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DSD recording, live at the Barbican November 2007
Valery Gergiev's eagerly anticipated debut recording for LSO Live is also his first recording of Mahler's music and the first in a complete cycle of the composer's symphonies. Recorded in November 2007 as part of his sensational concert series of the symphonies, Gergiev delivers an intensely emotional account of this pivotal work.
Does Mahler’s Sixth Symphony foretell the tragedy of his later life, or does it have a more cerebral purpose? Whatever the composer’s motives for writing it, tragic it certainly is: driven, bitter and sweet by turns, and ending in devastation – utterly compelling.
“Gergiev’s tempo for the first movement was at the cutting edge of impetuous ... the sinew and defiance pinned you to the seat ... Gergiev’s neurotic manner was entirely at one with Mahler's. The playing was mighty and valiant with the LSO brass covering themselves in glory.” The Independent
“it is difficult to resist Valery Gergiev in full flow. He summons such reserves of power and commitment from the LSO that one cannot help but be swept along.” Gramophone Magazine
“Valery Gergiev is one of the most charismatic maestros on the circuit and his Mahler series in London has aroused passionately divergent responses. If you prize the textural elucidation that Claudio Abbado brings to these scores you probably won't care for Gergiev's broader, coarser brush. The raw excitement he engenders may seem beside the point.
This Sixth is dark, sometimes impenetrable, an impression offset only by a raft of sublime pianissimi. The silken shimmer of the first movement's central pastoral reverie with cowbells carefully distanced offers surprising relief.
Elsewhere Gergiev drives the argument forward with the kind of sullen, monolithic power he applies to Shostakovich at his most barren.
While his main tempo is only fractionally faster than Bernstein's, it seems rushed even for this most neurotic of symphonic openers. The exposition repeat is taken. The serene Andantemoderato, placed second as is now the fashion, is soon being harried towards a climax that blares unmercifully. There's more variety of tone in the Scherzo, though it's the finale which really hits home, the orchestra whipped into a frenzy that may or may not be idiomatic but certainly strikes sparks.
If you're looking for a quick-fire, single-disc Sixth with a difference, Gergiev has more gravitas than previous Soviet-trained conductors, even when he's racing. LSO Live backs him up with an impactful, immediate, rather airless sound encoded as a hybrid SACD. The bright-edged, multi-linear treatment favoured by exponents as ostensibly dissimilar as Bernstein and Boulez simply isn't on Gergiev's agenda. Instead, a trail is blazed for a visceral, even thuggish brand of music-making. Yes, these sounds thrilled many in the hall but would you want to revisit them at home? At bargain price you can afford to find out.
The enthusiastic applause has been removed.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
“Gergiev's approach to Mahler's Sixth is bold and dramatic and his performance has a total conviction not always apparent in his controversial cycle...He goes for an almost brutish energy in this dark symphony of Mahler, and the results are compelling.” Penguin Guide, 2010 ***
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Beethoven - Complete Symphonies
"We know that Beethoven asked musicians very precise questions about the technical capacities of their instruments. So he knew exactly what he was doing when he pushed an instrument to the very limit of its possibilities. It’s partly the great technical difficulty that makes his music so revolutionary, but also the dramatic character this element confers on the music (and this dramatisation is further emphasised if one respects contemporary pitch standards, which were high – at least 440, if not more). That’s why it is so important to perform this music on period instruments. - Jos van Immerseel
“[van Immerseel's] progress from the Baroque via the classical to the early Romantic eras is evident in these elegant performances, which are more for the historical purist than the full-on romanticist. The tempi are measured, the playing delicate, painting a portrait more of Beethoven the master craftsman than the fiery visionary.” The Observer, 20th April 2008
“Indeed, from the first bristling chords, Anima Eterna's playing held me on the edge of my seat. ” Gramophone Magazine, June 2008
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Bax - Tone Poems Volume 2
For Bax there were several periods of intense creativity when he committed to paper a variety of works in the form of piano scores, and orchestrated them when required. Many of the tone poems performed here were conceived in this fashion, including Red Autumn, which here receives its premiere recording. Originally a solo piano piece, it was then arranged for two pianos by Bax himself. In 2006 the Sir Arnold Bax Trust commissioned Graham Parlett to orchestrate the work in Bax’s early period style specifically for this recording. Heard in its orchestral dress it immediately reveals its family resemblance to the tone poems Nympholept and November Woods, composed round the same time.
Vernon Handley brings together for the first time three orchestral movements to which the collective title ‘Three Northern Ballads’ has been given. They date from the late 1920s and early 1930s, breathe much the same atmosphere, and Handley is keen to promote them as forming a unified, almost symphonic, whole. The first, which Bax composed and gave the name ‘Northern Ballad’ in 1927, was followed by a second Ballad, orchestrated in 1931. The third, formally entitled Prelude for a Solemn Occasion, appears to evoke a Sibelian musical landscape, and occupies the same world as the composer’s Sixth Symphony, which followed almost immediately. When Bax orchestrated the third piece he was taking his usual winter sojourn at Morar, Inverness-shire, and in a letter to a friend wrote, ‘It suggests an atmosphere of the dark north and perhaps dark happenings among the mists’. The nature painting in the work certainly calls to mind the wilds of Scotland.
Joining this quasi-symphonic work, in addition to Red Autumn, are three further early tone poems. Into the Twilight dates from Bax’s first intensive period of composition, the years immediately preceding World War I, and originated as the prelude to a planned Irish opera, Deirdre. It received only one performance during Bax’s lifetime, in 1909, conducted by Thomas Beecham. Nympholept which followed was the work in which Bax fully achieved the impressionistic technique of his first maturity. It suggests the pagan natural world in which Bax was so deeply interested. The Happy Forest, follows a pastoral short story by Herbert Farjeon, and is an Arcadian evocation much like Nympholept. It was first performed in 1923 under Eugene Goossens, its dedicatee.
“Immediately the most recommendable versions in every case.” BBC Music Magazine, May 2008 *****
“Vernon Handley's revelatory Bax odyssey for Chandos comes up trumps once again with this generous feast spanning a quarter of a century from the enchanted Donegal glens of the youthful Into the Twilight (1908) to the rugged, wintry seascape of the Second Northern Ballad, completed in 1934. The latter is flanked by its roistering and plaintive predecessor and the darkly opulent Prelude for a Solemn Occasion (also known as Northern Ballad No 3). Whether Bax ever envisaged them as a self-contained entity is pure conjecture but, when presented with such swaggering commitment, they do comprise a deeply stirring and evocative sequence.
Elsewhere, Into the Twilight receives ideally radiant, heartfelt treatment – and you'll wait a lifetime to hear the ecstatic Nympholept better done. The Happy Forest raises the bar in its lightness of touch, iridescent glow and twinkling fun.
The gale-tossed Red Autumn (more familiar in its two-piano garb) is clad in a remarkably idiomatic new orchestration by Graham Parlett.
So, gloriously assured music-making from first measure to last, and it's a relief to be able to report that Chandos's spectacularly ample and informative sound has all the natural bloom and crucial mid-range warmth that the companion disc (above) lacked. An unmissable treat.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
“Vernon Handley (still no
knighthood?) returns to
his exploration of the Bax
tone-poems with this
collection. Is it me, or are
the sounds he can draw
from orchestras ever
more resplendent? It is
almost as though he
acquires more vigour
with the passing years
and the result here is a
disc that bristles with
energy and excitement.
Marvellous.” Gramophone Magazine
“Vernon Handley's revelatory Bax odyssey for Chandos comes up trumps once again with this generous feast.” Gramophone Magazine, June 2008
“The excellent Chandos series pairing the former continues with seven richly nuanced, nimbly danced and sensitively phrased performances of [the] tone poems...The BBC Philharmonic revels in Bax's subtle instrumental variety - the nervous harp in Into the Twilight, the gurgling bass-clarinet in Nympholept that Handley summons like a snake-charmer. A sense of magic pervades much of the disc. Few conductors have found so much in Bax before, but many will in future.” The Times, 19th April 2008 ****
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Beethoven - Piano Sonatas Volume 4
Piano Sonata No. 5 in C minor, Op. 10 No. 1
Piano Sonata No. 6 in F major, Op. 10 No. 2
Piano Sonata No. 7 in D major, Op. 10 No. 3
Piano Sonata No. 15 in D major, Op. 28 'Pastorale'
Piano Sonata No. 19 in G minor, Op. 49 No. 1
Piano Sonata No. 20 in G major, Op. 49 No. 2
Piano Sonata No. 26 in E flat major, Op. 81a 'Les Adieux'
Piano Sonata No. 30 in E major, Op. 109
Piano Sonata No. 31 in A flat major, Op. 110
Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111
“Every one of Paul Lewis’s now-complete Beethoven Sonatas series has been
selected as an Editor’s Choice. Deservedly so. This final instalment boasts all the virtues of its predecessors – a pianist nimble of mind and fingers, penetrating interpretations delivered with just the right lightness of touch and
bold imaginative leaps that can leave the listener staggered.” Gramophone Magazine
“Paul Lewis ends his Beethoven sonata cycle for Harmonia Mundi with another wide-ranging collection; like its predecessors, it contains some outstanding performances and some that do not quite reach the same exalted standard. The major disappointments here come in two of the best known sonatas. Op 81a, Les Adieux, seems far less crisp and precise than one would expect, while, after a suitably pellucid opening, the E major Op 109 becomes unexpectedly feisty and never quite regains its poise. To set against that are a beautifully paced and unfolded account of Op 28 in D, the so-called Pastorale, and impressively thoughtful performances of the two most challenging works here: the A flat Op 110 and C minor Op 111. In Op 110, Lewis creates a glowing soundworld out of which every element seems to take shape perfectly naturally, while in Op 111, he plays down the drama of the first movement to integrate it more completely with the transcendental variations that follow. The transition from one to the other is perfectly managed so that they become a seamless whole, and a perfect finale to the entire enterprise.” The Guardian, 2nd May 2008 ****
At times in the towering final sonatas Lewis perhaps holds too much in reserve. Greater firepower could only enhance Beethoven’s visionary thinking, even when the marking for No 30’s finale indicates “mezza voce”, a half-voice. But this reserve also leads to masterful moments. There’s No 15’s balm and calm, plus the fluent grace in the Op 49 duo – pedagogic trifles for which any overkill would be fatal...buy Lewis’s Beethoven with confidence, and listen and explore for many years to come.” The Times, 2nd May 2008 ****
“Somehow, Lewis's quiet and distinctive voice can lift even the most familiar phrase on to another sphere.” Gramophone Magazine, June 2008
“…appropriately enough this final volume ends with the last sonata triptych of Opp. 109-111. Lewis plays all three works with characteristic warmth and beauty of tone, and you're not likely to hear them more sensitively and intelligently done.” BBC Music Magazine, June 2008 ****
“Only an extended essay could do justice to the fourth and final volume of Paul Lewis's Beethoven sonata cycle… You may well cherish your beloved sets by Schnabel, Kempff and Brendel (to name but three), but Lewis surely gives you the best of all possible worlds; one devoid of idiosyncrasy yet of a deeply personal musicianship.
Where else can you hear Op 10 No 2's madcap finale given with such unfaltering lucidity and precision? Try Op 28's finale for an ultimate pianistic and musical finesse or the opening Allegro where Lewis makes you conscious of how the music's gracious and mellifluous unfolding is momentarily clouded by mystery and energised by drama. In such hands the final pages of Op 111 do indeed become 'a drift towards the shores of Paradise' (Edward Sackville-West) and throughout all these performances you sense how 'the great effort of interpretation' (Michael Tippett) is resolved in playing of a haunting poetic commitment and devotion. Such playing is hardly for lovers of histrionics or inflated rhetoric, but rather for those in search of other deeper, more refreshing attributes, for Beethoven's inner light and spirit.
Somehow Lewis's quiet and distinctive voice can lift even the most familiar phrase on to another sphere and his playing throughout, shorn of accretion, makes all these sonatas shine with their first radiance and eloquence. Admirably recorded, this three-disc set is crowned with a scholarly and illuminating essay by Jean-Paul Montagnier.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
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Anna Netrebko (Mimi), Rolando Villazón (Rodolfo), Nicole Cabell (Musetta), Mariusz Kwiecien (Marcello), Boaz Daniel (Schaunard), Vitalij Kowaljow (Colline), Kevin Connors (Parpignol), Tiziano Bracci (Benoit/Alcindoro), Gerald Haeussler (Sergente dei doganieri)
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Kinderchor des Stadttheaters am Gärtnerplatz & Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Bertrand de Billy
A sparkling recording of Puccini’s La Bohème, recorded live at the Gasteig in Munich, under studio-like conditions. In three concert performances in April 2007, Anna Netrebko, Rolando Villazón, Nicole Cabell, Boaz Daniel and conductor Bertrand de Billy generated a special chemistry. This is a cast with youth on its side, so there is real credibility to Puccini’s story of bohemians in Paris. Emotion, spontaneity, intensity: Puccini’s beloved opera demands them all. The audience had the rare chance to experience magic being created; a sensation that has been captured in this live but studio-like recording
“Any frisson between the lovers is supplied by Rolando Villazón's impassioned, impulsive, gloriously sung Rodolfo. Fellow Bohemians Marcello and Schaunard are lively and quick-witted, though Colline tends to wobble in his "coat" aria. Nicole Cabell sings with gusto in Musetta's irresistible waltz song.
Without short-changing the moments of extreme tenderness and pathos, De Billy conducts with youthful ardour and an acute feeling for the score's variegated colours. All the more frustrating, then, that Netrebko's Mimì bears only a sketchy resemblance to Puccini's "soave fanciulla".” The Telegraph, 21st June 2008
“There is...some fine singing to be heard, all from Rolando Villazón, whose Rodolfo is irresistibly ardent and sustained on a wonderfully burnished tone. But Anna Netrebko, the other half of the much-vaunted dream pairing, is detached and profoundly unmoving as Mimi; there's no colour in the voice and no dramatic credibility in her relationship with Rodolfo, although the way in which the recording spotlights each voice destroys all theatricality anyway. The coarse-grained efforts of the Musetta (Nicole Cabell) and the Marcello (Boaz Daniel) to grab their share of the spotlight only make things worse. Some of the tempos that Bertrand de Billy adopts suggests he was trying to get things over as soon as possible.” The Guardian, 23rd May 2008 **
“It is succulently dramatic – a tribute both to the stars’ power and the conductor Bertrand de Billy’s dramatic ability to steer the score at the drop of a note from uproarious jollity to the shiver that spells death.
Villazón, of course, comes up to the mike first, bustling through the opening garret scene with an electricity that immediately separates him from Boaz Daniel’s Marcello and the other bohemian chums. Villazón’s Rodolfo radiates Latin heat throughout: every mood, from ripping bravado through tender concern to abject loss, is vigorously yet tastefully conveyed.
Frailty may not be Netrebko’s middle name, but she dampens her force sufficiently to be fairly convincing...Finding the right balance between Mimì’s ill health and a diva’s lung power is never easy: Netrebko comes closest in her impressive D’onde lieta in Act III.” The Times, 16th May 2008 ****
“Vividly recorded, vigorously conducted and sung by a distinguished cast still in their relatively youthful prime … This is a recording which takes its place alongside the acknowledged 'classics'. ” Gramophone Magazine, June 2008
“As Rodolfo, Rolando Villazón is magnificent, by turns ardent and angry and there's a stream of bright golden tone in a ringing 'O soave fanciulla'.” BBC Music Magazine, May 2008 ***
“Vividly recorded, vigorously conducted and sung by a distinguished cast still in their relatively youthful prime, it presents the score with an appeal that will be readily felt by newcomers and with a freshness that will make those of riper years feel… well, feel young again.
Act 1 moves quickly up to Mimì's entry. The vigour is not brash or wearing; there are moments of respite, but it is conducted as a symphonic unit, a first-movement allegro giocoso. The love music takes its natural pace, though it adds a silent beat immediately following Mimì's solo and another before the start of 'O soave fanciulla'.
The Second Act registers clearly as a symphonic scherzo, or, in this arrangement where you play the first CD without a break, as an extended Mozartian finale. The various elements – the main solo group, the Christmas Eve crowd, the children (in splendidly disciplined high spirits), the stage band – are all well defined and the great ensemble runs its joyful course so that we can almost feel ourselves to be part of it.
Among the singers, it is important that Marcello has the presence and gaiety to be the life and soul and Boaz Daniel has all of that. Stéphane Degout as Schaunard may be a little too like him for the purposes of the recording but is lively and stylish. The Colline, Vitalij Kowaljow, is less effective. The lovers Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazón are a famous pair and deservedly so. His voice is richly distinctive, his style genial and ardent. Netrebko is pure-toned and ample in climaxes. As Musetta, Nicole Cabell shows many of the qualities of a well cast Mimì – might Netrebko (a little solid and sturdy in vocal character for the Mimì of these acts) not have made a brilliant Musetta, as Welitsch did? In the remaining acts no such qualms arise.
Netrebko sings with feeling and imagination and Villazón is an inspired, golden-voiced Rodolfo. In fact, these are as finely performed as in any recording. The orchestra play almost as though reading a supplementary libretto, so vivid is their commentary. This is a recording which takes its place alongside the acknowledged 'classics'.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
“Villazòn is nigh-on impossible to fault. His sure-footed tenor has a wonderfully vulnerable edge. He clothes the most painful dramatic moments in tears, and the effect is heart-stopping; dripping in Puccinian melodrama and every-bit musical.” Andrew Mellor, bbc.co.uk, 9th May 2008
“This new DG recording is surely the La Boheme for our time. The singing of the two stars...is unforgettable. One needs to say little more, except that Nicole Cabell as Musetta and Boaz Daniel as Marcello are equally memorable.” Penguin Guide, 2010 edition ****
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Accentus - Transcriptions
This film was shot as a result of the huge success of the two volumes of “Transcriptions” performed by the award-winning choral group “Accentus” under its conductor Laurence Equilbey. The director Andy Sommer has created what he describes as “a sort of ‘a cappella musical’ focusing on the repertoire of transcriptions”.
“If you have missed the two marvellous “Transcriptions” volumes from Laurence Equilbey and her wonderful Accentus group, this might be a perfect introduction. Otherwise, this is a fine complement. A film to match the albums for sheer quality...To revisit two of the most impressive choral recordings of the past five years in the company of this visually inspired film is a true delight. In a nutshell, this is beautiful music, beautifully sung and beautifully filmed.” Gramophone Magazine, June 2008
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Marc-André Hamelin in a state of jazz
Marc-André Hamelin’s technical and interpretative brilliance over an extraordinarily wide range of repertoire has placed him firmly in the top rank of living pianists. His recent recordings of Alkan and Haydn were universally
acclaimed in the highest terms. In this latest recording, Hyperion presents Marc-André Hamelin ‘in a state of jazz’, as he turns his attention to the music of Kapustin, Antheil, Gulda and Weissenberg—all composers who felt keenly that there was a fundamental desire on the part of the concert-going public to hear something different. This wonderful disc is full of surprises—as Hamelin writes in his entertaining yet scholarly liner notes, ‘There is no jazz in this recording. At least not in the traditional sense … There is much to be enjoyed here, and much to be amazed by’.
“Hamelin's amazing technique and clarity of sound means that the music sounds as spontaneous as it can, though there's still a lingering doubt that it's all just a bit too knowing and clever.” BBC Music Magazine, May 2008 ****
“The Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin possesses one of those musical brains that spark with maddening brilliance in whatever direction takes his fancy … it’s hard to believe Hamelin didn’t grow up within earshot of some dubious jazz haunt
in New Orleans or Harlem … as Hamelin explains in his enjoyably lucid booklet notes, Gulda’s astonishing pianistic pedigree deserves to be seen in a far wider context … Hamelin’s evocations of these are wonderfully whimsical yet as crisp as celery. The syncopations ‘sit’ so comfortably under his
fingers—exactly the right balance between ambition and restraint, warmth and edge—a pretty rare commodity in the performance of classical repertoire, let alone jazz-inspired music … this is a lovely, lovely disc; I highly recommend it” International Record Review
“It is played with such agility and aplomb that you end up mesmerised by every bar. ” Gramophone Magazine, June 2008
“'In a State of Jazz' presents a form of fusion music where the influence of jazz is grafted onto classical forms. So although Gulda, Kapustin and Weissenberg whirl us into heady jazz idioms, their work is notated rather than improvised.
As Marc-André Hamelin tells us in the opening sentence of his brilliant accompanying essay, 'there is no jazz on this recording'.
Again, all three composers, temporarily stifled by classical norms and mores, sought a liberation that would send them soaring into what would once be considered alien territory. Weissenberg, for example, claims his Sonata in a Stateof Jazz is fuelled by 'intoxication, contamination and madness' while 'written in a state of indisputable sobriety'. Gulda, too, loved to escape from the confines of Carnegie Hall to the Birdland club in New York, jamming away into the small hours and claiming that he had left the past to join the vibrant living present and future. All this and much more makes for music that is arguably more brittle and sophisticated than uplifting, but it is played with such astounding agility and aplomb that you end up mesmerised by virtually every bar. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that no other pianist could approach Hamelin in such music. Notes pour and cascade like diamonds from his fingers and he has an inborn flair for the music's wild, free-wheeling melodies and rhythms, for its glittering whimsy and caprice.
Doubting Thomases should try the first movement of Kapustin's Second Sonata for crazed virtuoso exuberance and Trenet's 'Coin de rue' (cunningly arranged by Weissenberg) for teasing nostalgia. Superbly presented and recorded, this is a special addition to Hamelin's towering and unique discography.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
“Hamelin plays with such dextrous panache that he puts back much of the heat that formalisation of jazz as 'composition' removes” Classic FM Magazine, June 2008 ****
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The Romantic Piano Concerto 45 - Ferdinand Hiller
The Romantic Piano Concerto series continues to bring undiscovered works to the listening public, performed by the greatest piano virtuosos of today. The composer Hiller was admired by Schumann, who described him as the exemplar of ‘how to combine orchestra and piano in brilliant fashion’. One of the most imposing musical personalities of the nineteenth century, close friends with the likes of Rossini, Liszt, Berlioz and particularly Mendelssohn, Hiller was nevertheless largely forgotten less than twenty years after his death as musical fashion changed. The Second Concerto is a genuine forgotten masterpiece, and Hyperion has been looking for the right opportunity to record it for many years.
The First and Third concertos are both first recordings, and indeed the Third was never published. A combination of the appealing and the unknown makes this a classic RPC disc. Howard Shelley is a veteran of the Romantic Piano Concerto series. He conducts the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra here from the piano.
“Once more, one has to take off one's hat to Howard Shelley for leading such exuberant performances while simultaneously tackling demanding keyboard writing with amazing agility, innate elegance and complete stylistic empathy.” Gramophone Magazine, June 2008
“This must rate as one of the more successful of Hyperion's prodigal disinterments of Romantic Piano Concertos. Howard Shelley's brilliant and stylish playing … gives full value to the lyrical elements.” BBC Music Magazine, May 2008 *****
“These dextrous and remarkably self-confident concertos … are studded with delights … as a pianist, Hiller was known for his delicate touch—and Shelley reflects that characteristic in the breathtaking finesse of his playing. At the same time, there’s plenty of bravura here, too, which Shelley handles with enviable technical panache …
all in all, another triumph in this ear-opening series” International Record Review
“History can be a cruel judge, for it is hard to dismiss such a confident, superbly crafted piece as the F sharp minor (Second) Concerto of 1843.
It is one of the gems of the genre, the first to be written in that key and with many surprising features such as the soloist kicking off proceedings fiercely and without any introduction, the written-out cadenza opening with a subsidiary rather than principal theme, and the birdsong figuration and unusual left-hand rhythmic accompaniment in the andante espressivo.
Piano Conerto No 1 (1831) is a brilliant display vehicle in the Parisian manner of the day which, however, owes more to Chopin and Moscheles (its dedicatee) than Herz or Kalkbrenner.
In No 3 (1874), presumed lost until recently, Hiller again strives to be innovative in terms of structure and handling of material, keeping his soloist fully occupied despite the work's subtitle and dominant character. Inferior they may be to No 2 but, especially in perfor- mances like these, well worth hearing.
Once more, one has to take off one's hat to Howard Shelley for leading such exuberant performances while simultaneously tackling demanding keyboard writing with amazing agility, innate elegance and complete stylistic empathy.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
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Pickard - The Flight of Icarus
British composer John Pickard has been widely praised for his architectural sense and bold handling of an extended tonal idiom. He is best known for a series of powerful orchestral works, of which The Flight of Icarus has met with particular acclaim. After its première at the PROMS The Times critic wrote: “Pickard's score remains airborne over its 20-minute span rather more proficiently than Icarus, leading the ear and imagination with impressive resourcefulness.”
“Pickard is a born master of the orchestra, so BIS's imaginative decision to make this disc deserves high praise. A marvellous disc, urgently recommended.” BBC Music Magazine, Proms 2008 *****
“In many respects, The Flight of Icarus (1990) was John Pickard's breakthrough work, at least into the wider national consciousness, partly thanks to its London premiere at the 1996 Proms but also due to its clear structure, accessible (though not unchallenging) musical language and the sheer élan of its orchestral writing. Playing continuously, its three compelling sections are indicative of the ascent of Icarus and Daedalus from their Minoan confinement, their exhilarating albeit turbulent flight and Icarus's catastrophic fall, prompting a wonderfully direct, emotive elegy (all the more remarkable for a composer then just 27).
Icarus remains Pickard's best-known orchestral work, unjustly since three years later he trumped it with Channel Firing, written in memory of his teacher, William Mathias.
Inspired by Thomas Hardy's dark pre-Great War poem where the dead in a churchyard are woken by naval gunnery practice and assume it is the Day of Judgement, Pickard constructs a gripping symphonic poem redolent of notquite- apocalypse: it is not time for the dead to be judged, Europe is not yet in the grip of war; but both are coming.
Separating these full-orchestral conceptions is a concerto for trombone, strings and percussion showing a quite different side to his musical character. Like Icarus, The Spindle of Necessity (1998) derives from Greek myth via Plato's Republic. Here the textures are often gossamerthin, with light percussion interweaving with natural string overtones and translucent harmonies.
Lindberg plays the emotionally detached solo part with consummate skill while Brabbins draws sensational playing from the Norrköping orchestra in what must have been terra incognita.
BIS's sound as always is first rate. Highly recommend.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
“A real treat here from a
composer I hadn’t heard
before, John Pickard. His
soundscapes are often
rich and not a little
threatening, and there is
an almost Janá?ekian
sense of the inexorability
of nature. Had Icarus
heard this before
venturing too close to
the sun, he might have
shown more caution.” Gramophone Magazine
“Prompting a wonderfully direct, emotive elegy - all the more remarkable for a composer then just 27 … BIS's sound as always is first rate. I cannot recommend this highly enough.” Gramophone Magazine, June 2008
“John Pickard's music is vivid, frankly pictorial, and at its best virtuosically effective, in a style that never seems either self-consciously conservative or too stubbornly middle-of-the-road. The 20-minute orchestral piece The Flight of Icarus is the earliest work here - it was first performed in 1991 - and shows how Pickard can weave a convincing musical narrative out of a literary one, here the Greek myth of Icarus's fatal flight, on top of which are added references to the disasters that accompanied early space exploration. The Spindle of Necessity, from 1998, has a Greek source, too, using Plato's description of his model for the movements of the heavens as the basis for a trombone concerto that inevitably becomes a vehicle for Christian Lindberg's astonishing, extrovert bravura. The third piece here, Channel Firing (1993), seems to me the most personal and deeply felt of the three. Borrowing its title from a famous Hardy poem, it is a memorial to Pickard's teacher William Mathias, and is haunted by a doom-laden quotation from Wagner's Götterdämmerung.” The Guardian, 25th April 2008 ***
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Reich - Daniel Variations
Composer Steve Reich has called Daniel Variations "A memorial and a remembrance" of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. He embarked upon the piece at the behest of Pearl's father Judea and the Daniel Pearl Foundation, an organization dedicated to crosscultural understanding through journalism, music and innovative communication. The elder Pearl has said, "Danny was a highly principled person, a gentle soul and a mighty good journalist. He became an icon, and this work by Reich is a tribute to a life that personified our culture, our principles and our dreams." When the piece received its world premiere on October 8, 2006, at London's Barbican Hall (as part of the Barbican's festival Phases, to mark Reich's 70th birthday), the Guardian called it 'A haunting work that circles around alternating ideas of celebration and discord.'
'Daniel Variations' is both moving and unsettling, and, for the most part, understandably dark in tone. Alex Ross of the New Yorker observed that, in Reich's writing, there is 'A new influx of coiled power: fleets of pianos and percussion tap out telegraphic patterns, warning of the next big crash.' But Reich does offer a glimmer of hope to counterbalance the sense of dread, and the piece is ultimately an uplifting one. Over the course of four movements and approximately 30 minutes, Reich juxtaposes words from Pearl's life - including his final words - with phrases taken from the Old Testament's Book Of Daniel. Reich quotes haunting verses in which the prophet Daniel, enslaved in Babylon - the modern-day Iraq - is ordered to interpret the ominous dreams of King Nebuchadnezzar, which suggest a wave of terror to come. In the 2nd and 4th movements, which include lyrical passages written for a string section, Reich evokes the spirit of the modern-day Daniel, who was a violinist as well as a reporter. Pearl was, says Reich, "Someone who stands beautifully and grotesquely at the same time as a symbol of thousands of innocent victims...he was murdered while trying to really give a fair shake to all concerned."
“The circumstances that gave rise to Steve Reich’s Daniel Variations – the brutal killing of American journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan in 2002 – could not be more horrific. Small consolation to say that it has inspired some fine works of art. But this is a very special piece, with Reich trying to make sense of the horror by juxtaposing Pearl’s statements with biblical readings.” Gramophone Magazine
“These pieces are as good an example as any of the jogging, jaunty repetition Reich has made his own, and suggest that bold departures from the style are unlikely. The 22-minute Variations for Vibes, Pianos and Strings goes through the wonted motions and modulations with Reichian rigour, but without the gripping, if awful, power of sheer insistency that marks his 55-minute Music for 18 Musicians...The half-hour Daniel Variations, a memorial for the murdered journalist Daniel Pearl, puts tiny slivers of text (Pearl’s own words and some from the biblical book of Daniel) through the repetition mill – but to what purpose?” Sunday Times, 11th May 2008 **
“Critics often lament Reich's shift away from the strict processes of his early minimalist style but all the techniques discovered along the way are still present here: rhythmic goal-orientation, harmonic clusters rich in overtones and upper partials, and a complex but audible polyphonic weave. And all underpinned by those variations, no less. ” Gramophone Magazine, June 2008
“Reich's interest in variation has not been confined to music alone; he also employs linguistic variation to examine the relationship between sound and sense, and even uses language to frame wider moral, philosophical and religious concerns. This is heard in the Daniel Variations.
Composed in response to the futile killing of the American reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002, and premiered in October 2006 at the highly successful 'Phases' retrospective at London's Barbican Centre, the work combines short biblical excerpts with contemporary textual commentary to create a dark and often unsettling sound world. Much of this is derived from Reich's juxtaposition of block-like structures with a set of harmonic axes which emphasise the most traditionally unstable of all intervals – the augmented fourth (or tritone).
In contrast, the Variations for Vibes, Piano &Strings displays Reich's musical inventiveness at its ebullient and infectious best. Given a topnotch workout by Alan Pierson and members of the London Sinfonietta, the Variations alternately powers and glides throughout a tautly structured three-movement design – by way of a series of simultaneously unfolding canonic layers – which zigzag their way inexorably towards a quite thrilling close. Critics often lament Reich's shift away from the strict processes of his early minimalist style but all the techniques discovered along the way are still present here: rhythmic goal-orientation, harmonic clusters rich in overtones and upper partials, and a complex but audible polyphonic weave. And all underpinned by those variations, no less.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
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Bax - Symphonies Nos. 2 & 5
“A majestic (and long overdue) return to currency for two cornerstones of the Lyrita catalogue. The LPO respond with all the edge-of-seat excitement of new discovery, particularly so in the turbulent Second Symphony, where an impassioned and inspired Myer Fredman secures playing of terrific fire, dedication and spontaneity.” Gramophone Magazine, June 2008
“If Raymond Leppard's account of the Fifth operates at a slightly lower voltage, his cannily paced, sensitive and meticulously prepared reading none the less remains a most distinguished contribution to the Bax discography.
Both these vintage displays were marvellously engineered by Decca personnel working within the benign acoustic of Walthamstow Town Hall. The eloquent original sleeve-notes by Lewis Foreman and Robert Layton have sensibly been retained, and Simon Gibson's remasterings are first class (No 2 sounding a tad more clinical than it did on LP). A hugely rewarding reissue.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
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