Browsing: Lebrecht Weekly

Ever wonder what Henryk Mikolaj Górecki did before he hit the jackpot with that million-selling third symphony? The sage of Katowice never stuck to any doctrine or style, allowing himself to develop from modernism to minimalism and all points between. His first string quartet, commissioned by Kronos in 1988, is titled ‘Already it is dusk’ and appears to lament the dying day in meditative fragments, as if to suggest that nothing is ever finished. The second quartet, written three years later, bears the title ‘Quasi una fantasia’ and emerges slowly, hypnotically, from the simplest of themes. In between the two,…

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Here’s cause for thanksgiving. The Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine has filled an album with music by Black American composers, most of them shamefully little-known. Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, for instance, no relation to the British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, but named after him at birth. C-T’s set of blues for solo violin strikes me as having a dual purpose of being truly enjoyable for the listener and perfect warm-up riffs for the player if Bach is too cold to start with on a winter’s morning. William Grant Still is the most familiar name here, probably because he was a cause celebre after…

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Mstislav Rostropovich commissioned more than 100 works for his instrument and performed some of them more than once. Aside from the two Shostakovich concertos and the symphony-concerto by Prokofiev, only the Britten Cello Symphony and the concertos by Lutoslawki and Dutilleux get heard much these days. The latter pair are performed by Johannes Moser on a new Pentatone release and the gulf in quality between them is striking. Lutoslawski opens with several minutes of cello meditation, as if he has bought the complete TM package or forgotten he booked an orchestra. The concerto does not get much more communicative, dickering…

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Another themed album, but for once a timely theme. Ian Bostridge has chosen sets by two composers who fell in the First World War and two who knew the terror of war without having experienced it. George Butterworth’s setting of A. E. Houseman’s A Shropshire Lad captures at once the timelessness of English landscape and the hopelessness of young men in the trenches. Bostridge wrenches the heart with his falsetto lines in ‘Is my team ploughing?’, the appeal of a fallen soldier. Butterworth fell on the Somme to a sniper’s bullet in August 1916. Rudi Stephan was 28 when he…

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The trouble with international competitions – apart from widespread jury corruption, too many events and an uneven entry level – is that they are under pressure to produce winners.  Common sense will tell you that there can’t be that many geniuses in the world for two dozen major contests to find them year in, year out, and commonsense is right. But competition audiences demand a clear result and contestants need to be assured that they have not entered for nothing. So, year in, year out, every competition must give prizes. Eric Lu, 20 years old, won the Leeds International Competition…

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In an avalanche of theme albums – it’s what record execs dream up these days instead of fresh talent – the Canadian diva’s release feels like she really means it. Not the cover picture, which shows her snogging some bloke in the woods, but the content, which embraces songs by Schoenberg, Webern, Zemlinsky, Berg and Hugo Wolf, with one politically correct aberration whom we’ll come to in a moment. Four early songs by Schoenberg, opus 2, are so close to Mahler they feel sentimental to the point of self-indulgence. Webern’s plinks are saved from the nuthouse by Reinbert de Leeuw’s…

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There was a year or so when it was touch and go whether Gianandrea Noseda or Simon Rattle was going to be the next music director of the London Symphony Orchestra. In the end the LSO got the best of both worlds, with Rattle as #1 and Noseda, now in Washington DC,  flying in three or four times a year with hair-raising performances. This account of Shostakovich 8, which I regret having missed in April, is one of the most pungent and idiomatic on record. Noseda, who cut his baton as house conductor at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg, is…

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I struggle to describe my joy at hearing two unknown works by Berthold Goldschmidt, a brilliant composer who fled to London in 1935 and lived in obscurity until a late burst of recognition in the 1980s. I saw a lot of Berthold in his final decade, when he was flying around the world for performances and I remember how he wore acclaim with the same wry modesty as he had endured oblivion. The Comedy of Errors overture is a piano trio he composed for his parents’ 25th wedding anniversary, before turning it into an orchestral prelude. At the 1928 premiere…

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Jan Ladislav Dussek could have been a contender if only Mozart had been born somewhere else and at another time. Dussek (1760 to 1812) has the wrong dates and the wrong skill sets. Two bars into every movement he picks a note that you know Mozart would have declined for a better choice and, while Dussek may recover quickly and deliver a passage that could pass for Clementi at his best, your ear is already tensed for the next false turn. Of the three concertos on offer here, two are contemporaneous with late Mozart in 1787 and 1791 yet have…

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A critic’s dilemma. The cellist Steven Isserlis is a pal. He lives around the corner and we bump into each other at local amenities. He knows I have received his latest release for review. He will be disappointed if I ignore it and grumpy if I find fault. To review or not to review? If I ruled out reviewing friends I’d have to turn down half the record output. By the same token, if I mentioned a friendship every time I reviewed, readers would switch off. So what to do? I made a rule a while back that I would…

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