Friday, 29 April 2022

Collaboration not conflict: dazzlingly virtuosic Dean from Gerhardt and the LPO

Alban Gerhardt (© Kaupo Kikkas)

Alban Gerhardt (cello)
Edward Gardner (conductor)

7.30pm, Wednesday 27 April 2022

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976): Sinfonia da Requiem, Op. 20

Brett Dean (b.1961): Cello Concerto (UK premiere)

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958): Symphony No. 5 in D major

Edward Gardner (© Mark Allan)
'Gardner’s conducting was suitably controlled and precise, yet he also brought out the dark emotions beneath the surface'.

'Gardner’s beat was incredibly precise throughout ... and the LPO players have also embraced the work, so that it never felt like an arduous exercise in counting and rhythm'.

'A highly engaging concerto, performed with incredible precision and commitment by soloist and orchestra alike'.

Vaughan Williams:
'Gardner and the LPO gave us reassuring warmth ... and assured solos from across the orchestra'.

'Gardner expertly built towards the radiant climax ... with a masterfully controlled slowing down to the peaceful close'. 

Read my full review on Bachtrack here.

Thursday, 21 April 2022

Artistry, focus and virtuosic fireworks from Yuja Wang in recital

Yuja Wang (© Ian Farrell)

Yuja Wang (piano)

7.30pm, Wednesday 20 April 2022

Royal Festival Hall, London

Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827): Piano Sonata No. 18 in E flat major, 'Hunt', Op. 31 No. 3
Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951): Suite, Op. 25
György Ligeti (1923-2006): Etude No. 6, 'Autumn à Varsovie' & Etude No. 13, 'L'escalier du diable'
Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915): Piano Sonata No. 3 in F sharp minor, Op. 23
Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909): Iberia, Bk 4: 'Málaga' & Bk 3: 'Lavapiés'
Nikolai Kapustin (1937-2020): Prelude in B major, Op. 53 No. 11 & Prelude in C sharp minor, Op. 53 No. 10

Philip Glass (b.1937): Etude No. 6
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750): Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor, BWV1067, Badinerie (arr. unknown)
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897): Intermezzo in C sharp minor, Op. 117 No. 3
Arturo Márquez (b.1950): Danzón No. 2 (arr. unknown)
Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953): Toccata in D minor, Op. 11
Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989): Carmen Variations
Franz Schubert (1797-1828): Gretchen am Spinnrade, D118 (transcribed by Franz Liszt (1811-1886))
Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky (1840-1893): Swan Lake, Op. 20, Dance of the Little Swans (arr. Earl Wild (1915-2010))
Giovanni Scambati (1841-1914): Mélodie (transcribed from Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787): Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Orphée et Eurydice)

Yuja Wang (© Ian Farrell)
'While Wang more than delivered virtuosic fireworks, she gave so much more in her wide-ranging programme, showing phenomenal artistry and focus in well over two hours of performance'.

'Her Schoenberg that followed was, however, a revelation, with opening bite and edge followed by some remarkably delicate and intricate details'.

'In ... Automne à Varsovie, Wang was into her astonishingly virtuosic stride, with hands at full stretch to either end of the keyboard. Yet it was her dynamic control that also impressed here'.

'Wang’s dynamic control was impressive, with barely audible pianissimos expressing heartfelt longing'.

'Dazzlingly rapid repetition in Glass followed by a crazy arrangement of ... Bach'.

Read my full review on Bachtrack here.

Monday, 4 April 2022

CD Reviews & Concert Listings - April 2022


Carl Friedrich Christian Fasch (1736-1800) was expected to follow in the footsteps of his more famous father, Johann Friedrich Fasch, as Kapellmeister in Zerbst, but instead he went on to share the position of harpsichordist to Frederick II with CPE Bach, and then ultimately when CPE Bach left after the seven years war, he remained. He was also responsible for establishing the Singakademie in Berlin, which was chiefly responsible for the rediscovery of JS Bach’s music which by then had fallen into obscurity. Philippe Grisvard has recorded a selection of Fasch’s keyboard works, performing them on a gloriously ringing fortepiano from around 1790. The disc includes three of Fasch’s Sonatas, and several short ‘character’ pieces, ending with a wonderful Ariette with Fourteen Variations. The B flat minor Sonata has a dramatically rippling opening, and continues with almost perpetual motion, with falling arpeggios dropping to a sombre trill at the bass of the keyboard. In its slow movement, the rich lower tones of Grisvard’s instrument are warmly echoey, and the trumpet-like repeated notes ring out almost like an organ stop. Whilst conventional in structure, its finale has drama too in its fantasia-like explosion before the return of the opening material. The C major Sonata is full of Viennese gentility, despite its challenging hand crossing, and an expressive central movement is followed by a fiery yet playful finale, with its stop-start rhythms. Grisvard creates such a variety of tones here, from the sound of a music box in the quieter sections to a guitar-like sound at the light, hiccupping finish. The F major Sonata is equally lively and emphatic in style, with beautifully expressive touch from Grisvard in the mournful central movement, whilst demonstrating his virtuosity in the bright finale. Of the character pieces, L’Antoine perhaps stands out, with Grisvard again bringing out its mournful expressiveness with the muted tone of the instrument. La Cecchina is delightful, with its sudden runs and pleasing melodic material. But it is the Ariette and its variations that prove to be the real demonstration of Fasch’s inventiveness, taking the graceful and delicate theme through a gentle dance (3), perpetual spinning wheel motion (4), dramatic statements (7) and rich repeated chords (13) to mention just a few. Grisvard is on a roll here, and shifts effortlessly from variation to variation, shifting from a gently rocking lilt to rapid top to bottom scales with effortless smoothness. Fasch ends with a rattling motion, and Grisvard’s clattering chords bring this to a suitably striking conclusion. The combination of some delightfully inventive keyboard music, the surprisingly versatile and sonorous fortepiano, and Grisvard’s virtuosity combined with delicacy and lightness of touch make this recording a resounding hit.

Fasch, C. F. C. 2020. Works for Keyboard. Philippe Grisvard. Compact Disc. Audax Records ADX 13725.

Pianist Simon Callaghan joins the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conducted by Martyn Brabbins for a great selection of obscure British Piano Concertos. ‘New’ piano concertos, often for modest orchestral forces, were a popular feature of concert programmes in the early half of the twentieth century, but by their very nature, many of them failed to achieve longevity and often disappeared without trace. Yet there are some great pieces here, ranging from the light and almost comical to more weightily, expressive offerings. Only one of the works here has been previously recorded (the Benjamin), and that was back in 1959. John Addison’s (1920-1998) Wellington Suite kicks things off, and this is a great, playful romp. Scored for two horns, piano, percussion and strings, the horns actually take centre stage with some really challenging and rapid exchanges, deftly handled here by Tim Thorpe and Meilyr Hughes. Written in 1959, we can hear the film music that Addison was best known for (eg. Reach for the Sky, A Taste of Honey). He relocated to Los Angeles in 1975 – receiving an Emmy for his signature tune for Murder, She Wrote. There are cartoon capers in the opening movement, with sliding piano lines and bright horns. The horns are slinkier in the more reflective second movement, with delicate piano pecks over gentle strings, before concluding with a lumbering march. Delicate pizzicato strings, played with great control by the BBC NOW build towards an almost Shostakovich-like comic second section. A light, halting waltz ends with vaudeville piano tremolos, before a playfully jaunty ride lead by the horns, with quickening pace in the piano and strings exchanges to finish. Australian born Arthur Benjamin (1893-1960) studied and later taught at the Royal College of Music, where Britten was one of his pupils. His Concertino for Piano and Orchestra (1927) was influenced by the popularity of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, and its single movement has its bluesy movements courtesy of the addition of an alto saxophone. Perhaps less extrovertly extravagant than Gershwin, it nevertheless has effective passages of sweeping strings with the piano providing energetic counterpoint. Callaghan delivers the racing light piano ripples and the wandering cadenza towards the end with elegant panache. Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994) was another RCM alumnus, and was an important figure in the world of new music composition, becoming the first woman chair of the Composers’ Guild of Great Britain in 1959, and the president of the Society for the Promotion of New Music in 1976, succeeding Britten. Her Concertino for Piano and String Orchestra (1949) is dramatic and virtuosic for the piano, with angular strings and intense, insistent rhythms throughout. The middle movement has more lyricism, but here still the jagged rhythmic knocks are unsettling. Insistence continues in the final movement, with rapid motion passed between piano and orchestra, and repetition of ideas hammering home its darkly infectious spirit. Humphrey Searle’s (1915-1982) short Concertante for Piano, Percussion & Strings (1954) is full of spiky rhythms and interchanges between piano and orchestra, with slinky strings and birdlike piano interjections. Following a short cadenza at the centre, the atmospheric sliding strings become more frenzied to great effect. Edmund Rubbra’s (1901-1986) ‘Nature’s Song’, a tone poem for orchestra, piano and organ (1920) is up next, and this is perhaps the most immediately engaging work here, with its filmic, rich scoring and expressive melodic lines. The sea’s ‘rich roar’ surges in the strings, and Callaghan is particularly expressive in the solo section towards the end, before the flute and oboe rise up to the sky over quiet strings to finish. Geoffrey Bush’s (1920-1998) A Little Concerto on themes of Thomas Arne (1939) is definitely of its time, yet his delicate arrangement of music taken several of Arne’s Harpsichord Sonatas and the Keyboard Concerto No. 3 is surprisingly delicate and refined. He keeps the textures relatively light, and here Callaghan weaves the piano part, often running in octaves, around the bare string textures. Overall, this is a fascinating collection. With a range of styles on offer, the Rubbra and Maconchy stand out for their overall depth, but the Addison is a comic gem.

Various. 2022. British Piano Concertos. Simon Callaghan, BBC NOW, Martyn Brabbins. Compact Disc. Lyrita SRCD407.


Jess Gilham (credit Robin Clewley)
The London Philharmonic Orchestra perform Mussorgsky, Ravel, and Glazunov’s Concerto for Saxophone, with Jess Gillam (saxophone), conducted by Finnegan Downie-Dear (7.30pm, Saturday 23, Brighton Dome). Tickets here.

Daniel Pioro (credit: David James Grinly)
The LPO then hop over to Eastbourne to play Coleridge-Taylor, Vaughan Williams and Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1, with Daniel Pioro (violin), this time conducted by Tom Gauterin (3pm, Sunday 24, Congress Theatre, Eastbourne). Tickets here.

Cristian Grajner de Sa
The Worthing Symphony Orchestra perform Romantic Classics, including the Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1, with Cristian Grajner de Sa (violin), conducted by guest conductor, Hilary Davan Wetton (2.45pm, Sunday 24, Assembly Hall, Worthing). Tickets here.

John Hancorn
The Baroque Collective Singers perform Music for Passiontide, with Scarlatti’s Stabat Mater and music by Byrd, Gibbons and Farrant, conducted by John Hancorn (5pm, Sunday 3 April, St Peter’s Church, Firle, and 5pm, Sunday 10 April, St Michael’s Church, Lewes). Tickets here.

(Edited versions of these reviews first appeared at Scene, April 2022)