Thursday, 23 August 2018

CD Reviews - August 2018

I’ve seen Huw Wiggin (saxophone) perform solo and with the Ferio Saxophone Quartet in the Brighton Festival, and have always found him to be a highly engaging and entertaining performer, constantly expanding perceptions of what the saxophone can do.  The sax is often pigeonholed in jazz territory, but with his debut solo album, Wiggin aims to show that the instrument has much wider expressive possibilities, and he focuses on classical repertoire, much of which was composed before the saxophone was even invented in the mid 19thcentury. Consequently, most of the works are performed in arrangement, some by pianist John Lenehan, who accompanies Wiggin here.  One can only assume that some of the other arrangements are by Wiggin, but they are uncredited, so may be from existing arrangements for other instruments. However, Wiggin makes a strong case for the diverse range of works on offer here, presented broadly speaking in chronological order, from Alessandro Marcello’s (1673-1747) Oboe Concerto right through to Japanese composer Takashi Yoshimatsu’s (b.1953) ‘Sing, Bird’ from 1991. Marcello’s Concerto, possibly known better in Bach’s keyboard arrangement, works surprisingly well here, and Wiggin is able to show off with some intricate ornamentation – not particularly authentic, perhaps, but effective nonetheless.  Two arrangements of Schubert songs, ‘Du bist die Ruh’ and ‘Die Forelle’, follow.  The former works well, with its straightforward, touching melody given a simple, unaffected touch by Wiggin.  The latter I was less convinced by, the slightly four-square nature of the well-known tune sitting less comfortably with the instrument.  Lenehan’s arrangement of the Air from Grieg’s (1843-1907) Holberg Suite works very well, however, and Wiggin spins the expressive line beautifully here.  Camille Saint-Saëns’ The Swan from Carnival of the Animals never fails to delight, and the saxophone replaces the cello well, adding extra warmth to the beautiful, familiar melody.  For two arrangements of short piano works by Debussy (1862-1918), an Arabesque and the popular ‘The Girl with the Flaxen Hair’, Wiggin is joined by Oliver Wass on the harp. The cascading harp arpeggios combine with the simple melody given to the sax in the Arabesque, and The Girl with the Flaxen Hair is given a similar treatment, with Wiggin producing a long, liquid line over the harp’s subtle accompaniment.  The 7 Canciones populares españolas (7 popular Spanish songs) by Manuel de Falla (1876-1946) are beautifully atmospheric, and combine lively dance rhythms with eastern infused lyrical melodies, such as in the dark-toned Nana.  The piano writing here is not without challenges too, particularly in the final driving Polo, and Lenehan provides incisive support for Wiggin’s passionate, lyrical lines. They move to France for Paule Maurice’s (1910-1967) Tableaux de Provence.  This and Yoshimatsu’s piece are the only pieces here actually composed for the saxophone, although the Tableaux were originally conceived for sax and orchestra.  Like the de Falla, they combine atmospheric picture-painting with livelier dance-like rhythms, and again, give Wiggin the opportunity to show off the expressive range of the instrument, and Wiggin and Lenehan both relish the set’s joyful conclusion, ‘Lou cabridan’.  Two arrangements by Lenehan of well-know works by Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) follow, the complex Fugata followed by the darkly mournful Oblivion, and Wiggin’s sensuous performance here makes this track the standout moment for me. Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Flight of the Bumble-Bee is an ever-popular and fun showpiece, and Wiggin has the opportunity to show off his impressive technical virtuosity here.  Closing the disc, Yoshimatsu’s ‘Sing, Bird’ exploits the saxophone’s ability to bend notes and ‘fly’ up and down its registers in a bird-like fashion, with the piano part providing a rippling support.  Wiggin’s delicate articulation, particularly in the piece’s quiet conclusion, is mesmerising.  This is an impressive collection, definitely achieving Wiggin’s aim of showing the saxophone has a lot more to offer outside its traditional jazz/pop pigeonhole.

Edward Gardner and the BBC Symphony Orchestra have followed up their well-received recording of Elgar’s (1857-1934) Symphony No. 1 with his Symphony No. 2, Op. 63, premiered in 1911 just three years after the great success of the first Symphony.  For this recording, as with the first, Gardner has paired the symphony with one of Elgar’s great works for string orchestra, this time the Serenade for Strings, Op. 20.  After the instant success of his first Symphony, the response to Elgar’s second was more of a slow burn.  Ostensibly dedicated to the late King Edward VII, it is in fact more personally inspired, Elgar saying ‘I have written out my soul’ in the work, along with the Violin Concerto and The Music Makers.  The mammoth opening movement is dominated by a passionate but stately theme, known as the ‘Spirit of Delight’ (a reference to Shelley).  Gardner and the BBCSO give this weight without ever getting bogged down, and the contrast between this and the more complex, reflective passages are all the more striking here.  The funereal second movement also has passion, but again Gardner keeps this under control, bringing out the poignancy of Elgar’s personal lament.  The short Rondo has fitful pace here, and Gardner and the BBCSO players present the finale’s complex fugal passage with taut precision.  As with all his Elgar recordings to date, Gardner never overindulges, but this is never dry or without passion either.  The Symphony is paired here with a warm reading of the youthfully charming Serenade for Strings.  Its three short movements combine lyricism and expression with gently rocking rhythms, and Gardner and the BBCSO strings give us a particularly tender slow movement here.  Another fine Elgar recording from Gardner, highly recommended.

(Edited versions of these reviews first appeared in GScene, August 2018)

Endings and beginnings: choral classics and a new commission from BBC Singers and Oramo - Proms at ... Cadogan Hall 6

© Benjamin Ealovega

BBC Singers
Sakari Oramo

Monday 20 August 2018

Proms at ... Cadogan Hall 6

Cadogan Hall, London

Frank Bridge: Music, when soft voices die

Ralph Vaughan Williams: Rest

Gustav Holst: Nunc dimittis

Laura Mvula: Love Like a Lion

Hubert Parry: Songs of Farewell -
1. My soul, there is a country
2. I know my soul hath power to know all things
3. Never weather-beaten sail
4. There is an old belief
5. At the sound earth's imagined corners
6. Lord, let me know mine end

'Oramo conducted with big gestures, shaping the dynamics and flow of the text with confidence'.

'Mvula draws on a variety of styles, yet combining them in a skilfully coherent way'.

'More choral compositions from Mvula must surely follow'.

'The BBC Singers agility in the winding lines and frantic entries was impressive'.

Read my full review on Bachtrack here.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Blissful daydreams on a hot afternoon: lullabies and dreams from Connolly and Middleton - Proms at ... Cadogan Hall 4

© Jan Capinski

Sarah Connolly (mezzo-soprano)

Monday 6 August, 2018
Cadogan Hall, London

Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924): A Sheaf of Songs from Leinster, Op. 140 - 'A soft day'
Hubert Parry (1848-1918): English Lyrics, Set 4 - 'Weep you no more, sad fountains'
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958): The House of Life - 'Love-Sight'
Ivor Gurney (1890-1937): Thou didst delight my eyes
Arthur Somervell (1863-1937): A Shropshire Lad - 'Into my heart an air that kills'
Frank Bridge (1879-1941): Come to me in my dreams
Herbert Howells (1892-1983): Goddess of Night
Frank Bridge: Journey's End
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976): A Sweet Lullaby
Benjamin Britten: Somnus, the humble god
Gustav Holst (1874-1934): Twelve Humbert Wolfe Songs, Op. 48 - 'Journey's End'
Benjamin Britten: A Charm of Lullabies, Op. 41
Lisa Illean (b.1983): Sleeplessness ... Sails
Mark-Anthony Turnage (b.1960): Farewell

'Connolly and Middleton held the audience’s interest ... through a strong sense of communication and commitment to the texts'.

'Connolly, in her Proms recital debut, and Middleton delivered their programme with assurance and conviction throughout'.

'Connolly always delivered the text with intensity and passion, without ever becoming mannered in delivery'.

'His rippling watery accompaniment to Parry’s Weep you no more, sad fountains, and the beautifully placed delicacy of the opening to Vaughan Williams’ Love-Sight are just two small examples of the subtlety of his touch throughout'.

Read my full review on Bachtrack here

Friday, 3 August 2018

Strong Proms debut from Otto Tausk - BBC Prom 24

© Marco Borggreve

Daniel Müller-Schott (cello)
Otto Tausk (conductor)
BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Wednesday 1 August, 7pm

BBC Prom 24

Royal Albert Hall, London

Ethel Smyth: The Wreckers - On the Cliffs of Cornwall (Prelude to Act 2)

Antonín Dvořák: Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104

Ernest Bloch: From Jewish Life, Prayer

Richard Strauss: Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40

'Tausk and the BBCNOW gave us an assured and atmospheric reading'.

'Müller-Schott’s singing tone was a delight, and he and Tausk took time to allow things to breathe'.

'Müller-Schott’s warm, singing tone shone out and captivated a silent audience'.

'An impressively detailed performance of this crazy tour de force for the orchestra, and a strong Proms debut for Tausk'.

Read my full review on Bachtrack here.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Ancient Rituals and New Tales: Tawadros challenges perceptions of the Oud - Proms at ... Cadogan Hall 3

© Daniel Sponiar

Joseph Tawadros (Oud)

Monday 30 July, 2018
Cadogan Hall, London

Joseph Tawadros (b.1983):
Taqasim Kord

Jessica Wells (b.1974):
Rhapsody for Solo Oud

Joseph Tawadros:
Permission to Evaporate
Gare de l'Est
Give or Take
Forbidden Fruit

Bluegrass Nikriz

Joseph Tawadros:
'He manages to gently challenge expectations of image, accent and culture'.

'The encore ... raised the energy levels with its new heights of virtuosity, lightening fingerwork and rhythmic strumming seamlessly switching between and blending bluegrass and Arabic music'.

'A perfect conclusion to a performance that was all about challenging perceptions – of culture, identity and, of course, the oud itself'. 

Jessica Wells:
'Her new piece, Rhapsody for Oud, was indeed rhapsodic, with fleeting moments of effect strung together in a loose but engaging way'.

Read my full review on Bachtrack here.