Thursday, 31 May 2018

Effortlessly high-class Schubert and Brahms from Grosvenor and friends

Credit: Sophia Adams

Benjamin Grosvenor (piano)
Hyeyoon Park (violin)
Timothy Ridout (viola)
Kian Soltani (cello)
Leon Bosch (double bass)

Tuesday 29 May 

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Brahms: Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25

Bartók: Rhapsody No. 1 for violin and piano, Sz.87

Schubert: Piano Trio in E flat major, D897 (Notturno)

Schubert: Piano Quintet in A major, D667 (Trout)

© Patrick Allen/Opera Omnia

'Ridout and Soltani took evident pleasure in their lyrical duet, and Grosvenor dashed off his brief cadenza with a flourish, before an exhilarating race to the finish'.

'A strongly assured performance ... Park’s performance was virtuosically impressive, but inward-looking'.

Schubert Notturno:
'A wonderfully warm performance full of late summer evening languor tinged with sadness and loss'.

Schubert Trout:
'By the finale, that sense of joy and fun was all-pervading, yet detail was not forgotten'.

Grosvenor 'is to be heartily congratulated for bringing together such a wonderfully effortless evening of high-class music making'.

Read my full review on Bachtrack here.

CD Reviews - May 2018

Russian conductor, Vasily Petrenko is currently chief conductor of both the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra.  With the latter, he has already recorded two of Alexander Scriabin’s (1872-1915) five symphonies, and he now turns to the Symphony No. 2, Op. 29, which dates from 1902, and marks what is considered the end of Scriabin’s early period of composition. This is paired with Scriabin’s Piano Concerto, Op. 20, also an early work, from 1896.  Scriabin’s music from this period is highly romantic, but still has elements of the chromaticism and dissonance that would develop in his later works.  The Symphony’s lush, dark opening movement with its lyrical clarinet solo moves straight into the quicker second movement, which develops through very Wagnerian sweeps and surges into some full-on romantic writing.  The third movement’s opening, with its exquisite violin solo, supported by twittering birdcalls from the flute, is played here with precision and delicacy – a pity that neither the leader nor flautist gets a name check on the disc.  It is this movement (by far the longest, at just over eighteen minutes) that is in fact the highlight of the symphony, and also of this performance, with its simplicity and heart-on-sleeve idyllic beauty sincerely captured by the OPO players and Petrenko.  This is swept away by the nervy urgency of a stormy scherzo, which then leads to a rather bizarrely simplistic, triumphant finale.  It is this movement that has lead to the most criticism of the symphony and as a result, its somewhat infrequent performance.  This is a shame, as the earlier movements, particularly that slow movement, contain some beautifully imaginative and subtly orchestrated music.  However, Petrenko and the OPO do the finale justice, and almost convince of its merits – perhaps taken on its own, it could serve as an enjoyable overture, with its exciting, dramatic conclusion.  The even earlier Piano Concerto, from 1896, when Scriabin was just twenty-four, is a full-blooded affair, straight out of the Chopin-Liszt tradition, and it is surprising that it hasn’t established a stronger footing in the repertoire, given its evident appeal.  Russian pianist Kirill Gerstein gives an impressive performance here, balancing the weighty heft of the first movement with lightness of touch in the more expressive moments of the delightful central theme and variations.  The finale is a great crowd pleaser, but not without invention, and Gerstein, Petrenko and OPO bring their performance here to a fine, spirited conclusion.

Polish-American pianist Adam Golka has released a pleasing programme of Schumann (1810-1856).  With the Piano Sonata No. 1, Op.11, ‘Grosse Sonate’ as the centrepiece, he has included several pieces with an evening theme, and is joined by soprano Lauren Eberwein in two short songs as part of the programme.  The first of these songs, An Anna IIopens the disc, and it’s a setting Schumann composed when he was just eighteen.  It was not published in his lifetime, and only saw the light of day when Brahms published his collected works in 1893.  It’s a nostalgic, calmly passionate miniature, and Eberwein’s rich, full-bodied voice, combined with Golka’s sensitive accompaniment provides a great opener.  Its reason for preceding the Sonata is that Schumann took the melody as the basis for the Sonata’s second movement Aria.  The Sonata opens with a brooding song without words, and the full recording sound combined with Golka’s warmth of tone make for a striking beginning. As the first movement moves into the second allegro vivace section, Golka’s tempo feels slightly controlled – the turbulent wanderings could perhaps do with a little more sense of frenzy, although this does build, and Golka’s formidable technique comes to the fore as the drama builds towards the movement’s conclusion.  His Aria is delicate and sensitive, with full pedalling, lyrically sweet without being overindulgent.  A bouncy, quirky scherzo follows, with a strange, slightly pompous central Intermezzo, and the Finale ranges through fleeting mood changes, and here Golka exploits to the full the extremes of texture and emotion, leading to a swirling turbulent conclusion, leaving the instrument almost rattling at the end.  For the remainder of the disc, we move into Abend (Evening), with the nostalgic and tender ‘Des Abends’ from the Fantasiestücke, Op. 12.  This is followed by ‘Der schwere Abend’ (The oppressive evening) from 6 Gedichte und Requiem, Op. 90, with Eberwein joining Golka again for this brief dramatic mood piece.  The song suits Eberwein’s full, weighty tone, although perhaps aiming for the sense of oppressiveness, the sound is rather covered here.  The disc ends with Golka’s own arrangement for solo piano of Abendlied from the 12 Klavierstücke, Op. 85, originally for 4 hands. Golka’s version is very successful, and he captures the almost Mahlerian sense of stasis in a touchingly introspective reading.  Overall, this is a thoughtful programme (albeit rather short at just over fifty minutes), and Golka shows himself to be a force to be reckoned with.  

No review of this next disc, as I have to declare a personal interest here.  Last year, Brighton Festival Chorus (with whom I sing), had the pleasure to record a disc of lesser-known choral works by Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934), with the BBC Concert Orchestra, conducted by Barry Wordsworth (well known to us locally as the conductor of the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra).  The disc is now out, and includes the Scenes from the Bavarian Highlands, Op. 27, the Te Deum & Benedictus, Op. 34, and the motet Ecce sacerdos magnus, which gives the disc its title.   Do check it out!