Music to my ears
What the classical world has been listening to this month
Federico Colli pianist
Conductor Valery Gergiev is probably the best interpreter of Russian epic works. In his performance of Tchaikovsky’s Manfred
Symphony with the Mariinsky Orchestra, which I heard live in Ravello in August, I was able to see all the images that this music can evoke. Every instrument had its role, and all had equal importance. The desperation that is so vital in this music was always noble and proud in his interpretation, and the hope which always rises from the abyss in all Tchaikovsky works was so tender and moving here.
I’m practising Grieg’s Piano Concerto for the 2018/2019 season, and I was extremely surprised by the live recording made by Mikhail Pletnev with the Danish National Radio Orchestra. As always, Pletnev shows us some unique and unexpected things in the score – but here I was amazed by the drama of his interpretation, and by the sublime and ethereal contrasts to that drama that he created in the second movement. Music really is a never-ending subject for research!
I’m particularly close to the art of pianist Boris Petrushansky, not just because he’s my teacher, but because the power of his ideas can be devastating. In his recording of Chopin’s Preludes, made live in Moscow, the works are revealed as something totally new, fresh and surprising – light and shadow, tenderness and melancholy, loneliness and humanity are all there. In the ‘Raindrop’ Prelude, he seems almost physically involved in Chopin’s dream that inspired the work.
And also… I’ve been studying philosophy, in order to find answers to some questions that are deep inside me and to dig deeper into the content of music. In his Storia della filosofia, Emanuele
Severino gives us an interesting glance into the history of the subject. An artist cannot forget that the questions that inspired the composers to write their masterpieces are the same ones that inspired philosophers to create philosophical ideas. Federico Colli performs at Wigmore Hall on 1 November
BBC Radio 3 presenter
A listener on the Radio 3 Breakfast programme recently recommended Agnes Baltsa’s
collection of Greek songs, Songs My Country Taught Me. It is the purest hit of sunshine. For me, she’s the ultimate mezzo: there’s a mellow, red wine tone to her voice. Sometimes arrangements of national songs can seem a bit saccharine, but Baltsa has such a captivating sound that it totally works.
Hardcore emotion is at the root of my listening at the moment. I love music that transports you somewhere, and another female voice I love is Jackie Oates on her new record The Joy of Living. This is a beautifully produced
album, written and recorded in her kitchen. If Agnes Baltsa is a mellow red wine, Jackie Oates is a sea breeze on a fine day. It’s such an intimate recording, and there’s an immediacy of emotion, just as in Baltsa’s album.
Another deeply emotional album I’ve been listening to is Calling the Muse, a collection of works for the theorbo by Bruno Helstroffer. The theorbo is incredible: it has great depth, just like the mezzo voice. Helstroffer comes from an electric guitar background playing blues and rock, so his style has a modern sensibility to it. It’s such a flexible instrument, and this programme is so varied: he plays arrangements of Bach, his own compositions and even Satie’s Gnossienne No. 1.
And also… I’m riveted by You, Me and the Big C: the podcast hosted by radio presenter Rachael Bland, who died recently, with Deborah James and Lauren Mahon. The legacy Rachael has left behind is unbelievable. It’s a totally frank and honest discussion about cancer between three genuine friends. One of the best things to have come out of podcast culture is the ability to break down taboos in a gentle, human way.
Alexis Ffrench composer and pianist
Much of my listening tends to be on streaming platforms, and that’s how I came to hear Hélène Grimaud playing Ravel’s G major Piano Concerto. I love that work, but it’s her interpretation which is really special. It’s a work so infused with jazzy idioms and it’s very much a hybrid piece in that sense, but it’s one she plays with unique insights and sensitivity. There’s a really
The theorbo is incredible: it has great depth, just like the mezzo-soprano voice
plaintive quality to it; it’s very soulful and there’s a deep longing.
Sam Fender is a singer and songwriter who I came upon by accident. I was browsing a page on Pharrell Williams’s site, and there was a photo of them together, so I went to check out Sam’s music. He has a really raw style; its’s very lyrical, soulful, highly melodic and it reminded me of old school ’60s soul. I remember playing along to my Dad’s old soul records, so whenever I hear that sort of stuff it reminds me of my father… who is still around, I might add.
I listen to ‘Blessings’ by Chance the Rapper when I run. I find it immensely uplifting; I love to listen to music that gives me a lift in the morning and his songs are just so beautiful. He’s American, very musical and deeply spiritual – his faith is very important to him. His music is rooted in gospel, soul and jazz, and the harmonic construction of his songs is just so beautifully crafted. His use of words is also masterful; he’s a poet, I think.
And also… I love to visit the British Library. I spent a lot of time there when I was in my
20s and I just found it an aweinspiring place. It’s magical – mythical sometimes – and such an oasis. I went through phases where I was researching various things, such as the mysteries of Bach and then Bartók’s music. I spent time learning Romanian in there, and all sorts. I found it utterly inspiring, but also it’s the majesty of the place.
Alexis Ffrench’s album Evolution is out now on Sony Classical
Joyful voice:Jackie Oates inspires Radio 3’s Georgia Mann
Colli’s choice: insightful pianist Boris Petrushansky