Sunday, 21 August 2016

New Zealander Ross Harris is revealed as an impressive composer of substance and deep feeling on a World Premiere recording of his Violin Concerto and Fifth Symphony for Naxos

Ross Harris (b.1945) is one of New Zealand’s leading composers and has written more than two hundred compositions including opera, symphonic music, chamber music, klezmer and electronic music. He has been a finalist in the prestigious SOUNZ Contemporary Award more times than any other New Zealand composer and has won the award four times. He was born in Amberley, New Zealand, studied in Christchurch and Wellington and taught at the Victoria University of Wellington Music Department for over thirty years.

In 2004 he took early retirement from teaching and began working as a freelance composer. His residency with the Auckland Philharmonia (2005–2006) led to the composition of three symphonies. Harris received a Queen's Service Medal in 1985 for his opera Waituhi, the Composers Association of New Zealand (CANZ) Citation for Services to New Zealand Music in 1990 and the CANZ Trust Fund Award in 2016.. His major works include six string quartets, six symphonies, a violin concerto premiered by Anthony Marwood in 2010 and a cello concerto premiered by Li-Wei Qin in 2012.

Naxos have already recorded Harris’ Symphonies No’s 2 and 3 (8.572574) and his Symphony No. 4 coupled with the Cello Concerto (8.573044).

Now from Naxos comes Harris’ Symphony No. 5 and Violin Concerto in World Premiere recordings from the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Eckehard Stier  and Garry Walker  with violinist Ilya Gringolts and mezzo-soprano Sally-Anne Russell

Ross Harris’ Violin Concerto No. 1 (2010) was commissioned by Christopher Marshall for violinist Anthony Marwood and premiered by him with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under Tecwyn Evans in 2010. In five parts, the solo violin opens Part 1 high in the register soon joined by a melancholic clarinet. An oboe is heard, then a bassoon as the soloist continues his playful working over of the material.  The music slowly gains in flow as the orchestra joins, finding some beautiful moments with some wonderful textures and harmonies before leading into Part 2 where the tempo increases and becomes more dramatic with some very fine incisive playing from Ilya Gringolts. The music has more relaxed moments for the orchestra with the soloist finding little moments of quixotic playfulness. The orchestra provides a terrific response to the soloist who works up much passion and fury before slowing in a quite lovely passage to lead into the next Part 3.

Here Gringolts achieves some fine textures along with the APO strings in this slow haunting section where both soloist and orchestra find much deep feeling, shaping the music beautifully and finding some exquisite layers of sound all the while hovering on the edge of atonality. In Part 4 the soloist and orchestra develop the music through moments that reflect the opening movement of the concerto, finding sudden changing moods, rhythms and tempi before working up a fast and dynamic passage pointed up by timpani. A myriad of woodwind appear in the wonderful orchestration with the music growing ever faster and dramatic before reaching a climax and going into Part 5 where the music finds more of a poise in the orchestra to which the soloist brings a slow exquisitely shaped line. A cadenza is reached where the soloist slowly and exquisitely works over the theme, finding some lovely harmonies and textures before finding a hush at the end.

This is a spectacularly fine work that deserves a place in the repertoire. It is played to perfection by Gringolts and the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Garry Walker.

Harris’ Symphony No. 5 (2013) is in seven movements and sets three poems by Hungarian born poet Panni Palasti within four purely orchestral movements. Adagio I has a slow thoughtful opening for a solo bassoon over a hushed orchestra to which other woodwind slowly join, weaving a melancholy, quite lovely theme. Again Harris’ expert orchestration is in evidence. One can’t help but feel poised on the edge of beauty and deep sorrow as the movement progresses, slowly developing through the most wonderful passages. Eventually the strings bring a greater intensity only to fall back to a deep sadness out of which the woodwind emerge bringing little moments of animation. Yet it is the brooding, intensely tragic air that prevails. A trumpet rises out of the orchestra to herald a series of sudden outbursts from the orchestra before finding a hush at the end.

The second movement, The line-up takes the text of Palasti’s poem that opens with the words ‘when the men come/to search us/to herd us/who will hide me.’ A harp is soon joined by mezzo soprano Sally-Anne Russell, the orchestra joining to add a string layer with Russell finding a brilliance over a more intense string layer.

It is the woodwind that again that bring an air of jollity, perhaps a mock jollity to Scherzo I but they are soon overridden by brass and drums in a frenzied theme. The music rises in drama through some impressive moments before a solo violin appears to bring a fast forward driving section. The music slows momentarily but the rhythmic driving music thunders forward to the sudden end.

Harp and strings gently open Candlelight to which Russell brings a lovely tone that blends beautifully as she sings ‘we sit in the dark/only the centre of the shelter is lit by a single candle’ supported by the most exquisite orchestral accompaniment. There are moments where just the harp and soloist bring a spare, haunting quality.

There is a rather fragmented passage from all sections of the orchestra as Scherzo II sparks and flickers forward. Soon a solo violin finds a dialogue with a variety of instruments before the music moves through moments of greater drama, finding a terrific mixture of emotions as the music quickly veers from slower to faster, from flowing to staccato, hurtling from one expressive idea to another.

The solo harp opens Lessons learned from my father gently joined by Sally-Anne Russell as she sings ‘I have to run/on the double/to warn him to hide/climb out of the window/before the soldiers arrive’ finding a real depth of emotion in this initially spare setting of the most striking and vivid of poems. Woodwind subtly join, a clarinet gains prominence before the orchestra joins to lead into the final movement.

Woodwind rise over the orchestra to bring a lovely texture to the affecting theme of Adagio II. Brass and woodwind weave some spellbinding passages with glimpses of atonality emerging in the strings. Woodwind continue to weave a rippling texture with suggestions of the unsettled second scherzo appearing. The music rises to a climax only to quieten as harp and woodwind, then brass weave forward. The music further quietens and slows in the strings to find a peaceful, hushed coda.

This is an impressive symphony full of depth and feeling that is given a terrific performance here by Eckehard Stier and the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. 

Ross Harris is an impressive composer of substance and deep feeling. The recordings made in Auckland Town Hall, New Zealand are first rate and there are useful booklet notes with full English texts.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Rolf Lislevand is a musician who constantly draws the ear, captivating the listener with his ability to extract subtle and ever changing textures, timbres and tones in performances of works for theorbo and guitar by Robert de Visée and Francesco Corbetta for ECM New Series

The French guitarist and composer, Robert de Visée (c. 1655-1732) was a guitarist at the French court, playing privately to Louis XIV, in chamber music and later teaching the king. He was also a theorbo and viol player as well as singer. He wrote two collections of suites and other pieces for five-course guitar and a book of lute and theorbo music.

With the Italian Francesco Corbetta (c. 1615-1681) de Visée was the foremost guitar composer of the French baroque. Corbetta was born in Pavia, Lombardy, Italy and was guitar master to Louis XIV in Paris. He visited London on the restoration of Charles II where he taught the royal family, later returning to Paris. There are five surviving collections for five-course guitar, three of which are very much in the Italian tradition with the remaining books in the French style and very much a high point of French Baroque guitar composition.

ECM Records have recently released a recording of Norwegian early music performer, Rolf Lislevand playing theorbo and guitar works by Robert de Visée and Francesco Corbetta.

ECM 2288

Rolf Lislevand was born in Oslo in 1961 and studied classical guitar at the Norwegian State Academy of Music from 1980 to 1984. He continued his studies with Hopkinson Smith and Eugène Dombois at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Switzerland and later played with several of Jordi Savall’s ensembles. Lislevand, whose recordings have won numerous awards, is professor of lute and historical performance at Trossingen Musikhochschule.

He uses two contrasting instruments here; the small Baroque guitar with its sparkling, crystal-clear sonorities and the dark-toned theorbo, effectively a bass lute. The 17th century guitar, smaller than its modern counterpart, had five pairs of strings, tuned in unisons and octaves.

Rolf Lislevand extracts some gorgeous tones from his theorbo in Robert de Visee’s Prélude en ré mineur with leisurely, finely laid out phrases. De Visee’s Passacaille en ré mineur has equally rich dark tones in this wonderful piece, full of intricate lines, developing some lovely textures. He achieves a lovely flow in De Visee’s Les Sylvains de Mr. Couperin revealing a superb technique, with fine phrasing and dexterity. There are more lovely textures in this wholly attractive piece, full of varying sonorities, beautifully nuanced.

Rolf Lislevand has written his own Introduction to Francesco Corbetta’s Passacaille en sol mineur bringing a very Latin flavour, more a varied strumming of chords that ebb and flow, leading neatly into a gentle, rather delicate little Passacaille with the lighter tone of the baroque guitar. It is full of Latin inflections with some fine, subtle descending phrases, this soloist picking up on every little nuance. As the piece progresses one can now hear how Lislevand subtly picked up on the theme in his introduction.  

Lislevand returns to the theorbo for De Visee’s Prélude en la mineur making the most of his instrument’s deep rich tones, with this player knowing just how to phrase and pace this music, allowing every little detail to gently emerge with subtly changing textures. He picks up the pace, finding a perfect tempo for De Visee’s La Mascarade, Rondeau the theorbo again adding lovely rich sonorities.  

The lighter tone of the baroque guitar brings a more Latin feel as Corbetta’s rhythmically intricate Partie de Chaconne en ut majeur moves forward, Lislevand finding many varied textures and tones, increasing in tempo toward the end.

With the Sarabanda per la B one can by now already recognise Corbetta’s distinctive style. This rather lovely piece for baroque guitar reveals so many subtle little timbres, textures and tones in Lislevand’s expert hands, quite wonderfully paced and phrased. It has a gentle melancholy, finding a hush in the coda.

There is a fine contrast when Lislevand brings his theorbo to bear on De Visee’s Chaconne en la mineur, finding lovely deep tones and sonorities in this piece that has varying tempi and sonorities.  

Corbett’s Caprice de Chaconne has some lovely light textured phrases revealed by Lislevand’s baroque guitar. Again this artist knows just how to lay out the lovely phrases, perfectly paced, with some beautifully fluent faster passages, finding a real energy and panache. Terrific playing.

De Visee’s flowing Chaconne en sol majeur is soon revealed to have many subtle and varied tones, sonorities and tempi, the theorbo bringing its deeper tones set against lighter and more delicate textures. Some attractively strummed phrases for guitar open Corbetta’s Folie as it moves ahead with a gently picked out theme, full of the finest nuances, finding a sad gentle nature.

There is a gentle, richly textured opening for De Visee’s La Muzette, Rondeau before it reveals a fine melody with a subtle rhythmic sway. Again Lislevand finds many varied timbres and textures, even in the final hushed bars.

Rolf Lislevand has written another Introduction, this time to De Visee’s Passacaille en si mineur. It is impressive how the strumming of the baroque guitar quite subtly reveals De Visee’s theme, beautifully done before gently moving into the Passacaille, gently continuing the theme as it becomes more defined, Lislevand’s fine phrasing allowing every detail to emerge in this captivating piece.

For his Exit composed to follow the Passacaille en si mineur, Lislevand takes the lovely theme forward with quietly strummed chords to make a perfect conclusion.

Rolf Lislevand concludes this disc with De Visee’s Sarabande en si mineur where the rich dark hued tones of the theorbo return in this leisurely, beautifully laid out piece. Lislevand allows us to savour every lovely tone and timbre from his instrument with some wonderfully rounded phrases.

Rolf Lislevand is a musician who constantly draws the ear, captivating the listener with his ability to extract subtle and ever changing textures, timbres and tones that make these performances so fine. 

My download, which revealed an excellent recording made at Lugano’s Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI , makes one feel that the artist is in one’s own room. 

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Paul Macalindin’s book Upbeat – The Story of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq published by Sandstone Press leads us on an engrossing account of the founding of a youth orchestra that is often very moving but essentially uplifting

It was in 2008 that conductor, Paul Macalindin , was sitting at a window table in his favourite Edinburgh pub, The Barony, reading an old copy of the Glasgow Herald when he saw the headline ‘Search for UK maestro to help create an orchestra in Iraq.’

Sandstone Press have recently published Macalindin’s own story from 2008 - 2014 with all the stresses and triumphs along the way.

Sandstone Press Ltd
ISBN: 9781910985090
318 pages
62 colour photographs

It was a 17 year old Iraqi pianist, Zuhal Sultan  who conceived the idea of creating a national youth orchestra of Iraq. Born in Baghdad in July 1991, Zuhal, the youngest of a scientific family of two boys and two girls, she started piano studies at the age of six with the help of a private tutor. At the age of nine she received a scholarship to study at the Music and Ballet School of Baghdad. After the 2003 Iraq War, Zuhal was left without a piano teacher but continued to teach herself, as well as the younger students in her piano class. Despite all these difficulties, she joined the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra when she was fifteen and has performed concerts both at home and abroad.

The result of reading the article in the Glasgow Herald started Paul Macalindin on an incredible journey. From his first meeting with Zuhal via Skype through the first two week summer course in Suleymaniyah, Kurdistan in 2009, subsequent summer schools, the orchestra’s appearance at the 2011 Beethovenfest in Bonn, appearing at the Edinburgh Festival/fringe in 2012 that culminated in a concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London with Julian Lloyd Webber, an appearance at Aix en Provence in 2013 to a failed US trip due, initially to funding and immigration difficulties and then the rise of ISIL.

It is difficult to imagine the difficulties that Paul Macalindin, his brave young players and the tutors gathered from a number of countries had to overcome. The author certainly opens our eyes. First and foremost was the problem of security, or lack of, in an unstable part of the world. Auditions to join the orchestra had to be conducted by video. There were cultural, ethnic and language difficulties as it was vital that the orchestra should be inclusive and draw its members from all parts of Iraq including Arab, Shia and Sunni and Kurds. Venues were often grand but lacking in reliable air-conditioning, something essential in the summer heat. Accommodation for the orchestra was sometimes appalling.  Instruments were often damaged or of poor quality. There was the Iraqi bureaucracy and most of all perhaps there were funding problems.

The toll on Macalindin during his time at the helm of the NYOI was considerable, emotionally, physically and financially. Nevertheless, in his book he leads us on a story that is often very moving but essentially uplifting. There is humour and above all tremendous hope and confidence in the young musicians. His is a very honest, forthright account that doesn’t pull any punches when criticising those who put up barriers and yet fulsome in praise for those many people and organisations that went beyond what might be expected to help the young players.

The young musicians themselves often experienced great danger in pursuing their musical interests. In certain parts of Iraq it was not acceptable for females to play an instrument, in other areas to be seen with a violin, oboe or bassoon would in itself cause danger. Often the young people had to carry their instrument disguised in a small suitcase or other bag.

There is no doubt that many barriers were broken down as the young members of the orchestra, often already traumatised by the experiences that they had been through, began to see each other just as musicians, learning to work together to produce great music.

Paul Macalindin’s book is an engrossing read, cover to cover, that enlarges our understanding of this troubled region. Above all it is a tribute to those brave young musicians that came together as the NYOI.

There is a forward provided by the late Sir Peter Maxwell Davies who sadly did not live to see the book in print. 

The future of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq is inevitably bound up with the future of Iraq but one can only hope that the young musicians of Iraq will go forward to achieve their musical goals. 

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Treasure Island Music’s acquisition of the back catalogue of Unicorn Records brings the opportunity to hear again Sir David Willcocks directing fine performances of Holst’s Hymns from The Rig Veda, Two Eastern Pictures and Hymn to Dionysus on a disc that collectors will want to snap up

I am pleased to hear that Treasure Island Music has recently acquired the catalogues of Gamut Records, Unicorn Records Ltd & Kanchana Productions Limited, collectively known as Unicorn Kanchana. They will be keeping these master recordings alive by re-issuing in both physical (CD) & digital formats.

All of the information regarding these products has been taken from the original album art work, with additional data from John Goldsmith, Siva Oake & Nigel Brandt. There is an absolute gold mine of music in the back catalogues of these labels so we can expect some enticing releases.

The first to be received by me is a re-issue of Gustav Holst’s Hymns from The Rig Veda, Two Eastern Pictures and Hymn to Dionysus performed by the Royal College of Music Chamber Choir and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir David Willcocks with Osian Ellis (harp)

DKP (CD) 9046

Dedicated to Balfour Gardiner, Holst had been working on Hymn to Dionysus Op.31 No.2, for female voices and orchestra, during the early part of 1913. The words are from Gilbert Murray’s translation of the opening chorus of Euripides’ Bacchae. Sir David Willcocks brings a beautifully gentle, pastoral opening for orchestra to which the female voices of the Royal College of Music Chamber Choir blend quite wonderfully.  The 1984 recording allows some lovely orchestral detail to be heard. The choir handle the faster, rhythmic passages brilliantly, rising midway to a terrific climax before moving through passages full of energy, creating an effect of brilliance and light, with a terrific vibrant coda.

Holst began work on his translations from the Rig Veda as early as 1907. The Rig Veda is the earliest known work of Sanskrit literature of which the hymns are simple evocations of the gods, including Agni (God of fire), Ushas (The dawn), Surya (The sun), Vayu (The wind) and the Maruts (Indra’s storm cloud gods).
His Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda were composed between 1909 and 1912. Sir David Willcocks takes the Hymns in chronological order starting with the Second Group – for women’s chorus and orchestra) dating from 1909.

To Varuna (God of the Waters) has a gentle opening, a descending motif for orchestra which the women’s choir take into a rather beautiful theme. Harp and orchestra take the music ahead with the chorus building in strength, through some very fine orchestra passages. It is impressive how Holst moves so quickly from more dynamic passages to quieter moments such as when the solo violin joins with the gentle chorus. Willcocks reveals some lovely individual instrumental moments, wonderfully controlled choral passages and a glorious moment when the orchestra with horns reaches an outburst.

A nicely rhythmically pointed To Agni (God of Fire) follows with some crisp and accurate part singing before rising to an exceptionally fine coda with the acoustic of All Saints, Tooting, London heard to full effect. 

The orchestra rises wonderfully out of the choral opening of Funeral Chant through quite magical phrases, the orchestra and choir keeping a lovely gently rocking motion. There are more beautifully controlled choral passages, exquisitely sung, using the acoustic to terrific effect before the coda.

Holst’s First Group of Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda for chorus and orchestra were written between1908 and 1910. The Battle Hymn opens with an orchestral marching theme to which the male voices, then female voices of the RCM Chamber Choir join, rising to a fine, buoyant climax at the end.  

The choir alone bring a gentle chant to open To the Unknown God. A gong sounds as orchestral basses bring a rhythmic, slow plod. The choir join to bring a solemn idea, with more, gentle gong strokes, the orchestra continuing to provide a solemn accompaniment. Deep brass add a richer, heavier plod with fine textures as the music rises through some wonderfully dramatic passages before falling for the orchestra to lead quietly to the coda – and a hushed gong stroke.

The Third Group for women’s chorus and harp dates from 1910. Hymn to the Dawn opens with an attractive theme for harp played by Osian Ellis to which the choir bring some beautiful phrasing in this really distinctive gentle hymn. There are some really lovely harmonies from the choir.

Hymn to the Waters is an equally gentle hymn as the delicate sound of the harp opens. The choir join to add a more dynamic sound, around which the harp brings some lovely phrases. This choir’s phrasing and control is quite wonderful in the fast passages.

The choir opens quietly and gently in Hymn to Vena (Sun rising through the mist), soon joined by the harp with descending phrases, bringing a lovely gentle flowing quality. The music then rises in dynamics whilst keeping the steady tempo, through the most beautifully controlled choral passages before rising in the coda, Osian Ellis bringing the final bars.

With the Hymn of the Travellers the harp brings a faster moving motif over which the choir soon bring their fine sound in a rather eastern flavoured theme with a lovely subtle rise and fall.

Composed in 1912 the Fourth Group, for men’s chorus and orchestra opens with Hymn to Soma (the juice of a herb) to which the men’s voices of the RCM Chamber Choir bring a fine rhythmic theme, finding, as do the Royal Philharmonic, many subtleties of rhythm and phrasing.

The fine voice of baritone, Gerald Finley opens Hymn to Manas (the spirit of a dying man) at a distance before the choir take up the theme. The soloist is again heard in the distance before the choir take over again in this exquisite piece. The music rises in dynamics and power before it drops in a wonderfully controlled moment. The baritone soloist is heard again before the choir gently move ahead with exquisite control in the hushed passages that lead to the coda.

Two Eastern Pictures for women’s voices and harp, written in 1911, are based on the Spring and Summer cantos of Kalidasa’s poem Ritsusamhara which describes the six seasons of the Indian year. Spring opens with a vibrant, fast moving harp theme from Osian Ellis to which the women’s voices add a joyous skipping theme in a piece that is lighter than the hymns. The harp opens Summer to which the choir add a hummed line before the text is sung, bringing the feel of a warm, languorous day in this quite lovely piece in which the choir rise before a gentle coda.

The opportunity to hear again Sir David Willcocks directing these fine performances of works that reveal Holst’s gift for finding distinctive choral textures makes this a disc that collectors will want to snap up. The recording from the expert team of Christopher Palmer and Bob Auger is excellent. 

The booklet is a facsimile of the original with full English texts and excellent notes from Colin Matthews.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

A new 2 CD set from Metier features Miniaturised Concertos and Maché, fascinating works for piano duo, ensemble and electroacoustics that bring a myriad of unusual textures, colours and sonorities allowing the imagination to expand

The Metier Division of Divine Art  always has something new to tempt adventurous listeners and so it is with a new release from this label. This new 2CD issue brings us Miniaturised Concertos on disc 1 and Maché on disc 2.

msv 77205

Pianist Kate Halsall conceived the idea of the Miniaturised Concerto as a new way to present two-piano repertoire in the context of the avant-garde, rock-fusion and electronic music of today. The result is five major 'concertos' and four works in the style of Maché or collages, medleys of new works by several composers.  

This is a totally unique sound experience which fuses classical art-music with the popular idioms and new techniques of performance and recording, involving many of Britain's top names in the worlds of DJ-ing, electronics and sound design.

The new recordings are supported by Arts Council England , the Britten-Pears Foundation  and the RVW Trust .

The performers on these two discs are Kate Halsall (pianos, keyboards) , Jeremy Barnett (percussion) , Joel Bell (electric guitar) , Martin Butler (piano, keyboard) , Leo Chadburn (piano, voice) , Marjolaine Charbin (piano), Ruth Goller (electric bass) , Duncan MacLeod (electronics) , Robert Millett (percussion) , Fumiko Miyachi (piano) , Andrew Poppy (keyboards) , Lucy Shaw (upright bass) , Delia Stevens (Percussion) , Rachael Ueckermann (piano) , James Waterworth (electronics) and ensemble, Dark Inventions

The first of the Miniaturised Concertos is Andrew Poppy’s Swimming with the Stone Book for pianos, keyboard, electric guitars, bass and percussion. Poppy creates some distinctive sounds with a repeated yet subtly developing theme, achieving a fluidity in the lighter and heavier textures that run through the music. There is vibrancy here, with a myriad of colours, minimalist yet allowing some very fine ideas to rise over the repeated rhythmic theme. This composer finds dissonances and a variety of harmonies and textures with many subtle details. Later there is a distinctive lighter texture for pianos and keyboard before the music finds a richer texture with resonant bass. There are pauses in the insistent, rhythmic theme before drums, keyboard and basses introduce a heavy pounding rhythm to which the electric guitar brings the theme with the pianos joining to lead to a sudden end.

The pianos bring scattered staccato chords to introduce Naomi Pinnock’s Always again for pianos and percussion, slowly revealing a repeated rhythmic idea. Pianists, Kate Halsall and Fumiko Miyachi provide terrific accuracy through subtly shifting textures before there is a sudden silence with hushed percussion taps. The two pianists start the theme again, developing through continually changing harmonies, always keeping a strident touch. Soon there are more hushed rhythmic tapings before the pianos continue in a changed rhythm, still insistent and strident, though finding more of a depth of sound. There are many varied rhythms and textures around the theme with these two pianists achieving some terrific results. A deep rippling phrase leads into a gentle section as the theme is quietly taken forward with sudden little outbursts from the pianos with hesitant, rhythmic catches, these players finding a terrific continuity.  A light, delicate theme arrives at the higher end of the keyboards before these pianists continue to find many varied rhythms, dynamics and tempi. There are more percussion taps before pianos resume their delicate phrases to the coda.

The ensemble, Dark Inventions join pianists Kate Halsall and Fumiko Miyachi for Philip Cashian’s Furor opening with a lively rhythmic theme which they subject to variations using a variety of woodwind instruments and percussion with the pianos adding colour and texture. Indeed Cashian finds many fine colours and textures from his skilful use of instrumental combinations in this repetitive, rhythmic theme.  Soon there is a longer held line as strings join, still with an offset rhythmic line underneath. The pianos ripple through the woodwind before the strings intervene bringing lovely colour and variety. Later there is a short, slower section where flute and violin add an unusual texture. Towards the end the pianos bring a slow meditative section, slowly gaining in rich textures. The flute and violin enter to alternate with the pianos before the whole ensemble joins to bring about the coda.

Colin Riley’s Hanging in the Balance for pianos and electronics explores bringing objects to life by stimulating them to resonate along with the music played by the pianos. The piano music is sent by transducers to the skins and working parts of various instruments, here bass drum, snare drum, hi-hat and zither, placed around the stage and made to buzz, rattle and shake. In three parts a two note motif opens Ritual Groove before the pianos, together with percussion like sounds, continue. A strangely diffused sound is created as the instruments appear to reflect off each other. Hushed gravelly textures appear in the distance and deep drum sounds appear as the pianos develop the theme more broadly. There are jazz influenced harmonies from the pianos before the music becomes faster and more dramatic. Hi-hat and drums become more clear and prominent as this more leisurely section proceeds before falling quieter and slower with tentative pianos and percussion trying to find a forward flow but failing.

The theme is slowly and tentatively moved forward and into the second part, Break, Tackle, and Bowl which brings a fast moving theme sounding through the percussion instruments to which the pianos own sound can be heard. There are really vibrant textures with terrific rhythms, with some fine colours as well as varied rhythms and tempo. These pianists provide some terrific pin point accuracy before the music falls quietly into the final part, Scent of an Ending where a little piano motif runs through a hazy, shimmering, resonant percussion layer. Slowly the pianos find a theme, creating a rather intoxicating atmosphere with a descending piano motif over hazy, shimmering electronically shaped percussion, falling quieter with lovely resonating electronic sounds that fade in the coda.

The second disc in this 2 CD set brings the four works in the style of Maché or collages, medleys of new works by several composers. 

Maché 1 includes works by Duncan MacLeod, Simon VIncent, Joel Bell and Ryoko Akama and features pianists Kate Halsall, Fumiko Miyachi and Martin Butler, guitarist, Joel Bell and electronics from Duncan MacLeod and Simon Vincent. A piano opens with a little idea that is repeated and developed through some lovely electronically conceived passages. Two pianos take the theme as it is echoed around, finding an almost eastern sound quality, slowly adding a ‘chorus’ of electronic sound that overtakes the pianos.  The music rises to an impressive, sonorous level, creating a remarkable sound through which one can imagine a myriad of ideas -  at one point I imagined a terrific peal of bells – through deeper resonances as the music falls back, with the pianos bringing firm resonant chords. A sharper incisive line appears around which the pianos bring sudden faster phrases. There are wiry textures; an electric guitar is heard weaving around a melody before the pianos sound through a longer held electric guitar line. The music moves through a haze of electronic sound with the pianos picking out the theme to fade in the coda.

Maché 2 takes Dominic Murcott’s Time and Place to open with a rush of sound through which voices and footsteps, recorded at Chatham Historic Dockyard, can be heard, out of which percussion like sounds emanate. There are occasional piano phrases before the pianos take centre stage as the background fades away, bringing a repeated rhythmic motif. There are varied textures as the rhythm slows and the background sounds re-appear. The pianos fade for a sudden ending.

Maché 3: includes works by Leo Chadburn, Timo Tuhkanen, Emma-Ruth Richards, Matthew Rowan and Richard Perks. It opens with a voice over piano phrases before slowly making its way through subtly shifting harmonies. Electronics take us into a pulsating layer over which the piano adds a texture before being slowly varied through some slow moving bars with electronic pulsating tones. The voice returns adding descriptive words over piano chords before the pianos trickle notes through a haze of gentle sound. Later two voices appear over the pianos in longer sentences before a fine layer of piano textures develop. The sound of an out of tune piano is heard against a richer piano line as the voices continue, slowly finding a rather languid piano melody before ending quietly.

Maché 4: includes works by Richard Glover, Helen Papaioannou, Ruta Vitkauskaite, Rowland Sutherland, Andrew Morgan, Fumiko Miyachi and Devon Tipp. The music opens quietly with pianos playing a series of shifting chords, soon joined by resonant piano crashes and tinkling phrases before picking up a pace in a rhythmic theme. The music moves through a strange, electronic resonant passage bringing a slower plodding tempo before increasing to a greater flow with a faster piano theme over more rhythmic ideas. A resonating keyboard crash brings the end.

These are fascinating works that bring a myriad of unusual textures, colours and sonorities allowing the imagination to expand. I cannot imagine the performances being bettered. Pianists, Kate Halsall and Fumiko Miyachi deserve a special mention as the backbone of many of these performances. They are well recorded at various venues and there are useful booklet notes from the composers of the Miniaturised Concertos as well as brief notes on the Maché

There is also a video track not on the CD but available for purchase as a download of Katharine Norman’s video Making Place. It can also be streamed free of charge via YouTube:

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Lyrita’s Itter Broadcast Collection brings wonderful new finds with William Wordsworth’s First and Fifth Symphonies gleaned from BBC Broadcasts

The British composer, William Wordsworth (1908-1988) was born in London and studied harmony and counterpoint under George Oldroyd (1887-1956), later continuing his studies with Donald Tovey (1875-1940) at Edinburgh University.  He lived in England until 1961 when he moved to Inverness-shire where he helped to found the Scottish Composer's Guild. He was a descendent of Christopher Wordsworth, brother of the famous poet.

Wordsworth’s compositions include concertos, chamber works, vocal and piano works as well as eight symphonies.

Of the symphonies, Lyrita have previously released a recording of the Symphony No.2 in D, Op.34 and Symphony No. 3 in C, Op.48 (SRCD 207) with the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Braithwaite.

Now in their Itter Broadcast Collection comes recordings of Symphonies 1 and 5 coupled with Wordsworth’s Conflict Overture.

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Founder of Lyrita Recorded Edition , Richard Itter had a life-long fascination with recording, acquiring professional equipment for disc and tape recording for his own private use. From his home, where he was able to receive a good signal, he made domestic recordings from BBC transmissions of Proms, premieres, operas, symphonies and chamber music totalling more than 1500 works between 1952 and 1996. Initially recording on magnetic tape particularly important performances were transferred to acetate disc. These fragile discs were never played and have remained in excellent condition, as have the majority of the tapes which make up the bulk of the collection. In 2014 the Lyrita Recorded Edition Trust begun to transfer this priceless archive and has put in place formal agreements with the BBC and the Musicians Union to enable the release of items from it to the public as the Itter Broadcast Collection.

James Loughran conducts the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in a live mono recording of the Overture 'Conflict' for orchestra Op.86 (1968) broadcast by the BBC on 17th January 1971. It opens purposefully with a steadily increasing forward pushing theme, rising to moments of drama with cymbal clashes and a variety of instrumental interventions. A xylophone and a myriad of percussion and instrumental sounds achieve a real brilliance in the orchestra. Soon the music falls to a quieter moment for clarinet, passed through the orchestra as the music rises again, the xylophone again heard, finding a terrific forward momentum, reaching a passage of immense force. The music gives way to a swirling of woodwind over a string layer before rising again with timpani and percussion making a terrific noise, full of violence. Later there is another quieter passage, this time for strings before quickly moving forward.  Brass appears and there are ripples from the harp heard over a shimmering orchestra over which the woodwind flow before rising to a brilliant coda.

The live mono recording is a little boxy but reveals a surprising amount of detail. Applause is kept in at the end.

Wordsworth’s Symphony No.1 in F minor Op.23 (1944) was first performed by the BBC Northern Orchestra (later renamed the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra, now the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra) conducted by Julius Harrison in 1946 in a studio recording broadcast by the BBC.

In four movements, a series of orchestral chords herald the opening of the Allegro maestoso before leading forward through some rather angular phrases. The music soon slows to a gentler passage for strings with occasional brass, through a meditative, brooding section with pizzicato basses before finding more of a flow as the theme is developed, with sudden little dynamic outbursts. The music rises and increases in tempo with a dominant part for brass. There is a pensive passage with some lovely woodwind phrases before a lone trumpet brings an affecting moment over a hushed orchestra before rising with plenty of brass to lead to the end.

In the Adagio ma non troppo there is a slow melancholy opening for woodwind, soon taken forward by strings before woven between brass and woodwind. The music slowly rises only to immediately fall back to a ponderous passage in the basses, full of brooding intensity. It manages to rise up again with cymbal clashes and brass as the emotional cork is finally let out of the bottle before finding its way back to its brooding nature. Individual instruments take and weave the melody before almost faltering to a standstill, only to move slowly and sadly on to the grief stricken coda.  

The Scherzo. Allegro con brio moves forward in a rising and falling motif before rising up as the theme is woven through the orchestra. Again there are cymbal clashes before the music subsides into a steady forward drive. Soon the music slowly gets quieter but rises to push forward with intensity. Wordsworth often achieves a great brilliance of orchestral sound. Again a hushed forward motion is found before rising to forge ahead to the coda.

The concluding Andante largamente – Allegro opens gloomily in the basses before soon rising up through the orchestra in a slow melancholy theme, with some very fine woodwind and brass passages in this intensely brooding music. Later the strings lighten the mood, increasing in tempo, though keeping a feeling of anxiety, expanding through the orchestra as more of a sense of momentum increases. There are some attractive runs through the woodwind as the music subsides to a hush. The strings slowly and sadly move forward, brass join to add to the deep melancholy before the music speeds through brass passages of greater strength with the orchestral sound finding a greater momentum and impact. There are cymbal clashes and much brass as the music defiantly heads forward to a hard won triumph.
This is a symphony of some power and emotion. The mono recording is more spacious though there is a little background hiss.

The Symphony No.5 in A minor Op.68 (1960) was also first performed in a BBC broadcast concert by the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult.

In three movements the Andante maestoso opens with a slowly flowing, rather earnest theme that soon rises. An oboe, then cor-anglais, bring a wonderfully gentle theme, shared by the two instruments over a pulsating orchestra together with harp. The music rises through some fine moments with the cor-anglais again heard, Wordsworth weaving some magical sounds. There is a haunting, flowing, passage for the higher strings, of great emotional depth, that is soon shaped into a more dynamic passage for full orchestra, pointed up by timpani and brass. Later the music finds a subtler undulation with the oboe bringing a gentler, slower moment, again shared with the cor-anglais. There are delicate phrases with harp as the flute takes the theme, later woven through the strings, the composer creating some quite wonderful orchestral sonorities. Eventually there is a violin solo with woodwind woven around in another wonderful passage. Wordsworth had some wonderfully fine ideas bringing a rather luminescent sound as the orchestra rises out of the smaller ensemble, the violin weaving through the woodwind to find a lovely coda.

Wordsworth finds a remarkably individual, delicate, quietly rhythmic opening for percussion, pizzicato strings and celeste in the Allegro, soon taken up by the rest of the orchestra as the music rises. Soon there is a more flowing, forward drive with many fine little instrumental details. A xylophone adds spiky rhythmic phrases before a flute leads over a lovely string layer in a dancing staccato passage in a delicate little tune. The music picks up in force to drive forward, timpani adding weight before woodwind flurries take us back to a quieter, delicate moment for harp and percussion. The music again moves quickly ahead only to find a quizzical, delicate conclusion, though not without a final loud orchestral chord.

The Andante largamente – Allegro opens darkly in the basses, slowly rising through the strings, very reminiscent of the opening of the andante largamente of the first symphony. The music soon gains in angst and intensity until the brass and timpani declare the reaching of a plateau as the orchestra moves resolutely forward. Brass fanfares are heard but the music continues to head forward. A fast moving skittish passage arrives, pointed up by percussion and there are moments of broader, slower music for brass as well as passages of flowing strings. Centrally there is a calmer moment for brass and percussion before speeding ahead in the strings with brass adding colour and brilliance. A broad, confident string led passage occurs before the woodwind bring a slower passage but the orchestra soon rises to a resolute coda, wonderfully coloured by percussion.

This is, perhaps, the most impressive and individual work here. The stereo recording is full and detailed, if a little top heavy.

We are lucky to have these fine works in recordings that belie their origins. We should thank Lyrita for all the work they are doing in bringing such neglected works to our attention.

The performances are first rate and there are excellent, very full booklet notes.

I wonder if there are any more of this composer’s symphonies hiding in Mr Itter’s collection. I do hope so.

See also: 

Monday, 25 July 2016

Celebrating the 60th birthday of Alexander Baillie, Somm release a recording from the cellist, partnered by pianist, John Thwaites of Brahms’ two cello sonatas in performances that prove to be rather special

Alexander Baillie is internationally recognised as one of the finest cellists of his generation. He began playing the cello at the comparatively late age of twelve having been directly inspired by the late Jacqueline du Pré (1945-1987). He went on to study at London's Royal College of Music with Joan Dickson (1921-1994) and Anna Shuttleworth (b.1927) and with André Navarra (1911-1988) in Vienna. He later studied with William Pleeth, Pierre Fournier (1906-1986) and Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007), and with Jacqueline du Pré herself.

Since then his career has taken him all over the world. He has appeared with many British and European orchestras, has worked with Sir Simon Rattle and Sir John Eliot Gardiner and appears regularly as soloist in concertos, recitals and festivals. He has given notable first performances at the BBC Proms of works such as ‘Sieben Liebeslieder’ by Hans Werner Henze, Takemitsu's "Orion and Plaiedes" and Colin Matthews' First Cello Concerto, which is dedicated to him.

Recordings include the Tippett Triple Concerto with the composer conducting and the Shostakovich First Concerto with Benjamin Zander and the Boston Philharmonic. His version of the Britten Cello Suites achieved the highest acclaim in the New York press.

He features in Jan Harlan's film ‘Dvorak...who?’ about the motivation for young people falling in love with classical music. He is Professor of Cello at the University of Bremen Hochschule für Künste, founder member of ‘Gathering of the Clans’ Cello School and Honorary Doctor of Music at Hertfordshire University. His own cello festival at Carteret, Normandy recently celebrated its 10th year.

His recordings include Elgar's Concerto on Conifer, the Tippett Triple Concerto on Nimbus with Sir Michael Tippett conducting and the Gordon Crosse Concerto with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Martyn Brabbins on the N.M.C. label. His recordings of the Britten Cello Suites and the Sonata achieved the highest acclaim in the New York press.

To celebrate his 60th birthday Somm Recordings  have just released a new recording featuring Alexander Baillie and pianist, John Thwaites in Johannes Brahms’ two cello sonatas coupled with a transcription of Brahms’ Four serious Songs.


For this recording John Thwaites has chosen three different pianos, a Rönisch grand piano c. 1860, an Ehrbar grand piano c. 1877/78 and a rare Streicher concert grand dated from 1878. It was a 1868 Streicher that Brahms owned from 1871 until his death, a gift from the maker.

What a wonderfully rich cello tone Alexander Baillie brings to the opening of the Allegro non Troppo of the Sonata for Cello and Piano No.1 in E minor, Op.38, soon finding a wistful feel with John Thwaites’ Rönisch grand piano bringing a lovely delicate fluency. They rise through passages of great passion, finding much poetry as well as moments of great anguish revealed by Baillie’s fine tone. Baillie provides some wonderful textures and sonorities with moments, when this cellist reaches the higher range of his instrument, of immense emotional depth before a lovely gentle end.

They bring a fine, rhythmic lift to the Adagio - Andante con moto proving to be a terrific duo, shaping the music wonderfully. There is a lovely flow in the Andante, a fine rubato with some lovely, subtle little surges. This is wonderfully controlled playing, Baillie often bringing a wonderfully rich and resonant tone.

This fine duo again prove to be an intuitive partnership in the finely shaped opening of the Allegro bringing much energy and revealing many subtleties before finding more energy to hurtle forward with tremendous agility and strength, through stormy passages, to the fiery coda.  

What a terrific opening to the Allegro vivace of the Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 2 in F major, Op.99, full of volatility before the music slows and Baillie finds a richer, sonorous tone. Stormy emotions abound with this cellist bringing some terrific emotional thrust, backed no less by Thwaites who reveals the Ehrbar piano to have a fuller tone. Midway there is a moment of hushed expectation before they rise through some fast and fluent passages to a crisp resolute coda.  

The Adagio affettuoso brings some terrific pizzicato cello phrases, rich and deep over a lovely piano line. Soon Baillie brings a heart rending tone, developing through some quite wonderful passages, finely structured, paced and phrased before rising suddenly to some very fine pizzicato passages. Thwaites does a fine job shaping the piano part with Baillie later bringing some strong, resonant pizzicato phrases that increase the tension before an exquisite conclusion.

John Thwaites opens the Allegro passionate with a surging, rhythmic instability immediately joined by Alexander Baillie in a passionate outpouring. These two show their instinctive feel for this music with incredible volatility and a terrific forward drive. Thwaites keeps an underlying volatility in the gentler central section with Baillie adding a subtle emotional pull, a volatility they retain right through the varying passages, later picking to surge forward again with tautly rhythmic phrasing to the tightly controlled coda.

Baillie and Thwaites find a sunnier, though no less energetic Allegro molto, moving through moments of broader sonorities, beautifully shaped before rising through some incisive passages of great strength to a terrific conclusion.

Brahms was in a sombre mood as he approached what was to be his last birthday in 1896. Clara Schumann was lying seriously ill following a stroke and the composer had lost many of those closest to him. It was then that he wrote his Four Serious Songs, Op.121, a setting of biblical texts from Ecclesiastes and Corinthians.

These songs work extremely well in the transcription made by the great Russian cellist, Daniil Shafran (1923-1997), a transcription that Alexander Baillie has built on in this performance. The first text observes that man is no different to the animals in that ‘as the one dieth, so dieth the other.’ The text of the second song laments the world’s injustices. The third text speaks of the bitterness of death for one still in his prime and the final text reflects on Christian charity

John Thwaites’ Streicher piano brings some deep sonorities to Denn es gehet dem Menschen to which Alexander Baillie adds his own rich tone, running through passages of dark hued emotion with a faster moving, fleet central section before the more sombre music picks up to move quickly to the coda.

Baillie brings a lovely singing tone to Ich wandte mich before finding moments of exquisite beauty and poetry with an increasingly passionate tone.

O Tod, wie bitter bist du opens with passionate phrases for cello over which are gentler piano chords before finding a forward moving stance, moving through a gently flowing passage that rises in drama with these two finding every little nuance.

Baillie and Thwaites bring an exhilarating opening to Wenn ich mit Menschen - und mit Engelszungen redete with a fine rubato and phrasing, rising through moments of greater passion. Midway Baillie finds some lovely sonorous tones with Thwaites’ piano bringing some fine, rich textures in these slower passages, exquisitely shaped before a gentle coda. 

This is one of those rather special discs that one will want to return to for the special qualities these artists bring.  Alexander Baillie provides playing of great emotional depth and is wonderfully accompanied by John Thwaites. They receive a good recording though the instruments are set back in the rather resonant acoustic of the Gert Hecher Klavier-Athelier, Vienna. There are excellent booklet notes from John Thwaites on the music and choice of pianos and performance practice. The nicely illustrated booklet has a painting of the two performers by artist and musician, Christel Baillie  on the cover.