Glorious lyricism from this compelling pairing
Erik Levi enjoys a delightful all-russian programme featuring a neglected gem by Nikolai Myaskovsky
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-music.com
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 ★★★★★
The Piano Tuner; Espionage: Three Miniature Sonatas; Balkan Dances and Laments; Ecological Studies; My beloved, here are you going? etc.
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.
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
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 ★★★★
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 ★★★★
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
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.
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