Friday, 30 September 2016

A new release from BIS contains some wonderful chamber works by Finnish conductor, composer and violinist Jaakko Kuusisto, a composer who deserves to have a wide audience

Finnish conductor, composer and violinist Jaakko Kuusisto (b. 1974) studied the violin with Géza Szilvay and Tuomas Haapanen at the Sibelius Academy and with Miriam Fried and Paul Biss at Indiana University. He has studied composition with Eero Hämeenniemi and David Dzubay.

Kuusisto was concertmaster of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra for over a decade and in 2002 he stepped in for Peter Schreier to conduct Schubert's Symphony No.3. Following that concert he conducted the orchestra for several weeks a season in Lahti and has received professional tuition from Osmo Vänskä. His success has led to guest conducting invitations elsewhere, including performances with the Tapiola and Västeräs Sinfoniettas, the Finnish Radio Symphony, Helsinki Philharmonic, Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra, and Savonlinna Festival Opera.

As a violinist, Kuusisto holds a long list of competition prizes. Appearances as soloist and chamber musician have taken him across Europe and to the Far East.

As a composer his works have been performed at several concerts in Scandinavia, as well as in the UK and the United States. His Between Seasons suite has been recorded by the Helsinki Strings for the Finlandia label and his children's opera The Canine Kalevala had outstanding success at Savonlinna.

His Leika for symphony orchestra, Op24 and his Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op.28 have been recorded by BIS Records with violinist, Elina Vähälä and the Lahti Symphony Orchestra conducted by the composer.

Now from BIS comes a new release entitled Glow featuring chamber works by Kuusisto with Meta4 String Quartet , Jaakko Kuusisto (violin), Paavali Jumppanen (piano) , Riitta-Liisa Ristiluoma (viola) , Jan-Erik Gustafsson (cello) and Heini Kärkkäinen (piano)

BIS 2192
Play III for string quartet, Op. 21 (2008) was a commission by the Sysmä Summer Sounds Festival in Finland and opens with string chords from Meta4 soon followed by hushed murmurings out of which the second violin weaves a fine theme. The rest of the quartet rises with a violin bringing a lovely passage before the music falls to a hush and Kuusisto brings an exquisite section led by the second violin. There is a sudden pizzicato outburst that leads to a scramble of string textures around which the violin weaves a melody. The music develops through some passionate bars with some expert writing for strings. After a quiet descending passage there is another lovely section out of which gentle pizzicato chords are heard. The music suddenly finds a greater forward drive as a pulsating rhythmic section arrives. The quartet weaves some wonderful moments, with lovely textures falling to a hush out of which the murmurings of the opening rise up to bring about the coda. This is a quite wonderful work, full of fine ideas and expertly written.

Valo for violin and piano, Op. 23 (2009) was commissioned by the Lux Musicae Festival in Siuntio, Finland and uses a whole tone scale as a harmonic motto around which rhythmic textures are laid. It is played here by the composer with pianist Paavali Jumppanen. The piano sounds a chord to which the violin tentatively responds. There are further piano chords before both players bring an increasingly faster theme, developed through a striking passage where they create the feel of falling rain. There is a broader passage before the music falls quieter and slower with lovely piano arpeggios over which the violin brings a melancholy theme. The violin theme is developed through a rhapsodic passage of increasing passion. Kuusisto creates some lovely harmonies and textures between instruments before running into a faster passage where the piano takes the theme over insistent repeated violin phrases.  A fast and furious passage is developed that brings remarkably fine playing from both artists. Repeated, insistent phrases lead to a passage of florid piano scales over which the violin continues the insistent phrases until the violin is left alone on a chord. The piano adds rippling phrases out of which a quite lovely little melody for violin appears. There are repeated phrases and scales from the piano and flourishes from the violin that bring about the coda.

Play II for violin, viola, cello and piano, Op. 16 (2005-06) was another commission, this time for the Ravinia Festival in the United States. Played here by the composer with violist Riitta-Liisa Ristiluoma, cellist Jan-Erik Gustafsson and pianist Heini Kärkkäinen, it opens with a piano chord and a little descending piano motif. This soon leads into a fast moving idea for strings around which the piano brings further phrases. The music develops through shimmering passages for the whole quartet before a hushed pizzicato motif arrives to which the piano adds little ideas, slowly developing a rhythm before falling again. Hushed harmonics are heard from the strings over which the piano brings little phrases. The music tries to rise but the quieter ideas continue. Later there are some terrific passages played with fine accuracy by this quartet. The strings develop a more intense line over the piano as the music rises before the theme is shared throughout the strings over a piano layer of quieter chords. Eventually there is a gentle passage where the strings bring a mournful tune over piano phrases in a quite magical moment. As the strings fall to an extreme hush, the piano picks out the theme at the higher end of the keyboard alternating with lower rumbles before the strings re-enter in a tragic passage over slow piano phrases. The music falls through a scramble of descending piano chords before the strings bring a fast moving insistent theme over a repeated piano chord, rising in frantic energy before moving forward with more buoyancy to the coda.

Commissioned by the Jean Sibelius International Violin Competition, Loisto for violin and piano, Op. 12 (2000) is played here by the composer with pianist Heini Kärkkäinen. The violin brings a gentle, rather folksy little melody to which the piano adds chords. The music suddenly awakens with more energy as both players rise up. Soon the violin brings a gentle flowing, slow melody over a plodding piano accompaniment before adding lovely double stopped harmonies, slowly weaving a more intense line over the more flowing piano accompaniment. The music finds a faster pace, hurtling forward in a lighter section before the violin soars over trickling phrases from the piano. There is a pause out of which the violin alone brings a lovely version of the theme to which the piano adds rich chords to conclude.

Commissioned by Paavali Jumppanen, the soloist here, Jurmo for solo piano, Op. 31 (2013) was inspired by a visit to the island of Jurmo off the south western coast of Finland. Quiet presses of the pedal are heard before the piano brings a repeated idea out of which the right hand adds a series of descending phrases. Here Kuusisto develops some lovely ideas out of the simplest of means, rather minimalist perhaps but always finding change over the repeated left hand phrases. The piano develops some fine ideas in the right hand over subtly changing left hand phrases. Later both piano lines forge ahead before falling to a quieter passage where right hand ‘dripped’ phrases are heard over a tolling left hand. This composer creates a wonderful texture before the music slowly grows in strength with florid phrases right across the keyboard before finding the opening repeated phrases to stride confidently forward. The music falls quieter, the pedal taps are heard again and a final deeper pedal sound is heard to conclude.  

This disc contains some wonderful works that deserves to have a wide audience. The performances are top notch. 

They receive an excellent SACD recording from the Järvenpää Hall, Finland and there are excellent notes from the pianist Paavali Jumppanen. 

Monday, 26 September 2016

Some very fine performances from La Nuova Musica directed by David Bates on a new release from Harmonia Mundi of François Couperin’s Leçons De Ténèbres and Sébastien de Brossard’s Stabat Mater

La Nuova Musica was founded by its artistic director David Bates  in 2007, whilst in residency at Snape Maltings.

The group was quickly recognised as one of the most exciting consorts in the early music field. They received the classical nomination at the 2012 South Bank Sky Arts/The Times Breakthrough Awards. In the same year they signed with Harmonia Mundi USA making recordings with artists such as Lawrence Zazzo, Robert Murray, Sophie Junker, Lucy Crowe, John Mark Ainsley and Tim Mead.

Highlights have been concerts at the inaugural Sagra Musicale Umbra in Perugia, Handel’s Israel In Egypt in Salisbury Cathedral and a performance of Acis and Galatea at St John's Smith Square, London. They have given concerts at Wigmore Hall, the first of which was with counter tenor Bejun Mehta, and a concert performance of Antonio Cesti’s Orontea. 2016 saw concerts at the Göttingen Internationale Händel Festspiele and at the Brighton International Festival with Dame Ann Murray, as well as their debut at the Salzburger Festspiel.

La Nuova Musica’s latest recording for Harmonia Mundi  with Lucy Crowe and Elizabeth Watts features François Couperin’s Leçons De Ténèbres along with Sébastien de Brossard’s Stabat Mater recorded at St. Augustine’s Church, Kilburn, London.

HMU 807659

François Couperin (1688-1733) was royal harpsichordist at the French court and a leading composer of his day. His Trois Leçons de Tenebres (Tenebrae Lessons for the last three days of Holy week) date from between 1713 and 1717.

Première Leçons opens gently with organ, viola de gamba and theorbo soon joined by soprano Lucy Crowe who brings a wonderfully pure tone to Incipit Lamentatio Jeremiae prophetae. Yet during the course of this Leçons she finds some lovely richer textures, rising through some fine passages finding a terrific flexibility and control in the vocalised passages, with the instruments providing a sensitive accompaniment. In Ghimel. Migravit Juda she finds a real sense of pathos, subtly rising in passion and fire with a terrific strength. The instrumentalists of La Nuova Musica add lovely little instrumental decorations.  Crowe brings some superb phrases in Facti sunt hostes, exquisitely controlled, finding so many subtle nuances. There is a lovely, slow, hushed, quiet instrumental introduction to Jerusalem, convertere to which Crowe brings the most lovely decorations around her pure toned, wonderfully controlled delivery.

Sébastien de Brossard (c.1655-1730) was maître de chapelle at Strasbourg Cathedral before taking a similar post in Meaux, France. His most important writing on music was his Dictionnaire (1701/03), the first of its kind in France. His Sonate en trio en mi mineur, SdB. 220 is played by David Bates (organ) and members of La Nuova Musica, Jonathan Rees (viola), Alex McCartney (theorbo), Bojan Čičić and Sabine Stoffer (violins) They draw some lovely textures finding a lovely rhythmic spring in the Allegro (fuga) with some really lively and vibrant playing.

Soprano Elizabeth Watts opens François Couperin’s Seconde Leçons with a sweet toned vocalise before bringing some beautifully characterised phrases in Et egressus est, beautifully and subtly accompanied by the three instrumentalists. Recordata est Jerusalem brings beautifully turned phrases, wonderfully controlled and with some vibrant incisive instrumental phrases before Peccatum peccavit Jerusalem with a terrific depth of feeling and often intense delivery. There are many passages of great power and intensity with Watts finding a terrific passion in the concluding Jerusalem, convertere with terrific accompaniment from the players.  

David Bates, Jonathan Rees, Alex McCartney, Bojan Čičić and Sabine Stoffer all return to bring a strong vibrancy and some superb textures and sonorities to Sébastien de Brossard’s Sonate en trio en la mineur, SdB. 223 with passages of great rhythmic panache as the music gallops along, even in the slower parts finding a lovely lilting rhythm.

Lucy Crowe and Elizabeth Watts come together in François Couperin’s Troisième Leçons bringing a lovely blend of voices, complimenting each other perfectly in Manum suam misit hostis with individual solo passages and some very fine weaving of voices. Both bring some terrific drama to the setting as well as the most beautiful harmonies with again the instrumentalists providing the perfect accompaniment, sensitive, subtle and with lovely textures and timbres. Both sopranos bring a remarkably fine overlay of voices in De excelso misit ignem and a quite wonderful Jerusalem, convertere brings the conclusion.  

Sébastien de Brossard’s Stabat Mater, SdB. 8 dates from 1702 after his move to Meaux. When the voices and instrumentalists of La Nuova Musica suddenly open with Stabat mater dolorosa we leave the relative intimacy of the preceding works with a terrific sound.  Soloist, baritone James Arthur adds a rich texture to Cujus animam gementem before soprano Miriam Allan, high tenor Nicholas Scott, tenor Simon Wall, baritone James Arthur and bass Edward Grint weave a terrific sound in O quam tristis. This is impressive showing Brossard to be a composer of some ability and stature with some lovely subtle rises and falls in dynamics.

Miriam Allan and Nicholas Scott weave a lively and vibrant Quae maerebat et dolebat before the whole choir join for a beautifully mellow Quis est homo that slowly builds in power. Miriam Allan, Nicholas Scott and Edward Grint bring a particularly passionate Pro peccatis suae gentis where Brossard’s use of varying vocal forces adds so much.

The choir bring some dramatic vocal surges, wonderfully controlled quieter passages in Vidit suum dulcem natum before Nicholas Scott brings a sense of urgency to Eia mater, fons amoris to which tenor Simon Wall adds subtly varying textures. There is a glorious outpouring from the choir in Sancta Mater, istud agas with the various sections of the choir brilliantly used. Edward Grint enters with Tui nati vulnerati with a strong voice that brings some gritty textures and very fine lower phrases. Virgo virginum praeclara brings the choir and ensemble in a slower, flowing section that is particularly beautiful, with some terrific vocal shaping and control. This setting concludes with a very fine Fac ut portem Christi mortem where each of the four soloists soprano Miriam Allan, baritone James Arthur, high tenor Nicholas Scott and tenor Simon Wall bring very fine passages, joined by the whole choir as the music finds a faster pace as we head to a wonderfully sonorous Amen.

David Bates directs some very fine performances here. Both instrumentalists and voices of La Nuova Musica are terrific as are the two soloists in the Trois Leçons de Tenebres, Lucy Crowe and Elizabeth Watts.

The excellent SACD recording is set in a lovely acoustic with a real sense of presence and detail. There are useful notes as well as full Latin texts with French, English and German translations. 

There is some very fine music making here on a disc not to be missed. 

Sunday, 25 September 2016

A very fine season opening Gala concert from the winning team of the English Symphony Orchestra under their Principal Conductor, Kenneth Woods with pianist Clare Hammond

Mozart’s Overture to Le nozze de Figaro that opened the English Symphony Orchestra’s season at Hereford’s Shirehall this afternoon (Sunday 25th September 2016) brought taut, vibrant playing from the orchestra with terrific ensemble, fire and panache under the direction of their Principal Conductor, Kenneth Woods.

I was lucky enough to have heard the World Premiere of Robert Saxton’s The Resurrection of the Soldiers at this year’s Presteigne Festival. The title is taken form the final panel of Stanley Spencer’s Sandham Chapel series of paintings that depicts soldiers emerging from their graves on the last day. This powerful work for string orchestra develops from a chord through the most wonderful harmonies and textures that immediately bring a real sense of pathos. The music moves through anguished passages that develop some extraordinarily fine string writing with occasional echoes of Tippett. Eventually the music finds a more complex and layered writing before a double bass introduces a slower idea that is taken up by the cellos as it expands through the most beautiful passages to find light at the end.

Kenneth Woods directed a taut, passionate performance of this remarkably impressive work.

Pianist Clare Hammond joined Kenneth Woods and the English Symphony Orchestra for Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor. The orchestra kept up a fine tempo in the opening of the Allegro with some really dynamic playing before the soloist entered bringing a lovely poise, soon finding a tremendous forward drive. She moved from poised, crystalline phrases to passages of tremendous flow and texture, reaching moments of fine tension with contrasting dynamics from the orchestra with a terrific Beethoven cadenza, brilliantly played yet never overblown.

Poise certainly applied to the second movement Romanza with Hammond beautifully shaping the solo part, finding a lovely restraint with a crisp and articulate central section. The concluding Allegro assai brought a terrify volatility with terrific clarity and purity of line from this soloist who found some lovely little details with a taut orchestral accompaniment from the ESO. The cadenza was wonderfully phrased before a wonderful lead up to the coda.

The second half of this season’s opening concert was given over to Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor with Kenneth Woods and the English Symphony Orchestra bringing a fine sweep to the Molto allegro, revealing fine textures and colours. They breathed fresh life into this popular symphony, with lovely clarity of phrasing. The andante had a lovely rhythmic pulse with some superb woodwind phrases as well as a lovely clarity of texture and fine phrasing –exquisitely done. There was a robust Menuetto with spot on phrasing yet with a real sense of drive and spontaneity before a Finale that brought a fleet, light texture with some lovely string playing and more fine wind passages, whipping up some terrific passages before the coda. 

This was a very fine opening concert from this team that goes from strength to strength.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Some terrific concertos from Peter Lieuwen make this MSR Classics new release a most welcome addition to the catalogue

Composer Peter Lieuwin (b. 1953) was born in Utrecht, The Netherlands and grew up in New Mexico. He studied at the University of New Mexico and the University of California, Santa Barbara with composers Scott Wilkinson, William Wood, Edward Applebaum, Emma Lou Diemer, and Peter Racine Fricker. From 1984 to 1987 he taught composition at UC Santa Barbara and since 1988 has been on the faculty of Texas A&M University. From 2000-2005 Lieuwen served as the inaugural head of the Department of Performance Studies at TAMU, where he is currently Professor of Music and Composer-in-Residence.

The music of Peter Lieuwen has been commissioned, performed and recorded by orchestras, ensembles and artists throughout the Americas and Europe. Many of Lieuwen’s compositions are impressions of nature and legend, infused with the kinetic rhythms of jazz and world music. His orchestral works have been performed by such orchestras as The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Saint Louis Symphony, Pacific Symphony Orchestra, San Antonio Symphony, Slovak National Symphony, Orchestra of the Americas, National Orchestral Association, Georgian Chamber Orchestra (Germany), Grosseto Symphony Orchestra (Italy), Kozalin State Philharmonic (Poland), Leipzig Academic Orchestra, Deutsche Kammerakademie Neuss, Musicfest International Orchestra (Wales), Orion Symphony Orchestra (UK) and the Orchestra of the Swan (UK).

Lieuwen has been the recipient of several awards and honours including First Prize in the Musicians Accord National Competition for Star (1986), First Prize in the CRS National Competition for Composer’s Recording for Anachronisms (1987), a National Orchestra Association "Second Presentation" Performance Award for Angelfire (1991), and First Prize in the Doc Severinsen International Composition Competition (2013).

Peter Lieuwen has enjoyed a rewarding musical relationship with the Aberystwyth International Music Festival in Wales as the featured composer (1995) and as Artist-in-Residence (1996, 1997, 1998, 2000 and 2005). His music has also been featured at the Lieksa Brass Festival in Finland (1990) and at many new music festivals throughout the US. The composer has received grants from Meet the Composer, Texas Composers Forum, and Texas A&M University.

MSR Classics have made a number of recordings of Lieuwen’s music, the latest release of which features World Premiere Recordings of his Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, Concerto for Piano, Marimba and Orchestra and Vivace for String Orchestra conducted by Franz Anton Krager  coupled with his Romance for Violin, Cello and Piano.

MS 1582

Lieuwen’s Concerto for Cello and Orchestra (2012) was written for the soloist on this disc, Nicholas Jones  and first performed in the Great Hall of Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Wales by the Orion Symphony Orchestra under Franz Anton Krager who on this recording directs the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra.

In two movements, Buoyant and animated brings repeated string phrases to which cellist Nicholas Jones joins in a fast moving theme which is developed with some beautifully luminescent textures through which the cello brings weaves its line. There are lovely orchestral harmonies, as before the cello continues to develop the theme, this cellist bringing fine phrasing in the little sprung rhythms. Often a sense of mystery is created in the gentler orchestral passages. The music rises through dramatic moments that blossom into lovely textures to which the cello adds its vibrantly sprung rhythmic textures.  

A brass chorale gently opens the second movement, Broadly – Spirited to which the orchestra join in a lovely theme, full of gentle melancholy. The soloist quietly enters to develop the theme against a lovely orchestral backdrop. Again Lieuwen brings some very fine orchestral ideas, suddenly bringing drama, only to find a transparent and lighter texture. The soloist winds a lovely solo line through the orchestral textures finding subtly dissonant textures. Out of a sudden dramatic passage the soloist draws exquisite, heartfelt lines of great beauty, finding greater animation as the movement progresses. The music develops a greater forward propulsion though still finding orchestral passages that have a longer melodic flow. There is a cadenza in which Jones finds some fine textures as he works over the material. The orchestra re-join to find a light textured rhythmic pulse, rising up before a pizzicato string chord brings the coda.

This is a very fine, distinctive concerto.

The Romance for Violin, Cello and Piano (1994; revised 2010) takes as its theme a line from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream ‘The course of true love never did run smooth.’ It was first performed by violinist Andrej Grabiec , cellist Misha Quint  and pianist Carlo Alessandro Lapegna at the Annenberg Presidential Center, Texas A & M University and it is those musicians that have recorded it here.

The piano brings a flowing theme to which the cello joins, adding a line over the piano theme. The violin joins to take the cello theme before they combine to weave the music ahead. Again there are Lieuwen’s distinctive dramatic surges before the trio arrive at a moment where they repeat a chord that leads into a delicate section where the piano flows around the string players. They become increasingly incisive, developing some dissonant phrases as the drama increases before moving into a more flowing section with lovely subtle little slides. There are more fine incisive string passages over lovely piano phrases before they rise through some vibrant passages still finding moments of poetry before a quiet coda. 

The Vivace for String Orchestra (2010) received its world premiere on April 26, 2014 by the Texas A&M Symphony Orchestra conducted by Paul Sikes. It began life as the third movement of Lieuwen’s Sonata for Guitar before the composer realised how well it would translate into a work for string orchestra. Played here by the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra it opens with a repeated theme and is soon overlaid by a flowing theme for violins which the whole orchestra takes forward. Lieuwen brings a lovely vibrancy as he varies the dynamics and textures. The music moves through some terrific passages as the strings swirl around before suddenly finding a calmer stance but there are more dynamic phrases before the coda arrives.

This is a terrific addition to the string orchestra repertoire.

Written for the Morales Brothers, pianist Leonel  and marimba player Jesus, the Concerto for Piano, Marimba and Orchestra (2008) was premiered by them with the Texas Music Festival Orchestra  conducted by Franz Anton Krager in 2010 in the Moores Opera House at the University of Houston, USA. It is the same artists that bring this premiere recording.

In three movements, the marimba announces the opening of the first, Fiery with a flourish before strings of the Texas Music Festival Orchestra take the theme forward with occasional marimba phrases, rising in dynamics. Soon the piano joins the orchestra adding some fine decorative lines, effectively taking up from the marimba flourishes and moving quickly ahead with lovely textures. Soon the piano takes the lead developing the theme through passages of increased drama before finding a steady flowing pulse for marimba and orchestra. The music slowly builds through a swirling string passage as the orchestra rises. Again Lieuwen finds some fine transparency through which the marimba is heard. Later the piano re-joins to add vibrant phrases, full of energy and fine flourishes, virtuosic at times, through a passage of fine expansiveness and breadth before a gentle coda.

With Placid the marimba brings a slow, gentle theme to which the piano and orchestra join bringing gentle little rising phrases. Lieuwen creates some lovely textures pointed up by tubular bells before moving through expansive, languid piano passages with the marimba adding some lovely touches, developing some lovely textures around which the orchestra add a lovely backdrop. Drums and brass arrive to add a jazzier development to which the marimba responds, then piano. Tam-tam herald a hushed passage before the piano joins, followed by woodwind, then strings and marimba as the coda is reached.

A syncopated rhythm for orchestra opens Incisive and spirited to which the marimba joins, slowly developing the repeated theme. The piano adds an incisive edge to which the marimba responds, the two soloists weaving around over the orchestral accompaniment. There are dynamic and expressive piano passages before the music becomes increasingly rhythmic and incisive.  There are passages for marimba and piano that bring a lovely delicacy of texture. Midway, the piano brings some terrific moments full of expansive and often dissonant phrases. Indeed both soloists weave some terrific passages. Later there is a cadenza for piano and marimba as the two provide some stunning moments. Lieuwen has a fine ear for sonorities, both orchestral and instrumental. Soon the orchestra returns to bring the opening idea, now expanded. The soloists return over the orchestral idea to bring flourishes and phrases that drive the music forward to a dynamic coda.

What a terrific concerto this is, brilliantly played here. 

This is a most welcome addition to the catalogue. Franz Anton Krager directs fine performances and there are spacious and vivid recordings made both in the USA and Slovakia. Peter Lieuwen’s booklet notes are especially welcome. 

Thursday, 22 September 2016

The Choir of the King’s Consort under their director Robert King give outstanding performances of British Choral Masterpieces from Parry and Stanford through to James MacMillan and Thomas Hewitt Jones in an upcoming release from Vivat entitled A Voice from Heaven

The Choir of the King’s Consort http://tkcworld.organd and The King's Consort are among the leading choirs and period instrument orchestras in the world. Founded in 1980 by Robert King , they have toured in five continents and appeared in almost every European country, in Japan, Hong Kong and the Far East, as well as North and South America. With more than one hundred CDs in the catalogue, selling in excess of one and a half million copies, The King's Consort is one of the world's most-recorded historical instrument orchestras. In recent years they have built up an impressive catalogue of recordings for Vivat Music .

Due for release on 7th October 2016 is a new recording from Vivat Music  with The Choir of the King’s Consort entitled A Voice from Heaven - British Choral Masterpieces that features works from Parry and Stanford through to James MacMillan and Thomas Hewitt Jones.


After studying at the Royal College of Music under Sir Walter Parratt, Charles Wood and Sir Henry Walford Davies, William Henry Harris (1883-1973) worked as organist at New College, Oxford and later St. George’s, Windsor.  The choir of the King’s Consort bring a very fine, rich textured opening to his setting of John Donne Bring us, O Lord God, rising to some wonderful moments with the subtle use of dynamics and part writing making this something of a gem. We jump forward from 1959 to 2010 for another setting of Bring us, O Lord God by James MacMillan (b.1959) with some lovely harmonies as the choir emerges, rising and falling through beautifully shaped passages, finding poetry as well as passion.  

The other work here by William H. Harris is his setting of Edmund Spenser, Faire is the heaven that brings lovely subtle harmonies in the opening before rising through some finely turned phrases, this wonderful choir finding every little nuance. The music grows in passion centrally, before a quite lovely coda.

Herbert Howells’ (1892-1983) Take him, earth, for cherishing is something of a modern classic. Here the choir deliver a finely paced opening, subtly expanding in textures as the female voices enter with Howells’ lovely harmonies. This choir cuts to the core of this wonderful work, finding perfectly the moments where Howell’s reaches for ecstatic exuberance. Robert King’s control of the moments when the voices hold a phrase before being overlaid by another section of the choir are heart stopping. It was perhaps brave of John Tavener (1944-2013)  to set the same text given the popularity the Howells’ Take him, earth, for cherishing but how uniquely fine it is, wonderfully phrased and paced, revealing Tavener’s exquisite harmonies and with the lovely effect of distance female voices.

Solo soprano, Julie Cooper opens Charles Villiers Stanford’s (1852-1924) I heard a voice from Heaven with the choir soon joining in this very fine setting. This soloist brings some superb moments with the most glorious harmonies caught spectacularly well in the acoustic of St. Jude’s. The choir finds a soft glow and when the soprano solo rises out of the choir it is a spine tingling moment.

It is tenor, Tom Robson who opens Herbert Howells’ I heard a voice from Heaven to which the choir responds beautifully. One needs no convincing of Howells’ stature as a composer but here the music is elevated even higher. When baritone Andrew Rupp rises out of the choir it is another fine moment. This choir finds a lovely ebb and flow with superb harmonies and weaving of the choral tapestry.

Though Kenneth Leighton (1929-1988) did not achieve the profile of some of his contemporaries he was, nevertheless, a very fine composer. Here the choir bring lovely sonorities to his setting of the 17th century Phineas Fletcher’s verse Drop, drop, slow tears with Robert King allowing his singers space to breath with a lovely gentle flow.

Charles Hubert H. Parry’s (1848-1918) Lord, let me know mine end is beautifully phrased with naturally varying tempi. The choir find a spontaneity in this distinctive setting with some brilliantly incisive, dramatic singing at times and some particularly fine part writing.

They show more of Charles Villiers Stanford’s fine choral writing with his Justorum animae, rising wonderfully in the more dynamic passages and finding a lovely sonority in the gentle moments.  Lennox Berkeley’s (1903-1989) setting of Justorum animae is beautifully shaped with some lovely, distinctive harmonies, this choir finding a lovely flow.

Herbert Murrill (1909-1952) is another name that may not be familiar to listeners. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music and Oxford before working for the BBC and becoming Professor of Composition at the RAM. The choir brings some sumptuous harmonies to his setting of The souls of the righteous revealing some lovely moments particularly at the end where the basses are heard to great effect.

Thomas Hewitt Jones (b.1984)  is an award-winning composer and winner of the 2003 BBC Young Composer Competition. Here he sets the same text as Kenneth Leighton, Drop, drop, slow tears. The choir gently rises and falls through some lovely passages, this choir finding rapt, glowing textures with occasional vibrant outbursts in this very fine piece.

John Tavener’s Song for Athene, takes its text from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the Orthodox Funeral Service. The choir rises from the depths on the word ‘Alleluia,’ creating a tremendous atmosphere as the choir take the text over a deep choral drone. The idea of ‘Life: a shadow and a dream’ is so well conjured here with the choir of the King’s Consort bringing a stunning atmosphere, quite entrancing, finding light as the music rises in the most glorious textures before a quiet coda.  

These are outstanding performances that bring a wonderful line up of British composers, some well-known, others less so. The equally outstanding recording from producer Adrian Peacock and recording engineer David Hinitt made at St Jude’s Church, London, UK is an equal star in this production.

There are excellent notes from Robert King as well as full English and Latin texts with translation.

This could well be the finest choral disc of this year.  

See also: 

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

On his debut disc of arias by Bach, Handel and Mozart for Signum, Norwegian boy soprano Aksel Rykkvin shows remarkable musicianship as well as terrific agility, purity of tone and vocal strength

Norwegian boy soprano Aksel Rykkvin (b. 2003) has already made a tremendous impact as a soloist in operas, concerts and music festivals as well as television appearances and his very popular YouTube channel reaching an international audience.

Now he has made his debut recording for Signum Records with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment  under Nigel Short  in arias by Bach, Handel and Mozart.


Aksel Rykkvin is a classically trained treble from the Children’s Chorus of the Norwegian National Opera & Ballet and Oslo Cathedral Boys’ Choir. He has received singing lessons since he was eight years old from voice teacher Helene Haarr. From 2013 onwards Marianne Willumsen Lewis has been his main voice teacher. In 2015, he was accepted into Musikk på Majorstuen, an audition-based program for classical music talents that Majorstuen School in Oslo offers with the Barratt Due Institute of Music.

He is in high demand as a soloist in operas, concerts and music festivals all across Norway. In March 2016 he received international acclaim for his role in Rolf Wallin's new opera Elysium.
He has held very well attended solo concerts in Oslo and Nidaros Cathedrals, as well as solo church and house concerts. At several official functions, he has sung for the Prime Minister of Norway, the Crown Prince and Crown Princess of Norway, and also for the Secretary General of NATO. In November 2015 he sang with the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra for a full Oslo Concert Hall. For summer 2016, he was booked for multiple performances at the chamber music festivals in Risør and Oslo. In June 2015 he was invited by assistant Director of Music, Ben Parry, to sing a solo programme in King’s College Chapel, Cambridge.

He opens his recording with two works by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). There is crisp lithe playing for the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under Nigel Short in the opening of Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen, BWV 51. When Aksel Rykkvin enters one is immediately surprised by his agility, purity of tone and sheer vocal strength, negotiating Bach’s twists and turns brilliantly whilst finding a subtlety that is remarkable in one of his age. David Blackadder brings some fine trumpet playing. There is a finely shaped Mein gläubiges Herze, BWV 68 with this remarkable young treble duetting wonderfully with Luise Buchberger’s piccolo cello with oboe, cello and strings weaving some fine lines.

The OAE bring lovely rhythmic spring to Georg Frideric Handel’s (1685-1759) Happy, oh thrice happy we from his oratorio Joshua, HWV 64 with Aksel equally finding just the right rhythmic pulse and buoyant tone with quite superb phrasing. He brings a subtle pathos to Handel’s Chi m'insegna il caro padre? from his opera Alcina, HWV 34 with some beautifully long drawn phrases. From the opening exclamation ‘Barbara’ Aksel brings a terrific assurance to Barbara! io ben lo so from the same opera, fairly hurtling forward with a tremendous gusto and agility, quite superb, with terrific accompaniment from the OAE. This young soloist has such a great dramatic understanding. Lascia ch'io pianga from Handel’s opera Rinaldo, HWV 7 is superbly drawn with terrific control and conveying a real sense of loss. There are finely shaped lines and an equally superb orchestral contribution.

Aksel Rykkvin returns to Bach with Ich folge Dir gleichfalls from the St. John Passion, BWV 245 that has a lovely recorder part around which Aksel brings a lively yet gentle tone, full of the utmost accuracy and agility. Aksel brings a quite glorious opening to Handel’s Eternal Source of Light Divine from the Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne, HWV 74, finely supported by the trumpet of David Blackadder with this treble achieving some extraordinarily fine high held notes, voice, trumpet and orchestra blending wonderfully. There is more Bach with Bist du bei mir, BWV 508 where the orchestra provide a spare accompaniment to Aksel’s very fine solo line, bringing his own individual control, accuracy and musicianship even more to the fore, finding a gentle, subtle feeling.
Another three arias from Handel follow.  Everyone will appreciate Aksel’s fine performance How beautiful are the feet of Them from Messiah, HWV 56 where he gives the music a lovely, gentle lift. Thou art gone up on high also from Messiah  brings terrific phrasing and control with Aksel always finding a lovely tone which he varies, bringing some lovely textures. There is a bright and joyful opening to Let the bright Seraphim in burning row from Handel’s oratorio Samson, HWV 57 from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment with Aksel bringing a terrific panache, a real vibrancy with more fine trumpet passages from David Blackadder bringing a terrific blend between voice and trumpet in the long held lines.

Bach’s Quia respexit from the Magnificat in D Major, BWV 243 has a beautifully shaped oboe d’amore solo before the treble soloist brings an undulating line, finely shaped and phrased, quite beautifully done. Strings weave a lovely opening to Angenehmer Zephyrus from Zerreißet, zersprenget, zertrümmert die Gruft, BWV 205 to which this soloist brings his lovely tone, long held lines and subtle little decorations. There is such vibrancy and joy to Handel’s Oh! Had I Jubal's lyre from Joshua with the most brilliant flexibility from Aksel, achieving such a lovely tone in the sudden little dynamics and the OAE bringing a real lightness of touch.  
Aksel Rykkvin concludes his recital with three pieces by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). The orchestra brings a lovely opening to Voi, che sapete che cosa e amor from Le nozze di Figaro, K. 492 with Aksel shaping and controlling the piece so well, subtly increasing the passion as the aria develops. He brings a terrific drama and passion to Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio also from Le nozze di Figaro with a remarkable control and assurance, a lovely tonal quality and some wonderfully controlled moments toward the end. There is a terrific rhythmic vibrancy from both soloist and orchestra in the Alleluia from Exsultate jubilate, K. 165 with this terrific treble bringing such flair, assurance, accuracy and flexibility to this demanding piece – with no concessions whatever.

This is a disc that is musically satisfying as well as a showcase for Aksel’s great talent. His sheer musicianship as well as agility, purity of tone and vocal strength shown here belies this young artist’s age making it a disc to return to for the sheer joy of it. 

The recording made at St. Augustine’s Church, Kilburn, London, England is first rate. There are useful notes about both the soloist and the music as well as full texts and English translations.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Peter King gives performances of terrific gusto and breadth bringing a real spontaneity on his new recording for Regent playing the Klais organ of Bath Abbey

Peter King is a former student of organists Dame Gillian Weir and Allan Wicks; and pianist Ronald Smith. He was Assistant Chorus Director to the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra during all of Sir Simon Rattle’s reign as Musical Director. As organist he played on Rattle’s EMI recordings of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony and Eight Symphony: Symphony of a Thousand.

In 1986 King was appointed Director of Music at Bath Abbey. Under his direction the Abbey Choir has visited Germany, Holland and France and broadcast on BBC TV and Radio 3. In 1997 he started a Girls’ Choir at Bath Abbey which quickly established itself as one of the finest of such choirs. Together with Nicolas Kynaston, he was responsible for the design and installation of the Abbey’s Klais Organ .

King has given concerts all over Europe including the opening recital on the new organ in Palacio Euskalduna, Bilbao and at the opening of the new Organ in Symphony Hall, Birmingham. He holds the honorary degree of Doctor of Music from the University of Bath and since 2015 has been President of the Incorporated Association of Organists.

Peter King has made a number of recordings for Regent Records the latest of which is a recital of works by Boëly, Saint-Saëns, Eben, Mendelssohn, Bach, Messiaen, Vierne and Reubke played on the Klais Organ of Bath Abbey. This comes as a well-presented CD and DVD set that acts as a tribute to his 30 years at Bath Abbey.

CD and DVD 5.0 and stereo
16:9 Region Free

Peter King opens his recital with Alexandre-Pierre-François Boëly’s (1785 1858) Fantaisie et Fugue in B flat, Op 18 vi to which he brings a lovely fluency and a finely developed fugue.  The sonorous opening of the Con moto of Camille Saint-Saëns’ (1835 1921) Fantaisie in E flat brings some very fine textures. He has a lovely touch in the short phrases as the piece develops, wonderfully shaped, though with a real freedom. What a glorious sound the Klais organ makes when the Allegro di molto e con fuoco arrives, King bringing a real spring to the rhythms, developing a real swagger and with a quite thrilling coda.

It is Peter King’s fine rhythmic touch that marks out the opening of Petr Eben’s (1929 2007) Moto Ostinato (Sunday Music) finding a lovely balance between musical lines with finely controlled dynamics and some lovely little details that appear so spontaneously. King guides us through some wonderful passages as the music develops before growing in power through some tremendous passages, so wonderfully caught in this fine recording. Felix Mendelssohn’s (1809-47) Prelude & Fugue in E minor has a nicely laid out Prelude, again with a lovely fluency before rising in the Fugue with this organist finding a wonderfully free and spontaneous flow. He adds a subtle rhythmic lift before running into the most stunning passages that lead to a tremendous conclusion.

Next Peter King brings a selection of Johann Sebastian Bach’s (1685 1750) Chorale Preludes from Orgelbüchlein. Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 599 is beautifully phrased and paced, bringing a lovely sense of peace. He brings a lovely light to Gottes Sohn ist kommen, BWV 600 with a fine overlay of musical lines, again with a lovely feel of spontaneity. Herr Christ, der ein ge Gottessohn, BWV 601 receives a real rhythmic lift, moving at a fine pace, full of life. He makes a quite beautiful choice of registration in the lovely Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ, BWV 604, producing lovely textures and sonorities from the Klais organ. The Klais organ sounds out joyfully in Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her, BWV 606 bringing a fine strength yet transparency of sound.  The glockenspiel of the organ rings out to herald In dulci jubilo, BWV 608 with King bringing a nicely integrated sound from which the tune emerges with such care and subtlety. Finally King brings together so many of the qualities shown in the preceding Bach pieces to form a wonderfully flowing fine textured In dir ist Freude, BWV 615, a wonderful conclusion to this selection of Chorale Preludes.

King’s sense of freedom and spontaneity, as well as mastery of overall structure are heard at their most obvious in Olivier Messiaen’s (1908 92) Les Anges from La Nativité du Seigneur, brilliantly phrased, illuminating Messiaen’s wonderful harmonies. Louis Vierne’s (1870 1937) Naïades from his Pièces de fantaisie, Quatrième Suite, Op 55 has a wonderful lightness of touch, a fine fluency and transparency, quite magically done.

Peter King concludes his recital with the longest work on this disc, Julius Reubke’s (1834-1858) The 94th Psalm, Sonata in C minor. In the first movement, marked Grave – Larghetto - Allegro con fuoco the music grows out of a solemn, deep, rich organ texture before rising through some quite wonderful, powerful passages, King finding a sense of passion, even anger from the opening grave. He moves through moments of restrained depth before welling up again through some wonderfully florid passages to find strength again in a passage of formidable power, subtly finding a sense of triumph and energy in the tremendous coda. There is a thoughtful Adagio which initially ruminates before slowly finding a flow with a fine melody. It moves through some powerfully rich passages with carefully chosen registrations, King bringing such subtlety and poetry. The music frequently tries to rise only to fall to a quiet restraint to lead into the Fugue – Allegro where the music rises bringing a defiance as it shifts quickly forward, King bringing a terrific fluency in the fast moving passages. Slowly and subtly the music gains a rhythmic spring as the Allegro arrives, later falling quieter but keeping its forward rushing energy before heading to a tremendous coda – quite stunning.

Peter King receives a beautifully natural and quite vivid recording.

The accompanying DVD not only includes the full recital but also a video presented by Peter King in three parts, A brief history of Bath Abbey, that is not only interesting but a visual delight, The Klais Organ of Bath Abbey where we are given a brief history and tour of the organ with King demonstrating some of the features of the organ and The Music which is a brief introduction to the composers and their music featured in the recital together with brief examples played by King who proves to be an enthusiastic and warm presenter.

The full recital on DVD has the obvious advantage of the visual element and is nicely produced with views of the inside and exterior of the Abbey around the filming of King playing the Klais organ.

Both picture quality and sound on the DVD are excellent. The two discs are presented in a DVD box with a booklet that contains excellent notes as well as full organ specification.

Peter King gives performances of terrific gusto and breadth bringing a real spontaneity. He just exudes musicality making him an organist to rank with the finest. 

This is an organ recital I will return to frequently – both on CD and DVD.

A new release from OUR Recordings features pianist, Erik Kaltoft who reveals a genuine empathy for the piano works of Axel Borup-Jørgensen

OUR Recordings have done much to bring the music of Axel Borup-Jørgensen (1924-2012) to the attention of listeners with a number of recordings already in the catalogue and with more planned.

Borup-Jørgensen was born in Hjørring in Denmark, but grew up in Sweden. It was the countryside and experience of nature of his childhood in Sweden that became a lifelong inspiration to him. He returned to Denmark to study piano at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen and instrumentation with Poul Schierbeck and Jørgen Jersild and was one of the first Danish composers to go to the Darmstadt School. Borup-Jørgensen's works include music for orchestra, chamber music, songs with piano and other instruments.

OUR Recordings latest release features a selection of his piano music from across his compositional life played by Erik Kaltoft who not only knew Borup-Jørgensen but benefited from his advice concerning performances of the composer’s music.


Thalatta! Thalatta! (The Sea! The Sea!), Op. 127 (1987-88) opens with delicate rising phrases that are repeated before being slowly and subtly varied. Soon dissonant chords appear conjuring vividly the sense of fluidity, droplets of water within rippling flows. Borup-Jørgensen slowly builds some very fine layers, finding the ever changing and multi stranded nature of the sea. He conjures a vision of water that is removed from the violent restlessness of the ocean, a more finely wrought contemplation. Later the music falls to quieter little phrases full of carefully thought out, delicate dissonances before rediscovering the opening, rising phrases to lead to a gentle, quite coda.

Marine skitser (Marine Sketches) for Klaver, Op. 4b (1949) comprises of six miniatures, opening with a quizzical little motif that is immediately developed through bars of gentle simplicity, with a lovely delicacy. These pieces bring moments that are sometimes reminiscent of Ravel as well as richer more flowing music and a slow thoughtful piece with delicate notes over a deeper piano line.  There is a faster moving sketch with incisive phrases and moments where some lovely chords are developed before this set concludes.

winter pieces, Op. 30b (1959) is a set of four miniatures the first of which has a sudden, strident opening which is developed through staccato passages. These pieces are full of varying tempi, dynamics and, most importantly pauses that add so much to the feeling of the music. Borup-Jørgensen brings little surprises throughout but always with an overall musical line. This is a terrific collection of pieces lasting just over four minutes in total.

Delicate phrases open sommer intermezzi (summer intermezzi), Op. 65 (1971) before a series of dissonant chords appear. There are little rising phrases, always with a delicate thoughtfulness. Occasional harsher dissonances appear to disturb the peace but overall the music retains a gentle sense of wonder, a summer pointed up by sudden more focused images, all quite beautifully phrased and shaped by this pianist with a final sudden upward phrase to end.

Passacaglia for klaver, Op. 2b (1948) opens with fuller, richer chords as it leads ahead through a fine, tonally free melody, only interrupted by more decorative ideas that illuminate the music before it develops its way forward through some broad, firm passages at the end.

regndråbe interludier (raindrop interludes), Op. 144 (1994) brings a gentle rising motif that is soon subjected to dissonances. Yet the gentle, delicate textures continue, often in little droplets that are repeatedly ‘dripped’ creating some magical harmonies.

epigrammer (epigrams), Op. 78 (1976) brings more of Borup-Jørgensen’s trademark delicacy and upward rising phrases developed through passages that bring lovely dissonances. There are telling pauses before the music develops some striking, spiky, more dynamic phrases. Later the music finds a walking pace before moving ahead rhythmically. There are more of this composer’s sudden surprises such as when the piano bursts out, high in its register. There are moments when the music that positively sparkles before slowing to separated phrases that bring about the coda.

Miniaturesuite, Op. 3b (1949) is another early work that brings a collection of five miniature movements or sections lasting in total just under three minutes. It opens purposefully with a fast moving theme that moves around restlessly before soon falling to a slowly meandering theme. There is a faster section that contains hints of Shostakovich in his more manic moments before a slow languid, rather French movement. A fast flowing section brings the coda.

Præludier for klaver (Preludes for piano), Op. 30a (1958-59) gathers together seven pieces of short duration that move from the opening Prelude with staccato phrases that leap around, through dynamic moments with louder bass chords, a little pause before a sudden outburst as well as sudden rippling phrases. It is the lovely delicate little phrases make the later sudden strong outbursts all the more telling before the Preludes conclude.  

The unexpected work here is Borup-Jørgensen’s ‘Phantasiestücke’ for celeste, Op. 115 which has all of this composer’s trademark ideas. It opens with rippling upward phrases before stepping forward, repeating the upward chords and developing through some wonderfully delicate passages, finding some lovely sounds, always with the opening phrases in mind. Borup-Jørgensen writes beautifully and naturally for this instrument.

Axel Borup-Jørgensen’s piano music is shot through with a natural melodic base that underlies whatever he writes. Erik Kaltoft handles all of Borup-Jørgensen’s sudden twists and turns expertly, revealing a genuine empathy for this music.

The piano sound is perfectly caught in the Concert Hall of the Royal Danish Academy of Music. There are excellent notes and, as usual with OUR Recordings, a nicely produced booklet with colour illustrations.

See also: 

Friday, 16 September 2016

The St. Albans Abbey Girls’ Choir proves to be an impressive choir who along with the Lay Clerks of St. Albans Cathedral Choir deliver some very fine performances of William Mathias’ choral music on a new release from Naxos

The Welsh composer, William Mathias (1934-1992) was born in Whitland, Carmarthenshire, Wales. A child prodigy, he started playing the piano at the age of three and began composing at the age of five. He studied at Aberystwyth University, before going on to the Royal Academy of Music where he studied under Lennox Berkeley. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Academy of Music in 1965 and later became professor of music and head of department at the University of Wales, Bangor.

A recipient of the Bax Society Prize of the Harriet Cohen International Music Award, his compositions include an opera, The Servants (1980), three symphonies, concertos, chamber music and works for piano and organ. Much of his music was written for the Anglican choral tradition. His anthem Let the people praise Thee, O God was written for the royal wedding of the Prince and Princess of Wales. He founded the North Wales International Music Festival in St Asaph in 1972 and directed it until his death in 1992.

A new release from Naxos  features St. Albans Abbey Girls Choir , the Lay Clerks of St. Albans Cathedral Choir  and Orchestra Nova  conducted by Tom Winpenny with Peter Foggitt (piano primo) and Michael Papadopoulos (organ and piano secondo).


Lift up your heads, O ye gates, Op. 44, No. 2 (1969) was commissioned by Oxford University Press for their publication, Anthems for Choirs edited by organist and composer, Francis Jackson of York Minster. It has a brilliant opening from the organ to which the choir add an equally vibrant choral sound together with some typically Mathias turns of phrase, finding a real snap. There is a more subdued central section with some nicely controlled singing from this choir.

Ave Rex, Op. 45 (1969) includes carols that have achieved great popularity, with Sir Christèmas often featured in the Kings College, Cambridge, Christmas Eve service. Ave Rex angelorum opens with a lovely organ phrase to which the choir add some very fine choral sounds to which the organ responds. Mathias finds something new to say in his harmonies and intervals, bringing an uplifting beauty and expanding through some quite wonderful passages. There is a lovely directness to Alleluya, a new work is come on hand before this composer provides some intricate choral writing. There is no rose of such virtue is a setting that is simply very beautiful. It works its way through some exquisite part writing with the Girls’ Choir adding some particularly fine moments and the organ superbly captured before finding a lovely close. The organ introduces Sir Christèmas, the choir bringing lively, particularly accurate singing with some razor sharp phrasing.
The choir sound out joyfully in the Wassail Carol, Op. 26, No. 1 (1964) that was commissioned by Kings College, Cambridge for their famous Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. This carol brings some lovely accents, uplifting and wonderfully sung.

St. Pauls Cathedral organist, John Scott commissioned the anthem, As Truly as God is our Father (1987) on behalf of the Friends of St. Pauls Cathedral. It was first sung in the presence of the Friends Patron, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. There is a gentle opening from organist Michael Papadopoulos with some lovely subtle harmonies. When the choir join they add equally fine harmonies, the Lay Clerks blending with the Girls’ Choir quite wonderfully. They keep a fine pace, adding subtle increases in tempo and dynamics as the piece progresses, rising through some lovely passages before the organ returns the music to a quieter level and the choir gently sing ‘All shall be well…’ A quite gorgeous setting.

It was Jesus College Cambridge that commissioned Mathias’ setting of the Evening Canticles - Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis, Op. 53 ‘Jesus College Service’ (1971). There is a strikingly fine opening for organ to the Magnificat before the Girls’ Choir enter, bringing a lovely brilliance. Soon there is a more subdued section, very much reflecting the awe of the words ‘For he hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden…’ before rising through passages of further joy and brilliance  with a passage of terrific breadth captured by this choir. The gentle Nunc Dimittis has some lovely harmonies with some beautifully controlled passages from this choir to which the organ joins for ‘Glory be to the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.’ This is a particularly fine Nunc Dimittis.

Tom Winpenny goes to the organ loft for a lively, vibrant Toccata Giocosa, Op. 36, No. 2 (1967). Written for Sir David Willcocks it is full of fine harmonies, textures and rhythmic ideas, a most attractive piece with a lovely quieter central section.

All thy works shall praise thee, Op. 17b (1961) was Mathias’ very first piece of church music and receives its World Premiere Recording here. A grand opening from the organ announces the anthem to which the choir bring some very fine descending phrases with lovely overlaid choral lines as well as some firm, strong passages.

The other World Premiere Recording on this disc is Mathias’ setting of The Lord's Prayer (1992) which he wrote for the male choir of Whitland only a few months before his death. There is a lovely hushed organ opening to which the choir soon bring an equally lovely gentle theme, with the organ adding some lovely touches. There is a lovely gentle undulating flow in this very fine setting that rises magnificently for ‘Thine is the Kingdom’ before ending quietly.

The larger scale anthem, An Admonition to Rulers, Op. 43 (1969) was written for the Southern Cathedrals’ Festival and first performed in Salisbury Cathedral along with the choirs of Chichester and Winchester Cathedrals. The organ sounds out in almost a fanfare before the choir join to add to the brilliance and power. Here the choir and organist deliver terrific strength. The way Mathias sets the words and adds little organ decorations, is quite masterly. A very fine soloist from the St. Albans Abbey Girls’ Choir is heard singing over an organ accompaniment and later a solo tenor joins bringing a fine tone, beautifully shaped. The choir re-join to bring a very fine section as they weave an undulating theme before rising in strength to a stirring peak before gently declining at the words ‘…for she is more beautiful than the sun...’

Orchestra Nova joins for Salvator Mundi, Op. 89 (1982) for strings, piano duet, percussion and choir written to celebrate the centenary of Cheltenham Ladies College and first performed there. A tambourine points up a rhythmically buoyant Make we merry sung by the St. Albans Abbey Girls’ Choir.  A piano is heard as the music quietens almost to a halt only to slowly plod forward in Mirabile mysterium with string accompaniment to which the Girls’ Choir slowly and steadily brings the text in this really striking section. Be we merry in this feast is also lively and buoyant with subtle influences of Benjamin Britten.  The choir are particularly skilled in this fast moving music.

Pianos and hushed strings open Lullay to which a solo girl’s voice joins. Another soloist joins before the choir slowly takes this beautifully conceived music forward with some beautifully harmonies. There is a nicely contrasting Susanni full of light textured, rhythmic phrases with piano and pizzicato strings adding lovely textures before Christe, redemptor omnium where bell chimes are heard quietly before the choir enters, the girls bringing a lovely overlay of voices. The joyfully rhythmic Welcome, Yule almost has the feel of a Copland Hoedown as it is pushed along by the pianos and orchestra, the choir rising to rush to the vibrant end.

The St. Albans Abbey Girls’ Choir proves to be an impressive choir who along with the Lay Clerks of St. Albans Cathedral Choir deliver some very fine performances. 

The recording from St. Albans Cathedral, Hertfordshire, England is first class and there are excellent booklet notes from Geraint Lewis. 

Thursday, 15 September 2016

ACT Music and Vision Music bring first rate performances of music by saxophonist and composer, Marius Neset that naturally defies boundaries

Saxophonist and composer, Marius Neset (b.1985) was born in Bergen, Norway, home to the internationally renowned Nattjazz Festival. He grew up listening to bands from the so-called ‘Bergen wave’ of post-rock such as Royksopp through to the great classical composer of his hometown Edvard Grieg, as well as more contemporary art music. He took up the saxophone at the age of five and had lessons on drumming something which he says ‘…gave me a rhythmic base that was very important…’

In 2003, Neset moved to Copenhagen to study at the Rhythmic Music Conservatory where the great English pianist and large ensemble arranger Django Bates was professor and became Neset’s mentor. The saxophonist went on to become the star turn in Bates’ student big band StoRMchaser recording a CD Spring is Here. Meanwhile Neset also released his debut Suite for the Seven Mountains that year featuring a string quartet and the Swedish drummer Anton Eger.

In 2010, Django Bates took him to London to play at a concert at Kings Place marking his 50th birthday. Neset also appeared as a guest in Django Bates’ long time ensemble Human Chain at the famous Ronnie Scott’s club. Recorded by BBC Jazz on 3, he wowed the audience with his contrast of lightening virtuosity and tender, ethereal lyricism. This led to his being signed by the UK independent jazz label Edition Records with his first album, GoldenXplosion, released to glowing press reviews. By the time of his second CD on Edition Records, Neset had started developing his interest in larger ensemble music and a wider palette of instrumental sound.

Neset’s composition and arranging skills have come into even sharper focus with a new album Lion for the Munich-based ACT Music and Vision released in 2014 in collaboration with the celebrated Trondheim Jazz Orchestra.

Now from ACT comes a new release of Marius Neset’s music entitled Snowmelt recorded with the composer on saxophone and his fellow quartet members, Ivo Neame (piano), Pettter Eldh (bass) and Anton Eger (drums) with the London Sinfonietta conducted by Geoffrey Paterson


Described as Neset's most ambitious, cherished and personal project to date the album Snowmelt has its origins in a fifteen minute piece for solo saxophone and chamber orchestra and five live singers commissioned by the Oslo Sinfonietta and premiered in 2013. This led Neset to compose a whole album that required a larger body of strings and would include his own quartet. The composer speaks of his desire to seek ‘chaos and dissonance while also being drawn to lyricism and tenderness…(and) find the point when everything makes sense.’

In eleven movements or sections Snowmelt opens with Prologue where the saxophone opens with a shrill motif that is developed through varying techniques that bring some fine textures and timbres. There are some lovely sonorities from the saxophone in Arches of Nature: Sirens where the music grows quieter and more reflective, around which the orchestra weave some lovely woodwind passages before drums bring a beat as the music gains in energy with a pulsating theme.  
In Arches of Nature: Acrobatics bass and drums bring a steady rhythmic drive to which the piano joins in this jazz inspired section.  Marius Neset’s saxophone weaves around as do the woodwind of the orchestra, full of an improvisatory feel as the saxophone finds its own way ahead with piano, bass and drums acting as a jazz group. There are some terrific passages before building wildly through the orchestra and going into Arches of Nature: Circles introduced by a trumpet to which drums join in a steady beat. There are flurries of woodwind and a flowing string passage that immediately brings a nostalgic air out of which the saxophone is gently heard, then piano in a lovely blossoming of ideas. Soon the saxophone emerges more fully within the orchestra as the music rises in an uplifting theme. There is a sudden halt as the music fragments only for the saxophone and orchestra to regain their melodic flow to lead into the next section.

The saxophone gives a little motif over a repeated piano idea and hushed strings as Arches of Nature: Caves arrives. They are soon interrupted by a faster, rather light-hearted section where little staccato phrases are delivered by saxophone, drums and various instruments in a syncopated rhythm that soon flourishes through some terrific passages as the instrumentalists weave some great ideas before leading into Arches of Nature: Paradise where the piano brings a languid section over quiet drums to which the saxophone adds similarly languid tones. There are some very fine, subtle rhythmic qualities as the music slowly finds its way ahead. The piano brings fine little phrases over a mellow, hushed orchestral layer with rhythmic support from the drums, the piano ever developing the theme. Here one might ask ‘is this jazz or classical?’ The answer surely is yes to both. Soon the piano and drums develop an idea to which the strings join and out of which grows a repeated idea from the saxophone and others, as the strings begin to soar up against the rhythm creating a quite wonderful effect.  

As we move into Arches of Nature: Rainbows drums alone are left. The saxophone adds staccato phrases before strings bring a more flowing melody, a quite lovely idea that continues to unfold before leading to a lovely saxophone melody over strings. The music rises up before finding some richer, lower phrases for saxophone and moving into Arches of Nature: Pyramiden where saxophone, drums, piano and bass lead off with a lively, jazz theme. There are many varying rhythmic ideas as the music swirls and the orchestra joins. The London Sinfonietta provides some terrific orchestral playing here before leading with an energetic swirl of instruments to a sudden end.
The Storm Is Over opens with hushed strings that gently weave ahead with many little details. The saxophone is quietly heard emerging from the strings in this most gorgeous moment. It emerges little by little with its lovely theme before the orchestra brings a lovely tapestry of sound. The piano peers through as the music finds a lovely flow, rising through fine passages before quietening. The orchestra arrives at a lovely hovering passage before the wind join, as does the saxophone, as the music rises again through some more quiet wonderful passages, the saxophone finding a rich, sonorous tone as it plays over the orchestra, weaving some fine ideas to a hushed orchestral coda.

The saxophone opens Introduction to Snowmelt with a series of held notes, creating a primeval quality, wonderfully played; slowly developing before suddenly becoming louder as a theme develops out of the opening ideas. Neset draws some spectacularly fine sonorities and textures from his saxophone weaving the most wonderful ideas. Later a repeated rhythmic idea for saxophone and drums is suddenly found to which the orchestra subtly join as we are led into Snowmelt with the saxophone bringing a theme over a syncopated accompaniment. As the music develops, Neset creates some very fine orchestral sonorities, constantly shifting. The piano joins drums and bass to develop the music in a more jazz orientated direction, before rising in intensity through passages of terrific saxophone playing over a very fine tapestry of orchestral sound. Later the music falls through passages of gentler music where the saxophone seems to become distant over the quartet along with some lovely, subtly shifting orchestral ideas. As the music slows there is a quite wonderful outpouring of melody from Neset’s saxophone and strings bringing this work to a gentle end.

Here is music that so naturally defies boundaries and is all the better for it. Neset is a terrific saxophonist with his quartet and the London Sinfonietta under Geoffrey Paterson delivering first rate performances. This is a disc that is likely to have a wide appeal. 

The recording made at Air Studios, London, England is excellent. The three fold digipak CD folder has photos, tracking information and artist’s details but no notes. However, much information can be obtained via the composer and record company websites and