Browsing: Lebrecht Weekly

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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In the summer of 1943, and for reasons still unclear, Milan’s best young composer moved to the undeveloped south of Italy and stayed there for the rest of his life. Nino Rota, at 32, was content to be a teacher in Bari, later director of its Conservatorio. Had he not needed to earn a little extra money on the side in Rome’s dolce vita film industry, he might never have been heard of again. Rota’s symbiotic partnership with the director Federico Fellini, starting with The White Sheik in 1952, catapulted him to world fame and redefined the art of composing for film.…

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If  you are ever asked at Heathrow Airport to prove your residency by naming a work of English music, this album will do nicely. Leaving the arresting title track to last, this string trio recital contains a breathtaking account of the Prelude and fugue by Gerald Finzi (1901-56), a pre-War lament for his deceased teacher. A London Jew who composed like a country vicar, Finzi is hard to pin down but this is one of his truest moments and most perfect inspirations. Hugh Wood (b. 1932) can sound like an absentminded professor but his opus 61, titled Ithaka, has a…

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In the early 1980s, the phenomenal Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer recorded for Philips an account of the Beethoven concerto that was almost universally reviled. It contained two cadenzas written at the soloist’s request by the Russian composer Alfred Schnittke, a self-styled polystylist who built some of his works from fragments of many others. Each of the cadenzas contained snippets of every major violin concerto from Bach to Berg, and the western music establishment recoiled as it if had been struck by a falling sputnik. The record was harshly reviewed and withdrawn by the label never to be physically reissued (though…

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The Czech composer Vitezlava Kapralova died in the early weeks of the German occupation of France, at the age of 25. Two months before, she had married Jiri Mucha, son of the fin-de-siècle poster artist. She had everything to live for and yet embraced agonies of death with great dignity. The mystery and tragedy of her existence has been explored in a couple of novels but her psychology remains an enigma and her music is hard to categorise. At first impression it falls midway between Leos Janacek – who was her father’s teacher – and Bohuslav Martinu, who was her lover; yet…

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