Presto News - 26th May 2014
Violin Concertos by Stanford and Milford
This week’s CD comes courtesy of the English Music Festival, a relatively young organisation dedicated to expanding awareness and appreciation of English music – particularly of the Romantic era. The Festival operates its own independent record label, EM Records, which has released a series of well-received discs of relatively obscure English repertoire; the previous, for example, comprises the works of Herbert Howells for violin and piano.
The focus on the violin remains in this latest release, which features two concerti for the instrument. The first is of both musical and academic interest, being an orchestration by Jeremy Dibble of the piano score of Stanford’s Second Violin Concerto – left un-orchestrated by the composer, and thus providing both a conundrum and an opportunity for musicologists today. Dibble’s solution is to take his cue from the First Concerto and from Brahms, choosing relatively lightweight orchestral forces and allocating characterful solos to woodwind instruments as a means of achieving contrast and avoiding an excessively string-dominated sound throughout.
As with other orchestrations after the event, there’s always the question of how closely it matches what the composer would have done – but at the end of the day, Dibble’s scoring succeeds primarily because it is unobtrusive. The whole work feels natural and cohesive, and it’s certainly not obvious to the listener that its final form is in fact the result of a collaboration across the centuries. The final movement is particularly fun, with choppy and aggressive double-stopping from the soloist setting off a rollicking sonata rondo.
I had only dimly heard of the composer of the other concerto on this disc – Robin Milford, an Oxonian and a rough contemporary of Vaughan Williams and Finzi. His concerto – an unusually large-scale work lasting nearly three quarters of an hour in total – lapsed into obscurity after an initial burst of popularity in the 1940s, and its lyrical charm underlines how valuable the English Music Festival’s work is in reviving interest in such works. The first movement starts off in pensive mood, but explores a wide range of musical moods over the course of nearly twenty minutes. The second, very much unlike that of Stanford (a lyrical episode that seems to hark back to the composer’s Irish roots) is surprisingly extrovert and certainly doesn’t follow the conventional model for the slow middle movement of a concerto; it is initially based on a majestic, declamatory fanfare-like motif in the orchestra that makes an almost stern impression, and its climax is if anything more forceful than that of the first movement.
The final movement also breaks the mould somewhat; although it starts off as a jolly dance that makes great use of hemiola-like rhythmic playfulness and syncopation, towards the end it takes a very much quieter, more introspective turn and the work closes in decidedly subdued fashion, with the soloist bringing down the curtain. It’s hard to know what to make of this; Milford was prone to quite abrupt bouts of depression, so one could see it as an expression of this side of his personality – similar to some of Elgar’s sudden, disorientating mood-changes. Whatever the explanation, it’s an intriguing end to a piece with real depth and variety, and soloist Rupert Marshall-Luck is clearly in his element with music of this kind. His performance in both concerti is sensitive and committed, and he’s a convincing advocate for both works.
This is a lovely disc (the bonus of Holst’s spirited Walt Whitman overture is the icing on the cake!) and really brings these two pieces to life. It has certainly made me want to explore the works of Milford further – and the orchestrated Stanford shows a side of this composer that I hadn’t really been aware of before. Highly recommended!
The Fire that Breaks from Thee: Violin Concertos by Milford and Stanford
Rupert Marshall-Luck (violin), BBC Concert Orchestra, Owain Arwel Hughes
Presto Interview – Gil Shaham
Following the success of his album of 1930s Violin Concertos released back in March, Israeli-American violinist Gil Shaham’s latest disc is the intriguingly-titled Music to Drive Away Loiterers. A curious David emailed Gil to ask about his reasons behind the project.
You can read Gil Shaham’s responses here.
Presto Recommends – Dmitri Shostakovich
This week, David offers a selection of his favourite recordings of the music of Dmitri Shostakovich, the prolific Russian composer whose output includes fifteen symphonies, fifteen string quartets, a set of Preludes and Fugues for the piano and enormous amounts of stage and incidental music.
You can read David’s Shostakovich recommendations here.
David Smith - email@example.com
26th May 2014
Vittorio Grigolo: The Romantic Hero
Vittorio Grigolo (tenor)
Established as one of the world’s leading Italian tenors, an integral vehicle in Vittorio’s operatic trajectory has been French opera. To the famous heroic arias such as Romeo’s “L’amour, l’amour…Ah, lève-toi soleil”, Des Grieux’s “ah fuyez, douce image” and Faust’s “Salut, demeure chaste et pure”, Vittorio has also added lesser-known arias from La Juive, L’Africaine and Le Cid.
Haydn: The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross, Hob XX (piano version)
Alexei Lubimov (tangent piano)
Alexei Lubimov’s idea for recording this disc came from his encountering the sonority of a particular piano, a tangentenflugel, i.e., a tangent piano (the strings being struck by a metal piece called a ‘tangent’). It is the singular sonority of this instrument that made him want to record this keyboard transcription of Haydn’s Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross.
The Tudors At Prayer: Magnificat
Magnificat, Philip Cave
Continuing its exploration of Tudor Latin sacred music, ‘The Tudors At Prayer’ sees Magnificat perform music by Taverner, Tallis, Mundy, White and Byrd. Directed by Philip Cave, Magnificat specialises in the restoration and performance of neglected choral masterpieces of the 16th and 17th centuries.
Mozart: Violin Concertos 3, 4 & 5
Arabella Steinbacher (violin), Festival Strings Lucerne, Daniel Dodds
Arabella Steinbacher is one of the fastest-rising stars in the world of music today. This young performer is already being hailed as one of the truly great violinists of our times, acclaimed by The New York Times for playing with ’balanced lyricism and fire’.
Mahler: Symphonies Nos. 4-6
Sarah Fox (soprano), Philharmonia Orchestra, Lorin Maazel
Lorin Maazel and the Philharmonia Orchestra perform Mahler’s Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Symphonies. This is the second in a series that will encompass Mahler’s Nine Symphonies, featuring live recordings from London’s Royal Festival Hall.
Hallé, Sir Hamilton Harty, Leslie Heward and Sir Malcolm Sargent (conductors)
A 4-CD set from the Hallé archive of recordings from 1925-1941, conducted by Sir Hamilton Harty, Leslie Heward and Sir Malcolm Sargent. Music includes Harty’s 1930 recording of Elgar’s Enigma Variations, and music by Bruch, Dvorak, Mendelssohn, and Schubert.
Seiji Ozawa: A Life for Music
Orchestras including: Saito Kinen Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Wiener Philharmoniker, Berliner Philharmoniker
23 discs celebrating the recordings of Japanese conductor, Seiji Ozawa, with music ranging from Bach to Bernstein.
Verdi: Don Carlo (DVD)
Jonas Kaufmann (Don Carlo), Anja Harteros (Elisabetta), Matti Salminen (Filippo II), Thomas Hampson (Rodrigo), Ekaterina Semenchuk (Eboli), Eric Halfvarson (Il Grande Inquisitore), Wiener Philharmoniker, Antonio Pappano
Jonas Kaufmann sings the title role in this production of Verdi’s masterpiece from the 2013 Salzburg Festival, conducted by Sir Antonio Pappano. The stellar cast also includes Anja Harteros as Elisabetta, Thomas Hampson as Rodrigo, and Ekaterina Semenchuk as Eboli.
Blu-ray version also available here.
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