Browsing: Lebrecht Weekly

I should have been on my way to Warsaw for the Chopin Competition but circumstances intervened and I find myself listening to unknown Poles of a different kind. The English violinist Jennifer Pike has Polish ancestry on her mother’s side. While rummaging a music shop in Krakow, she came away with unknown scores and turned them into a pair of fascinating releases. The familiar composers presented here are Karol Szymanowski and Grazyna Bacewicz, but not as we know them. Szymanowski’s 1904 violin sonata has yet to develop his trademark asperity, while his three Paganini Caprices of 1918 would make perfect…

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With the fadeout of two landmark string quartets – Germany’s Artemis in disarray and America’s Emersons to retirement – France’s Quatuor Ebène probably head the current list of the world’s best. Four crack musicians who play standing up and are forever pushing out boundaries, their album releases are always an event and often a surprise. This new recording pairs two nocturnal masterpieces – Henri Dutilleux’s Ainsi la Nuit and Arnold Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht. Dutilleux goes down the Bartok path of things that go squeak in the night. Schoenberg listens in to illicit lovers in the woods. Both works arouse fear…

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England’s most adventurous living composer never bothered much with the piano. Harrison Birtwistle started out on the clarinet, composed operas in his head and wrote one without strings. Asked for a piano concerto, he delivered something called Antiphonies, which is more street fight than conversation between piano and orchestra. You get the impression he’s not that keen on anything in an instrument but percussive coloration. Now 87, Birtwistle has a unique sound imagination and an approach to music that misses out many of the building bricks. He once told me that the only symphony of Mahler he knew was the…

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Voice of Nature: The Anthropocene Songs by Fauré, Grieg, Hahn, Liszt, Nico Muhly, Kevin Puts, Caroline Shaw Renée Fleming, soprano. Yannick Nézet-Séguin, piano Decca 4852089 ★★★★✩ / ★★✩✩✩ Good to hear that America’s prime diva is not going gentle into that good night. Past 60 and no longer taking operatic roles, she sings out full and flamboyant in this set of nature-themed songs that came together during her daily walks in the COVID lockdown. Everything you’d expect from a Fleming recital is here – the effortless highs, the velvety lows, the flawless intonation, the jumbled syllables in several tongues. Her…

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One of the sadder casualties of the Covid shutdown has been the centenary plans for Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992), the Argentine composer whose music exquisitely captures the existential melancholia of our time. Piazzolla is so intimately identified with Buenos Aires that his wider relevance is often missed, but it is truly global. Raised by Italian parents in lower Manhattan, he absorbed jazz, gypsy music and Jewish theatre. Taught by a Rachmaninov pupil of Hungarian origin, he returned to Buenos Aires for lessons with Alberto Ginastera and Raul Spivak, before finishing up in Paris with , who infused him with the worship…

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Thomas Adès: The Four Quarters (works for string quartet by Adès and others) Solem Quartet − The Four Quarters (Orchid) ★★★★★ 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,…

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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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