On record: Mark Bebbington, RPO / Jan Latham-Koenig – Grieg & Delius: Piano Concertos (Somm)

Mark Bebbington (piano), Irene Loh (piano duet), Royal Philharmonic Orchestra / Jan Latham-Koenig

Delius
Piano Concerto in C minor (final version) (1907)
3 Preludes (1921)
On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring (arr. by Peter Warlock for two pianos, 1913)
Grieg
Piano Concerto in A minor Op.16 (1869)
Sketches for Piano Concerto no.2 in B minor (1881) (edited / orchestrated Robert Matthew-Walker

Avie SOMMCD269 [74’59”]

Recorded 1-2 August 2017 (Grieg) and 22 October (Delius)

Producers Siva Oke (Grieg), Paul Arden-Taylor (Delius)

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Mark Bebbington continues his recording schedule for Somm with this enterprising coupling of concertos by Grieg and Delius, heard alongside shorter pieces and an unexpected novelty.

What’s the music like?

The novelty is the extant sketches for a ‘second piano concerto’ on which Grieg worked in the early 1880s, and which amount to some 150 bars. Robert Matthew-Walker has put these into performable shape, but it cannot be pretended the outcome is of more than passing interest. Bebbington also renders the sketches as a solo item and this might prove viable in terms of a recital addition or encore.

There are good things in his account of the A minor Concerto, the limpid interplay between soloist and orchestra in the central Adagio or raptness of response to the finale’s central episode with its ineffable flute melody, but the first movement is for the most part earthbound and the work’s apotheosis not free from bathos. Bebbington plays with scrupulous regard for dynamic nuance and timbral subtlety though, as in his recent account of the Gershwin concerto (SOMM260), the performance feels conscientious rather than inspired.

Fortunately. the remainder of this disc is far more persuasive. Heard here in its final version, Delius‘s Piano Concerto is a three-movements-in-one design whose occasional awkwardness of transition and tendency to rhetorical overkill is more than outweighed by the resourceful evolution of its ideas and the allure of its melodic contours. Bebbington duly responds with playing of sensitivity and panache, reinforcing the not inconsiderable claims of this work to a place in the standard repertoire.

Also featured here are the Three Preludes, their rhythmic vitality and improvisatory freedom more than usually in evidence, and a duet transcription by the teenage Peter Warlock (aka Philip Helseltine) of On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring that is alone worth the price of the disc: its ruminative vistas deftly and unerringly uncovered.

Does it all work?

For the most part. Bebbington is up against several decades of stiff competition in the Grieg, and his reading does not offer any great revelations. The Delius, however, is arguably a front runner for this final version, while the fill-ups are of similarly high quality.

Is it recommended?

With reservations. The playing of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Jan Latham-Koenig is never less than responsive, with Irene Loh an able partner in the Delius. Sound is spacious if a little too resonant in tutti passages, and Matthew-Walker’s notes are a model of informed insight.

Further listening

You can listen to this new release on Spotify:

Further reading

You can read more about the release on the Somm Recordings website

On record: Briggs Piano Trio – Hans Gál & Shostakovich: Piano Trios (Avie)

Briggs Piano Trio [David Juritz (violin), Kenneth Woods (cello), Sarah Beth Briggs (piano)]

Gál
Piano Trio in E major Op.18 (1923)
Variations über eine Wiener Heurigenmelodie Op.9 (1914)
Shostakovich
Piano Trio no. 2 in E minor Op.67 (1943)

Avie AV2390 [63’05”]

Recorded 11-13 March 2018 at Wyastone Leys, Monmouth
Producer/Engineer Simon Fox

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

The reappraisal of Hans Gál (1890-1987) continues with his music for piano trio, performed by musicians who have been consistent advocates of the Austrian-born Scottish composer.

What’s the music like?

Both of Gal’s contributions emerged relatively early in his career, when he fast establishing a reputation in his native Vienna as composer and teacher. The Piano Trio is typical in terms of the subtle ingenuity Gál brings to this deceptively orthodox structure. Thus, the Tranquillo opening of the first movement alternates with faster material such that its underlying sonata design becomes cumulative in its formal cohesion. There follows a propulsive scherzo, itself contrasted with an insinuating trio, then a finale whose eloquent theme initiates a series of variations which deftly extends the music’s expressive range on the way to a headlong coda.

Lighter in tone, the Variations on a Viennese ‘Heurigen’ Melody itself wrests a surprisingly varied sequence from a ‘street tune’ whose evidently unprintable text is wittily evoked here.

It was almost inevitable, even so, that Gál’s works should be outfaced by the Second Piano Trio of Shostakovich. Inscribed to the memory of the composer’s friend and confidante Ivan Sollertinsky and inspired by reports of atrocities committed during the Nazi invasion, this may also have been influenced by his recent friendship with Mieczysław Weinberg in its drawing on Jewish folk inflections – particularly in a finale whose ‘dance of death’ material creates an inexorable momentum that is powerfully in evidence here. Nor is there any lack of conviction in the first movement’s gradual intensifying of motion, the scherzo’s sardonic gaiety then the Largo’s simmering pathos in this most direct of Shostakovich passacaglias. The work’s closing bars, too, are all of a piece with what before in their fateful resignation.

Does it all work?

Indeed. The Briggs Piano Trio is an excellent ensemble, and as at home with the methodical elaboration of the Gal as it is with the more intuitive unfolding of the Shostakovich. Earlier recordings of the former are outclassed by this new version, while that of the latter can rank among the finest of recent years. It helps that the sound has a combination of spaciousness and immediacy ideal for this difficult medium, with Kenneth Woods‘s own notes providing a succinct though informed overview to help set these pieces within their rightful context.

Is it recommended?

Very much so. If neither Gál work represents his earlier music at its finest (for which turn to his first two string quartets or the Second Symphony) they offer rewards aplenty, while the Shostakovich is a version to reckon with. Further releases by this group are keenly awaited.

Further listening

You can listen to this new release on Spotify:

Further reading

You can read more about the release on the Avie website, while the video below gives a preview of the disc:

On record: FRAME – The Journey (Glacial Movements)

Reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

The Journey is a set of ten soundscapes focusing on silence. Silence is of course as integral a part of music as the notes themselves, and FRAME – a project started in the 1990s by Eugenio Vatta and Andrea Benedetti – illustrate that beautifully here.

All of the music on this hour-long album is written by Vatta, and is in effect a compilation with Benedetti of FRAME live shows, where their music has followed the evolution of a movie. Their principle is that the album should focus on silence in space, and it does so in ten parts, each named after a planet of the solar system.

What’s the music like?

The idea of music focusing on silence might seem contradictory, but what it does here is focus the mind on the smallest of changes to the overall sound, if you’re listening closely – or, if you’re using the music more in the background, allowing it to evolve without any expectations or pressure. So it is that textures change slowly, like a slow moving body, with long held notes and textures that project an enormous sense of space.

Like Holst, Frame move through the planets in order of distance from the sun – unlike Holst they progress at a sedentary rate, with no surprises but cool, starlit textures to dive into on the way. Also unlike Holst, there is a section for ‘Earth’, so the listener can effectively take the role of a spacecraft flying past. It is mostly calming but there are moments of disquiet near the centre when discords and an insistent lower range tone make the ears retreat on instinct. ‘Mars’ is also a polar opposite, less the god of war than the owner of a very thick sonic blanket. It’s lovely.

‘Jupiter’ has a lot more of the action, as though our craft is passing close enough to get caught up in some of the vast winds that dominate the planet’s weather. ‘Saturn’ is genuinely unsettling, a short piece whose sudden movements of pitch are difficult to comprehend after the serene journey so far. ‘Neptune’ is majestic, a really strong linear wall of harmony. After some more turbulence in Pluto and Charon the arrival is consonant harmony, and represents a natural point of rest.

Does it all work?

Yes, providing ‘The Journey’ is experienced in the right environment. As an aid for busy situations such as commuting it works really well, or as a meditative hour for the brain to zone out. The cool textures are easy on the ear, but while ambience is the key there is a deeply intense heart to this music.

All these components are typical of a Glacial Movements release, with a whole that operates in an ambient space but can be put to meaningful foreground use also.

Is it recommended?

Yes. FRAME’s music takes the listener far from their own shores, immersing them in a wide open world of slow moving beauty.

Further listening

You can listen to The Journey on Spotify below:

Meanwhile the album is available from the Glacial Movements Bandcamp page, where the label’s consistently rewarding catalogue can also be explored.

On record: Julia Kent – Temporal (The Leaf Label)

Reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Canadian cellist-composer Julia Kent turns to expressive dance for inspiration on her fifth album Temporal. Much of the music here has its origins in the theatre, and looks for a more organic approach than the relatively confrontational Asperities, her previous album for The Leaf Label in 2015.

What’s the music like?

In a word, emotional. The cello has properties unlike any other instrument, an ability to function as bass, harmony or treble – and all combine here to heart-melting effect. Kent uses the distinctive timbres of the instrument’s ‘open’ strings to create a mood in Last Hour Story, the expansive opening piece, but when the bass drops the full range of sound is fully revealed.

The music does indeed dance, often slowly – but the cello takes the lead with probing melodies from its rich tones. The use of subtle vocal effects around the edges only enhances the human connection. While Imbalance uses more electronics, with a fluttering figure from what sounds like a hi-hat, it cuts to the wide open Conditional Futures, a glorious sonic panorama.

When other instruments do appear, such as the soft piano in Crepuscolo, they are at a respectful distance, the cello kept as the foreground ‘lead’.

Does it all work?

Absolutely. Julia Kent knows intimately the potential of a cello not just to sing but also to provide harmonic substance and rhythmic impetus. All elements come together beautifully here.

Is it recommended?

Very much so. Temporal represents a good way in to Julia Kent’s music but is also a natural pinnacle of her work so far. It repays both foreground and background listening, though the former is encouraged so you can get the extent of the intricacies in and around her cello. Once heard a few times, Temporal will become a permanent fixture.

Further listening

You can listen to Temporal below:

Meanwhile Julia has contributed a cello-themed playlist to Arcana which you can listen to here:

On record: Orchestre National de Lille / Jean-Claude Casadesus – Dutilleux: Symphony no.1, Métaboles & Les Citations (Naxos)

Cyril Ciabaud (oboe), Kasia Tomczak-Feltrin (harpsichord), Mathieu Petit (double-bass), Romain Robine (percussion) (all Les Citations), Orchestre National de Lille / Jean-Claude Casadesus

Dutilleux
Symphony No. 1 (1951)
Métaboles (1964)
Les Citations (1985/90)

Naxos 8.573746 [61’27”]

Recorded 18-21 July 2016 at Auditorium de Nouveau Siecle, Lille
Producer/Engineer Phil Rowlands

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Jean-Claude Casadesus marks his four-decade tenure at the helm of the Orchestre National de Lille with this disc of Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013), with whose music he has been associated across his conducting career and whose current status he has played no small part in securing.

What’s the music like?

Numerous listeners will have come to know Dutilleux’s First Symphony through a recording Casadesus made with his Lille forces in 1977 (released on LP by Forlane in 1984 then on CD by Erato as part of its five-disc compendium in 2014).

The present account offers no radical reassessment; rather an intensifying of what was already a taut and involving take on a work which channels elements drawn from Roussel and Honegger into a distinctive if not yet fully characteristic statement. Thus, the stealthy Passacaille and incisive Scherzo now comprise an unbroken and cumulative continuity; the ensuing Intermezzo exuding calm though little repose prior to a Finale whose variations on its bracing initial chorale unfold eventfully yet purposefully to a hushed close. Rarely has this piece evinced greater cohesion or conviction.

One of George Szell‘s selective though influential commissions for the Cleveland Orchestra, Métaboles is a linked sequence of five pieces which combine the formal logic of a symphony with the expressive immediacy of a concerto for orchestra. Casadesus places emphasis firmly on the former quality, there is assuredly no lack of impetus as he steers these musicians from the striking Incantoire, through the rapturous Lineaire then impetuous Obsessionnel and alluring Torpide, to the energetic Flamboyant which makes for a scintillating apotheosis.

Les Citations is a diptych that alludes to Britten, Mannequin and Jehan Alain over its succinct yet highly unpredictable course; in scoring which evokes the French baroque and Debussy’s revitalising of it in terms at once authentic and capricious – as this fine reading makes plain.

Does it all work?

Absolutely. Dutilleux may have come to international prominence well before his death, but there remains something innately French about both his music’s content and its sound-world, as these readings confirm. A conductor who has never sought worldwide acclaim, Casadesus has choosing to hone his repertoire and musicianship from a long-term location, so explaining the tangible chemistry and unanimity of purpose that exists between him and the Lille players.

Is it recommended?

Indeed, especially as the recording offers a near-ideal combination of detail and perspective, and the booklet notes a sure knowledge of this composer’s idiom. Anyone new to Dutilleux now has a range of options, with this new release as good a starting-point as any available.

Further listening

You can listen to this new release on Spotify:

Further reading

You can read more about the release on the Naxos website, while the video below gives a generous glimpse of the equally desirable recording these forces have made of the Second Symphony: