In concert – Carolyn Sampson, Anna Lapwood, CBSO Chorus, CBSO / Kazuki Yamada – Poulenc Gloria & Saint-Saëns ‘Organ’ Symphony

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Tchaikovsky Solemn Overture ‘The Year 1812’ Op.49 (1880)
Poulenc
Gloria FP177 (1959)
Fauré
Messe Basse IGF50 (1881 rev.1906)
Saint-Saëns
Symphony no.3 in C minor Op.78 ‘Organ’ (1886)

Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Anna Lapwood (organ), CBSO Youth Chorus (Julian Wilkins, director), CBSO Chorus, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Kazuki Yamada (above)

Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Thursday 16 September 2021

Written by Richard Whitehouse
Photo credits Zuzanna Specjal (Kazuki Yamada), Marco Borggreve (Carolyn Sampson), Kirsten McTernan/BBC (Anna Lapwood)

It was no doubt coincidental that this opening concert of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra’s new season was typical of those programmes which one-time chief conductor Louis Frémaux gave with this orchestra during the mid-1970s, in its featuring two of his French specialities.

Back then, Poulenc’s Gloria could still be regarded as contemporary music, though its adept borrowing from the Stravinsky textbook married to the French composer’s insouciant brand of expressivity is arguably more widely accepted now than in that often style-conscious era. It duly responded to Kazuki Yamada’s keen impetus in the opening Gloria then the bracing syncopation of Laudamus te or a joyously animated Domine Fili. Carolyn Sampson (above) was an elegantly detached soloist in Domine Deus, opening-out emotionally in the Agnus Dei whose inward ecstasy was unerringly conveyed. Yamada elided deftly between the surging energy then calm resignation of the final Qui sedes; here, as throughout, the CBSO Chorus bringing supplicatory warmth to music it has been associated with almost since its founding.

Saint-Saëns’s Organ Symphony was a familiar item at CBSO concerts during the Frémaux era and one that the present-day orchestra tackled with no less alacrity. Yamada was clearly (and rightly) intent on stressing its symphonic cohesion – drawing ominous expectancy from the first half’s Adagio introduction then securing a powerful momentum in the main Allegro, before the organ’s hushed entry for a chastely eloquent slow movement. There was no lack of incisiveness or humour in the second half’s scherzo, not least its scintillating passagework for piano duet, but also purposeful intent as segued directly into the finale with its indelible main theme and its methodical build-up to an electrifying peroration. Here, too, Anna Lapwood’s (below) subtle choice of registration underlined motivic resourcefulness more than gestural brilliance.

In between these works, opening the second half, Fauré’s Messe Basse enjoyed relatively rare revival (at least in the concert hall). Initially a collaboration with André Messager, Fauré later essayed a complete setting of what is a Missa brevis (thus omitting the Gloria and Credo) for female voices and which sounds no less apposite when rendered, as here, by young singers. The CBSO Youth Choir summoned a poised detachment under the assured guidance of Julian Wilkins, abetted by Lapwood’s thoughtful accompaniment in this modest yet appealing piece.

One aspect of this programme that Frémaux would not have opted for was to commence with Tchaikovsky’s 1812, though few would surely dissent given the all-round focus of Yamada’s conception. Not least when the CBSO Chorus added its yearning tones to the opening section, returning towards the close for an emotive rendering of ‘God Save the Tsar’ to cap an already resplendent apotheosis. Tubular bells and Mahler-type mallet more than compensated for the absence of canon et al when this piece is trotted out at the end of a ‘greatest hits’ assemblage.

It was indeed fortuitous that Yamada open this season given his recent appointment as Chief Conductor of the CBSO from April 2023. He returns in due course, while next week brings Sarah Connolly for a rare hearing for Chausson’s rapturous Poème de l’amour et de la mer.

This concert will be repeated on Saturday 18 September at Symphony Hall – click here for tickets. You can find information on the new CBSO season here, while for more on Kazuki Yamada you can visit the conductor’s website

In concert – Birmingham Contemporary Music Group: Mark-Anthony Turnage

Mark-Anthony-Turnage

Pre-Concert Event:
Ma Xiao-Qing Back to the Beginning (2021)
Skempton Heinen Skizzen (2021) [BCMG Commission: World premiere]
Colette Overdijk (violin), Ulrich Heinen (cello)

Concert:
Turnage This Silence (1992)
Alberga On a Bat’s Back I do Fly (2000)
Saunders Stirrings (2011)
Turnage Concertino for Clarinet and Ensemble (2020) [BCMG commission: World premiere]

Jon Carnac (clarinet), Birmingham Contemporary Music Group / Thomas Kemp

CBSO Centre, Birmingham
Sunday 12 September 2021

Written by Richard Whitehouse

Birmingham Contemporary Music Group began its new season with a concert centred around music from Mark-Anthony Turnage, and what should have been a premiere to mark his 60th birthday last year but which still left a favourable impression however belated its emergence.

First came an earlier Turnage piece, This Silence drawing clarinet, bassoon, horn and string quintet into an intensive dialogue whose opening Dance built up a fair momentum that the ensuing Dirge channelled towards an eloquent if by no means unruffled set of variations as found just tentative closure. Three decades (and a brief Uli fanfare) later, Concertino exudes a far more relaxed aura, doubtless occasioned by its being a tribute to clarinettist (and fellow sexagenarian) Jon Carnac – his artistry to the fore in the playful Study in Fifths and incisive Carnac with its ingenious workout on the soloist’s name. In between, a soulful Romanza afforded contrast but if this and the final Sad Soliloquy found Turnage’s cool-jazz leanings at their smoothest, the alluring interplay of clarinet and ensemble was no less appealing for it.

In between these works came, firstly, a timely revival for Eleanor Alberga. On a Bat’s Back   I do Fly takes its cue from Ariel’s final song in Shakespeare’s The Tempest for music whose fluid contrasts of motion and expressive force, ably drawn into a cohesive whole, brought an agile response from BCMG – not least percussionist Julian Warburton. Appreciably different was Stirrings, the third in a sequence of ‘‘quiet and fragile collage compositions’’ by Berlin-based composer Rebecca Saunders, which took extracts from Samuel Beckett as the starting-point for an evocative soundscape whose simple yet effective spatial disposition – woodwind being situated around the gallery, with strings and piano spread across the platform – audibly enhanced the succession of echoes and resonances informing this frequently intangible score.

The pre-concert event (essentially the first half, given the interval which followed) brought a welcome further hearing of Ma Xiao-Qing’s Back to the Beginning, arguably the most striking of the ‘Soliloquys and Dialogues’ series written for BCMG musicians during the pandemic – violinist Colette Overdijk eliding between some vividly rhetorical passagework and spoken interpolations with a confidence borne of familiarity. Ulrich Heinen then gave the premiere of Heinen Skizzen, a miniature wholly typical of Howard Skempton in its deceptive simplicity.

This latter piece ably served its purpose of honouring Heinen’s retirement from BCMG after 35 years of commitment to the ensemble and its music-making. Not a few listeners (including the present writer) fondly recall his cycle of Bach’s Cello Suites given at St. Paul’s, Hockley in the late 1980s, with his subsequent recordings of the initial five of these – placed within a stimulating contemporary context – well worth investigating on the Métier Sound and Vision label. Hopefully his retirement will not preclude the occasional reappearance with BCMG.

Back to the present, this evening’s main concert is being repeated at West Malling in Kent on September 26th, with BCMG’s subsequent recitals in Birmingham and Bristol on November 12th and 13th. A full programme of activities for the 2021/22 season hopefully (!) lies ahead.

You can find information on further BCMG activities here, while further information on Ulrich Heinen’s Bach can be found at the Divine Arts website

On record – Weinberg: Complete Violin Sonatas Volume Three (Yuri Kalnits & Michael Csányi-Wills) (Toccata Classics)

weinberg-violin-sonatas

Mieczysław Weinberg
Violin Sonata no.3 Op.37 (1947)
Violin Sonata no.6 Op.136bis (1982)
Solo Violin Sonata no.3 Op.126 (1979)

Yuri Kalnits (violin), Michael Csányi-Wills (piano)

Toccata Classics TOCC00096 [60’36”]

Producers Yuri Kalnits, Michael Csányi-Wills
Engineer Rupert Coulson

Recorded 9-12 July 2016 at St John’s Fulham, London; 7-8 July 2020 at K Studios, London (Solo sonata)

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

After a lengthy hiatus, Toccata Classics duly continues its series devoted to the violin sonatas by Mieczysław Weinberg with this third volume featuring two further sonatas with piano and the last of his solo sonatas – in performances comparable to those on the earlier two volumes.

What’s the music like?

It is a measure of how the Weinberg discography has grown that, in the decade or more since this cycle commenced, all the composer’s violin sonatas have now been recorded on several occasions. Good, then, that Toccata has opted to see it through as the interpretative stance of Yuri Kalnits and Michael Csányi-Wills is a persuasive one – not least for the subtlety of its interplay between violin and piano such as underlines the increasingly and flexibly idiomatic nature of Weinberg’s writing for a medium that remains problematic whatever its popularity.

With the Third Sonata (1947), Weinberg achieved an all-round assurance as is evident from the flexible handling of content within each of these progressively longer movements. Thus, the moderately paced initial Allegro exudes a purposefully provisional feel, fulfilled by the central Andantino with its achingly expressive deployment of Jewish folk elements, before being intensified in the final Allegretto cantabile that moves adeptly between eloquent and energetic ideas prior to a Lento coda which brings the work deftly and movingly full-circle.

Unlike its predecessors the Third Solo Sonata, dedicated to the memory of the composer’s father, unfolds as a continuous span which, though it can be viewed as several interrelated movements, is more akin to variational episodes on the motives heard at the outset. As if to underline this audacity, the writing for violin is the most resourceful and imaginative to be found in in any of these pieces – a heady succession of mood and textures such as reaffirms Weinberg’s technical and creative mastery when confronting apparent restrictions head-on. 

Weinberg abandoned the duo medium in the late 1950s and when the Sixth Sonata emerged, it went unacknowledged until 2007. Yet a work dedicated to the memory of his mother must have held a deeply personal significance. The initial Moderato, where the instruments come together only at the centre and are framed by an anguished prologue for violin then resigned epilogue for piano, speaks of intensely subjective emotion – as do the elegiac central Adagio and a finale which surveys previous material in a more consoling if ultimately fatalistic light.

Does it all work?

Yes, not least given the widely differing concept that underlies each piece (further proof that Weinberg repeated neither himself nor other composers), as well as the undemonstrative yet searching approach of the performers. Others may favour the commanding rhetoric of Linus Roth (Challenge Classics) or the forthright incisiveness of Stefan Kirpal (CPO), but the more understated manner of Kalnits and Csányi-Wills likely brings out the inward intensity of this music more completely. As a cycle for repeated listening, it should prove difficult to surpass.

Is it recommended?

Indeed, abetted by almost perfect instrumental balance and detailed notes by David Fanning. A fourth volume – which, other than the early Three Pieces, might feature the Sonata for Two Violins and Gidon Kremer’s arrangement of the 24 Preludes for cello – is keenly anticipated.

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You can discover more about this release at the Toccata Classics website, where you can also purchase the recording. You can read more about Yuri Kalnits here, and more about Michael Csányi-Wills here

On record – Villa-Lobos: Choral Transcriptions (São Paulo Symphony Choir / Valentina Peleggi) (Naxos)

villa-lobos

Villa-Lobos transcriptions of:

Bach Prelude and Fugue no.8 in E flat minor / D sharp minor BWV853, Prelude no.14 in F sharp minor BWV883; Fugues – no.1 in C major, BWV846; no.5 in D major, BWV874; no.21 in B flat major, BWV866; no. 22 in B flat minor BWV867
Beethoven Adagio cantabile Op.13/2
Chopin Waltz no.7 in C sharp minor Op.64/2
Massenet Élégie Op.10/5
Mendelssohn Lieder ohne Worte in E major Op.30/3
Rachmaninov Prelude in C sharp minor Op.3/2
Schubert Ständchen D957/3
Schumann Träumerei Op.15/7
Villa-Lobos Bachianas Brasileiras no.9 W449

São Paulo Symphony Choir / Valentina Peleggi

Naxos 8.574286 [58’32”] English and Portuguese translations included

Producer Ulrich Schneider
Engineers Marcio Jesus Torres, Camilla Braga Marciano, Fabio Myiahara

Recorded: 5-10 August 2019 at Sala São Paulo, Brazil

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Naxos’s coverage of the music of Heitor Villa-Lobos (part of this label’s series The Music of Brazil) continues with a selection of mainly transcriptions from the piano repertoire that the composer undertook during the mid-1930s as part of his extensive educational commitments.

What’s the music like?

Almost all these arrangements emerged in the period 1932-5, when Villa-Lobos took on the challenge of overhauling music education in the public school system of Rio de Janeiro. This involved the creation, virtually from scratch, of a choral pedagogy that he drew from across the spectrum of Baroque, Classical and Romantic music. It is a measure of his prowess that such transformation from mostly piano sources was accomplished with unfailing rigour and an idiomatic quality, so the fame of the originals is almost the only clue to their provenance.

From the soulful strains of among the most mellifluous from Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words, the programme then continues with the Eighth Prelude and Fugue from the first book of Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier – the former piece summoning a plangently rhetorical response which finds pertinent contrast with the latter piece’s methodical and intricate build-up to a culmination of sombre eloquence. The arrangement of Dreaming from Schumann’s Scenes from Childhood fully conveys its wistful pathos, as does that of the First Fugue from Bach’s WTC the original’s cool elegance. Similarly, the last of Schubert’s Serenade settings loses little of this song’s plaintiveness, and the Twenty-First Fugue from Bach’s WTC takes on unexpected jauntiness in what proves one of Villa-Lobos’s most inspiriting re-creations.

Chopin’s Waltzes might be considered unsuited to the vocal medium, yet the C sharp minor responds ably to such elaboration, as too the ruminative calm of the Twenty-Second Prelude from Bach’s WTC. Rachmaninov might have thought better of his Prelude in C sharp minor had he encountered this uninhibitedly dramatic realization, with basses providing the baleful anchorage, in contrast to the yearning aura drawn from the Fourteenth Prelude of the second book from Bach’s WTC. Massenet’s Elegy exceeds the original song for bittersweet poise, a foil to the serenity of the Fifth Fugue from Bach’s WTC. The indelible main melody from the Adagio of Beethoven’s Pathétique segues ideally into the Ninth Bachianas Brasileiras, with Villa-Lobos’s choral incarnation rather more atmospheric and evocative than that for strings.

Does it all work?

Almost entirely and due in no small part to the excellence of the São Paulo Symphonic Choir with its Italian conductor Valentina Peleggi. Lasting just under 60 minutes, the selection feels varied yet also cohesive enough to be enjoyed as a continuous programme, while enterprising choirs from both sides of the Atlantic ought to find much here to enrich their existing rosters. Inclusion of Villa-Lobos’s own music at the close is a reminder its technical demands should never be taken for granted, but here too the SPSC rises to the challenge with unstinting verve.

Is it recommended?

It is. The acoustic is just a little reverberant at times yet without detriment to the clarity of the choral writing, with informative annotations from Manoel Corrêa do Lago. Listeners should also investigate a recent Naxos release of Villa-Lobos’s first three violin sonatas (8.574310).

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You can discover more about this release at the Naxos website, and you can also purchase the recording here. You can read more about conductor Valentina Peleggi here

On record – Alexander Tchaikovsky: Orchestral Music Volume One (Siberian Symphony Orchestra / Dmitry Vasiliev) (Toccata Classics)

alexander-tchaikovsky

Alexander Tchaikovsky
Symphony no.3 Op.75 (1995-2002)
Symphony no.7 Op.139 ‘Quarantine Symphony’ (2020)

Siberian Symphony Orchestra / Dmitry Vasiliev

Toccata Classics TOCC0587 [60’12”]

Producer Vadim Dedik
Engineer Adaq Kahn

Recorded in live performances: 19 May 2019 (Symphony no.3), 20 September 2020 (Symphony no.7) at Philharmonic Hall, Omsk

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Toccata Classics continues to investigate those paths lesser trod with this first instalment of symphonies by Alexander Tchaikovsky, likely the leading composer of the older generation in Russia, whose music is directly and audibly in the lineage of his geographical forebears.

What’s the music like?

Born in Moscow in 1946, Alexander Tchaikovsky is a nephew of composer and pianist Boris – but, in contrast to the latter’s selective output, has built an extensive catalogue featuring 14 operas (in addition to operettas and musicals) and three ballets, alongside numerous concertos and (to date) seven symphonies that frequently evince an illustrative or at least programmatic aspect. This is borne out in music highly evocative in import if without loss of that formal or expressive focus needed to sustain the two, wholly different, abstract arguments pursued here.

With its lengthy gestation and opulent instrumentation, the Third Symphony is a key work in the composer’s output. Its minimalist aspects occasioned more by Nielsen or Prokofiev than any post-war figure, the initial Allegro opens stealthily as its main theme gradually comes to the fore – tension increasing through a series of dissonant outbursts towards a massive climax across the orchestra that subsides into a sombre close. The central Allegro molto is described as ‘‘essentially a sequence of waltzes’’, which indicates its motion but not its stark emotional contrasts and violent denouement. It remains for the final Andante, proceeding without pause, to attempt a reconciliation; its furtive gestures opening-out onto a sustained expression whose restive and volatile content does not pre-empt the inexorability of the waltz music at the close.

Its title referring to the COVID-19 pandemic that occasioned its compact design and smaller forces (strings with percussion and piano), the Seventh Symphony comprises two movements. The first of these alternates between a plaintive Andante and trenchant Allegro molto, which latter gradually comes to the fore in a conclusion of unbridled abandon. Almost twice as long, the Adagio unfolds on the lines of a ‘prelude and fugue’ – the initial section sustaining a rapt eloquence that is intensified after the strings’ airy ascent and the commencement of the fugue in its methodical while deeply felt progress towards a fervent close. It is worth noting that the composer himself contracted the virus soon after completing this work – and which duly led to his missing the premiere in Omsk – but from which he has fortunately made a full recovery.

Does it all work?

For the most part, yes. This is music governed by the impulses as brought it to fruition, such that its underlying logic can be difficult to discern even on repeated hearings, while ensuring that a sense of destination – and arrival thereat – is never absent. The playing of the Siberian Symphony Orchestra is up to the standards of earlier releases for this label, Dmitry Vasiliev bringing a discipline and cumulative momentum to the often lengthy individual movements. There is little evidence of audience ‘presence’ in what are designated as live performances.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. The sound conveys the impact of these symphonies (the Third in particular) with no lack of immediacy, and there are insightful notes by pianist and composer Jonathan Powell. Hopefully more volumes of Alexander Tchaikovsky’s orchestral music will be forthcoming.

Listen

Buy

You can discover more about this release at the Toccata Classics website, where you can also purchase the recording. You can read more about Alexander Tchaikovsky here, and more about conductor Dmitry Vasiliev here