Browsing: CD and Book Reviews

When did you last hear Hindemith? Seriously, when did you last consciously select a piece of music by Paul Hindemith above all other composers living or dead, or go to a concert with one of his works? In his time (1895-1963), Hindemith was so prominent a modernist that the Nazis kicked him out of the country and so prolific a composer that, hearing of King George V’s death while in a BBC studio, before leaving the building he dashed off a musical lament to be performed that same day. It’s a bit of a mystery why Hindemith has vanished so…

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When you hear the term ‘multiple issues’ in 2021 it usually signifies that Covid is not the only cause of death. This album has multiple issues. On the positive side, it marks the return of the US violinist Hilary Hahn after a year’s sabbatical that was doubled in length by pandemic lockdown. Hahn, 41, is one of few concert violinists to enjoy broad media recognition and she is much needed on our empty concert stages. Her playing has lost none of her edgy assertiveness or her eye for a selling angle. The album, which contains works by a Finn, a…

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A cultured Russian friend was telling me the other day she cannot bear to listen to Lieder – ‘all that shrieking and, worse, in German’. It’s not easy to find an antidote to such national prejudices, but one landed on my doorstep the very next day. The baritone Matthias Goerne, with a voice like brushed velvet and diction clearer than iced vodka, is the perfect riposte to high-pitched complainants, the more so when he’s singing Lieder that are usually in the soprano’s locker. His programme here consists of Wagner’s Wedendonck Lieder, an assortment from Hans Pfitzner and five songs of Richard…

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The Polish composer died a year ago next week and still awaits a funeral. The constraints of Covid and the demands of family and friends for a state occasion have led to delays and deferrals, a sad coda to a life of service to God and man. Although acclaimed as a modernist, Penderecki never supped easily with the atheistic avant-garde and always lit up when opportunity arose to compose a work that celebrated his Roman Catholic faith. The Credo, co-commissioned in 1996 by Stuttgart’s Bach academy and the Oregon Bach Festival, is infused with a sense of liberation, a release…

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In the evolution of Russian music, Stanchinsky is the great might-have-been. A student of Sergey Taneyev and Alexander Grechaninov, he was introduced to Tolstoy as the next Russian genius, only for his mental health to collapse in the midst of a double family crisis. After father died in 1910 when Stanchinsky was 21, his mother refused to let him marry his pregnant lover, daughter of the estate manager. Suffering depression and hallucinations, Stanchnsky was taken around all the best nerve doctors in Russia and developed a habit of burning any new works he set on paper. In March 1914 he…

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The Viennese pianist Friedrich Gulda was a commanding interpreter of Mozart and Beethoven in the 1950s and 1960s. Had he stuck to the classics and modified his more eccentric behaviours, he might have filled the space in the record catalogues that was soon occupied by Alfred Brendel. Gulda, however, was a man of many parts. After giving his Carnegie Hall debut, he went off to play the Newport Jazz Festival. He wore a Turkish kepi on stage, sometimes otherwise naked. His interest in jazz was non-pecuniary and all-consuming. He organized an international competition for modern jazz composers and set up…

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I had serious qualms about listening to, let alone reviewing, a symphony that purports to describe our present situation. We all know by now the effects this pandemic has wrought on our lives, and we also remember the lives it has taken. Music has limitations in conveying such losses in abstract form. Mostly, one feels, it shouldn’t try. But if you are a composer called Tchaikovsky it will take more than a public health crisis to stop you relating to an historic event, be it Napoleon or cholera. Alexander Tchaikovsky, 75 years old this month, is a nephew of the…

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Among composers of the post-War avant-garde, Ligeti is now the most performed. You can go from one end of the year to the other without hearing a note of Boulez or Stockhausen, but Ligeti – who died sooner than the other two, in 2006 – is somehow freshest in mind. His opera Le grand macabre is practically made-for-TV with its post-modern anarchic comedy and his violin concerto is a back-to Bartok contemporary classic. These piano studies, written in the 1980s and 1990s when Ligeti had fallen out with the didactic avant-gardists, are fiendishly difficult to play and irresistibly easy on…

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Half a century after Bartok and Kodaly toured the Hungarian plains with an early Edison phonograph in search of authentic Magyar music, students of the Franz Liszt Academy carried on collecting in their footsteps, not always willingly. Under Communism in the 1950s and 1960s, it was safest for a composer to champion ‘the people’s music’ – the more so if the composer was Jewish and easily stigmatized, as were all of those included in this fascinating album by the Offenburg String Trio. Of the five names selected only Sandor Veress (1907-1992) is internationally known, and that’s because he spent the…

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The first soloist I ever heard play Elgar was the French cellist Paul Tortelier at the Royal Festival Hall – elegant, expressive and chastely romantic, half an hour of unblemished beauty. I was a kid and that must have been 60 years ago. Since then I’ve heard maybe one other French cellist attempt an Elgar concerto, but never, until now, a violinist. Renaud Capucon is a revelation in many ways. He shifts the accent from phlegmatic to something more Gallic and the dynamics to a whispering tendresse. There is so much individuality in this account that I kept wondering why…

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