Monday, 20 May 2019

CD Reviews - May 2019

On his latest release, violinist Johannes Pramsohler is joined by fellow violinist from his Ensemble Diderot, Roldán Bernabé for a fascinating collection of French 18thcentury sonatas for two violins. Louis-Gabriel Guillemain’s (1705-1770) bright Sonata Op. 4 No. 2 which opens the disc immediately sets the tone here, with a sweetness of tone beautifully matched between the two players, and the frequent double-stoppings in both parts make this often sound like at least three of four violins are at play. The gentle Largo is given a delightfully graceful touch, and the dancing Allegro to finish has stylish poise.  Jean-Marie Leclair’s (1697-1764) Sonata Op. 12 No. 6 has beautiful colours in the delicate ornamentations, and Pramsohler & Bernabé excel particularly in the quirky fugal writing of its second movement. But the highlight of the disc has to be a sequence of pieces by Jean-Pierre Guignon (1702-1744), which were performed by Guignon and fellow virtuoso Jean-Joseph Mondonville. These are dazzlingly virtuosic sets of variations, based on tunes such as an air by Rameau (Les Sauvages), and the famous Spanish tune used by many composers as the source for variation, Les Folies D’Espagne, or La Folia. Here, the variations build in complexity and difficulty, so that by the end, both violinists are engaged in rapid leaps and fiendish double-stopping. Étienne Mangean’s (c.1710-c.1756) Sonata Op. 3 No. 6 restores some calm briefly with its stately opening movement, and pulsing Adagio, but the final Chiacona is full of rich stops and rapid runs, bringing this wonderful collection to a highly pleasing conclusion.

Pianist Mark Bebbington has recorded a disc of works by Arnold Bax (1883-1953), along with a premiere recording of Harriet Cohen’s (1895-1967) Russian Impressions. The disc opens with Bax’s Sonata in E flat major, which was never performed publicly in Bax’s lifetime.  He wrote it in 1921, but the densely textured work went on to form his First Symphony, so the piano version was laid to one side. It opens explosively with weighty, dramatic exclamations, although it subsides into relative calm, before slowly building back up in intensity.  Bebbington manages the thick textures and chromatic colours with great clarity, and paces the ebb and flow of the dynamic shifts with great control, and the watery ripples of the opening of the slow movement are captivating. Again, the music builds to a phenomenal climax, before a beautifully soft and tender conclusion. The weighty chordal opening to the finale gives way to a sprightly chromatic theme, and Bebbington leads us towards its emphatically triumphant close with energy and determination. The Sonata is followed here by an unpublished work by Bax, In the Night (Passacaglia). This has a dreamy, nocturnal feel throughout, and after the fireworks of the Sonata, it gives Bebbington the chance to demonstrate a softer touch, although there is also a fervently romantic climax here too. The Four Pieces from 1947 were again not performed in Bax’s lifetime, and receive their premiere recording here. A spiky, sardonic Fantastic March is followed by more nocturnal writing in the dark Romanza, then a calmer Idyll, before an uneasy, turbulent Phantasie to finish. The single movement Legend concludes the disc here, with its rippling arpeggios and cantabile central melody, concluded with more emphatic chordal writing. But before this comes Cohen’s Russian Impressions. Pianist Harriet Cohen was a key figure in English music of the time, premiering works by many composers, including Vaughan Williams, Elgar, Ireland and of course Bax, with whom she had a forty-year affair. Her Russian Impressions are her only original compositions in print. As one might expect from the title, the four movements are impressionistic, with an atmospheric Sunset on the Volga to open, followed by a solemnly touching The Exile. The Old Church at Wilna is equally moody, with its tolling opening chords, and The Tartars, the longest of the four pieces, uses more bell-like chords to underpin its darkly mellow melody. Bebbington brings out some of the richness in Cohen’s harmonies within these atmospheric miniatures, and they provide welcome contrast to the weight of Bax’s writing. An interesting exploration of mostly unknown repertoire, expertly and knowledgeably performed here.

(Edited versions of these reviews first appeared in GScene, May 2019)

Friday, 3 May 2019

Intensity, delicacy and emotion in a highly intelligent programme from Piemontesi

Francesco Piemontesi, © Marco Borggreve

Francesco Piemontesi (piano)

Thursday 2 May, 2019

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

J. S. Bach, arr. Busoni:            Prelude and Fugue in E flat major, BWV552 – Prelude
                                                Chorale Prelude, ‘Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland’, BWV659
                                                Chorale Preulde, ‘Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme’, BWV645
J. S. Bach:                               Italian Concerto, BWV971
attrib. J. S. Bach, arr. Kempff: Siciliano in G minor, BWV1031
J. S. Bach, arr. Busoni:           Prelude and Fugue in E flat major, BWV552 – Fugue
Debussy:                                 Images, Book 2
Rachmaninov:                        Sonata No.2 in B flat minor, Op. 36 (original version)
Schubert:                                Impromptu No. 2 in A flat major, D935 (op. post. 142)

'He certainly gave us fireworks in Busoni’s thundering ... Bach, and of course in Rachmaninov’s turbulent outpouring'.

'...delicacy, contemplation and some beautifully coloured and atmospheric pianism'.

'Piemontesi delivered the cascading, pealing bells of Cloches à travers les feuilles with an ethereally soft touch'.

'...Piemontesi demonstrating dazzling virtuosity and phenomenal control as Rachmaninov’s passionate expression reached its heady climax'.

Read my full review on Bachtrack here.