Italian Journey Giuseppe TARTINI (1692-1770)
Violin sonata in G minor Devil’s trill (1713), arr. Zandonai [13:07] Ottorino RESPIGHI(1879-1936) Ancient airs and dances, suite no.3 (1932) [17 :24] Nicolo PAGANINI (1782-1840) Moses fantasy (1818/1819) [7 :28] Antonio BAZZINI (1818-1897) Dance of the goblins (1852) [5:43] Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945) Cavalleria rusticana – intermezzo (1890) [3:13] Heinrich Wilhelm ERNST (1814-1865) Fantaisie brillante sur la marche et la romance d’Otello de Rossini (1837-1838) [13 :34] Ennio MORRICONE (b.1928) Nuovo Cinema Paradiso – love theme (1989) [4 :57]
Sumina Studer (violin, Tartini)
Lia Vielhaber (cello, Paganini)
Elvin Hoxha Ganiev (violin, Bazzini)
David Nebel (violin, Ernst)
Marina Seltenreich (piano)
LGT Young Soloists/Alexander Gilman
rec. 29-31 May 2015, Radio Studio I, Zurich RCA RED SEAL 88875 131462 [63:26]
LGT, as the CD booklet helpfully informs us mere mortals for whom even a £10 overdraft generates a stiff letter from the bank manager, is "a leading international banking and asset management group that has been fully controlled by the Liechtenstein Princely Family for over 80 years". As that description might suggest, when it promotes its business it does so in a distinctly upmarket way: it sponsors a small chamber orchestra. OK, I'll concede that the fact that the musicians tend to perform in such centres of conspicuous consumption as Shanghai, Moscow, Zurich, Hong Kong and Singapore suggests that maybe pure philanthropy isn't necessarily the only motivation for LGT's sponsorship - there's no hint of any Rattle/BPO-type "outreach" programme here. We must nevertheless offer our gratitude to any initiative that offers aspiring young artists the invaluable opportunity of performing at this high level and showcasing their talents.
Like it or not, the music industry today is a cutthroat commercial business. We can all point to distinctly sub-par performers who have enjoyed very high-profile and lucrative careers on the basis of little more than PR hype. Conversely, a handful of really accomplished artists have taken far too long to be recognised - or have even gone largely unappreciated - because they weren't promoted effectively. Thus, if it wants to appeal to a wider public through recordings, any recently formed ensemble such as the LGT Young Soloists needs to establish a distinct, individual identity - a "brand", if you like. Equally important, we listeners need to be told about it. Unfortunately, however, in this instance we are left somewhat in the dark in several respects. Although the booklet notes explain that LGTYS was formed in 2013 by violinist Alexander Gilman - who has, incidentally, recorded a couple of discs for Oehms Classics - matters beyond that start to get a little vague.
Take Mr Gilman's own role, for instance. As he was born in 1982 - and as the booklet notes tell us that the LGTYS members are aged between 13 and 22 - we may deduce that he himself does not actually play on this recording. The frustratingly uninformative
LGTYS website refers in a rather woolly fashion to his "artistic leadership" of the group, but, while the CD booklet's cover - and, to be honest, common sense - may appear to suggest that he conducts it, as far as I can see that's never explicitly confirmed either in print or in cyberspace. Then again,
his personal website refers in passing to LGTYS violinists David Nebel and Leo Esselson as (his own?) "students", so perhaps Mr Gilman's primary role in LGTYS is that of a teacher and mentor. As the doyen of music critics, Private Eye magazine's Lunchtime O'Boulez, would say, "I think we should be told".
Moving on to the LGTYS members themselves, the CD booklet offers us individual photographs of 17 youngsters. Eleven of them are female and six male, and the group even includes what I take to be a photogenic sub-set of musical Austrian siblings - 18 years old Marie-Isabel, 17 years old Clemens and 15 years old Paul Kropfitsch - forming, I suppose, a sort of 21st century version of the von Trapps. Most LGTYS players originate from Europe's German-speaking countries, with a handful of others coming from anywhere between the USA and Azerbaijan. Given that their ages as listed in the booklet do range from 22 (pensive Spanish double bass player Yamila Pedrosa Ahmed) down to 13 (self-composed Swiss violinist Emilia von Albertini), I imagine that this is probably the ensemble’s full line-up.
Some important questions are, though, left unanswered. Seventeen members seems a rather odd number, for instance - chamber orchestras frequently have half as many again - so is LGTYS limited to that number or is it open to more? Are there fixed lower and upper age limits for its membership? Does it hold open auditions for new recruits or has each player been hand-picked? Do members come together just for rehearsals and performances? Are those occasions confined to academic holidays, given that more than half of them seem to be still of secondary school age? Pointing out that we aren't given this sort of information is not mere nit-picking, for, given that this is the ensemble's debut CD and thus its first opportunity to introduce and promote itself to a wide audience, a little more explicit clarity on the basic facts, both in the booklet and on the LGTYS website, would certainly have been welcome. I would have loved to pass on a little more about the ensemble's – and its individual members’ - background to you, but the information simply isn't there. Failure to provide it demonstrates surprisingly poor marketing that thereby misses an opportunity to generate interest among both the media and the music-loving public.
Nevertheless, the performances on this disc are strong enough on their own to make it a useful calling card to purchasers who've been willing to take a punt on it. Under the "Italian journey" portmanteau title, we are presented with a somewhat mixed programme of pieces. Some tracks feature LGTYS playing as a single body, while others highlight a particular soloist.
The ensemble demonstrates its collective skill in three pieces that together encompass some very familiar fare (Mascagni), some slightly less well known but very easy-on-the-ear material (Respighi) and, in a nod to today's widely-held definition of "classical music" among the general public, something from a film score. Interestingly, I note from his website that Alexander Gilman has previous form in that respect, for he included some of John Williams's music from Schindler's List on his 2010 recording of the Barber and Korngold violin concertos (Oehms OC799).
Playing as a chamber orchestra, LGTYS is a most impressive body. It's clear that the young players bond very closely as a team, so that one would guess that they'd been playing together for many years - though, come to think of it, that's probably a reasonable assumption in the case of those Kropfitsches. High quality recording also shows off the consistently fine and transparent balance that's been achieved between the various instrumental voices. My only reservation is that some of the chosen pieces aren't really best suited to a group of just 17 players. Thus, the intermezzo from Cavalleria rusticana is very well realised, with the contribution of the lower string instruments coming through especially effectively, but ultimately it fails to tug at our heartstrings in the way that we're used to in the opera house. Similarly, the "love theme" from Ennio Morricone's score to the multi-award winning film Nuovo Cinema Paradiso - with an evocative contribution from pianist and LGTYS co-founder Marina Seltenreich - may retain its melodic appeal in this pared-down form, but anyone who's cried their eyes out during the movie's cathartic final five minutes will know that its full emotional impact is only really made when it's being belted out by the strings of a full orchestra. LGTYS's performance of Respighi's third suite of Ancient airs and dances is, however, an unqualified success, as the young players successfully and attractively capture its atmosphere of faux courtliness and refinement.
Each of the disc's four remaining tracks offers a showcase for individual virtuosity to a young soloist. We hear a cellist - 16 years old Lia Vielhaber - and three violinists: 18 years old Sumina Studer, Elvin Hoxha Ganiev (18) and David Nebel (19).
Ms Studer is clearly at one with Tartini's style and delivers a rock-solid performance of his Devil's trill sonata in an arrangement for violin, piano and string orchestra by Riccardo Zandonai. To my ears her account is less demonic, perhaps, than aloofly aristocratic - but it is certainly none the worse for that and I enjoyed it immensely. If, however, it is
real string devilry that you're after, then Mr Ganiev is your man. Bazzini's
piece may depict goblins rather than Old Nick himself, but it demands almost
supernatural ability - at least to the ears of the general listener. It
receives its full due here. David Nebel exhibits complete technical assurance and displays a full appreciation of the requisite style in his performance of Ernst's Fantaisie brillante.
I can give no higher praise than ranking this performance right up there with
Ganiev's Bazzini. Indeed, it is arguably even more impressive because of the
wider range of demands made by Ernst's piece. The final - and youngest –
featured soloist, the cellist Ms Vielhaber, delivers a carefully crafted account of Paganini's MosŤ-fantasia. Although she begins somewhat tentatively, she quickly seems to gain confidence and sounds fully in control once the tempo of the piece picks up. She is clearly an artist with a great deal of potential.
This, as you will have gathered, is certainly an enjoyable disc to listen to, even if it's difficult to envisage its target audience. It's best accepted as a showcase for some extremely talented young musicians, several of whom appear to have more than decent chances of a career as a professional soloist. As such, we should be grateful to the LGT bank for investing its time, its effort and, most of all, its money in promoting it.