Switched On – Balance presents Vivrant mixed by Jeremy Olander

Various Artists: Balance presents Vivrant mixed by Jeremy Olander (Balance)

What’s the story?

‘Melancholic’ and ‘cinematic’ are two of the words closely associated with Jeremy Olander’s music. They are often applied to the Swedish producer’s own work and his DJ sets, which often contain a lot of his own music. Time, then, for him to release one of those commercially – which he does here on the Balance label. Olander confesses to feeling a little intimidated by the prospect, with last year’s epic contribution from James Zabiela casting quite a shadow, but he nonetheless steps up with music from his own studio and those of his Vivrant label artists.

What’s the music like?

Yes. Olander goes for an expansive style in his mixing, and often stays rooted to the same pitch for ten minutes or more. This is a really effective tactic, creating wide open spaces and a pleasant feeling of hypnosis for the listener, who after a while will discover their feet are tapping automatically. The introduction of the first mix bears this out, with three tracks from J.Singh that stay rooted to one pitch before long bass notes move the music on. Marino Canal & Miguel Payda’s Hidden Eyes are excellent, with a moody vocal and soaring line.

The mix is like a single, arching structure, as is the second which has an utterly sublime beginning from Olander’s own track Akzo. This is a lovely, starry piece of music and it cuts to more spacey, beat driven material in Yoyo. Again the continuity here is more important than single standout single tracks, and Olander judges the build of intensity in the mix just right, finishing with his own Life After Death.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Olander’s mixes are in for the long haul and work best when heard in full, creating spaced out and hypnotic atmospheres. They may not always be full of hooks but the late night spell is cast to perfection.

Stream

Buy

You can buy this release on the Balance website

On record – Ensemble SYD / Daniel Hansson – Pettersson: Vox Humana (CPO)

*Kristina Hellgren (soprano), *Anna Grevelius (mezzo-soprano), *Conny Thimander (tenor), */**Jakob Högström (baritone), *Musica Vitae, */**Ensemble SYD / Daniel Hansson

Pettersson
Vox Humana (1974)*
Six Songs (1935)**

CPO CPO 999 286-2 [69’26”]

Swedish texts and English/German translations
Producer Stephan Reh
Engineers Hakan Ekman & Gunnar Andersson

Recorded 26-27 May 2019 at Palladium, Malmo

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

The CPO label moves a step closer to recording the complete works by Allan Pettersson with this disc of his major non-symphonic choral work Vox Humana, coupled with the first outing for an orchestration of the Six Songs which is almost this composer’s earliest surviving opus..

What’s the music like?

After prolonged illness (and hospitalisation) at the start of the 1970s, Pettersson’s priorities as a composer changed somewhat; his relatively succinct Tenth and Eleventh Symphonies being followed by the choral Twelfth, setting Pablo Neruda, then the present cantata such as makes explicit his empathy with the socially and politically oppressed through settings of poems by mainly Latin-American authors. Despite its 50-minute duration, Vox Humana is for the most part subdued and understated in its tone – with, moreover, a focus on the salient ‘message’ of those tests which recalls his approach in the wartime Barefoot Songs that constitutes his first notable statement. This is reinforced by accompaniment for strings whose reticence seems a world away from the charged and confrontational manner pursued in most of his symphonies.

Formally the cantata divides into three separate parts. The first of these consists of 14 songs after Latin-American workers’ poetry, mostly reflections on the hopelessness of those being depicted and of the injustices meted out to them on a continual basis. The second part takes in three even briefer songs after old Indian poetry, here rendered in music which reduces the sentiments expressed to barest essentials. The third and final part consist of a single, ballad-like setting of a poem by Neruda, whose death in 1973 pre-dated by mere months the brutal military takeover in Chile and so makes the ecstatic longing of his words the more poignant. It forms a fitting culmination to this work, though even here Pettersson is mindful never to overstate the emotional fervour of convictions with which he was undoubtedly in sympathy.

Does it all work?

Yes, in that the restraint and often folk-like simplicity of these settings is its own justification. It helps when the performers are evidently attuned to this music, Jakob Högström leading the way with his authoritatively eloquent baritone and Anna Grevelius underlining her claims as among the leading mezzos of her generation.

Soprano and tenor may have considerably less to do, but Kristina Hellgren and Conny Thimander both make the most of their contributions. Daniel Hansson secures a thoughtful response from Musica Vitae and Ensemble SYD alike.

The other recording of Vox Humana dates back 43 years and was one of the first recordings issued by BIS. Stig Westerberg was among Pettersson’s surest advocates in the composer’s lifetime and his account lacks nothing in commitment, nor the sound for clarity or realism, yet the greater perspective of this version does tip the balance in its favour. The coupling, Pettersson’s Six Songs as arranged with strings and harp by Steffan Storm, is itself more apposite in confirming the human dimension of this composer’s music from the beginning.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. The booklet has full Swedish texts alongside English and German translations, with detailed notes by Andreas Meyer (though some of his discussion seems to be missing from the English text). Those unfamiliar with Vox Humana need not hesitate to acquire this disc.

Buy

For more information on this release visit the Presto website

On record – Rupert Marshall-Luck: Soul (TUTL)

Rupert Marshall-Luck (violin)

Baek Afturundirgero
Blak Alvarann; Bohmerlands Dronning
Debess Variations
Rasmussen Echoes of the Past

TUTL FHR90 [52’25”]

Producer Rupert Marshall-Luck
Engineer Theodor Kapnas

Recorded 2-3 April 2019

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

The violinist Rupert Marshall-Luck takes time out from his extensive commitment to British music (and no less extensive schedule for the EM Records label) for this revealing collection of unaccompanied pieces by composers who were born or are resident in the Faroe Islands.

What’s the music like?

Although a self-governing region of Denmark across more than seven decades, classical or art music was slow in taking root in the Faroes, its music-making almost entirely vocal until the 1960s. As with its northerly neighbour Iceland, the creative scene has subsequently been transformed to the extent that these islands currently enjoy a profile out of all proportion to their population in terms of its range and diversity. Soul may only scratch the surface of this musical wealth, but it also underlines the potential of what might appear a restricted medium.

This disc sets off unequivocally with Echoes of the Past by Sunleif Rasmussen (b1961), an eventful sequence of episodes such as makes full use of the violin’s potential for heightened expression and meaningful display; all the while given focus by a trajectory as unfolds from combative unease towards a searching if tenuous repose. Quite a contrast with Variations for Solo Violin by Edvard Nyholm Debess (b1960), its traditional Faroese hymn-tune providing the basis for six variations which draw on a range of textural and emotional shading, without losing sight of the intrinsic character of the theme before its affecting return. More discursive in its content is Afturundirgero by Kari Baek (b1950), evoking a seascape in which turbulent cross-currents are vividly conveyed through harmonic clashes by turns soulful and astringent.

The remaining two pieces are both by Kristian Black (b1947), born in Denmark but resident over many years in Torshavn where he has been a prime mover in the emergence as well as dissemination of Faroese classical music – not least via his enterprising label TUTL Records. Inspired by a ballad about the Danish queen, Bohmerlands Dronning unfolds as a rhapsody in which various aspects of the ballad can be heard to permeate the content and influence the direction of what is eloquent and ultimately fatalistic music. Blak’s Alvarann also takes its cue from a Faroese ballad, though here progress is audibly more quixotic as the violin charts a course from subdued anticipation, via the steady accumulation of energy, to an impetuous culmination whose unbridled virtuosity leaves no mean drama and even anguish in its wake.

Does it all work?

Yes, not least in that these five pieces amount to a programme the sum of which is greater than its parts and which – given the relatively short playing-time – is best experienced as a whole. A tribute, then, to the resourcefulness of the composers as well as to Marshall-Luck, who renders each work with that combination of interpretative insight and technical finesse familiar from his performances and recordings of British music. More pieces for violin solo, or with piano accompaniment, would be worth encountering – maybe as a follow-up disc?

Is it recommended?

Indeed. The Faroes are a nexus of creativity within the European cultural framework, as this disc makes plain.

Readers can check out the Summartonar Festival of Contemporary Music here, and the TUTL website by clicking here

Stream

Buy

For more information on Rupert Marshall-Luck and on this release, visit his artist website

On record – Skempton: Man and Bat, Piano Concerto & The Moon is Flashing (First Hand Records)

Howard Skempton
Eternity’s Sunrise (2003)
The Moon is Flashing (2007, arr. 2018)
Piano Concerto (2015, arr. 2018)
Man and Bat (2017)

James Gilchrist (tenor, The Moon is Flashing); Roderick Williams (baritone, Man and Bat); Tim Horton (piano, Piano Concerto); Ensemble 360

First Hand Records FHR90 [70’25”]

English texts included
Producer Tim Oldham
Engineer Phil Rowlands

Recorded 20 July 2019 at Upper Chapel, Sheffield (Man and Bat), 5-7 February 2019 at All Saints’ Church, East Finchley, London (others)

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

A welcome addition to the recorded representation of Howard Skempton (b1947), including two pieces specially arranged by the composer for reduced forces and also two pieces written specifically for ensemble, all performed by artists closely associated with Skempton’s music.

What’s the music like?

Vocal writing has been a mainstay of Skempton’s in over recent years, the two largest pieces here setting poems by D.H. Lawrence. The term ‘setting’ is used advisedly, given Skempton’s approach is not one of expressive interpretation; rather one in which those individual words articulate a vocal line which, in its turn, articulates the instrumental writing so as to provide context.

Such is the premise on which Man and Bat operates – Lawrence’s highly descriptive, indeed discursive poem treated as a formal framework around which the ensemble unfolds a dialogue of constantly varying (not necessarily developing) motifs and phrases as provide an aural equivalent to what is being described. A not dissimilar approach is pursued in Snake, but here the musical treatment is audibly more static as befits a poem centred upon thought rather than action. This provides the concluding stage in a triptych preceded by a setting of Chris Newman’s self-deprecating A Day in 3 Wipes then, before it, the quizzical humour of Skempton’s own The Moon is Flashing which affords this diverse cycle its overall title.

The other two pieces are both instrumental, while being highly differentiated in themselves. Skempton has used generic titles only sparingly, his Piano Concerto predictable only in its avoidance of obvious models or precursors – the five movements (each lasting between two and four minutes) amounting to a series of vignettes in which the soloist variously combines with the ensemble, here a string quartet rather than string orchestra as originally conceived. Its title might suggest a natural piece with which to open, but Eternity’s Sunrise also makes for a persuasive rounding-off – a perfectly proportioned entity which amounts to a sequence of variations on an undulating theme apposite to the lines from William Blake that provided inspiration. Once again, Skempton’s writing is affecting through its sheer self-effacement.

Does it all work?

Very much so. From an output dominated by miniatures for the piano or accordion (his own instrument), Skempton has amassed a sizable and ever more varied catalogue from which the present release offers a judicious selection. It helps when the performances are so responsive to those qualities of emotional restraint and attention to detail that define the essence of this music. Roderick Williams and James Gilchrist can be relied upon for unforced insight, as too can the underrated pianist Tim Horton and the grouping of soloists which is Ensemble 360.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. Skempton now enjoys a substantial discography which features a number of releases devoted to his music (most notably those on the NMC label), to which should now be added this latest from the always enterprising First Hand Records. The sound has all the focus and detail necessary with this composer, whose succinctly informative notes on each piece are complemented by anecdotal observations from each of the soloists. Those who are new to Skempton will find this an ideal way into his compositional ethos, where little is as it seems.

Stream

Buy

For more information on this release and to purchase in multiple formats visit the Presto website

On record – Shostakovich: The Bedbug; Love and Hate (Naxos)

Shostakovich
The Bedbug Op.19 – complete incidental music (1929)
Love and Hate Op.38 – complete film-score (1935)

Mannheim Opera Chorus / Dani Juris; Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz / Mark Fitz-Gerald

Naxos 8.574100 [58’54”]

Russian transliterations and English translations included
Producer Roland Kistner
Engineer Bernd Nothnagel

Recorded 18-21 February 2019 at Philharmonie, Ludwigshafen, Germany

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Naxos continues its ground-breaking traversal of the film and theatre music by Shostakovich with this coupling of scores long unheard as originally conceived, thanks in part to the work of Mark Fitz-Gerald in having reconstructed these from extant sketches and soundtracks.

What’s the music like?

Shostakovich’s earliest theatre score was for The Bedbug, a scatological comedy by the ill-fated Vladimir Mayakovsky whose two parts were set in the then-present and 50 years later in 1979. The main items include several astringent dance numbers audibly akin to Stravinsky and Weill, while others were recycled for later dramatic projects (most notably the Wedding Scene [track 6] which soon became the Overture to Erwin Dressel’s opera Armer Columbus), with resourceful usage of such instruments as saxophone, mandolin and musical-saw. An air of sardonic detachment pervades this music which doubtless contributed to the production’s brief theatrical run and its subsequent oblivion, but the confidence and panache with which Shostakovich acquits himself can hardly be gainsaid. Although the parodying of such Soviet archetypes as firemen and pioneers soon became taboo in a Soviet Union beholden to Stalin, the experience gained served the composer well in subsequent ballets and revues, so making the present score a significant harbinger for what was to follow over the ensuing five years.

That said, it is the score for Love and Hate that leaves the stronger impression here. Directed by Albert Gendelshtein, this one of several films resulting from Soviet-German cooperation in the interwar period and which ceased in 1937 when the gulf between Stalin’s and Hitler’s ‘socialism’ became unbridgeable. In its quirkily compelling amalgam of post-expressionist and socio-realist elements, this film is more than mere historical curio – as Shostakovich’s music makes plain in an expressive directness evident from the outset. Most notable in this respect is the song How Long Will My Heart Ache and Moan?, initially allotted to mezzo and female chorus [track 19], and a series of searchingly descriptive pieces as culminates in the surging intensity of The Funeral [track 33]. It is at such junctures that the more elegiac aspect of the Fifth Symphony (two years hence) comes into focus, making one regret that no suite was previously compiled. Maybe this will now prove possible given the score’s timely availability, so enabling a vital link in its composer’s evolution to be properly appreciated.

Does it all work?

Yes, not least owing to the insight of Fitz-Gerald’s realizations with regard to those missing or fragmentary sections – where he captures the Shostakovich spirit in full measure – as also to the commitment of the Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz in realizing the often wilful while always arresting nature of the composer’s inspirations. Forward but not unduly immediate sound, with extensive annotations by Fitz-Gerald, musicologist Gerard McBurney and Soviet cinema authority John Leman Riley, further enhance the attractions of this release.

Is it recommended?

Indeed, and it is to be hoped Fitz-Gerald will be continuing his exploration of this one facet of Shostakovich’s output as is still inadequately covered in terms of publication or recording. Several of the composer film and theatre scores from the 1930s still await such rehabilitation.

Stream

Buy

For more information on this release and to purchase in multiple formats visit the Naxos website, with an article on the recording here