Monday, May 1, 2017
Cadogan Hall, London This captivating ensemble offered a life-enhancing account of Prokofiev and danced their way through Grieg in what felt like a get-together of old friendsI defy, I absolutely defy, anyone not to feel unalloyed pleasure when the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra are playing at their best. Traditionalists get annoyed by “all that emoting”, as James Galway once called the visible mutual encouragement that accompanies the playing of ensembles like this. For most of us, though, troubles slip away and the quicksilver musical rapport is captivating, especially when the NCO produces life-enhancing accounts of Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony, with which this London visit started, or of Grieg’s Holberg Suite, which ended it. Conventional accounts of the Prokofiev tend to emphasise clockwork precision and surface sheen. But playing standing up, and entirely from memory, the Norwegians found something different and new. It became an improvisatory conversation piece, with the inspirational Terje Tønnesen and Daniel Bard leading the first and second violins in a high-spirited conversation. Yes, there was the occasional error of ensemble, but that really was not the point. It was like being at a jovial get-together of old friends who happened to have brought their instruments along. That impression became reality in the orchestra’s Grieg party piece, when the players started to dance – as much as a double bass or a cello allows – as they played the final Rigaudon. Continue reading...
Benjamin Appl and James Baillieu Heimat new from Sony In the booklet notes, Appl reflects on arriving in London in 2010 to study at the Guildhall School of Music "I felt", he writes in the booklet "not only a sense of freedom but also a sense of uncertainity" He could have remained in Germany, the"home"of Lieder, but chose to adapt to a new environment in which he had to find his bearings afresh On graduation, Appl became part of the BBC Young Generation Artists Program whose extensive coverage has launched many careers. The eclectic mix of Lieder and English Song on this disc reflects Appl's background, but there's a lot more to this programme, which is very well thought through and deeply satisfying. The songs are arranged in eight sections - Wurzeln (Roots), Räume (Locations), Menschen (People), Unterwegs (On the road), Sensucht (Yearning) and Grenzenlos (Without borders), framed by a Prologue (Schubert's Seligkeit D433 and an Epilogue (Grieg's An das Vaterland op58/2 and Ein Träum 0p 48/6. This gives cohesive structure, and brings out the logic in the programme. An individual Winterreise, a journey of self discovery. Much more rewarding than a random selection ! Appl and Baillieu set out "alone" but traverse different, diverse threads of European art song. Thus the section Wurzeln starts with Max Reger Das Kindes Gebet op 76/22, where the piano tinkles, as,might a child's toy piano.and ends with Brahms' Wegenlied op 49/4., the world's most loved lullaby, which millions of children know even before they learn formal language. Appl mentions the death of two of his grandparents while he was away from home,which gives these familiar songs personal import, with which we can all identify. Franz Schreker's Waldeinsamkeit might not be quite so wellnown, but Appl might have included it because the text, a German translation of a Danish poem by Jens Peter Jacobsen, predicates on the phrase "Wir müssen, Geliebteste, leise hinschreiten, ich und du". On a beautiful moonlit night in the woods,the lovers cannot tarry but must move on. Schreker was 19 when he write this song, which may perhaps be significant. And thus, we move on. Romanticism was forward-thinking, always concerned with wanderers, seeking new horizons : the journey as important as the destination. Appl and Baillieu hose two of Shubert's many "wanderer" songs, Drang in die Ferne D 770 and Der Wander an den Mond D870, but pointedly matched them with Adolf Strauss Ich weiß bestimmt, ich werd' dich weidersehen. Fate has torn the lovers apart, but the underlying mood is overlaid with deceptive optimism "I am certain that I will see you again, and hold you in my arms". The song is laconic, a Werimar-infused pop song. But this Strauss wasn't Richard or Johann but Adolf Strauss (1902-1944), imprisoned at Theresienstadt, killed in Auschwitz. Think on that This is what happens when national pride turns to bigotry. At least Germans deal with such things in a way many Brits cannot. This colours the Sensucht in Schubert's Das Heimweh D456 and DerWanderer D489 with poignant depth. "Ich wandle still, bin wenig froh, und ier fragt der Seufzer wo Im Gesiterhauch tönt's mir zurück; "Dort, wo du nicht bist, dort is ds Glück". Perhaps the very concept of unchanging Heimat is illusion. Appl and Baillieu made the point still further with Hyde Park, by Francis Poulenc, never François, setting a poem by Guillaume Apollinaire which isn't about London at all, followed by Benjamin Britten's mock Tudor version of Greensleeves. Another brilliant pairing: Ralph Vaughan Williams Silent Noon with Henry Bishop Home sweet Home, the former a masterpiece the latter sentimental tosh, but Appland Baillieu perform them with finesse. I love hearing them done with a slight German accent, a reminder that the world is not all Anglo and that music is universal. This proved an excellent introduction to Peter Warlock's My own country (1927) about an imaginary homeland, which once reached, is a place to lie down and dream "forever and all". John Ireland's If there were dreams to sell continued the dream meme.pointedly, though, dreams can't be "bought" like physical commodities. Appl and Baillieu completed the set with two songs by Edvard Grieg, whose music shaped national identity and led to Norwegian independence. Is Heimat a state of mind ? In the last Grieg song (to a poem by a German) "Dort ward die Wirklichkeit zumTraum, Dort ward der Traum zur Wirklichkeit !". Appl and Baillieu's Heimat follows on from their Stunde, Tage, Ewigeieten, settings of Heine, from Champs Hill Records (reviewed here) which could become a sought after collector's item. Appl's voice is a joy to listen to, but I hope he'll develop and take more risks. He's very good, and I think he can do it. At times, he sounds too much like Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, with whom he studied briefly. But no man can be a master until he finds himself first, and his own "Heimat". Especially in a genre like Lieder which celebrates freedom and individuality.
Appl/Baillieu (Sony)Heimat – that not-quite-translatable German term encompassing rootedness, longing and belonging – is the subject of the German-born, UK-based baritone Benjamin Appl’s first major-label disc. It’s weighted towards German song but also includes several from Appl’s adopted home, as well as Grieg and Poulenc. His Schubert, Brahms and Wolf are impressive, thanks partly to James Baillieu’s finely judged piano playing, even if Brahms’s Lullaby sounds a touch overegged in Appl’s beautifully produced diction. Nothing, though, is as poignant as a gorgeous, wistful little popular song by Adolf Strauss, written in Terezín days before he was sent to Auschwitz and his death. One occasionally wants more depth of colour in Appl’s voice, but the climax of Richard Strauss’s Allerseelen shows strength in reserve. Appl was mentored by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, and while it’s a bit early to be naming him as successor to that great singer, as some are doing, this disc shows great potential. Continue reading...
I attended a concert by pianist Olga Kern in San Francisco on Sunday afternoon, 02/12/2017. I had never heard her in a live performance before, and I knew that she shared the first prize at the Van Cliburn competition in 2001. As such, I knew that I was in for a treat. Ms. Kern has an amazing stage presence. She appeared in a gorgeous full-length gown, and she was welcomed by a large audience. Many of the attendees were members of San Francisco’s Russian community. Ms. Kern’s strong point is that she is what I call a “Bravura Pianist”. She is a powerful performer, and selections that feature a lot of Fortissimos are seemingly composed for her! Olga Kern’s program began with three sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti. I enjoyed the second of these best, because it was more contemplative, and it had fewer long runs. It was easier for me to listen for the spaces between the notes. The featured selection during the first half of the concert was Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata. While Ms. Kern’s playing was filled with the great emotion in this music, I missed hearing any genuine pianissimos. For me, the dynamics that I heard were mostly mezzo Forte and Fortissimo. Even in the second movement, I found the quiet passages to be too loud, and I sat upstairs, and not on the main floor. The second half of the concert started with a contemporary composition by Russian composer Boris Frenksteyn. I liked this piece a lot, particularly the homage to Grieg. The technical aspects of Schumann’s Kinderszenen were very good. Personally, I was looking for slightly longer pauses between the scenes, and also I would have enjoyed dynamics that were quieter. I admit that I am not a fan of the music of Franz Liszt, so I was not amused by the Reminiscences of Don Juan. I found this music to be really shallow, other than the familiar Mozart themes from his opera. I look forward to another concert by Ms. Kern, in particular if the next one contains more music by Russian composers.
Venue: Large Hall of the Friends of Music, Vienna, Austria Address: bosendorferstrasse 12, Vienna, Austria Artists: Julia Fischer, violinist, and Milana Chernyavska, pianist Date: Wednesday, 1. February 2017 19:30 PROGRAM: Ludwig van Beethoven Sonate für Klavier und Violine A-Dur, op. 30/1 Edvard Grieg Sonate für Violine und Klavier G-Dur, op. 13 ——– Break ———- Eugène Ysaye Sonate für Violine solo e-Moll, op. 27/4 Karol Szymanowski Sonate für Violine und Klavier d-Moll, op. 9 Here are these two extraordinary musicians performing the Grieg Sonata for violin and piano:
Symphony Hall, Birmingham Works by Grieg and Walton showcased the orchestra’s confidence and feeling for colour, while soloist Truls Mørk gave a memorable reading of Elgar’s cello concerto The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra – whose history goes back over 250 years – is riding high. Their chief conductor, Edward Gardner, has just extended his contract with them until 2020, and their recording of Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass is nominated for a Grammy. It’s a buoyant ensemble that Gardner has brought to Britain for a short tour, the variety of its alternating programmes itself testimony to the vibrancy of the relationship.Birmingham is effectively home ground for Gardner; even so, it was a bold move to bring Elgar and Walton to this audience. However, he opened with four movements from the Peer Gynt suite by Bergen’s own Edvard Grieg, and it was in the very finely controlled dynamic shading, notably in Death of Åse, that the musicians showed their mettle. Continue reading...
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