For his second volume of Franz Schubert’s (1797-1828) works for solo piano, pianist Barry Douglas pairs the first set of Four Impromptus, D899, with the Piano Sonata in A major, D959. The Sonata was the second of a final three sonatas Schubert finished just weeks before his death aged just 31, and the Impromptus come from the year before this. The four Impromptus come first on the disc, and each have a different character, although they all share Schubert’s use of rapid figuration to decorate his lyrical melodies. The first is perhaps the most dramatic, and here Douglas’ use of rubato (pulling about of the rhythms from bar to bar) unsettles the momentum. However, his light fluidity in the second and the smooth melodic line over the rippling accompaniment in the most well-known third are impressive, and the fourth’s delicately cascading arperggios appear effortless. The Sonata, like its companions from that final set, is a large scale, four-movement work, coming in at over forty minutes. The opening movement has heft and energy, full of invention, yet despite its relatively conventional structure, Schubert pulls us up short with a surprisingly subdued conclusion. This sets us up nicely for the darkly lilting slow movement that follows – but once again, just as we’re settling to this, Schubert cuts things short and there follows an incredibly wild and turbulent middle section, before the lilting boatsong returns, adorned to give added pathos. Douglas combines sensitivity in the outer sections with virtuosic display in the middle, although both are somewhat restrained, giving this a suitably introspective feel. The Scherzo that follows wipes away the tears with a sprightly dance, and here Douglas gives us much-needed brightness and lightness of touch. For the finale, Schubert reworked a movement from an earlier sonata, but its infectiously lyrical rondo theme proves a perfect fit here, with Schubert supplying almost constantly flowing triplet rhythms throughout. At the end, Schubert brings proceedings to a halt with brief fragments of the theme, followed by a brief rapid coda, and a final hint of the opening chords from the first movement, and Douglas draws this impressive second volume to a convincing conclusion.
Italian-born violinist Augustin Hadelich and Korean pianist Joyce Yang have been playing together since 2010, and clearly have a strong musical partnership, on the evidence of this, their first recital recording together. They begin with André Previn’s (b. 1929) Tango, Song and Dance, a piece written for violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter in 1997, before her subsequent marriage to (and later divorce from) Previn in 2002. A sweet, central Song is bookended with a crowd-pleasing Tango and a jazzy Dance, and Hadelich and Lang have great fun with this. They follow this with Robert Schumann’s (1810-1856) Sonata No. 1, Op.105, a turbulent and emotive work, and both players perform here with passion and drive. Apparently when performing live, they lead straight from the Schumann into the Tre Pezzi, Op.14e by György Kurtág (b.1926), which come next on this disc, and provide a striking contrast. The three short pieces are pared down and very stark compared to the flurry of action and intensity of Schumann’s finale, and of course in a completely different soundworld. Hadelich and Yang deliver these miniatures with an almost claustrophobic intensity, such that the expansive outpouring of the Sonata by César Franck (1822-1890) comes as a great relief. This is a very cleverly constructed programme, and also demonstrates these performers’ extensive range. Their Franck is lush and full of depth, with Yang particularly excelling in the demands of the piano writing here, and Hadelich produces a consistently warm and rich tone well suited to this highly passionate work. Overall, these are highly engaging performances in an imaginative and intelligent recital programme – highly recommended.
Various. 2016. Franck, Kurtág, Previn, Schumann. Augustin Hadelich, Joyce Yang. Compact Disc. Avie AV2347.
Bass-baritone Gerald Finley is joined by the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Edward Gardner for ‘In the Stream of Life’, a disc of songs by Jean Sibelius (1865-1957). Most were orchestrated relatively recently, partly prompted by the 150th anniversary of his birth in 2015. The title of the disc comes from Einojuhani Rautavaara’s (1928-2016) orchestrated set of seven of Sibelius’ songs, and the theme of water runs throughout most of the songs on the recording. Finley himself requested the arrangements from Rautavaara, and is clearly very much at home here. He sings with precision and great dramatic communication, yet his rich voice also brings a moving melancholy to songs such as PIn Rautavaara’s set, the orchestration captures Sibelius’ spirit, with watery strings in the folksy tale Älven och snigeln (The River and the Snail), and the mysterious, otherworldy and homoerotic Näcken (The Water Spirit). One of the composer’s few originally composed orchestral songs, Koskenlaskijan mosiamet (The Rapids-rider’s Brides) is another watery tale, with Finley again convincingly communicating another fateful love being overpowered by nature. In addition, Gardner commands attention with a taut reading of Sibelius’ wonderfully impressionistic sea-picture, The Oceanides, and we are also treated to Sibelius’ beautifully orchestrated tone poem, Pohjola’s Daughter, drawing on one of his favourite inspirations in a tale from the epic Kalevala. A short but pleasing Romance for string orchestra is the other orchestral piece on offer here. Gardner elicits great depth of tone combined with subtle agility from the Bergen players, making this a striking recording all round.
Sibelius, J. 2017. In the Stream of Life: Songs by Sibelius. Gerald Finley, Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Edward Gardner. Hybrid Super Audio Compact Disc. Chandos CHSA 5178.
(Edited versions of these reviews first appeared in GScene, May 2017)