On record – Persian Autumn: Mary Dullea plays piano music by Farhat and Tafreshipour (Métier)

Mary Dullea (piano)

Farhat
Toccata (1952)
Piano Sonata no.1 (1955-7)
Piano Sonata no.2 (2010)
Tafreshipour
Yasna (1999)
Pendar (2013)
Shabahang (2017)
Celebration at Pasargadae (2006)

Métier MSV28610  [72’32”]

Producers Adaq Khan, Amir Mahyar

Recorded 20-21 December 2019 at Menuhin Hall, Cobham

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

The always enterprising Mary Dullea releases an album of piano music by Iranian composers of the older and middle generations, both having been acclaimed on either side of the Atlantic for their highly contrasted yet equally imaginative amalgam of Eastern and Western sources.

What’s the music like?

Hormoz Farhat (b1928) received his musical education in the USA and has resided in Ireland over four decades. Composing in all the main genres, he has also researched extensively into the Persian modal system, whose influence is evident throughout those works of his maturity.

Premiered by pianist and composer Alexander Tcherepnin, Toccata is among Furhat’s earliest acknowledged works – its alternating declamatory and ruminative manner resulting in music whose virtuosity gained widespread attention. Furhat was fortunate in his exponents, the First Piano Sonata being premiered and advocated by his teacher Lukas Foss – doubtless attracted by its formal rigour and tensile emotional trajectory. A restive opening Allegretto is followed by a subdued if hardly serene Adagio then a Moderato that quizzically elides between scherzo and intermezzo, before the final Rondo draws on motivic elements from earlier movements in its oblique while purposeful course toward the peremptory close. Coming over a half-century later, the Second Piano Sonata is more expansive but never unfocussed in its conception. The initial Allegretto outlines without articulating a sonata design, in what feels closer to a freely unfolding fantasia, then the central Largo yields an improvisatory and often confessional aura, countered by the final Animato in waves of tension and release on the way to a pensive close.

Having pursued musical studies in Esbjerg and London, Amir Mahyar Tafreshipour (b1974) has written a significant amount of chamber and instrumental music – as well as the first harp concerto by an Iranian composer. Recently, he has turned his attention to the operatic domain.

The four pieces recorded here attest to their composer’s acute sense of evocation and formal cohesion. Yasna refers to the Zoroastrian act of worship over an intensifying span as is both hieratic and incantatory, while Pendar – a term implying ‘thought’ and which is also the title of a series of pieces for solo instruments – unfolds as though a stream of consciousness that plays on listeners’ expectations in numerous and intriguing ways. Its title meaning ‘nocturne’, Shabahang was inspired by the crashing of waves against the coasts of the west of Ireland as also the south-east of Iran; its encroaching remoteness finding contrast with the often festive spirit, tempered by more contemplative aspects, of Celebration at Pasargadae – whose outer sections finding this composer at his most emotionally outgoing and uninhibitedly virtuosic.

Does it all work?

Yes, given the highly differentiated yet inherently personal manner by which both composers channel aspects of their heritage via overtly if never inflexibly European means. It helps that Dullea is so attuned to the musical idioms of these composers as also their technical demands.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. Sound is a little hard in more forceful or energetic passages, while remaining clear and well balanced throughout. Notes on each of these pieces are succinct but informative, and this is music which inquiring listeners and pianists alike should certainly find worth investigation.

Listen & Buy

You can get more information on the disc at the Divine Art website, where you can also purchase the recording. Meanwhile for more information on Amir Mahyar Tafreshipour, head to the composer’s website. For more on Mary Dullea click here

Switched On – Ralph Kinsella: Lessening (8D Industries)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

If you are a home producer you will immediately relate to the thoughts behind Ralph Kinsella’s debut album Lessening. Kinsella refers to ‘the poetics of the bedroom’, capturing the intimacy of our most private room for listening to and creating music.

The confined space is the stimulus for the ten tracks of Lessening, all recorded through lockdown in Kinsella’s Dumfries and Galloway. He talks of ‘the boondocks, interspersed with fragments of debris and flickering housing scheme street lights.’

What’s the music like?

Lessening is a set of ten tableaus with varying degrees of ambience and animation. Kinsella’s guitar is the main instrument, but he uses it sensitively among more ambient effects that often give a much bigger sound picture.

The subtly varied guitar sounds provide close up attention to detail or far off wisps of colour, and when the two elements come together, as they do in The Angel Of Raasay, the listener has the feeling of becoming airborne, especially with the ambient surrounds on headphones. That feeling is heightened on In The In-Between Light, where the music soars overhead on a bank of slowly changing effects, panning out to even wider vistas.

On the darker side the slow moving Suffuse has a similarly wide picture to go with its brooding harmonic backdrop, while the expansive Lung Noise, the album’s emotional centre, is similarly introspective but has a lovely mixture of cloudy keyboards to complement the bowed instrument in the foreground.

The layers of white noise laced around T(h)reads work as a comforting blanket, an explicit suggestion of shoegaze acts such as Slowdive, while Born On The Cusp works well with widescreen reverberation. Conversely the studied ambience of Gallows Hill has beautiful details for the ear to focus in on, with intricately picked guitar and woozy atmospherics working together.

Does it all work?

It does, because the structure of Lessening is ideal, giving the music a natural ebb and flow. Kinsella creates a winning mixture of blurred forms and much more studied portraits, portraying both the intimacy of the bedroom where the music will have been made but also the Dumfries and Galloway vistas outside.

Is it recommended?

Very much so. Any lovers of 1990s shoegaze will find much to dive into here, but so will those admiring more recent, post-classical efforts from the likes of Nils Frahm or A Winged Victory For The Sullen. It will be interesting to see what Kinsella turns his guitar to next, for his form of localized ambience creates memorable images of both time and place.

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On record – Dario Salvi conducts Humperdinck: Music for the Stage (Naxos)

a Andrea Chudak (soprano); b Ruxandra Voda van der Plas (contralto); c Harrie van der Plas (tenor); d Robert Bennesh (organ); Malmö Opera Chorus and Orchestra / Dario Salvi

Humperdinck
Die Heirat wider Willen (1905) – Prelude to Act Two
Der Kaufmann von Venedig (1905) – Incidental Music (abce)
Das Wunder (1912) – Suite (arr. Lotter) (d)
Die Wallfahrt nach Kevlaar (1878) (acd)
Lysistrata (1908) – Incidental Music (e)

Naxos 8.574177 [73’27”] German texts can be found here: http://www.naxos.com/libretti/574177.htm

Producer / Engineer Sean Lewis

Recorded 13-17 August 2019 at Bengt Hall-salen, Malmö, Sweden

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Naxos continues its exploration into late-Romantic byways with this selection of theatre and choral works by Engelbert Humperdinck, presented so as to confirm a composer whose music more than makes up for what it might lack in overall individuality with expressive generosity.

What’s the music like?

The recent appearance of William Melton’s biography (Toccata Press) was of great value in conveying Humperdinck as a figure both selfless and humane; and a composer whose output reflects these qualities so that a personable and appealing musical idiom is always to the fore.

The selection gets underway with the Prelude to the second act of The Forced Marriage, after Alexandre Dumas, and the most likely among Humperdinck’s ‘forgotten’ operas to be worthy of revival. At least, the glowering intensity of this music set in the Bastille suggests as much.

Humperdinck contributed music to several productions by Max Reinhardt, with that for The Merchant of Venice running the gamut from very brief vocal or instrumental cues to such as a lilting Sarabande and a Procession of Masks which exude an engaging verve. The Casket Song draws a winsome response from female soloists and chorus, while the most extended item is an orchestral commentary on the text In such a night whose (not unduly) Wagnerian overtones and gently emergent rapture ought to secure more regular hearings in its own right.

Despite a lavish ‘multi-media’ premiere at Covent Garden, the sanctimonious scenario of the film The Miracle sealed its fate. Adolf Lotter’s suite deserves better – the evocative Prelude for organ leading into the lively Procession and Children’s Dance, then a festive ‘Banquet Scene’ finds contrast with the chaste Dance of the Nuns. A whimsical March of the Army is itself juxtaposed with the plangent Death Motif, before the Christmas Scene bestows a typically glowing atmosphere which the Finale to Act One builds to an eloquent apotheosis.

Much the earliest work, the cantata after Heine’s ballad The Pilgrimage to Kevlaar established Humperdinck’s reputation and is still occasionally revived – though not in the original version recorded here. If those swirling textures of the first section remind one that Humperdinck was soon to prove an invaluable amanuensis for Wagner, the central section renders the brunt of the narrative with considerable fervency, before the final section tempers the ostensibly tragic turn of events with a forceful reaffirmation of belief prior to its warmly consoling conclusion.

Finally, to incidental music for Aristophanes’ Lysistrata – comprising a perky Entr’acte for brass and woodwind, a vaunting Festal Procession that juxtaposes then combines male and female voices, then a Closing Song that elaborates its woodwind melodies to piquant effect.

Does it all work?

Yes, bearing in mind that Humperdinck never sought to impress his personality on the task at hand. Within its self-imposed limits, the theatre music is always suited to what is portrayed on stage, with the Heine setting among the most persuasive instances of a much-maligned genre.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. The various vocal and choral contributions have all the requisite limpidity and poise, while the Malmö Opera forces acquit themselves with verve and elegance under the capable guidance of Dario Salvi – whose efforts in raising the profile of this music compels respect.

Listen & Buy

You can get more information on the disc at the Capriccio website, or purchase from Naxos Direct. Meanwhile for more information on the recent Toccata Press book on Humperdinck, you can head to their website

Switched On – Twinkle3: Minor Planets (Marionette)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Minor Planets completes a trilogy spanning 15 years from Twinkle 3. The trio – Richard Scott, David Ross and Clive Bell – have a very open musical approach, which on this album allows influences from diverse sources such as Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and Stockhausen to be taken in, via some sounds of the Far East evoked by Bell’s shakuhachi. The press release for Minor Planets tells a vivid story, promising ‘aleatoric analogue sequencing, chamber-like acoustic improvisation and dub treatments’…which ‘become distilled into a district and emotive narrative that takes us on an exilharating hyperspace cruise to the outer reaches.’

What’s the music like?

Fluid, instinctive and never less than intriguing. Minor Planets captures the sense of emptiness outer space portrays, but also the elements of strangeness, discovery and wonder. From the strange ticking and slightly acidic electronics of Opik 2099 to the mysterious Ziziyu 26946, the textures constantly evolve and the dubby beats provide both comfort and on occasion edginess. The shanachi sounds rather wonderful when used on Soma 2815 and on Kallope 22, taking the listener far away.

Does it all work?

Yes, it does, though headphones are recommended to get the best sonic perspective. Minor Planets does indeed take the listener far from home on its nine very different excursions.

Is it recommended?

Definitely. Those with a mind for ambient music should seek this out, especially if they like a bit of exploration and experimentation at the same time.

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On record – Christopher Ward conducts Rott: Orchestral Works Vol.1 (Capriccio)

Gürzenich Orchester Köln / Christopher Ward

Rott
Overture to Hamlet (1876, compl. Schmidt)
Suite in E major (1878)
Prelude to Julius Cäsar (1877)
Prelude in E major (1876)
Suite in B flat major (1877)
Pastoral Prelude in F major (1877-80)

Capriccio C5408 [51’44”]

Producers Wolfram Nehls, Johannes Kernmayer
Engineer Thomas Bössl

Recorded 23-25 January 2020 at Studio Stolberger Strasse, Cologne

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Capriccio issues the first in what is (presumably) a two-volume survey of orchestral music by Hans Rott (1858-84), gathering up the extant or realizable shorter pieces from his regrettably brief yet highly eventful composing career, in what are assured and idiomatic performances.

What’s the music like?

The one premiere recording is of the Hamlet Overture, its orchestration broken off after some 35 bars yet with the overall draft sufficiently advanced to enable this completion by Johannes Volker Schmidt. The manuscript’s designation Prelude suggests this as the introduction to an operatic or choral work, but the absence of more concrete information makes it uncertain how far this piece shadows events in Shakespeare’s drama. As a concert overture, it unfolds purposefully enough and much the same might be said of the Julius Cäsar Prelude, given its anxious pivoting between the majestic and the intimate; informed by a Wagnerian approach to harmony and sonority no doubt occasioned by Rott’s attending the first Bayreuth Festival.

Most of these other items were composition exercises while Rott was studying at the Vienna Conservatoire, with the concise Prelude in E evincing no mean emotional fervour. The brace of movements in each of the suites find the composer in more relaxed mood. Those of the E major feature a Prelude of eloquent restraint then a Finale whose rather greater variety of mood and dramatic culmination are altogether more prophetic. Those of the B flat feature a Scherzo whose capering motion and deft irony are rather more personable than a Finale that seems intent on building a fugal peroration, only to call time on its progress with an all too perfunctory closing cadence – as to suggest the composer was losing interest as he went on.

Last but emphatically not least, the Pastoral Prelude in F is by far the longest work and the clearest indicator of where Rott might have been headed during that fateful year of 1880. Its subtitle, A Prelude to Elsbeth, again suggests theatrical connotations that were most likely abandoned during the three years over which this piece took shape. The initial stages, with their avian evocations and horn calls, afford a distinctive take on late-Romantic archetypes, while the discursive yet never unfocussed progress towards a powerful apotheosis confirms its composer’s fugal proficiency. It may have had to wait 120 years for its first hearing but this, along with his Symphony, makes clear just what was lost with Rott’s untimely demise.

Does it all work?

Yes, though it needs to be stressed that nothing quite equals the vaunting if reckless ambition evident from the Symphony in E, the defining work (however unintentional) of Rott’s output. It would be fascinating to have heard Mahler’s attempts at orchestral music from this period, while Hugo Wolf’s early orchestral pieces exude rather greater individuality. What cannot be denied is the seriousness with which Rott applies himself, or the commitment with which the Gürzenich forces realize his intentions under the sympathetic guidance of Christopher Ward.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. These pieces have almost always appeared as fill-ups for Rott’s Symphony, making their collation here the more welcome. Excellent sound, decent annotations, and a release to be investigated in advance of the second instalment – already announced for early next year.

Listen & Buy

You can get more information on the disc at the Capriccio website, or purchase from Presto. Meanwhile for more information on Hans Rott, you can head to a dedicated website