Sunday, 29 January 2017

I Fagiolini, Fretwork and organist, James Johnstone show themselves to be totally immersed in the distinctive music of Martin Peerson on a premiere recording from Regent

The virginalist, organist and composer, Martin Peerson (c.1572-1651) was born in London, England and is thought to have been sacrist at Westminster Abbey. He also became almoner and master of the choristers at St. Paul’s Cathedral. His two books of secular vocal music (1620 and 1630) include settings for up to six voices with instruments and combine elements of ayre, madrigal, consort song and verse anthem.

It is the second book from 1630, entitled A Treatie of Humane Love, Mottects or Grave Chamber Music, that receives its premiere recording from I Fagiolini  and Fretwork  together with organist James Johnstone on a new release from Regent Records


Newly edited by Richard Rastall, this collection of song settings of poetry by Sir Fulke Greville, focuses predominantly on the subject of love. I Fagiolini and Fretwork bring a lovely, intimate sonority to Love, the delight, weaving a fine tapestry of sounds with individual voices shining through. 

The choir rise to some lovely peaks in Beautie her cover is, finding much poetry with exquisite shaping. After a beautifully woven Time faine would stay, I Fagiolini build a fine layer of vocal textures in More than most faire subtly supported by the chamber organ of James Johnstone. They find some lovely varying tempi that add so much to the dramatic effect of this motet.

This choir bring some quite lovely textures to Thou window of the skie underlined by particularly fine, rich lower voices achieving some fine harmonies. Fretwork brings a lovely spring to the opening of You little starres to which I Fagiolini add a buoyant, humorous touch, individual voices bringing much delight.  

The mournful And thou, O Love brings a real contrast with the lovely individual voices of I Fagiolini finding a real beauty as well as some particularly fine vocal expression, rising in strength before the end. The choir and instrumentalists bring some wonderful textures and sonorities to O Love, thou mortall speare, again with a wonderfully fluid tempo.

If I by nature brings a lovely expressive blend with some lovely harmonies, beautifully done by these artists. Cupid, my prettie boy is another motet with a buoyant, light-hearted touch, again with fine harmonies, having something of the feel of music for a masque with great characterisation from individual voices.

Love is the peace has a lovely flow with fine instrumental accompaniment to the overlaying of vocal lines from I Fagiolini who bring moments of superb vocal control. The choir bring much fine emphasis to the mournful Selfe pitties teares with rich harmonies and fine expression.

Fretwork and organist James Johnstone introduce Was ever man so matcht with boy? to which individual voices slowly join to bring another light-hearted, finely blended piece with beautifully overlaid vocal lines. Fretwork open O false and treacherous probabilitie with fine sonorities to which the voices of I Fagiolini join to add a lovely weaving of finely characterised lines together with more exquisite vocal control.

Tenor Hugo Hymas together with organist James Johnstone and Fretwork open Man, dreame no more bringing some quite wonderful sonorities before the rest of I Fagiolini in this lovely slow, beautifully wrought, motet. Baritone, Greg Skidmore brings a fine rich flexible voice to the opening of The flood that did/When thou hast swept later joined by the rest of the choir. Later the rich, fine bass voice of Jimmy Holliday is heard, finely accompanied.

The gentle Who trusts for trust (gap) is nicely developed with sensitive accompaniment from the organist. This choir show more fine vocal control and expression. There is a beautiful transition into Who thinks that sorrows felt where the choir bring some lovely phrasing and vocal overlay.

There are more beautiful sonorities as Man, dreame no more slowly unfolds, wonderfully shaped. A terrific performance.  The rich bass voice of Jimmy Holliday opens Farewell, sweet boye. This is a lighter piece to which the rest of the choir add terrific character, buoyantly supported by Fretwork and James Johnstone.

The organ opens a very fine Under a throne quickly joined by the choir and Fretwork, the choir showing tremendous vocal agility. In Where shall a sorrow Fretwork weave a lovely opening to which Greg Skidmore brings a mournful, beautifully shaped line before all join in some fine harmonies.  

Greg Skidmore and Fretwork continue with a lovely melancholy Dead, noble Brooke, I Fagiolini bringing a beautifully shaped conclusion. The choir blend a fine Where shall a sorrow bringing a lovely texture and rising through some terrific passages before leading into a lovely six part Dead, noble Brooke, I Fagiolini’s voices finely woven and blended with a superb subtle accompaniment from Fretwork and the organ of James Johnstone  with some glorious harmonies. 

I Fagiolini, Fretwork and organist, James Johnstone show themselves to be totally immersed in this distinctive composer’s music making it a terrific addition to the catalogue. They receive a beautifully balanced recording from The National Centre for Early Music, York, England and there are excellent notes from Professor Richard Rastall of Leeds University and Gavin Alexander of the University of Cambridge. 

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Daniel Grimwood brings an assurance and authority to piano works by Adolph von Henselt on a new release from Edition Peters

Adolph von Henselt (1814-1889) was born at Schwabach in Bavaria. After commencing violin and piano studies at an early age he went on to study under Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837) in Weimar.  He later travelled to Vienna, where he undertook composition lessons with Bruckner’s teacher, Simon Sechter (1788-1867), whilst becoming successful as a concert pianist.

In 1837, he settled at Breslau, where he married but the following year migrated to St. Petersburg where became court pianist and inspector of musical studies in the Imperial Institute of Female Education. He made a number of visits to England but St. Petersburg was his home until his death during a visit to Warmbrunn, Germany (now in Poland).

Most of Henselt’s compositions are for piano and date from the earlier years of his life. His influence on the next generation of Russian pianists was immense, his playing and teaching greatly influencing the Russian school of music. Sergei Rachmaninoff held him in very great esteem and considered him one of his most important influences.

Daniel Grimwood’s new recording for Edition Peters  provides a good cross section of Henselt’s piano music from his Op. 1 Variations de concert sur le motif de l’opéra ‘L’elisire d’amore’ (1830) to his Ballade, Op. 31 in B flat major (1854).

EPS 005

Daniel Grimwood brings a lovely poise to the opening of the Variations de concert sur le motif de l’opéra ‘L’elisire d’amore’ in E major, Op. 1 (1830) contrasted with sudden rapid and fluent responses before moving through passages of tremendous assurance with Schumannesque phrasing. This pianist brings a terrific fluency, quite beautiful phrasing and a real sense of spontaneity as well as a really lovely tone. This is an impressive and substantial set of variations, particularly as this was Op.1.  

Of Deux petites Valses, Op. 28 (1854) there is a rather sultry No. 1 in F major  with Grimwood finding a lovely ebb and flow, beautifully shaping the music. No. 2 in C major again finds this pianist with a lovely, subtle rubato, later pushing this fine waltz forward a little more.

Grimwood finds the subtle rhythmic quality to Mon chant du cygne (‘Mein Schwanengesang’) WoO in A flat major (published in 1885) with wonderful phrasing and an equally subtle rubato with occasional hints of Chopin peering through.

Fantaisie sur un air bohémien-russe, WoO (Op. 16) in A flat major (1843) brings another waltz rhythm with some harmonies. The music builds in strength through some tremendous passages offset by moments of great poetry. This pianist brings a lovely lilt to the quieter moments, still maintaining a lovely flow as this develops into a rather magical piece, especially in this pianist’s hands. The music rises through another dynamic passage before the coda.

There is a fast flow to No. 1 ‘Schmerz im Glück’ in E flat minor  of Deux Nocturnes, Op. 6 (1839) Grimwood finding a darkness to this music only rarely relieved by light.
No. 2 ‘La Fontaine’ in F major recalls more of Schumann than Chopin or Field with this pianist finding a lovely tempo, a constant underlying flow over which the melody runs.

Grinwood’s fabulous phrasing and rubato really lift the Valse mélancolique, Op. 36 in D minor (1857) with a lovely trio section and occasional hints of Chopin this is a lovely work.

The substantial Ballade, Op. 31 in B flat major (original version 1854, second version 1854, third revision 1879) has thoughtful opening arpeggios before the melody emerges to flow forward. Grimwood brings a beautifully rich piano tone, a real strength with his wonderful phrasing adding to the expansiveness of many passages. The music rises through some terrific passages, stormy in character, moving quickly ahead with lovely fluency. This pianist finds so many details, sudden changes and ideas as the music momentarily regains its turbulent quality only to lighten in mood. When the music rises again through some tremendous, fast and furious passages Grimwood provides great virtuosity with sudden outbursts before quietening to lead to a settled coda.

This is a fabulous work, brilliantly played.

The Four Impromptus are not a set, as they range across Henselt’s lifetime. The brief Impromptu No. 1, Op. 7 in C minor (1838) finds a lovely forward pushing flow, Grimwood finding just the right pace and touch. Impromptu No. 2, Op. 17 in F minor (1843) has a lovely rippling, forward movement with this pianist bringing a wonderful fluency and rubato.  No’s 3 and 4 are longer with Impromptu No. 3, Op. 34 ‘Illusion perdue’ in B flat minor (1854–1855) bringing a slower opening that precedes a steadier forward flow through some quite lovely ideas, often rather melancholy in feel, before a beautifully turned coda. Impromptu No. 4, Op. 37 in B minor (1859) has a lighter feel, moving quickly forward with a fast rhythmic idea, gaining even more in tempo through some very fine moments where Grimwood finds a real zest and energy.  

Vöglein-Etüde (‘Si oiseau j’etais’) Op. 2, No. 6 in F sharp major (1837–1838) brings a fast moving, delicate theme with subtly varying rhythms, this pianist showing again his terrific agility and phrasing and a fine lightness of touch before a quieter coda.

Chopin subtly appears again in the Berceuse ‘Wiegenlied’, WoO (Op. 45) in G flat major (1840) but, as is usually the case with Henselt, he has his own voice, adding many exquisite touches.

Broad, expansive chords open the Grande Valse ‘L’aurore boréale’ (‘Das Nordlicht’) in C sharp minor, Op. 30 (1854) before the waltz theme appears, given a lovely rhythmic lift here by Grimwood, beautifully shaped with a lovely rhythmic buoyancy through the many twists and turns of this fine piece before a spectacularly fine coda.

Daniel Grimwood brings such an assurance, such an authority that one is convinced by these works that should prove a real discovery to many.  He is fabulously recorded at the Markgrafensaal, Schwabach, Germany and there are excellent booklet notes from Daniel Grimwood.

See also: 

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Performances of tremendous insight and depth from Peter Donohoe on a new release of Scriabin’s complete sonatas from Somm

Following on from Peter Donohoe’s  masterly performances of Prokofiev’s sonatas Somm Recordings now brings an equally impressive release of Scriabin’s complete sonatas.

SOMMCD 262-2

Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) studied with Nikolai Zverev (1832-1893) and at the Moscow Conservatory where his teachers were Sergei Taneyev (1856-1915), Anton Arensky (1861-1906) and Vasily Safonov (1852-1918). Initially influenced by Chopin, he moved on to develop a very personal style of composition highly influenced by his personal beliefs in mysticism and theosophy.

Listening to these two new discs one can follow Scriabin’s development from the early sonatas through to the freedom and ecstasy of his later works with Donohoe drawing together the points of contact between the volatility of his later sonatas even in Piano Sonata No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 6 (1892). He particularly points up a remarkably turbulent quality in the opening Allegro con fuoco finding lovely little rhythmic complexities and so many subtleties in the quieter moments, hints of the composer’s F sharp minor Piano Concerto (1896) showing through.

In the second movement,  = 40, Donohoe reveals a hauntingly beautiful, somewhat desolate Lento, wonderfully laid out with superb poetic sensitivity, bringing a great depth as the movement progresses, subtly adding a sense of anguish.  The Presto brings a fast moving volatility, this pianist providing tremendous strength. There is a slackening of intensity midway before moving through some wonderfully fleet and dramatic passages to a conclusion that brings a moment of impassioned violence before a more settled coda. The final Funèbre is stunningly intense moving through moments of hushed, emotionally chilled calm before building inexorably, full of the heavy burden of emotion, to a desperate coda.

The two movement Piano Sonata No. 2 in G Sharp Minor, Op. 19, ‘Sonata-Fantasy’ (1892-97) opens with an Andante that has a rather unstable, rhythmic quality before moving through some quite lovely delicate and hauntingly beautiful passages. Donohoe brings his exquisite phrasing full of little variations and decorations as well as a lovely delicacy with trickling passages. Yet there is an underlying strength never far away and a much aching melancholy. Donohoe shows his phenomenal virtuosity in the Presto with passages of tremendous fluency and agility with a degree of abandonment as he hurtles forward, always shaping this music wonderfully and finding some quite lovely little details.

Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No. 3 in F Sharp Minor, Op. 23 (1897-98) returns to the four movement format. What a wonderful opening there is to the Drammatico, Donohoe again finding an instability as the bold phrases are presented, always with a great subtlety of phrasing, dynamics and tempo as well as moments of exquisite poetry. Turbulence opens the Allegretto, this pianist finding a terrific volatility, always controlled yet with a forward drive, building this movement wonderfully.

In the lovely Andante, Donohoe allows the pace to slacken with some beautifully turned phrases, so poetic, full of intense feeling, catching every little detail before the dramatic Presto con fuoco where, nevertheless, he finds moments of tranquillity before surging ahead through some terrific passages to a wonderfully resolved coda.

We move into new territory as the two movement Piano Sonata No. 4 in F Sharp Major, Op. 30 (1903) opens with a gentle Andante. There is an emotional distance here with subtly shifting harmonies wonderfully brought out by this pianist, slowly adding right hand decorations before leaping into the rhythmically buoyant Prestissimo volando. Donohoe allows this movement to develop so naturally out of the material from the Andante with some quite wonderful moments where this pianist’s light and fleet touch is shown. The music rises in strength through some wonderfully sprung bars before the coda.
In its single span Piano Sonata No. 5, Op. 53 (1907) moves through a variety of moods with its markings of Allegro – Impetuoso – Con stravaganza – Languido – Presto con allegrezza. Donogoe brings a terrific contrast between the violent opening bars and the succeeding gentler, delicate flow, moving through more volatile passages where Donohoe brings a terrific power. He makes such sense of the alternating nature of the sonata between volatile and poetic, shaping and pacing wonderfully bringing such a beautifully light touch to fluid passages. He creates some moments of intense instability of mood before finding a very fine coda.

An instability of mood pervades the opening of Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No. 6, Op. 62 (1911) marked Modére. There are dark, gloomy phrases offset by little shafts of light in the right hand creating a mysterious, rather threatening atmosphere. Donohoe’s superb phrasing and control of dynamics and tempo reveals a haunting depth. He builds through some seriously violent moments finding an alarmingly frenetic pace that adds to the terrifying nature of this work, revealing it as a work of great emotional insecurity.  
Piano Sonata No. 7, Op. 64, ‘White Mass’ (1911), marked Allegro opens with surges of volatility, Donohoe finding so much of the atmosphere and depth as the work develops. There are moments of darkness and light woven around each other with little delicate passages appearing, so fluently played. Donohoe achieves a tremendous power and strength before falling back to find a calm, short lived moment leading to a fine coda that leaves us with uncertainty.

The opening Lento of Piano Sonata No. 8, Op. 66 (1912-13) is quite wonderfully paced allowing the harmonic instabilities to emerge clearly. There is a lovely ebb and flow as the music moves forward soon finding an excitable forward push as the Allegro agitato arrives. Donohoe’s development of the increasing volatility, his handling of the sudden dynamic chords is wonderful, moving through a gentler section that as quickly rises again before a gentler coda.
Piano Sonata No. 9, Op. 68, ‘Black Mass’ (1912-13) marked Moderato quasi andante has a haunting opening that is soon developed by Donohoe through some astonishing passages, punctuated by the gentlest of moments, beautifully played, this pianist always keeping a hint of a more intense strength just held in check. He eventually allows an increase in tempo to drive powerfully to a quite overwhelming pitch, only to drop to a hushed simple coda, a restatement of the opening.
As Piano Sonata No. 10, Op. 70 (1913) opens a quizzical little Moderato theme is gently developed with Donohoe providing an impressively light, limpid touch. Increasingly Scriabin’s trills appear, Donohoe integrating the faster trills and the gentler theme. Throughout the Allegro there are wonderful moments of gentle respite out of which the trills flourish. This pianist brings a sense of luminosity, a light that shines through superbly developing the music as it rises through spectacularly fine passages. Donohoe achieves terrific dynamic contrasts, terrific power, suddenly reduced to quieter moments before finding a fast, delicate, lightly tripping passage with staccato phrases leading to a hushed re-statement of the opening.  

Vers La Flamme, Op. 72 (1914) sits perfectly at the end of this cycle of extraordinary sonatas. From a slow, considered opening Donohoe slowly develops the music through passages of subtly increasing tension and harmonies, knowing just how to pace this piece, delivering astonishingly power as the music travels towards its inexorable conclusion. A stunning performance.

Peter Donohoe manages to tie these works together as a logical development, finding points of contact. He has it all, superb technique, a sense of poetry, subtlety in tempi, rhythms and dynamics and above all a deep understanding of Scriabin, finding new depths.

He receives a very natural recording from the Turner Sims Concert Hall, University of Southampton, England and there are excellent booklet notes. 

Here are performances of tremendous insight which are not to be missed. 

Friday, 20 January 2017

British composer, Peter Seabourne’s spectacularly fine Violin Concerto premiered in Germany

British composer, Peter Seabourne’s  Violin Concerto was recently premiered in its complete form in Germany by Fenella Humphreys  with the Deutsche Kammerakademie Neuss  conducted by Lavard Skou Larsen

The first two movements of the concerto were composed in 2003 and recorded by Sheva with violinist Irina Borissova and the Mainzer Virtuosi conducted by Dmitri Khakalin. The composer was commissioned to write a third movement to make this a full scale concerto.

It is with the kind permission of the composer and artists that I am able to provide the following links to the unedited live performance in order for a wider public to hear this wonderful concerto.

Peter Seabourne’s Violin Concerto opens with broad, dramatic string chords from the orchestra that introduce the first movement Appassionato. They are quickly joined by an equally dramatic violin line that brings some formidable playing from soloist, Fenella Humphreys. Eventually the music gives way to a calmer, lyrical episode that nevertheless retains a degree of tension. The soloist and orchestra create a fine dialogue as the movement develops through passages of terrific invention, slowly increasing in animation. Later there is a slower passage for the soloist over a deep held, hushed orchestral background as the violin brings a kind of accompanied cadenza with this soloist finding some exquisite moments as the orchestra gently expands whilst the soloist rhapsodises. The tempi picks up to bring back the opening dynamism, though now with a beautifully rich swirl of orchestral textures before the strings chords of the opening bring a sudden end.

In the Dolce semplice the soloist brings a haunting theme over a gentle orchestral accompaniment. This is a quite lovely moment. Again there is a fine dialogue between soloist and orchestra, working through some lovely little details as the music develops. There is some beautifully shaped phrasing from soloist and orchestra allowing this finely developed movement to reveal its many beauties. The music slowly finds a greater passion with the orchestral strings adding greater texture before finding a hush in the wonderful coda.

In the concluding Volante furioso, the orchestra brings a swirling, descending string passage to which the soloist adds an energetic theme. Both soloist and orchestra push ahead through some dramatic bars before the soloist introduces a calmer moment before developing through some terrific ideas, increasing in drama again. The music is constantly shifting between passion and a gentler nature, in many ways bringing together the character of the first two movements. The soloist brings some particularly fine textures, developing through some more expansive moments. The orchestra provides some beautifully shaped phrases to which the soloist responds with an increasing sense of passion and drama before finding the coda.

This is a spectacularly fine work from a composer who seems to grow in stature with every work that he produces. Both soloist and orchestra give a very fine performance.

We urgently need more recordings as well as UK performances of this fine composer’s work.

See also:

Sunday, 15 January 2017

The Norwegian Soloists’ Choir under their Music Director, Grete Pedersen achieve the most wonderful results on their new disc for BIS of works by Nørgård, Lachenmann, Janson, Saariaho and Xenakis, taking choral singing to a new level

The Norwegian Soloists’ Choir was established in 1950 by the Norwegian Soloists’ Society with the aim of becoming an elite ensemble for performing choral music to the highest possible standard. The choir’s first conductor was Knut Nystedt, who led the ensemble for forty years. Since 1990 the choir has sung under the leadership of the internationally acclaimed Grete Pedersen, undertaking a great number of concerts in Scandinavia, the USA and Asia as well as recordings.

The members of the Norwegian Soloists’ Choir are professionally trained, hand-picked singers, all of whom are potential soloists. The choir maintains a youthful profile, receptive to and willing to perform newly written works, while at the same time performing core classical works from the Nordic and international choral repertoire.

The Norwegian Soloists’ Choir have made a number of recordings for BIS Records of which their latest is entitled As Dreams featuring works by Per Nørgård, Helmut Lachenmann, Alfred Janson, Kaija Saariaho and Iannis Xenakis that reflect the idea of night and dreams. They are joined on this new release by the Oslo Sinfonietta.

BIS - 2139

Drømmesange (Dream Songs) (1981) for mixed choir and percussion ad lib by the Danish composer, Per Nørgård (b.1932) has its origins in a song written for a radio play by Danish author Finn Methling who adapted the text from a Chinese original. It described a boy’s dream about his future self. This new work presents the same dream in three ways.  

A solo soprano sings over a beautifully blended wordless choral layer in the evocative Utopia. Nørgård brings some lovely touches, beautiful harmonies and attractive little details. A drum joins to add a rhythm behind the choir, bringing a rather timeless feel. The music picks up a greater rhythm in Ambiguous, driving forward until a drum alone continues, slowly falling. The music picks up as the choir re-joins with changes in the rhythm as the drum leads to Nightmare, gaining in intensity as the choir bring some pretty earthy, rhythmic moments until rising to a violent tam-tam stroke. The opening slow and atmospheric choral idea returns with hushed tam-tam colouring the music. Bells sound before the choir leads quietly and gently forward, rising through some terrific bars, with a variety of percussion to the coda.

Helmut Lachenmann (b.1935) was born in Stuttgart and was the first private student of Luigi Nono (1924-1990). His Consolation II (Wessobrunner Gebet) (Wessobrunner Prayer) (1968) for 16 voices (mixed choir) is based on fragments of language taken from the oldest existing Christian text in German.

The choir bring some unusual vocal sounds as the music opens, chirps, hisses, screeches and shouts, yet combining to make an atmospheric whole, rising and falling as the text is sung and declaimed through a variety of passages. This remarkable work shows just how fine and flexible this choir is. They travel through a very hushed section where one can just perceive the vocal sounds bringing a rather ghostly atmosphere. Often the choir is used orchestrally with individual singers weaving their sounds. They rise through a section with shrill whistles and exclamations before arriving at another hushed section with the most amazing, strange vocal utterances.  

The Norwegian pianist and composer, Alfred Janson (b.1937) sets a text from Friedrich Nietzsche’s (1844-1900) Also sprach Zarathustra for his Nocturne (1967) for double choir, 2 cellos, harp and 2 percussionists.

The female voices of the Norwegian Soloists' Choir slowly and gently enter with quite lovely harmonies to which the two cellos soon add subtle and wiry textures, combining the string textures with the choir and harp, with percussion colouring the texture. They rise through some quite ethereal moments, through which the text eventually runs, before building in strength, drums adding to the drama. Very soon the music quietens. There are cymbal strokes as the music finds a lovely ebb and flow, beautifully coloured by percussion with the choir providing the most lovely textures and harmonies. The music builds to a pitch with a series of vocal and percussion outbursts before the cellos and harp appear through the vocal texture as we are taken to a hushed coda.

This is a quite wonderful work.

The Finnish composer, Kaija Saariaho (b.1952) takes a text by Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843) to contrast light and dark as a trance like interplay between past and present in Überzeugung (Conviction) (2001) for three female voices, crotale, violin and cello. In this brief work the violin brings chords over a pizzicato cello before the three female voices enter combining with the violin to produce some lovely, melancholy ideas before gently finding the coda.  

Per Nørgård’s Singe die Gärten, mein Herz, die du nicht kennst (Sing, my heart, of the gardens you do not know) (1974) for eight part choir and eight instruments, is an independent part of his Symphony No.3 (1972-75) and sets Sonnet 21 from the second part of Rainer Maria Rilke’s (1875-1926) Sonnets to Orpheus.

The instruments sound out as the choir brings the text, rising through some especially fine passages before continuing the little vocal declamations within the expanding choral line. There are some lovely harmonic shifts as well as so many lovely instrumental details, with this choir rising through some terrific passages. They provide a gentle pulse as the music rises and falls with the instrumentalists and choir finding some very fine harmonies, achieving the most wonderfully subtle effects. Later a solo female voice rises out of the texture before the music moves through the most lovely instrumental textures, with the choir, to a spectacularly fine coda.

This is a strikingly beautiful setting.

Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001) fled his native Greece and became a naturalised French citizen. His Nuits (Nights) (1967-68) for 12 mixed voices or mixed choir was dedicated to political prisoners and creates a landscape of strange sounds from lost languages such as Assyrian and Sumerian.

Female voices sound out violently, soon joined by the male voices, alternating before they weave their sounds. The choir create a rising and falling texture of stunning brilliance with declamatory passages. This choir responds to this exacting music with terrific skill, soaring through some wonderful passages. There are some exceptional vocal effects as they move through passages of stunning vocal agility and fine textures before arriving at a hushed coda on rich vocal textures, with a final declamation.

This is an often exacting, but spectacularly original work sung to perfection by this outstanding choir.

Kaija Saariaho’s Nuits, adieux (1991/96) for mixed choir and four soloists consists of two series of passages, ‘nights’ and ‘farewells’ drawing on novels by Jacques Roubaud (b.1932) and Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850).

The choir opens gently, soon overlaid by a female soloist. There are vocal murmurings as the music progresses, creating a terrific atmosphere. A solo female voice speaks the text, though verging on sprechgesang. The voices gently weave a rising and falling choral line with detailed little vocal sounds, almost gentle sighs in this quite wonderful evocation of night. The music rises through a passage of greater intensity before a tenor solo takes the text over choral background. Breathing sounds grow increasingly intense before gasps, vocal whoops and screams bring a dramatic sequence, perhaps the terrifying aspect of night. A bass takes the text slowly forward over a languid choral backdrop where there are some especially fine harmonies before finding a gentle hushed coda.

There is much beauty here, often clothed in the most adventurous harmonies and vocal ideas. The Norwegian Soloists’ Choir under their Music Director, Grete Pedersen achieve the most wonderful results, taking choral singing to a new level. 

They receive a tip top recording from the Ris Kirke, Norway. There are excellent booklet notes by Erling Sandmo from which I have been grateful to quote as well as full texts and English translations. 

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Lively, idiomatic performances of Rodrigo’s Chamber Music with Violin on a new release from Naxos

The Spanish composer, Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999) was born in Sagunto, Valencia and lost most of his sight at the age of three after contracting diphtheria.  He began to study piano and violin at the age of eight before going on to study music under Francisco Antich in Valencia and under Paul Dukas (1865-1935) at the École Normale de Musique in Paris.

His first published compositions date from 1940 and in 1943 he received Spain's National Prize for Orchestra for Cinco piezas infantiles (Five Children's Pieces). From 1947 Rodrigo was a professor of music history, holding the Manuel de Falla Chair of Music in the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, at Complutense University of Madrid.

His most famous work, the Concierto de Aranjuez, was composed in 1939 in Paris for the guitarist Regino Sainz de la Maza. Of his other works, that ranged across orchestral, wind ensemble, concertos, chamber, instrumental, vocal and choral, none achieved the popular success of the Concierto de Aranjuez.  

Rodrigo was awarded Spain's highest award for composition, the Premio Nacional de Música and was given the hereditary title of Marqués de los Jardines de Aranjuez by King Juan Carlos I. He received the prestigious Prince of Asturias Award and was named Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government. Joaquín Rodrigo and his wife Victoria are buried in the cemetery at Aranjuez.

Naxos have already issued a large number of recordings of Rodrigo’s music in their Spanish Classics series. Now comes a new release featuring the composer’s Chamber Music with Violin performed by violinist Eva León www.evaLeó , pianist Olga Vinokur  and guitarist Virginia Luque


Sonata pimpante for violin and piano (1965) was written for the composer’s son-in-law Agustin León Ara and was premiered in Brussels in 1966. In three movements it opens with a sparkling Allegro, full of spirited rhythmic bounce before the piano leads into a slower melody with an Iberian flavour. Eva León and Olga Vinokur weave some lovely moments before the music picks up again. Later the atmospheric slower melody returns to lead us through some very fine development passages before picking up again to find a lively coda.

In the Adagio - Allegro vivace - Adagio the piano introduces a lovely rippling theme to which the violin adds a melody, drawing some lovely harmonies before developing through some more intensely Iberian sounds. The music picks up vigorously in the striding Allegro vivace, full of incisive rhythmic chords before the piano brings a real gravitas and weight as the Adagio returns, the violin adding fine textures and harmonies, finding a sweet, gentle coda.

The Allegro molto brings one of Rodrigo’s typically riotous allegros, full of energy and dissonant harmonies with these two players throwing much spirit and life into the music with a real sense of abandon in the later stages.

The Set Cançons valencianes (Seven Valencian Songs) for violin and piano (1982) were also dedicated to Agustin León Ara and performed by him with the pianist Jose Tordesillas the same year. The piano gently picks out the theme of the lovely little No. 1. Allegretto, and is soon joined by the violin as this sad little melody moves forward. The violin brings a rich melody over piano chords in No. 2. Andante moderato, adding some lovely Sephardic inflections. No. 3. Allegro finds Rodrigo’s more obvious rhythmic style as the violin brings chords over a staccato piano line in this simple yet charmingly effective piece.

The violin adds a gentle, wistful melody to a flowing piano line in No. 4. Andante moderato e molto cantabile, developing some fine harmonies between instruments with two lovely little passages for piano. No. 5. Andantino brings an attractive rhythmic pulse as it gently flows forward, with some lovely little decorations from both instrumentalists. The violin alone introduces the slow melody of No. 6. Andante religioso with fine harmonies before the piano takes the theme. Both weave some slow stately harmonies before a hushed coda. The piano springs into life with the lively theme of No. 7. Tempo di bolero (Moderato) and is soon joined by the violin. All the while a sprung rhythm is maintained in this very Spanish piece.

Capriccio, ‘Ofrenda a Sarasate’ for solo violin (1944) was written at the request of Radio Madrid to commemorate the centenary of the great violinist Pablo Sarasate (1844-1908) and represents Rodrigo’s only piece for solo violin.

Eva León pushes quickly ahead in a fast moving theme that travels through some virtuosic bars. Brief pauses separate the ideas as they progress, this violinist bringing much sparkle and bravura, with fine harmonies and textures, developing some terrific passages.

The Serenata al alba del día (Serenade to the Dawn) for violin and guitar (1982) was dedicated to the Czech guitarist and composer Jiří Knobloch (1931-2012) but premeired in Los Angeles in 1983 by Agustin León Ara and Pepe Romero. In two movements, the guitar brings a really lovely theme in I. Andante moderato with some fine dissonant harmonies that spice up this piece, soon joined by the violin as more of a flow is achieved. In II. Allegro the guitar brings firm chords, responded to by the violin in this short, rhythmic piece, full of Rodrigo’s fingerprints.

Dos Esbozos (Two Sketches) for violin and piano (1923) are dedicated to the violinist and composer Abelardo Mus (1907-1983). The piano introduces a gentle idea in the opening of No. 1. La enamorada junto al peqeuño surtidor: Andantino (The Young Girl in Love beside the Little Fountain) to which the violin adds a flowing melody, moving through some quite lovely passages with the piano adding a trickling line over which the violin melody flows. No. 2. Pequeña ronda: Allegro (A little round) takes off quickly in a rhythmic theme with the violin developing a melody over an often dissonant piano line.   

Dedicated to the Spanish violinist Josefina Salvador (1920-2006), Rumaniana for violin and piano (1943) is based on Rumanian dance tunes. A slowly developed theme, full of Rumanian inflections, runs through some high passages for violin, exquisitely played here. There is a quiet, slow, atmospheric passage before the music picks up in a fast driving section before slowing toward the sudden coda. 

These are lively, idiomatic performances that bring a further view of this composer. They are rather closely recorded but the ear soon adjusts. There are informative booklet notes from Rodrigo’s biographer Graham Wade.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Anthony Goldstone 1944 - 2017

It is with great sadness that I have to report that one of Britain’s finest pianists, Anthony Goldstone, passed away peacefully on 2nd January.

This fine pianist built a formidable career both as a solo artist and, with his wife Caroline Clemmow, as part of one of this country’s finest piano duos. My wife, Deborah and I were privileged to count Tony and Caroline as friends for over twenty years after meeting Caroline at our local music festival. Our association with Albany Records led to Tony and Caroline making a number of recordings for that company. Both later recorded for Divine Art and Albion Records before culminating with their superb recording on Albion of the two piano versions of Vaughan Williams’ Tallis Fantasia and Fifth Symphony, a remarkably apt work for what turned out to be their swansong together.

The New York Times described him as ‘a man whose nature was designed with pianos in mind’ and Die Presse of Vienna as ‘a musician with a sense of the grand manner, long lines unfolding without interruption, strongly hewn rhythms, warmth, a touch displaying the qualities of colour and cantabile, in addition to possessing a sure technique and real strength… astonishingly profound spiritual penetration.’

Anthony Goldstone was born in Liverpool and studied at the Royal Manchester College of Music (later the Royal Northern College of Music) where his piano professor was Derrick Wyndham. The RMCM was to later honour him with a Fellowship. He went on to study in London with Maria Curcio, one of Schnabel’s greatest pupils, making him a sixth-generation pupil of Beethoven.

International prizes in Munich and Vienna followed as well as a Gulbenkian Fellowship which launched a busy schedule of recitals and concertos taking him across Europe and to North and South America, Asia, Africa and Australasia. There were prestigious festival invitations and many broadcasts as well as numerous London appearances including Promenade Concerts, notably the Last Night, after which Benjamin Britten wrote to him saying, ‘Thank you most sincerely for that brilliant performance of my Diversions. I wish I could have been at the Royal Albert Hall to join in the cheers.’

Tony Goldstone has always regarded the classics and romantics as being at the heart of his repertoire recording an acclaimed series of CDs devoted to the major solo works of Schubert. His series of recordings for Divine Art have ranged from Beethoven and Mozart to 20th century British composers all with new completions and rarities, as well as transcriptions from ballet and opera. His interest in rarities led to a series of recordings of works by Rebikov, Lyapunov, Arensky and Glière.

Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow formed their piano duo in 1984 making numerous recordings, broadcasts and concert appearances, receiving wide praise from public and critics alike. Their acclaimed seven-CD cycle of the complete original four-hand music of Schubert, including works not found in the collected edition, is probably a world first. Tony Goldstone’s completions and realisations of several works by Schubert and Mozart were greeted with enthusiasm by musicologists and listeners alike.

Tony’s death has deprived my wife and me of a great friend and the music world of an exceptional musician.
Bruce Reader   The Classical Reviewer