CDs May 2021 (2)

I WILL BUILD YOU A HOUSE
ANDREAS IHLEBAEK, piano
NXN 1004 50’ approx

An enjoyably relaxing sequence of melodic, expansive piano music from this contemporary Norwegian pianist/composer. Grouped into 3 sections, Come Summer, Preludes to Storm and Let me be Good, the music is at times gently hypnotic, with hints of Satie and contemporary film soundtracks. There is a lovely purity to this music. An interesting biographical note gives a hint at how these composition/performance pieces have helped him and others, especially as much of the music came about during the Covid pandemic.

OTTORINO RESPIGHI – WORKS FOR FLUTE & ORCHESTRA
ROBERTO FABBRICIANI, flute
ORCHESTRA SINFONICA ABRUZZESE, NICOLA PASZKOWSKI, conductor
TACTUS TC 871805 50’48

This collection of late romantic works includes two premiere recordings. The CD is bookended with two Suites with the two-movement Melodia & Valse Caressante and Serenata in between. Developments in his compositional style can be seen in the chronological progression from the earlier works here (early 20th Century) up to the final suite Gli Ucelli. As well as various influences from his native Italy, including baroque stylings, Gregorian chant and polyphony he was influenced by Russia and other European cultures.

MAX BRUCH PIANO WORKS
CHRISTOF KEYMER, piano
CPO 555 258-2 66’43

This collection of short descriptive pieces mostly arranged into themed collections shows a different side to the composer associated mostly with larger works for solo strings and orchestra. Bruch was an excellent pianist but did not regard his piano writing as particularly significant. He was drawn to folk melodies of many different sources. Two sets of Swedish Dances make up a sizeable portion of this CD. They can be seen in the same light as other national dances by Brahms and Dvorak. An interesting collection with amterial that will be unfamiliar to many.

RACHMANINOV – PIANO SONATA NO 2, PRELUDES OP 23 NOS 4-6, MOMENTS MUSICAUX
SONYA BACH, piano
RUBICON RCD1058 68’18

This is a lovely disc of Rachmaninov’s music. With sensitive and passionate performances throughout Sonya Bach is obviously very at home with this repertoire. Recommended!

EDUARD FRANCK – PIANO CONCERTOS 1 & 2
GEORG MICHAEL GRAU, piano
WURTTEMBERGISCHE PHILHARMONIE REUTLINGEN
FAWZI HAIMOR, conductor
CPO 555 320-2 74’57

These two piano concertos, in D minor and C major, date from the middle and latter half of the 19th Century. These romantic pieces were in part influenced by associations with Mendelssohn, Schumann and Sterndale Bennett. These performances give a very good introduction to the works of this particular Franck, if, like me you were unfamiliar with him and is enjoyable in its own right.

NORDIC RHAPSODY
JOHAN DALENE, violin
CHRISTIAN IHLE HADLAND, piano
BIS-2560

Produced in conjunction with Radio 3’s New Generation Artists scheme this is a lovely programme of music highlighting composers from the region. Although many of the composers are well known the music is not necessarily familiar. Music includes Nielsen’s Romance in D major, Grieg’s Violin Sonata No 1 in F major, as well as pieces by Sinding, Stenhammar, Sibelius and Rautavaara’s Notturno e danza.

SCOTT WOLLSCHLEGER – DARK DAYS
KARL LARSON, piano
NEW FOCUS RECORDINGS FCR287 ’50 approx

This is a very rewarding disc of short contemporary pieces which play with colour, rhythm and harmony. Written between 2007 and 2020 this collection shows how the composer combines these elements together with the properties of the piano alongside his personal experience of synaesthesia. The music is expansive, often repetitive but with slight shifts and variations. The long term collaboration of composer and performer also adds to the overall effectiveness. I hope to hear more.

ROBERT GROSLOT – THE INTIMACY OF DISTANCE
CHARLOTTE WAJNBERG, soprano
BRUSSELS PHILHARMONIC, ROBERT GROSLOT, conductor
NAXOS 8.579100 55’45

Described as a “concerto for soprano and orchestra” The Intimacy of Distance sets a recent text concerned with life and distance. Alongside this are My Green Shade Forest and Trittico incantevole. The CD consists entirely of music written within the last six years and premiere recordings. A welcome addition to the catalogue of contemporary music.

WIDOR – ORGAN SYMPHONIES 5
CHRISTIAN VON BLOHN, organ of St Josef’s Church, Sankt Ingbert, Germany
NAXOS 8.574279 76’26

The Naxos survey of Widor’s organ works continues with volume 5 of the Organ Symphonies, the 3rd volume in the series recorded by organist Christian von Blohn. Interesting booklet notes highlight the fact that these works exist in different versions, necessitating decision making as to which version to record. This is again referenced by the inclusion between Symphony No 5 in F minor (which includes the famous Toccata) and Symphony No 6 in G minor of movement 4 of Symphony No 8 in B major, which was included in the 1887 edition but omitted later in 1901. Fine performances of substantial music.

JOHANN SIMON MAYR – MESSA DI GLORIA IN E MINOR & F MINOR
SIMON MAYR CHORUS
CONCERTO DE BASSUS, FRANZ HAUK, conductor
NAXOS 8.574203 80’09

World premiere recordings here of two different approaches to setting the mass. The first, lasting nearly an hour is on a much grander scale to the second which comes in at just over twenty minutes. The first incorporates intricate musical devices and showcases the development of Mayr’s (1763-1845) later writing. The pairing gives an opportunity to compare a single composer’s response with vastly differing outcomes from the same starting point. This music was once to be heard across Europe as a development of the traditional Italian school of composition. I am sure this CD will re-introduce his name to many.

SP

Two Sisters Gypsy Music People’s String Foundation Hever Castle, 29 May 2021

Anyone who reads my music reviews regularly will spot that this concert is not the sort of thing I usually cover. Actually, it’s back to my roots: my father was a ceilidh band leader and from my early teens I often sat in on fiddle or guitar when they were short for a dance, festival or other event. I therefore feel pretty comfortable with anything folky and sometimes it even overlaps with the early, baroque, classical and Romantic music I usually favour.

And this concert – where we sat under an awning, and well wrapped up in Hever Castle’s idyllic grounds as part of its festival – did not disappoint. I was pleasantly surprised by the eclecticism and the creativity of a whole evening of original compositions.

Ben Sutcliffe (violin, vocals and keyboard) and Zaid Al Rikabi (guitar and vocals), who are based in Cornwall, have been composing songs together since 2008. Gradually they began to work with other players and from that has emerged the 32 piece orchestra which they call The People’s String Foundation – although some woodwind and brass players are included. As a group they have worked on various projects and collaborations and Sutcliffe and Al Rikabi are regular composers for the Minnack Theatre.

This concert – their first live gig for nearly a year, they told the audience – gave us Sutcliffe and Al Rikabi playing acoustically in the first half. Then, after the interval, we got an audio/video projection of the whole orchestra recorded in Truro last year with the two men silhouetted in front of it and playing as part of the ensemble.

The music is very repetitive but compelling and often beautiful. The opening number, for example, consists of a fairly simple 16 bar melody which repeats to become, effectively, a folk-style take on theme and variations with a pretty exciting foot-tapping accelerando and crescendo passage. The whole concert is characterised by minor keys, close harmony and syncopation. Romanian Gypsy and Klezmer influences are very clear. I especially liked the col legno effect with very percussive guitar in, for example a number called “Solidarity” Both men are virtuoso players and several times stunned me with their techniques – Sutcliffe’s upward glissandi are really something.

My problem with the first half was the lighting. There wasn’t any. The temporary theatre in the Hever Castle grounds is effectively an awning for the audience and a forward-pointing canopy over the stage so it’s in shadow. It is equipped with stage lights and there’s a lighting box at the back of the auditorium but none of it was in use for this show. Whether that was for artistic or budgetary reasons it was a mistake because I could hardly see the two men on stage.

The second half was visually better because dusk had arrived and the main focus was the lit screen behind the two men. The production, called Res Publica, was a collaboration with Kneehigh, a Cornish theatre company and we saw a wooden marionette climb out of an old wooden violin case in a wood and then explore – as we listened to and watched the orchestra which makes rather a good sound. I was interested to see that, although Sutcliffe and Al Rikabi play entirely from memory with a great deal of visual signalling, orchestra members use conventional sheet music.

It was certainly a concert with a difference and an enjoyable two hours in a very pleasant venue.

Susan Elkin

HASTINGS INTERNATIONAL PIANO – Claire Martin OBE and Nikki Iles – 28th May – Rye Creative Centre

Alongside the well established Concerto Competition Hastings International Piano organises a variety of events throughout the year to promote the piano in different settings with a number of prestigious performers. In this concert of songs in jazz arrangements the pianist had an equal billing with the singer. She had two roles – providing accompaniment and, as with much jazz, sometimes taking the lead and becoming the soloist for a while.

Both performers are acclaimed musicians in their own right. Claire Martin led us through a well constructed tribute of songs mostly associated with Tony Bennett and Bill Evans. Brilliantly accompanied at the piano throughout by Nikki Iles the programme included songs from Rodgers and Hammerstein, Bernstein & Gershwin.

Claire Martin’s voice sometimes declaimed with great force and at other times teased and whispered. At times there was humour and playfulness and at other times a broader straighter sound. In a similar way Nikki Isles sometimes gently supported and at other times extended and highlighted melodies, with adventurous harmony and rhythmic dexterity.

The venue for this concert was new. The recently renovated old gym now forms a versatile auditorium for performance at the heart of Rye Creative Centre. Much thought had gone into making the audience welcome and comfortable as well as necessarily socially distanced. It is encouraging that at a time when performers and audiences have been severely restricted this new venue has been developed so successfully.

A very enjoyable evening.

Further events will take place here as well as at Fairlight Hall and White Rock Theatre.

hastingsinternationalpiano.org

Stephen Page

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The Hastings Sinfonia will be celebrating 10 years of a very successful and uninterrupted existence next year. This exciting orchestra is well known for its strong commitment to the community as well as for its accessible concerts with popular music both old and new being performed.

The friendly orchestra, which is formed by both professional and good standard amateur players, with many guest soloists is now looking to include even more members to join them!

Having prepared well to avoid any risks caused by the covid pandemic, the Hastings Sinfonia is ready to restart rehearsals Wednesday evenings at St John’s in Pevensey Road very soon.

The Sinfonia was founded in 2012 by local composer Polo Piatti who remains as its Artistic Director and has been conducted for most of the time since by London maestro Derek Carden, who travels regularly to Hastings from London to hold rehearsals every week.

And there is some more exciting news! Due to the pandemic’s lockdown, the Sinfonia had to remain silent and unable to rehearse for over a year. Nevertheless, always inventive, the organisation has managed to create one very positive outcome from the situation. Lead by David Bottom, one of their clarinettists, they have formed a brand new, associated ensemble, the ‘Hastings Sinfonia Wind Quintet’.  They started playing together on zoom and then together when Covid rules permitted. Other members of the new ensemble are Annabel Noton (flute), Gail Taylor (oboe), Adam Rawlinson (bassoon) and Tim Egan (French horn). Their first public performance will take place on Sunday 22nd August at 2pm at the bandstand in Hastings’s Alexandra Park.

Come along and meet some of the musicians.

If interested in joining this wonderful orchestra please email its chair Sandra Goodsell on: [email protected]

 

Isata Kanneh-Mason Brighton Dome, 25 May 2021

Isata Kanneh-Mason plays with poise, panache and maturity. She begins each piece with a moment’s silence and stillness – and then does the same between movements – which presumably allows her to focus and reset. It also has the effect of making the audience, as one, hold its breath and concentrate. What then follows are performances of technical excellence and intelligence. Hand movements are fluidly eloquent but she’s a visually unshowy (glitzy silver dress notwithstanding) performer. The magic is all in the sound.

Her sixty minute recital for the Brighton Festival was bookended by two very different, substantial sonatas with shorter pieces between. And in the course of that she managed to traverse three centuries and two continents.

Isata Kanneh-Mason’s account of Mozart K457, with its three contrasting movements was warmly compelling, especially in the Allegro assai in which she really made the most of the evocative pauses.

Then came Chopin (Ballade No 2 in F Major Op 38) whose impassioned A minor central section may, just possibly, be inspired by Polish national suffering in the late 1830s when it was written. Well, programmatic or not, it revealed plenty of drama in Kanneh-Mason’s hands.

Next she hopped across the Atlantic and moved on to three Gershwin preludes, all connotative of Rhapsody in Blue by which time I found myself wondering if there’s anything this talented young woman can’t do. She strode, tiptoed and danced through the jazzy syncopation with such sensitivity that, for a few moments we were effortlessly spirited off to a completely different world.

Still in the US, the concert ended with Samuel Barber’s 1950 piano sonata Op 36 which was new to me. I liked the way Kanneh-Mason played the charming second movement – allegro vivace e leggiero – which has the feel of Saint-Saens’s Aquarium about it and was delivered here with ethereal lightness of touch. She played the adagio with lots of weight on the grandiloquent left hand chords and then, with a well managed diminuendo, let it die away echoing like Holst’s Neptune.

The challenging fugue which completes the Barber sonata was played at terrifying speed which turned it into a real show piece – a resounding finale to a splendid recital.

Susan Elkin

The 20th Oxford Lieder Festival: Nature’s Songbook

The Oxford Lieder Festival (8 – 23 October 2021) will celebrate its 20th anniversary this autumn.The broad focus of the Festival is on nature, at a time when it has played an increasingly important part in many people’s lives, exploring how poets and composers have so often been inspired by nature and used it as a metaphor for every aspect of life.

As well as in-person attendance, the Festival will be live-streamed, allowing audiences around the world to enjoy this thrilling and immersive fortnight of exploration, discovery and inspiration.image001.jpg

La Nuova Musica Monteverdi Vespers Brighton Dome -Brighton Festival 23 May

It was a real joy to be back in an indoor space listening to live music again for the first time since before Christmas. And I have to say that distanced seating in Brighton Dome had an interesting effect on the acoustic which suited the ethereal Monteverdi sound very well as conductor David Bates carefully allowed every echo and harmonic to die away in the lofty cathedral-like space.

This, however, was not quite the Vespro della Beata Vergine as we know them. Rather it was a concert based around most of the Vespers – no plain chant between movements – with other contemporary pieces which deliberately blurred the sacred/secular divide and gave us a mix of Latin and Italian. Thus we got Pur ti miro from L’incoronazione di Poppea tucked in after Laetutus Sum and, sung with warm passion by Julia Doyle and Joanne Lunn, it was an electrifying, show stopping moment.

One of the strengths of this performance is the authencity of its small size. Ten singers stood, distanced at music stands around the back of the stage behind the eight piece band. They reconfigured their postions for each number so that the sound varied rather effectively. Sololists sang with the ensemble. High spots included the precision and colour of Dixit Dominus with an immaculately controlled amen, the jolly folksy theatricality of the madrigal Vogilo di vita uscir and the otherworldly echoes in Audi coelum.

Ot course all this was accompanied on original instruments with all the drama of two fetching theorbos and organ as well as David Bates conducting from the harpsichord. It’s quite an education too to see a period harp played standing up (Joy Smith – her opening Toccata seconda was arresting) and double bass (Judith Evans) played seated.

Perhaps this wasn’t the Vespers for the purists as you might hear it in, say, an Italian cathedral but full marks for highlighting the eroticism of this music and for drawing attention to the way in which musical boundaries were rather less absolute in the seventeenth century. And the sound was terrific.

Susan Elkin

HASTINGS PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA, CHRISTCHURCH, ST LEONARDS-ON-SEA. 22nd May 2021 MARCIO DA SILVA, conductor, YUANFAN YANG, piano

A playful elbow bump between conductor and orchestra leader started the proceedings in what was an evening of many firsts associated with live performances, in-person audiences and emerging out of lockdown. There was certainly a buzz from the capacity (distanced and masked) audience, able to enjoy live music once more and the performers rose admirably to the occasion.

The programme began with Grieg’s very familiar Peer Gynt Suite No 1. Lyrical moments contrasted with rhythm and excitement. This was followed by Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No 3 with Scottish soloist, Yuanfan Yang. Orchestra and pianist gave a wonderfully committed performance of this exciting music. The piano part demands some very forceful repetitive chordal playing alongside virtuoso scales and glissandi. There are also more expansive tender moments. Yuanfan Yang certainly did not disappoint. As an encore he gave a lovely and surprising improvisation on ‘random notes’ supplied by a member of the audience together with a suggested style. This was a really nice touch.

Symphony No 4 in F minor by Tchaikovsky was a substantial final work for the evening. The whole work gave opportunities for hearing the orchestra in full force as well as times when the various sections could be heard in dialogue with each other. A delightful pizzicato string section came in the third movement. Further thrilling sounds at the culmination of the final movement brought the evening to a very satisfying conclusion.

It is often difficult to achieve a perfect balance in an acoustic not primarily designed as a concert hall and there were a few times when certain instruments were overpowered by others. However, this is a small criticism in the context of a very enjoyable evening of music.

In normal circumstances this would have been a wonderful concert. It was even more remarkable and a testament to so many who are determined to bring back live music at a time when we are still living with the effects of the pandemic – organisers, technicians, musicians and audience.

For details of forthcoming concerts www.hastingsphilorchestra.co.uk

Stephen Page

CDs May 2021 (1)

JOAQUIN RODRIGO – GUITAR MUSIC 3
CELIL REFIK KAYA, guitar, MARIANNE GEDIGIAN, flute
NAXOS 8.574004 65’24

It is easy to forget that Rodrigo was a twentieth century composer as there is a timeless quality to much of his music. However, in listening to a disc like this it is possible to appreciate the variety and innovation in his writing. Beginning with the extended Elogio de la guitarra and ending with some of his final work Dos pequenas fantasias this is a collection of wonderful performances of this beautiful evocative music.

KAVANAGH PLAYS KAVANAGH
DALE KAVANAGH, guitar
NAXOS 8.551449 62’38

A lovely CD with a selection of varied works played by the Canadian composer demonstrates that the instrument still has a place in the contemporary ‘classical’ world.

MARCEL POOT – SYMPHONIES NOS 1-7
VARIOUS ORCHESTRAS
NAXOS 8.574292-93 (2 CDs) 2”21’26

Born at the very beginning of the 20th Century in Belgium, Marcel Poot combined classical structure with strong influences from Ravel, Stravinsky and jazz. This music feels fresh and exciting. None of the works are over-long and the whole set makes for very enjoyable listening. Five of the symphionies are first recordings.

JS BACH – SONATAS FOR VIOLA DA GAMBA AND HARPSICHORD
ROBERT SMITH, viola da gamba
FRANCESCO CORTI, harpsichord
RESONUS RES10278 62’51

This disc collects three of Bach’s late works, interspersing them with a Sonata by a contemporary, Christopher Schaffrath and a present day ‘reinvention’ of Purcell, Dido’s Torment, by Robert Smith which is said to combine influences from the 18th Century together with those of the heavy-metal band Metallica! It doesn’t feel at all out of place in this programme which is beautifully executed.

FRANCIS POULENC – AUBADE, LE BAL MASQUE, FLUTE SONATA, SEXTET
MARK BEBBINGTON, piano, RODERICK WILLIAMS, baritone, EMER McDONOUGH, flute
ROYAL PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA, LAN LATHAM-KOENIG, conductor
RESONUS RES10276 67’53

Poulenc’s Flute Sonata is a very distinctive piece, well loved and often heard. It is good to have it placed here alongside less familiar works, all of which show life and colour in performances which show the brilliance of this music.

BRITISH MUSIC FOR STRINGS II – GRANVILLE BANTOCK & CHRISTOPHER WILSON
SUDWESTDEUTSCHES KAMMERORCHESTER PFORZHEIM
DOUGLAS BOSTOCK, conductor
CPO 555 395-2 76’47

When is British music not British music? When it features American popular songs! Granville Bantock’s Serenade for String Orchestra: In the Far West draws on two melodies of Stephen Foster. Alongside there is no doubt about the inclusion of Scenes from the Scottish Highlands together with Christopher Wilson’s Suite for String Orchestra. Despite my question about the title this is a very enjoyable programme and it is gratifying to hear this music presented with care by a European orchestra.

MAX DRISCHNER – SONNENHYMNUS – ORGAN WORKS
FRIEDHELM FLAMME, organ of Heilig-Kreuz-Kirche, Detmold
CPO 555 376-2 77’22

Thrilling sounds are the order of the day in much of this music. Larger organ works sit alongside extended chorale fantasies and shorter preludes, with the longest saved until the end, the piece from which the CD takes its name. There are clear links with composers who have gone before in the German tradition but Drischner is not limited by this. Friedhelm Flamme draws expertly on the symphonic resources of this organ in a programme that is well balanced and a great listening experience.

SP