Thursday, 17 August 2017

CD Reviews - August 2017

Early music ensemble Collegium Musicum 90, directed from the violin by Simon Standage present ‘Maestro Corelli’s Violins’, with music by three violinist-composers who worked with Corelli.  So no music by Corelli here in fact, but instead some fabulously vibrant and energetic music from these lesser-known composers following in his footsteps.  Regular readers might recognise Antonio Montanari (1676-1737) from a recording I reviewed of his Concertos performed by Johannes Pramsohler and the Ensemble Diderot (more from them next month). The two recordings share two of the Op. 1 ConcertosNos. 6 and 7, and Collegium Musicum 90 also perform No. 2.  It’s great to hear this wonderful music on disc again so soon, and to have the chance to hear two slightly different takes on some of Montanari’s music.  Standage’s approach is a little more full-blooded, emphasising the energy of these works, perhaps in keeping with the rest of his disc’s programme, whereas Pramsohler brings out more of the subtlety in the solo writing – but both relish the mystery in the striking slow movement of No. 6.  Sadly, little else of Montanari’s music has survived, but it’s great to have two such excellent exponents championing what we do have.  Standage’s disc opens with a fabulously energetic and lively Concerto (Op. 7 No. 11) by Giuseppe Valentini (1681-1753).  Its six movements include a stately Largo, a driven Allegro with typical Corelli-esque rapid violin figuration, and a lively jig to finish.  Standage drives this with great spirit and fun, although the central Grave sections feel a tad aggressive.  The two Concertos by Giovanni Mossi (c.1680-1742), from his Op. 4 set of 12, are real gems, full of inventive use of interplay between the solo instruments – no fewer than four violins and a cello in No. 12, with four further violins and no viola in the accompanying ‘ripieno’, creating an unusual and complex texture.  Here, the bright sound and infectious energy from the Collegium players is a delight.  Overall, this is a joyous disc, giving great insight into music beyond Corelli from 18th century Rome.  Highly recommended.

Another period instrument ensemble, the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, has ventured into later territory for their CD, ‘The Romantics’.  For these live recordings they are joined as Guest Director by violinist Shunske Sato, who is also the soloist in Niccolò Paganini’s (1782-1840) Violin Concerto No. 4 which ends the disc.  But they open with a warm and energetic performance of Edvard Grieg’s (1843-1907) Holberg Suite – subtitled a ‘Suite in the Olden Style’.  It is suite of dance movements, in the Baroque style, yet Grieg’s Romantic sensibility shines through in the rich writing for strings – Grieg said it the string orchestra for this should ideally be sixty players.  As is often the way when period instrument groups move into later repertoire, they bring a welcome incision and attention to detail.  Sato also introduces more Romantic stylistic approaches into the mix, such as extensive portamento (slides), particularly in the Air, where it is a little overdone.  However, it is full of life, as is the String Symphony No. 3 by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) that follows.  Remarkably, Mendelssohn wrote twelve string symphonies between the age of 12 and 14.  Produced when he was having composition lessons from Carl Friedrich Zelter, they nevertheless only precede works of genius such as the String Octet by a couple of years, so Mendelssohn clearly learned fast and honed his skills of melodic invention, harmony and counterpoint in these delightful pieces.  A bit like the Grieg, these look backwards to Baroque style, sounding quite Handelian.  And again, a performance from a period instrument outfit brings out these roots in the music, and the ABO play with great precision and poise.  The finale of their concert is the Paganini Concerto, with the ABO Artistic Director, Paul Dyer now conducting.  Paganini composed six Concertos, which he performed himself, and the scores were not published until after his death.  They are of course showpieces for his phenomenal technique, and the orchestra is there pretty much as backing accompaniment.  Sato is highly impressive here, and seems to breeze through the technical demands that Paganini throws at him, particularly in the crazy Rondo galante that finishes proceedings.  The melodramatic funereal slow movement is wonderfully over the top, and Sato milks the sobbing solo part for all it’s worth.  This is all about the soloist, and Sato certainly does not disappoint.  A fun conclusion to a highly entertaining programme.

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet is on his sixth volume of Piano Sonatas by Franz Joseph Haydn (1731-1809) – given that he wrote roughly 60, there’s still some way to go! Here we have another five, none of which are particularly well known or regularly performed.  Yet as ever, Bavouzet brings his dedication and insight, making this another enjoyable collection.  Numbering of Haydn’s sonatas is problematic, with two numbering systems and uncertainty about the provenance of a few – I’ll stick with the more recent Landon system.  Bavouzet begins with No. 11, with its bright, crisp opening movement, and touching slow movement.  He combines energy and clarity in the former with delicacy and a beautifully singing tone in the latter.  This sets the pattern for the whole disc, with that combination of crisp clarity and sensitivity shining through.  No. 43 that follows has the same brightness and energy, but with greater virtuosity, which Bavouzet makes sound effortless, particularly the hand-crossing show of the final Presto.  As with other volumes in the series, Bavouzet exploits ornamentation and decoration in the repeats with exquisite taste, managing to add interest without it ever feeling intrusive.  Nos. 34, 35 and 36 make up the rest of this volume – although again, the numbering is deceptive here, as the chronological order is far from clear.  There is even some uncertainty that No. 35 is actually by Haydn, although the argument in his favour is strong.  Regardless of such doubts, it is a joyful and playful sonata, and Bavouzet exploits the humour here to great effect.   No. 34 has a beautiful central slow movement, followed by a clever Minuet with variations, and No. 36 that finishes the disc has a poised Adagio, ending with a lively PrestoBavouzet is a delight throughout, and despite being one volume in an extended project, he raises this way above a catalogue exercise.

Haydn, F. J. 2017. Piano Sonatas, Volume 6. Jean-Efflam Bavouzet. Compact Disc. Chandos CHAN 10942. 

(Edited versions of these reviews first appeared in GScene, August 2017)

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

The full power of the Latvian Radio Choir with understated excellence from Melnikov - Proms at Cadogan Hall, PCM 5

The Latvian Radio Choir at Prom 38
© BBC/Chris Christodoulou

BBC Proms at ... Cadogan Hall, PCM5

Sigvards Kļava (director)

Monday 14 August, 2017


Preludes and Fugues, Op. 87, Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 7 & 8

Ten Poems on Texts by Revolutionary Poets, Op. 88, Nos. 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9

Alexander Melnikov
© Marco Borggreve
'The most immediately impressive aspect of the Latvian Radio Choir’s singing (and Sigvards Kļava’s direction) is the dynamic range they achieve'.

'The blend was perfect, with a rich, smooth sound, and the tenor line floated over the top at the close was sublime'.

'Melnikov had a low-key stage presence, and his playing was at all times thoughtful and calm'.

'His precise articulation was so captivating, even in its final descent to the depths of the keyboard'.

Read my full review on Bachtrack here.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Strikingly dramatic Weir in a convincing première from the BBC Singers and the Nash Ensemble - Proms at Southwark Cathedral

© BBC/Mark Allan
BBC Proms at ... Southwark Cathedral

Adrian Thompson (tenor)
Charles Gibbs (narrator)
Stephen Farr (organ)

BBC Singers
Nash Ensemble
David Hill (conductor)

Saturday 12 August, 2017
Southwark Cathedral

David Hill (© BBC/Mark Allan)
Motet 'Confitebor tibi, Domine'
Missa 'Confitebor tibi, Domine'

Judith Weir:
'In the Land of Uz'

'Hill shaped the rising and falling lines carefully'.

'Hill began this with some beautifully soft singing, warming for those final chords'.

Adrian Thompson & the BBC Singers
(© BBC/Mark Allan)
  'Adrian Thompson characterised the 
  role of Job with great presence'.

  'A powerful performance of a highly   
  effective, dramatic piece, with great
  variety, strong choral writing, and
  imaginative and unusual use of 

  Read my full review on Bachtrack here.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Four centuries of British music from Ryan Wigglesworth and the BBC NOW - Prom 32

© Benjamin Ealovega
BBC Prom 32

Toby Spence (tenor)

Ryan Wigglesworth (conductor)

Wednesday 9 August, 2017

Britten: Ballad of Heroes, Op. 14

Brian Elias: Cello Concerto

Purcell, arr. Elgar: 'Jehovah, quam multi sunt hostes mei'

Elgar: Variations on an Original Theme ('Enigma'), Op. 36

'The largely unison text was delivered with powerful clarity by the BBC National Chorus of Wales'.

'Toby Spence delivered the final movement’s recitative with great presence, and impressive precision in Britten’s challenging, leaping lines'.

'Elschenbroich took the opportunity to allow the cello to sing'.

'Wigglesworth’s reading here lifted proceedings, and in particular, the pianissimo playing he demanded of the orchestra was most effective'.

Read my full review on Bachtrack here.