Wednesday, 23 December 2015

CD Reviews - December 2015

Pianist Barry Douglas’ fourth volume of Works for Solo Piano by Brahms (1833-1897) continues with his practice of mixing and matching more substantial works such as the Sonata No. 1 and two sets of Variations with selected shorter works from the later collections of Intermezzi and Fantasies.  It is interesting to hear these shorter pieces out of the context of the whole sets in which they were published – although there is nothing to suggest Brahms intended them to be performed as complete sets. So we hear here the beautiful C sharp minor Intermezzo from Op. 117, together with the E minor Intermezzo from Op. 119, three of the seven Fantasies Op. 76 and the first Ballade.  The great Sonata No. 1, Brahms’ Op.1 opens the disc, and the first book of the Variations on a Theme by Paganini (yes, that famous theme) ends the programme, with the Variations on a Theme by Schumann as the centrepiece. By doing this, Douglas cleverly contrasts power and weight in the larger scale pieces with intimacy and retrospection in the smaller pieces, thereby avoiding the cliched criticism of Brahms’ music being all too heavyweight.  It is also very effective placing the Sonata, his first published work alongside works from the very end of his career.  The Schumann variations are perhaps less well-known than the Paganini sets, but are another sign of the close relationship Brahms had with the Schumanns (he dedicated the set to Clara Schumann), and contain numerous references to both Clara and Robert. Douglas shows great power and command in the Sonata, particularly in its fiery and heroic finale, yet he also shows great subtetly in the two brooding minor-key late Intermezzi. The Variations allow him to demonstrate extremes of virtuosity, as well as moments of delicacy, particularly in the Schumann set. Once again, this is an impressive set, and Volume 5 is out too – highly recommended.

Brahms, J. 2015. Works for Solo Piano, Volume Four. Barry Douglas. Compact Disc. Chandos CHAN 10857.

Solo repertoire for the oboe took along time to become established in the seventeenth century, due to the oboe being largely inaccessible to amateurs and also because of the entrepeneurial fashion for publishing music for as varied forces as possible. So pieces would be published as suitable for flute, viol, oboe and other instruments to maximise the audience, making it hard to identify when a composer was specifically writing for a particular instrument. It was therefore commonplace for works to be transposed and transcribed to suit different instruments, and many composers expected and sanctioned this. Marin Marais (1656-1728) is best known for his music for viols, yet he expressly suggested many works could be transposed to be made suitable for other instruments. With this in mind, Baroque oboe specialist Christopher Palameta has recorded six of Marais’ Suites, making suitable transpositions and adjustments for the oboe. He is joined by a continuo of Eric Tinkerhess (bass viol), Lisa Goode Crawford (harpsichord) and Romain Falik (Baroque guitar and theorbo). The rich, warm sound of Palameta’s oboe is matched beautifully with the depth of sound from the continuo instruments, so that one would never know they weren’t written for the oboe. Whilst the form of the six suites here is relatively formulaic, with a Prélude followed by four or five dance based movements, there is nevertheless great variety in Marais’ writing. The Sarabandes are dignified and stately, the Gigues are sprightly and the Préludes are suitably arresting. A few individual movements stand out too, such as the rustic Musettes in the G minor suite, and the Spanish inflections of the final ‘La Biscayenne’ of the E minor suite. Palameta makes a convincing case for this music on the oboe, and hopefully more recordings from him will follow soon.

Marais, M. 2014. Suites for Oboe. Christopher Palameta, Eric Tinkerhess, Romain Falik, Lisa Goode Crawford. Compact Disc. Audax Records. ADX 13702.

I recently reviewed a disc of choral and vocal music by Cheryl Frances-Hoad, and have since been enjoying an earlier recording made of her chamber works.  The disc is called ‘The Glory Tree’, which is the one work here with voice, with a chamber ensemble accompaniment. Soprano Natalie Raybould, who sang on the vocal recording, performs Frances-Hoad’s settings of Old English poems with members of the Kreisler Ensemble. These are challenging pieces, with real extremes of dynamic, extending even to a scream which ends the final song. Yet there are also subtleties of writing here, with bell-like piano writing combined with woodwind ripples in the fourth song, and sombre string writing in the third. Elsewhere on the disc we have a angular, virtuosic solo violin piece, The Snow Woman (performed impressively by Natalia Lomeiko) and a richly intense, almost claustrophobic piece, Invocation, for solo cello with six tutti celli and double-bass, performed by Leonid Gorokhov and members of the Yehudi Menuhin School, where Frances-Hoad herself studied. With a darkly oppressive piano trio, Melancholia, inspired by paintings by Edvard Munch, a dream-like string trio, The Ogre Lover, and a quirky, jazzy solo piece, Bouleumata, for clarinet, this is a strong calling card showing off Frances-Hoad’s varied and imaginative writing for chamber forces. The disc opens with a wonderful work for oboe, cor anglais (both played here by the great Nicholas Daniel), string trio and piano called Memoria, inspired by Back’s Solo Cello Suite No. 2, and in memory of the oboist and cellist Sidney Sutcliffe who taught Frances-Hoad. After a tender opening to the Prelude, the textures build in complexity, and the fluidly interpreted Fugue which follows shows a strong sense of form and imaginative development of musical material. Together with the choral/vocal disc, this showcases a highly talented composer to be watched closely.

Frances-Hoad, C. 2011. The Glory Tree. Various artists. Compact Disc. Champs Hill Records CHRCD021.

(These reviews first appeared in GScene, December 2015)

Monday, 7 December 2015

Powerful Prokofiev and Scriabin from the Philharmonia and Salonen

© Clive Barda

Esa-Pekka Salonen (Conductor)

Lang Lang (piano)

Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet, excerpts
Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C, Op. 26
Scriabin: La poème de l'extase, Op. 54

Thursday 3 December 2015

'The violent conclusion was truly frightening, with Salonen delivering maximum venom'.

'More than a curtain-raiser, this was a powerful performance, whetting the appetite for more Prokofiev to come'.

'A performance with moments of excitement marred by a lack of focus or a sense of partnership between pianist and orchestra'.

'Salonen and the Philharmonia players maintained a wonderful level of delicacy'.

Read my full review on Bachtrack here.