New music: Poppy Ackroyd

One Little Independent have today announced the return of Poppy Ackroyd with new music for piano. Her fourth album Pause, set to be released in November, is a collection of ten pieces for the keyboard which, in the label’s words, ‘utilize the full instrument, with a mixture of inside piano strumming and playing the keys’.

Evidence of this can be seen in the new track Seedling, and its accompanying video directed by Jola Kudela. She collected small pieces of plants and leaves, submerged them in water and put them in her freezer, then observed the process of defrosting, filming it in time-lapse. The second part of the video was filmed with infrared camera. “I was trying to imagine the process of nature waking up, beginning with a seed, that then slowly transforms itself into a seedling”, says Kudela. “So, we begin with a frozen environment that encapsulates the seed – it seems trapped and immobilised by the icy world. Then gradually it starts to warm up and defrost, fighting with the power that has been holding it frozen.”

Poppy gave some background to Pause. “For previous albums almost as much of the creative process was spent editing and manipulating recordings as it was composing at the piano, however after having my son, I struggled to spend time sat in front of a computer. The only thing I wanted to do while he was still small, if I wasn’t with him, was to play the piano. In fact, much of the album was written with him asleep on me in a sling as I used any quiet moment to compose.

It therefore made sense that this album should be a solo piano album. I used extended technique – playing with sounds from inside the instrument – like I do in my multi-tracked recordings, however it was important to me that every track on the album could be entirely performed with just two hands on the piano.”

Watch and enjoy below…while looking forward to Poppy’s full-length return.

Music online – BBC Radio 3 to restart Wigmore Hall concerts behind closed doors

Since its beginnings five years back, Arcana has made a big deal of the BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concerts at the Wigmore Hall on Mondays, covering the majority of recitals given in that time. The concerts bring a great deal of pleasure to listeners not just in the hall but at home, brightening up a dreary Monday on many occasions. Their availability on catch-up through BBC Sounds only heightens the xpe

Very happily the concerts are to return to our homes. With the Wigmore Hall closed to the public until September, Alan Davey, Controller of BBC Radio 3 and John Gilhooly, Director of Wigmore Hall, have today confirmed the first live classical music broadcasts on BBC Radio 3 from Wigmore Hall, following the nationwide lockdown.

A series of 20 concerts will take place at 1pm every weekday throughout the month of June, starting on Monday 1st. The series will mark Wigmore Hall’s temporary re-opening, as well as BBC Radio 3’s return to live concert broadcasting, part of their Culture in Quarantine initiative.

Programmes are to be confirmed, but rather excitingly the artists confirmed include a wide array of British-based talent, listed alphabetically below:

James Baillieu (piano), Benjamin Baker (violin), Iain Burnside (piano), Allan Clayton (tenor), Michael Collins (clarinet), Imogen Cooper (piano), Lucy Crowe (soprano), Nicholas Daniel (oboe), Iestyn Davies (countertenor), Julius Drake (piano) Benjamin Grosvenor (piano), Angela Hewitt (piano), Stephen Hough (piano), Elizabeth Kenny (lute), Pavel Kolesnikov (piano), Paul Lewis (piano), Michael McHale (piano), Joseph Middleton (piano), Mark Padmore (tenor), Hyeyoon Park (violin), Timothy Ridout (viola), Sean Shibe (guitar), Anna Tilbrook (piano), Samson Tsoy (piano), Ailish Tynan (soprano), Mitsuko Uchida (piano), Adam Walker (flute), Roderick Williams (baritone)

Arcana will be looking to cover a number of these concerts, offering listening guides as we have done for five years. See you in the virtual concert hall!

Ben Hogwood

Lynn Harrell – A Tribute

Last night we learned the sad news that the great American cellist Lynn Harrell has died at the age of 76.

This article from Washington’s NPR gives a good overview of his career, which began with a stint leading the cellos of the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell in the 1960s and 1970s.

This gave him the springboard to become a solo artist, and he made many live appearances with leading conductors and orchestras, as well as forming a formidable partnership to play piano trios with violinist Itzhak Perlman and pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy.

Harrell’s discography is defined largely by his recordings made for Decca, with whom he had a close relationship, but outside of these he recorded Beethoven and Tchakovsky as part of his trio, a disc of the latter’s Piano Trio in A minor winning a Grammy in 1981.

My own personal interactions with Harrell’s work centre around Bach’s Solo Cello Suites, which he recorded for Decca between 1982 and 1984, and where his excellent recordings opened the door to a lifetime’s supply of musical treasures.

The playlist below offers a glimpse into Harrell’s career, headed by Bach’s Solo Cello Suite no.3 and concluding with the tumultuous Tchaikovsky disc mentioned above. In between we get recordings of Rachmaninov and Dutilleux’s wonderful Cello Concerto Tout un monde lontain, recorded with Charles Dutoit and the Orchestre National de France. There is a Ravel duo with Nigel Kennedy and a rarity, Harrell championing the cause of fellow American Victor Herbert with his Cello Concerto no.2. You also have the chance to hear the cellist in his previous role as section leader in the Cleveland Orchestra, joining Robert Casadesus in a solo role as part of Liszt‘s Piano Concerto no.2.

With thanks for some wonderful music making…

A Silent Night for Trentemøller

It’s the time of year for seasonal covers…and also the time of year for the same old Christmas songs to be wheeled out of hibernation for us to go slowly mad to!

Every year though there are thankfully new additions to the canon and new versions of the old classics to enjoy. On that note, here is something a little different from Trentemøller, whose year has already been considerably starry thanks to the release of his Obsidian album back in October.

He confesses to having wanted to cover a Christmas classic for years – and with this version of Silent Night he goes as far as to add a nugget from the family photo album. Listen and enjoy!

By way of a reminder, Obverse is one of the albums of the year and is sure to feature in Arcana’s round up next week. If you enjoyed Silent Night then you’ll certainly like this, which you can stream on his Bandcamp site below:

Obverse by Trentemøller

Sir Stephen Cleobury – A Tribute

Yesterday King’s College Cambridge announced the very sad death of their long-time music director of 37 years, Sir Stephen Cleobury.

Many will know him from the traditional Christmas Eve Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, the annual broadcast live from King’s that is seen as the beginning of Christmas for many. Yet Cleobury’s work extends well beyond that sphere, not just as day to day conductor of the choir but for his work with the BBC Singers and the Cambridge University Musical Society. As a conductor and organist he made a good number of excellent recordings, a selection of which are included with this article.

One of Cleobury’s most recent releases highlighted one of his favourite composers, Herbert Howells – in recordings of An English Mass and the Cello Concerto:

His association with Howells extended to the organ works, which he recorded for the Priory label back in the mid-1990s. Here is Volume 1 from 1993, including the four wonderful Rhapsodies:

With the King’s College Choir, Cleobury made a number of recordings for EMI Classics in repertoire stretching from Handel to Rachmaninov and Arvo Pärt. Perhaps the best of these is the Ikos disc he released with the choir in 1995, including the music of Pärt, Górecki and John Tavener. It was one of the first releases to recognise a new more minimal approach to sacred music headed by Eastern European composers:

Within the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols Cleobury introduced a rather special tradition of commissioning a new carol each year. This led to wonderful new works for voices from Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Judith Weir, John Tavener and Mark-Anthony Turnage among many. The King’s College’s own record label, in tribute to their departing music director, had already released his final service from 2018, a typically thoughtful and inspiring blend of ancient and modern settings of Christmas subjects:

Finally we include here a year-old BBC programme looking at a year in the life of the college choir, led of course by its conductor:

All this serves as an appreciation of just some of Sir Stephen Cleobury’s work and achievements, which he has brought to so many listeners over the last 40 years.