Enescu Festival 2019 – Peter Donohoe, Muntenia Philharmonic Orchestra Daniel Jinga: Bentoiu, Lipatti & Enescu Symphony no.5

Andrei Lazăr (tenor), Peter Donohoe (piano), Acoustic Chorus (women’s voices), Muntenia Philharmonic Orchestra / Daniel Jinga (above)

Trade Unions’ Cultural Centre, Târgoviște, Romania
Friday 13 September

Bentoiu Suite ‘Ardelenească’, Op.6 (1955)
Lipatti Concertino ‘en style classique’ Op.3 (1936)
Enescu (compl. Bentoiu) Symphony no.5 in D major (1941)

Review by Richard Whitehouse
Photo credit (Peter Donohoe) Sussie Ahlburg

A welcome facet of the Enescu Festival, the Concerts in Other Cities schedule could easily be overlooked owing to distances involved in this sizable country. That said, a day in Târgoviște is eminently feasible. Just 50 miles and a 90-minute train journey from Bucharest, it features several historic buildings (notably the Chindia Tower) that can be visited prior to an evening concert – on this occasion, by the Muntenia Philharmonic Orchestra with principal conductor Daniel Jinga. A quick online perusal suggests the majority of their concerts are of a popular or ‘crossover’ nature, making their playing in this programme of unfamiliar and technically demanding compositions the more impressive – not least in as unsparing an acoustic as the main hall of Trade Unions’ Cultural Centre (a scaled-down version of London’s Barbican).

It may be a relatively early work, but the Transylvanian Suite finds Pascal Bentoiu utilizing folk elements within the context of an already distinctive idiom. Each of its four movements draws on music from a region of Transylvania, and Jinga secured a lively but always flexible response from his musicians for a piece in the lineage of Bartók’s Dance Suite or Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsodies. Surely the most significant post-war Romanian symphonist, Bentoiu had from the start an innate command of the orchestra as was scintillatingly in evidence here.

Peter Donohoe (above) then took the stage for Dinu Lipatti’s Concertino in the Classical Style. Most of Lipatti’s larger-scale pieces are from the period before his playing career took precedence, with this Concertino typical in its synthesis of folk melodies with a neo-classical idiom closer to Hindemith or Ravel than Stravinsky. Modest in their dimensions these may be, Donohoe rendered its four movements with deft insouciance and poise, as heard to advantage against the modest instrumentation which abounds in contrapuntal ingenuity and harmonic finesse.

Impressed with the response of the players as of a near-capacity audience, Donohoe returned for substantial encores of Mozart’s Sonata in A minor then Ravel’s Alborada del grazioso – both of which feature in Lipatti’s select discography and given here with engaging vitality.

The second half brought a rare hearing for Enescu’s Fifth Symphony. Substantially drafted over summer 1941 but left in abeyance with its first movement largely orchestrated, it was Bentoiu who undertook a full realization during 1995-6 of what he considered the composer’s requiem for himself.

The first movement centres upon that endlessly evolving melody which was made possible by Enescu’s conception of heterophonic texture – the music afforded its momentum via acutely differentiated timbral layers that coalesce into an unlikely but audible sonata design. Its successor recalls the folk-inflected poignancy of the Suite Villageoise, now with a fatalistic undertow that comes to the fore in the ensuing Vivace which brings the only rapid music of the whole work. Essentially an adjunct to the finale, this culminates with the finale’s gaunt opening theme – the latter movement then unfolding as a funeral march whose valediction is transcended in the setting of Mihai Eminescu’s poem Mai am un singur dor -emerging not as a contrives apotheosis but an organic culmination of all that has gone before.

A combination of the dry ambience with acoustic enhancement meant that Andrei Lazăr was balanced too forwardly against the orchestra, yet he sang with great eloquence (not least his unaffected parlando in the closing lines) – the women’s voices of the Acoustic Chorus adding an ethereal halo to those closing stages. Jinga instilled real forward motion into the opening movement, then brought out the wistfulness and anguish of its two successors. Whether here or in the radiant aura of the finale, his instinctive feel for this piece could hardly be gainsaid.

Make no mistake, this was an enterprising programme in which the Muntenia players was on occasion hard-pressed but rose to its challenges with commitment and enthusiasm. Hopefully orchestra and conductor will secure themselves a concert in Bucharest at the 2021 edition of the Enescu Festival, yet anyone visiting the capital two years hence should certainly consider spending a day in Târgoviște – a compact and appealing city, while hardly an inappropriate place for a first live encounter with the last as well as most elusive of Enescu’s symphonies.

Further listening

You can listen to Pascal Bentoiu’s completion of Enescu’s Symphony no.5 in a CPO recording released in 2014. Marius Vlad is the tenor soloist, with the NDR Chor and Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken-Kaiserslautern conducted by Marius Vlad:

Switched On – Deaf Joe – Love Stories (Church Ceilings)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

When Deaf Joe released his third album Stuck in 2018 he promised a ‘slew of ambient music’. True to his word, the Edinburgh-based Irishman delivers a sequel just over a year later, its eight tracks spanning just over half an hour of music to calm the soul.

What’s the music like?

Ambient but emotive with it. In his own words, Deaf Joe is ‘chasing memories of special places with lovers and loved ones he’ll never forget’. The scenarios include ‘the sound of the ocean roaring on an Icelandic black sand beach (Reynisfjara)…swimming in Copenhagen harbour at the height of summer (Havnegade)…and the sight of a kaleidoscopic sunset over a volcanic lake in the Philippines (Taal Lake).

There is a gentle but insistent thread of deep emotion that runs through the music because of these associations. Taal Lake opens the musical photo album with the purest chord of all, a rich C major wall of sound. As it gets louder the wall starts to oscillate a little, in keeping with ripples on the surface of the water, effects sweeping across the stereo picture.

It is an indication of just how descriptive Deaf Joe can be. Reynisfjara is similarly watery, depicting the waves on the Icelandic beach spoken of above with rhythmic patterns of subtle power, while Ocean Beach revisits the same key as the lake but applies more movement in the form of a quick four to the floor beat.

Not all of the tracks are purely ambient. Cambodian Sirens has quite a shrill treble that is highly effective, especially when the following Phnom Bakheng / Disintegrating In Lowtown returns us to C major and floats timelessly.

Does it all work?

Yes. Deaf Joe is a talented artist whose pictures with sound are descriptive and richly rewarding, giving listeners a gallery of colourful pictures in which to immerse themselves.

Is it recommended?

It is. This is ambient music looking around the world for its inspiration, but bringing its wide canvas together in one stream of sonic invention.

Stream

Buy

Enescu Festival 2019 – Michael Barenboim, Francesco Tristano, Sibiu Philharmonic Orchestra / Cristian Lupeş: Dediu, Basica, Widmann & Tristano

Michael Barenboim (violin), Francesco Tristano (piano), Sibiu Philharmonic Orchestra / Cristian Lupeş (above)

Radio Hall, Bucharest
Sunday 15th September 2019 (1pm)

Dediu Elegia minacciosa, Op.161 (2017)
Tristano Island Nation (2016)
Widmann Violin Concerto no.1 (2007)
Basica Concerto for Conductor and Orchestra (2019) [World premiere]

Review by Richard Whitehouse

Cristian Lupeş has enjoyed a long association with the Enescu Festival as both conductor and administrator, and now combines these roles in his activity with the Sibiu Philharmonic. This afternoon saw him directing the orchestra for a wide-ranging programme, given as part of the festival’s ‘Music of the 21st Century’ series, which demonstrated Lupeş’ ability to secure a committed response in music that makes few concessions either technically or interpretatively. The outcome was a programme which fascinated, provoked and frustrated to an equal extent.

Provocation was the watchword in Elegia minacciosa by Dan Dediu (b1967), the most prominent Romanian composer of his generation. Emerging almost imperceptibly, this short if eventful piece assumes an increasingly ominous demeanour – not least through allusions to Satie from solo piano (hence the subtitle con Gnossienne-Mandala), then the explosive interjections of bass drum heard from behind the auditorium. A piece whose poly-stylistic connotations could easily result in fragmentation and diffuseness here sustained powerful cumulative momentum through to its atmospheric yet unresolved conclusion. Lupeş evidently had the measure of this ‘threatening elegy’ as he secured playing of verve and commitment from his forces, leaving this listener keen to experience the piece again – albeit in an appreciably different context.

Not that hearing Island Nation was time wasted, though this concerto by Francesco Tristano (b1981) impressed more in the freely extemporised nature of its solo part and the composer’s magnetic realization of this than for intrinsic musical content. Most involving was its central movement The Islanders, with what sounded like an amplified metronome pulse providing the basis for an accumulation of orchestral activity – capped by piano playing channelled into a cadenza both pensive and, in its Parsifal allusion, equivocal. Otherwise, the energetic outer movements offered energy aplenty in their manufactured post-minimalist idiom, the orchestra matching the soloist (a distinctive exponent of Bach as of numerous 20th century composers) in immediacy of response. Great for first impressions, though not much of actual substance.

By comparison, what is now the First Violin Concerto by Jörg Widmann (b1973) is audibly within a lineage of mid-20th century European modernism – specifically that of Berg, whose own concerto proves a touchstone in many respects. Indeed, it seemed at times as though this latter work’s opening Andante had been extended into a whole work – such was the inward and self-communing nature of Widmann’s own piece, with its virtually continuous solo part heard against orchestral writing of exquisite textural nuance yet little rhythmic or expressive variety. The former had a formidable exponent in Michael Barenboim, playing with audible finesse and a frequently mesmeric concentration such as provided the ‘thread’ around which the orchestra wove a hardly less committed response – with Lupeş assured in his direction.

What to make of Concerto for Conductor and Orchestra by Constantin Basica (b1985)? This evidently arose from its composer’s investigating the interface of neurology and technology at Stanford University (and which interested readers can peruse at length on the composer’s website). The work, though, gave all the appearance of a spoof with its presentation of a lengthy film where composer and scientist discussed their researches, during which the orchestra was presided over by Lupeş – clad in an eco-friendly ‘Tarn-helm’ as his physical gestures were apparently transmuted into the real-time musical responses from his players. Trouble was, the sonic element was no more than a generalized backdrop that culminated rather too predictably with a brief burst of audience participation.

Whatever else, this was an entertaining way to round-off a demanding programme to which the audience responded with enthusiasm. Quite what it said about Basica’s music is another matter, but the composer played a central role in both performance and film while enacting the ‘mad scientist’ accordingly. Lupeş directed proceedings with aplomb: he clearly has an effective rapport with the Sibiu orchestra, and one looks forward to their appearance at this festival in 2021 – hopefully in an equally diverse though musically more consistent concert.

Further listening

You can hear more of the music of Jörg Widmann, including the Violin Concerto no.1, in first class performances on the disc below:

Meanwhile Francesco Tristano‘s most recent album Tokyo Stories can be heard here:

Wigmore Mondays – Benjamin Appl & Kristian Bezuidenhout: Schumann, Loewe, Mendelssohn & Zelter

Benjamin Appl (baritone, above), Kristian Bezuidenhout (fortepiano, below)

Wigmore Hall, Monday 16 September 2019 (lunchtime)

You can listen to this concert on the BBC Sounds app here

Review and guide by Ben Hogwood

Lieder can be downright miserable sometimes, as Benjamin Appl acknowledged when thanking us for attending this recital of ‘jolly German music’, with which the Wigmore Hall opened their 2019-20 season of BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concerts.

Appl, a baritone of ever-growing reputation, was performing with Kristian Bezuidenhout, who played a Blüthner fortepiano dating back to Leipzig in 1856 – the year of Schumann’s death. The instrument, an attractive rosewood colour, proved the ideal foil for an interesting programme looking at the Lied in Germany around the first half of the 19th century. In an hour we covered some little known ground from the output of Schumann himself, complemented by settings by Mendelssohn, Zelter and Loewe.

The pairing began with three later Robert Schumann songs, all based around the character Harper, from Goethe’s novel Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship. Schumann set the songs in 1849, the centenary of the poet’s birth. Appl stood tall and upright in front of the piano, communicating directly with the audience through his eyes as well as his voice. Wer nie sein Brot mit Tränen ass (Who never ate his bread in tears) was a sombre note on which to start, though the pain eased a little before the end, Bezuidenhout’s spread chords giving an indication of the fortepiano’s rounded sound. Wer sich der Einsamkeit ergibt (Who gives himself to loneliness) had a penetrating delivery from the singer, with a dark and unsettled postlude from the piano, while An die Türen will ich schleichen (From door to door will I steal) had a slightly lighter touch.

There followed three songs by Mendelssohn setting the poetry of Nikolaus Lenau. The short song An die Entfernte (To the distant beloved) danced lightly and was nicely phrased, before the nocturnal Schilflied (Reed song) was distracted and occasionally lost in thought. Frühlingslied (Spring song) emphatically blew away the cobwebs, the positive energy of the new season blowing the dark thoughts away.

The music of Carl Friedrich Zelter, a good friend of Goethe, is not often heard in the concert hall these days. He had his friend’s blessing however, the author approving of his direct methods of word setting, without too much in the way of musical dressing. His three Harfenspieler are bold settings and Appl sung them with clarity here, hitting the high notes of the second song with impressive intensity. Bezuidenhout was subtle in his complementary melodic lines on the fortepiano.

Contrasting with these were the dramatic songs of Carl Loewe. Herr Oluf is a self-contained Danish legend against the dangers of meeting Elves, and was performed with no quarter given, a terrific introduction from Bezuidenhout setting the energy level high. On occasion the singer has quite an unusual melodic profile, but this was straightforward for Appl’s vivid interpretation. The mischievous Hinkende Jamben was gone in an instant, with its mannerisms and lisps, before an expansive introduction to Tom der Reimer brought a grand tone from the singer. In a legend comparable in profile to Herr Oluf, it finished with brightly ringing bells, courtesy of Bezuidenhout’s picture painting.

When Schumann made his six settings of Lenau’s verse, he added a short Requiem in the mistaken knowledge that the poet had died. However when the day of the first performance arrived in 1850, news reached the gathering that Lenau had only just passed away, making the composer’s tribute strangely prophetic.

It is a dark cycle, reflecting perhaps the struggles of both men with mental illness – but illustrating at the same time the inner strength that music and poetry gave them. The steely Lied eines Schmiedes (Blacksmith’s Song) found Appl gathering himself with impressive projection, before the mood and heart softened a little for a languid account of Meine Rose (My Rose). Meanwhile Kommen und Scheiden (Meeting and Parting) had a devastating pay-off in the form of the emphasised last word, where the ‘last dream of my youth was taking leave of me’

Die Sennin (The Cowgirl) began with flowing piano, which led to Appl’s ringing delivery of ‘spring’s first song in the trees’, one of the recital’s most memorable moments. From there the cycle took a darker tone, Bezuidenhout breeding anxiety with the restless fortepiano line of Einsamkeit (Solitude), where Appl’s vocal was bold, and then to Der schwere Abend (The Sultry Evening) which was darker still, with a cold final line ‘to wish us both dead’. Thankfully the Requiem itself – a short Latin text – offered consolation and rest, as well as a rousing central section looking to the heavens.

This was a magnificent recital, with grace and power in equal measure from both performers, and the sound of the fortepiano a real treat in complement to Appl’s caramel tone. As a bonus we heard Mendelssohn’s Auf Flügeln des Gesanges (On Wings of Song), finishing in celebratory mood.

Repertoire

Benjamin Appl and Kristian Bezuidenhout performed the following songs (with timings on the BBC Sounds broadcast in brackets):

Schumann Wer sich der Einsamkeit ergibt Op.98a/6 (1:54); Wer nie sein Brot mit Tränen ass Op.98a/4 (4:55); An die Türen will ich schleichen Op.98a/8 (all 1849)
Mendelssohn An die Entfernte Op.71/3 (1842) (9:56); Schilflied Op.71/4 (1832 (11:17); Frühlingslied Op.47/3 (14:08) 1839)
Zelter Harfenspieler I-III (18:03)
Loewe Herr Oluf Op.2/2 (24:18) Hinkende Jamben (29:51); Tom der Reimer (30:35)
Schumann 6 Gedichte von Nikolaus Lenau & Requiem, Op.90 (37:53). Individual songs: Lied eines Schmiedes (37:53), Meine Rose (39:05), Kommen und Scheiden (42:52), Die Sennin Schöne (44:00), Einsamkeit (46:08), Der schwere Abend (49:11), Requiem (50:49)

Encore – Mendelssohn Auf Flügeln des Gesanges Op.34/2 (56:07)

Further listening

Benjamin Appl has not yet recorded any of the repertoire in this concert, save the encore, but suitable recorded versions can be heard on this Spotify playlist:

Switched On – YACHT – Chain Tripping (DFA)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

This is the seventh album from Portland trio YACHT, their third release for the DFA label. Given that their name is an acronym for Young Americans Challenging High Technology, it feels entirely appropriate that this record should embrace AI and machine learning.

As the press release explains, the trio ‘used neural networks to break their patterns apart into infinite variations, which they re-assembled into new songs that they then learned, performed, and recorded live. Rather than rely on a single tool, they brought together several distinct AI processes: text generation (Char-RNN), latent space interpolation, raw audio generation (SampleRNN), and a ‘neural synthesizer’ called the NSynth. They were inspired by the long history of generative composition, from William S. Burroughs’ cut-up writing method to David Bowie’s custom ‘Verbasizer’ lyrics software from the ‘90s.

What’s the music like?

It is ironic to use the word ‘deadpan’ given the AI involvement, but there is a flatlining aspect to this record, a straight-faced approach that Chain Tripping has to electronic music.

Claire Evans’ vocals are treated carefully to sound like the intervention of a machine, meaning when she sings a lyric like “I was born to lose control”, on the single SCATTERHEAD, the irony is heavy. Hers is a great voice for this sort of album though, dueling with trimmed beats and riffs. Given the nature of the album it is perhaps inevitable that nothing feels left to chance, the rigid instrumentation and content all closely monitored.

There is still time for funk, however. Blue On Blue is a really catchy track, while DEATH has a great bassline to take away from its darkly murderous lyrics. Stick It To The Station is also excellent, with a slow but really loose bassline and a track that gains heft as it develops.

(Downtown) Dancing, the first track, bids us “welcome to your pleasure” but has a bit of a disembodied feel. It works well though, as does the cooing from Evans at the start of Hey Hey. Loud Light adds a heavy slab of irony, with the line “I’m so in love I can feel it in my heart”.

If you didn’t know that the album had its origins in AI you would think it was a very solid piece of work, deriving a little from English electronica such as Human League or Yazoo, but with Evans at the front always packing a strong personality. She saves us from death by automaton, a charismatic presence.

Does it all work?

Not all the time. The technology does to a large extent prevent the personal from getting through, especially when you compare Chain Tripping to previous YACHT songs such as the brilliant Walk The Line. Yet maybe this is the intent, to show that technology might be able to help create a good set of beats, riffs and songs, but what it can’t yet achieve to 100% capability is a full emotional canvas.

As a result these songs would sound great in a club, but only in the context of others that live and breathe more.

Is it recommended?

Yes, for devotees – it is certainly a record of interest, and still good enough to keep YACHT fans happy. Newcomers are better directing themselves to slightly earlier in the band’s canon.

Stream

Buy