantic music should snap up without hesitation.
MALCOLM ARNOLD (1921-) Overtures:- A Sussex Overture (1951) 12:11 Beckus the Dandipratt (1943) 10:45 The Smoke (1948) 11:56 The Fair Field (1973) 9:17 Commonwealth Christmas Overture (1957) 18:55 LPO/composer rec 14-16 August 1991, Watford Town Hall Producer: Christopher Palmer [all premiere recordings apart from Beckus] REFERENCE RECORDINGS RR48CD [63:23]
When this disc was first issued in 1992 it attracted some attention but has been lost from sight in the drifts of new releases. This is a pity as the CD contains four premiere recordings. If memory serves these are still the only recordings of four of the overtures.
The Lyrita CD of the Fourth Symphony (made five or years before these) demonstrated the composer-conductor's slower interpretative approach. Contrast this approach with his EMI recording of Symphony No. 5. Many did not like this. That said, I rather enjoyed the Lyrita disc despite, or perhaps because of, the long lines and extended emotional intensity - a very Mahlerian approach which seems to have settled on the composer's shoulders in older age. It is stunning how much detail comes across in that performance. These Reference Recordings interpretations are projected with a similar steady pulse but trembling excitement is never far away.
A Sussex Overture is perky celebratory affair: new brightly-minted mornings. This is set against a desperate heroism and a valiantly beautiful endeavour of a tune at 1:50. The crowning glory of echoing fanfares (2:43) and many other passages remind you of the Symphony No. 5 of ten years later. Other highlight episodes include: 'ticking' flutes counterpointing a bumbling tuba (3:48); Sibelian 'chuntering' (4:11), a Holstian tread (6:30), at 9:01 the echoing horns of the Moeran symphony and Baxian (Symphony No. 5) woodwind calls. This work has all the quicksilver moods and lambent display of a miniature concerto for orchestra. Perhaps the invention becomes a little stilted at the end although even this is redeemed by the return of the heroic endeavour theme in the closing pages.
Beckus was never a favourite of mine. Here there are compensations: Loud boozy fanfares, 'spick and span' trumpet playing with a skirl and a slur. This is a Till Eulenspiegel of a piece. Its chaotic uproar comes over as rather disjointed and perhaps the tendency to slower tempi is noticeable.
The Smoke caused some scandal because of its jazzy references when first performed in the late 1940s. Jazz (Gershwin 'hits town' more than once) is certainly there but so is Broadway or more accurately The West End. Exuberance is the quality you associate with this piece as the explosive brass skirl, hiccup, leer, snarl and lavishly slalom their way through the piece.
The Fair Field is dedicated to Arnold's great friend and collaborator, William Walton. The point of departure is a fairground roundabout of a theme with vividly painted wooden horses grinning and the boys eyeing up the girls. The air of childhood innocence and of newly-minted mornings is there also promising excitement and adventure. The griping, gripping brass are a frequent presence below the garish colours and these 'anchor' the texture. A thunderous exercise: cheeky and sly like a saucy seaside postcard. The final moments include a slowly-glowing sunset.
Lastly we come to the (musically) strongest piece in the collection. The Commonwealth Christmas Overture is a piece I have known for years from a 1960s radio relay (LSO/Alexander Gibson). The Gibson still sounds very good and marginally (as a performance) I prefer it to the composer's version however it is no match in recording quality for References sweep-the-board recording quality.
What an overture this is! For me it is up there with another underestimated British overture (recorded once on EMI - Vernon Handley): Bliss's Edinburgh Overture. The Arnold's Waltonian splendour is undeniable. If you like Orb and Sceptre and Crown Imperial you must have this. The overture plays for almost 19 minutes. In that time the composer constantly pelts ideas at you and does so in stunning variety. Borodin's Prince Igor was not far from the composer's pen in the echoing brass fanfares. There are dashing and sliding flute glissandi, sea chanties (2:30, 16:31), English country dances (no bleached smocks, thank heavens!) and magically 'Christmassy' gamelan textures. The West Indies is evoked with electric guitar and maracas in a tune which almost (but not quite) becomes 'O my island in the sun'. The use of electric guitar foreshadows his 1970s experiments with the group Deep Purple. CCO is one of the glories of the British orchestral display repertoire and well worth getting to know. It articulates Arnold's unbounded and bounding inspiration for orchestration at the beck and call of musical values.
The recording quality on this CD is of stunning immediacy serving the music rather than the reverse. The project is a happy stroke of genius from Reference, the late Christopher Palmer (how we feel his absence!) and, of course, from the composer. Musical values clearly swept the board in all project decisions.
The eleven pages of (English only) notes are provocative and full of insights. Chris Palmer is the author. There four stills of the composer from the recording sessions and 2 drawings by Terry Williams. Warmly recommended for any collection of Arnold and any collector of British music. This is not a shelf item but one which cries out to be played.
Visit the Malcolm Arnold Society pages
Kurt ATTERBERG (1887-1974) Symphony No. 7 - 'Sinfonia Romantica'; Symphony No. 8 Malmö Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michail Jurowski STERLING CDS-1026-2
'...my seventh symphony, Sinfonia Romantica, a name which I chose out of irritation with the antic- romantics..." as Atterberg described it, was composed in 1941-42 and revised in 1972. At an informal meeting of three contributors to this site the spontaneous response was "doesn't this sound like Bax!". Indeed, admirers of the English composer will probably have no difficulty in relating to the red-blooded romanticism and rich harmonies and orchestration of this work (and to the other symphonies of Atterberg). This is the première recording of this symphony.
The Seventh Symphony opens with a rather dour fanfare that would seem to herald some tragic drama but the mood soon lightens and the tempo quickens to embrace the sort of heroic music one associates with Errol Flynn swashbucklers. There is also some opulent and languid romantic material and a few wry comic figures. The second Semplice Andante movement is ravishingly beautiful. I am reminded of the remarks of a commentator who described Bax's Second Symphony as one long love song; that description might be applied here but the music might also suggest a still and serene, lush landscape bathed, at the climax, in brilliant sunshine. The third movement, marked Feroce. Allegro, returns to bombast and, at first, it seems as though we are in Korngold's Sherwood Forest, but this is a wild melting pot of a movement, orgiastic with heroic/chivalric film score-like music plus march and dance-like material including a bucolic clog dance. At certain points, the music sounds quite Scottish and Irish and very Baxian. Interestingly, Atterberg's own words dominate the CD notes for this album and he relates how the basis of this symphony was his opera Fanal and how he wrestled with a fourth movement which he eventually discarded so that it could become a separate work in its own right - Op. 58 Vittorioso - yet he leaves it up to conductors' own discretion whether to use this music as a fourth movement. (It can also be tacked onto the composer's Three Nocturnes from Fanal). Maestro Jurowski choses to include only the first three movements.
Atterberg's Eighth Symphony (1944-45) receives its first CD recording on this album. It is based on Swedish folk motifs but the listener will notice a very close similarity to English folk material and indeed, the music reminds one strongly of Ralph Vaughan Williams in the jolly rollicking scherzo. Of this Symphony, Atterberg commented, 'When you happen to be encumbered with an uncontrollable urge to compose symphonic music, you cannot help it if your imagination runs away with you, and takes a melancholy little tune as the framework for a great symphony...This beautiful melody came alive in my imagination: sometimes it was sorrowful and rose red; sometimes - in its major key version - playful; and sometimes it was full of pathos.' - which nicely sums up the work except to say that the usual Atterberg heroic figures are also included and the finale is an exciting orchestral tour de force. Atterberg gives full details, in these fascinating CD booklet notes, about all the tunes he uses and how he incorporated them into this symphony. Jurowski propels the music strongly forward and reveals all the beauty of the more introspective and romantic sections. Strongly recommended.
Anton BRUCKNER: Symphony No.8 & Symphony No.9* London Symphony Orchestra / BBC Symphony Orchestra* Jascha Horenstein BBC Music Legends BBCL 4017-2
In his liner notes to this second Horenstein release on BBC Legends, Bernard Keeffe wonders why German-speaking composers dominated music in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He concludes that in Central Europe where East meets West earthy energy became controlled and refined by the intellectual discipline of sophisticated society. He illustrates the effect of this by citing a Sibelius quotation that to get electric power you need a dam as well as a torrent and extends the metaphor to Jascha Horensteins conducting . Horenstein, too, was a product by birth and upbringing of these forces so is it surprising, Keeffe wonders, that his conducting reflects thisearthy torrent refined and controlled by the dam of a sophisticated intellect. An apt metaphor representing a delicate creative balance.
It would be easy to compare Horensteins Bruckner with that of other distinctive stylists, but I prefer to consider what Horensteins Bruckner is, rather than what it isnt, in reviewing this live performance of the Eighth Symphony from the 1970 BBC Proms. Here are many of the characteristics that made Horensteins music making so distinctive applied to the greatest of Bruckners works.
A grasp of the structure across the entire piece and within individual movements and, most important, how each fits in one with another to make a satisfying whole without subsuming emotion and expressionrather, setting them in relief.
A healthy respect for, but not a slavery to, the passing moment, achieved by modular tempi set at the start, barely deviating and then only gradually and without jolting.
A terraced, chamber-like sound palette where each section is balanced equally but never loses its identity: an orchestra that is the sum of its sections and sub-sections rather than one organic piece.
Joins and edges allowed to show and contrast, a limb with bones, sinews, and blood vessels clenched for activity, not resting in repose.
The long breath.
No other phrase is adequate for Horensteins ability to manipulate his material (and in Bruckner this is a supreme gift) over the longest of spans to encompass within the broadest of paragraphs parameters of, at one extreme, despair that never becomes self-indulgent and, at the other, ecstasy that never becomes histrionic. That long-breathed approach means his own emotional compass points, which are often narrower than those of some of his colleagues, are kept in mind by the listener allowing all shades in between to be more deeply appreciated because they are heard in the round. In Bruckner, as in much else, Horenstein was the philosopher-actor able to bend his distinctive voice into what ever composer he interpreted and yet always remain himself, art concealing art. The first movement of the Eighth Symphony shows all these attributes. This is very serious, sober Bruckner conducting, the interpretation of a man wedded to the belief that the music speaks for itself. But it also manages to be grand and mysterious Bruckner, dramatic but not melodramatic. Notice, for example, how the approach to the movements final tragic climax is built with a stern inevitability so that when the last, bleak fanfares blast out across what, we soon realise, is an especially desolate landscape, there is nothing forced or mannered. It emerges from within what has been a closely argued conflict where Horenstein notices thematic links between each of the tiny musical building bricks of which Bruckner is master. Like that between the opening figure of the whole symphony and the ascending one after bar 51. This is a small detail but on such details great interpretations can hinge. If a conductor is alive to detail as concentrated as this, the same will apply to the larger picture.
The scherzo of Bruckners Eighth has always been, for me, another example of Horensteins ability to pitch a tempo that fulfils everything the music asks for. (It was just the same in his old Vox recording from the 1950s with the Vienna Symphony. One of his other attributes was creative consistency.) Neither too fast nor too slow, it has forward momentum but it also has weight. Amazing how few conductors achieve this. Its a delicate balance but is, I think, the most easily illustrated part of this work where the dam and torrent analogy used by Bernard Keeffe is in evidence. Here is drama that becomes cumulative on each rehearing of the main material. The Trio, too, is a miracle of poise and delicacy. Again the overall tempo is perfectly chosen so this interlude doesnt split the structure of the movement but it isnt thrown away either.
There are slower, more intense, more overtly romantic readings of the Adagio to be heard than this, but I think few that understand an aspect of the music I believe is often overlooked. I have always believed this movement is a meditation, not a confession, and this is borne out in the long opening paragraph. Horenstein couches this in one of his longest breaths so that, after it has risen to its first climax and settled back on to its harp-accompanied calm, the transition into the second subject group is seamless and promotes a mood of reflection and serenity rather than soul-purging indulgence. There is some lovely cello playing from the LSO here also. This is remarkable for its simple presentation of the material unencumbered by exaggerated gestures from the conductor to interrupt our mood. Horensteins unwillingness to do anything that stands in the way of a careful and inevitable unfolding means that all the way through, we do become aware of a dark, unobtrusive, but very profound undertow taking us along. Horenstein trusts Bruckner to lead him. The final ascent to the great climax of the movement (with the two remnants of its Nikisch-inspired cymbals) is inexorable and massive for seeming to have its roots right at the start. Its only having arrived here do you realise Horensteins direct approach has paid the greatest dividend of all. He also justifies, if justification is needed, those crucial extra bars the Haas edition contains at this point. Note also his care to make sure we hear the inner voices, the middle strings, and the woodwind, both of which can be subsumed beneath the brass.
I always feel Horenstein had a special affection for the long coda that follows the climax. I used to feel this in the old Vox recording from which I learned the work and the same applies here. Another conductor might slow down but by resisting this, Horenstein delivers not a requiem, as in the corresponding place in the Seventh Symphony, rather an impression of well-being, hard won. For me this emerges as the true emotional core of the work. This kind of treatment changes subtly the way the last movement is judged and, by the way he conducts it, I think Horenstein thinks that also.
Surely the secret of the last movement is not to try to force a unity on it. This is a movement that has an episodic character which, when viewed in context of the coda to the slow movement that precedes it, emerges as the least troubled part of the whole work. Horensteins unobtrusively tight grip on tempo and dynamics doesnt desert him. Notice the great poetry he draws from the wonderful descending theme at bar 51. How often have I heard this taken too fast to lose its elegiac quality, or too slow and so hold up the long journey to the triumphant end still in the far distance. Then there is the great pounding wall of sound that follows it, where Horenstein is careful to make us hear clearly all the parts in the orchestra at a tempo that fits with the movement but which is powerful enough for it to stay in our minds. Once again, his mind is sufficiently on the bigger picture. And has anyone managed such a wonderful ascent to the figures on the flutes that seem to close an episode and point the way home, the strings coaxed into a wonderful whisper of sound as though the players are just showing their bows to their instruments? I also admire the way Horenstein holds back in the last climax but one, where the music builds and builds and then rears up to herald the emergence of the first theme from the first movement prior to the last ascent of all at the coda. This means that when the all-conquering coda to the symphony does finally arrive, again built up to a huge and impressive crescendo that puts in mind Horensteins recording of Mahlers Eighth, it hasnt been overshadowed as a lesser conductor might have inadvertently done. It only remains to say the four themes in combination that mark the conclusion of the work are clearly audible; and that is not as common as you may think.
I believe that night, whilst acknowledging the applause of the full house in the Royal Albert Hall, Horenstein lifted his score into the air in triumphthe sort of gesture he was not usually given to. He must have been pleased with this performance. The audience certainly was, and so must the LSO, which played what sounds to these ears a faultless performance, willing to do exactly what was wanted of them, never flagging in their concentration, delivering a real ensemble performance. In the first half of this concert the wind principles had already given a performance of Mozarts Serenade No. 10 K.361, so must have played themselves in rather than tired themselves out, because the woodwinds are one of the glories of this performance.
The recorded sound is bright, sharp, and possessed of enough hall atmosphere for everything from the great climaxes to the most intimate ruminations to be heard. This performance has appeared unofficially on disc before, notably an aircheck contained on a Music and Arts release. There is not that great a difference between the two, though the new official BBC release from the master tape has the edge in being at a slightly higher level and closer in with more detail.
In the context of a Bruckner Eighth of this quality the live performance of the Ninth that accompanies it was always in danger of being overshadowed and, it has to be admitted, this is the case. It was given by Horenstein at the Royal Festival Hall in London just three months later with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and it should have been as good. But there appears to be something not quite right. Firstly, the orchestra play well but they dont play as well as the LSO. Its as if they are not as confident in what they are doing, that they have doubtsthe way some of the horn entries seem tentative, for example. Whilst the ensemble is good there is an impression of the routine about it. Dont misunderstand: this is still a fine example of Horensteins art with many of the attributes I have outlined to be heard, its just that he doesnt deliver them as well. The huge crescendo near the start of the first movement is underlined with remorseless power and the warmer second subject has a world-weary quality that sounds fatally sick and world-weary, all as it should be. But I do wish Horenstein could have lifted his overall tempo a little more over the whole movement. The great climaxes sprawl, seem to lack some point, and so the concentration flags sometimes. This movement is not Bruckner at his greatest. Had he lived Im sure there are passages he would have changed and the conductor and orchestra must be on their absolute mettle to justify what is there; I dont think they are here, not one hundred per cent. True under Horenstein, the coda of this movement does gather material together well as if, belatedly, the performance starts to catch fire at last. This impression is borne out in the second movement which is given a masterful performance. As in the scherzo of the Eighth, there is weight, power, and movement with the wild brass entries really telling through the texture and the weird trio containing all the creepy detail you could want.
For Robert Simpson the last movement is Bruckners way out from the terrors of the first two movements enacted in a search for tonality: tonality as safety and safety as a farewell to life. Horenstein seems to agree and rises to the occasion, but I have heard more cataclysmic deliveries of the final crisis than this, and from whom? Well, from Horenstein himself. To hear what I was missing in this recording I had to look no further than Horensteins own 1953 recording for Vox (CDX2 5508 ) with the Vienna Symphony. Limited mono sound it may have, and less tonally splendid playing, but here is a Bruckner Ninth where every Horenstein attribute is splendidly realised. As in the Eighth, its wont be to everyones taste, but it is all there that time. The tempi are tighter overall too with the whole reading coming in eight minutes faster than the London one. The edges are sharper and the moments of repose and serenity are in starker relief. The orchestra also seems much more in sympathy with what their conductor is aiming trying to achieve.
I wouldnt want negative reactions to this Ninth Symphony to dissuade anyone from buying this BBC Legends set. You will still have in your collection a fine and distinctive performance of the Ninth, but you will have to set it against a truly inspired one of the Eighth. Great conductors, even on off nights, are worth hearing and can be preferred over lesser talents. However, if you want to hear Horensteins interpretation of Bruckners Ninth at its very best then the Vox recording (coupled with an early Mahler First) is the one to have. The sound of the Ninth on this BBC issue is very clear and close, like the Royal Festival Hall tends to be, but Bruckner needs a little more sonority and depth, more air around the instruments.
A crucial addition to the Horenstein discography, therefore, with one of his greatest interpretations which demands to be heard by anyone who loves this work and this composer.
CLEMENTI, Muzio. Piano Sonatas: F sharp minor Op 25 no 5; B flat Op 24 no 2; G minor Op 7 no 3; Op 25 no 6; F minor Op 13 no 6. Played on a Clementi square piano of 1832 by Peter Katin. DDD Athene ATH CD4. [74' 35"].
This disc is a delight.
I will not discuss the square piano as the notes with the CD do this admirably. What I want to do is recommend Clementi as a composer and give further indication, although this is unnecessary, of the unequalled stature of Peter Katin both as a pianist and musician.
Muzio Clementi was born in Rome in 1752; he moved to London in 1774 and died in Evesham in 1832. He promoted Mozart only to be repaid by Mozart's undeserved dislike of him ... which may put a different light on the Mozart - Salieri story. Clementi was a sensational pianist and a deservedly respected teacher. Among his pupils were Field, Moscheles, Kalkbrenner and Cramer. He composed symphonies, a piano concerto, about a hundred piano sonatas which were greatly admired by Beethoven and that, in itself, is some accolade! He was probably one of the first composers to write what might be described as 'educational' music with his volume of a hundred studies Gradus ad Parnassum. Debussy was to parody this in his first piece in Children's Corner. Interested in every aspect of music, Clementi went into the business of making pianos with the London firm Clementi & Company which, in 1832, became Collard & Collard.
The music has charm, elegance and wit ... and, thankfully, they are neither weakly delicate nor affected. They are strong but not demonstrative; they do not dream or linger or become tedious. The thematic material is always purposeful and never banal ... in fact, it is often memorable. The pieces have a wonderful sense of continuity; the music never gets bogged down. And I am convinced that Peter Katin's insight into the sonatas and his understanding of the music realises these qualities. Other pianists might play these works with that thistledown prissiness and baroquish lingering affection. As Claudio Arrau once said, "We observe rests in the music but we do not turn them into cracks."
The F sharp minor Sonata is enchanting. Music to fall in love with. It has a lyricism far ahead of its time and a melodic invention that is second to none. The slow movement unfolds as a telling lament and the finale takes a great amount of skill to execute containing fiendishly difficult passages in thirds. It is really a splendid piece. Pianists should take it up without delay and be thankful to Peter Katin for his pioneering work in bringing this, and other Clementi sonatas, to our attention!
The B flat Sonata was probably known by Mozart as he seems to quote from this sonata in his overture The Magic Flute. Is this plagiarism by Mozart? Incidently the G minor Sonata sounds like Beethoven's Eroica theme. Perhaps Mozart in his unmerited dislike for Clementi borrowed his theme as a sub conscious desire to equate himself with the older composer.
Peter Katin's finger work is faultless throughout and the opening movement of the B flat Sonata highlights this. In the andante he is successful in bringing out the music's attractiveness which is captivating. The finale is highly entertaining and the exciting bass line is imaginatively captured.
The G minor Sonata is not as well-written. The first movement seem to be understated with a series of scalic passages and a very pleasant melody that is constantly repeated. The andante is thoughtful and serious and what a wonderful interpretation Peter Katin gives it. This is the great difference between his playing and that of others. We have many fine pianists jetting all over the world playing with sure techniques and confident panache winning praise and, yet, while they are splendid executants some may lack the capacity to understand all the music's secrets, which only time surrenders, and therefore they can fail to reveal the music's hidden qualities. Peter Katin's playing has not been universally admired for 50 years without good reason.
The D major Sonata is another example of happy, bright music and while the music of the final rondo might be slender, Peter Katin captures its amusing quality.
The last sonata on this disc is the F minor and it is the most profound, reminding me of late Beethoven. It is dark music. The poignancy of the slow movement is obvious and the finale teems with activity.
To describe Peter Katin's performances would necessitate a host of superlatives.
ALEXANDER GLAZUNOV (1878-1936) Grand Adagio in D minor from Raymonda (1897) * cond Vladimir Fedosyev rec 20 Jan 1983 Concert Waltz no. 1 in D major (1893) * cond Gennadi Tcherkasov rec 20 Dec 1978 To the Memory of a Hero - Symphonic Elegy (1881) * cond Vladimir Fedosyev rec 10 June 1982 The Forest - Fantasia (1887) Moscow State SO/Veronika Dudarova rec 18 Dec 1983 * Moscow RTVSO all ADD ICONE Russian Masters Collection ICN-9424-2 [45:01] bargain price
This is a very mixed bargain price collection which because of its variety will focus you more on the music than on the artists. The common artists are Fedoseyev (Adagio and Elegy) who has a cycle of the Glazunov symphonies to his name and the Moscow RTVSO who appear on all but The Forest track. Tcherkasov and Fedoseyev are both natives of Leningrad as also was Glazunov.
The first track is the shortest at 4:37 and the longest is the last at almost 20 minutes. The Grand Adagio is rather intense but ultimately anonymous: polished and professionally balletic in the grand manner but not desperately interesting. The Concert Waltz is much more interesting being frequently rather Tchaikovskian. The whole thing is redolent of grand Edwardian hotels, pot plants, palms, tall sylph-like women in nodding feathered hats, a perpetual charming round of chatter and superficial romance. There is none of the complex psychological overlay that Prokofiev brought to the waltz years later. The notes mention the influence of Brahms and Dvorák but I could catch nothing of their voices just the romantic dizzy absorption of the dance. The Symphonic Elegy is an early work which I have never heard before. It is roughly contemporaneous with the first symphony. I wonder who the hero was. This is a work which begins in subdued charcoal lights with a dignified melody with a distinct ecclesiastical tone. This relaxes at 6:22 into a heart-easing tune rising to a rolling passionate climax at 7:05 and great calling brass at 7:22. From 9:03 the massed strings seem to call up memories of triumphant church bells..
The Forest is conducted by Dudarova (the only non-Leningrader) who was born in Baku. It is a romantically glistening work, rather rambling as befits a fantasy it certainly shows how much Glazunov had learnt from Rimsky-Korsakov. This forest is one of eerie magic (not the romantic Wunderhorn fantasy woods of Raff and Mendelssohn) but one populated by clarinet trills, a great trombone choir, troll dances and a storm. Mind you Glazunovs storms have none of the elemental power of Tapiola (Sibelius) or even November Woods (Bax). In truth there were a few moments when I thought the tone-pictures were more marine than sylvan. While Glazunov had it in him to create grandeur (Symphony No. 8) there is no terror but lyrical release aplenty.
The whole package is well designed and documented with precise dates and venue (Concert Hall of Moscow Radio) of recording and reasonably informative anonymous notes (English only). What a pity about the short playing time. I recall a rather good Finnish Fantasy from the days of EMI-Melodiya LPs. Surely that recording was available. Technically the sound is not outstanding - perfectly respectable - having been Sonic Solutions No-Noised. Worth exploring. It would have scored higher if the timing had been more generous. If you have a spare five pounds you will make some real discoveries here; notably the last two tracks.
HAYDN. Piano Works. Variations in F minor, Hob. XVII: 6; Sonata in C, Hob. XVI: 35; Sonata in E flat, Hob. XVI: 49; Sonata in C minor Hob. XVI: 20. Joanna Leach (square piano) Athene ATH CD2. DDD [68' 47"].
Joanna Leach is now in her early sixties and one wonders where her career has gone. She studied with Peter Katin the doyen and most brilliant of British pianists of the last 50 years. She is an accomplished player and her choice of tempi is to be admired. The Variations of 1793 is one of Haydn's most popular works and it is played here with a compelling sense of continuity and a classical beauty that is missing from performances by more famous names. The C major Sonata has an elegance and charm of its very own and is a very rewarding piece to play. Ms Leech's tempi and choice of ornaments is very convincing. I have never felt that Haydn's finale here works - a minuet in an allegro tempo - particularly when you consider Haydn's brilliant finales. The finale of the next sonata is also a minuet, although a more conventional one.
The Sonata in E flat is of historical interest since it was written for Maria Anna von Gensinger, the wife of the physician to Prince Esterhazy. Haydn had a close friendship with her and when she died in 1793 the Variations were composed. She was a good pianist and this sonata is introspective; it is a conversational piece and is almost operatic in style. It is a very personal and mature work. The slow movement is akin to a soprano aria which may reveal Haydn's feelings for Maria Anna. It is a fine piece, both peaceful and lovely with a tender yearning on the one hand and high drama in the minor key on the other. It is rather too florid and decorated for some tastes. While I do not wish to enter the arena to debate musical authenticity I feel that this rather special sonata fares better on a modern instrument as it will heighten the drama and have a wider range of tone. The heartbeats at the end of this movement say it all. The concluding minuet might suggest Haydn wanting to dance it with Maria Anna and enjoy her closeness. The two-part writing hints at two people in private.
The Sonata in C minor, like the Sonata in C, was written for Katharina and Marianna Auenbrugger, two sisters who were pianists. The C minor is a dark work and abounds in character and quality. The slow movement is far too ornamented for my taste but that is what Haydn wanted. Nevertheless, it contains a beautifully thoughtful main theme. Again, Jo Leach plays it in a direct manner and does not allow it to become sweet or sickly. The finale is restless and has more of a hint of tragedy in it.
And I am left wondering about what Haydn's real feelings were for Maria Anna and the Auenbrugger sisters.
The performances are thoughtful and reliable and it has proved to cause me to cogitate which must indicate Jo Leach's expert skill in communication.
PETER KATIN in recital. LISZT Piano Sonata; BRAHMS Variations and Fugue on a theme by Handel Op 24; LISZT Sonetto 123 del Petrarca (Années de Pélérinage, second year) . Peter Katin (piano) From a recital recorded in April 1983 at the University of Western Ontario, Canada. ADD Minerva Athene. ATH CD9 [67' 45"]
My admiration for Peter Katin is both well-known and well-founded. This may lead a cynic to castigate me as being prejudicial ... and, with this anxiety in mind, I decided to review this CD in a highly critical spirit. I placed the music before me accompanied by a pen and notebook to jot down any flaw, mistake or detail that I did not like. Seventy minutes later the notebook was blank and I had experienced not only a wonderful feast of quality piano music but performed with total accuracy and complete faithfulness to the score. It was a rare experience and yielded that inexplicable joy that only the greatest music and finest performers can render.
The use of language creates problems. There is no doubt that the Liszt Sonata is great music, one of the towering masterpieces of the piano repertoire. And then, I hear people talk about some of Schubert's piano music being great as well, and while I do not wish to disparage the melodious Schubert, one cannot possibly use the same adjective fairly for, in so doing, injustice will be levelled at Liszt.
This Sonata was introduced to me by my professor, Humphrey Searle at the RCM. Humphrey was, and probably remains, the world expert on the music of Liszt and we went through it bar by bar several times.
Katin's performance is exemplary and he observes all the detail in the score. The opening Lento assai is sotto voce and arresting. The allegro energico, beginning at bar 8, is exactly that and the bass marcato passages are precisely captured and when, in bar 19, the composer calls for agitato and, later, a crescendo and più crescendo that is what we get. Every phrase is beautifully shaped and the journeys to the big climaxes are always a natural progression of the music. At bar 23, we truly have sempre forte ed agitato and some dazzling finger work. The range of his staccato is quite amazing. At the first of the notorious double octave passages at bar 47 all we can do is be overwhelmed by the power and stunning playing and feel so humbled realising that we could never play like this, and at such a confident speed. The many distinguished pianists who 'fake' this passage with 'slowing downs', and falsely explain this as rubato are legion. To add to the formidable difficulties of the double octaves the composer later calls for it to be sempre staccato ed energico assai. And it is ... here. At bar 98 we have the 'big tune' marked grandioso. Fortunately, Katin does not vamp it as some pianists do, nor does he relegate it to Edwardian pomposity or medieval self-importance. Fifty bars later, at the cantando expressivo passage the wonderful warm romantic lyricism is expertly captured and when it reappears in octaves and in F sharp minor in the quasi adagio section the tenderness has a genuine beauty which is never allowed to become mawkish. There are many important details that listeners could pass over. For example, the long trills are beautifully controlled and so well-integrated. How many times have we heard lesser pianists make such an emphasis on trills as if it were a theatrical device.
Not only was Liszt writing in a romantic style but a classical style as well, as shown in the D flat major fugal passage marked allegro energico.
Peter Katin observes Liszt's stringendos which precede the fearsome double octave passages. How many 'great' pianists do not? ... and we know why. And the presto double octave passage leads to prestissimo still in double octaves and many pianists hardly reach an allegretto.
The recording is sixteen years ago and I have heard recordings with a brighter sound but the sound here is completely acceptable. I have heard some more exciting performances but they interpret Liszt as if he were a thumping circus performer and such readings are seriously flawed.
This superlative performance is class.
The Brahms is also faithfully played and with a rugged grandeur and infectious swagger. There is a smart and enviable elegance in another committed performance of insight which enhances this very fine work.
The Sonnet 123 is another performance of distinction and, as often with this pianist, it was a thought-provoking performance in its extraordinary and fascinating unfolding.
see also David Wright's interview with Peter Katin
CONSTANT LAMBERT (1905-51) Pomona - A ballet in one act (1927) 19:45 Tiresias - A ballet in three acts (1950/1) 54:16 English Northern Philharmonia/David Lloyd--Jones recorded Leeds Town Hall 8-9 April 1998 HYPERION CDA67049 [74:02]
Two ballets from Constant Lambert; both enjoying their premieres on CD and in the case of Tiresias its premiere in any commercial medium.
Orchard serenade - sweet as a nut. Links with Finzian woodland inspirations. The coranto is very neo-classical. Taps into a vein explored by Warlock in the almost contemporaneous Capriol Suite. Lambert conducted one of the earliest recordings of Capriol. There are also parallels with Moeran's orchestral Serenade from twenty years later. The Passacaglia is very Finzian indeed and an easily accessible track with a cleanly emotional message with a climax almost identical to his other strong work dating from the same year (Music for Orchestra). Gently rocking siciliana. Very much a ballet of serenading woodwind tuning not so much a merry note as a contentedly sad lyric note. The slashed and chivalric Marcia has a busy Portsmouth Point dash but with echoes of neo-classical Stravinsky.
Tiresias is an enigma and a major one. Except for those who have memories of the performances during the 1950s the work remained a closed book until it was opened by the BBC. This revival took place during at a BBC Concert Orchestra studio recording conducted by Barry Wordsworth on 8 November 1995. Almost a quarter of a century on from Pomona and his best known works Lambert's accent, rather than his language, had changed. The vowels are slightly more clipped and in place of the more relaxed open-ness of Rio Grande there is a tightness and concentration which is not as immediately attractive as the language he uses in Music for Orchestra and the ballet Horoscope. This is accentuated by the scoring. The orchestra has no violins or violas. Instead the rich tones of the woodwind, glorious brass and tempered percussion (including two orchestral whips) dominate. The first five minutes are as marked maestoso, grand and commanding. The work opens with a grim fanfare and a piano flourish topped off with a whipcrack. The piano plays an important and prominent role in the 50 minute score. Falla in the scene 1 vivo. Typical jazzy dance in Bacchanale  very much à la Horoscope - and this really dances. Various tributes are noticeable throughout the work. I certainly heard references to Bax (Winter Legends), the Hanson symphonies (could Lambert really have heard symphonies 1-3 or is it just a coincidence?) and in Interlude  there plain as anything is Walton's dizzily virtuosic Sinfonia Concertante for piano and orchestra. The music is so vividly pictorial I wondered whether Bernard Herrmann had ever seen the score. The orchestration is typically Herrmann in its challenge to accepted instrumentation and the clanging piano reminded me of Havergal Brian also. This is a rich work but one which requires some persistence to pierce the initially unpromising exterior veil.
The exemplary notes are by Lewis Foreman who reminds us how exciting the BBC programmes conducted by Lambert during the period 1930-1951 were. What a tragedy that they do not survive on transcription discs although Mr Foreman does mention that the odd fragment does exist.
The cover art from the original production of Tiresias is by Isabel Rawsthorne (Lambert's widow).
A small point which shows Hyperion's attention to detail. They seem to have chosen a supplier of jewel cases who has solved the problem of fragile broken central stems. The circle of 'pegs' are supported by a central o ring. It looks a good design to me and shows some thought for customers.
This CD belongs in the collection of every serious collector of British music, of ballet music of the 20th centruy and of anyone at all entranced by Lambert's muse. If you do not know Lambert's voice then start with Rio Grande and then move onwards to the ballets. His masterwork is Summer's Last Will and Testament and conveniently both Rio and Summer are coupled on another Hyperion CD (CDA66565).
Now Hyperion how about Lambert's succinctly symphonic but hideously titled Music for Orchestra? It plays for only 18 minutes and could be coupled with the brief Dirge from Cymbeline plus Merchant Seaman with as much of the music as you can trace and reconstitute, the orchestral Elegiac Blues and a suite of music from Anna Karenina.
The strongest recommendation for a generous CD and one in the forefront of adventurous programming.
JOHN MCLEOD Piano Music. Twelve Preludes/Hebridean Dances/Four Impromptus/Piano Sonatas 1/3 Murray McLachlan, piano. Redbook Records RBCD002
This is a welcome disc. Not only do I recommend its purchase but that recitalists take up McLeod's best piano music.
Writing for the piano is many composers' Achilles heel. In the final analysis few composers can write really effectively for the piano. Among the British composers still happily with us, Francis Routh is possibly one of the finest composers for the piano and, certainly, John McLeod is another.
So much piano music today is of the static and tedious variety, a sort of updated melancholic dreamy expression of a few famous names from the beginning of the nineteenth century when, although piano music was tuneful, it meandered and, perhaps, sometimes wallowed. But this CD is, in the main, of real piano music and while the quality of the music varies from uneventful to excellent, it must be remembered that no composer can compose music of supreme quality all the time.
The Twelve Preludes are exceptional. The theme of the opening prelude has remained with me since I heard it. There is a finely judged balance of virtuosity and excitement and thoughtfulness. But the great thing is that the work is always full of interest; it is never static or dull.
It is one of the most rewarding piano works I have experienced for a long time.
The Piano Sonata No 1 is a compact work in a single movement. After an introduction we have a fast-slow-fast format. The continuity does not always seem to be there but watch out for the final pages. Of these I can, in all truth, use the word brilliant correctly. It is very exciting indeed.
Arrangements of Hebridean folk dances follow. Dressed in 'unexpected' harmonies and a craggy ruggedness which may not appeal to everyone and there is always that group of listeners who spend their time 'trying to find the tune' rather than paying attention to the music. The Harp of Dunvegan is superbly realised.
One of McLeod's earliest compositions is the Four Impromptus of 1966. The work is dedicated to his then-teacher Lennox Berkeley. These four pieces are nothing like the Schubert Impromptus. We are not in the realms of pretty melodies and endless repetitions but direct statements and communication. What I discovered was that the descriptions of each of the four pieces were perfectly apt: energico, tranquillo, cantabile and risoluto.
The Piano Sonata No 3 dates from 1995. It uses a quotation from Scotland's Renaissance composer, Robert Carver. The episodic style greatly hinders the logic and continuity of the piece. It is a work of depths that I cannot yet fathom and there are exciting bursts of powerful virtuosity but I was left with a conviction that, while this work is expertly pianistic, it may fare better in an orchestral dress. In my view, the piece needs more colour. I found it a little tedious.
Murray McLachlan needs no further words from me as to his reliable, exciting and exemplary performances. The recording was bright but my copy of the CD kept sticking.
see also previous review by Colin Scott-Sutherland
MENOTTI Violin Concerto, BARBER Violin Concerto Ruggiero Ricci (violin) Pacific SO/Keith Clark rec issued 1992 REFERENCE RECORDINGS RR-45CD
The Menotti was premiered by Efrem Zimbalist on 5/6 December 1952 with the Philadelphia conducted by Ormandy. It is an aristocratically romantic work with not a hint of over-the-top romance. You need have no fears that this is going to be as luxuriant as the Korngold of five years previously. The romanticism is flowingly done by Ricci without the shrill fire of the 1955 LP recording (Tossy Spivakovsky with the Boston SO conducted by Charles Munch).
The first movement is glowingly melodic and though marginally over-stretched it uses a rather lovely idea. The second movement is reflective of course and here the links with its disc-mate, the Barber concerto, come over strongly. The work is old-fashioned and its kinship is with Sibelius and Tchaikovsky. Only in this middle movement, with its slightly discordant fanfares, does a feint whiff of modernism enter the proceedings, soon dispelled (3:53) by a tentative French après-midi interlude. This in turn gives place to a quicksilver cadenza melting back into an episode of veiled beauty carried by ecstatic strings. The playful finale has hints of the Prokofiev first concerto. The shade of Balakirev's Tamara appears (2:00) in the form of a slave dance as the violin sings with reserve and rapt adoration over rhythmic drumming. If you like romantic violin concertos (Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, Barber, Ivanovs, Karlowicz) you are seriously missing out if you do not hear this. A classic of the twentieth century.
Almost fifteen years before the Menotti premiere, the Philadelphia and Ormandy partnered Albert Spalding in the first performance of the Barber Concerto, a work that has held its place in the repertory and for a while was represented by the CBS LP. Of course we are not short of performances of the Barber Concerto. This one is given a reflectively nostalgic rather than a hectically quick-fire performance. Do not misunderstand: there are fireworks but a longer view is the hallmark of the approach. Listen for example to the long drawn pause out in the first movement at 3:58. This is daringly slow but Ricci and his conspirators succeed and at the same time lay bare the bones of the Barber work more effectively than many a hot-shot performance. The contours are warmly detailed and the colours give off a luminescence which is only hinted at elsewhere. Ricci's half-hooded tone at 11:03 is compulsively listenable.
The slow movement is played lingeringly; somehow like a lover's wondering watch in the depths of a moonlit night over the sleep of their partner. (Sorry for the fanciful language; it is that sort of work.) The oh-so-hesitant distant fanfares in the centre of the movement inject a moment's foreboding but all settles back again into the nightwatch. The flighty presto has the same qualities and here the steady hand caused me a few misgivings. It could have done with greater speed. While noticeably quick it is clear that Ricci is taking his time to admire and suffuse the landscape with his own colours and textures. Once again however there are real gains in the definition of ideas. All too soon the movement ends but then this movement always struck me as too perfunctory (even at this speed) by comparison with its predecessors.
The technical side is lovingly handled by Reference Recordings who clearly relished Ricci's mesmerically detailed approach. If you have rather tired of dash, rush and flashy stridency in this work then this is the disc for you.
I quibble over playing time which seems short by the side of many issues these days. The musical and technical quality is however undeniable. This will be the connoisseurs' recording of choice in years to come. A sleeper in relation to the Barber and an enduring hit in the case of the unfairly neglected Menotti. Now how about a disc of the Menotti concertos including the piano concerto and the triple concerto?
NIKOLAI MIASKOVSKY (1881-1950) Cello Concerto in C minor (1944) 36.49, Cello Sonata No. 1 in D major (1946?) 20.09, Cello Sonata No. 2 in A minor (1949) 21.58 Kyrill Rodin (cello), Andrei Pisarev (piano), Russian PO/Konstantin Krimets ARTE NOVA Classics 74321 54464 2 [79.07] superbargain price
We should not hold against the cello concerto that it won the Stalin Prize. It is a challengingly elegiac work (written six years before the composer's death and in the depths of Second World War); predominantly slow and ruminant; aristocratically sad in a Medtnerian fashion. There is little circus showmanship or obvious blood-tingling excitement. The music is subtle and the leaves of Autumn settle across its subdued landscape in a soft golden rain. The sombre splendour of the lower strings and plaintive bassoon bring clear parallels with the clouded concentration of Tchaikovsky's Pathétique whose last movement is virtually carried on by the first movement of the Miaskovsky work. The Concerto ends in the high harmonics of the strings - a magical atmosphere for those prepared to persist with a work which is a rhapsodic poem for cello and orchestra rather than a virtuosic display vehicle (though there is a jerkily heroic quick section in the middle of the work). Rodin and the orchestra seem to be fully engaged by the music and while more celebrity names may claim your attention you would be well advised to try this performance. You will be agreeably surprised especially if you like the Delius concerto ... and the Miaskovsky is a work of greater melodic distinction.
The first cello sonata comes from a few years later than the concerto and also is in two movements. It was written over a period of 24 years. A strongly marked out singing theme is one of the highlights of the work. It also draws on a rich vein of ecstasy in song (e.g. 4.50 in first movement). The last movement has a burning urgency and it is in this movement that I thought the piano could have sounded more rounded. The final bars are wholehearted and heavily accented.
The three movement second sonata is nostalgic (how could it be anything else with Miaskovsky) but also admixes a song in constant flight. The second movement is an andante cantabile which lovers of the Bax and Rachmaninov cello concertos will want to add to their collections. Fleetly quicksilver it flows like molten gold and here Rodin's rich tone pays dividends. The finale is flashy but musically sustaining. All in all, quite a discovery for the adventurer.
The CD could hardly have been better filled although the notes (short and competent) by Yvonne Drynda, could easily have been longer with space for more information. They are in the usual German, English and French.
I would like to have been able to compare it with Olympia OCD530 (Marina Tarasova with the Moscow New Opera Orchestra) but unfortunately a review copy was not available. This is a pity as the coupling is identical. However the Olympia is at full-to-medium price and the present disc is at superbargain.
I am not sure that these works are the best place to start with Miaskovsky although his cello concerto made his name and kept it in the EMI lists for many years with Rostropovich playing and Sargent conducting the RPO.
MUSSORGSKY Pictures at an Exhibition; Ravel Miroirs Andreas Boyde (piano) DDD Athene-Minerva. ATHCD17 [65' 05"].
From the very first notes of the Mussorgsky I knew that this was going to be an exceptional performance. I was proved to be right. The clarity of the playing was crisp and well articulated and, what was so refreshing and welcome, was the pianist's excellent judgement of tempi which is one of the secrets of a successful performance of this heterogeneous work. The skill and technique is undeniable and, although I have known this inspiring work for 40 years the detail that Boyde reveals is quite astonishing as are the superlative nuances he achieves. The linking Promenade is not played as if the visitor to the gallery is bored but enthusiastic; some may carp about Bydlo being heavy but what I also enjoyed was the pianist's confidence in the music; he is not ashamed or embarrassed about the composer's 'wrong notes' . He has an enviable ability for light and shade and is totally convincing. The Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks sizzles remarkably ... one can but admire his pianistic skills.
I waited with some apprehension for the final movement The Bogatyr Gate at Kiev which, because of the unhurried nature of the grand tune, can sound hesitant and unconvincing as, indeed, can the Catacombs movement. But I should not have worried. His wise use of pedal notes and contrast was so good that I felt I had heard this for the first time. He displays much insight into this piece; it is carefully thought out and all the better for it.
The Ravel pieces are far more pianistic and call for all and every constituent facet that a truly great performer needs. In addition, we have in Andreas Boyde a very mature performer but his performances are never dull or those of a tired or mechanical player. It is only after hearing his account of Oiseaux Tristes that I discovered how amazing this piece is. Any artiste that can convey that level of communication coupled with such consummate skill and breathtaking ability is destined to become famous and rightly so. He is already a brilliant star. His command of the piano is staggering!
Readers may be interested to know that Andreas is to premiere a new work in New York in October ... Schumann's Variations on a theme of Schubert.
The recording quality is excellent. The range from pp to fff is wide.
A superb disc in every way!
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924) IL TRITTICO: Il Tabarro (The Cloak); Suor Angelica (Sister Angelica)*; Gianni Schicchi. Roberto Alagna; Angela Gheorghiu; Carlo Guelfi; Maria Guleghina; Cristina Gallardo-Domâs; Bernadette Manca Di Nissa; Felicity Palmer; Neil Shicoff; José Van Dam; Tiffin Boys' Choir; London Voices; London Symphony Orchestra; Philharmonia Orchestra* conducted by Antonio Pappano EMI CDS5 56587 2 [52:56] [55:45] and [53:16]
This magnificent new Pappano release is a worthy successor to his 1997 recording of Puccini's La Rondine that won Gramophone's 'Record of the Year' accolade. Again, Alagna and Gheorghiu are starred but this time in an ensemble cast. The duo star only in Gianni Schicchi, as the young lovers, Rinuccio and Lauretta. In Il Tabaro they have a minor, background role as two lovers strolling along the banks of the Seine. Rather than weakening the production by having Gheorghiu singing the lead roles in all three operas, the notion of having three separate sopranos provides a welcome diversity of tone and that strengthens the whole.
I treasure those recordings of the three single-act operas made by EMI in the 1950s, that were gathered together in the box set released by EMI in 1992 (CMS 7 64165 2). Tito Gobbi was unforgettable as the tragic, tormented Michele in Il Tabarro and wryly comic as Gianni Schicchi; and Victoria De Los Angeles had a luminous beauty as Suor Angelica. This new complete recording of Il Tittico, however, must now be regarded as the benchmark recording.
Pappano again shows his mastery of the Puccini idiom. He breathes life and credibility into these three diverse stories, realising all Puccini's little, yet revealing subtleties and nuances and delivering beautifully structured performances that are ideally paced so that the emotional climaxes have tremendous power. He is aided by first class engineered sound with wide perspectives and dynamics. The opening of Il Tabarro, for instance, is a vivid evocation of evening on the banks of the Seine with the busy street-life of Paris, around Michele's barge, slowly winding down; just as the serenity of the convent gardens with its birdsong and fountains is magically captured at the beginning of Suor Angelica.
In Il Tabarro, Carlo Guelfi, as Michele, may not dispel memories of Gobi but he characterises very well the essential warmth of the cuckolded barge-master as well as his jealousy and cruelty. He makes his duet with his wife Giorgetta (Maria Guleghina) superbly poignant as he tries to make her remember their dead baby and the days when they were happy together. Guleghina and Shicoff (as Luigi, Giorgetta's doomed lover) are also well cast and convincing as they sing their duet wishing they could be free of Michele and his barge to enjoy life together in Paris.
The young Chilean soprano Cristina Gallardo-Domâs is a radiant Sister Angelica and she sounds rather younger than many sopranos who have approached this role. This is no bad thing because one can imagine a very young girl being led astray and having to pay the price of having an illegitimate baby by being banished to a nunnery. But Gallardo-Domâs shows not only Sister Angelica's kindness, warmth and compliance and piety, but also her defiance in the scene where she is rebuked by her icily implacable aunt, the princess (frostily sung by an appropriately imperious Bernadette Manca di Nissa). The climactic miracle scene, when after taking poison in a fit of madness, and appealing to the Virgin Mary, Sister Angelica is granted absolution and is reunited with her dead infant as she dies, is breathtakingly beautiful. I cannot remember having been as moved by this scene before - a tribute to Pappano's skill in treading the fine line between the beatific and the mawkish.
As Gianni Schicchi, José van Dam once again proves what a great singer/actor he is - all the wry cunning and sardonic wit implicit in this role is realised. Gheorghiu is beguiling, subtle and delicate in her big aria 'O mio babbino caro'. Alagna impresses with his enthusiastic paean to Florence in his aria 'Firenza è come un albero fiorito' (Florence is like a tree in flower). And together they sing radiantly of their love triumphing at the close of the opera. The supporting cast all shine as the greedy grasping relatives of the deceased Buoso Donati - all keen to get their hands on his wealth.
Recommended most strongly
Richard STRAUSS Elektra Resnik, Nilsson, Collier, Stolze, Krause, Vienna Philharmonic, Solti remastered Decca 417 345 2 (2CDs Full price)
This is a technical appraisal of the remastering of the well established recording
Decca has recently reissued a number of analogue Solti opera recordings with the benefit of refurbished sound obtained by remastering with a 96kHz 24-bit Genex recorder and the CEDAR DH2 de-hisser. I have been able to compare the two Ring cycles and have now been listening to Elektra. I am grateful to Marjorie Williamson for lending me copies of the original CDs (complete with booklet autographed by Birgit Nilsson).
I will answer the obvious questions immediately.
Is the sound an improvement? - Yes it is. There is a small but real difference.
Should you replace your original CDs with this new issue? No there is little need, particularly as Decca have made the utterly reprehensible decision to re-release at premium price thus cutting off a large portion of their potential market..
In side by side comparison there are discernible improvements but I have to admit that this wonderful Strauss score so captivated me that I often found I had forgotten which version I was listening to. At reasonably high playback levels there is little discernible hiss on the original issue so the Cedar DH2 de-hisser did not have much de-hissing to do. Disc one of the new issue is cut at a slightly lower level than the original whilsy disc 2 is slightly louder which made the job of comparison more difficult. Your money buys you new packaging (although I have an affection for the old Salome and Elektra LP covers), the original booklet printed on better quality paper and a new booklet of photographs and including a couple of essays: Michael Kennedy on 'Strauss and Solti' and James Lock on 'Recording the Strauss operas with Solti'. It looks as if this booklet might be common to the series and from it we learn that Elektra was a four track recording using the Culshaw grid on the sound-stage, and that these four track recordings were used for this re-release but were not used for the original CD release which was developed from the stereo master tape. That is where the improvements lie.
As I have said, there is a small but real difference and improvement in the sound; my difficulty is in describing it to you. The re-issue has a more dispersed sound, both tonally and spatially, and the voices give a better impression of coming from a stage. This makes the component parts more distinct and easily discerned and the whole listening experience is a more relaxed one. The original issue opens by throwing the sound image in your face like an uncomfortable splash of cold water full of ice chunks from which you immediately recoil. The re-issue has greater depth, the bass drum and lower strings are more clearly defined and the effect Strauss wanted to achieve more easily discerned. Instead of recoiling from the sound recording you now recoil in horror from the effect Strauss produces (this is not a pretty opera)!
I always found that these Decca Solti opera issues from the 1960s had a particularly strident edge to the brass and voice - even on the original LPs. This wearing sound was very exciting - 'cutting-edge' for their time - but ultimately exhausting to listen to. The LPs actually improved after a few runs of the stylus which seemed to smooth away some of this edginess but this was retained on the original CD issue and, of course, does not get smoothed away. Nevertheless, the CD offered a much improved definition - particularly in Salome (I am not a flat-earther). The re-mastering has cleaned this edginess away. If you possess the original CDs you will hear what I mean in the searing, piercing trumpet at 0.22' of track 1. Equally the triangle is more realistically musical at 1.32'
The orchestra plays in a more three-dimensional space with a more believable depth of sound stage, try the quieter passage from 5.48' onwards. Strings and woodwind are beautifully balanced, the new distance lending enchantment, but the chugging basses at the start of track 2 still exert their powerful effect as Elektra appears before us. The buzzy, edgy halo that is a feature of Nilsson's voice has also been rendered less intrusive without any loss in the power of her projection. In the first meeting of Elektra and Klytämnestra one is again aware of a slight widening of the soundstage with increased openness, each voice has greater separation and projects with improved clarity. But again I must stress that although I am using adjectives such as 'greater', the overall change really is slight, but it is an advance and shows how good the original DECCA recordings were. We knew that, of course, from Das Rhinegold which is absolutely amazing for its age!
Orestes is Dead! I played this scene with Chrysothemis and Elektra several times because I found so little difference between the two transfers at this point. I had hoped the separation between the two voices might have been increased. In a blind testing I suspect I would find it very difficult to distinguish one transfer from another at this point, the earlier transfer being distinguished only by a slight tunnelling of the sound. When Tom Krause enters (track 6) there are one or two silent passages (rare in this opera) where the improvement in residual noise can be noticed in the re-issue and again, the slight spreading of the sound is more realistic with less 'spitting' to the treble. In the original transfer both voices become a little hectoring in the scene that follows and, to some extent, this is smoothed out in the re-issue.
Should you have the opportunity to compare these transfers my recommendation would be to try track 11 on disc 2. Here you can appreciate the solidity of the basses (never to be matched in the opera house I suspect) and the total silence surrounding them. Tape hiss audible in the original here has been completely removed.
Clearly Decca have been convinced that the sound could be improved in a new transfer. There are other recordings of this vintage which will probably show a more dramatic improvement; I am thinking of the War Requiem in particular and this is to be released soon. My recommendations are as at the head of the article. Should you have been hanging your nose over this recording as a first purchase - hesitate no longer
Equipment used: Aiwa XC750 CD player fed directly into a Quad 405 power amp. KEF Reference 104/2 speakers.
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949) Macbeth; Don Juan; Tod und Verklärung Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Günther Herbig ARTE NOVA 74321 59232 2 [58:16] Superbudget price
The super budget Arte Nova label is gaining a reputation for quality and originality. The focus of interest in this collection of Richard Strauss's tone is the inclusion of the earlier work, Macbeth which is something of a rarity, as far as recorded performances are concerned, in comparison to his other tone poems. Macbeth turns out to comprise much of the sort of material we meet in the other tone poems on this disc plus a little of Till Eulenspiegel; although, towards the end the atmosphere becomes appropriately doom-laden.
Herbig gives energetic performances of the better-known tone poems. His Don Juan is lusty and sensuous, as adept with his blade as he is around the petticoats and his everyman hero of Tod und Verklärung has something of the Don too before his appointment with Death. The transfiguration episode is moving and dignified. There are higher-voltaged readings of these more well known works but the recorded sound is very good and with the inclusion of Macbeth this is a firm recommendation in its price range. The documentation is sparse and inadequate
PIOTR TCHAIKOVSKY Scenes from The Nutcracker (1890) Francesca da Rimini (1876) Leningrad PO/Evgeny Mravinsky Live recordings from 1981 and 1983 respectively. Concert Hall of the Leningrad Philharmony ICONE ICN9410-2 [59:07] Midprice
This is a rare event: a single CD of Mravinsky-conducted music at bargain price. Icone have a done a respectable job with the radio tapes from which these are taken. Presumably these are the same performances as have appeared on Philips and Olympia in years gone by and currently on BMGs 20 CD 2 volume series. Mravinskys Tchaikovsky is fabled. He attained the heights with fabulous performances from the early 1960s on DGG LPs. These are still available and have been much reissued. I refer here to the stereo version although I know that the Leningrad PO and Mravinsky also had mono performances from the 1950s of Symphonies 5 and 6 and that these have been reissued on CD with a Jansons conducted Symphony No. 4.
Although playing for just short of an hour the present disc represents excellent value. What almost startles is the unanimity of attack and the consistency and colour of the sound. The concert hall ambience also helps even if this means that there is coughing during the Nutcracker excerpts. The Nutcracker is presented with every splendour as a childrens horror book full of strange pictures: fear and beauty stalking the corridors. Bogeymen are under the bed, toys come to life and a snowy romance is in the air. As for Francesca this is one of Tchaikovskys most undervalued scores. For anyone who has discovered the composer through Symphony No. 4 I would always recommend hearing a good performance of Francesca before referring them to Symphonies 5 and 6 or Romeo and Juliet. Interestingly I see that the composer planned an opera on Francesca but this came to nothing and it was left to Rachmaninov to produce his own impressive effort (now there is a piece that could do with reissue on CD). Mravinsky plays Francesca at full throttle.
The audience is fairly quiet as well they might be in the face of the white hot winds and passion that thresh the air and the delicate clarinet-led romance that dominates the central softer core of the work. Hearing this performance you can hear what inspired Sibelius in Tapiola and The Tempest and Bax in the grittier romance of November Woods. This is still not the equal of a 1979 BBC broadcast by the LSO conducted by Yuri Ahronovitch but it is amongst the strongest on the market easily jostling shoulders with Stokowskis famed DellArte recording with the New York Stadium Orchestra. The sound is slightly stressed under pressure but very acceptable. All thanks to Icone for making this available and to LENTELERADIO for licensing the tapes.
PETER TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893) Piano Concerto No 2 in G major (1879) DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975) Symphony No 9 in E flat major Op. 70 (1945) Andreas Boyde (piano) Freiburg PO/Johannes Fritzsch Live broadcast recording on 13/14 January 1997 at Sudwestfunk Landestudio, Freiburg - Konzerthaus Freiburg MINERVA ATHENE ATH CD 16 [73:34]
Tchaikovsky has often been described as the composer of grand light music. When I first heard this concerto forty years ago I was taken by the slow movement, where there are extended passages for a piano trio, and it reminded me of the Palm Court Orchestra and Max Jaffa. To my mind, Tchaikovsky's finest works are not the ballets or the works with 'good tunes' but the operas, chamber music and particularly his exquisite songs. He did not write well for the piano (see my interview with Peter Katin) and it is a curious thing that his most popular works are not his best works. He was, however, very fluent resulting in his music sounding very 'natural'; but he was also a superb technician particularly in remote keys e.g. the Piano Concerto No 1 is in Bb minor and the mellow Quartet no 3 is in Eb minor.
The First Piano Concerto is structurally an enigma. It begins with four minutes of that 'big tune' which is never heard again. The Second Piano Concerto is more coherent and logical and demands a pianist of exceptional skill, virtuosity and warmth. But it is not just the right notes and tempo but an understanding of this unfolding drama. Boyde makes detail come to life; he has an amazing capacity to build up long piano solos thereby making them full of interest. His cadenzas are breathtaking and the clarity of his finger work is stunning. And, thankfully, he is not a barnstorming, glamorous, athletic performer, although he generates tremendous excitement. He has enviable lyrical gifts and I have to say that, bearing in mind that this is a public performance (where one does not get a 'second chance'), it is very impressive indeed. The orchestra and conductor must also be congratulated.
The slow movement can wallow into cheap sentimentality if a strict tempo is not observed. I once read a review that stated that Tchaikovsky was inspired to write this movement after hearing the slow movement of Brahms' cherished Double Concerto. Tchaikovsky wrote his work in 1880, Brahms in 1887! In this movement Boyde and Fritzch combine effectively to prevent the music deteriorating into cheap Johann Strauss confectionary. While the performers avoid these pitfalls they also capture the warm mellowness. We have music, not an indulgence in mawkishness. There are, however, moments of tender beauty and the pianists clever timing of his entries enhances the music's expectations.
The finale Allegro con fuoco is a brilliant tour de force. Many pianists who refuse to play this concerto stating that they do not like it, are hiding the truth that they cannot play it. And this is one reason why the work stayed on the shelf for a long time. I would have preferred a stronger attack in this movement but this is more than adequately compensated for by the sparkling clearness. Then, all of a sudden, the performance explodes - a marvellous moment - and the work rushes on to an exhilarating and ruthless conclusion.
I hope Boyde may consider performing Tchaikovsky's other fine piano and orchestra work, the Concert Fantasy of 1884 also in G major. Peter Katin's unrivalled performance with Boult is still available, fortunately.
Shostakovich Symphony No 9 is sometimes maligned for being 'lightweight' but as with the unsurpassed finale of his Symphony No 6, of which Fritz Reiner's version is, by far, still the best, Shostakovich introduces a burlesque sense of humour probably to counteract the repressive Stalin regime.
I was brought up on Mravinsky's performance and so, rightly or wrongly, I judge all performances by that. Perhaps Fritzch's performance may occasionally lack some finesse but when one considers the amazing detail he reveals and his excellent control and balance this seems insignificant. There are some superlative woodwind solos and the intonation throughout is remarkably secure but I found the tempi rather cautious.
The exemplary recording greatly aids the clarity of detail.
Performances (concerto) (Shostakovich) Recording
See previous review of this disc by Rob Barnett
RAUTAVAARA, Einojuhani. Cantus Arcticus, Op 61 (Concerto for Birds and Orchestra); Piano Concerto No 1, Op 45; Symphony No 3, Op 20. Laura Mikkola (piano), Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Hannu Lintu. DDD [73' 32"]. Naxos 8.554147.
What a splendid disc ... and what a bargain! Congratulations Naxos and you have contributed to this reviewer's profoundest satisfaction.
The Piano Concerto No 1 has always been a very great work as far as I am concerned. It has all the ingredients of being a masterpiece. It is original and not a copy of anything that has gone before and this is the vital essential of a great composer. It has durability. I can listen to it again and again and never tire of it. The composer's skill, technique and orchestration is exemplary; it is music of worth; it has something to say and says it; it has contrast ... on the one hand, powerful drama and excitement and, on the other, a tender lyricism. It has wonderful, unpredictable harmonies at times and yet has some conventional features as well. It has the quality that almost everyone wants in a piano concerto; that stunning virtuosity that brings the house down. Of course, there are idiosyncrasies but then it could be argued that, for example, baroque composers has such formulae with their ornamentation and other features. The big, broad melodies of the Rautavaara are post-Rachmaninov but without the mawkish sentimentality and with the advantages of big harmonies. Soaring violin melodies in the second movement are supported by some astonishing harmonies and some warmth in the strings. Not everyone will like the palm clusters or the forearm clusters but aren't they exciting and dramatic? The finale is molto allegro that is too short! It contains some glorious surprises!
The Symphony No 3 precedes the Concerto by about ten years being completed in 1960. It is a fascinating contradiction of something both tonal and dodecaphonic although not strictly so. The music conjures up an impressive visual imagery through a wonderful tapestry of sound from the desolate to the majestic. There is humour, playfulness and opulence; there is grandeur and solemnity and four Wagner tubas. It has a rather loose structure as can be noted in the Symphony No 4 of Jean Sibelius. It yields its rewards and its treasure by listening to it. Real music is not entertainment or a background; it is to be an all-embracing experience.
The Cantus Arcticus may be Rautavaara's most famous piece. The bird song was taped in the Arctic Circle. This sound world is unique and totally absorbing. When a composer can successfully produce a pictorial realisation in an aural treatise he has made a great achievement. The cold and the migrating swans are captured with great imagination and the use of aleatoric passages is relevant in this rather special piece. It is both evocative and communicative and has a documentary feel.
Wildlife on One? No, I prefer Rautavaara's Opus 61.
The performances are very good. Laura Mikkola is a gifted pianist who has many famous teachers to her credit and who has worked with first-rank conductors. There is a strength in her playing and for this concerto she needs it. Hannu Lintu is a conductor that we should hear more of and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra reveal that they are a fine ensemble who benefitted enormously from the work they did with Bryden Thomson. The sleeve note contains one glaring error but you will have to buy this bargain CD to resolve it.
ROUTH, FRANCIS. A Sacred Tetralogy (I - III) for organ; The Manger Throne Op 3 (1959); Lumen Christi Op 15 (1969); Aeterne Rex Altissime Op 20 (1970). Christopher Bowers-Broadbent at the organ of Coventry Cathedral. Redcliffe Recordings. RR012. [67' 03"].
This is a splendid disc and recommended without reservation.
Let it also be said at once that Coventry's organ is magnificent and has a clarity and brilliance that is superb. Bowers-Broadbent is a virtuosic performer with secure hands and is also incredibly safe-footed. His articulation is extraordinary and his playing is always precise and clear. He is totally in control. The recording engineers have also excelled themselves.
This is most impressive music and sadly reminds us that we have a dearth of British organ music. Denis ApIvor, James Brown, Peter Racine Fricker, Priaulx Rainer, William Mathias and Humphrey Searle have all written effectively for the 'king of instruments' but in Francis Routh we have surely found the finest modern British composer of organ music. Not that it should be thought that he has only written for the organ. He has written concertos, a symphony, some amazingly fine piano music and vocal works of great distinction.
Olivier Messiaen seems to hold the monopoly of organ music of this soon-ending century. Francis's music is more absolute, is far better structured and has a welcome sense of direction and purpose. For those who 'fear' modern music let me assure you that this music is not fragmentary or abounding in clusters. Nor does it ever sound like a traffic jam but, while it has both originality and exemplary skill, it retains the certainty of traditional convention.
Each of the three works has three movements. In The Manger Throne Op 3 the central più mosso section is a rare joy of exciting music. The second movement is akin to a pastoral and uses Es ist ein 'Ros' entsprungen making the movement into a kind of chorale prelude. The finale has toccata-like qualities and introduces another carol In dulci iubile ... simply, quietly and effectively. The end is a wonderful exhilarating flourish.
The quality of the music, whether it is peaceful or triumphant, is of the highest order.
Whereas Op 3 deals with the Nativity, Lumen Christi Op 15 deals with Easter and the representations of light and darkness. The opening movement with its effective use of chromaticism and rising fourths gives it a clear shape. The central Agnus Dei is music that unfolds a beautiful melodic line in which the softer tones of the organ are shown to great advantage as it is in the quieter sections of the final Allegro vivace. It heads towards a brilliant climax with the theme in fourths on the pedals. The final flourish is a statement of resurrection, rather than a showy conclusion.
Aeterne Rex Altissime Op 20 is a more austere work and is based on a plainchant. There is a well-judged contrast between simple melody and controlled outbursts of rich sound. The first movement ends with an amazing study in counterpoint with flowing semi-quavers leading to a chordal conclusion. The slow movement is often very beautiful and communicates its material instantly as all great music should. The finale begins Andante and ends Vivace con brio. The quiet mystery of the opening advances to a rich climax. The plainchant sings its melody and the coda represents the ascension itself: Christ in glory. It has a wonderful swagger ... and those pedals!
Indeed, this is a splendid disc recommended without reservation. A second disc of Francis's organ music is due out later this year. I can't wait!
Further details of this recording, including booklet notes, are available from the Redcliffe Recording site
DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975) Complete Symphonies.
No. 1 in F minor (1925) **
No. 2 in B, "To October" (1927) (Choirs of the Russian Republic) rec 1972
No. 3 in E flat, "The First of May" (1929) (Choirs of the Russian Republic) rec 1972
No. 4 in C minor (1935) rec 1962
No. 5 in D minor (1937) rec 1964
No. 6 in B minor (1939) rec 1967
No. 7 in C, "Leningrad" (1941) rec 1975
No. 8 in C minor (1943) rec 1961
No. 9 in E flat (1945) rec 1965
No. 10 in E minor (1953) rec 1973
No. 11 in G minor, "The Year 1905" (1957) rec 1973
No. 12 in D minor "The Year 1917" (1961) **
No. 13 in B flat minor, "Babiy Yar" (1962) (Artur Eisen, bass; Choirs of the Russian Republic) rec 1967
No. 14 (1969) (Evgenia Tselovalnik, sop; Evgeny Nesterenko, bass)
No. 15 in A (1971) rec 1974
Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra/Kyrill Kondrashin.
BMG-Melodiya 74321 19839/48-2 10 CDs
** Not heard by reviewer
These are grainy but shockingly intense performances with rather stressed recording quality to match. The recordings represent a true 'intégrale': a cycle by a single utterly involved and involving conductor and a deeply dedicated and often possessed orchestra.
One health warning. Sadly I was not able to get hold of every disc in the sequence. There are ten discs and the disc coupling symphonies 1 and 12 was not available.
The discs are not desperately well filled (in terms of playing time) but the whole set is at mid-price and by now may be being remaindered and is a significantly attractive bargain even at its usual mid-price.
Those who hanker for subtle recorded sound should opt elsewhere, perhaps for Haitink's distinguished cycle of which I confess to have heard little. However Kondrashin's way with the symphonies is overpowering and I prefer it over the smoother-edged approach even when that approach is eloquently conveyed.
Kondrashin's readings are direct and bear the authority of the composer's involvement in many of the performances. This conductor's recordings usually have a burning drive and razor-edged communication. In these qualities he is rivalled most consistently by Mravinsky who (sadly) did not record a complete Shostakovich cycle.
The present set has been issued previously by Chant du Monde in the late 1980s and previously in the moribund era of the LP by EMI (1985) on 12 black discs. Before that the occasional disc appeared as part of other cycles and in isolation. I recall that some of the Kondrashin performances were included in the 1975 complete HMV (SLS5025) LP set of the Shostakovich by a mix of USSR conductors and orchestras. This box is still in my collection. Kondrashin's recordings formed the core of the set although Maxim Shostakovich's account of 5 and 15, Barshai's 14, Mravinsky's 12 and Svetlanov's 7 and 10 took the place of other Kondrashin tapes now restored here.
As already indicated the orchestra's playing is not subtle. What it lacks in fine tone painting it gains in sheer pain, acidic expression, devastating concentration and blood coursing through the veins and arteries of the music.
The sturdy box is handsomely produced. The set is not listed in the current BMG-Melodiya catalogue but copies still seem to be available. I noticed it on the shelves of Manchester's HMV shop when I was there at the beginning of March. Notes are rather brief although the general essay about the Russian symphony (it appears in each CD's booklet is worth a read). I should clarify that there are notes on each symphony. Sadly, sung texts are absent.
The first three symphonies. The first I did not hear however Kondrashin's No. 2 is a rather rushed affair. No. 3 suffers in much the same way although both works communicate well, if in a typically driven way. I seem to recall another Melodiya set (possibly conducted by Igor Blazhkov) of these early revolutionary/modernistic symphonies.
A burning acidity hangs over the recording of the Fourth symphony. String sound is strident and the brass choir is blatant, almost acrid. But through all this (or perhaps because of it) the performance positively throbs with life. The recording is ancient in our terms, dating from 1961.
The Fifth is not so much haunted by time's wingèd chariot as hunted down in a breathless death-chase. Possession and ferocity may perhaps have gone a degree or ten more than the ideal here. However there is no denying the power of this performance. My old LP from the EMI set (as conducted by the composer's son) is more balanced but Kondrashin is unlikely to disappoint you.
Kondrashin's Leningrad in all its refinement (yes, that is the word) and flaming emotion is amongst the arterial strengths of the box. Grim and poetic qualities light up this work in a way you probably would not have expected from this conductor and especially not in this work. The long first movement is notably well done with the performance successfully conveying the remorseless steel-tracked march.
No. 8 is an old recording (circa 1961). It is a pity that the master tapes could not be 'reconstructed' as their distressed state rather shows through. Nevertheless there is no denying the sense of searing penetration and concentration communicated by conductor and orchestra. Desperately impressive.
The Ninth symphony was recorded in 1965 and sounds broader and deeper and at least a decade better than the recording of the Fourth. It is a possessed performance driving forward harder and harder. The slow movement is notable for a sense of emptiness rivalled only by Vaughan Williams' Sixth.
The Tenth is distinguished by a dashing almost gabbled scherzo. The Allegretto dances along blithely and the finale is intensified by the knockabout recording quality. It successor is most successfully conveyed by the Helsinki PO conducted on Delos by James de Preist. I write from memory and also from memory I recall an extremely impressive Berglund conducted performance on EMI (Bournemouth SO, EMI) which outpoints the Kondrashin.
I have not heard No. 12. In No. 13 Kondrashin's Artur Eisen is a tower of interpretative strength seemingly responding with sense and emotion to the words as a linked shadow and reflection of the words. Kondrashin's Thirteenth is reckoned to be the finest studio recording but there is also supposed to be a live recording on Russian Disc reputed to be well worth tracking down. Kondrashin's BMG recording communicates commitment and fury as does the bleakly expressive chorus.
Kondrashin's version of the Fourteenth is in the front rank as an interpretation and the sound is by no means as crude as you may fear or anticipate. The conductor is typically devil-may-care but this contrasts rather poignantly with Evgeny Nesterenko's way with the words. Evgenia Tselovalnik is rather less impressive than Nesterenko whose bass voice is all ebony and sepulchral gloom. The Moscow PO play their hearts out for Kondrashin: white hot dedication. The final symphony remains an enigma but a compulsive one. The parodies, infernally ticking clocks and graveyard humour and drama are ardently articulated. Not to be missed.
In this set there is nothing of caution or routine. Instead there is a giving up to the emotional flame of Shostakovich's inspiration. As I have said before this Russian series from BMG is startlingly underestimated. I suppose that if you demand the best of Shostakovich a single box with one orchestra and conductor spanning fifteen symphonies is not the ideal way to add to your collection. The ideal would be to pick and choose carefully among the many performances out there. However if you are attracted by the convenience of a single cycle Kondrashin's has undeniably memorable musical strengths. You must accept some technical deficits but the musical rewards patently carry the day.
VERDI and Variations Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901) String Quartet - arr for strings by Yuli Turovsky Marc-Olivier DUPIN (b. 1954) Fantasia on Arias from La Traviata Antonio Pasculli (1842-1924) Grand Concerto on Themes from Verdi's I vespri siciliani Philippe Magnan (oboe); Alexander Trostiansky (violin) I Musici De Montréal conducted by Yuli Turovsky CHANDOS CHAN 9662 [56:46]
Verdi wrote only one piece of chamber music - his string quartet written in Naples in spare moments when the production of his Aida was delayed. Its first performance was greeted by one critic as a masterpiece. Verdi, always the realist commented, "I don't know whether it's beautiful or ugly. I only know that it is a quartet." It was written as an exercise in commanding this musical form without any literary or dramatic associations. Having said that, there is a hint of Falstaff's fairy tormentors in the fugal finale, and there is something of Amneris's music in Aida about the opening Allegro. The Andantino, marked 'con elegenza' is really a rather coy-sounding intermezzo. The brilliant scherzo has a lovely lyrical cantabile melody. The conductor on this album, Yuli Turovsky has made a convincing and sympathetic transcription of the quartet for strings adding colour and weight and the work is played with panache by I Musici.
Marc-Olivier Dupin maybe a young modern composer but his thoroughly enjoyable Fantasia on Arias from La Traviata is cast in the full-blooded late Romantic idiom. If you know and enjoy Franz Waxman's Carmen Fantasia you will know what to expect. Verdi's well-loved melodies from his popular opera are transposed into a virtuoso showpiece for the violinist soloist - and Alexander Trostiansky grasps every opportunity. Hugely enjoyable.
Antonio Pasculli's Grand Concerto on Themes from Verdi's I vespri siciliani is another virtuoso showpiece - this time for oboe. One of the great oboe virtuosos of the second half of the nineteenth century, Pasculli's compositions showed off his considerable technique. Philippe Magnan makes his instrument sing most eloquently and throws off the more difficult florid passages of the work with seemingly effortless ease.
A most interesting and rewarding album
Stokowski's WAGNER Die Walküre: Wotan's Farewell and Magic Fire Music Tristan and Isolde: Symphonic Synthesis Parsifal: Symphonic Synthesis from Act III Matthias Bamert conducts the BBC Philharmonic CHANDOS CHAN 9686 [63:48]
A commentator once said of Wagner: "there are some glorious five minutes but also some tedious half hours" - a view I can testify having more than once, in my student years (too long ago), standing at the back of the stalls at Covent Garden through performances of The Ring. Stokowski's tone poems, after Wagner, are an ideal solution for those who prefer those glorious five minutes; and for those who prefer orchestral music. (They know not what they are missing!)
In his early recordings of music from Wagner's operas, he occasionally used Lawrence Tibbett (look out for a review of the new biography of this tempestuous American singer on this site soon). Tibbett sang in Wotan's Farewell and Magic Fire Music for a set of 78s made in 1934. The alternative purely orchestral version is heardon this album. Wotan has punished his favourite daughter for protecting the illicit romance between brother and sister, Siegmund and Sieglinde. Wotan threatens to put Brünnhilde into a deep sleep but she pleads with him to encircle her with a ring of fire that only a hero can penetrate. Bamert does Loge's (the God of Fire) work very well in creating the flames that lick angrily around and rise above Brünnhilde as she lies waiting her release by her hero Siegfried who here sounds as lumbering as he is beefy.
Listeners are warned that listening is best experienced with headphones. The cavernous acoustic of New Broadcasting House seems to soak up the sound so that one has to turn up the sound levels only to be blasted out of one's seat by the occasional huge dynamic.
The Tristan and Isolde Symphonic Synthesis is a considerable work of nearly 32 minutes duration. After the Prelude closes, Stokoswki has incorporated an extended selection of music from all three acts including the 'Liebesnacht' (Night of Love) from Act II and the passage in Act III where the dying Tristan sings of his longing for Isolde. The Synthesis closes with, of course, the Liebestod. Stokowski was a master of string sound and he allocates much of the vocal material to the cello section and to the violins, thus making the sonorities even more voluptuous especially when the strings follow his request for 'free-bowing' as the BBC Philharmonic players do here. Now I worry that familiarity with this music, especially the Liebestod has affected my critical faculties but even after listening to this CD two or three times I feel that this performance should have left me more shaken and stirred. It sounds powerful enough but the passion does not grip me as much as I think it should.
Bamert's Parsifal music fares better It is impressive and moving enough but stops just short of provoking those shivers. For his synthesis, Stokowski drew music from Act III of Wagner's opera embracing the action where Parsifal finds the land of the Holy Grail and includes the Transformation Scene with its tolling bells and procession of knights sounding quite magnificent.
An enterprising programme but sometimes too careful, and tepid.
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Symphonies Nos. 5 & 9 Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Kees Bakels Naxos 8.550738 68m DDD
I have always considered the Fifth as Vaughan Williams greatest symphony, in fact the unique combination of powerful musical motifs combined with a rapt and deep serenity is equaled to my mind only in Elgar's even nobler Second Symphony. I had eagerly awaited this next Bakels' release with anticipation after his thrilling and outstanding account of the Seventh Symphony, but must say that I am sorely disappointed by a reading that remains slightly cold and unbalanced to compare with the very best. Bakels and his admirable Bournemouth band come into obvious comparison with a host of homegrown products but I will select Handley and Boult (1953) for sake of outstanding pedigree to be found in both records. The mysticism and permeating holiness that combines most of the Preludio is well caught in Bournemouth although Vernon Handley is just a bit more convincing in his pacing. Bakels lingers and speeds up in gear-change fashion, definitely not a recommended tool in interpreting this magnificent movement. Conversely the Scherzo is fleet and enjoyable with a swiftish tempo set and the angels flying about in merry congregation. However, it is obvious that an inspired Romanza is the kernel of this particular RVW work. Bakels is adequate although the scared music never lifts off the ground in the way Boult's classic 1953 Decca account does (reissued on Belart), but it would be obviously unfair on the Dutchman to expect such astonishing inspiration! To my mind this Naxos release disappoints in the Finale where a combination of fast tempi and disjointed structural moves generally contribute to a cold shower reading which is definitely not in the class of Handley's superbly concentrated LPO account that really wins hands down as a modern version. So not an ideal version of the Fifth! Kees Bakels tends to perform better in the later RVW works (his outstanding Eighth was a case in point) and it is good to have this superb account of the Ninth in the catalogue. The composer was obviously rather concerned with thoughts on the afterlife when writing this work and this mysticism shows in the grandeur and awesome instrumentation of the movements. The Moderato maestoso is finely done and there are some superb interpretative points to be heard in the closing pages of the score. The same goes for the universe-like solemnity of the Andante sostenuto with the BSO strings reaching rapturous heights of inspiration throughout. The mystic Andante tranquillo is also marvellously steered, indeed I would compare it to Handley's similarly awe-inspiring EMI account except Bakels has the better engineering for those final notes that seem to come from outer space. We have become used to Naxos' outstanding notes for this series and this release is no exception as is the wide dynamic range afforded to the music. I'm afraid I cannot recommend Bakels' Fifth as a first-choice but the cheap price prompts me to urge all seasoned RVW enthusiasts to purchase this addenda to their discography for the sake of the fine Ninth which is on offer.
Performance: (No5/No9) / Sound:
Sir William WALTON Hamlet. As You Like It Michael Sheen (Narrator) RTÉ Concert Orchestra conducted by Andrew Penny NAXOS 8.553344 [52:43]
William Walton and Laurence Olivier first met in 1936 when Olivier co-starred in Paul Czinner's production of As You Like It with Elizabeth Bergner, Czinner's wife. In 1943 Olivier decided to put his Henry V on film and approached Walton to write the music. This was the first of three films on which Walton and Olivier collaborated together; the others were Hamlet, written in 1947 and released in 1948, and Richard III in 1955. The association was a happy one and Olivier said of Walton's music. 'I have always said that if it was not for the music, Henry V would not have been the success it was.'
Hamlet contained about fifty minutes of music from which Muir Mathieson, musical director of the film and a long-standing friend of the composer, edited two concert works: an orchestral poem called "Hamlet and Ophelia", and the "Funeral March", containing music from the opening and closing titles. Malcolm Sargent also collected and arranged isolated fanfares into a piece entitled Fanfare for a Great Occasion. In her book William Walton, Behind the Façade Susana, Lady Walton, lists the score of Hamlet (with a few exceptions) as one of Walton's missing scores. Nevertheless, the late Christopher Palmer, who served Walton so well as an arranger, has given us a forty-minute work entitled Hamlet (A Shakespeare Scenario in Nine Movements for Large Orchestra). These movements are 'Prelude;' 'Fanfare and Soliloquy,' in which Michael Sheen ably recreates the 'O! that this too too solid flesh would melt.' soliloquy; 'The Ghost;' 'Hamlet and Ophelia;' 'The Question,' which incorporates 'To be or not to be;' again spoken by Michael Sheen; 'The Mousetrap;' 'The Players-Entry of the Court;' 'The Play;' 'Ophelia's Death;' 'Retribution and Threnody;' and 'Finale (Funeral March)'. Some have called this music 'even finer than its predecessor, especially in the delicate use of motifs such as the poignant theme associated with Ophelia' (Gilliam Widdicombe, 1984, sleeve notes to the EMI LP entitled William Walton, Music for Shakespeare Films). I cannot agree, considering Henry V to be one of the finest of all film scores, but am profoundly grateful to have this music to add to the Walton discography.
All of the music in Hamlet displays the tragic nature of Shakespeare's play. 'The Ghost' is highly effective and eerie, as Hamlet becomes more agitated and bent on revenge, and the final moments of the Queen's retelling of Ophelia's death are decidedly poignant. The suite concludes with a threnody to those who have died and the 'Finale'-a dead march which incorporates elements of the opening Prelude.
The surprise on this CD was the suite from As You Like It, the second of four films Walton scored for Paul Czinner. The five movements of Christopher Palmer's suite (subtitled A Poem for Orchestra after Shakespeare), arranged in 1989 and played without break, are 'Prelude,' 'Moonlight,' 'Under the Greenwood Tree,' 'The Fountain,' and 'The Wedding Procession.' Appropriately satirical and pastoral, suiting the mood of the play, this is charming music written shortly after the completion of Walton's monumental 1st symphony. The French horn is effectively used in 'Moonlight,' which features exquisite use of key changes to suggest shifting light textures against a nocturnal background. Under the Greenwood Tree, omitted from the film, is restored here as the third movement sung by an unnamed soprano. 'The Fountain' depicts a delicate fountain, growing livelier, leading to the final 'Wedding Procession,' the sort of music at which Walton excels, as he was later to show in the 'Crown Imperial' and 'Orb and Sceptre' marches and such works as 'The Johannesburg Festival Overture.' This is splendid and unexpected Walton-a real find.
Andrew Penny and the RTÉ (Radio Telefís Éireann) Concert Orchestra give a good accounting on this fine CD. My only quibble would be the soprano in 'Under the Greenwood Tree,' whose voice was perhaps not quite up to the quality of the orchestral accompaniment and why I awarded four-and-a-half stars instead of five.
ALBERTO WILLIAMS (1862-1952) Symphony No. 7 in D major Op. 103 Eterno Reposo (1937) 38:48 Poema del Iguazu Op. 115 (1943) 35:11 Orquesta Filarmonica de Gran Canaria/Adrian Leaper recorded 10-13 June 1996 Gran Canaria ARTE NOVA Classics 74321 43329 2 [74:08]
These are world premiere recordings of works by a composer whose name I knew of but whose music was, until now, a complete unknown. Williams was known to me from a reference in a battered copy of Slonimskys 1940s book on South American composers.
The notes for this valuable CD are rather sketchy but they do provide some detail. They point out that Williams, a native of Buenos Aires, wrote music falling into three phases: 1862-1890 reflecting the strong influence of European models; 1890-1910: an approach to more nationalistic language. 1910-1952 back to more cosmopolitan models. The works on this disc fall into the last period and are provocative for their musical language in a time of world conflict. Perhaps some of that sorrow and tragedy appears in the flanking outer movements of the symphony.
The Seventh Symphony, like its disc-mate, is in four movements. The middle two are dance-lead, betraying the influence of the ballet. The outer movements are more apocalyptic. The first is clearly striving for great things. The language has something of Scriabin and even more of Miaskovsky. Its quietly chanting music in La Piramide seems to suggest an enigmatic smile. The next is a fantasy dance movement making quite a relaxation after the first. The spirit is of a grand age ball in a sophisticated Edwardian hotel. At 3:50 comes a clearly delineated rhythmic theme of Baxian (Symphony No. 5) accent. By contrast, next follows a solo violin serenade in which concert master Anatoli Romanov takes up the chattering Baxian theme and spins it into a counterpart of Vaughan Williams Concerto Academico. The breezily vigorous Joueuses De Crotales (a crotal is a rattle or small spherical bell) is in much the same spirit as the second movement. The finale gives the symphony its title. Whether Williams had eternity in mind I do not know. It has some of the enigmatic dreaminess of the first movement. Chant-like, the theme conjures up the image of some great pagan cathedral. The mood is not too far away from Janis Ivanovs impressionistic Atlantis symphony no. 4. It is also the longest movement at 13:27. This music tells tales of a world where cold saps the warmth. The spell of these notes testifies to a composer of concentrated inwardness, of mood and of imagination. This concentration is interrupted at 8:33 by a disruptive brass intervention which impacts like a comet-strike on this chaste but vaguely threatening world. Then a gust of wind blows the curtains followed by another militaristic miniature fanfare at 9:35. A stern resolute theme emerges with a remorselessly marching tread. The symphony ends in jubilant uproar. Some of these mood-shifts are unnervingly jarring but the moods themselves are quite captivating.
The Poema del Iguazu is a picture-suite of the river Iguazu. The first movement is Las selvas dialogan con las cataratas (The forest converses with the waterfalls). The movement is low key; rather light-spirited with snatches of Beethoven, DIndy and Tchaikovsky. It is propelled along by a patterned rhythmic theme of cheery Brahmsian/Straussian character. The regally flowing Barcarola sounds decidedly French. It offers a superb long-breathed tune. Here the strings sound less than luxuriant but, my, what a lovely theme. Next comes La Luna Ilumina Las Cascadas - a Nocturno. This has an impressionistic magical feeling paralleling the enigmatics of the first and last movements of the symphony. The shades and colours are very gentle - pastel darks and shades. I wonder if his apparently famous Rancho Abandonado sounds like this. The finale depicts a great waterfall (The Devils Throat) with vigorous panache. The mood is hunting and chivalric (like an Argentinian Froissart) with a full bow in the direction of Tchaikovskys Symphony No. 4.
According to the notes Williams has nine symphonies to his name. His second dates from 1910. I would like to hear more please. Does anyone have tapes of these?
Good to see Adrian Leaper figuring so strongly in the Arte Nova lists. He is well known to me from his BBC Radio Three broadcasts. His repertoire in broadcast is quite breathtaking: Arnell Symphony 6, Holbrooke Ulalume, Bridge, Krein (symphony 1), Leigh, Moeran, Somervells Thalassa Symphony, Veale and Lauricella.
This is an excellently filled disc. The music is never less than interesting and often more than that. It is definitely worth the very small investment. I have not seen any reviews of the disc; such is the focus of the magazines on the great and the good. No doubt Fanfare have covered it?
The notes, which could with advantage have been longer, are in German, French and English.
LORA DIMITROVA. Piano Works. BACH, Partita No 4 in D minor BWV 828; BARTÓK, Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm (Mikrokosmos); SCHUMANN, Symphonic Studies Op 13. Lora Dimitrova (piano) ESL 199801 [70' 44"]. Available from Annon Music Services, 44 Cromwell Road, Canterbury, Kent, CT1 3LE. Tel. +44 (0)1227 463867
No less a person than Sir Georg Solti said, "Lora is an outstanding pianist and an exceptionally fine musician." The distinguished composer Francis Routh was grateful to me for my introducing Lora to and he composed his Scenes for Piano IV, 'Bretagne', Op 68 for her. And this Bulgarian pianist is keen to perform British works; she told me that a performance of James Brown's Piano Sonata would have the same effect as Horowitz premiering the Barber Sonata; she is keen to play the Searle Sonata which she describes as 'stunningly original and astonishing'. When I heard her performance of Bartók's Piano Concerto No 3 and, later, Beethoven's Sonata in C minor Op 111, I was amazed at her insight into these works. Her skill and technique are irreproachable.
I was thrilled at her approach to the Bach; the opening movement especially was very tender. She does not play Bach with all those stylish quirks that are profoundly irritating such as almost grinding to a halt at cadential climaxes or at the end of a movement, or those emphasised trills and other ornaments. Here are performances that have a continuity and a clarity and, quite frankly, everyone should play Bach like this. When she plays chords each and every note is clear and they are not announced in a baroque style. The absence of the hindrances and impediments of 'style' lifts this music out of the mundane and into something truly delightful. Every note is placed with care. It is a beautiful performance and her tone is simply perfect. I repeat, everyone should play Bach like this.
The Bartók requires pianistic skills not required in baroque or classical repertoire. Maintaining demanding rhythms can be a serious pitfall but not so here. The sign of a truly great pianist is when the difficulties do not show. They don't here.
The Schumann is the most important work on the disc. The Thirteen Symphonic Studies are implemented by the additional five posthumous variations which Brahms rescued after Schumann's death. The work began as a theme and variations and seemed to depict Schumann's romance with Ernestine von Fricken. That the theme is a kind of funeral march may tell us about this romance or Schumann's depression at his foreknowledge of its eventual demise. Whatever may be the case, it is a fine work and avoids being a set of miniatures which some believe his Carnival Op 9 to be. The later work comes across as a whole.
Lora's reading is very secure; it is never ordinary but full of variety, colour and understanding. It is not just the notes that are known but the music itself. Lora brings out the beauty and elegance of the work and there is much to admire. Some of the music does tend to ramble and be too introspective and one may not always be in the mood for what may be Schumann's heart-searching.
But this performance takes us to the soul of Schumann and I know no pianist would ever do this before with this deeply felt score.
The recording is very clear although I would have preferred a little more bass ... but that is a minor point in a recital that has given a very rewarding personal experience.
Youd be SURPRISED Barbara Kennedy with Peter Lockwood (piano) GLOBE GLO 6045 [55:03]
Songs of Love and Laughter by Irving Berlin; George Gershwin; Marve Fisher; Cole Porter; Kurt Weill, Jerome Kern; Noel Coward; Stephen Sondheim; and Flanders and Swann.
This is a delicious treat of often naughty songs sung with great sly, coy wit by Barbara Kennedy, an experienced opera and operetta singer. How seductively she sings, " I love to run my fingers over the keys" and " Oh! Oh! I love an upright " in the opening number - Irving Berlins I love a piano. Then she complains in Cole Porters The Physician that " he looked after my physical condition and his bedside manner was great he said my bronchial tubes were entrancing but he never said he loved me!" Returning to Irving Berlin we have the title song, Youd Be Surprised in which we learn that although Johnny is bashful " when you get him alone you cant judge a book by its cover Youd be Surprised!".
George and Ira Gershwins My Cousin in Milwaukee had boy friends by the dozen and " when she sings hot, you cant be solemn, it sends shivers up and down your spinal column..." Barbara then assures that she is Just an old-fashioned girl in Marve Fishers song but she dreams of being supported by an old fashioned millionaire. Let Me Sing and Im Happy she then pleads to Irving Berlins music. Kurt Weills The Saga of Jenny tells of headstrong Jenny who leaves a trail of devastation behind her as she advances through life "Jenny made her mind up at twenty-two that to get a husband was the thing to do she got herself a husband but it wasnt hers " Jerome Kern is represented by his sentimental, Bill.
Two numbers from Cole Porters Kiss Me Kate are included: So in Love sung and played with heavy irony and I hate Men - " In our democracy I hate the most the athlete with his manner bold and brassy, he may have hairs upon his chest, but, sisters, so has Lassie!" Porters My Heart Belongs To Daddy has Kennedy getting her comfortable priorities right. Flanders and Swanns A Word in My Ear (" Im lauded, applauded, recorded but they seem to have missed that Im Tone Death") is a brilliantly funny take-off of musical mannerisms. Noel Coward says We must all be very kind to Auntie Jessie for she has never been a mother or a wife. Stephen Sondheim is represented by two numbers. Losing My Mind is a song about loneliness and unrequited love sung by Kennedy with understated yet affecting poignancy. I Never Do Anything Twice is another comic pearl - " no matter how nice, I never do anything twice once, yes, once is delicious; but twice would be vicious or merely repetitious."
BOOK REVIEW: WALDER, David E. How to Stay Awake During Anybody's Slow Movement (The Average Music Lover's Guide to Concert-going). Published by Sound and Vision ISBN 920151-20-5
This is a light-hearted little book written by an author whose musical qualifications far outrank his humour which is decidedly juvenile.
However, if you can tolerate( or preferably skip) the endless introductory blurb and realise that the plethora of names frequently referred to is totally irrelevant, the book may improve as it gets into the swing of things.
The humour is generally vulgar, less than adult which may render it inoffensive. It can be quite funny. The adult has a good eye for the ridiculous and uses this in quite an amusing way to lampoon concert audiences. Albeit fairly well hidden, the book contains some useful information for the newcomer to music although if such a newcomer is an earnest seeker after knowledge I doubt if this is the book he would choose.
The book can be best recommended as an accompaniment to a tedious and delay-ridden journey by public transport because it does raise several smiles and even the odd snigger.
And, incidentally, real music-lovers would not sleep in a slow movement!
Would you care to say something? The thirty year story of a successful music society by N K Scott CBE, Overleigh Press, Overleigh House, East Cliff, Preston PR1 3JE England. pub. 1998 ISBN 0 95341560 0 £25 plus £5.00 postage
Oh lucky, lucky Preston!
This book records one man's vision, supported by enlightened corporate sponsorship. As I am sure Bill Bryson would concur, it is one of the endearing facets of British life that here can flourish such an incredible variety of hobby clubs, societies and affiliations, many because of the spirit of enterprise and unstinting self-sacrifice of one or two individuals, often meeting in the most unprepossessing surrounding - dingy church halls or back rooms of institutes usually on uncomfortable plastic stacking chairs. Each one adds to a rich cultural heritage and serves as an important focus to the social life of its members. I t was this spirit that used to inspire Gustav Holst to trek across hedgerows and fields in order to conduct the Bourton-on-the-Water Choral Society (now long gone, along with the railway branch-line and halt). In spite of the immense social changes over the last 100 years it is remarkable that so many still survive, even if in declining numbers. There are still colliery brass bands even where the colliery no longer exists - there are more colliery brass bands than there are working pits.
In spite of declining government support and diminishing musical tuition in schools, one of the deciding factors in our loss of Sir Simon Rattle from Birmingham, there still flourish over 2000 music and recorded music societies as well as many choral societies, amateur orchestras and brass bands. Living in Coventry, I have the choice of three competing Jazz Festivals each summer, all within 20 miles of my house - and jazz is a decidedly minority interest (or is it? Rumour has it that Jazz now outsells Classical CDs). However few organizations can show the 30 year success story of the Building Design Partnership (BDP) Music Society.
Here we find a blue-print for the running of a successful society.
The idea for the music society was Keith Scott's. Having just graduated as an architect from MIT Boston, he was in the Arizona desert to meet Frank Lloyd Wright who had been one of his tutors. Frank spent his winters just south of the Grand Canyon. In his house he had a large room with a stepped floor where he used to invite artists to stay for the weekend and put on cultural entertainment, there being nothing else available in the desert.
When Keith Scott joined the Building Design Partnership in Preston, Lancashire, he found himself in another cultural desert. However, a few miles away in Whitehaven lived the fabric designer, Sir Nicholas Sekers who, having a similar idea to Wright's, had transformed a derelict barn into a replica Venetian Palace and invited some of the world's star performers to play there; Brendle, Richter, Schwartzkopf. He found this a valuable marketing tool in attracting and maintaining clients and. more importantly, in retaining his own talented staff.
The Building Design Partnership was a real partnership with the staff putting up the money for the development of their own premises. The staff had grown from 35 when Keith Scott joined in 1958 to around 400 a decade later and those early experiences coalesced into the idea of providing artistic stimulation for the staff in an attractive setting that would enable them to invite top artists. So a Music Society and an Arts Society were born and a 1901 Steinway purchased and an old burnt-out bowling alley refurbished as an art gallery and concert hall. The BDP partners offered a guarantee to cover artist's costs. There was also a buffet area so that both society members and artists could eat, mingle and chat after the performance - which Scott stresses as highly important. Through a willing band of helpers food was provided at cost.
This book presents a 30 year success story, is beautifully illustrated with contemporary photographs of the artists taken (mainly) by Roger Park, a nationally acclaimed architectural photographer (the caption of one of which has been reversed when naming the artists). "Would you care to say something?" was the invitation extended to all artists and, in the intimate atmosphere of the gallery, added a bonus to the performance. However, not all artists, including Jill Gomez, were prepared to say something!
The first recital was by Colin Horsley in January 1969 (who later returned to mark the 10th anniversary). In two further recitals that year Léon Goossens with John Wilson on piano and later Sheila Armstrong with Martin Jones were to perform. What is amazing are the fees they were paid - £260 in total. To put that into perspective I was paid £1800 pa at that time as a University lecturer. The society subscription stood at £1. Even today they find it possible to engage "about to become" world-class artists for £1000 - although for a Pollini or Brendel it would be ten times that! The subscription has risen to £75 - about £8 per event including the wine and buffet -gulp! All the concerts are detailed in the appendix and each bears some discussion in the main text. It is a panoply of artists of international stature and it is the anecdotes that make this book such a compelling read. Sir John Manduell, then Head of Music at Lancaster University ( and who provided a foreword), suggested that University students should provide a concert, and this became an annual event. The second season had 8 concert and most seasons from then on had between 8 and 10.
In 1970 they were able to purchase the Whitehaven Steinway for £1000 (now valued at £25,000) and for a short while they had both pianos and were used by Cyril Smith and Phyllis Sellick. The earlier Steinway was eventually purchased by david Wild.
For a few years in the 70's the society also invited Jazz musicians but could not attract sufficient audiences to make it a viable proposition. There is seeming intolerance of other styles in Jazz aficionados but at least they tried. My own Society is even more intolerant of Jazz. The only other slight shadows on the Society's history was the local singer Amanda Roocroft, in an episode that reflects well on the music society and very badly upon her. This is not the place for details - you will have to buy the book for those. The other shadow was cast by Yuri Bashmet who failed to appear three times in a row.
I cannot resist one or two anecdotes:
Alfred Brendel to a young pianist who made grunting noises as he played: "We must never make noises when we play - I make horrible faces but nobody can hear them".
A military man who asked Gerald Moore "Mr Moore, have you ever in the course of your long and distinguished career given any thought to the idea of becoming a pianist?"
Alfred Brendel again, outdoing Keith Scott in his knowledge of Bavarian Rococo churches - of which Keith had made a personal study!
Anthony Hopkins's party piece of sitting with his back to the piano and playing it with his hands behind him
Sidney harrison on pianists who affect an elaborate swooning of the body and windmill sweep of the arms before the fingers actually touched the keyboard: "Always remember the piano couldn't care less".
Alfredo Campoli suffering a sever attack of cramp in Saint-Saëns Havanaise
Richter judging a piano competition with all categories judged on a scale of 0 - 20. All his marks were either 0 or 20."Well to me it's quite simple. They can either play or they can't".
In 1994 BDP moved out of Preston but the University bought the premises and carries on the tradition.By 1996 the membership has risen again to match that before BDP and its staff departed.
So here's to the next thirty years!
BOOK REVIEW: The Proms & Natural Justice Robert Simpson Published by Toccata Press 40 Floral Street London WC2 £1.95 ISBN 0 907689 00 0
This little book was published 19 years ago, a year after Dr Simpson relinquished his position on the BBC's Music staff. In this important and provocative book Robert Simpson, for nearly thirty years a BBC Music Producer scrutinised the methods by which the Proms were planned. This late in the day, it is to a major extent taken over by events. Nevertheless, Simpson's thesis is still relevant, despite the enormous changes that have taken place within that (still) angst-ridden bureaucratic organisation. At the time, the BBC allowed the Controller, Music the absolute right to decide Prom programmes until death or retirement. Since it was largely a management appointment, with succession virtually based on seniority rather than by musical qualification, the succession of the imaginative William Glock by a non-musician clearly rankled and brought Simpson's arguments to a head. Always ready to express robust opinions, but usually based on careful reasoning and his long experience inside the BBC, he argued that whoever the Controller might be, the effects of his individuality are bound to colour the programmes over time. He highlights in a convincing manner, the omission of many important composers. He felt the only logical way to give the Proms the flair that a single imagination can provide without the otherwise inevitable long-term imbalances affecting both composers and performers would be to appoint a separate planner of the Proms with a limited tenure of four or five years. Dr Simpson further examines the artistic gains and financial savings to be made from more extensive use of the BBC's own orchestras. Not only would this produce a saving of a staggering 62 % on costs at that time, it would give the planner almost total control over the repertoire. This would enable the Proms to become more adventurous than ever before and a true realisation of Sir Henry Wood's original vision.
Well, nothing changes. Due to his poor health in his final years, I never had the courage to ask my old friend whilst visiting him, what he felt about the appointment of a music critic to this important post, again without any clear indication of the length of the tenure. The same appointee now has sole control over the planning of the Proms. At least, it is no longer automatically a choice based on seniority within the management structure. That as much has been achieved. So we have to ask ourselves, does this book have any bearing on what has passed in the intervening years? One of his arguments was for the far greater use of the BBC house orchestras. The inevitable consequence would be that whilst it might save money, this major festival would have far less an international flavour with the present international visitors omitted. Does one man as planner now leave out, any composers because of the individual bias? And does he consult his music-trained colleagues for ideas and suggestions? This was another of Dr Simpson's objections at the time of his book, one he expressed forcibly once to me when visiting my Society. The book is interesting, albeit somewhat out of date. But at a modest £1.95, a fascinating insight into the BBC politics of the time by someone, not only a fine writer, but who became one of the most distinguished symphonic composers of our time. And, like I said I don't think much has altered within the BBC.
BOOK REVIEW: Whom the Gods Love - the life and music of George Butterworth by Michael Barlow Published by Toccata Press ISBN 0 907689 42 6 £25.00
This is a book that, for obvious personal reasons, I have been wanting to read for many years; That it has not been possible to do so until now is simply that it is only recently that an obviously devoted and resourceful author has come forward to fill this tantalising gap in the general history of English music. It has often been something of a burden, to be an English composer in the latter part of this Twentieth century, whose name has almost always been overshadowed by and frequently confused with that of his far greater namesake: the subject of this splendid book. There was however, an occasion when this writer sought lessons from Vaughan Williams who remarked:...."Your family name means much to me, for George Butterworth was one of the best friends of my youth, he was a very fine composer indeed," The family name then, must have stood me in good stead that day, for VW did briefly teach me and offer some of the soundest advice a young composer could ever have had.
Nonetheless, over the years many people have asked if in some way there is a connection with George Kaye Butterworth. This book hints at a possible answer. It lies, still as ever tantalisingly, on page 18 of Michael Barlows study, where the family pedigree is set out, but alas, inevitably leaves many question marks as to distant cousins and other relations. All that one has ever been able to deduce - from comments made in childhood - seems to be that there was some tenuous family connection with railways in the north of England, and that the Butterworth clan originates from Rochdale and its environs, where my own branch of the family come from. Musically, however, there is no evidence at all that any connection can be claimed. On the other hand, no younger composer of the English tradition can really claim not to have in some measure been influenced by the example of George Butterworth. As this book makes clear, his painstaking care in the surely oft-time laborious task of notating the very essence and character of English music is something those of us who go along with this tradition, must be greatly indebted to.
Mr Barlow's study displays something of the same meticulous care in the way so much hitherto unpublished material has been researched. He not only tells us things that most of us could not have known about Butterworth himself, but about a whole host of his contemporaries, so many of whom were lamentably of that lost generation between 1914 and 1918. There are details of the composer's early years, Eton and Oxford and comments from those, such as Sir Adrian Boult, who knew him well.
However, it is the account of Butterworth's enthusiastic involvement with English Folk Song and Dance, that is probably the most revealing. The handful of orchestral works are reasonably familiar to most British audiences, but few could have known how extensive Butterworth's practical interests were: his expertise in morris dancing and keeping alive what would have otherwise soon disappeared into musical oblivion. Mr Barlow analyses with great skill many of the features of folk song as collected and then eventually moulded by Butterworth into exquisite song, We are given insight into the way Vaughan Williams' "London Symphony" came about, and the especial influence Butterworth had on its gestation.
Finally, there is the account of Butterworths short but heroic military career, when a modest young man, one of the flower of his generation, was killed in a battle; a loss which has been felt in English music ever since.
MARIO LANZA - Tenor in Exile by Roland L. Bessette published by Amadeus Press. 270 pages $24:95 ISBN 1 57467 044 1
Mario Lanza died, at the tragically early age of thirty-eight, on Wednesday 7th October 1959. He had been hospitalised in Rome with phlebitis. A substantial piece of clot had broken away and lodged in his pulmonary artery. The death was listed as a heart attack. Several days later his body was flown home to America first to his home city of Philadelphia and then to Los Angeles.
His death was mourned by countless fans around the globe. Truly one of the greatest tenors of the century, his achievements are venerated by the Three Tenors: Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras who have all praised his influence on their careers.
Yet Lanza was a controversial figure and Bessette does not shrink from sketching in the dark side of his turbulent life. Born in South Philadelphia of Italian parentage, he was undisciplined and self-indulgent, spoilt from the start by a doting mother. He learnt by emulation, listening over and over to gramophone records of opera stars; he never learnt to sight read. But the voice was prodigious enough, in tone, strength and range, to impress the notoriously demanding conductor Koussevitzky at the beginning of his career.
The book tells of Lanza's meteoric rise to stardom first in concert, then through radio, and recordings for RCA, through to films. His record royalties approached $1 million per year. His career in Hollywood peaked early with his third film The Great Caruso which turned out to be MGM's biggest money-maker for 1951 and one of its most profitable films of all time. Yet his rude, crude, boorish behaviour on-set antagonised too many people: he would get into fights, curse and shout at technicians, insult his leading ladies, and urinate anywhere that was handy including, on one occasion, a lagoon that had to be refreshed, etc. Property owners came to regret Lanza as a tenant because of his wrecking sprees. Ultimately all Hollywood studios were loathe to hire him and he was obliged to move to Italy where his last two films were made (he made only eight films). He was self indulgent in terms of food (his figure ballooned alarmingly and he was endlessly working out and dieting), alcohol and women. Bette Lanza, his wife, unable to cope with his seductions of countless women, the competition from his domineering mother and the pressures of a successful Hollywood career, sought solace in drink and drugs and continually berated Mario instead of supporting him. Lanza was basically insecure and subject to fits of intense depression and paranoia which, coupled with weight and drink problems, caused him to cancel many engagements and to funk appearances including a lucrative and crucial engagement at Las Vegas. All this behaviour Bessette puts down to the clinical condition, manic depression.
One wonders what further miracles of singing might have been achieved not only in the films (Lanza had a flair for comedy), records and in concert but also in opera had the talent been studied, directed, and disciplined but then the raw energy, sensuality and spontaneity might have been sacrificed? A compulsive, yet often harrowing read, the book includes a selected bibliography, a compact disc discography and a filmography.
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