Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Monochrome Mahler

Mahler's own two-piano / eight hands / forty finger version of his Symphony No2 'Resurrection' is the coloured orchestral work in black-and-white. Pianists Brierley Cutting, Angela Turner, Stephen Emmerson and Stewart Kelly vary the hues within a grey spectrum to produce a dramatically minimal account of the five movement monster, the melodies starkly delineated, the instrumentation merely imagined. Mahler's concept is undiminished for all its reduction to two-tone keys. Nietzsche's words are absent from the fourth movement Urlicht, but the melody of O Roeschen rot still haunts, its serenity pure after the precipitous motion of the scherzo. The effect of hearing familiar music in different tones is wonderfully refreshing and invigorating.  

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Pires plus Harding equals Abbado

These are beautiful, finely detailed performances of Beethoven's Third and Fourth Piano Concertos which pianist Maria Joao Pires with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra under British conductor Daniel Harding put before the listening ear this year.  Pires plays not with hefty authority or jowly weight, but refinement, and classical elegance. She articulates a phrase which then clearly echoes in the woodwind - the flute in particular adds a silver gilt to the picture. One perceives powdered and periwigged Vienna step into more honest, bare-headed Romanticism. Harding conducts with deference for his formidable star, exacting speeds which have neither the childish celerity of the period instrument racers, nor the hoary deliberation of the gerenation which made Beethoven a god. Indeed, the disc has Abbado-like grace and it is to him who died in January 2014 that the performances are dedicated.


Lutes in the Boot

The young Argentine lutenist Monika Pustilnik plays music by Alessandro Piccinini on a new Accent label CD. One usually hears her only in ensembles such as Emanuelle Haim's Concert d'Astree, Marc Minkowski's Musiciens du Louvre or Christophe Rousset's Talens Lyriques. Three of the tracks are long, absorbing and increasingly complex sets of variations. The rest are either dances - correntes and gagliardas - or fantasies - toccatas and a recercare. Her touch is light and agile on her twenty-year-old archlute by Francisco Hervas of Granada. Mine are by David Van Edwards, the current chairman of the Lute Society and need re-fretting which is only one of the reasons I put Pustilnik on the car CD player. Suddenly the ancient streets of Walworth, South East London are rather Baroque an d it is absolutely in keeping to arrive at the aromatic workshop of the lutemakers Stephen Barber and Sandi Harris.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Fashionable Baptists

I keep running across Giovanni Battistas around the time of Monteverdi (1567-1643). There are GB Doni, GB Marino , GB Guarini and GB Moroni. Sometimes their name is shortened to Giambattista like jambutty. Doni (?-?)was a luteplayer falsely credited with writing a Toccata dell'arcangeli which just happened to be in a book he owned and which is to be played at the Wigmore Hall next January the third. Marino (1569-1625) was a homosexual poet in and around Naples who spent time in prison for 'immorality' and whose lyric Vorrei baciarti, I want to kiss you, begins the same Wigmore programme. Guarini (1538-1612) was also a writer, Monteverdi's favourite lyricist, responsible for the text Mentre vaga Angioletta, while diaphonous Angioletta, also in the Wigmore prog, and the leading librettist before Mestastasio. Moroni (1525-78) was a painter whose name I saw on a poster outside the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly when  I hurried by en route to a meeting where I agreed to take minutes at future critics' circle meetings and keep the membership lists in order as the guild's Hon Gen Sec. I hope it doesn't take up too much time. Where was I? Yes. Then in hunting for one I found another GB Marinoni, Monteverdi's bass singer at Mantua and Venice. That's a lot of John Baptists for one era.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Perfect Ensemble

Disc of the Day: The perfect ensemble of young husband and wife team, Adam Javorkai and  Clara Biermasz, cello and piano respectively, is rare. Their dialogue is especially sparky and intimate in the Grieg where successive sequences elicit subtly changing turns of phrase and the finale has a real sense of the ecstatic gallop. They have a light touch in the Brahms where so many duos interpret the bearded wonder heavily. The allegro non troppo has story-telling momentum, the quasi menuetto a charming insouciance and the fugal finale stern yet speedy authority. Audiences at this summer's Musique Cordiale Festival in Provence were fully in agreement that they had heard an exceptional partnership.


Thursday, 16 October 2014

Baltic Baroque

Disc of the Day: I spend a few days during September on the Ostsee, Germany's stretch of Baltic Sea coast, so it is a surprise to receive a disc of that name shortly after returning. Trondheim Barokk, an excellent period instrument group, play music by Thiele, Verdanck and Bertouch, all of them Baroque composers active in the Hanseatic League towns along the coast, Rostock, Wismar, Stralsund and Greifswald during the 17th and early 18th century. The music is the confident product of wealthy communities, instrumental works of cultured splendour, vocal sequences thanking God for his bounty. Three singers, soprano Ingeborg Dalheim, mezzo Marianne Beate Kielland and bass Njal Sparbo, take turns with pure vibrato-free voices to to deliver their pious solemnities. Dalheim's direct and focused tone is particularly appealing. Is it my imagination, or does she really seem to have lungs full of sea air. I long to return.


Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Countertenorism Charge

The latest countertenor to excite crowds is Argentinian Franco Fagioli who sings at the Wigmore Hall on 20 September with a programme which is largely the content of this new Naive CD, the arias of Nicola Porpora. Fagioli's voice is hard and smokey, not the usual effete half-voice of the previous altos. Porpora composed works for his fellow Neapolitan, the castrato Farinelli, which singers have only recently decided are possible. Fagioli sings them with easy concentration, esepcially Alto Giove from Polifemowhich has the stillness of heaven in its long pure notes. He sings Se tu la reggi with the proud innocence of the start of an opera. His voice has a smooth transition from chest to head voice, or from natural to falsetto. He has a natural legato and a passionate sense of phrase. He sings the sacred Christmas cantata Distillavi o cieli, drop down ye heavens, with pleading piety and an intensity not often associated with church music. The other tracks are all operatic, though none too full of show-off gymnastics, Fagioli's preference clearly being for the lyrical and gently persuasive.         

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Wedded Bliss

The Vienna Symphony began around 1900 with the intention of providing classics and new music to audiences of workers and was distinct from the Vienna Phil which was the opera house orchestra. The Symphony's new conductor is Philippe Jordan who has expressed his intention of maintaining the orchestra's historic character. His first CD is a recording of Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony, the Pathetique, which has been released to coincide with the start of his first official season. There is the freshness of a new relationship in their sound, he shaping alert speeds and voluptuous swells, they, eager to please, producing distinct timbral colours. Together they effect a pianissimo almost too quiet for common or garden CD players, creeping in at the start, seeming almost to disappear in the development before the the sudden fortissimo whack of a new episode startles the unwary. The brass is regal and resonant and regal. Volcanic emotions surge through the orchestra's playing. The five-four second movement swirls with creamy, languid string tone as if it were a Vienna New Year ball they were playing at, and the allegro has cheeky, pneumatic bounce as if the entire ensemble were off on a jaunt together (just as they are every summer when they become the opera orchestra at Bregenz. The tragic finale grips with story-telling intensity and one can quite understand, Jordan's desire to re-do the standard repertoire. The marriage is off to a good start.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Haprsichordist plays own kit

Norwegian harpsichordist Ketil Haugsand, currently professor of that instrument at Cologne, produces a hard, buzzing, resonant tone from the Flemish type double manual keyboard which he built himself in 1971. In the mid-range he produces a palpable electronic burr, the bass throbbing heavily and the treble pinging without too much panicky percussion. Despite the close mikes, there is relatively little mechanical clatter. Melody lines are mostly clear. The contents of the double CD are Rameau's entire output for harpsichord solo in five books, the Premier Livre, Pieces de Clavecin, Nouvelles Suites, Pieces de Clavecin en concert and La Dauphine, a timely production in a major anniversary year for the composer, 250 years since his death in 1764. Nonetheless, there is a certain monotony in the relentless succession of short pieces and one longs for the catchy familiarity of Tambourin and the haunting originality of Les Sauvages, which was inspired by the dancing of American Indian chiefs in Paris during the 1720s to pay homage to King Louis XV.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Bux Fizz

When JS Bach walked off in a huff from Arnstadt and didn't stop until he got to Luebeck in October 1705 at the age of twenty, he did so in search of the music on this disc. Ton Koopman and his Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir perform music which Buxtehude wrote for his annual Advent series of Abendmusiken concerts, consisting here of six German and four Latin religious texts accompanied by strings plus lute and / or chamber organ. The Latin settings are more passionate than the German, Pange Lingua consisting of delicious dissonances and expressive recitative followed by sensuous dance. Was mich auf dieser Welt betruebt, on the other hand, employs a charming, four-square, major key tune in satisfyingly neat harmony. Sopranos Feuersinger and Wohlgemuth sing a beautifully balanced duet, each with matching pure straight tone in Salve Jesu, sprung seemingly from the soft twang of Mike Fentross' lute.