Schubert, F. String Quartets, 'Rosamunde' and 'Der Tod und das Mädchen'. Doric String Quartet. 2012. Compact Disc. Chandos CHAN 10737.
Pianist Benjamin Grosvenor was just 11 when he won the keyboard final of Young Musician of the Year in 2004 (losing in the final to violinist Nicola Benedetti). He became the youngest pianist to play at the First Night of the Proms in 2011, making his debut there with Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto, to great acclaim, and recently he won two Gramophone awards (Best Instrumentalist and Best Young Artist). I’ve been listening to his 2011 CD of Chopin, Liszt and Ravel, and I have to say this is one performer who deserves the hyperbolic reviews he has been receiving lately. The disc includes Chopin’s four Scherzos, alternated with three of the Nocturnes. The disc ends with Ravel’s enormously challenging Gaspard de la nuit, and in the middle are three short works from Liszt – two transcriptions of Polish songs by Chopin, and Liszt’s own Nocturne, ‘En rêve’. His virtuosity in these challenging works is without question, but what impresses even more is the maturity of interpretation. From the wild first Scherzo at the start of the disc, through Liszt’s surprisingly introspective ‘En rêve’, to the technical nightmare of Scarbo, Gaspard de la nuit’s notoriously difficult final movement, Grosvenor’s playing is captivating and inspiring.
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet is back with more Haydn (1732-1809). His 4th volume of Haydn’s Piano Sonatas brings us three Sonatas (Nos. 30, 38 & 40) and a set of Variations in F minor. The well-known Variations were composed in 1793, so towards the end of the composer’s life, and he perhaps jokingly subtitled the work ‘Un piccolo Divertimento’ – this is fact a substantial piece, certainly not a lightweight novelty. This is actually a double set of variations, with two musical episodes, each varied twice. As with previous discs in the series, Bavouzet demonstrates his authoritative immersion in this music, through his informative performance notes, but also in his sensitive and appropriate use of ornamentation and decoration. He brings out Haydn’s humour, particularly in Sonata No. 30’s opening movement, as well as the joy and spirit of the more well-known No. 38’s closing Finale. No. 40 is somewhat shorter, with just two movements, but no less interesting, with particularly clever use of canon in the second Menuet movement. Once again, Bavouzet is a joy to listen to, and the intermittent arrival of the volumes from this series is always something to look forward to – roll on Volume 5!
The fact most often stated about Czech composer and violinist Josef Suk (1874-1935) is that he was a pupil of, and married the daughter of Dvořák – talk about being overshadowed! Yet despite this, his music is well worth exploration, and he produced some fine chamber and orchestral works – his Serenade for Strings is perhaps one of his best known pieces. Czech conductor, Jirí Bêlohlávek, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, have recorded two of his orchestral works and a glorious new disc, which can be highly recommended. The first work on the disc, ‘A Summer’s Tale’, is a beautiful evocation of summer and nature, and is a real discovery for me. The orchestration is striking, and the use of hazy, shimmering strings, and bright and perky wind playing creates a fascinating soundworld which deserves greater recognition. The Intermezzo, with its representation of blind musicians playing a mournful tune, oblivious of the sunshine around them, is particularly striking and evocative. The other work here, ‘Prague’, was composed shortly after the tragic loss of first his father-in-law Dvořák, to whom he was very close, and then soon just two months later, the death of his beloved wife, Dvořák’s daughter Otilka. The work makes use of a love theme that he used in an earlier work composed just before his marriage to Otilka, and a Hussite chorale tune, and the work climaxes with the two themes combining triumphantly. Both works receive performances full of life and the BBC Symphony Orchestra rise to the challenge of the many solo opportunities that the works also present.
Suk, J. Prague, A Summer's Tale. BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jirí Bêlohlávek. 2012. Super Audio Compact Disc. Chandos CHSA 5109.
(Edited versions of these reviews first appeared in GScene magazine, February 2013)