Browsing: Lebrecht Weekly

Emerging from the depths of Covid are some of the freshest ideas we have seen in years. Here, a newly formed string quartet takes a 2012 score by the British composer Thomas Adès and intersects it with works of their own making, very old and very new. The Adès piece describes the earth’s 24-hour rotation on its own axis – neat, but not stunningly original in either concept or content. Like his contemporary Young British Artists in the visual arts, Adès has amassed more eminence than admirers. His Four Quarters (sic) are eclectic to a fault: strongest in nocturnal echoes…

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We don’t hear much of Ignacy Jan Paderewski these days, let alone his friend Zygmunt Stojowski. The first prime minister of independent Poland has been overshadowed politically by the nation’s turbulence and musically by Szymanowski. Famed in his day as a virtuoso pianist, Paderewski enjoyed considerable reputation before 1914 as a popular symphonist in sub-Rachmaninov mode. His lifelong pal Stojowski was equally successful on both fronts. I can’t remember seeing either of them on a concert programme in recent years. This pairing of violin-piano sonatas by the two Poles comes close, at times, to revelation. The Paderewski sonata dates from…

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Nikolai Kapustin had to die before the world took note of his music. A love of jazz left him scratching a living in Moscow as house pianist for the radio orchestra, playing everyone else’s music but his own. His Toccata for piano and big band, written in 1964, declared his creatve intentions. The commissars were not impressed. Though Kapustin obtained a few performances and publications, it was only in the 21st century that a western edition took an interest. When he died a year ago, he left 161 works in print, including six piano concertos and 20 sonatas. To modern…

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The founder of the Dohnanyi dynasty achieved early success, political controversy and posthumous oblivion. His son, Hans, was an anti-Nazi resistant, hanged on Hitler’s orders in 1945. His grandson, Christoph, became an international conductor. Dohnanyi himself was investigated after the War for having held a Budapest post under the Horthy regime and settling to Vienna in November 1944. No concrete evidence of collaboration was ever presented. He migrated to the US in 1949, teaching for a decade until his death at the University of Florida at Tallahassee. It is hard to take entirely seriously who wrote a comic opera about…

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The German-Japanese pianist, a trophy artist on Deutsche Grammophon, is facing the onset of multiple sclerosis with courage, positivism and ingenuity. On her tenth album she seeks to give the preludes of Frederic Chopin a contemporary twist by interleaving them with some of her favourite modern composers. Her daring approach changes the colouring of some of the Chopin so that certain preludes sound like shards of Philip Glass that got left on the mixing desk – not that Glass is present in the mix. The composers she chooses are compellingly more eclectic. There is the Italian Francesco Tristano, who reimagines…

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One of the perils of the Covid period is the forgetfulness . We no longer remember the physical thrill of hearing a favourite work and recordings sometimes fail to deliver that visceral satisfaction. Here’s an exception. Shostakovich wrote his first concerto for himself to play and the second for his son, Maxim. The degree of difficulty is relative; neither was a virtuoso pianist. The writing is rich in orchestral texture and, in the first work, amounts could almost be a trumpet concerto. The second piano trio, written in wartime, is a lament for the sufferings of Jewish citizens under Hitler and…

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In the spring of 1943, with millions being murdered across the continent of Europe, Germany’s wealthiest conductor summoned the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra to rehearse a symphony he had written in B minor, his first. Furtwängler had been writing it, on and off, since 1908 and had lately added a fourth movement for which he had high hopes. These aspirations were dashed on first play-through. ‘Am very depressed,’ he told his wife. Of all things to get depressed about at this darkest moment in modern history, a symphony seems relatively trivial, but such was the size of the maestro’s ego that…

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Summertime is an ideal moment to break a new artist, a time when big names are out of town and the flow of label releases dries up. Randall Goosby, 25, is Decca’s new poster-boy violinist. With an African-American father and Korean mother, he has been groomed for a stage career by Itzhak Perlman and the Juilliard fame school. He has major-league management in London and New York and a pleasant way of engaging with media. What could possibly go wrong? On first impression – this is his debut album – Goosby has all the technique anyone could need and an off-the-shoulder phrasing…

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In a decade when no-one is writing new symphonies – depressed, no doubt, by Covid performance constraints – we are having to make do with new violin concertos commissioned by the likes of Patricia Kopatchinskaya and Pekka Kuusisto. The Finnish virtuoso turned for his premiere to Nico Muhly, a New York composer who used to assist Philip Glass, and has augmented this album with works by his minimalist master. Fearing this might sound samey and predictable, I found myself in for a pleasant surprise; more than one, in fact. Muhly’s concerto, titled Shrink, has repetitive tropes but they are mitigated…

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Covid has narrowed our outlook so severely that we are hardly aware of the world abroad. Brazil has suffered 19 million cases with more than half a million deaths, isolating the country as never before among the community of nations. Villa-Lobos, Its national composer, feted worldwide from the 1930s to the 1950s, has long since faded. His music always sounds fresh when I return to it after an absence, glistening with the swaying hips of a summer’s night on the Copacabana. The three Villa-Lobos violin sonatas, styled for an international audience are steamed with traces of Brahms, Debussy and Saint-Saens,…

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