Browsing: CD and Book Reviews

The late Michael Kennedy, lifelong Telegraph critic, once told me he lost interest in new music in his late sixties. Michael had known Ralph Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten and reckoned their successors were not up to the mark. We argued about the merits of Birtwistle and Turnage but his ears were not for the turning and I respected the candour of his admission. Myself, around the same age, I am still bi-curious: eager to see what the old hands are doing and keen to hear new sounds coming through. Nothing thrills me more than finding a composer I can…

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Averse as I am to teenage prodigies, I heard Daniel Lozakovich in a Berlin nightclub this week and had no doubt from the first touch of bow on string that he is the genuine article. Sixteen years old, raised in Stockholm by Kazak-Russian parents, he gives the impression of belonging nowhere but some deep place inside himself. Fresh from a sleepless night on a bench in Tokyo airport where his flight had been cancelled, he draws energy – as the great ones do – from an audience. No-one breathed on the dance-floor during his Bach Partita. His DG debut recording…

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If I had to choose Elgar or VW for a desert island, I know which it would be. Elgar these days seems over-familiar, where Vaughan Williams loses none of his capacity to surprise. You would not automatically guess that from the opening item on this Toronto Symphony recording, the 1938 Serenade to Music, a flossy piece which is made up of bits of Shakespeare and broderie anglaise. Moving swiftly on, the 1944 oboe concerto is an exquisite wartime consolation, a promise of green fields and scones for tea when all the unpleasantness is over. Sarah Jeffrey’s reading is ideally serene,…

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Quatuor Bozzini Gyula Csapó : Déjà ? Kojâ ? Label : Collection QB Catalogue number : CQB 1821 ★★★✩✩ In recent years the Bozzini Quartet has added to its discography recordings dedicated to a single composer, sometimes even devoted to a single work. That is also the case with their most recent album, Déjà ? Kojâ ?, which is a mix of French and Persian languages meaning “Already? to where?” The title of the same name for string quartet is by Gyula Csapo, composer of Hungarian descent. Commissioned by the Bozzini Quartet, the work underwent various transformations before its completion in 2016. It is structured in three…

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There is no clear western pereception of Myaskovsky. We think we know Prokofiev and Shostakovitch, whether through their music or through their Stalin ordeals. But their senior contemporary barely flickers on our attention even though Stravinsky, among others, held him in high regard. In a fairly undramatic life, Myaskovsky simply got on with writing symphonies – 27 altogether – and piano sonatas, which serve as a kind of private commentary on the symphonic output. He taught for most of his life at the Moscow Conservatoire, where a successor professor, Mikhail Lidsky, has applied himself to recording the complete piano output…

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In the hands of anyone other than Stephen Hough, this album would be either a horrible indulgence or a public act of psychoanalysis. Hough is far too fastidious a pianist to be suspected of such temptations. What we have here are morsels by composers great and (mostly) small, work the evoke a trance-like state between sleep and wakefulness. I’m not sure about Hough’s opening setting of Strauss’s overworked Radetsky March, but thereafter he hardly puts a finger wrong. Das alte Lied by Henry Love will blow you away; Love was the pseudonym of Hilde Loewe, a Viennese refugee in London.…

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In times of stress I reach for Bach in the raw, one instrument, one pair of hands. I’m choosy who I listen to when the nerves are frayed. The immortal interpretations – Gould in the Goldbergs, Milstein in the Sonatas and Partitas – are too profound, too perfect, to afford prompt and gentle relief. Two new releases are just what the soul doctor ordered. Peter Hill is an English pianist, a Messaien expert who studied with Nadia Boulander and taught at the University of Sheffield. I have come across him on record and radio, never in the concert hall. His…

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Domenico Scarlatti: Sonatas, volume 1 (Chandos) It feels dangerously transgressive, and thus all the more enjoyable, to listen to Scarlatti’s keyboard pieces on a full-throated Steinway D piano set up in an English country barn. Why musicians submit so readily to the tyranny of political correctness – composers to the imposition of serialism, performers to the doctrines of period practice – is a mystery to me. So to find a young pianist at the start of his path who is prepared to defy the professorial rule makers and play a Bach contemporary on a modern big banger of a concert…

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Arvo Pärt: The Symphonies (ECM New Series) Worth buying for the booklet alone. A symphonic cycle from most composers marks a stately progress from imitative beginnings to a predictive summit. Think Brahms with all that Beethoven clutter in the first symphony and those weighty Mahler anticipations in the fourth. Well, Arvo Pärt is not quite like that. His first two symphonies, written in the mid-1960s, are set in Schoenbergian twelve-tone with a polyphonic overlay, an intentional affront to Soviet rule in Estonia. The third, dated 1971, marks his conversion to Russian Orthodoxy with voices from heaven, Bach chorales and other…

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Bruckner: 4th symphony/7th symphony (DG) Andris Nelsons prefaces two Anton Bruckner symphonies with small bites of Wagner – the prelude to Lohengrin and Siegfried’s funeral march. This makes sense inasmuch as Bruckner worshipped the ground that Wagner trod, but the effect is vaguely disorienting, as if one were to precede Schoenberg’s orchestral variations with Mahler’s Adagietto. The Leizpig Gewandhaus Orchestra can play this stuff in their sleep and sometimes it sounds as if that’s just what they are doing. There is a lack of momentum in the fourth symphony that is close to soporific and, though the seventh comes to life with…

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