Sunday, October 23, 2016
Ott/Bavarian Radio SO/Salonen (Deutsche Grammophon)“Wonderland” to Alice Sara Ott is the trolls-and-forests world of Grieg, whose Piano Concerto is presented in a live performance alongside studio recordings of 12 miniatures. The concerto may sound small-scale to anyone who thinks of this as a big romantic warhorse; it is elegantly phrased by Ott and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, but the first movement barely catches fire until the solo cadenza, so the grand ending of the finale sounds like the resolution to a more dramatic story than the one we’ve just heard. For a disc exploring a “magical and imaginary world”, in the miniatures there’s a very present quality to both Ott’s playing and the recorded sound; yet she does create a mistier atmosphere in the Nocturne, and Solveig’s Song sounds haunting, even if the Elves’ Dance that follows is a bit stompy. Wedding Day at Troldhaugen comes with a witty scramble to get to the church on time. Continue reading...
Skride/Skride (Orfeo)There will be something new and intriguing for most chamber-music fans in this recital by Latvian violinist Baiba Skride and her pianist sister Lauma, which brings together relatively little-known violin pieces by the leading Nordic composers of the early 20th century. The most envelope-pushing work – and the one that makes the most of Baiba’s characteristic intensity of tone and muscular yet seamless phrasing – is the 1912 Sonata No 2 by Nielsen, its first movement a seething, searching bundle of mood-swings, its finale a deceptively relaxed waltz that in one striking passage anticipates the climbdown from one of the climaxes in the Fourth Symphony, begun two years later. The sisters are ideally matched, too, in four miniatures, Op 78, which find Sibelius in effortlessly lyrical mode, plus Grieg’s folk-inspired 1867 Sonata No 2 and the long, wistful lines of Stenhammar’s Sonata from 1900. Why are these works not played more often? Continue reading...
You may remember that last year I reviewed a film called "La calle de los pianistas" ("The pianists´ street") about the particular relationship of a family of pianists who live in Brussels next door to Martha Argerich´s house. It centered on the dialogues of a mother, Karin Lechner, and her daughter, Natasha Binder, plus interventions of the teenager´s uncle, Sergio Tiempo, and of Argerich. All of them are inhabited by music and the piano, and have been so since they were almost babies. Let me introduce some personal notes, for their past mingled with mine in two periods. This is the dynasty founded by Antonio De Raco, one of our best pianists, and Elizabeth Westerkamp, pianist and teacher and still alive at 102. They had two children and one of them was Lyl De Raco, a talented pianist who oriented her life to teaching of a special kind: children, including her own. When she was eighteen she had a friendship with my sister and played at our Pleyel. Afterwards she married Jorge Lechner, an admirable pianist who was an important repetiteur at the Colón, and their daughter was Karin. Antonio De Raco then lived at the same Palermo building of my mother, and Karin was about seven when she became inseparable with my niece, who lived with my mother; forty years later they are still close friends. Lechner had an untimely death, and Lyl remarried, with the diplomat Martín Tiempo (son of the writer César Tiempo). He was posted to Venezuela, and it was there that Sergio Tiempo was born. And of course, he too was a pianist. And then Karin grew and married; Natasha Binder was born and followed the same road as her mother, grandmother and uncle. And Lyl took Natasha as a special pupil. Karin and Sergio, either separately or together, made frequent tours to BA. And then came the surprise: Natasha Binder, nine years old, inaugurated seven seasons ago the BA Phil´s subscription series with Grieg´s Concerto, amazing the audience. Now she is sixteen and her career is launched. Enrique Arturo Diemecke, in his twelfth year as Principal Conductor of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, had the idea of giving all five Beethoven piano concerti with different pianists. Two veterans played Nº 1 (Philippe Entremont) and Nº4 (Bruno Gelber). And in the Colón concert of August 25 we heard Nº2 with Binder, Nº3 with Tiempo and Nº5 with Lechner. For some reason the half-brothers interchanged concerti, for Sergio was supposed to play Nº5 and Karin Nº3 ; Diemecke announced it. This concert was an interesting experience, for it allowed the public to appreciate three Beethovenian compositional styles, but also because three players of formidable technical ability and of the same family gave very diverse readings. As the aforementioned film makes clear, there´s great love between mother and daughter, but Natasha has strong temperament and in the final analysis, although she hears the wise counsel of Lyl and Karin, she plays what she feels. By the way, Nº 2 is a favorite of Argerich and she played it last year with Barenboim. Contrary to what many say, it has little influence of Mozart and is already unmistakeably Beethoven, although it was written when he was in his late teens (the big cadenza was certainly added much later; it is in the dramatic style of the "Pathetic Sonata"). Natasha was firmly in charge fron the very beginning, with clean strong playing, perhaps too assertive but always musical. She managed the cadenza with bravura. The slow movement was sensitive, with delicacy of touch. But I differ with her very fast tempo for the final Rondo, marked Molto Allegro, not Presto as she played it. With so much speed the music lacks air and the orchestra has a hard time. Sergio Tiempo has immense technical ease and shines with authors like Liszt, Ravel or Prokofiev, but his very modern and idiosyncratic ways go against the grain of Beethoven´s requirements. Yes, Nº3 is dramatic and powerful, but not willful, and that´s what we heard: a constant adding of extemporaneous accents, rushing, disregarding the score. He calmed down in the slow movement, where he showed his fine toucher. It was an oasis before the final Rondo; after leaving no space between second and third movements (ugly harmonic clash), a headlong run, dazzling but empty. It remained for Karin to put things right and she did, in a beautifully balanced and played Nº5 ("Emperor"), scrupulously faithful to the score and immaculate. She even gave a perfect reading of the strange galloping rhythm of the final Rondo. In fact, her Fifth has my vote as the best performance of the whole cycle. Diemecke adapted himself to the contrasting styles of the performers and conducted solidly the extensive orchestral introductions, notwithstanding some poor solo playing (e.g., the bassoon). It is a curious thing that Karin and Sergio have very different styles playing separately, but are completely unanimous when they give two-piano programmes. Both look much younger and have a playful disposition. It was a nice idea to give us as an encore, along with Natasha, four-hand Ravel: "Les entretiens de la belle et la bête" ("The conversations of beauty and beast") from "Ma Mère l´Oye" ("Mother Goose"), displacing each other from the stool in a funny way, for all three played in turns, and beautifully. For Buenos Aires Herald
Royal Albert Hall, London Marin Alsop led the São Paulo Symphony in bright, idiomatic performances of the Brazilians Nobre and Villa-Lobos, but there were longueurs elsewhereMarin Alsop has raised the standards and profile of the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra to new levels in recent years, but this Prom, midway through a short European tour, sometimes felt like a date too far in a crowded schedule, which also included a late-night Prom of Brazilian popular music.Alsop’s energy on the podium is unflagging and her driving performance of the Brazilian composer Marlos Nobre’s crisply rhythmic Kabbalah was a promisingly idiomatic start to the evening. But with both Alsop and the soloist Gabriela Montero making unduly heavy weather of the Grieg piano concerto, things sagged. Montero’s tendency to slow the phrasing, particularly obvious in the opening movement, was the chief culprit, but it added up to a performance that never really took wing. Anyone who heard Martha Argerich re-energise another warhorse concerto, Liszt’s First, in the same hall last week could hardly fail to notice the contrast. Montero’s encore, a witty improvisation on Land of Hope and Glory, had the panache that her playing of the concerto had lacked. Continue reading...
This is a wonderful collection of solo piano compositions played by different artists, such as Martha Argerich, Daniel Barenboim, Lang Lang, and more. Here is a long list of the selections that are recorded for your enjoyment: Bach, J S: Prelude & Fugue Book 1 No. 1 in C major, BWV846: Prelude Hélène Grimaud (piano) Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 27 No. 2 ‘Moonlight’: Adagio sostenuto Daniel Barenboim (piano) Brahms: Intermezzo in E flat major, Op. 117 No. 1 Wilhelm Kempff (piano) Chopin: Nocturne No. 2 in E flat major, Op. 9 No. 2 Daniel Barenboim (piano) Nocturne No. 5 in F sharp major, Op. 15 No. 2 Daniel Barenboim (piano) Prelude Op. 28 No. 4 in E minor Martha Argerich (piano) Prelude Op. 28 No. 7 in A major Martha Argerich (piano) Debussy: Préludes – Book 1: No. 8, La fille aux cheveux de lin Dino Ciani (piano) Clair de Lune (from Suite Bergamasque) Alexis Weissenberg (piano) Grieg: Lyric Pieces Op. 43: No. 6 – To Spring Mikhail Pletnev (piano) Lyric Pieces Op. 54: No. 4 – Nocturne Andrei Gavrilov (piano) Liszt: Consolation, S. 172 No. 3 in D flat major Daniel Barenboim (piano) Liebestraum, S541 No. 3 (Nocturne in A flat major) Yundi Li (piano) Mendelssohn: Song without Words, Op. 19b No. 1 in E major ‘Sweet Remembrance’ Daniel Barenboim (piano) Song without Words, Op. 30 No. 6 in F sharp minor ‘Venezianisches Gondellied No. 2’ Daniel Barenboim (piano) Rachmaninov: Prelude Op. 23 No. 4 in D major Lazar Berman (piano) Prelude Op. 32 No. 12 in G sharp minor Lilya Zilberstein (piano) Satie: Gymnopédie No. 1 Jean-Marc Luisada (piano) Schubert: Impromptu in G flat major, D899 No. 3 Daniel Barenboim (piano) Schumann: Kinderszenen, Op. 15: Traümerei Lang Lang (piano)
One of my earliest teaching positions was at Repton School in the UK. I recently donated a letter to the school’s archives that I found silted up in my ancient piles of correspondence. It’s one I received from the tenor Peter Pears, Benjamin Britten’s companion, whilst I was a young master at the school; in it he mentions that his great uncle, Steuart Adolphus Pears, had been Head Master of Repton from 1854 to 1874, a distinguished connection that had somehow grown hazy in the mists of time. The reason for the visits in 1955 and 1960 by Britten and Pears to perform in the Repton School Subscription Concerts, sparsely documented in the annals, becomes clearer. Some of you may recognise the name Repton from the tune which is sung to the hymn Dear Lord and Father of Mankind. An erstwhile Director of Music at Repton had figured that a particular tune from Parry’s oratorio Judith was a bit of a cracker, and so in it went to the school’s hymn book supplement in 1924, subsequently baptised ‘Repton’. But what has this got to do with the subject of this week’s blog—nightingales? Not a lot, except that I was intrigued to discover another musical connection with Repton shortly after taking up my post there. One of my favourite songs had always been A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square (8.120663 ), and I learned that the lyrics were written by Eric Maschwitz, a Repton Old Boy. So, this week, I’d like to develop that seed and present a number of works that have an association with the nightingale, beginning with that perennial favourite of mine by Maschwitz and Manning Sherwin. The next two pieces (and there are many more) were inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, The Nightingale, in which an emperor takes more pleasure from the sounds of a mechanical bird than the song of a real nightingale. Favole (8.555267 ) by Elisabetta Brusa is a suite the composer dedicated to her godson on the occasion of his birth. The second movement, The Real Nightingale and the Mechanical One, is described by Brusa as follows: “[Note] the difference between the lyrical melody of the real nightingale (flute) and the more rhythmical and less emotional melody…of the mechanical bird played by the piccolo and the glockenspiel; all of a sudden the mechanical nightingale breaks down, onomatopoeically expressed by the glissandi of the strings and by the sound of the rattle at the end of the last carillon-like section, so the real nightingale is able to triumph with its lyrical singing.” Here it is . Stravinsky’s The Nightingale (8.557501 ) was first performed in Paris in 1914; it’s a one-act opera in three scenes. Here’s how Robert Craft, the distinguished authority on Stravinsky, described the work’s orchestration: “Stravinsky’s orchestral palette…is never more exotically colourful than in The Nightingale, which is a virtual catalogue of avian imitations: tremolos, trills, appogiaturas, grupetti string harmonics, pizzicato glissandos, flautando and ponticello effects, harp and piano arpeggios, harp harmonics and the retuning of cello strings to produce harmonics on unusual pitches.” You can have fun hunting these down for yourself. Meanwhile, here’s an extract from Scene 2 (The Porcelain Palace of the Chinese Emperor): Song of the Nightingale . The Spanish composer Enrique Granados wrote two books of Goyescas, piano pieces that were inspired by his compatriot Francisco Goya and his ability to depict what Granados saw as the essence of the Spanish character. One of the Goyescas is titled The Maiden and the Nightingale (8.554403 ). The piece is basically a set of variations, but it ends with a cadenza that imitates the song of a nightingale . Edvard Grieg wrote more than 180 songs, but his relationship with singers was frequently one of dissatisfaction with their interpretation of his works. He wrote in his diary of 1906: What are singers? Nothing but vanity, stupidity, ignorance and dilettantism. I hate them, every one of them. ‘Also your wife?’, one will ask, but I answer: ‘I am sorry, but she is lucky enough not to be a singer.’ Hopefully, Grieg would have reconsidered his opinion after hearing this performance of part of his song, The Nightingale’s Secret (8.553781 ), which tells of a nightingale’s discretion in witnessing the amorous encounter of two lovers. Finally, a charming snatch that’s worth 60 seconds of anyone’s time: The Nightingale from Boris Tchaikovsky’s Swineherd Suite (8.572400 ), again based on a tale by Hans Christian Andersen. It tells of the efforts of a lovesick Prince to gain the attentions of a Princess, which include the offering of two special gifts: one is an uncommonly beautiful rose; the other a silver-throated nightingale whose beguiling song is captured on the piccolo against a backdrop of harp and strings Oh, and very finally, having worked there for a while not too long ago, I can report that, sadly, nightingales are nowadays seldom heard singing in London’s Berkeley Square.
Great composers of classical music