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BBC Music Magazine - - Instrumental -

Cello Suites Nos 1-6

Yo-yo Ma (cello)

Sony Clas­si­cal 19075854652 133:05 mins (2 discs)

Yo-yo Ma is a well-trav­elled mu­si­cian, in every sense.

The Silk Road project not only widened his cultural per­spec­tive, but also opened up his play­ing and mu­si­cian­ship. Now he re­turns to the Bach Suites, as a pre­lude to a world-wide tour. As a cel­list­com­mu­ni­ca­tor he is se­cond to none: few who wit­nessed his mag­is­te­rial sur­vey of the suites at the 2015 BBC Proms will for­get it – not so much for the ac­tual per­for­mances, which were self-ef­fac­ing to a fault, but for the ex­tra­or­di­nary sense of com­mu­nal en­gage­ment he gen­er­ated.

Re­move that elec­tric fris­son of live re­la­tion­ship and what re­mains?

This, his third com­plete record­ing, has a Zen-like seren­ity, a light­ness of be­ing, in spirit if not al­ways in bow stroke. The sense of an in­te­rior di­a­logue is beau­ti­fully sus­tained, es­pe­cially in the D mi­nor and C mi­nor pre­ludes. And a danc­ing brio lights up the Gavottes, Bour­rées and earth­ily charm­ing Gigues. By con­trast, Alle­man­des and Courantes are per­haps too close in char­ac­ter: the D ma­jor Alle­mande floats free, a wist­ful fine-spun med­i­ta­tion, but the Courante, while grace­ful, lacks en­ergy and bite (com­pared to, say, Isserlis or Watkin, it can feel slack), while the Sara­bande is spec­tral, breathy, mezzo pi­ano.

Ma al­ways did have a light ra­di­ance to his sound, but here it can sound naked, with a gui­tar­like lack of depth. There are also times when his bow wa­vers: in the no­to­ri­ous E flat Pre­lude, for ex­am­ple, or the C ma­jor Pre­lude, whose fi­nal chords are roughly bro­ken off, or the D ma­jor Pre­lude, spoiled by overem­phases that don’t al­ways come from the mu­sic. If some move­ments seem un­teth­ered, miss­ing a depth of flavour, the flu­ency of nar­ra­tive is never in doubt. Per­haps that’s ap­pro­pri­ate for such long lived-in per­for­mances: weath­ered and worn smooth over the years, their bare bones glow all the more lu­mi­nously. Helen Wal­lace



De­bussy • Satie

De­bussy: Préludes, Book I; Satie: Gnossi­ennes; Gymnopédies Fazil Say (pi­ano)

Warner Classics 9029570567 65:48mins Some 60 years ago there were crit­ics who rel­ished Toscanini’s moans in

La bo­hème as in­di­cat­ing emo­tional in­volve­ment. Per­haps they did, but I con­fess to be­ing one of those who would rather have been with­out them. I can’t say that Fazil Say’s moans, fairly gen­er­ously dis­trib­uted through­out this disc, de­stroy his in­ter­pre­ta­tions, be­cause sadly so much else is at fault.

Say is one of those per­form­ers who feel free to say to them­selves, ‘Well, I know De­bussy wrote a dimin­u­endo here, but I pre­fer a crescendo; and here he writes “en an­i­mant”, but I shall slow down.’ Add to these fac­tors a cav­a­lier way with ped­alling (at the end of ‘Voiles’, the pedal is plainly marked to be re­leased leav­ing the ma­jor third stranded), with the length of rests and with tem­pos (‘Min­strels’ is pre­pos­ter­ously slow), and I be­gin to fear some­thing on the lines of an ‘an­niver­sary curse’, pro­mot­ing a band­wagon that at­tracts per­form­ers who may not be wholly sym­pa­thetic to the com­poser in ques­tion.

The Satie pieces come over slightly bet­ter, though there is no case for ig­nor­ing the dif­fer­ence be­tween the sharply con­trasted dy­nam­ics in the first two Gymnopédies and the hair­pins in the third one. In one or two places the edit­ing has been in­el­e­gant, with one par­tic­u­larly clumsy moment in bar 37 of the first Gymnopédie. Roger Ni­chols



Mes­si­aen Livre d’orgue; Monodie; Tris­tan et Yseult; Ver­set pour la fête de la Dédi­cace

Tom Win­penny (or­gan)

Naxos 8.573845 57:29 mins

This is the most re­ward­ing disc thus far in Tom Win­penny’s sur­vey of Mes­si­aen’s or­gan works. The Livre d’orgue (1951) is the rad­i­cal heart of the com­poser’s writ­ing for the in­stru­ment. Writ­ten in the midst of a pe­riod when he was ex­per­i­ment­ing with how the fun­da­men­tals of mu­si­cal sound re­late to each other, the ti­tle – a nod to the ex­per­i­ments of ear­lier French or­gan masters – seems dryly ab­stract set along­side Mes­si­aen’s usual rich im­agery. ★ow­ever, while the com­po­si­tional meth­ods may have been es­o­teric, the ex­tra­or­di­nary sounds em­a­nat­ing from Mes­si­aen’s in­stru­ment in the early 1950s were de­scribed at the time as be­ing vi­brantly wild.

Win­penny’s pre­ci­sion suits the es­o­teric machi­na­tions of the open­ing and clos­ing pieces, ‘Reprises par in­ter­ver­sion’ and ‘Soix­ante-qua­tre durées’, with the or­gan of the Église Saint-martin, Dude­lange, Luxembourg pos­sess­ing some de­light­fully rasp­ing pedal notes. Cru­cially, he also finds real power and pas­sion in con­vey­ing the abyss of ‘Les Mains de l’abîme’. Win­penny pref­aces the Livre with an at­trac­tive ac­count of the Ver­set pour la fete de la Dédi­cace, prob­a­bly the least fa­mil­iar of Mes­si­aen’s ac­knowl­edged or­gan pieces.

Two post­hu­mous dis­cov­er­ies com­plete the disc. The lit­tle Monodie from 1963 is no more than an ex­er­cise for a tu­tor book writ­ten by Mes­si­aen’s as­sis­tant at Sainte Trinité. At the op­po­site end of the spec­trum comes a premiere record­ing with the sweetly har­monised ‘Thème d’amour’ for Lu­cien Fabre’s 1945 play Tris­tan et Yseult. In­stantly recog­nis­able to any­one fa­mil­iar with the Mes­si­aen’s song cy­cle Harawi, it nicely caps a fine disc. Christo­pher Din­gle PER­FOR­MANCE ★★★★ RECORD­ING ★★★★

Pa­ganini Caprices for Solo Vi­o­lin

Lisa Ja­cobs (vi­o­lin)

Co­bra Records CO­BRA 0064 87:04 mins (2 discs)

As if to en­hance the as­tound­ing in­ven­tive­ness of Pa­ganini’s writ­ing, the gen­eral ten­dency for many years (at least on disc) was to play the caprices with the em­pha­sis firmly on stac­cato bril­liance, high-speed agility and free-flow­ing adrenalin. The down­side of such an ap­proach was that by the time one ar­rived at the fiendish flut­ter­ings of No. 6, lis­tener fa­tigue was al­most in­vari­ably be­gin­ning to set in. Lisa Ja­cobs, by con­trast, em­pha­sises cantabile pu­rity, so that even the flight­i­est of Pa­ganini’s fin­ger-break­ing minia­tures emerges mirac­u­lously as though it was be­ing sung. As a re­sult, hav­ing ne­go­ti­ated the mer­ci­less ric­o­chets of No. 5 us­ing the orig­i­nal bow­ings (many play­ers opt for sep­a­rate bows), No. 6 sounds less like an ex­cru­ci­at­ingly de­mand­ing étude in ac­com­pa­nied melody than an op­er­atic scena with a com­pelling emo­tional nar­ra­tive.

No less per­sua­sive is Ja­cobs’s vel­vet cush­ion­ing of No. 2’s awk­ward string-cross­ing leaps, thereby en­abling its melodic chi­canery to emerge as a seam­less flow, and the with­er­ing-laugh­ter de­scents of No. 11’s outer sec­tions, which are in­flected with just the right de­gree of tem­po­ral las­si­tude. Even the horn-calls of Nos 9 and

14, which are nor­mally despatched in mar­tial­is­tic strict tempo, sound al­lur­ingly se­duc­tive here.

No. 17, with its rip­pling down­ward scales and high-oc­tane mid­dle­sec­tion oc­taves emerges as a po­etic gem in its own right, while round­ing off the set, each vari­a­tion of No. 24 is im­bued with its own dis­tinc­tive mu­si­cal per­son­al­ity. Some may crave a greater sense of vis­ceral ex­cite­ment in this of all vi­o­lin works, al­though mu­si­cally Ja­cobs is vir­tu­ally in a class of her own. Ju­lian Hay­lock PER­FOR­MANCE ★★★★ RECORD­ING ★★★★★

Rach­mani­nov Etudes-tableaux

Steven Os­borne (pi­ano)

Hype­r­ion CDA 68188 61:39 mins

For all his mastery of larger forms Rach­mani­nov’s minia­tures, I con­fess, can seem in the hands of most pi­anists rather in­vari­ably lugubri­ous and moody, cer­tainly com­pared to the pithy and quick-sil­ver in­spi­ra­tion of his near con­tem­po­rary Scri­abin. An ex­cep­tional level of sym­pa­thy cou­pled with ex­tra­or­di­nary pi­ano tech­nique is needed to trans­form these works into pure nar­ra­tive gold.

Steven Os­borne has al­ready shown his feel­ing for Rach­mani­nov’s mu­sic in record­ings of the Pre­ludes and the Se­cond Sonata, so it is no sur­prise to hear him give such id­iomatic

ac­counts of the Etudes-tableaux.

The sheer pol­ish of his tech­nique is re­mark­able, ap­proach­ing the pa­tri­cian non­cha­lance of Rach­mani­nov him­self – in­deed, ap­pear­ing at times to exceed him, as in the swift Al­le­gro con fuoco, al­beit with the un­de­ni­able ad­van­tage of mod­ern stu­dio record­ing as against the sin­gle con­tin­u­ous takes Rach­mani­nov had to con­tend with. Rustem ★ay­roudi­noff’s acclaimed Chan­dos record­ing of these opuses is sim­ply out­classed in this re­spect.

Yet I felt some­thing was miss­ing, a sense that Os­borne was per­haps not fully at­tuned to Rach­mani­nov’s par­tic­u­lar voice as op­posed to the style the com­poser shared with early Scri­abin. That affin­ity is ex­actly what Mikhail Plet­nev pro­vides, though of­fer­ing just four of the Etudes-tableaux, in his Hom­mage à Rach­mani­nov al­bum on Deutsche Gram­mophon: his tran­scen­den­tal tech­nique, and seam­less co­or­di­na­tion of pedal with rhetor­i­cal ru­bato and phras­ing fully un­veil these darkly ex­pres­sive and com­pelling dra­mas. For a com­plete set of these works, Os­borne’s record­ing is rec­om­mend­able, if not quite reach­ing the inspirational level Plet­nev demon­strates in his se­lec­tion. Daniel Jaffé PER­FOR­MANCE ★★★★


Re­icha Stud­ies in Fu­gal Style for Pi­ano; Fugue No. 12, Op. 36

Ivan Ili (pi­ano)

Chan­dos CHAN 20033 62:33 mins Born in 1770, the same year as Beethoven, An­toine Re­icha was his child­hood friend and played side by side with him in the Bonn court orches­tra when they were 15; they re­mained friends in adult­hood. But while Beethoven’s ca­reer as a com­poser took off like a rocket, Re­icha’s was still-born, so he set out to earn his liv­ing as a teacher, leav­ing his com­po­si­tions to the judg­ment of pos­ter­ity. But he was clearly a bril­liant teacher: as pro­fes­sor of coun­ter­point and fugue at the Paris Con­ser­va­toire, he taught Liszt, Franck, Gounod and Ber­lioz, the lat­ter leav­ing a glow­ing tes­ti­mo­nial to his imag­i­na­tive and open-minded ap­proach.

Last year the Ser­bian-amer­i­can pi­anist Ivan Ili re­leased a first vol­ume of Re­icha’s pi­ano mu­sic.

The se­cond vol­ume con­firms what the first sug­gested, which is that in this pi­anist Re­icha’s mu­sic has the best pos­si­ble ad­vo­cate. Com­posed ex­actly two hun­dred years ago, these stud­ies – each con­sist­ing of a pre­lude and a fugue – still await their break­through into the stan­dard recital reper­toire. But as Ili shows, they are a rev­e­la­tion of what could still be done with this form, a cen­tury af­ter Bach’s 48 but still in Bach’s sound world. Re­icha plays clever games with form – ev­ery­thing from min­uet, canon, cha­conne, and gigue to in­vert­ible coun­ter­point – and hints by turns at ★an­del, Scarlatti, and – in the ex­tra­or­di­nary 85-se­cond clos­ing fugue – Beethoven at his wit­ti­est and grit­ti­est. There’s al­ways a trace of tongue-in-cheek in Re­icha’s mo­ments of ap­par­ent high se­ri­ous­ness, but when he lets his imag­i­na­tion flow – as in the 12 tiny vari­a­tions crammed into three and a half min­utes of the third Etude – his mu­sic is sweetly per­sua­sive. Ili plays with charm and trans­par­ent pre­ci­sion through­out. Michael Church



Calling the Muse Old & New Pieces for The­o­rbo: works by Castaldi, Hel­strof­fer, Kaps­berger, Pic­cinini, Satie etc.

Bruno Hel­strof­fer (the­o­rbo); with Rose­mary Stan­d­ley (voice), Jean-luc De­bat­tice (nar­ra­tor), Michel Go­dard (ser­pent), Emek Evci (dou­ble bass) Al­pha Classics AL­PHA 391 53:11 mins This disc of old and new pieces for the­o­rbo is some­thing of a whim­si­cal cu­rios­ity. ★ere, Baroque com­posers Pic­cinini, Kaps­berger and Castaldi rub shoul­ders with Erik Satie and a pro­fu­sion of vo­cal and in­stru­men­tal com­po­si­tions and ar­range­ments by Bruno ★el­strof­fer. I am still not quite sure what to make of it all, but there is a part of me which in­clines to­wards re­gard­ing the com­pi­la­tion as self-in­dul­gent non­sense. Cer­tainly, I do not wish to be ei­ther un­fair or un­kind, so per­haps the most help­ful way to in­form the reader is to quote ★el­strof­fer’s own con­cept of his programme:

‘It’s a road map… It’s a hurly-burly ac­count of my years play­ing blues and rock mu­sic and early mu­sic; the thou­sands of miles I’ve trav­elled with my won­der­ful the­o­rbo, cities, land­scapes, rail­ways, skies, scents, lights; above all – the mu­sic of the peo­ple I’ve met.’

Taken as a road map, as ★el­strof­fer in­vites us to do, there are plenty of stop­ping-off places to en­joy, among which the Kaps­berger pieces and, sur­pris­ingly the Satie Gnossi­enne No. 1 are among the most re­ward­ing. My sen­si­bil­i­ties re­sponded less favourably to the song Comme un Bef­froi and a lengthy poem ded­i­cated to ★el­strof­fer, writ­ten and read by the ac­tor and writer Jean-luc De­bat­tice. This last-men­tioned might al­most be con­sid­ered as a quasi mu­si­cal an­swer to the selfie, and sits un­com­fort­ably with the re­main­der of the programme, ec­cen­tric as it is.

Recorded sound af­fords clar­ity to the vo­cal items but is too re­ver­ber­ant for the the­o­rbo. Pro­ceed with cau­tion! Ni­cholas An­der­son PER­FOR­MANCE ★★



De­bussy: Rêverie; Suite Berga­masque; Satie: Gnossi­ennes Nos 1 & 3; Gymnopédie No. 1; Ravel: Gas­pard de la Nuit; Pa­vane pour une in­fante dé­funte

Alice Sara Ott (pi­ano)

DG 483 5187 66:02 mins

A dreamy ex­cur­sion through Paris by dusk, this el­e­gant and at­mo­spheric al­bum from

Alice Sara Ott marks ten years since the pi­anist signed to Deutsche Gram­mophon. Bring­ing to­gether favourite works from Satie, De­bussy and Ravel, Night­fall fea­tures some be­guil­ing and beau­ti­ful play­ing, al­though oc­ca­sion­ally lacks emo­tional punch.

De­bussy’s Rêverie opens the disc and Ott plays with a mys­tery and del­i­cacy that is en­tranc­ing at first but comes to lack va­ri­ety. While such re­straint is well suited to

Satie’s enig­matic Gymnopédie No. 1 and Gnossi­ennes Nos 1 and 3, all ex­e­cuted beau­ti­fully by Ott, this De­bussy feels a notch too sub­dued and in need of greater line and lyri­cism. Ott is more ex­pres­sive in De­bussy’s Suite Berga­masque, find­ing a hushed elo­quence in ‘Clair de Lune’ that is cap­ti­vat­ing, al­though a touch more ex­u­ber­ance would be wel­come in the mis­chievous ‘Menuet’.

Ravel’s no­to­ri­ously tricky

Gas­pard de la nuit con­jures mys­te­ri­ous images of fleet wa­ter nymphs, corpses left sus­pended from the gal­lows and ca­per­ing gob­lins, and Ott here re­sponds with colour and flair, pac­ing the ten­sion of ‘Le Gi­bet’ and its haunt­ing bell-like tones with par­tic­u­lar fi­nesse. The disc closes with a stately per­for­mance of Ravel’s Pa­vane pour une in­fante dé­funte to com­plete this imag­i­na­tive and evoca­tive cel­e­bra­tion of twi­light. Kate Wake­l­ing



Out of Beethoven’s shadow: Ivan Ilic´ is ‘the best pos­si­ble ad­vo­cate’ for Re­icha

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