Wednesday, March 1, 2017
Beethoven: Violin Sonata No. 6 in A major, Op. 30 No. 1 Violin Sonata No. 9 in A major, Op. 47 ‘Kreutzer’ Performed by James Ehnes (violin), Andrew Armstrong (piano) The duo of old friends, James Ehnes and Andrew Armstrong, has established itself as one of the most exciting of our times. Their albums of violin sonatas by Franck and Strauss, and Debussy, Elgar and Respighi have been praised by critics worldwide. For this new album they turn to Beethoven and two A major sonatas with very different moods. The 9th, ‘Kreutzer’ sonata, is a huge work, heroic and turbulent in character – a kind of concerto for violin and piano. It is middle period Beethoven at its most dramatic. By contrast, the 6th sonata is a serene, introspective work of great beauty which has tended to be overlooked by its more outward-looking siblings. The intimacy of this sonata – especially the slow movement – is all the more surprising as the original finale was removed by the composer, to become the finale of the ‘Kreutzer’. Beethoven wrote the gentle variations to conclude the 6th sonata. The Guardian wrote last month: “There’s a clarity of ideas that means they never have to overstate…For some listeners, the featherweight diction won’t be brawny or volatile enough for mid-period Beethoven, but it would be wrong to mistake cleanliness for lack of emotional heft…The uncluttered, conversational generosity of this duo speaks volumes.” Here is James Ehnes performing the Bach Chaconne for violin alone:
Villiers Quartet (Naxos)With impeccable timing, the Villiers Quartet have captured the current mood of edgy, querulous uncertainty with their release of the three magnificently bracing string quartets of Peter Racine Fricker (1920-90). Though separated by several years, each is distinctly in Fricker’s unique voice, never quite atonal; always charged with a vital, questing energy. No 3 from 1976 is the most spectacular, with a tautly syncopated allegro feroce, a Shostakovich-like adagio and a disquieting allegro inquieto. The playing of this highly talented quartet, champions of British music, is superb throughout and augurs well for their forthcoming release of Delius and Elgar. Continue reading...
Barbican, London Rachel Nicholls delivered a gleaming performance in Nicole LeFanu’s fiery new concertante, in an inspired programme including Schreker and RachmaninovNicola LeFanu’s new work, The Crimson Bird, an RPS Elgar bursary commission, feels at once timeless and urgently up to date. A mother sings of feeding her baby, and of a siege. So far, so Trojan. But John Fuller’s text turns us away from mythical times and towards the present. A house sliced open, children dead in the dust, mortars exploding in the citadel; we could be in Aleppo. Related: Nicola LeFanu: 'Thinking only in music sends the imagination on a different quest' Continue reading...
Ehnes/Armstrong (Onyx)Violinist James Ehnes and pianist Andrew Armstrong play together with an easy spark and suppleness that only old friends really can. In the past they’ve done excellent things with Franck, Strauss, Debussy and Elgar; now they turn to Beethoven with the same combination of light touch and searing focus. There’s a clarity of ideas that means they never have to overstate – take the initial phrase of the Kreutzer Sonata, the impeccably eloquent way the opening chord clouds from radiance to shade so decisively. Flashes of white heat in that sonata subside into a graceful reading of the Sixth. For some listeners, the featherweight diction won’t be brawny or volatile enough for mid-period Beethoven, but it would be wrong to mistake cleanliness for lack of emotional heft. The uncluttered, conversational generosity of this duo speaks volumes. Continue reading...
Nicholls/Ellicott/France/Shaw/Hallé Choir and Orchestra/Elder (Hallé)The latest addition to Mark Elder’s British music series continues his exploration of Elgar with a couple of the works composed during the first world war. A Voice in the Wilderness is one of a triptych of small-scale pieces with narrator that Elgar composed between 1914 and 1917 (all of them recently recorded by Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Scottish Symphony, while the settings of Laurence Binyon in The Spirit of England was his last major choral work. Perhaps the first number revisits the music of The Dream of Gerontius rather too blatantly; but in the latter piece, the impressionist world of its second movement, To Women, is unlike anything else Elgar wrote, except, perhaps, parts of what survive of his third symphony.Three pieces of incidental music composed in 1901 for George Moore and WB Yeats’s play Grania and Diarmid make a neat connection with the rarity by Arnold Bax that Elder also includes. In Memoriam carries the subtitle An Irish Elegy; it was written in response to the 1916 Easter Rising and the execution of its leaders by the British government. Originally scored for sextet, Bax’s orchestration was lost for many years, but it makes a brooding tone poem which deserves to be much better known. Both versions have been recorded before (on Chandos), but Elder’s performance has a special, spacious inevitability about it. Continue reading...
Jonas Kaufmann's Barbican residency, London Tickets sold out months ago, despite being priced way beyond average. High prices are fair enough for JK, Karita Mattila, Eric Halfvarson and Tony Pappano, but for the piano recital with Helmut Deutsch ? Viagogo advertised one ticket for the last concert at £435, though I've heard a rumour that prices on the black market were much higher. This is indecent, it's nothing to do with art. Which raises interesting questions. Was the series artistic endeavour or celebrity binge ? Or both ? Why not? Nothing JK does is "ordinary". Some of my friends, true devotees, travelled for thousands of miles to attend, and had a wonderful time. Experience of a lifetime! Most of my friends opted for the Wagner concert, a wise choice, since hardly anyone does Siegmund better than JK, and Mattila was, by all accounts, even more impressive. The first concert was much less interesting since Kaufmann's done similar programmes before, including at the Wigmore Hall. Kaufmann's timbre is quite Italianate, with luscious depth, ideally suited to Britten's Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo op 22. Much better than Peter Pears, who sounds like he's singing an alien language. Kaufmann makes the songs breathe sensual richness. Kaufmann's done the Schumann Kerner Lieder op 35 several times, too, as recently in London as 2015. Nothing obscure about these songs ! Again, they suit Kaufmann's voice. In one of the songs Stirb' Lieb’ und Freud”! , a man observes a woman transfixed by religious ecstasy. Beautiful as the image is, it's unnatural to the man, who now can never speak of his love. The tessitura suddenly peaks so high that some singers scrape into falsetto, but no chance of that with Kaufmann, who has the range, and has the technique to make it easy. It doesn't matter if listeners don't know the songs or who the poet was : the important thing was to pay attention and figure out why Kaufmann likes doing them. Unfortunately some of the London press tends towards fashion victim. This is a shame, because that does JK no favours. The better audiences understand what he does, and why, the better they'll really value him, but with a press that values hype over substance, how do listeners learn ?. Schumann's Kerner Lieder are by no means obscure, or difficult to follow. Think about those images of gold, wine, mystery, lusciousness : JK all over, and making the most of the smoky undertones that make his voice unique. Read HERE for more about the Kerner Lieder. Kaufmann's last concert could well be the most interesting of all, because he's doing something really different, Strauss Vier letzte Lieder, which were written for soprano. Songs change when they're transposed to a different kind of voice, but there's nothing controversial about that, in principle. So what Kaufmann will do with them is fascinating. They have been done by men before, even by baritones. But again, I think Kaufmann has the range and stylishness to convince. Moreover, presenting Vier letzte Lieder in the context of other Strauss, and together with Erich Korngold's Schauspeile Overture and Elgar's In the South, also makes a difference. Again, even if these works are new the challenge is to listen, and appreciate how hearing things in context influences the experience. Alas, the concert was cancelled at the last minute ! There's another concert Thursday where Kaufmann will sing Hugo Wolf Italienisches Liederbuch with Diana Damrau. Tickets reaching £160 ! Again, a wise match between material and voice. Each of these songs tells a little story. While they aren't "operatic", they withstand operatic treatment better than most Lieder. Kaufmann's voice and Damrau's balance very well, so it's hardly surprising that they've done these songs together before. Although the Barbican Hall isn't ideal for piano song, it's not bad. Fischer-Dieskau and Schwarzkopf sold out the Royal Festival Hall when they sang Hugo Wolf, sixty years ago. The RFH is bigger than the Barbican and in those days had a dead acoustic. In the end, it's the quality of listening that counts. So Jonas Kaufmann's a sex god ? Real fans also love him for his art. And for many of us, that's WHY he's so darn sexy !
Sir Edward William Elgar (2 June 1857 23 February 1934) was an English composer, many of whose works have entered the British and international classical concert repertoire. Among his best-known compositions are orchestral works including the Enigma Variations, the Pomp and Circumstance Marches, concertos for violin and cello, and two symphonies. He also composed choral works, including The Dream of Gerontius, chamber music and songs. Although Elgar is often regarded as a typically English composer, most of his musical influences were not from England but from continental Europe. He felt himself to be an outsider, not only musically, but socially. In musical circles dominated by academics, he was a self-taught composer; in Protestant Britain, his Roman Catholicism was regarded with suspicion in some quarters; and in the class-conscious society of Victorian and Edwardian Britain, he was acutely sensitive about his humble origins even after he achieved recognition. After a series of moderately successful works his Enigma Variations (1899) became immediately popular in Britain and overseas. His later full-length religious choral works were well received but have not entered the regular repertory. The first of his Pomp and Circumstance Marches (1901) is well-known in the UK and in the US. Elgar has been described as the first composer to take the gramophone seriously. Between 1914 and 1925, he conducted a series of recordings of his works. The introduction of the microphone in 1925 made far more accurate sound reproduction possible, and Elgar made new recordings of most of his major orchestral.
Great composers of classical music