Saturday, 31 December 2016

The Pécs Symphony Orchestra under Nicholas Pasquet provide spirited, idiomatic performances of Hungarian composer László Lajtha’s Symphony No.2 and Variations, Op. 44 on a re-release from Naxos

Naxos recorded the nine symphonies of the Hungarian composer László Lajtha on its sister label Marco Polo in the 1990s. Now they have begun the process of re-issuing these works on the Naxos label commencing with Symphony No.1 coupled with Suite pour orchestre (8.573643) and now the release of Symphony No.2 coupled with the substantial Variations, Op. 44 with the Pécs Symphony Orchestra (recently renamed as Pannon Philharmonic Orchestra)  conducted by Nicholas Pasquet


László Lajtha (1892-1963) was born in Budapest and studied with Victor von Herzfeld (1856-1919) at the Budapest Academy. He was later associated with Bartok and Kodály in their folk song collecting and taught at the National Conservatory. He travelled widely and was known internationally for his folk music research. After the Second World War, Lajtha was appointed Director of Music for Hungarian Radio, director of the Museum of Ethnography and of the Budapest National Conservatory. His symphonic piece In Memoriam was the first new work to be premiered in Budapest when concerts could be given there again. In 1947 to 1948 Lajtha spent a year in London, having been asked by the film director Georg Höllering to compose music for his film of T. S. Eliot's verse drama Murder in the Cathedral. On his return to Hungary he lost all of his official positions due to political reasons. In 1951 he was awarded the Kossuth Prize for his activities in folk-music research and was the only Hungarian composer since Liszt to be elected a corresponding member of the French Académie de Beaux-Arts.

His compositions include an operetta, ten string quartets, three ballets, choral and vocal music and the nine symphonies.

Lajtha’s Symphony No. 2, Op. 27 was written in 1938 and reflected his experiences in the First World War as well as anticipating the coming violence and horror of the coming war. It was not published or performed in his lifetime. It was first performed by the Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra conducted by Antal Jancsovics in 1988. In three movements the movement has dramatic opening orchestral chords with a tam-tam stroke before the dramatic theme heaves itself along, weighty and intense. Soon there is a quieter section where a piano and pizzicato strings underline the theme, coloured by percussion, brass and woodwind.  Moments of tremendous atmosphere develop where Lajtha’s Hungarian roots are more apparent. There is a wistful passage for strings as well as moments of shimmering strings out of which the piano and woodwind weave some lovely phrases. Later timpani beat out dramatically as do other percussion as the music rises. Woodwind and brass continue to colour the music in a passage of great beauty before moving quickly ahead with the most dramatic weaving of orchestral ideas. Eventually the woodwind weave a quieter, hauntingly atmospheric passage before the decisive coda.

Movement II Molto vivace e leggiero opens with a light textured orchestral idea that moves along in a light footed manner weaving some very fine ideas. Often there is a sense of joy, at other times a heavier, more dramatic tread. Often the music finds forward moving dance rhythms. Woodwind appear through the orchestral texture bringing a very Hungarian flavour with the music fairly bubbling along at times. A solo violin brings a jolly little tune, again Hungarian in flavour before a myriad of instruments appear through the texture. The music calms towards the end before finding a cheerful little coda.

Two heavy chords from the orchestra open Movement III before the strings take the theme forward, again with various instruments weaving through the orchestral tapestry, a piano heard underneath. Soon the opening chords are reflected in a dramatic, heavy orchestral outburst as the music gains in drama again, often with a sense of foreboding. Later there is a haunting moment where a solo violin brings a folksy tune over a steady orchestral layer, taken up by woodwind. The piano leads a faster passage where the orchestra surges ahead, full of anxiety before arriving at an insistent forward moving passage. Horns come in over the orchestra as the music finds a climax, from which it suddenly falls back. The solo violin appears over a hushed orchestra, with other strings and woodwind soon weaving a very distinctive section before timpani thunder and the decisive coda rams home.

This is a work that is full of incident and colour with some lovely themes, subtly shot through with Hungarian character.

The full title of the Variations, Op. 44 is Eleven Variations for Orchestra on a Simple Theme, 'Temptations' and dates from 1947 to 1948. Begun in Budapest, it is one of the works that Lajtha completed whilst staying in London in 1948 when writing the music for Georg Höllering’s film Murder in the Cathedral, from which the composer drew his material.

Pizzicato basses are soon overlaid by a string theme, interrupted by brass before woodwind bring a lovely theme. The music soon finds a steady tread through which individual instruments appear, rising in passion before finding a more tranquil passage. The music suddenly picks up a fast rhythmic forward movement, dancing through some wonderfully orchestrated passages, through sections of lively, buoyant music as the orchestra darts around, bringing a seamless flow of ideas. There is an especially effective passage for strings with a solo violin, full of passion with moments of constantly shifting development. Later a flute brings a variation over hushed orchestra with a gentle side drum. Brass rise to stride forward before the orchestra continues with the confident, forward striding variation.

There is a moment of gentle luminescence where bells gently sound, over woodwind which the strings take forward. The music soon regains a buoyancy to bounce forward before arriving at a sudden moment of passion, a slow outpouring from the strings which leads into a lovely cor-anglais sequence that is shared by the woodwind. This extended variation for cor-anglais is really very fine. It is taken by the strings as a harp is heard before rising forcefully. Midway there is a fast scurrying string passage, before a small ensemble of strings players weaves a particularly fine variation, full of fine textures and much feeling. The orchestra pics up in a lively variation with brass and drums with an atmospheric little passage flitting by before the music strides ahead with a xylophone appearing, adding to the marching rhythm with anxious woodwind phrases. The music surges with varying ideas before picking up to lead to a terrific, dynamic coda.

Lajtha shows remarkable powers of invention in this constant outpouring of orchestral ideas.

These works have an important place in our understanding of Hungarian music in the early 20th century. Bartok thought highly of him, holding the opinion that, apart from Kodály and Lajtha, Hungary ‘had no valuable composers.’ The Pécs Symphony Orchestra under Nicholas Pasquet provides spirited, idiomatic performances. 

The recordings are a little reverberant but otherwise clear and detailed and there are informative booklet notes.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony provide performances that catch so much of Debussy’s atmosphere and colour in live SACD recordings of great weight, detail and presence on a new release from SFS Media

Michael Tilson Thomas’ latest live recording for the San Francisco Symphony’s own record label, SFS Media brings together works by Claude Debussy (1862-1918) recorded live at three different concerts during 2013 and 2014 at San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall.


This new disc opens with Debussy’s Images pour orchestre, L.122. The composer had already completed his Images pour le piano I (1901-05) and Images pour le piano II (1907) before his long awaited orchestral Images which he worked on between 1905 and 1912. Iberia was conducted by Gabriel Pierné in February 1910 and Rondes de printemps by Debussy the following month. The premiere of the complete work was conducted by Debussy in January 1913.

Michael Tilson Thomas creates a palpable sense of mystery and atmosphere right from the opening bars of No. 1 Gigues shaping some fine passages, subtly achieving a rhythmic pulse. He keeps a wonderfully fluid tempo, achieving a really French quality in Debussy’s lovely harmonies. This is a wonderfully atmospheric performance.

There is some very characterful playing from the San Francisco Symphony in Par les rues et par les chemins of No. 2 Ibéria particularly in the brass. They find a terrific rhythm around which Debussy’s harmonies flow. The orchestra’s strings really are quite wonderful, beautifully caught here. They move through some beautifully scented passages, revealing so much of Debussy’s orchestration.  Again Tilson Thomas catches the atmosphere perfectly in Les parfums de la nuit, shaping the music wonderfully, weaving so many colours and textures whilst finding Debussy’s constantly shifting harmonies. They bring a beautifully flexible tempo right through to the atmospheric end. The San Francisco Symphony runs straight into a beautifully judged conclusion of Le matin d'un jour de fête where this conductor shapes the slowly emerging theme exquisitely. The San Francisco Symphony’s leader and principal clarinet provide some especially fine moments as do the whole woodwind section. This orchestra is quite brilliant in this ever changing scene.

There is a beautifully shimmering opening to No. 3 Rondes de printemps before weaving a brilliant tapestry of orchestral sounds. The San Francisco Symphony provides some terrific moments with a real sense of spontaneity from so many individual members of the orchestra, later achieving a terrific forward sweep.

It was for Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes that Debussy wrote what was to be his last orchestral work, Jeux, (poèm dansé) L.126. The premiere at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris on 15th May 1913, with Pierre Monteux conducting, was a box office failure. The composer spent the performance in the concierge’s office smoking a cigarette, angry and unable to understand Nijinsky’s choreography.
The San Francisco Symphony bring a beautifully textured opening, soon developing some playful moments before moving through some delightfully animated passages, with Tilson Thomas always keeping an ear for colour, texture and sonorities. There are some wonderfully quicksilver passages showing this orchestra’s tremendous flexibility and ensemble, with this conductor finding much atmosphere, shaping this music so well. There is a moment where the San Francisco Symphony strings show their particularly fine, brilliant texture and later there is some very fine weaving of woodwind around the solo violin. Tilson Thomas and the orchestra capture the fleeting moments in this piece quite brilliantly as well as bringing passages of tremendous vibrancy and brilliance.

La Plus que lente, L.121 is another late work that started life as a piano work written in 1910. Debussy’s travels took him to Budapest where he discovered gypsy style café ensembles, a sound that influenced this work. It was on the insistence of his publisher that the composer finally orchestrated the work. Strings open, soon joined by the distinctive sound of the cimbalom . A waltz appears where, at times, Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony bring a sultry inflection. They finely shape this music with some beautifully controlled tempi and dynamics, finding many subtleties. Later the cimbalom is heard through some lovely orchestral textures before a particularly fine, beautifully hushed coda.

These are performances that catch so much of Debussy’s atmosphere and colour. The live SACD recordings have great weight, detail and presence and there are notes from Michael Tilson Thomas and Michael Steinberg. Something of a winner. 

As I publish my last review before Christmas, I would like to take the opportunity to send Seasons’ Greetings to all of my followers and to all the Record Companies, Publishers and Music PR Companies that have supported The Classical Reviewer during 2016.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Divine Art’s two valuable releases show Vyacheslav Artyomov as a distinctive and important voice in Russian music

Vyacheslav Artyomov (b.1940)  was born in Moscow and first studied physics at the University of Moscow before transferring to the Tchaikovsky Conservatory where he studied composition with Nikolai Sidelnikov (1930-1992).  He was an editor at the Moscow publishers Musyka for several years and, along with the composers Sofia Gubaidulina (b.1931) and Viktor Suslin (1942-2012), founded the improvisation group Astreya. Since 1979 he has been a freelance composer, with principal works including his acclaimed Requiem, the tetralogy Symphony of the Way and The Morning Star Arises dedicated to the London Symphony Orchestra.

Divine Art Recordings have just released two important discs, available separately, of orchestral works by Vyacheslav Artyomov. The first (dda 25143) includes Symphony - On the Threshold of a Bright World, Ave Atque Vale for solo percussion and orchestra and Hymn – Ave, Crux Alba all with the National Philharmonic Orchestra of Russia  conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy  

The second disc (dda 25144) brings us Symphony - Gentle Emanation with the Russian National Orchestra conducted by Teodor Currentzis  and Tristia II – Fantasy for Piano and orchestra with pianist Philip Kopachevsky, reader Mikhail Phillipov and the Russian National Orchestra under Vladimir Ponkin

dda 25143

Symphony - On the Threshold of a Bright World (1990 rev. 2002) in 18 continuous episodes is the second part of Artyomov’s tetralogy Symphony of the Way and in the words of the composer ‘has also become a reflection of life in Russia and the dramatic events that continue to take place there.’

It grows out of the deep basses, gently coloured by percussion and higher strings before brass enter brightening the atmosphere. Yet still the deep basses pervade as the music develops through some impressively constructed passages, full of tremendous strength and heft. There are luminous orchestral colours, glowing textures, rising to peaks with cymbal and timpani crashes. Sudden string surges appear before the music finds a subtly faster flow with a lighter orchestral texture out of which woodwind decorations are heard. Later the pace slackens as the woodwind dance amongst the strings. Artyomov creates some distinctive colours with imaginative use of percussion to add to a bubbling texture, developing through some spectacularly fine passages, teeming with ideas, building again in strength to a terrific climax where there are hints of Scriabin. Midway there is another luminescent passage pointed up by piano with a myriad of instrumental ideas heard emerging from the tapestry of sound created by this composer.

Again the music rises in power before falling through a wonderful passage of great delicacy. The darker, deep orchestral sounds re-appear against an anxious plodding motif, rising inexorably, coloured by percussion through a tremendous sustained peak in the twelfth episode before falling quieter with piano over a hushed string layer. However, the passion and power cannot easily be contained and rises again before brass bring a rather sad theme. All breaks out again in a heavy unison orchestral passage. There is a quieter yet pensive moment full of lovely luminosity in the percussion and strings as well as further eruptions and lovely string passages. The music moves through the most exquisite passage for flute, solo violin and strings before lower strings emerge, rising through the orchestra to a more optimistic, strong conclusion to this impressive journey.

Taken from a solo percussion piece, Ave Atque Vale (1997) for percussion and orchestra in 9 continuous episodes, the composer here is concerned with the gradual coming together of disparate elements. Percussionist, Rostislav Shataevsky opens quietly with high strings in a tentative idea. There is a sudden drum stroke before string passages are punctuated by sudden percussion sounds. Soon the percussion develop more aggressively but ease for a passage of delicate beauty. There are swirling string ideas, this music finding an ebb and flow around the percussion colours and textures. The music rises up through a glowing section before finding a rhythmic beat to stride forward. Shrill eruptions appear before quietening through some magical moments. Toward the end there are twitterings and woodwind arabesques that weave a strange passage before a strange, eerie conclusion.

Ave, Crux Alba (1994 rev. 2012) - Hymn of the Order of St. John arose out of a meeting at the Vatican between Artyomov and Pope John Paul II. The pontiff drew the composer’s attention to the Order of St. John Hymn which Artyomov later set to music himself. The Hymn brings a lovely theme for wind to which strings join to expand romantically as the Helikon Theatre Choir enter, rising to a terrific conclusion, very Russian in feel.

This first disc is vividly recorded at the Mosfilm Studios, Moscow, Russia and there are excellent booklet notes from Robert Matthew Walker, author of The Music of Vyacheslav Artyomov.

dda 25144

The second disc opens with Symphony - Gentle Emanation (1991 rev. 2008) in 28 continuous episodes, the third part of Artyomov’s tetralogy, Symphony of the Way. The twenty eight continuous episodes are divided into three movements or sections each of which present the facets of one soul in its aspiration to overcome challenges or obstacles. Here the Russian National Orchestra is conducted by Teodor Currentzis.

Section I - episodes (1) – (9) A sudden drum stroke opens this work after which all we hear is a hushed string line. There is a pause before another drum stroke but now the string motif expands and increases in volume. There are further drum strokes as the strings gain in strength and animation, developing the theme. There are more of Artyomov’s masterly translucent textures out of which individual instrumental motifs appear, always with a sense of forward motion. Soon the brass add rather Scriabinesque touches as the music moves ahead in surges, finding a greater intensity before reaching some broad, expansive climaxes. Occasionally there are some almost humorous little touches; even an eastern style melody appears. The drum beats re-appear during a hushed section creating a wonderful atmosphere. Artyomov shapes and develops some wonderful ideas in this constantly changing tapestry. When the brass rise again in another climax they bring a terrific effect before falling in an exquisitely gentle, hushed section with solo violin and piccolo and piano lead into Section II.

Section II (10) – (17) brings a fast and furious, shimmering string section, underpinned by the lower orchestra. There are some terrific effects as percussion gently bring an idea over quietly rushing strings. There is a further outburst before a hushed section where strange twitterings are heard, evoking an otherworldly landscape of birds and creatures. The music builds through some terrific passages to a section where strings swirl over a dramatic orchestra before the orchestra falls as strings bring a nervous twittering, shimmering motif full of tension.

Section III (18) – (28) Episode eighteen arrives on a hushed rising motif for celeste to which tubular bells and a vibraphone join, a quite magical moment as we are held in a kind of stasis out of which staccato brass gently appear. The music becomes more angular, more instruments adding little staccato bursts. Later a drooping string motif appears amongst the staccato phrases, a piano adds staccato phrases before the orchestra rises to a cacophonous climax, surely the climax of the whole work. The orchestra dies away to a hush as a solo violin leads forward quickly over a hushed string layer. Muted brass quietly join as the music flows gently and mysteriously forward before chimes re-appear and there is a sudden brass uprising. But it is not sufficient to disrupt the gentle coda as the music fades to nothing.

Tristia II (1998 rev. 2011) – Fantasy for piano and orchestra in 11 continuous episodes was written to mark the 60th birthday of Vladimir Ashkenazy and includes a spoken poem in prose and a prayer by Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852). The Russian National Orchestra is conducted by Vladimir Ponkin with Philip Kopachevsky (piano) and Mikhail Phillipov (reader).

The music emerges out of the silence on strings, a long held note which slowly expands in this quite lovely opening into which the softly spoken voice of Mikhail Phillipov joins with the poem by Gogol appealing to his angel-guardian. The orchestral strings blend quite wonderfully around the speaker’s increasingly passionate delivery. The ebb and flow of the speaker’s delivery seems to find its own musical form. Strings take us with a gentle piano motif from Philip Kopachevsky into the second episode where the orchestra develops the theme around the piano. Luminescent textures appear, the music often shimmering and glowing as it rises and falls, finding moments that are so typical of this composer.  Later there is a glorious orchestral surge around which the piano soloist adds his line, moving through passages of exquisite textures. There are lovely swirling passages before a vibrant outburst from the orchestra, highlighted by brass. A quite lovely passage follows, hushed and atmospheric with the piano adding delicacy and texture before the speaker enters gently with a prayer to God for help in creating further works, but ends on a rising brass motif over hushed strings in a quite wonderful moment.

There is a first class recording from the Mosfilm Studios and more excellent booklet notes from Robert Matthew Walker. 

Vyacheslav Artyomov is a distinctive and important voice in Russian music. These impressive symphonies are like momentous journeys, full of incident and emotion and the most wonderful ideas. The performances are all that you could wish for making these two discs valuable releases.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Top notch performances from Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra highlight some very fine contemporary South American composers on a new release from Harmonia Mundi

Whilst figures from the 20th century such as Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) and Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983) are well known, less is heard of other South American composers, particularly contemporary ones, something which Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra seek to address on their new release from Harmonia Mundi

HMU 907670

South American Discoveries brings together orchestral works from composers from Peru, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador and Bolivia.

A Brazilian citizen, Jorge Villavicencio Grossman (b.1973) was born in Lima, Peru and is now a resident of the United States. Initially trained as a violinist, his work consists of solo, chamber, orchestral, vocal, choral and electroacoustic music. Wayra (2011) brings a great urgency with a forward driving, scurrying opening, full of sudden rising motifs from the woodwind and pounding rhythms. Woodwind and strings scurry around through the textures before a gentler central section full of finely orchestrated detail. This is a highly approachable, impressive piece.

Colombian composer Víctor Agudelo (b.1979) studied at the Escuela de Música Colombo-Venezolana and then at the Colegio de Música de Medellín. He has written symphonic, choral and band works as well as instrumental works. El Sombrerón (2009) rises in the basses with a rhythm provided by the wood block before expanding through the orchestra with tubular bell chimes, building in power. Soon the music slides back to a hesitant section over which strings bring a slow melody. Bells chime again and timpani pound as the music heaves itself up through passages of restrained power. The hesitant theme is heard again on low pizzicato strings before a more transparent and luminous section appears with a myriad of instrumental detail. The music quickly heads forward with a rhythmic pulse before a particularly lovely passage for hushed strings interspersed by brass phrases. The wood block eventually brings a regular beat with a tune from a whistle and a bell chime as the music falls to a silence at the end.

Chilean composer, Sebastián Vergara (b.1978) studied at the Instituto Profesional Escuela Moderna de Música and the Facultad de Artes at Universidad de Chile. His compositions include music for film, video art and documentaries as well as concert music for symphony orchestra, string orchestra, chamber ensembles and works for mixed media. As a performer he has recorded several metal rock albums. His Mecánica for 20 strings (2005) leaps in with a Latin rhythm underscored by a pounding rhythmic layer before reducing to a rather static section where the theme is slowly developed, again finding a rhythmic repeated idea. Whilst in the minimalist mould this work constantly finds subtle changes. Higher strings appear over the repeated rhythmic motif before a quieter section appears with delicate pizzicato phrases echoing the rhythmic motif around which lower strings weave. Broader string phrases appear as the rhythmic pattern increases in strength before losing power to end on a sudden pizzicato chord.

A short video of the rehearsal of this work by Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra can be seen on the composer’s website

Born in Loja, Ecuador, Diego Luzuriaga (b.1955) studied at the Quito National Conservatory and Ecuador Central University, then at the Paris Ecole Normale and later at Manhattan School of Music and Columbia University in New York. In Ecuador, he was involved in the studying, performing, and recording of native Andean folk music and Latin American music. In the earlier stages of his career he was known for his concert pieces influenced by European spectral music. More recently he has turned for his inspiration to the rhythmic and modal musical traditions of the Andes, often combining the two approaches. A regular pounding drum opens Responsorio (2000) soon overlaid by a double bass theme. A cymbal is heard as the theme is shared around the orchestra, very much with a South American flavour. The music increases in strength before a piccolo brings a jaunty theme that is woven with other instruments, still with the rhythmic drum line. There is an inexorable slow, forward drive with sudden fleeting pizzicato phrases appearing as it moves through some attractive variations. The piccolo appears again to weave with other woodwind before the music picks up in strength to pound forward to end on a last drum stroke.

Diego Vega (b.1968) studied at the Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá, Colombia with Guillermo Gaviria and Radostina Petkova, the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music with Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon and Joel Hoffman and at Cornell University with Steven Stucky and Roberto Sierra. A sudden orchestral chord with tubular bell stroke opens Música Muisca (2009) immediately followed by a gentle atmospheric theme for whole orchestra. The music develops quietly with further tubular bell chimes before a rhythmic passage with xylophone leads forward. Cellos take the theme over a rhythmic pizzicato motif that leads to a slow, melancholy section for flute around which the orchestra weaves before rising to lead to the coda with stabbing phrases and a final drum stroke.

Sebastián Errázuriz (b.1975) was born in Santiago, Chile and began his musical career as a teenager, in the Projazz Academy, studying guitar and harmony as well as participating in choirs. His professional education in composition started in the Instituto Profesional Escuela Moderna de Música. Later he went on to earn a Master of Arts Degree from Universidad de Chile. La Caravana (2003) opens with a steady rhythm in the basses which is varied as the brass join. A longer breathed theme is soon heard as the music develops. Raucous brass slides are responded to by sliding strings as the music gains in strength over which the longer melody flows. Later the music quietens to a hush as a rhythmic string pulse is heard, soon leading to an atmospheric string passage out of which individual instruments arise, bringing a rather entrancing idea. A trumpet plays a plaintive theme over pizzicato strings before the music speeds in a fast moving, rhythmic passage to a decisive coda.

Although born in Bolivia Agustín  Fernández (b.1958) now lives in the UK. He studied composition with Alberto Villalpando in La Paz, with Takeshi Iida and Akira Ifukube in Japan and Douglas Young in England. In three movements, Una música escondida (2004) Preludio con vaticinios opens with a mysterious string theme through which a piano adds gentle phrases, soon finding a faster jaunty tempo with attractive dissonances in the piano part. Pizzicato strings join before the gentler idea returns. There are moments of faster impetus later with a sudden little peak preceding the quiet coda. A rising theme for piano and orchestra opens Nana con despedida, running through a gentle string passage around which the piano picks out the theme, quite beautifully conceived. The music slowly develops an emotional edge in the string melody, growing in passion only to fall to a quieter passage for strings before a gentle coda. In the Final con campanas the piano leads the orchestra before strings and piano take the theme. This leads to a faster idea as the piano and higher strings play over a fast moving, rhythmic, hushed pizzicato background through some terrific passages as the music reaches a peak. All fall back to a hush as a cello enters, the music continuing with piano to find a sudden quiet coda.

Antonio Gervasoni (b.1973) studied piano with pianists Elke Brunke and Teresa Quesada from his homeland of Peru. He later took master classes with Russian composer Vladislav Uspensky (1937–2004), a former student of Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975), who encouraged him to dedicate himself to music composition. After finishing a career in computing sciences, he was admitted at the National Conservatory of Music of Peru where he studied with Peruvian composer José Sosaya. In 2007, he received the Fellowship Diploma in Composition from the London College of Music. Icarus (2003) opens quietly and slowly with a variety of instruments flowing through the orchestra. Soon a rhythmic idea gently appears but is cut off by a more flowing theme. A solo violin brings a little theme which is woven by the woodwind before a scurrying motif is heard in the lower orchestra. This flourishes into little peaks but falls back as a long held note is heard, leading to a burst of scurrying orchestral ideas, a myriad of sounds including a xylophone that allow the music to move quickly ahead, gaining a rhythm as the music dances forward to a riotous coda.

With top notch performances from Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra and an excellent recording from the NRK Store Studio, Oslo, Norway this is a highly recommended way to discover some very fine contemporary South American composers. There are useful booklet notes.

See also:

Friday, 9 December 2016

Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow provide spectacularly fine performances on their new disc of two piano transcriptions of Vaughan Williams’ Fifth Symphony and Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis for Albion Records

Albion Records  the recording label of the Ralph Vaughan Williams Society have already released a recording of the arrangement for two pianos by Michael Mullinar of Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No.6.

Now from Albion comes Mullinar’s two piano arrangement of Vaughan Williams’ Fifth Symphony coupled with The Running Set and Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis all performed by leading British piano duo Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow


The gestation period for Ralph Vaughan Williams’ (1872-1958) stage work The Pilgrim’s Progress (1951) lasted many years, from his music for a Bunyan dramatization at Reigate Priory in 1906 through his pastoral episode The Shepherds of the Delectable Mountains (1922) to what eventually became his opera or, as he preferred to call it, a morality. When he came to write his Symphony No.5 in D major, in 1943, he again drew on themes that would be used in The Pilgrim’s Progress though in a thoroughly symphonic way.

Vaughan Williams often asked his former pupil, Michael Mullinar (1895-1973), to give an initial play through of his symphonies so it was natural that the composer should choose him to arrange his Fifth Symphony for two pianos. Here it is played in Vaughan Williams’ revision edited by Anthony Goldstone.

Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow create so much of the magic of the original in the opening of the Preludio: Moderato of the Fifth Symphony subtly building the musical lines and harmonies, pointing up many striking aspects of this music that are easily overlooked in orchestral guise. There is a strength here that reveals more than ever Vaughan Williams’ true nature, an underlying grit and power. The music rises to a forceful peak with these two formidable musicians bringing a tremendous authority. When the music falls away, the haunting quality is palpable.

The Scherzo: Presto misterioso bubbles up through some terrific bars in the opening as the music develops a terrific rhythmic pulse. There are some lovely little dissonances heard more clearly in this arrangement. These pianists bring the most amazing ensemble, finding a terrific fluency through Vaughan Williams’ sparkling phrases. Phrasing, tempo and rhythmic changes are superbly done.  

The heart of this magnificent symphony is the Romanza: Lento where the self-professed agnostic composer inscribed on the manuscript score ‘Upon this place stood a cross, and a little below a sepulchre. He hath given me rest by his sorrow and life by his death.’ Goldstone and Clemmow keep a fine tempo; the glorious theme is allowed to develop wonderfully. They provide some spine tingling moments of emotional depth before rising centrally with some playing of remarkable brilliance and power, only to pull back in a moment of great intensity. When they resume the steady tread, the effect is overwhelming as we are led to a plaintive, gentle coda.

Goldstone and Clemmow strike just the right tempo in the Passacaglia: Moderato moving purposefully forward, developing some lovely musical lines. They soon find the developing rhythm, picking up the tempo in passages of great brilliance and strength before finding a peak. When they share the theme they reveal even more than before their intuitive partnership.  One can hear so much more clearly the development passages, always with a sense of moving forward toward a goal. Later there is another peak where these two fine pianists achieve a bell like clarity before finding a tranquillity and peace in the coda.

Surely the Fifth Symphony is as much a spiritual journey as Pilgrims Progress. Certainly this fine duo takes us on a wonderful journey.

The Running Set is an arrangement of traditional dance tunes for orchestra written in 1933 and first performed in London in 1934. The arrangement for two pianos was made by Vally Lasker and Helen Bidder in 1936. These two pianists were associates of Gustav Holst and were involved in an early play through of Vaughan Williams’ Piano Concerto and played through the Fourth Symphony at St. Paul’s Girls School, Hammersmith, London where Holst was Director of Music.

There is an arresting opening with this duo bringing some amazing ensemble, as though four hands but one mind. Their playing is full of rhythmic joy as it moves through passages of the most impressive power and fluency. There are some fast and furious passages of terrific virtuosity, a quite incredible pianistic display finding a spontaneity and abandon as the music heads towards the coda.  

The young Herbert Howells and Ivor Gurney famously walked the streets of Gloucester completely overwhelmed by the first performance of Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis in 1910. When editing the English Hymnal, a commission he had received in 1904, the composer had come across Thomas Tallis’ (c.1505-1585) magnificent theme. The arrangement for two pianos was undertaken by Maurice Jacobson, a pupil of Holst who also arranged Vaughan Williams’ Mass in G minor as a Communion Service for Anglican use as well as arranging the composer’s ballet score Old King Cole for piano.

The opening chords set a wonderful scene before Tallis’ theme is presented in staccato phrases.  Goldstone and Clemmow move ahead with striking effect soon providing an extra strength as the music rises. They pace it beautifully, allowing an organic growth, often bringing a timeless sense of grandeur. The church acoustic allows the music to expand magnificently, revealing some lovely details, particularly in the slower, quieter sections. When the music soars to the heights as it reaches its peak it is truly magnificent before this duo weave some quite lovely moments in the later stages.

If any work on this disc was likely to fall flat it would surely have been the Tallis Fantasia. In the event Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow deliver a spectacularly fine performance that soars, shimmers and glows.

This whole disc is a remarkable achievement, superbly recorded at the church of St. John the Baptist, Alkborough, North Lincolnshire, England. There are excellent booklet notes from John Francis and Anthony Goldstone.

See also:

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Very fine Schubert indeed from the trio of Andreas Staier, Daniel Sepec and Roel Dieltiens on a new release from Harmonia Mundi

A new release from Harmonia Mundi  brings together fortepianist Andreas Staier , violinist Daniel Sepec  and cellist Roel Dieltiens playing Schubert’s two Piano Trios, Op 99, D898 and Op.100, D929.

HMC 902233.34

On this new recording Andreas Staier plays a fortepiano by Christopher Clarke (1996) after Conrad Graf, Vienna 1827. Daniel Sepec’s violin is a Lorenzo Storioni, Cremona 1780 and Roel Dieltiens plays a violoncello by Marten Cornelissen (1992) after Stradivarius.

There is such a well-balanced sonority from this trio in the Allegro moderato of Schubert’s Trio for piano, violin and cello, Op.99 D898 with a lovely, subtle spring in their step. Andreas Staier brings a lovely fluent piano line around the strings, these players building moments of terrific joie de vivre whilst not missing moments of quieter reflection. A beautifully shaped, gentle Andante un poco mosso follows with these two string players bringing an exquisite texture around the poise of the piano line, wonderfully nuanced.  

There is a wonderfully light and rhythmically sprung Scherzo – Allegro with these players shaping the music brilliantly with a finely drawn trio section, finding many subtleties in dynamics and tempo. The Rondo - Allegro vivace brings fine flexible, varying tempo and dynamics with some lovely string sonorities as the music develops.  Andreas Staier provides such a beautiful touch, at turns poetic and at other times dynamic and incisive before some quite beautifully controlled bars towards the coda.

Staier, Sepec and Dieltiens conclude the first disc with a really rather fine performance of Schubert’s Nocturne Op. 148 D897. The strings draw the most gorgeous textures and sonorities over a limpid piano accompaniment with wonderfully done, subtle pizzicato phrases. All three players show wonderful control, rising through the more dynamic passages where the Staier produces a terrific tone over which the strings bring vibrant textures.

A really lovely performance.  

The second disc is given over to Schubert’s Trio for piano, violin and cello, Op.100 D929 where those fine string textures combine with a lovely fortepiano tone to open the Allegro. There are passages of fine rubato with moments of lovely tranquillity. Staier brings some beautifully fluent, pointed, articulate phrases over string passages of great finesse, this trio shaping passages of great character.  Later there are more beautifully fluid fortepiano passages over sensitively done string phrases, moments of exquisite fleeting poetry before an intensely fast and fluent passage leads to the coda.

The Andante con moto brings some lovely, so very Schubertian staccato fortepiano phrases over which the cello adds a mournful line, finding a lovely tone. They provide a real sense of anticipation when the fortepiano takes the theme over string phrases, yet soon slackening the tension to find a lovely gentle flow.  When the opening idea returns they bring a subtly freer nature. Tension and stress are never far away, soon rising with great passion until reaching a brooding passage that seems unable to decide which way to go, jollity or darkness, only to reach an ambiguous, hushed coda.

These players provide a lovely lightness of touch in the buoyant Scherzando. Allegro moderato, moving through moments of brilliantly textured playing.  Staier delivers some particularly vibrant playing in the peasant style dance theme, using the extra features on his 5 pedalled fortepiano to great effect, with bells and drum effects adding to the more dynamic passages.

There is a finely poised Allegro moderato with a light, good natured melody that is woven quite beautifully by this trio through passages where they bring some fine detail and delicacy, finding Schubert’s wit and verve. They build the movement especially well, finding a subtly darker edge as the cello plays a rather mournful variation over the fortepiano, achieving a constantly varying emotional balance. Staier bring some particularly lovely, rhythmic phrasing with a fine sway against well sprung string playing, through a fast, fluent passage before a wonderfully buoyant coda.

These performances rise above any issues of preference between modern and period instruments. This is very fine Schubert indeed from a real partnership of instrumentalists. They receive a very fine recording from the Teldex Studio, Berlin, Germany and there are excellent booklet notes

See also:

Friday, 2 December 2016

A wonderful opportunity to hear what the very first Festival Service of Nine Lessons and Carols might have sounded like from the Choir of Truro Cathedral under their Director, Christopher Gray on a highly recommended release from Regent

A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is the Christmas Eve service held in King's College Chapel, Cambridge. The Festival was introduced in 1918 to bring a more imaginative approach to worship. It was first broadcast in 1928 and is now broadcast to millions of people around the world.

However, the origins of the Festival Service date back to 1880. The Diocese of Truro and the Isles of Scilly was formed on 15 December 1876 from the Archdeaconry of Cornwall in the Diocese of Exeter. The first bishop of this new diocese was Edward White Benson (1829-1896), later to become Archbishop of Canterbury.

In 1878 the Royal Cornwall Gazette reported that the choir of Truro Cathedral would sing a service of carols at 10.00 pm on Christmas Eve. Two years later, Bishop Benson devised a service with Nine Lessons for use on Christmas Eve 1880. This first service took place at 10.00 pm on Christmas Eve in a temporary wooden structure serving as the cathedral whilst a new cathedral was being built. Over 400 people attended this first service.

A new release from Regent Records brings together on CD and DVD a reconstruction of that first Festival Service of Nine Lessons and Carols, a documentary on its history and a recording of the 2014 service in Truro Cathedral.

Audio CD (59.23)
and DVD 5.0 and stereo (112'13)

The DVD starts with a recording of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from Truro Cathedral on 23rd December 2014. This recording is impressive both sonically and visually. A very fine treble solo opens Once in Royal David’s City, an effect borrowed from King’s College’s own idea in later years. There is some impressive singing from the Choir of Truro Cathedral  under their Director of Music, Christopher Gray . The chosen readers reflect a more modern inclusiveness ranging from representatives of community organisations to clergy.

There is some impressive treble descant singing that rises over the choir and congregation as well as some very fine individual voices. There are many of the popular carols one would expect as well as the premiere of a new carol by Russell Pascoe, The Salutation Carol, which receives a particularly fine performance in every way.

The final carol, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, is as thrilling as any you will hear and the Festival concludes with a thrilling, incredibly fluent Toccata on Vom Himmel hoch by Garth Emundson played by Truro’s Assistant Director of Music, Luke Bond

A documentary about the history of the Service in Truro follows. Presented by conductor Jeremy Summerly, it is a wonderful and fascinating history of the Festival Service of Nine Lessons and Carols as well as Truro Cathedral – and much more.

A great deal of research has gone into both the documentary and the reconstruction of the First Festival Service. We are taken through the story of the 19th century carol revival, Bishop Benson’s new carol service and the reconstruction of the first Festival with all the research into the music as well as mentioning the Father Willis organ that came later in 1887 when the organist was George Robertson Sinclair who later found fame as ‘G.R.S’ in Elgar’s Enigma Variations.

The documentary follows the travel of the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols via Canterbury, when Benson became Archbishop and then to Kings College in 1918 where its poignancy was felt after the appalling tragedy of the First World War. We are given a glimpse of all the care and thought that goes into the modern Festival Service in Truro that takes place each year on two nights, the 23rd and 24th of December.

Finally there is Truro Perspectives where three former Directors of Music, David Briggs, Andrew Nethsingha, and Robert Sharpe talk about their time at Truro Cathedral and the development of the choir in more recent years.

The CD brings us the reconstruction of the very first Festival Service of Nine Lessons and Carols in 1880 where we are transported back 136 years. The Service opens with a spoken Our Father and responses; the First Lesson read by Senior Chorister, James Lansdowne. Each reading is preceded by a brief Benediction and the readers are chosen, as did Bishop Benson, in hierarchical order from the most junior to most senior, originally the Bishop but here the Dean.

In the first carol, The Lord at first had Adam made, shows this choir’s fine blend of voices and there are nice touches where the reading reflects the following carol.

There are three pieces from Handel’s Messiah as well as favourite carols that are heard today before a terrific Hallelujah from Messiah leads to the Magnificat given in Anglican chant. After the blessing there is a fine voluntary, the first movement form Mendelssohn’s Sonata No.3 in A major from organist Luke Bond. 

Beautifully produced with a facsimile of the 1880 Nine Lessons and Carols order of service, this is a wonderful opportunity to hear what the very first Festival Service might have sounded like.  Truro should be proud of their history, tradition, choir and cathedral. Highly recommended.