Presto News - 17th June 2013
The Complete Works of Pierre Boulez on Deutsche Grammophon
I’ve written several times in these newsletters about Pierre Boulez, the conductor, but this week I’d like to talk about Boulez as composer. A student of Olivier Messiaen and René Leibowitz, Boulez is often regarded as one of the most important twentieth-century French composers. He is perhaps best known for his attempts to push the boundaries of serialism, as well as investigating the ideas of improvisation and controlled chance (most notably in the Third Piano Sonata, where to a certain extent the performer decides upon the ordering of the various sections).
Deutsche Grammophon has just released a 13-disc set of the complete works of Boulez, and it is this magnum opus that I have been steadily working my way through over the past couple of weeks. Boulez is notorious for not only subjecting his works to ongoing revisions, but also withdrawing compositions that he deems unsatisfactory, and so this set only contains pieces considered by him to be ‘finished’. Subtitled “Work in Progress”, it is described in the booklet note as “the inventory of a body in the process of edification”, and has been assembled under his personal supervision. It includes new recordings made specifically for this edition, and indeed some of the works have not appeared on CD before.
The line-up of performers on this set really couldn’t be bettered. Fittingly, a lot of the orchestral pieces are conducted by Boulez and performed by Ensemble InterContemporain, the chamber ensemble specialising in contemporary repertoire which he founded in 1976. Instrumental soloists are top-notch, too: my introduction to the music of Boulez some years ago was a recording of the Second Piano Sonata by Maurizio Pollini, and I was very pleased to discover that his recording has been chosen for inclusion. This particular sonata is almost impossibly fiendish to perform (legend has it that the great French pianist, Yvonne Loriod, burst into tears at the prospect of having to learn it!), but Pollini’s performance is simply stunning, with jaw-dropping virtuosity on display in every bar.
No less impressive is another pianist, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, who performs the First Piano Sonata as well as the Douze Notations; both recordings again demonstrate fearless pianism of the highest quality. Most of the pieces in this set were new to me, and I very much enjoyed getting to know some of them, especially Figures, Doubles, Prismes for large orchestra, and Répons for soloists and chamber ensemble, which has some fascinatingly inventive writing for percussion and live electronics.
However, I think the highlight of the set is the seventh disc, which includes possibly my favourite piece of Boulez – Messagesquisse, sur le nom de Paul Sacher for cello solo and six cellos. I first came across this piece at a BBC Proms concert last year, with Daniel Barenboim conducting members of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, and I remember being astounded at the range of sounds that Boulez manages to draw from the instrument. The performance on this set is equally phenomenal, and in my opinion argues the case extremely well for this piece to be counted as one of his finest.
I won’t claim that Boulez’s music is going to be to everyone’s taste: always uncompromising, it can sometimes be hard-going and austere, and I will admit that I find some of the more extreme serial pieces difficult to listen to on occasion. Having said that, there is some really extraordinary music here, that is undoubtedly worth taking the time to investigate.
Pierre Boulez: The Complete Works
Maurizio Pollini (piano), Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano), BBC Symphony Orchestra, Ensemble InterContemporain, Pierre Boulez (conductor) and many others
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James Longstaffe - email@example.com
17th June 2013
Stravinsky: Complete music for piano & orchestra
Steven Osborne (piano), BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Ilan Volkov
A new album from the Gramophone Award-winning team of Steven Osborne, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Ilan Volkov. Here they present Stravinsky’s complete music for piano and orchestra as a rare complete set, plus the Concerto in D for string orchestra. The taut rhythmic brilliance of this music is perfectly suited to the particular artistry of these performers.
Jan Lisiecki (piano)
Jan Lisiecki performs both cycles of Chopin’s virtuosic Études. This is the second Deutsche Grammophon release from the young Canadian pianist, and his first-ever studio recital album. Chopin’s Études are among the most challenging and evocative pieces of all the works in the piano repertoire.
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Hindemith: Complete Viola Works Volume 1
Tabea Zimmermann (viola), Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Hans Graf
Tabea Zimmermann commemorates the 50th anniversary of death of Paul Hindemith with the recording of his complete works for viola. Volume One includes the viola concerto Der Schwanendreher, as well as the intimate and touching Trauermusik, written for the funeral of King George V. The album also includes the Kammermusik No. 5 and the early edition of the Konzertmusik Op. 48a.
Britten & Shostakovich: Violin Concertos
James Ehnes (violin), Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Kirill Karabits
After a series of critically acclaimed recordings on ONYX, most recently of the Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky concertos, James Ehnes teams up with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and its charismatic music director, Kirill Karabits, in Violin Concertos by Benjamin Britten and Dmitri Shostakovich.
Bach, J S: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1
Peter Hill (piano)
One of the leading British pianists of his generation, Peter Hill is known for his performances and recordings of 20th-century and contemporary music as well as the classical repertoire. His recording of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II wowed critics across the board in January 2012, prompting The Guardian to write: “With luck this is the first in a series of Bach recordings from Hill, and let’s hope Book I of the ‘48’ follows soon.”
Mendelssohn: Symphonies Nos. 3 ‘Scottish’ & 4 ‘Italian’
Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century, Frans Brüggen
These new readings from Frans Brüggen, taken from live performances, are rounded off with a moving orchestral transcription of music by a composer as close to Brüggen’s heart as he was to Mendelssohn’s: the closing chorale of Bach’s Cantata No 107, Was willst du dich betrüben. Opting to perform the original 1833 version of the Italian Symphony, Brüggen sets out to paint a stronger contrast with the later completed Symphony No 3.
Godowsky: Music for Violin and Piano
Nazrin Rashidova (violin) & Roderick Chadwick (piano)
Leopold Godowsky was one of the greatest piano virtuosos of his time, many of whose compositions for the piano have long since taken their place in the repertoire. However, his violin music is almost unknown. The Twelve Impressions were dedicated to Fritz Kreisler and his wife, and are largely derived from Godowsky’s original piano pieces but refashioned to allow for Kreisler’s fingerings and bowing.
MacMillan: Tenebrae Responsories
Westminster Cathedral Choir & London Brass, Martin Baker
Westminster Cathedral Choir returns to acclaimed Scottish composer James MacMillan, whose powerful, passionate and luminous music has made him one of the best-loved choral composers of today. Included on this recording is a dramatic setting of the Tenebrae Responsories, a spiritually engaging and emotionally involving work which relates back in its searing intensity and some of its choral effects to Seven Last Words from the Cross.
BBC Radio 3 CD Review
Saturday 15th June 2013
Building a Library - Verdi: Rigoletto
First Choice (CD)
Luciano Pavarotti (Il Duca), Vladimir Chernov (Rigoletto), Cheryl Studer (Gilda), Denyce Graves (Maddalena), Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, James Levine
First Choice (DVD)
Francesco Demuro (Il Duca), Leo Nucci (Rigoletto), Nino Machaidze (Gilda), Stefanie Iranyi (Maddalena), Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Regio di Parma, Massimo Zanetti (conductor)
Also available on blu-ray.
Disc of the Week
Schumann: Violin Sonatas Nos. 1-3
Anthony Marwood (violin) & Aleksandar Madžar (piano)
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