Playlist – Clare Hammond

It is with great pleasure that we welcome pianist Clare Hammond to the Arcana playlist section.

Clare has just released a new solo album, Variations. It is a typically thoughtful and inventive program of works from the 20th and 21st-centuries, ranging from  Adams to Birtwistle, Copland to Gubaidulina.

We invited Clare to complement her new album with a selection of her own favourite sets of variations, and she has obliged with some new discoveries. We begin with one of the greatest of all, the towering Passacaglia for organ by Bach, via Leopold Stokowski‘s colourful orchestration. Then we downsize for Louise Farrenc‘s Variations concertantes sur mélodie suisse, for violin and piano, before we hear from George Walker, the first African American to have won the Pulitzer Prize for Music, and only recently getting more exposure as a composer. Polish composer Grażyna Bacewicz, with her Theme with Variations, offers a strong contrast to the Farrenc, again for violin and piano.

A Decca recording from 1993 follows, an early bit of recognition for the craft of Coleridge-Taylor and his substantial Variations on an African Air for orchestra. We go to piano for Lili Boulanger‘s typically concise and expressive contribution, before the wonderfully humourous, wacky and brilliant Variations on America by Charles Ives, in the orchestration by William Schuman.

Make sure you have a listen to this as well as Clare’s album, to be reviewed on Arcana soon. Our grateful thanks to her for an invigorating hour of music:

You can read more about Clare Hammond’s Variations album on the BIS website

Live review – Emily Davis, English Symphony Orchestra / Kenneth Woods: A Portrait of Steven R. Gerber

Emily Davis (violin), English Symphony Orchestra / Kenneth Woods

Gerber (arr. Hagen) Sinfonietta No. 1 (1991)
Gerber (arr. Williams) String Sinfonia No. 1 (1995)
Gerber Two Lyric Pieces (2005)
Gerber (arr. Williams) String Sinfonia No. 2 (2011)
Gerber (arr. Williams) Sinfonietta No. 2 (2000)

Wyastone Concert Hall, Monmouth
Recorded in 2020 for online broadcast, Wednesday 26 February 2021

Written by Richard Whitehouse

The English Symphony Orchestra’s online (hopefully not too much longer!) season continued tonight with this portrait of American composer Steven R. Gerber (1948-2015). Little heard in the UK (but extensively in Russia during the immediate post-Soviet era), his output follows a not unusual trajectory for someone of his generation – that from serialism to a rapprochement with tonality, though his evident success over these nominally opposing aesthetics is far rarer and confirms a creative zeal as was underlined by the works featured in this ESO programme.

Although he essayed a sizable number of orchestral works (including two symphonies), those pieces heard here were arrangements of chamber pieces. Not that they were at all unidiomatic or lacking impact – witness that of his Piano Quintet by Daron Hagen as the First Sinfonietta, whose five movements evolve in opposition between a pungent incisiveness and an emotional plangency which finds its culmination in the powerfully sustained fourth movement. Kenneth Woods secured a trenchant response from an ESO likely at or near its socially distanced limit.

The other arrangements were all undertaken by Adrian Williams, himself a notable composer of whom the ESO will be playing more in due course. Derived from Gerber’s Fourth Quartet, the First String Sinfonietta is notable for the comparable intensity of its central movements – a Lento then a Maestoso which might have functioned as a finale had not the composer opted, effectively as it turned out, to let such emotions subside over the curse of a brief yet affecting Postlude. It was astute programming to follow this with the Two Lyric Pieces for violin and strings, the only item played in its original guise and one whose mingling of wistfulness and eloquence finds the composer at his most approachable; not least when Emily Davis rendered the solo part with such fluency and poise. These pieces could yet enjoy a widespread success.

As derived from Gerber’s Sixth Quartet, the Second String Sinfonia appears to be among his more quizzical works – the angular while not a little ambivalent opening movement making way for a quizzical Intermezzo, then a closing set of variations that does not so much reach a climax as wind down into an uncertain repose. A more elaborate and methodical take on the Variations template is pursued by the second and final movement of Gerber’s Fifth Quartet, here arranged as the Second Sinfonietta which again has recourse to a fuller instrumentation and more charged expression. Notably the opening Fantasy, whose stark contrasts of mood make for a disjunctive overall trajectory as is subsequently countered, if not wholly resolved, through a steady and always inevitable build-up of the finale towards its forceful apotheosis.

Intriguing and engaging music which, if tending to an unrelieved earnestness, could hardly be faulted for emotional immediacy. It certainly found worthy exponents in the musicians of the ESO, directed by Woods with his customary conviction, while hopefully the tendency of the sound to distort in louder or more fully scored passages – what used to be termed ‘flutter’ in recorded parlance – was a factor of the online broadcast and not of the actual session. Those coming anew to Steven R. Gerber will doubtless have responded to his unwavering sincerity.

You can watch the concert on the English Symphony Orchestra website here

For more information on the English Symphony Orchestra you can visit their website here For more on Steven R. Gerber, visit his website

Switched On: John Tejada – Year Of The Living Dead (Kompakt)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Year Of The Living Dead would seem to be a direct statement on the extended time we have had to spend in lockdown, but for John Tejada it appears to be bearing the fruits of his musical endeavours in that period. For the eight tracks making up his fifth album in a decade on the Kompakt label, Tejada broadened his scope to use unfamiliar electronic instruments, the result being an eight track body of work operating with the reassuring freedom he has always employed.

What’s the music like?

A mixture of comforting keyboard pads and edgy beat workouts. Tejada has always had his own distinct approach, and here we get the familiar parts of his sound – warm chords, intricate rhythms, offbeat loops and rhythmic cells – dressed up with less familiar musical explorations, taking in dub and more direct electro.

Tejada always exhibits consummate control over his music but this never stifles its emotional impact. Darker thoughts are afoot in the steely edged Abbot Of Burton, which puts its foot down after the suntrap that is Spectral Progressions. Meanwhile the opening trio of the album, The Haunting Of Earth, Sheltered and Eidolon, are a familiar presence with their intricate clicks and rhythmic cells.

Does it all work?

Yes. With an open ear and an attention to detail, Tejada never hits a dud – which is something we can reliably say about pretty much all of his considerable output.

Is it recommended?

Yes. A new John Tejada album is always a welcome arrival, and it’s great to see his reluctance to fall back on his laurels and produce replicas of previous albums. His music continues its organic process and repeated hearings reveal just how much there is going on in each track. Recommended for devotees, of which there are many, but also for new visitors.

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Listening to Beethoven #122 – Allegretto in C minor, WoO 53 (second version)


Design for a Beethoven commemorative coin worth 5 Deutsche Mark, 1969, Stuttgart. Reproduced from the Beethoven-Haus Bonn with thanks.

Allegretto in C minor WoO 53 for piano (second version, published as Hess 66) (thought to be from 1796-7, Beethoven aged 26)

Dedication not known
Duration 3’15”

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Background and Critical Reception

There is very little written about this piece, but the few surviving notes suggest it might be an unpublished movement intended for the Piano Sonata no.5 in C minor, published as the first in the Op.10 set around this time.

Thoughts

As noted in the original version, the mood is serious and a little pensive for the Allegretto. The revision appears to be a compression of the original form, giving it the leaner profile the sonata also inhabits. Yet the fact Beethoven spent time on a revision of the piece suggests he held it in high esteem.

The ‘parting of the clouds’ for the C major theme is not quite so obvious here, the music more obviously heading back to the minor key.

Recordings used and Spotify links

Sergio Gallo (Naxos)

You can chart the Arcana Beethoven playlist as it grows, with one recommended version of each piece we listen to. Catch up here!

Also written in 1797 James Hewitt Piano Sonata in D major ‘The Battle of Trenton’

Next up Piano Sonata no.4 in E flat major Op.7

On record – Joly Braga Santos: Chamber Music Volume Two (Toccata Classics)

Joly Braga Santos
Piano Quartet Op.28 (1957)
Suite de Danças Op.63 (1984)
Piano Trio Op.64 (1985)
Adagio e Scherzino (1956)
Suite para intrumentos de metal (1985)

Piano Quartet, Piano Trio: Jill Lawson (piano), Eliot Lawson (violin), Natalia Tchitch (viola), Catherine Strynckx (cello)
Suite of Dances: Jill Lawson (piano), Ricardo Lobes (oboe), Natalia Tchitch (viola), Adriano Aguiar (double bass)
Adagio e scherzino: Nuno Ivo Cruz (flute), Ricardo Lopes (oboe), António Saiote (clarinet), Paulo Guerreiro (horn), Carolino Carreira (bassoon)
Suite for brass: Jorge Almeida, António Quítalo, Pedro Monteiro (trumpets), Paulo Guerreiro (horn), Jarrett Butler, Vitor Faria (trombones), Ilídio Massacote (tuba)

Toccata Classics TOCC0428 [71’20”]

Producers Brian MacKay, Romain Zémiri
Engineer Romain Zémiri

Recorded 5-8 December 2017, 6-8 June 2018 at Centro Cultural de Belém, Lisbon, Portugal

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Toccata Classics issues the second instalment devoted to the chamber output of Joly Braga Santos (1924-88), one which ranges widely in terms of its instrumental media and features one of the undoubted high points from over the Portuguese composer’s extensive catalogue.

What’s the music like?

To describe three of these pieces as ‘occasional’ is not to deny their musical attraction. The Suite of Dances makes the most of its unlikely combination of oboe, viola, double bass and piano – the astringent harmonies of its Prelũdio commuted into more plaintive expression by the Sarabanda, before the Tarantella rounds off the sequence with heady insouciance. In its follow-through of wistful song then whimsical dance, the Adagio and Scherzino is an unassuming gift to the repertoire for woodwind quintet that all such ensembles should seize upon. Although a combination of horn, three trumpets, two trombones and tuba might prove awkward, the Suite for Brass is no less diverting – whether in the soulful pathos of its initial Moderato, incisive fanfares of its central Allegro or insinuating resolve of its final Andante.

Highly appealing as these all are, the remaining works more completely affirm Braga Santos as a composer of substance. Cast in a single movement lasting almost 15 minutes, the Piano Quartet unfolds as the interplay between tensile and rhapsodic main themes such that neither mode of expression ever quite gets the upper hand. Moreover, the writing for the four players is of an integrated ensemble with any solo expression secondary to that of the collective; not least in the final pages as the music regains its initial impetus on the way to a forthright close.

Undoubtedly the main achievement here, the Piano Trio can rank alongside the Third String Quartet (included on the previous volume) among Braga Santos’s finest achievements. The opening Largo elides between distanced and ominous expression, its unforced synthesis of modal and non-tonal facets accorded greater resolve by the ensuing Allegro with its tensely intertwined strings and repeated-note piano writing that, between them, reach an impetuous climax. More than twice the length of its predecessors, the closing Lento is also one of this composer’s most potent inspirations – the sheer remoteness of its initial gestures underlying the speculative discourse which follows, and while the later stages afford greater emotional variety, the destination of this music towards its ethereal final repose can never be doubted.

Does it all work?

It does, allowing for the fact that some of the pieces here are modest in scope but written most felicitously as to the ensemble required. The performances of the main two pieces –    by violinist Eliot Lawson, cellist Catherine Strynckx, pianist Jill Lawson and (in the Piano Quartet) violist Natalia Tchitch – make a strong case for these works to form part of their respective repertoire. The other items mainly feature woodwind and brass players from the leading Portuguese orchestras and bring similar combinations of insight and commitment.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. The sound avoids that slightly out-of-focus perspective of the first volume, even if breaks between works could have been lengthier. The booklet has an affectionate memoir by Santos’s pupil Alexandre Delgado, with detailed notes on each work by Bernardo Mariano.

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You can discover more about this release at the Toccata Classics website, where you can also purchase the recording. For our review of volume one in this series, click here