On record: Emilie Mayer: Symphony no.4, Piano Concerto, String Quartet etc

**Ewa Kupiec, ****Yang Tai (pianos) ***Klenke Quartett; */**Neubrandenburger Philharmonie / *Stefan Malzew, **Sebastian Tewinkel

Mayer
Symphony no.4 in B minor (1851)*
Piano Concerto in B flat major (1850) **
String Quartet no.9 in G minor***
Piano Sonata in D minor (c1860-70)****
Tonwellen-Valse in C****
Marcia in A****

Capriccio C5339 [129’39”]

Recorded December 2017

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Capriccio reissues its two discs devoted to the music of Emilie Mayer (1812-1883), a notable figure in German mid-romanticism who came through early upheavals to establish herself as a composer whose considerable output was heard throughout Western and Central Europe.

What’s the music like?

Very much of its time, which is not to suggest intrinsic lack of quality or stylistic anonymity. This is immediately evident from Symphony no.4, fourth of her eight symphonies, premiered in Berlin on 16th March 1851, whose tempestuous opening Allegro is the more impressive for its subtlety of sonata design, then an Adagio which likewise brings to mind Berwald (could Mayer have been at the disastrous Stockholm premiere of his Symphonie serieuse in 1843?); followed by an alternately incisive and lilting scherzo, then a finale whose brevity round off the work in unequivocal fashion.

The Piano Concerto feels relatively uneventful in its expressive range, though the deft interplay of soloist and orchestra is never less than pleasurable – Ewa Kupiec rendering it with a dexterity and poise that bring to mind the concertos of Hummel or Field.

The ninth and last of Mayer’s string quartets is unquestionably the highlight on the other disc. Its seriousness of intent is confirmed by the dedication to her father, who took his own life in 1840, and made tangible with the sombre opening Allegro (anticipatory of Brahms‘s Op. 51 quartets) then a speculative and agitated scherzo. The Adagio brings a degree of consolation, before the finale delivers an unforgiving resolution akin to Mendelssohn’s F minor quartet.

Less well integrated formally, the Piano Sonata is most successful in the vaunting energy of its outer movements, whose considerable virtuosity points to Mayer’s own pianistic abilities – equally in the gracefully alluring Tonwellen Waltz and the engaging March that round off this programme. The Klenke Quartet and Yang Tai prove sympathetic advocates throughout.

Does it all work?

Very much so. Mayer is hardly the only female composer to have been wholly forgotten after her death, but she is assuredly among the finest – not least in her ability to fashion large-scale designs of a formal focus and a cumulative emotional impact in advance of most among her contemporaries. In the two orchestral pieces, the Neubrandenburg Philharmonic – under the respective direction of Stefan Malzew and Sebastian Tewinkel – leaves little to be desired, nor do warmly spacious sound and succinct if (for the most part) informative booklet notes.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. Last year saw the spotlight falling on many female composers (and artistic figures in general) whose significance is essentially historical. Mayer is an undoubted exception, however, and it is to be hoped more of her music will soon be recorded and performed.

Further listening

You can listen to this new release on Spotify:

Further reading

You can read more about the Mayer release on the Capriccio website

Timothy Ridout & Frank Dupree – Bridge, Britten & Bowen @ Wigmore Hall

Timothy Ridout (viola, above), Jack Dupree (piano, below)

Bridge Pensiero; Allegro appassionato (1908)
Britten Lachrymae: Reflections on a Song of John Dowland Op. 48a (1950)
Bowen Viola Sonata No. 1 in C minor Op. 18 (1907)

Wigmore Hall, London
Tuesday 5 February 2019

Photo credit Kaupo Kikkas (Timothy Ridout)

Review by Ben Hogwood

The first Tuesday in the month usually brings with it a lunchtime recital at the Wigmore Hall from an artist on the YCAT roster. YCAT (Young Classical Artists Trust) is a charitable organisation looking after the development of emerging classical artists. A snapshot of its alumni (Alison Balsom, Simon Haram, the Belcea Quartet and Sean Shibe) bears testament to the success of their program and the longevity of the careers they boost.

On this evidence, viola player Timothy Ridout is another who looks set for great things – as does German pianist Frank Dupree, with whom he gave this recital. Dupree was demonstrating his versatility with a second appearance at the hall in nine days (previously appearing with BBC New Generation artist, trumpeter Simon Höfele)

The pair began with two compositions by Frank Bridge, himself a viola player – but one who seemed reluctant to write anything substantial for his own instrument. The Pensiero and Allegro appassionato are the only works that survive. Written in 1908, they fall into Bridge’s late Romantic period and make a very satisfying double. Ridout played the Pensiero affectionately and with a beautiful tone, which opened out for the surge of the Allegro appassionato that followed.

Bridge and Benjamin Britten enjoyed an inspirational creative partnership, the elder man a lasting influence on his pupil. Britten’s Lachrymae is his major work for viola and piano, though is more commonly heard in its orchestral arrangement. It is a masterful set of variations on a song by John Dowland, If my complaints could passions move, and reverses the variation format so that we hear all the variations first and the tune right at the end. He also refers to a second Dowland song, Flow my tears, in the course of the piece.

Ridout and Dupree gave a superb performance, atmospheric right from the start with a commendable attention to detail and a brooding passion which was unleashed in the fifth and sixth variations. The dynamic shadings were exquisitely realised, Ridout’s tone was beautifully judged, and Dupree’s punctuation marks were ideally clipped in the seventh variation.

Finally a very different form of Englishness was heard in the form of York Bowen’s Viola Sonata no.1. Bowen wrote this at the age of 20, and it shows an early command of the required form, as well as melodic invention, which both players clearly enjoyed. There was humour, too, in the coda parts of the first movement, and in the closing pages, which felt like a race to the finish between the two.

The sonata’s dimensions are considerable – 29 minutes in this performance – but the work did not outstay its welcome, thanks to the energy of the outer movements. These drove forward with great enthusiasm and lyrical input. Ridout’s tone was consistently strong and rich in the low register, his phrasing ideal – while Dupree matched him note for note in the tricky accompaniment. The slow movement found the emotional heart of the piece, but the sweeping optimism of the last movement stayed with the audience the longest.

As a nicely chosen encore Ridout introduced Bowen’s Melody for the G string (1917), its title a lightly humourous take on Bach’s Air but also rooting the viola player to the same string for the whole five minutes. With a charming tune, it provided a winsome finish to a very fine concert.

More music

You can watch Timothy and Jack in York Bowen’s Romance below, also at the Wigmore Hall:

Meanwhile to hear the music in this concert, the Spotify playlist below includes all the works performed, in versions currently available:

Timothy has not yet recorded any of the works featured, but his debut disc for Champs Hill is well worth hearing – the complete works for viola and piano by Belgian composer Henri Vieuxtemps:

Links

You can find out more about the work of YCAT and their artists on their website

Wigmore Mondays – Sophie Pacini plays Chopin, Wagner & Schumann

Sophie Pacini (piano)

Chopin Fantaisie-Impromptu in C sharp minor Op.66 (c1834) (1:27-6:18 on the broadcast link below)
Wagner, transcribed Liszt Overture to Tännhauser S442 (arr.1848) (7:25-22:33)
Schumann Carnaval Op.9 (1834-5) 24:25-47:13

Wigmore Hall, London
Monday 4 February 2019

To hear the BBC broadcast through BBC Sounds, please follow this link

Commentary and Review by Ben Hogwood

Sophie Pacini’s Wigmore Hall recital began with a fast, flowing performance of Chopin’s Fantaisie-Impromptu. As the name implies this is an extremely free piece but there is structure too, with two distinct themes. From 1:27 on the broadcast link above you can hear the main material, then at 2:31 a contrasting and relatively settled theme in the major key. A short development section brings us back to the main material at 4:33, and then Chopin spins a beautiful coda from the second theme at 5:35.

Liszt’s transcription of Wagner’s overture to the opera Tannhäuser (from 7:25) is something of an Everest for pianists; one that Sophie Pacini appeared to have scaled with commendable ease. This was a towering performance but also one that allowed the detail of the parts to come through – only rarely did the tunes threaten to become subsumed by the massive textures, and that certainly wasn’t the fault of Pacini – just a case of Liszt trying to accommodate so much of the orchestra!

In the broadcast the overture builds steadily from soft but noble beginnings, reaching what sounds like a mighty peal of bells at 9:27. This majestic theme dominates the music, coming back at 18:42 with an extraordinary accompaniment of what sounds like circling birds in the right hand part, leading up to a massive statement towards the end.

Carnaval is a favourite among the Schumann piano output, a series of character pieces that present a masked ball. Schumann himself is there, together with wife Clara – and not only that, Schumann invents several characters to depict the very different strains of his personality. There is a grand total of 20 different sections making up this attractive and colourful suite of pieces, and they run as follows (with approximate descriptions):

The very lively Préambule (24:25) begins the piece, cutting to Pierrot (26:36), whose repeated three-note figure reminded me of Musorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Arlequin (27:47) is a short, playful number, leading to a charming Valse noble (28:32), then Eusebius (29:39), one of the ‘selfies’ in Carnaval that depicts composer’s ‘calm, deliberate’ side. By contrast Florestan (31:26) depicts the composer’s fiery, impetuous nature, and Schumann quotes the main waltz theme from his earlier work Papillons, Op. 2.

The Coquette (32:15) follows, depicting a flirtatious girl, before Réplique (33:18) acts as a reply. There would then be a freely-written section called Sphinxes, which Sophie Pacini chooses not to perform here. Instead we move on to the quick fire Papillons (33:48, no connection to Op.2), then A.S.C.H. – S.C.H.A (34:31), another form of self portrait. Chiarina (35:09) is a depiction of the composer’s wife Clara, while the spacious arpeggios of Chopin (36:03) depict the composer.

Estrella (36:46) depicts Ernestine von Fricken, before Reconnaissance (37:23), a brilliant musical portrayal that is thought to depict Schumann and Ernestine recognizing each other at the ball. Pantalon et Colombine (38:54) are from the commedia dell’arte, then we hear the charming Valse allemande (39:38)

An extremely active Intermezzo: Paganini (40:14) leads into a reprise of the Valse allemande. Then Aveu (41:30) initally feels a bit bashful in its depiction of a confession of love. A Promenade (42:20) moves directly to a Pause (43:58), written out in musical form. After an almost identical reprise of a passage from the opening Préambule, we lead without a break into the final section, the Marche des “Davidsbündler” contre les Philistins (The March of David Against the Philistines) (44:16) It is a rousing finish to a cycle full of character.

Sophie Pacini’s performance is a fast one – most versions clock in just under half an hour, whereas hers is under 23 minutes. This shows the quick tempo choices she makes, and the short pauses between musical numbers. On occasion the music feels a bit too hasty and some of the softer moments and dance scenes could do with a bit more space and charm, some time to breathe between the sections perhaps. That said, a very enjoyable performance of characterful music that ends triumphantly.

As a suitable footnote to the concert, Pacini returned to the key of C sharp minor for Saint-Saëns (48:26-53:33) and his Allegro appassionato.

Further listening

Sophie Pacini has recorded all of the repertoire given in her recital. Her encore piece, the Saint-Saëns Allegro Appassionato, is added in a new recording from Bertrand Chamayou:

Quite where Liszt found the time to transcribe loads of orchestral pieces for piano is a mystery, but he did – including all nine Beethoven symphonies! This collection from Glenn Gould includes the Fifth, as well as more Wagner:

Schumann’s character pieces for piano are greatly loved. Carnaval is one of the most popular, but there are plenty of others – and on this album from Wilhelm Kempff you can enjoy three collections – Kinderszenen (for children), the wonderful Kreisleriana and the Waldszenen (Forest Scenes):

Feature review – Mieczysław Weinberg: Between East and West (Quatuor Danel)

Quatuor Danel [Marc Danel & Gilles Millet (violins), Vlad Bogdanas (viola), Yovan Markovitch (cello)], Michelle Assay (piano), Roberto Carrillo-Garcia  (double bass), Rosalind Dobson (soprano), David Fanning (piano)

Cosmo Rodewald Concert Hall @ Martin Harris Centre for Music and Drama
University of Manchester

Thursday 24th – Sunday 27th January 2019

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

The 17 string quartets of Mieczysław Weinberg (1919-1996) barely featured in more general discussion until recently, when the extent of their achievement has gradually become evident. Central to this has been the advocacy of the Quatuor Danel, whose integral recording (for the CPO label) during 2006-09 was followed by several live renditions before this one – given as part of the Weinberg: East and West conference co-convened by Prof David Fanning and Dr Michelle Assay and supported by the British Academy and the Adam Mickiewicz Institute.

Although a science-based institution, Manchester University has an active music department and, in the Cosmo Rodewald Concert Hall, a venue second to none for chamber performance – its spacious yet immediate acoustic ideally suited for the resourceful ensemble textures in which these string quartets abound. Weinberg is still often (and erroneously) referred to as a protégé of Shostakovich, but this cycle stands as the continuation of the lineage that takes in Beethoven and Bartók, and which itself represents a highpoint of European musical culture.

The cycle was launched on Thursday lunchtime. From a time when his career path was of a pianist, the ambition of the First Quartet (1937) is the more remarkable – doubtless a reason Weinberg subjected it to radical revision in 1985; refining its youthful awkwardness without diluting that heady aura indebted to Bartók and Szymanowski. The Danel assuredly captured its three movements’ emotional turmoil, wistful introspection then driving energy; the mature composer emerging in the finale, with its folk-inflections and teasing fragmentation towards the close.

The Second Quartet (1940) evinces greater formal and expressive poise; Weinberg revised it in 1986 as well as recasting it as his First Chamber Symphony. It remains one of his most appealing works, though the Danel’s impulsiveness prevented the first movement from seeming too ingratiating; an approach continued in an alternately contemplative and eruptive Adagio, then a quizzical intermezzo and tautly robust finale. Greater expressive freedom and rhythmic impetus, as compared to the recordings, was evident in most of these performances.

Thursday evening commenced with the Third Quartet (1944). Its uncompromising language is pursued across three movements (played without pause) that make inventive play with formal archetypes – whether the intensive sonata process in the initial Allegro, restive transformation of ideas over the slow movement’s ternary format or fugitive understatement of a final rondo which even the Danel could not prevent from feeling overly provisional. The Fourth Quartet (1945) is a more rounded achievement – its expansive trajectory leavening the tonal asperities of its predecessor with a long term tonal evolution that takes in the broadly paced momentum of the opening Allegro, through a motoric scherzo of irresistible rhythmic drive then a Largo whose funereal gait could hardly be taken out of context, to a finale whose blithe optimism is tempered by the pain of experience well before its stark closing gesture. Even more than on its recording, the Danel convincingly brought off this minor-key elision and did ample justice to a piece which ought to have communicated Weinberg’s name outside of the Soviet Union.

After the interval came the Fifth Quartet (1945). Appreciably different in its scale and scope, while continuing Weinberg’s intently evolving mastery of the medium, this proceeds from a wistfully ambivalent ‘Melodia’, via a drily amusing ‘Humoreska’ then a propulsive ‘Scherzo’ whose unbridled élan was unerringly conveyed here. The musing ‘Improvisation’ finds this work’s textural sparseness at its most tangible, before a ‘Serenata’ rounds off the whole with an equivocation which Shostakovich subsequently put to productive use in his own quartets.

Friday lunchtime began understatedly with the limpid Aria (1942) and laconically humorous Capriccio (1943), written in Tashkent on either side of the First Symphony, and which offer ready-made encores. Whether they were heard at this time is uncertain, but the Sixth Quartet (1946) went unheard for six decades until the present ensemble brought it to light and ranks among Weinberg’s salient masterpieces – one whose content is as distinctive as it is personal. Not the least its distinguishing factor is the way its six movements are dovetailed towards a satisfying yet by no means integrated whole – initiated by the quixotic opening Allegro, then intensified by a coursing Presto and explosive Allegro – these latter two ‘bleeding’ into each other – before a gaunt Adagio which seems in search of its underlying theme; then a troubled intermezzo then provides breathing space for the increasingly fractious course determined by the finale. A work that makes a virtue of its equivocation to an unnerving degree, the Danel responding with technical finesse and emotional insight that reinforced its intrinsic greatness.

Friday evening opened with the Seventh Quartet (1957). Coming after more than a decade, it might appear a pragmatic response to the post-Stalin era, yet there is nothing of compromise in this work (first of at least five Weinberg quartets to be premiered by the Borodin Quartet). Hardly its least achievement is the follow-through of its movements from a preludial Adagio of subdued eloquence, via an intermezzo with its structural (as opposed to anecdotal) use of klezmer inflections and which became an unexpected encore, to a finale whose implacable opening and close frame a theme and 23 variations of prodigious inventiveness and resource: qualities abundantly in evidence as the Danel rendered its quasi-palindromic design with a conviction and expressive breadth that ideally needed the interval to be placed afterwards.

Instead the ensemble continued directly with the Eighth Quartet (1959), first of Weinberg’s single-movement designs that artfully conceals a two-part format. Its initial unfolding from ruminative Adagio to wistful Andante and back is intensified through the intervention of a limpid Allegretto and a brusque Allegro, before the initial stasis is tentatively regained. The Danel conveyed this with an inevitability which could hardly be gainsaid. After the interval, the Ninth Quartet (1963) opens with an Allegro of a tensile velocity unequalled in his output – its energy spilling over into a sardonic intermezzo, while the ensuing Andante undercuts the poise of its would-be passacaglia with episodes of rhapsodic inertness, before a finale whose motivation seems destined to end in uncertainty. Again, an account of real insight, the Danel returning to give the first performance of Two Pieces from 1950 and only recently relocated – their respective charm and nonchalance indicative of Weinberg’s desire to write accessible music of integrity at a time when his concert output could hardly have gained much exposure.

Saturday lunchtime began with the Tenth Quartet (1964), its four movements complementing rather than conflicting with each other. Thus, the solemn opening movement finds its natural progression in a speculative scherzo; one to which a tersely declamatory Adagio itself makes possible the faux-repetition and ultimate equivocation of the finale. Mindful of the semantic connection with those comparable works in Shostakovich’s own cycle, the Danel duly opted for a flexible, nuanced approach both here and in the Eleventh Quartet (1966). In the latter, continuity is taken further across four movements which abound in motivic pre-echoes and allusions – the furtive scampering of the first movement followed by a teasingly refractory intermezzo, then a soloistic Adagio makes way for a finale whose waltz inflected progress cannot prevent the return of the opening from seeming fateful rather than inevitable. Never superficial, the Danel maintained coherence throughout while not overlooking the degree to which this piece holds the key to the elliptical inscrutability of those quartets that followed.

Any such ‘late’ style is amply confirmed by the Twelfth Quartet (1970), standing in solitary splendour within the context of Weinberg’s cycle. It effectively rewrites the rulebook as to how four movements are brought together in a diverse yet integrated whole. Serial elements extend the instrumental discourse, as does the incorporation of timbres and textures recalling those Weinberg surely encountered at the Warsaw Autumn Festival in 1966. Such are evident in the initial Largo, its impassive unfolding disrupted by flurries of activity towards its centre, while the Allegretto abounds in acerbic gestures that hasten a disconsolate end; from where the Presto surges to a climax of unremitting savagery. The final Moderato is left to negotiate motivic fragmentation and disjunctive exchanges prior to the most disconcerting conclusion in the quartet literature. The Danel conveyed the fullest extent of this wresting of continuity from change, then returned for another first – a combative scherzo intended for the Seventh Quartet that Weinberg (rightly) discarded as likely to detract from the majesty of its finale.

On to Saturday evening and the Thirteenth Quartet (1977) once again takes up the concept of a single movement. Here, though, the constituents of its sonata design are interspersed with episodes akin to scherzo and slow movement, the overall structure infused with a cumulative intensity that, allied to the increased usage of extended playing techniques, gives this music a rebarbative quality which is hardly sublimated by the anguished close. The Danel duly made the most of this discomforting piece, nor was there any lack of commitment in the Fourteenth Quartet (1978). Its five continuous movements do not so much progress as lurch forwards from the edgily austere first movement, by way of its sombrely impassive successor, then a scherzo and intermezzo which are not so much elusive as disembodied, to a finale in which any attempt at an overall synthesis gradually falls away to reveal a wanly resigned ending; one whose inherent fatalism is arguably more dismaying as it withdraws into virtual silence, as if to suggest that Weinberg’s self-communing is essentially a defence – even an escape.

The Fifteenth Quartet (1979) may be less stark in outcome but is the most radical of all these works in formal design. Its nine relatively brief movements are interpretable in various ways – but a highly oblique sonata design is implied by the aggressive ‘development’ of the central three movements, framed by respectively angular and thrusting ‘transitions’, then surrounded in turn by a two-part ‘exposition’ of almost secretive inwardness; itself balanced by a ‘reprise’ whose incrementally wider expression facilitates an eventual, albeit tenuous, sense of closure.

Sunday afternoon brought the cycle to its close. The Sixteenth Quartet (1981) is inscribed to the memory of Weinberg’s sister in what would have been her sixtieth year; this, along with the outwardly conventional four movements, affords a sense of rapprochement – though the initial Allegro feels anything but predictable in its discursive sonata design, while the gritty scherzo enfolds a trio of ethereal remoteness. A highly austere slow movement (a passacaglia in intention if not in execution) hints at more lyrical expression given fuller rein as the finale builds on its waltz-inflected main theme to a short-lived climax which, in turn, makes way for a becalmed postlude. This recalls earlier ideas before reaching a close whose gentle radiance transcends the age-old distinction between depth and profundity with the deftest of touches.

The Danel realized this to perfection, as it did the very different Seventeenth Quartet (1986) with its affirmation rare in Weinberg’s later music. This also marks a final engagement with one-movement form; its energetic Allegros serving as exposition and development, then as development and reprise, between which are a recitative-like Andantino and aria-like Lento. Transitions are provided by vibrant solos and the whole capped by a coda of real optimism – tangibly conveyed in this effervescent account which also made a fitting close to the cycle.

Following the interval, David Fanning (above) joined the Danel for a ‘40-minute encore’ in the Piano Quintet (1944) that is Weinberg’s earliest masterpiece and was to remain one of his defining works. Securing momentum over the whole is never easy, but Fanning’s deft understatement ensured a steady build-up from the speculative opening Moderato, via an agitated Allegretto, to the sardonic Presto; after which, the expansive Largo exuded real eloquence without undue rhetoric before the combative final Allegro that culminated in a coda of furtive anticipation.

Interspersed within this cycle were two other recitals. Friday afternoon saw Rosalind Dobson (above) and Michelle Assay (above with David Fanning) repeat their account (after its world premiere in November) of Old Letters (1962), eight romances after Julian Tuwim. The length and only incremental expressive range meant this sequence felt too long for a collection while too unvaried for a cycle; its highlight being a setting of ‘Lorelei’ the more affecting for its brevity. Not that this performance lacked anything in characterization, Dobson and Assay returning for two settings of an untitled poem by Alexander Blok: as ‘Dedication’ this forms the wistful opening of Weinberg’s Beyond the Threshold of Past Days (1951), and, as ‘Music’ the eloquent finale of Shostakovich’s Seven Romances (1967) – for which latter they were joined by Marc Danel and Yovan Markovitch.

Saturday afternoon brought two of the solo sonatas from Weinberg’s later years. Whether or not publicly performed in the composer’s lifetime, the Double Bass Sonata (1971) has since established itself in an admittedly select repertoire for the instrument. Certainly, it could have no more committed an advocate than Roberto Carrillo-Garcia (above), who rendered the six-movement amalgam of elements derived from suite and sonata with consummate insight and panache – repeating its propulsive finale to considerable acclaim. The Sixth Piano Sonata (1960) avoids overt display, but this equivocal take on the ‘prelude and fugue’ archetype makes absorbing listening, not least when Michelle Assay brought out the sombre poise of its Adagio then the contrapuntal intricacy and cumulative energy of its final Allegro to such an engaging degree.

Thursday afternoon also brought a fascinating presentation by Dr Daniel Elphick, who has reconstructed the original versions of the First and Second Quartets – the former being the subject of his lecture-recital which revealed the teenage Weinberg as fully aware of current developments; not least the climax of its slow movement, when that of the ‘Largo desolato’ from Berg’s Lyric Suite loomed startlingly into focus. Hopefully it will be possible to hear these original versions before too long – maybe as a recorded appendix to the Danel’s cycle.

The conference itself featured a dozen papers by scholars drawn from across Europe, as well as Australia, Russia, the UK and the US. Most of these should become available online in due course, and it is to be hoped publication will ensue. Mention should also be made of a Skype interview with Weinberg’s elder daughter Victoria Bishops that shed light on the composer’s middle decades, and a flying visit from Gidon Kremer (whose Kremerata Baltica focusses on Weinberg in his centenary year) for a brief recital and speech on the importance of this music.

Overall, this conference offered valuable context for appreciating the quartet cycle. Assessing Weinberg’s quartets surely centres on the underlying premise of a composer concerned with building on the achievements of the past rather than with breaking new ground – from which perspective, his finest quartets are defining examples of what the genre is capable of yielding, and in an age that most often seems unfavourable to abstract musical thought. Clearly this is a cycle which is relevant to present-day composers and listeners alike: as and when it makes its way into wider public consciousness, this will have been made possible by the Quatuor Danel.

Further information about Quatuor Danel can be found at their website. Meanwhile Daniel Elphick’s Weinberg blog can be found here

You can listen to the Quatuor Danel’s Weinberg cycle below:

Wigmore Mondays – Simon Höfele & Frank Dupree in 20th century works for trumpet and piano

Simon Höfele (trumpet, above) & Frank Dupree (piano, below)

Enescu Légende (1906) (2:07-8:20)
Takemitsu Paths (In Memoriam Witold Lutoslawski) (1994) (8:39-14:48
Hindemith Trumpet Sonata (1939) (16:56-33:30)
Savard Morceau de Concours (1903) (35:20-41:05)
Gaubert Cantabile et scherzetto (1909) (41:33-46:20)
Charlier Solo de Concours (1900) 47:39-54:26)

Wigmore Hall, London
Monday 28 January 2019

To hear the BBC broadcast through BBC Sounds, please follow this link

Photo credits Sebastian Heck (Simon Höfele)

Commentary and Review by Ben Hogwood

There is more music for the combination of solo trumpet and piano than you might think – and how gratifying for the BBC New Generation Artist Simon Höfele to remind us of that on his debut at the Wigmore Hall. Forming a most impressive partnership with pianist Frank Dupree, he gave us four works from the first decade of the 20th century, three by composers new to Arcana pages – and a masterpiece of the century’s repertoire.

Initially playing a trumpet ‘in C’ (that is, calibrated to sit naturally in the key of C major), Höfele listened to Dupree solemnly intoning the opening chords of the Enescu Légende (from 2:07 on the enclosed BBC Sounds link). A competition piece written by the Romanian composer for the 1906 trumpet competition (concours) at the Paris Conservatoire, it begins in a deceptively languid mood, the trumpet low in its register, but soon begins to stir, Höfele hitting a faultless top ‘C’ around 5:50. Then the thoughtful mood returns, the trumpet using the mute at the very end.

From this soft dynamic comes the beginning of the next piece, Takemitsu’s Paths (8:39). The paths in question are very separate – soft, ruminative phrases using the mute, answered by much bolder and generally higher writing. The piece ascends to the relative heights, the piercing rasp of the mute-inflected phrase brings it towards earth, but it ultimately ends in mid-air contemplation.

Hindemith was an incredibly versatile composer, in his career writing sonatas for no fewer than 16 of the instruments of the orchestra. His Trumpet Sonata is one of the finest examples of this canon, and betrays its 1939 origins with frequent references to the actions of his ‘home’ country Germany. At this point the composer was an exile in Switzerland, and this work effectively shows both his horror and sorrow at the annex of Austria, the occupation of Czechoslovakia and ultimately the invasion of Poland.

Turning to a trumpet ‘in B flat’, Höfele leads a brisk and busy start (from 16:56), though signs of the composer’s tongue-in-cheek writing are never far from the surface, peeking through at 17:50. Once reasserted, however, the main thematic material is impossible to shift.

The second movement (22:26) has a spirit of soft-hearted lazy play about it initially, with light hearted piano comments (ideally voiced by Dupree here) that are punctuated by the trumpet. From 29:19, the last movement, the piano distractedly accompanies the long trumpet phrases in lamentation, using as their source a chorale. Then the music builds to a resentful peak before fading away.

Very little is known of the French composer Augustin Savard – though he did win the coveted Prix de Rome with his oratorio La Vision de Saül in 1886. This Morceau de Concours is a competition piece for the trumpet that shows an impressive grasp of the instrument, not to mention drama in the slow introduction (35:20). By 39:06 the music has worked its way round to a genial theme for the faster section, after which trumpet and piano enjoy some light hearted exchanges.

Philippe Gaubert’s Cantabile et scherzetto, published six years later, enjoys a similar profile. Gaubert’s output is mostly directed towards the flute, but he too wrote a competition piece with a serious introduction (41:33) and a playful counterpart (44:20), packed with repeated triplets.

For the Solo de Concours by Belgian composer Théo Charlier (47:39) a slow introduction is not necessary, the piano firmly setting the scene before the trumpet’s arrival. An attractive slower theme (50:15) gives the other side of the story. A poignant aside from the muted trumpet follows before all the shackles are cast off in the final section (52:44) Just occasionally here Höfele felt as though he was overreaching with some of the more complicated phrases, but this – as with all the other pieces – was brilliantly handled.

The encore was a great choice, a Song Without Words by Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina (56:03-58:30), a solemn tune spiced with the odd ‘wrong’ note in the piano accompaniment, almost in the manner of Charles Ives.

Further listening

Simon Höfele and Frank Dupree have not yet recorded any of the repertoire performed in this concert. However the playlist below assembles the music in a number of different recordings, headed by Alison Balsom and Tom Poster in the Hindemith Trumpet Sonata:

Höfele does however have an extremely impressive disc of modern works in the bag, including music by HK Gruber, Takemitsu, Jolivet and Iain Hamilton:

Hindemith’s sonatas are intriguing pieces that combine flair and depth with concise writing structures. This disc, commonly linked by pianist Alexander Melnikov, is a winner: