Glo­ri­ous lyri­cism from this com­pelling pair­ing

Erik Levi en­joys a de­light­ful all-rus­sian pro­gramme fea­tur­ing a ne­glected gem by Niko­lai Myaskovsky

BBC Music Magazine - - Reviews -

Myaskovsky • Rach­mani­nov

Rach­mani­nov: Cello Sonata; Two Pieces, Op. 2; Pre­lude in C sharp mi­nor, Op. 3/2; Cello Sonata;

Myaskovsky: Cello Sonata No. 1 Bruno Philippe (cello), Jérôme Du­cros (pi­ano) Har­mo­nia Mundi HMM 902340 70:52 mins It’s dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand why Niko­lai Myaskovsky’s First Cello Sonata re­mains so ne­glected. The work has so many in­gre­di­ents that should guar­an­tee it in­stant ap­peal, not least a glo­ri­ously lyri­cal melody that opens and closes the Sonata and some finely wrought ma­te­rial with ex­cit­ing and dy­namic mu­si­cal in­ter­ac­tion be­tween cello and pi­ano. Young French cel­list Bruno Philippe in­flects the mu­sic with great fer­vour, strongly sup­ported by Jérôme Du­cros’s im­pres­sive mas­tery of the de­mand­ing pi­ano part and an ad­mirably bal­anced record­ing.

Philippe and Du­cros are just as com­pelling in the much bet­ter-known Rach­mani­nov Sonata. Here Philippe stead­fastly re­sists the temp­ta­tion to in­dulge in too much tempo fluc­tu­a­tion even at mo­ments of great­est in­ten­sity. In fact, by adopt­ing this strat­egy he not only en­hances the mu­sic’s req­ui­site emo­tional

Bruno Philippe in­flects the mu­sic with great fer­vour

warmth, but also strength­ens the struc­tural co­her­ence of the outer move­ments. Du­cros proves to be a su­perbly re­spon­sive part­ner, de­liv­er­ing a suit­ably pun­gent tim­bre in the ex­cit­ing Scherzo and bring­ing ex­cep­tional depth of tone to the full-blooded pi­ano writ­ing in the cen­tral sec­tion of the Fi­nale.

Three other works by Rach­mani­nov pro­vide fur­ther de­lights. The Op. 2 pieces for Cello and

Pi­ano con­trast the ar­dently lyri­cal ‘Prélude’ with the more ex­ot­i­cally coloured ‘Danse ori­en­tale’ both pro­jected here with el­e­gance, charm and great flu­id­ity. Fi­nally, Du­cros gets the chance to shine with a per­for­mance of the all-too-fa­mil­iar C sharp mi­nor Pre­lude that avoids ex­ag­ger­ated mu­si­cal ges­tures and re­minds us of the mu­sic’s no­bil­ity, pas­sion and har­monic orig­i­nal­ity. All in all, an out­stand­ing re­lease.



Hear ex­tracts from this record­ing and the rest of this month’s choices on the BBC Mu­sic Mag­a­zine web­site at www.clas­si­cal-mu­


The Pi­ano Quar­tets

Prim­rose Pi­ano Quar­tet Merid­ian CDE 84650/1-2 123:47 mins (2 discs)

These ded­i­cated per­for­mances aim to com­bine his­tor­i­cal and modern ap­proaches.

John Th­waites uses three dif­fer­ent pi­anos of the pe­riod, each with a no­tably trans­for­ma­tive ef­fect on the mu­sic. The Ehrbar in­stru­ment for the C mi­nor Quar­tet is won­der­fully warm and res­o­nant; the work is placed first, ac­cord­ing to or­der of com­po­si­tion rather than num­ber­ing (Brahms first drafted it in 1855, in thrall to the Schu­mann fam­ily). The Stre­icher for the of­fi­cial No. 1 in G mi­nor is mel­lower by far than the im­pres­sion this ex­tro­vert work of­ten pro­duces on the modern pi­ano; and the Blüth­ner for the A ma­jor Quar­tet pro­vides a sound­world that is chewy, woody and clear.

The per­form­ers draw out the vivid char­ac­ters of the mu­sic, of­ten to a splen­did de­gree: for in­stance, the rapid, whis­pered open­ing of the G mi­nor quar­tet’s ‘In­ter­mezzo’ and the won­der­fully OTT ‘alla Zin­garese’ fi­nale; or the in­ti­macy as well as the song­ful­ness of the cello solo of the C mi­nor’s An­dante. Yet not all the string play­ers sound en­tirely at home. The group as­serts in the book­let notes that they are pur­su­ing spon­tane­ity and free­dom rather than clinical per­fec­tion, but not all lis­ten­ers will ap­pre­ci­ate the in­stances of scratch­i­ness and blurred en­sem­ble, and the ex­pan­sive ex­pres­sive­ness of Th­waites at the pi­ano is not al­ways wholly matched. Jes­sica Duchen PER­FOR­MANCE ★★★ RECORD­ING ★★★★


Han­del: Recorder Sonatas; Pur­cell: Pre­lude, ZN773

Ste­fan Tem­mingh (recorder), Wiebke Wei­danz (harp­si­chord) Ac­cent ACC 24353 63:20 mins

These six sonatas are not among Han­del’s best-known works, per­haps be­cause the very word ‘recorder’ has many peo­ple run­ning for cover. I have been

among them, but this disc came as a most agree­able sur­prise, pro­vid­ing con­stant plea­sure for more than an hour. As Wiebke Wei­danz says in the con­ver­sa­tion be­tween her and her part­ner, the up­per part in al­most all of the sonatas is very vo­cal, re­mind­ing us that Han­del was fore­most an op­er­atic com­poser. One can even de­tect in many of the move­ments the emotion that, if they were be­ing sung, the char­ac­ter would be ex­press­ing – the usual range is joy, an­tic­i­pa­tion, rage, out­rage and de­spon­dency. Han­del tends to ex­press feel­ing rather than cre­ate char­ac­ter, so an in­stru­ment which is as ver­sa­tile as the recorder, cer­tainly when played by Ste­fan Tem­mingh, can do the job pretty well as con­vinc­ingly as the hu­man voice.

These sonatas con­sist of a pre­lude or flour­ish on the harp­si­chord, ex­cept for the last, which is by Pur­cell and played on the flute, and the pur­pose of which was to make sure the in­stru­ments were at the same pitch, fol­lowed by be­tween three and seven move­ments, mainly alternatin­g fast and slow. ‘Sonata’ here has noth­ing to do with its mean­ing in the clas­si­cal pe­riod; bet­ter to think of brief arias, usu­ally ex­tremely brief, but wel­comely con­cen­trated. Wei­danz pro­duces won­ders of va­ri­ety on her harp­si­chord, and the pair are clearly in­ti­mate enough to semi-im­pro­vise much of the time. Michael Tanner PER­FOR­MANCE ★★★★★ RECORD­ING ★★★★★

Nigel Os­borne

The Pi­ano Tuner; Es­pi­onage: Three Minia­ture Sonatas; Balkan Dances and Laments; Eco­log­i­cal Stud­ies; My beloved, here are you go­ing? etc.

He­brides En­sem­ble

Del­phian DCD34198 70:28 mins

This out­stand­ing al­bum brims with at­mos­phere and imag­i­na­tion, show­cas­ing ex­cep­tional cham­ber works from Bri­tish com­poser Nigel Os­borne all per­formed with rare verve by the He­brides En­sem­ble. Os­borne has bal­anced a suc­cess­ful ca­reer as a com­poser with ex­ten­sive hu­man­i­tar­ian work, no­tably in Bos­nia dur­ing the Balkans War and more re­cently in Syria. While Os­borne’s modernist scores are un­com­pro­mis­ing in their tech­ni­cal rigour, his mu­sic is none­the­less in­tensely hu­man, ra­di­at­ing warmth, colour and emotion.

Balkan Dances and Laments

(2001) for oboe, pi­ano and string trio rec­ol­lects Os­borne’s trav­els in the re­gion. Draw­ing on tra­di­tional Bos­nian mu­sic, the work darts be­tween furtive ag­gres­sion and del­i­cate lamen­ta­tion, and features some par­tic­u­larly beau­ti­ful play­ing from oboist Rachael Clegg. More cryptic forms of mu­si­cal ‘travel’ also fea­ture, in­clud­ing The Pi­ano Tuner (2004) for pi­ano trio which ex­plores the themes of Daniel Ma­son’s be­guil­ing novel (of the same name) set in South­east Asia in the late 19th cen­tury. By turns fe­ro­cious, mys­te­ri­ous and ele­giac, these eight pre­ludes and fugues are heard here with ad­di­tional sounds recorded by Os­borne him­self in In­dia and Thai­land, cap­tur­ing the song of ci­cadas, night­jars and the ocean which all teeter in and out of earshot as the work un­folds. More sto­ries un­furl in Es­pi­onage for solo vi­o­lin, a mes­meris­ing se­ries of sketches for a forth­com­ing fil­m­opera about the Cam­bridge spies, per­formed with poise and drama by vi­olin­ist Zoë Bey­ers. Other works ex­plore Hindu scrip­ture (Pre­lu­dio y can­ción), wa­ter birds (Eco­log­i­cal Stud­ies) and Tarkovsky’s sci-fi mas­ter­piece Stalker (Zone) to com­plete this in­vig­o­rat­ing disc.

Kate Wake­l­ing



Grace Wil­liams

Vi­o­lin Sonata; Sex­tet for Oboe, Trum­pet & Pi­ano Quar­tet; Suite for 9 In­stru­ments; Ro­manza etc

Madeleine Mitchell (vi­o­lin);

London Cham­ber Or­ches­tra

Naxos 8.571380 70:31 mins

Grace Wil­liams, the Grove Dic­tionary tells us, ‘showed lit­tle in­ter­est in in­stru­men­tal cham­ber mu­sic’, a state­ment that this disc of pre­miere record­ings might at first sight re­fute. This dis­tin­guished Welsh com­poser, a long-time friend of Benjamin Brit­ten, cer­tainly ex­plored the cham­ber genre in the 1930s, fol­low­ing her stu­dent years, though her later com­ment writ­ten on the manuscript­s – ‘not worth per­form­ing’ – sug­gests that she be­came acutely aware that her gifts flour­ished best in larger, more lyri­cal for­mats.

It’s clear that main­tain­ing con­tra­pun­tal dis­course didn’t come eas­ily in the 1931 Sex­tet, a 30-minute work fur­ther bur­dened with an in­stru­men­tal line-up that never be­comes well-bal­anced (oboe, vi­o­lin, vi­ola, cello, pi­ano, plus in­trud­ing trum­pet). Even so, any awk­ward mo­ments across this al­bum never stop the pieces crys­tallis­ing into in­ter­est­ing lis­ten­ing. The 1930 Vi­o­lin Sonata, the only work to have reached print, starts with pug­na­cious stac­cato writ­ing in the shade of Stravin­sky and Bartók. Once phrases get longer and lyri­cal, Vaughan Wil­liams, one of her teach­ers, raises his head. Style and in­stru­men­ta­tion fuse most hap­pily in the 1934 Suite, where the trum­pet, one of Grace Wil­liams’s favourite in­stru­ments, fi­nally finds suit­able com­pany with a flute, clar­inet, pi­ano, and string quar­tet. The other items on the al­bum are later, shorter and wispier.

With Kon­stantin Lap­shin at the pi­ano, Madeleine Mitchell makes elo­quent work of the Vi­o­lin Sonata de­spite an un­nour­ish­ing acous­tic, and the other play­ers en­joy their spin through pieces that may not change his­tory, or Wil­liams’s rep­u­ta­tion, but still de­serve their es­cape from the li­brary shelves. Ge­off Brown PER­FOR­MANCE ★★★ RECORD­ING ★★★

London (Circa 1700) – Pur­cell and His Gen­er­a­tion Works by D & H Pur­cell, Blow, Croft, Draghi & Fin­ger

La Rèveuse

Mi­rare MIR 368 70:02 mins

Here is the first vol­ume in what is to be a sur­vey of cham­ber mu­sic in London dur­ing the late 17th and early to mid-18th cen­turies. Ital­ian and, to a more lim­ited ex­tent French styles played vi­tal roles in shap­ing English mu­sic at this time as the at­trac­tively var­ied pro­gramme of La Rêveuse re­veals. Pur­cell crowns all with a sonata from each of his two col­lec­tions of three parts and four parts. These are splen­did pieces in which the id­ioms of Italy and France can be heard re­spec­tively.

As for the re­main­der of the pro­gramme, read­ers will dis­cover much that is prob­a­bly un­fa­mil­iar to them but which will please the senses. Prom­i­nent among the com­posers is Got­tfried Fin­ger. He was one of the great­est vi­ola da gamba play­ers of his time and, though cen­tral Eu­ro­pean by birth, be­came a mem­ber of James II’S Catholic Chapel Royal in 1687. One of his six vi­ola da gamba sonatas features here, as well as a Ground for recorder with its melodic vari­a­tions, and a recorder Suite in D mi­nor with a catchy ‘Jigg’. Both of the last-men­tioned works be­long to Fin­ger’s col­lec­tion of English Airs. Trio sonatas by Gio­vanni Bat­tista Draghi, an Ital­ian harp­si­chordist

who was re­cruited for the Ital­ian opera per­for­mances at the The­atre Royal in Drury Lane, and Pur­cell’s younger brother Daniel fur­ther demon­strate the high qual­ity of post-restora­tion London mu­sic. A Ground for two recorders by John Blow and a Sonata for recorders and vi­o­lins by Wil­liam Croft com­plete an ap­peal­ing and some­what un­der­val­ued pic­ture of London mu­si­cal life. La Rêveuse shine light in some dusty corners and de­serve credit for its stylish per­for­mances. Ni­cholas Anderson



Of Arms and a Woman

– Late Me­dieval Wind Mu­sic Works by Be­dyn­g­ham, Bin­chois, Ci­co­nia, Cordier, Du­fay, Lan­dini, Machaut, Mor­ton, Josquin etc Blon­del

First Hand Records FHR 69 61:19 mins The wind en­sem­ble Blon­del’s first al­bum evokes the sound­world of the ‘Au­tumn of the Mid­dle Ages’, with a mu­si­cal ta­pes­try that threads to­gether in­stru­men­tal ver­sions of courtly love songs, art­ful canons, griefladen laments and stri­dent calls to arms. Play­ing on re­con­struc­tions of me­dieval in­stru­ments, they con­trast reedy shawms, rus­tic bag­pipes and del­i­cate recorders with bel­li­cose trum­pets, sack­buts and drums, cap­tur­ing the pe­riod’s ex­tremes of light and dark, ten­der­ness and vi­o­lence.

The pro­gramme is loosely in­spired by the writ­ings of the poet and in­tel­lec­tual Chris­tine the Pizan, whose ‘Dueil an­gois­seus’ – a time­less out­pour­ing on the death of her hus­band – in­spired the haunt­ingly beau­ti­ful mu­si­cal set­ting by Gilles Bin­chois that pro­vides the emo­tional heart of the disc. We don’t hear Pizan’s text here, but the sound of plan­gent shawms con­veys some­thing of its in­ten­sity. These in­stru­men­tal colours work well, too, for the wist­ful melodies of Robert Mor­ton’s ‘Le Sou­venir de vous’ and Francesco Lan­dini’s ‘Adiu, adiu dous dame’.

The wind en­sem­ble is most ef­fec­tive, though, in the rous­ing bat­tle pieces, where one senses less the ab­sence of words and voice. Blon­del’s play­ing through­out is finely con­trolled – phrased and ar­tic­u­lated with an un­der­ly­ing aware­ness of the texts.

Kate Bolton-por­ci­atti PER­FOR­MANCE ★★★★


The Ro­man­tic Horn

Beethoven: Horn Sonata, Op. 17; Dukas: Vil­lanelle; Glazunov:

Reverie; Poulenc: Elegie;

Schu­mann: Ada­gio and Al­le­gro; F Strauss: Noc­turno, Op. 7; Scri­abin: Ro­mance; R Strauss: An­dante; Vin­ter: Hunter’s Moon Richard Watkins (horn),

Julius Drake (pi­ano)

Signum Records SIGCD556 65:03 mins As Richard Watkins points out in his in­for­ma­tive notes, the Ro­man­tic pi­anoac­com­pa­nied horn reper­toire is rel­a­tively small – so small in fact that Beethoven’s Op. 17 Sonata gets in un­der the wire de­spite its overtly Clas­si­cal lean­ings. Far more im­por­tantly it re­ceives a de­light­fully en­gag­ing per­for­mance here, off­set­ting Watkins’s op­u­lent warmth against Julius Drake’s sparkling pi­anism, with pass­ing mo­ments of earthy good hu­mour em­braced with alacrity.

Schu­mann’s be­guil­ing Op. 70 Ada­gio and Al­le­gro is es­pe­cially chal­leng­ing for the horn, and although the open­ing sec­tion might have ra­di­ated even more be­guil­ing po­etic in­ti­macy, the suc­ceed­ing Al­le­gro pos­sesses a thrilling sense of for­ward mo­men­tum and no-holds­barred bravado. Dukas’s Vil­lanelle is an­other vir­tu­oso horn clas­sic, whose ex­u­ber­ant danc­ing comes brac­ingly to life here, topped by a dare­devil tempo-in­jec­tion for the fi­nal bars. No less cap­ti­vat­ing is a glo­ri­ously un­re­strained per­for­mance of Gil­bert Vin­ter’s Hunter’s

Moon and a haunt­ingly in­tense read­ing of Poulenc’s emo­tion­ally un­com­pro­mis­ing Elégie.

The re­main­der of the pro­gramme fo­cuses on the horn’s lyri­cal voice, with Strauss fa­ther and son (Franz and Richard) in their re­spec­tive Noc­turno and An­dante demon­strat­ing an in­stinc­tive feel for the in­stru­ment that in­spires some of the most elo­quent play­ing in this recital. That said, one senses a spe­cial point of emo­tional con­tact with two glo­ri­ous Rus­sian minia­tures: Glazunov’s Rêverie and Scri­abin’s early Ro­mance. Ju­lian Hay­lock PER­FOR­MANCE ★★★★ RECORD­ING ★★★★★

Themes and Vari­a­tions

Beethoven: Vari­a­tions on ‘Bei Män­nern, welche Liebe fühlen’; Men­delssohn: Vari­a­tions con­cer­tantes, Op. 17; Schu­mann:

Ada­gio and Al­le­gro in A flat, Op. 70; plus works by Chopin, Fauré, Rach­mani­nov, Schu­bert, etc James Gilchrist (tenor), Guy John­ston (cello), Tom Poster (pi­ano)

Or­chid Clas­sics ORC 100095 74:31 mins What a won­drous thing a wellplayed cello is, es­pe­cially when wrapped in the warm blan­ket of a well-writ­ten pi­ano ac­com­pa­ni­ment. The play­ing is con­sis­tently pol­ished and el­e­gant; the pro­gramme is charm­ing, even un­de­mand­ing, for the lis­tener, so this would make a won­der­ful gift for a new­comer to the reper­toire or as­pir­ing younger play­ers.

We start with play­ful Beethoven vari­a­tions, be­fore turn­ing to pas­sion­ate Schu­mann, ten­der Fauré, crisply vir­tu­osic Men­delssohn, and so forth. The core of the recital is Schu­bert’s ‘Auf dem Strom’, sung with char­ac­ter­is­tic pas­sion by James Gilchrist. This song has an in­stru­men­tal ob­bli­gato usu­ally heard on the horn, but which is ren­dered here by John­ston.

There fol­low a cou­ple of Ro­man­tic or Ro­man­tic-in­spired show­pieces: first Chopin, then a frac­tion­ally edgier set of vari­a­tions by Martin be­fore the one star­tling, but wel­come in­clu­sion – James Macmil­lan’s 1993 Kiss on Wood, which tem­po­rar­ily jolts us out of our com­fort zone be­fore also set­tling into a lyri­cal­spir­i­tual mood. We end with two old chest­nuts, al­beit very sweet ones: Rach­mani­nov’s Vo­calise and Saintsaëns’s ‘The Swan’.

I’ve no idea why the recital is called Theme and Vari­a­tions; it mainly show­cases well-es­tab­lished Ro­man­tic lyric reper­toire, and the con­nec­tions made in the liner notes are a touch ten­u­ous. In truth (as they tell us), the recital is a cel­e­bra­tion of the long­stand­ing friend­ship and artis­tic part­ner­ship be­tween these two ac­com­plished mu­si­cians. And why not? Natasha Lo­ges PER­FOR­MANCE ★★★★


Cho­rale Par­ti­tas

Stephen Farr (or­gan)

Resonus RES10234 55:46 mins

For his first all­bach disc Stephen Farr turned to the cho­rale pre­ludes gath­ered to­gether in Clavier-übung III. This se­quel is sim­i­larly chorales-in­debted, but cov­ers what, to many, will be less fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory. It com­prises four sets of cho­rale par­ti­tas with which the young com­poser honed his skills in the arts of vari­a­tion, mo­tivic elab­o­ra­tion, em­bel­lish­ment and long-term plan­ning – early prototypes for that mas­ter­piece of his last years: the Canonic Vari­a­tions on Von Him­mel hoch.

It’s a bold idea to pro­gramme them back-to-back, though per­haps a lit­tle self-de­feat­ing. Con­sumed at a sit­ting they can some­times make for an aus­tere lis­ten, de­spite Farr’s best ef­forts to ring the changes with art­ful reg­is­tra­tions that revel in the re­sources af­forded by a sub­stan­tial three-man­ual house or­gan com­pleted along French Baroque lines by Bernard Au­bertin in 2015. (Bach would par­tic­u­larly have ap­plauded Farr’s in­ge­nu­ity in trans­pos­ing up and down an oc­tave to en­large an al­ready gen­er­ous flutey pal­ette).

The best is saved for last. Bach’s vari­a­tions on ‘Sei gegrüs­set, Jesu gütig’ self-ev­i­dently op­er­ate at a higher level of in­spi­ra­tion, and gen­er­ate a re­ward­ing cu­mu­la­tive mo­men­tum crowned by a fi­nale blaz­ingly de­liv­ered with re­serves of fire­power hith­erto kept un­der wraps. The joy­ously in­tri­cate di­a­logue of Vari­a­tion five and jaunty swag­ger of Vari­a­tion eight are es­pe­cially in­fec­tious, and an an­ti­dote to sundry move­ments dot­ted across the other par­tita sets that tend to­wards the di­dac­ti­cally cere­bral. That said, Farr’s in­tel­lec­tual rigour is in­dis­pens­able, abet­ting per­for­mances that are pre­em­i­nently clear-sighted, ar­tic­u­late, and in­quis­i­tive. Paul Riley PER­FOR­MANCE ★★★★


Bax • Co­hen

Bax: Pi­ano Sonata in E flat; In the Night; Four Pieces; Leg­end;

Co­hen: Rus­sian Im­pres­sions Mark Beb­bing­ton (pi­ano)

Somm Record­ings SOMMCD 0193 79:20 mins

The al­bum is en­ti­tled Pri­vate Pas­sions, of which Arnold Bax, its fea­tured com­poser, had plenty in his tur­bu­lent life. The pas­sion most ev­i­dent is his love for the pi­anist har­riet Co­hen, which wrecked his mar­riage but lifted his soul, though his feel­ings for Ire­land and the Celtic world also ap­pear. What­ever the source of the

vol­canic out­bursts in Bax’s E flat ma­jor Sonata of 1921 – quickly re­mod­elled on com­ple­tion as his Sym­phony No. 1, the lava tum­bles out with as­ton­ish­ing force from Mark Beb­bing­ton, who plays with tremen­dous au­thor­ity, sup­ported by a vivid record­ing with an ap­pro­pri­ately wide dy­namic range. In its or­ches­trated sym­phonic form, where a de­spair­ing el­egy re­places the Sonata’s re­flec­tive slow move­ment, the mu­sic writhes with a tu­mult of colours; but Beb­bing­ton proves that Bax’s first thoughts, test­ing pi­ano and pi­anist to the limit, have their own va­lid­ity and power.

Such, in­deed, is this sonata’s im­pact that you need the al­bum’s lighter items just to clear your head. If Co­hen’s Rus­sian Im­pres­sions prove in­con­se­quen­tial, Bax’s Four Pieces from 1947 have more meat on the bone; both of these are first record­ings. Pitched mid­way in den­sity of thought, In the Night drifts from dream to frenzy to fur­ther dream­ing, a jour­ney most per­sua­sively cap­tured by Beb­bing­ton. The odd­est mu­sic, a move­ment from Bax’s Salzburg Sonata, an 18th-cen­tury pas­tiche, was squeezed out of the disc it­self, but can be ac­cessed on Somm’s web­site. What­ever his pas­sions, pri­vate or pub­lic, Bax does what all worth­while com­posers do: he keeps spring­ing sur­prises. Ge­off Brown PER­FOR­MANCE ★★★★ RECORD­ING ★★★★


Cello Suites Alexan­der Ramm (cello)

Melodiya MEL CD 10 02568 71:31 mins Brit­ten’s solo suites, orig­i­nally com­posed for Rostropovi­ch, are now some­thing of a call­ing card for the next gen­er­a­tion of cel­lists, and for good rea­son. With record­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties re­duced, how bet­ter to show­case your in­ter­pre­ta­tive and tech­ni­cal prow­ess than with works that scale the heights and plumb the depths of the in­stru­ment?

Alexan­der Ramm, whose teacher was Na­talia Shakhovska­ya, one of Rostropovi­ch’s out­stand­ing pupils, de­liv­ers per­for­mances of depth, se­ri­ous­ness and med­i­ta­tive beauty. They do not, how­ever, mea­sure up to those of, say, Al­ban Ger­hardt, Truls Mørk or Pi­eter Wis­pel­wey: in­tense in­tro­ver­sion erodes mo­men­tum. He writes in the sleeve notes that Shakhovska­ya’s re­frain was: ‘Lis­ten to your­self, lis­ten as far as you can…’ – and one feels he is lis­ten­ing, lin­ger­ing over every note, en­sur­ing it res­onates per­fectly, at the ex­pense of the over­all line. There’s great pre­ci­sion here, but al­ready the first ‘Canto’ of Suite No. 1 is over-care­ful. The fugue is rhyth­mi­cally limp, and an in­fin­itely poignant ‘La­mento’ is not bal­anced with a suf­fi­ciently mer­cu­rial ‘Ser­e­nata’ or Presto. The lugubri­ously obsessive Sec­ond Suite is al­ways a chal­lenge, but he al­most achieves sta­sis in its An­dante, and fails to in­ject much-needed life into the dot­ted-rhythms of the Ci­ac­cona. Only in the Third, the most per­sonal of the suites, in­fused with Rus­sian song and prayer, does Ramm adopt a freer, bolder ap­proach and fi­nally re­veals him­self as a com­pelling com­mu­ni­ca­tor. He­len Wallace PER­FOR­MANCE ★★★ RECORD­ING ★★★★★


Solo Pi­ano Mu­sic, Vol. 4 Martin Roscoe (pi­ano)

Hype­r­ion CDA68054 81:20 mins

In the rich field of Hun­gar­ian mu­sic, Ern Dohnányi re­mains a some­what marginalis­ed fig­ure. It’s true that, at least when com­pared with his friends Bartók and Kodály, his style was a lit­tle con­ser­va­tive, but this fourth and fi­nal vol­ume in Martin Roscoe’s sur­vey of the com­plete pi­ano mu­sic is a re­minder of Dohnányi’s own value. With its fo­cus on genre pieces link­ing him to tra­di­tions of the past, it also re­flects how Dohnányi saw him­self, in the line of great pi­anist-com­posers.

That said, there’s a slight so­lid­ity rather than (say) Lisz­tian tran­scen­den­tal­ism or Chopinesqu­e bril­liance about the Six Con­cert Etudes that open this disc. Roscoe’s rugged­ness works es­pe­cially well in the fourth piece, with its jug­ger­naut cli­max re­quir­ing no­ta­tion across four staves. No. 6 in F mi­nor, the best-known of the set, has a twoa­gainst-three in­sta­bil­ity that makes some per­for­mances bumpier than oth­ers (the com­poser’s own record­ing is not bad, con­sid­er­ing it was made 10 days be­fore his death in 1960), and this could do with a lit­tle more in­sou­ciance.

These warm per­for­mances of the Suite in the Olden Style and the Six Pieces Op. 41 cap­ture Dohnányi’s hu­man­ity, but the high­light is surely Roscoe’s tow­er­ing ac­count of the early (1899) Pas­sacaglia in E flat mi­nor, evok­ing the mu­sic’s mag­nif­i­cent line go­ing back through Brahms to Bach. The gen­er­ous­ly­filled disc ends with the Rondo alla Zin­garese, Dohnányi’s 1920 ar­range­ment of the fi­nale from Brahms’s G mi­nor Pi­ano Quar­tet (made 17 years be­fore Schoen­berg or­ches­trated the whole work). Liner notes by the Dohnányi au­thor­ity James A Grymes en­hance the value of this se­ries. John Allison PER­FOR­MANCE ★★★★


J Haydn

Pi­ano Sonata No. 33 in C mi­nor, HOB.XVI:20; Pi­ano Sonata

No. 58 in C, HOB.XVI:48; Par­tita, HOB.XVI:6; Vari­a­tions on ‘Gott er­halte Franz, den Kaiser’; An­dante & Vari­a­tions in F mi­nor, HOB.XVII:6 Kristian Bezuiden­hout (pi­ano) Har­mo­nia Mundi HMM902273 68:22 mins Kristian Bezuiden­hout saw the in­vi­ta­tion to record this disc as a chance to con­front his prej­u­diced view of Haydn as in­fe­rior to Mozart; some lis­ten­ers may re­gard it as a chance to con­front their prej­u­dices against the fortepi­ano. Those lis­ten­ers may re­lax: the in­stru­ment which this South African player has cho­sen is an un­usu­ally fine ex­am­ple, with a singing warmth of tone.

The reper­toire is well-cho­sen: Haydn’s late C mi­nor Sonata con­trast­ing with a very early one in C ma­jor; the G ma­jor Par­tita which is a sonata in all but name; the in­trigu­ing lit­tle set of vari­a­tions on the string quar­tet Ada­gio whose theme be­came the Ger­man na­tional an­them; and the great F mi­nor vari­a­tions. Bezuiden­hout says his aim has been to ‘blur the dis­tinc­tion be­tween im­pro­vi­sa­tion, com­po­si­tion, and the act of per­for­mance’ – to cre­ate an im­pres­sion of fresh­ness and im­me­di­acy – and he does this supremely well. he im­bues the open­ing Al­le­gro of the C mi­nor Sonata with a grandeur tinged with pathos, and he gives the con­trasts of its An­dante – in which a walk­ing bass-line is off­set by an or­na­mented melody – a lovely grace; his use of ru­bato is dra­matic with­out be­ing ob­tru­sive, and he brings to the fi­nale a tri­umphal rich­ness of tex­ture.

If the sel­dom-per­formed Par­tita is in­ter­est­ing with­out be­ing a top­drawer work, the early C ma­jor Sonata, in which Haydn was ex­per­i­ment­ing with the sonori­ties of the newly-in­vented fortepi­ano, has an ex­hil­a­rat­ing bold­ness as Bezuiden­hout plays it. The F mi­nor vari­a­tions are de­liv­ered with serene au­thor­ity, wind­ing to an enig­matic, thrilling, and ma­jes­tic close. Michael Church



Mu­sorgsky • Ravel

Mes­si­aen: Can­téy­o­d­jayâ;

Mu­sorgsky: Pic­tures at an Ex­hi­bi­tion; Ravel: Miroirs

Pe­ter Dono­hoe (pi­ano)

Signum Clas­sics SIGCD566 73:18 mins Go­ing on from be­ing joint win­ner of the Tchaikovsk­y Com­pe­ti­tion in 1982, through his record­ings of Scri­abin and Shostakovi­ch, Pe­ter Dono­hoe now earns plau­dits with this mag­is­te­rial ac­count of Pic­tures at an Ex­hi­bi­tion. Ev­ery­thing you could rea­son­ably – or un­rea­son­ably – ask for is here: the ‘Prom­e­nades’ are played straight, with no un­wanted ru­bato, the housewives in the Li­mo­ges mar­ket­place cackle and hag­gle with peas­ant de­ter­mi­na­tion, and the oxen lum­ber grossly as they haul their carts. But there is sub­tlety too in ‘The An­cient Cas­tle’, with its dis­creet changes of colour.

Alas, the French pieces are less well served. Logic in Ravel’s Miroirs is elu­sive, but it does ex­ist, in­clud­ing in the in­ter­play of tem­pos and dy­nam­ics. In ‘Une bar­que sur l’océan’, apart from the dam­ag­ing changes in tempo, you would never guess that the marked dy­nam­ics range from pianis­simo to for­tis­sis­simo. And at the very end of ‘Oiseaux tristes’ Ravel’s right hand G flats come out as G nat­u­rals. Fi­nally, it’s cu­ri­ous that for a pupil of Mes­si­aen and Lo­riod, Dono­hoe shouldn’t make more of Can­téy­o­d­jay . Even if Mes­si­aen didn’t like the piece much, Lo­riod de­fended it say­ing ‘It’s cer­tainly fun to play!’ Not much fun here, though, not least be­cause the jaunty stac­cato qua­vers end­ing the first bar, which re­curs 17 times, are too pon­der­ous. Roger Nichols



Bach in Bologna

JS Bach: Solo Cello Suites; Gabrielli: 7 Ricer­cari

Mauro Valli (cello)

Ar­cana A459 131:00 mins (2 discs) Sus­pend the mem­ory of your go-to record­ing of Bach’s Cello Suites and en­ter­tain the idea of a per­for­mance given in Cöthen by a vis­it­ing Ital­ian. In this guise Mauro Valli’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion cas­cades with the splen­dour of the Ital­ian style; no re­peat is left un­adorned and small ges­tures are as vivid as the emo­tions frozen in Bernini’s sculp­tures. But also imag­ine that Bach’s con­tem­po­rary per­former had vis­ited Paris and you ar­rive at Valli’s read­ing, be­cause the French move­ments shim­mer with the gleam of Ver­sailles.

They may seem un­likely bed­fel­lows, but Bach’s Suites fol­low the key struc­ture of five out of six of Domenico Gabrielli’s dra­matic Ricer­cari for solo cello (likely the first un­ac­com­pa­nied works for the in­stru­ment). Pro­grammed to­gether, Valli pro­motes a di­a­logue of tech­nique and in­ven­tion – from in­creased use of both scor­datura

(de rigueur in Bologna) and the five-string vi­olon­cello pic­colo, to a rec­on­ciled pitch [A=465] that re­sults in Bach’s suites raised to a lu­mi­nous Ital­ian dis­po­si­tion.

It’s a closely-miked record­ing, but the gen­er­ous acous­tic at Zürich’s Kirche Neumün­ster en­cour­ages Valli’s cho­sen tex­tures and sense of poise: for in­stance his read­ing of Bach’s Sec­ond Pre­lude – hugely rhetor­i­cal and in­creas­ingly or­na­mented un­til the fi­nal bars es­chew the usual treat­ment of bro­ken arpeg­gios in favour of fizzing Ital­ianate in­ven­tion. If some­times the dances muse rather than take off, the sud­den dis­so­nance of an un­ex­pect­edly un­adorned sara­bande stops you in your tracks. For all the de­tail, Valli wears his schol­ar­ship lightly and his con­vic­tion is catch­ing – re­mind­ing us that no­tions of au­then­tic­ity are far from tied to a sin­gle time and place. Han­nah French



Legacy Brahms: Pi­ano Sonata No. 2;

Schoen­berg: Suite; plus works by

Bull, Byrd, Mor­ley, Tomkins & We­bern

Karim Said (pi­ano)

Ru­bi­con RCD1014 73:00 mins

An in­ter­view ques­tion that of­ten does the rounds in news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines is who would you in­vite to your fan­tasy din­ner party? All sorts of un­likely com­bi­na­tions en­sue, of which I can imag­ine Wil­liam Byrd and Arnold Schoen­berg be­ing one. But these two com­posers, one a lead­ing light of the English Re­nais­sance, the other the ar­chi­tect of the Sec­ond Vi­en­nese School, sit hap­pily and un­ex­pect­edly side by side on Karim Said’s sec­ond al­bum, Legacy. Their in­flu­ence on mu­sic is its con­cept. So, we have cool read­ings of short pieces by Mor­ley, Tomkins and Bull in­ter­spersed with We­bern’s blink-and-youmiss-it minia­tures. Schoen­berg’s Suite, Op. 25 is beau­ti­fully, un­sen­ti­men­tally done, pref­ac­ing a stylish but muted ac­count of Pi­ano Sonata No. 2 by Brahms – for Said, he’s a cru­cial link be­tween the Re­nais­sance and 20th cen­tury.

As a whole, this project is a lu­cid, ad­mirable af­fair. The Jor­da­nian pi­anist’s pro­gramme ex­udes artis­tic in­tel­li­gence, his play­ing is con­sid­ered and ar­tic­u­late, and the recorded sound is ex­em­plary. Yet I found this a dif­fi­cult disc to love – that elu­sive qual­ity that leaves the lis­tener want­ing to hear more, present on Said’s Echoes from an Em­pire disc, was lack­ing here. Re­becca Franks



Works for Solo Vi­ola

Works by Eich­berg, Fun­dal, Kop­pel, Ros­ing-schow, Rud­ers and Sørensen Rafaell Altino (vi­ola)

Da­capo 8.226588 72.37 mins Com­mis­sioned over the last few years by Rafaell Altino, these works from Dan­ish com­posers ex­plore dif­fer­ent facets of the vi­ola, as well as var­ied mu­si­cal -styles. The Baroque is of­ten a pres­ence or in­flu­ence, in Rud­ers’s Au­tumn Col­lec­tion – six short move­ments which cover a range of moods – as much as in Kop­pel’s For Vi­ola, whose ini­tial ques­tion­ing dou­ble stops are grad­u­ally trans­formed into a wild dance.

Ros­ing-schow ex­plores more ex­tended tech­niques in Vi­o­la­sounds, com­pelling in its of­ten rustling sonori­ties and vi­o­lent punc­tu­a­tions. There are some sur­face sim­i­lar­i­ties with Fun­dal’s Varidrome, es­pe­cially in the use of har­mon­ics and tap­ping strings with the wood of the bow, but Fun­dal charts a more log­i­cally melody-ori­ented course, not least through the re­cur­rent use of the open­ing in­ter­val of a mi­nor third. Eich­berg’s Recitare ob­sesses around small mo­tifs in a more dra­matic fash­ion, and, with Sørensen’s Sara­bande, we’re back to the Baroque, although re­fracted through a con­tem­po­rary sen­si­bil­ity.

Altino has a sense of pac­ing through­out, de­spite a few rough edges in some of the more ath­letic pas­sages, and the colours he draws from his in­stru­ment are well­caught by the record­ing.

Martin Cot­ton



Dy­namic duo: Bruno Philippe and Jérôme Du­cros

Fine Han­del: Wiebke Wei­danz and Ste­fan Tem­mingh

Proud or prej­u­diced?: Kristian Bezuiden­hout wasn’t sure of Haydn

Solo show­man: vi­ola player Rafaell Altino

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