Review Corner - February 2006
Rinaldo. Marion Newman (Goffredo), Laura Whalen (Almirena), Kimberly Barber
(Rinaldo), Jennifer Enns Modolo (Eustazio), Sean Watson (Argante), Barbara Hannigan
(Armida), The Aradia Ensemble, Kevin Mallon (conductor). Naxos 8.660165-67.
(3 CDs). (179' 46").
Even in today's age of
'pop' superstars London could hardly be more awash with excitement than that
generated by the arrival of Handel in the Autumn of 1710, inflamed by rumours
that he might be tempted to remain in the city. He had probably already been
commissioned to write an opera for the King's Theatre in Haymarket before his
arrival, for he soon set to work on Rinaldo, a visual spectacular. Ever
commercial, he reduced the amount of work necessary by including much he had
written for previous works, relying on the expectation that no one in London
would ever have seen his previous operas and would not guess they were being
sold short. The opera was ready in two weeks and cast so as to put Haymarket's
available singers to their best use. Today the story is preposterous, but at
the time women born away on black clouds and trips to enchanted palaces was
quite acceptable and made for the great display Handel had intended. Basically
a love story with a happy ending, the 'bad' people finding pardon and salvation
by turning to Christianity. Over the years Handel made many changes to the score,
mainly to take account of the singers and instrumentalists available in performing
locations. I am not about to delve deeply into which version is here used by
Kevin Malone, save only to say that as male castratos are now singularly in
short supply, those original parts are sung by females rather than the oft substituted
counter-tenors used in Decca's highly regarded recording. At face value this
new recording sounds authentic Handelian, the singing of very good quality,
with my attention particularly drawn to Laura Whelan's superb Almirena, her
second act aria, Lascis ch'io piango, being the jewel in the performance.
Kimberly Barber's Rinaldo is reliable and nicely focused; Jennifer Enns Modlo
a warm voiced Eustazio, while Sean Watson offers a more pleasing Argante than
the character deserves. Nice playing throughout by the period instrument group,
Mallon adding percussion to reflect the mass of stage effects used in the first
performance. Sound quality is all we could wish for and at this price it is
an ideal way to experience a seldom-staged work.
HARTY: Piano Concerto.
A Comedy Overture. Fantasy Scenes (from An Eastern Romance). Peter Donohoe (piano),
Ulster Orchestra, Takuo Yuasa (conductor). Naxos 8.557731. (55' 09").
Hamilton Harty spent almost
his entire working life in England, but his soul belonged to his native Ireland,
a fact reflected in much of his music. Composing was no more than a 'spare time'
part of his busy life as one of the great conductors of his era and a tireless
champion of new music. He gave countless UK premieres, including Mahler's Ninth
Symphony, yet that forward looking mind was not reflected in his own music that
was steeped in tradition and heavily laced with Irish folk music. That Harty
could move outside of this Irish mode comes in the four scenes from An Eastern
Romance, its roots in the exotic world we normally associate with Russian
music. The happy opening Laughing Juggler is followed by a seductive
Dancer's Reverie, the score ending with the scene In a Slave Market.
The disc opens with the bright and breezy Comedy Overture, a work that
in 1907 brought the composer his first public acclaim, the ends with Peter Donohoe
taking a new look at the Piano Concerto. Dating from 1922 it has enjoyed some
international success, the easy tunefulness and lightweight attractiveness readily
making new friends. There have been previous recordings but none to equal this,
Donohoe toying with tempos and rhythms, the music becoming Saint-Saens seen
through Irish eyes, with a frothy opening and a flood of virtuosity to the happy
finale. Superbly supported by the Ulster Orchestra, the playing throughout showing
they are in superb form, with many exquisite woodwind solos. The sound has plenty
of reverberation that well suits the music. An absolute winner and a top of
the list 'must have' for all Anglophiles.
No. 4. Sinfonietta for String Orchestra. Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra,
David Lloyd-Jones (conductor). Naxos 8.557649. (55' 03").
I wish this Alwyn symphony
series would never end, and though revisiting old friends runs the danger of
being nostalgic, David-Lloyd Jones has proved such a perfect advocate that I
am hearing the music afresh. Here in the final disc we have the symphony that
many - including myself - regard as the finest of the five. The composer has
already placed on disc his thoughts on the music, and I have lived with that
performance since its LP days. Lloyd-Jones's approach is different by making
the brass more fulsome and rounded, and adding an extra dimension of drama in
the opening movement. He sees Walton in the scherzo (an ideal sampling point
being track 2), and Malcolm Arnold in the finale, particularly in the way he
brings a sugar and cream feel to the string passages. In total it is a wonderful
account that continues with the seldom heard Sinfonietta, a late work from 1970,
the Adagio second movement using Elgar as its starting point, but ending with
an explosive third movement. As I have remarked in previous releases, the RLPO
is currently in the European super league, secure in every department and well
able to bring off the big virtuoso passages. The sound here is a distinct improvement
on Alwyn's recording of the symphony, the engineers appearing to have used a
different microphone placement for the two works, the strings in the Sinfonietta
being more forward in perspective. This cycle is another major Naxos triumph
and offers at a price that we can afford symphonies from an important 20th century
composer. Please buy it.
for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 18. Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 29.
Karen Gomyo (violin), Maria Kliegel (cello), Gavle Symphony Orchestra, Petter
Sundkvist (conductor). Naxos 8.557855. (56' 18").
I have never understood
the neglect of the Swedish composer, Bo Linde, whose early death at the age
of 37 robbed us of music that is modern yet so readily attractive. Born in Gavle
in 1933, his major studies were with Lars-Erik Larsson in Stockholm. He remained
there for three years teaching music before returning to his native city, dividing
his time between music journalism and composition. Working in the world of tonality
and a rich tapestry of colours, his best-known score, the Violin Concerto was
completed in 1957. The strong and often dramatic violin writing of the opening
movement, with a massive cadenza, is set within a peppery orchestral accompaniment.
A change of mood finds the violin singing ecstatically at the opening of the
second movement, its quite jolly central section evaporating as the work ends
in peace. It is Elgar who springs to mind in the soloist's opening statement
to the finale of the Cello Concerto, a work that came eight years after the
violin concerto. Opening with a Moderato and the cello in proactive mood, it
embarks on happiness in the scherzo, a virtuoso solo role with a short and mercurial
cadenza. Like the violin work, this concerto also ends in peace. Of course audiences
do not warm to quiet endings, but you feel that is the only logical conclusion
to the shape of each score. It would be difficult to imagine more outgoing,
persuasive and technically accomplished soloists both playing as if their lives
depended on it. The Gavle orchestra is in the same frame of mind, and with a
realistic recording you have a major addition to the catalogue. I eagerly recommend.
MOZART: Sonata No.
35 in A major, K526. Sonata No. 36 in B flat major, K547 Variations on 'La bergere
Celimene' in G major, K359/374a. Takako Nishizaki (violin), Benjamin Loeb (piano).
Naxos 8.557664. (67' 40").
It is so long ago since
the previous volume I had forgotten that Naxos is issuing Mozart's complete
mature violin sonatas. Now comes the fifth instalment in time to celebrate the
250th anniversary of the composer's birth. You may feel a little confused that
Naxos's sleeves describe these as numbers 15 and 16 using the system that ignores
the composer's early scores in this genre, so my heading gives the numbers used
in major disc catalogues. The two sonatas date from around 1787 and are among
the compositions towards the end of Mozart's life. He was an accomplished violinist,
but here we are well within the scope of an amateur of modest attainments, the
piano having the most interesting and challenging part. Indeed their place in
the repertoire - together with that of the simple Variations - relies entirely
on geniality. Takako Nishizaki is an elegant player of impeccable taste who
resists the temptation, as we hear in some other recordings, of inflating the
music beyond its modest stature, while Benjamin Loeb musically dances around
her in decorative arabesques, his neat and nimble playing proving a constant
delight. Recorded balance is very natural.
Choeur triomphal, Op. 47/2. Caprice Op. 20/3. Allegretto in B minor. Lamentation
in D minor. Offertoire sur deux Noels. March on a Theme by Handel. Scherzo Symphonique
in C major, Op. 55/2. Noel Languedocien. Finale in D minor. Robert Delcamp (organ).
Naxos 8.557614. (70' 24").
It is surprising that a
person so important to the history of organ music in France has become sidelined,
the record industry showing little appetite for his output. Felix-Alexander
Guilmant was born in 1837, his father the leading organist in Boulogne and his
son's first teacher. Almost self-taught as a composer, the younger Guilmant
was to create, alongside Widor, the big and expansive organ symphonies, described
by Guilmant as 'sonatas'. Coming to widespread attention in Paris with the inaugural
concert at the organ of Saint-Suplice in 1862, Guilmant was later closely linked
with the creation of Cavaille-Coll organs, and thereby helped found the French
school of organ playing that we know today. He was highly regarded as a teacher,
his pupils included Dupre, Bonnet and Nadia Boulenger. The present disc provides
some of his shorter works, from the red-blooded thrill of the opening Grand
Chorus, through the charm of the Allegretto to the imposing Finale. Robert Delcamp
ideally captures the style of the French Romantic era, greatly helped by a fine
Casavant Organ in All Saints' Chapel at the University of the South in Tennessee.
I don't have details of its specification, but in the expansive moments it is
mighty impressive, yet can sing like a beautiful bird in the happy Caprice.
Good sound adds the final ingredient to one of the most enjoyable organ discs
I have heard for a long time.
FUKAI: Quatre mouvements
parodiques. Chantes de Java. Creation. Russian Philharmonic Orchestra, Dmitry
Yablonsky (conductor). Naxos 8.557688. (41' 09").
Shiro Fukai, born in Japan
in 1907 and dying at the early age of 52, was a disciple of his mentor, Meiro
Sugahara, the leading Japanese authority on French music. A long illness that
overtook Fukai as a young man further allowed him to become deeply involved
in the study of music by Ravel and Stravinsky. He was later to renounce all
other influences than the French school, and largely ignored Japanese tradition.
It was a move much in line with a large part of music lovers that came from
Tokyo's urban intellectuals, and he was eagerly accepted among them. Composing
music for the cinema and television provided his major financial career, to
which he then added his symphonic output. Quatre parodiques was dedicated
to Falla, Stravinsky, Ravel and Roussel, though you need to read the enclosed
booklet to fully understand the relationship. In mood it much reflected his
cinematic work with some unusual and quirky rhythms. Very different is the noisy
music for the ballet, Creation, composed to a detailed scenario that
has some influence from Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, the score showing
Fukai's effective orchestration. My favourite piece is the Chantes de Java,
its repetitive thematic material having Ravel's Bolero as its background.
He seems particularly at home in seductive oriental sounds, and if you want
to sample Fukai's music start here (track 8). The Russian Philharmonic's playing
is deeply committed, with some excellent piano playing in Parodiques.
I just wish we had been given more than we have, for Fukai is a significant
addition to the catalogue.
BAX: Two Russian
Tone Pictures. Nocturne (May-Night in the Ukraine). Gopak. What the Minstrel
Told Us. Toccata. Legend. In the Night. A Mountain Wood. Mediterranean. The
Princess’s Rose Garden (Nocturne). A Hill Tune. Ashley Wass (piano). Naxos 8.557769.
Having given us the sonatas
of Arnold Bax, Ashley Wass now turns his attention to the composer's shorter
pieces in this third volume of his piano music. Written as a reflection of music
by other composers, mainly from the school of French Impressionism they are
rather more pleasing than memorable. If you are coming to Bax's piano music
do start with Wass's earlier volumes, for here the often gentle pieces were
written with an eye on the market for the gifted amateur pianists. There is
the delectable Mediterranean, rather better known in its orchestral garb,
and the gently lyric, What the minstrel told us. Fortunately we have
Wass shaping the music with much affection; the limpid passages perfectly realised.
Compared with a disc issued some years ago with Eric Parkin as soloist, Wass
does more to give the music a sense of forward momentum, and Naxos's recording
quality is also to be preferred.
PLEYEL: String Quartets
Op. 2, Nos. 4-6. Enso Quartet. Naxos 8.557497. (58' 38").
The young Enso Quartet
complete Ignace Pleyel's opus 2 quartets began with a highly desirable release
last December. At that time I spoke at length about the composer, a musician
who seemingly turned everything he touched into financial gold. Our earliest
detailed knowledge of his life dates from the late 1770's by which time he was
turned twenty and on the verge of a life that would see him as a composer, conductor
and the most famous maker of pianos. In his lifetime his music was as popular
as that of Haydn, his publishing house making his music available throughout
Europe and North America, and it was said libraries had more Pleyel available
than any other composer. Derived from early Haydn, he had expanded the string
quartet's horizon to the point where Beethoven was to take over, as you will
hear in the intensely beautiful Adagio of the Fourth Quartet. He also had the
ability to compose in a much lighter mood as we hear in the Sixth Quartet where
the finale is pure joy. I speak of the Enso Quartet in glowing terms, their
leader, upon which so much rests, commanding spotless intonation, his many solo
passages always shaped with care while retaining a feel of spontaneity. The
engineers have balanced the musicians to perfection, and though I would not
make any extravagant claims on Pleyel's behalf, it is music that asks you to
enjoy it, and it is hard to resist.
AVISON: Six Concertos,
Op. 3. Eight Concertos, Op. 4. The Avison Ensemble, Pavlo Beznosiuk (director).
Naxos 8.557905-06 (2CDs). (131' 17").
Born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne
in the far north of England in 1709, Charles Avison devoted almost all of his
working life to music in the city, his presence elevating it to a place of eminence.
Described as 'the most important English concerto composer of the 18th century',
it must have been the presence of one of the largest organs in the country in
St. Nicholas Church that weighed heavily in his decision to stay there. Certainly
contemporary reports would show people travelled large distances to hear him
play the instrument. As a young man he may have received instruction from Geminiani
in London, but otherwise all of his education took place in Newcastle. The orchestral
works do, to a degree, reflect an Italian influence, the four-movement layout
of the opus 3 concertos becoming more adventurous in opus 4, with experiments
in the layout and juxtaposition of fast and slow movements. Both groups of concertos
do, however, share a gentle character, the orchestral colours more muted than
we would find in the outgoing Italian school, while Avison's affection for Largos
does bring a sombre feel to the music. The Avison Ensemble has already given
us the opus 6 concertos on Naxos back in July 2004, and again I am deeply impressed
by the grace and elegance of the playing. The music is in the safe hands of
the period expert and virtuoso violinist, Pavlo Beznosiuk, so I would hesitate
to question his choice of tempos, though at times I wanted him to push the fast
movements with more urgency. Sample track 14 of the second disc - the finale
of the third concerto - for a representative taster, the smooth texture very
different to the pungency we hear in many other period groups. Technically everything
about the playing is immaculate, the engineers providing transparency throughout
the ensemble, though the harpsichord could have done with help.
Sonatas in G minor, Op. 34 No. 2; A major, Op. 50 No. 1; E flat major, Op. 41.
Tanya Bannister (piano). Naxos 8.557453. (62' 36").
Born in Italy in 1752,
Muzio Clementi made his home in England at a time when few composers of merit
were living there, and soon found himself in demand as a keyboard exponent and
conductor. His growing fame was to take him on extensive tours as a highly acclaimed
virtuoso, resulting in a Vienna contest with Mozart in 1781 to settle the issue
as to who was the leading performer, an event generally regarded as a Mozart
victory. As a composer his success in England was cut short by the triumphant
first visit of Haydn, and the emphasis of his career changed to that of the
most successful music publishing house and piano making firm. That did allow
his large output of piano music widespread circulation included around seventy
sonatas written over much of his long life. They were said to have influenced
Beethoven, though on the evidence of this disc that would be surprising, Clementi
being a skilled practitioner who could write some pretty music, the Adagio from
opus 51 being a moment of particular charm. Tanya Bannister takes everything
at face value, with that admirable aim of allowing Clementi to speak for himself,
though at times I feel he needs help. The music was, of course, written for
the fortepiano whose particular tonal quality Bannister does not have with a
modern grand. In the taxing moments she shows a good command of the instrument,
making light of the technical challenges in the first movement of the A major
sonata. Recording quality is very good.
Fantasies for Harpsichord: Fantasias: 6/320; 8/323; 5/82; 4/489; 12/343; 13/347;
9/270. Unidentified part-song, arr. Farnaby 7/333. Canzonet (arr. Wilson) 'Construe
my meaning'. Unidentified part-song, arr. Farnaby 11/330. Canzonet (arr. Wilson)
'Witness, ye heavens'. Loth to depart. Glen Wilson (harpsichord). Naxos 8.570025.
Giles Farnaby belonged
to a group of English composers writing for the keyboard in the 17th century,
his importance gauged by the inclusion of his compositions in the definitive
guide of the era, the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. If the date of his birth was
1563, as often assumed, he came late to composition having graduated in 1592.
To that point he made his living as a joiner, with the possibility that he was
producing virginals, the trade followed by his cousin. What we have of his music
is slight, and rests largely on keyboard and sacred pieces for voices. Today
his fame mainly resides in this group of Fantasias, and he seemed most happy
when writing outside of formal structures. From the vivacity of the opening
track to the sombre Fantasia 10/313.the content is very different yet obviously
from the same hand. Of its era this is music of instant appeal, the happy Fantasia
9/270 being quite addictive. They all greatly benefit from Glen Wilson's clean
and agile playing, his harpsichord sounding more French than of English origin.
The recording quality is all you could wish for.
Sulamith (Ballet Suite). The Old New York Nostalgia (Suite).
Yaroslav Krasnikov (violin),
Leonid Makarevich (piano), Aleksey Volkov (alto saxophone), Michail Poroshin
(tenor saxophone), Andrey Chernishov (percussion), Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra,
Rossen Milanov (conductor). Naxos 8.557674. (73' 56").
Regular readers will know
I have a strange relationship with the music of Alla Pavlova, trying to come
to terms with a composer who seemingly changes her style with every work I hear.
Born in Russia in 1952, she studied at the Gnesin Academy of Music in Moscow
before moving to Sofia and Moscow, making her eventual home in New York in 1990.
Previous releases have taken us into her abstract world of atonality, which
I have respected but found little to like. This latest edition you simply cannot
fail to enjoy, the disc opening with Monolog for violin and orchestra, a piece
much in the style of Tchaikovsky and very beautiful in content. Though purposely
using pastiche in The Old New York Nostalgia Suite she includes elements
of jazz and saxophones to create her idea of the New World. By contrast the
ballet suite, Sulamith is robust and strong, rhythms often spiky, and
with a rhapsodic Duet for King Solomon and Queen Astis. The work comes
to an end with a big and sombre scene between Solomon and Sulamith. It receives
a potent account from Rossen Milanov and the Moscow Philharmonic, Yaroslav Krasnikov's
smoothly played violin having already brought distinction to the opening track.
Maybe the typical Russian trumpet sound is wrong for the picture of New York,
but the Muscovites do there best to swing along American style. Good and honest
YUN: Chamber Symphony
1. Tapis pour cordes. Gong-Hu for harp and strings.
Rana Park (harp), Korean
Chamber Ensemble, Piotr Borkowski (conductor). Naxos 8.557938. (61' 03).
Isang Yun was born in Korea
in 1917 to an artistic family, and having studied in Japan, was awarded a grant
to travel to France and Germany where his compositional mentors included Boris
Blacher. It was in Germany that Yun's music received its first performances
and he was particularly well received in Berlin, but was forced to return under
duress to Korea. After international pressure had been placed on the Koreans,
he was allowed to return to Germany where he made his home. Teaching and composing
shared his working life until his death in Berlin in 1995, and even in exile
he was to have a great influence on modern Korean composers. Throughout the
disc you feel a composer who would have been very happy composing in traditional
tonality, but remembering the time in which he was living went down the path
expected of an adventurous 20th century composer. The Chamber Symphony, which
dated from 1987 and scored for strings, two oboes and two horns, is certainly
admirable, its sombre opening sections eventually giving way to bright shafts
of light, a sense of wellbeing invading the score. It is extensive, here lasting
not much short of half an hour, in which Yun shows his mastery of scoring to
create a very personal synthesis of East and West. A short central track of
Tapis, from the previous year, is more in the mould of Western traditions,
not a million miles from a British idiom. Gong-ho, a harp concerto in
one movement divided into several sections, was dedicated to the Ursula Holliger
who gave the first performance in 1985. It is largely of the rippling harp variety
set against high strings - a favourite tool of Yun, Rana Park a nimble figured
soloist. In sum a significant disc, the Korean Chamber Ensemble, under the young
Polish conductor, Piotr Borkowski, sounding a high-class group. Sound quality
MORAVEC: The Time
Gallery. Protean Fantasy. Ariel Fantasy. Eighth blackbird, Peter Sheppard-Skaerved
(violin), Aaron Shorr (piano). Naxos 8.559267. (56' 06").
Given the ultimate stamp
of status when presented with the 2004 Pulitzer Prize in Music, Paul Moravec
is a new and very individual voice in America, embracing both tonal and atonal
idioms characterised by unusual sonorities. Born in 1957 and educated at Harvard
and Columbia Universities he spends his time teaching and composing. To date
his catalogue contains more than eighty scores that embrace orchestral, chamber
and choral genres. The Time Gallery is a series of four pictures that
Moravec turns into music. Bells in their various formats opens the work;
the second, Time Machine, reflecting the sound of clocks, while the regular
heartbeat that opens the third, Pulse, moves to a complexity of jazz
orientated rhythms, The finale, Overtime reflects the previous movements
but in rather sad nostalgia. It is a work that fascinates in terms of sound,
its introspective conclusion a foil to the happiness of the following Protean
Fantasy, a work of outgoing virtuosity for violin and piano. Ariel Fantasy continues
where Protean left off and brings the disc to a potent conclusion. Without the
benefit of seeing a score, the performances to me sound brilliantly coloured,
oozing with virtuosity and very well recorded. I will certainly look forward
to hearing more of this obviously gifted composer. .
RAMIREZ: Missa Criolla.
Navidad Nuestra. ANON (arr. Haazen): Missa Luba. Christal Rheams (alto),
Manuel Melendez (tenor), Jose Sacin (tenor), Pablo Talamante (tenor), The Choral
Arts Society of Washington, Joseph Holt (conductor). Naxos 8.557542. (56' 54").
Reviewing the disc last
month when it was released in North America, I commented that today a new look
is coming into church music with the object of embracing popular music of the
younger generation. It is not universally welcomed, but here we have the Missa
Criolla from the Argentinean composer, Ariel Ramirez, mixing Spanish derived
folk idioms with today's populist culture. The traditional Latin text of the
Catholic Mass is translated into Spanish, the result more akin to the show music
we enjoy on holiday in Spain or Latin America, with dance rhythms, clicking
castanets, strumming guitars and a 'pop' rhythm group. That the result will
be readily enjoyed in the mass media music market is never in doubt, as it contains
every ingredient for success, the catchy tunes and vivacious rhythms quickly
drilled into the memory. The worthy people of Washington's Choral Arts Society
enter into the trendy music with enthusiasm, though you feel they are on more
familiar ground when they reach the harmonies of Missa Luba. The soloists have
a rustic folk music quality with a feel of improvisation in their freedom of
rhythm and pitch. Sound quality complements the style of music with solo voices
WUORINEN: Trio for
Brass. Horn Trio (1981). Horn Trio (1982). Trio for violin, cello and piano.
Double Solo for Horn Trio. Trombone Trio. The Group for Contemporary Music.
Naxos 8.559264. (64' 57").
Charles Wuorinen has been
at the cutting edge of contemporary composition in the United States for four
decades. A student at Columbia University he is a convert from tonality who
in more recent times has become an uncompromising modernist. Teaching and work
as an outstanding pianist occupied his early life, his prolific output of compositions
including the six trios for diverse instruments dating from the early 1980's.
They are as challenging for the performer as they are the listener, and those
attuned to the era will be delighted with the big and virtuoso Trio for Brass
that opens the disc. By the time the two Horn Trios ended I found myself desperately
searching for something to take hold of. If you want to make a start in understanding
Wuorinen's world, then go to track 4, the Trio for violin, cello and piano,
a score that makes a reasonably easy entry point, the athleticism of the performers
having its own attraction. The six trios are completed with a big showpiece
for trombone that takes the instrument to its boundaries. Wuorinen co-founded
The Group for Contemporary Music back in 1962, the ensemble helping to establish
many American composers. Each time I hear them in their many permutations I
am filled with enthusiasm, and here the playing bristles with brilliance while
the sound quality is admirable. An adventurous addition to Naxos's invaluable
American Classics series.
BOLCOM: Violin Sonatas
1-4. Solomia Soroka (violin), Arthur Greene (piano) Naxos 8.559150. (76' 52").
William Bolcom's spent
most of his mature student days soaking up the pleasures of Paris and studying
with Milhaud and Messiaen as his mentors, a very different ambience to his native
Seattle. There followed teaching posts at a number of Universities in the United
States, including New York and Washington, while writing a very substantial
number of works covering a broad spectrum of genres. He took a place on the
international scene in the late 1960's when piano rags made a brief resurgence,
performing them as a pianist and composer. His four sonatas have appeared over
40 years though stylistically they have remained much the same. At face value
they abound with so many ideas that Bolcom is tempted to change tack so frequently
that they have the feel of a series of intriguing snapshots. Mostly descriptive,
sometimes belying their title, the Nocturne second movement of the first sonata
too energising to reflect that name. The music is mainly tonal, occasionally
flirting with atonality, the elements of jazz and folk often hovering in the
background. I particularly enjoy the second movement of the fourth sonata, violin
harmonics set against a backdrop of Christmas carols. Each sonata is shared
between the two instruments, and though posing technical hurdles, they are in
no way showpieces. In this husband and wife team the violin intonation is in
the centre of every note, and I would commend to you as a taster the peaceful
Andante to the third sonata (track 3). Balance between instruments is good,
the general sound quality is most pleasing. I can find no other recording.
PAGANINI : Grand
Sonata in A major. Sonata No. 4 in D major. Ghiribizzi Nos.15, 16, 22, 37 &
38. Sonata No. 30 in A major. Sonata No. 6 in F major. Sonata No. 14 in F major.
Three Caprices (transcribed from solo violin). Marco Tamayo (guitar). Naxos
8.557598. (61' 04").
Though the Grand Sonata
is a work of substance, the remaining sonata are brief one-movement pieces taken
from a large volume of 'Thirty-four Sonatas for Solo Guitar' composed in the
early years of the 19th century. Pleasing miniatures mostly within the scope
of those who play just for their own enjoyment. Similarly the 'Forty-three Ghiribizzi'
are cameos many not even lasting a minute, with number 38 a moment of virtuosity.
It is in the three-movement Grand Sonata that Marco Tamayo can demonstrate his
prowess, the opening movement full of technical hurdles, and I like his sense
of improvisation in the third movement Andantino. Throughout the release his
playing is crisp, intonation in the centre of every note, and he perfectly captures
the good humour of the Ghiribizzi. Maybe his Sixth sonata is a might too fast
for a Minuetto, but elsewhere his choice of tempos is ideal. The disc ends with
a crazily difficult adaptation of that famous Twenty-fourth Caprice used so
many times, most auspiciously by Rachmaninov. Tamayo is superb. .
THOMPSON: City Scenes.
GERSHWIN: Somebody loves me. Liza. Three Preludes. The Man I love. Summertime.
Oh, Lady be good! PELKMANS: Slapstick. MORTIER: Rainbow Bridge.
The Maid of the Mist. Skylon. Oneida. Clifton Hill. Pyramid Place. BOTSFORD:
Black and White Rag. BERNSTEIN: West Side Story - Suite. RODGERS:
The Blue Room. Clarinet Quartet of Belgium National Orchestra. Naxos 8.557407.
One for the large army
of clarinettists around the world, the music light and pleasing with plenty
of those finger-twisting passages they love to play. Most come in arrangements,
many taken to the point of extended paraphrases, though not always that well
suited to the instruments, with a busy atmosphere at times in danger of swamping
the main melodic strand. Though you may not recognise it from the title, the
disc opens with the well-known tune in Terence Thompson's City Scenes,
one of three character pictures. George Gershwin provides a major part of the
disc, and I was surprised at the jerky arrangement of the seductive song, The
Man I Love, which is totally out of character. Adventurous in the demands
of four extracts from Bernstein's musical, West Side Story, my favourite
tracks come in Willy Mortier's six cameos. The recording has the instruments
very close to microphones, and maybe a more backward placement for the bass-clarinet
would have been an all-round benefit. Technically the playing is accomplished,
the choice of tempos well judged, though I do enjoy the quartet rather more
in the fast passages, the last of Gershwin's Preludes (track 16) being a good
place to take a check as to the disc's contents.
BELLINI: La Ricordanza.
La farfalletta. Sogna d’infanzia. Il fervido Desiderio. Dolente immagine di
Fille mia. Vega luna che inargenti. L’allegro marinaro. Torna, vezzosa fillide.
Malinconia, Ninfa gentile. Vanne, o rosa fortuna. Bella Nice, che d'amore. L’abbandono.
Quando incise sul quel marmo. Dennis O’Neill (tenor), Ingrid Surgenor (piano).
Naxos 8.557779. (58' 01").
Before Vincenzo Bellini
became famous as an opera composer he had charmed in the salons of aristocrats
with songs and arias and was throughout life to add to his stock of music in
that genre. In nature they were largely lyric and peaceful - much removed from
the forceful dramatic emotions of his stage works. At times they return to a
more familiar Neapolitan style as we hear in La Farfalletta, and briefly
we enter the tormented characters of his operas in L'allegro marinaro
and L'abbandono. The songs often go uncomfortably high for Dennis O'Neill
who sings much of the disc in a head tone as he concentrates on a smooth quality.
The big problem for O'Neill is the strain posed by Bellini when he goes into
heroic stance for the final track, Quando incise sul quel marmo. Ingrid
Surgenor gives good support, though much of the accompaniment is undemanding.
The engineers surround O'Neill's voice with kindly reverberance.
SACRED SONGS AND FOLK
MUSIC FROM RENAISSANCE GERMANY
GRENON: Nova vobis
gaudia. ANON: Se la face ay pale. DUFAY: Se la face ay pale. ISAAC:
Missa Je ne fay plus - Kyrie; Gloria. DESPREZ: Gaude virgo mater
Jesu Christe. ANON: Alma Chorus. Se la face ay pale. BARBIREAU: Een
wroylic wesen. LUTHER: Komm heiliger geist. SCHEIDT: Komm heiliger
geist. Ciaramella Instrumental and Vocal Group, Adam and Rotem Gilbert (directors).
Naxos 8.557627. (65' 34").
You have to ignore the
disc's overall title as some of the composers were born outside of Germany,
the twenty-seven tracks covering sacred works and reconstructions of folk songs
from Renaissance Europe. My heading lists just some of the highlights, the disc
largely dominated by instrumental pieces played by a mix of shawm, sackbut,
recorder and chamber organ, the sounds producing pleasing and often very busy
music. For the uninitiated try track 7, the most attractive, War ich ein
valk, the catchy tune quickly etched onto the memory, or the more substantial
Dies est laetitiae where voices and instruments come together. The tracks
are short, generally around two minutes, the music never extended to develop
thematic ideas, with the vocal pieces falling under the general heading of carols.
It is performed by Ciaramella, a young award-winning group in North America
whose smooth tonal quality is very different to the more rustic sound we normally
hear from West European performers in music of this period. Nimble and perfect
balance between instruments, the singers are seemingly placed well behind with
a halo of reverberation placed around them. Different to what I was expecting,
but I guess it will prove commercially attractive.
Ida. Fisher Morgan, Thomas Round, Leonard Osborn, Jeffery Skitch, Peter Pratt,
Donald Adams, John Banks, Trevor Hills, Victoria Sladen, Ann Drummond-Grant,
D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, New Symphony Orchestra, Isidore Godfrey (conductor).
The Gondoliers (excerpts):
Appleton Moore, William Heseltine, George Baker, Dan Jones, Randall Jackson,
Nellie Walker, Alice Lilley, Joan Cross, Sophie Rowlands, Columbia Light Opera
Company, Joseph Batten (conductor). Naxos Historical 8.110317-18. (2CDs). (119'
At the risk of repeating
myself, Isidore Godfrey's 1950's recordings were the final flowering of the
Gilbert and Sullivan style that had been handed down to the D'Oyly Carte company
from the librettist and composer. From herein recordings would rely on 'international'
singers brought to the studio as individuals rather than a performing company.
That said I have to admit that there were members of D'Oyly Carte that vocally
were passed their 'sell by date', with old voices trying to be young characters.
Princess Ida dates from 1894 when the G & S operettas were enjoying tremendous
popularity, though this one was an exception. Even then it was risky to poke
fun at the feminist movement in this parody on Tennyson's poem, The Princess.
Today it receives few performances, though the melodies will strike you as very
familiar, Mackerras having plundered the score to create the ballet, Pineapple
Poll. Thomas Round turns in a very enjoyable performance as the leading
male singer, with Peter Pratt the true maestro of the patter song. With a degree
of irony it was this recording that found the D'Oyly Carte chorus on top form,
a lively overture getting the work off to a good start, and if things flag towards
the end, it was G & S rather than the cast who were responsible. Recorded
without its dialogue, there is room in this reissue for the 1931 recording of
highlights from The Gondoliers. The sixteen tracks do cover all of the
best-known moments, with Take a pair of sparkling eyes as an absolute
gem. The sound is acceptable though surface swish is much in evidence. The 1954
Princess Ida is boxy, but more than acceptable.
PUCCINI: Manon Lescaut.
Licia Albanese (Manon), Jussi Bjorling (Des Grieux) , Robert Merrill (Lescaut),
Franco Calabrese (Geronte/Sargent), Rome Opera House Orchestra and Chorus, Jonel
Perlea (conductor). Naxos Historical 8.111030-31. (2 CDs). (145' 51").
By the time RCA were recording
their Manon Lescaut in Rome in 1954, Decca already had their recording featuring
Tebaldi, Del Monaco and a fine supporting team scheduled for release, with rumours
circulating that Callas and Di Stefano were already contracted to record the
opera. It must have seemed to the RCA management they had a lost cause and cut
costs by employing three principals with all the other roles sung by three resident
Rome singers. It's life in the catalogue was short, which was a pity, as Perlea
proved to be a fine conductor who has simply never been surpassed on subsequent
recordings of the opera, whipping up every dramatic point, with a blistering
end to the second act. Bjorling was an elegant and ardent Des Grieux as he shows
in his perfect first aria, his outburst as they fail to release Manon from prison
just about as exciting as it gets. He, like Licia Albanese, had already built
major careers, yet only in their mid-forties they sounded old for the characters
involved, while the supporting cast could not change their voices sufficiently
to appear as different people. As we are to hear in the additional tracks featuring
arias sung by Albanese, she was not in good voice as the scheming Manon, the
popular soprano aria from Catalini's La Wally an example of her in peak condition.
The sound quality for Manon is good for its age, and Bjorling's big fan club
will now be heading to the nearest store to get this otherwise unavailable reissue.
BORGANOFF: Nar rosorna
vissna och do. SYLVAIN: Det ar nagot som binder mitt hjatra vid dig.
Dina blaa ogen lovar mar an dina ro. Sag, att du evight hallermig kar. LINDBERG:
Bagdad. CARSTEN: Varje litet ord av karlek. SAHLBERG: Aj, aj,
aj du. LESSO-VALERIO: Varfor? HEYMANN: Nagonstans pa var jord.
BAUMANN: Lappar som le sa roda. TOGNARELLI: Allting som ar vackert.
TILLING: Kanske att vi pa samma drommer bar. REIDARSON: Sommarens
melodi ar som poesi. LE BEAU: Karlekens sang. RAY: Sag mig god
natt. AMANDT: Slut dina ogon. DAHL: Bachanal. NYBLOM: Brinnande
gula flod. ARMAND: Var det en drom? CHRISTGAU: Brollopsvalen.
ENDERS: Lilla prinsessa. Jussi Bjorling (tenor). Various accompaniments.
Naxos Historical 8.110790. (68' 16").
Continuing the complete
Jussi Bjorling collection, the sixth disc includes eleven tracks by Erik Odde,
the name the great opera singer used for a series of discs as the 'whispering
jazz singer'. They were in fact the short vocals used in dance music of the
1930's, where the band briefly gave way to a central singing spot. The remainder
of the disc is given to lightweight popular songs of the time. Sung in Swedish,
Bjorling proves he was a very versatile singer, but there is little more he
has to do than sing smoothly. The dance bands are very good, and of its kind
the disc has attractions.
Nos. 1 - 14. Fantasia, Op. 49. Alfred Cortot (piano). Naxos Historical 8.111035.
In June 1934 Alfred Cortot
recorded the fourteen Chopin waltzes, the posthumously published waltzes hardly
recognised at the time. He was the great Chopin interpreter of the day, and
if to modern ears he appears a wilful exponent, he was a product of the Romantic
tradition with latitude of expressive freedom that today would seem excessive.
Affection is lavished on every note, Cortot concentrating on the shape of passages
rather than the whole waltz. Some are taken so dizzyingly fast his fingers fall
over themselves, others emerging with the dreamy feel of someone reminiscing.
At times so much freedom is used that rubato is added to rubato, the performances
so technically compromised, it is strange he authorised them for publication.
If all this sounds damming, I should add that the disc has gripped me from beginning
to end. I would certainly also want a recording that has basic accuracy, but
after so much sterile and faceless perfection in recent times, it is welcome
to experience an interpretation that seeks to bring life to the printed page.
That they were Cortot's lifelong view is confirmed by five of the waltzes recorded
again fifteen years later. Naxos injects new life into old recordings to an
extent that after a few tracks I forgot the 'historic' status.
Concerto in A minor, Op. 54. GRIEG: Piano Concert in A minor, Op. 16.
FRANCK: Variations Symphoniques. Walter Gieseking (piano), Preussischen
Staatskapelle Dresden, Karl Bohm (conductor), Berlin State Opera Orchestra,
Hans Rosbaud (conductor), London Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Henry Wood (conductor).
Naxos Historical 8.111110. (70' 48").
It would be very tempting
to describe this as the ideal performance of Schumann's Piano Concerto, Walter
Gieseking treading that difficult path of retaining a limpid and lyric approach
with a strong and disciplined structure. The result is a perfect facsimile of
the printed page just massaging tempos to provide you with that 'I wonder what
he will do with this phrase' feeling. Tempos are on the brisk side, particularly
in the finale, but his technique is sound even in days before editing was possible.
Strangely this recording only appears to have ever been issued in Germany, and
though the dull sounding timpani gives the game away, its early 1940's date
is difficult to believe in the overall high quality of sound. The Grieg I found
less interesting, the playing often impetuous in the first movement, and untidy
in detail, the Berlin orchestra less than immaculate as Gieseking's waywardness
places his conductor in some awkward moments. The Franck is more controlled
but has nothing to set it apart from many other more recent and better-recorded
performances. Still at this ridiculous price I would take the disc for a truly