Keith Tippett Octet at the London Jazz Festival

Keith Tippett Octet [Keith Tippett (piano/composition, above); Fulvio Sigurta (trumpet/flugelhorn), Jim Gold (alto and soprano saxophones), Paul Booth (alto saxophone/flute), Kieran McLeod and Rob Harvey, trombones; Tom McCredie, double bass; Peter Fairclough, drums/percussion]

Guests: Matthew Bourne (piano), Julie Tippetts (voice/lyrics)

Hall One, Kings Place, London; Friday 10 November 2017

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

This year’s London Jazz Festival got off to an auspicious start with tonight’s contrasted sets featuring Keith Tippett, whose inimitable and always resourceful piano playing has graced many solo and collaborative projects over the course of nearly half a century’s active service.

Before the interval, Tippett was joined by Matthew Bourne (above) – himself a pianist who has built up a formidable reputation for essaying the unexpected – for a half-set in which these pianists engaged in what might passably be described as a ‘call and response’ session of far-reaching possibilities. The past century has seen a rich legacy of music for two pianos, and it was hard not to discern echoes of such seminal works – ‘classical’ in designation while not necessarily conception – as Debussy’s En blanc et noir and Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Monologe in the alternately stealthy and quixotic interplay of these musicians.

Frequent recourse was made to the piano strings, whether directly or through ‘prepared’ means, and Tippett at one point took up a solitary maraca to set in motion a vibrant cross-rhythm in what was often complex and sometimes ominous music-making. Just whether this set had reached its intended conclusion seemed in doubt, to judge from Tippett’s regretful leave-taking of the keys, but there was no question as to the tensile power and momentum generated by these two consummate players.

After the interval, the Keith Tippett Octet assembled for a complete rendering of The Nine Dances of Patrick O’Gonogon – Tippett’s 2014 project made possible by crowdfunding and recorded at Real World Studios. Music this intricate and involving is as much the outcome of compositional planning as the real-time responsiveness of those realizing it, so the means in which the two aspects came together across these nine pieces was itself rewarding. Nor was there a loose or informal succession as the first three, then the subsequent two pieces played continuously; leaving those final four pieces to unfold as a natural and extended culmination where earlier elements were developed accordingly. The sequence amounted to a conspectus of invention and virtuosity such as might be expected from an opus with Tippett at the helm.

All the instrumentalists were allotted solos or at the very least spotlights, during which their different personalities (irrespective of instrument) came to the fore. Then followed what was billed as a ‘coda’, in which the penultimate The Dance Of Her Returning was reprised but with lyrics by Julie Tippetts (above) and sung with her customary understated eloquence. The octet played out with Tippett’s arrangement of the Irish traditional tune The Last Rose Of Summer – by turns pensive and plangent, and bringing to an end this memorable and affecting recital.

Further information can be found at Tippett’s website and at that of Discus Music

James Ehnes, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Chorus & Orchestra / Andrew Manze – Vaughan Williams’ ‘Sea Symphony’ & A Lark Ascending

James Ehnes (violin), Sarah Fox (soprano), Mark Stone (baritone), Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra / Andrew Manze (above)

David Matthews Norfolk March (2016)
Vaughan Williams The Lark Ascending (1914)
Hamish MacCunn Overture, The Land of the Mountain and the Flood (1887)
Vaughan Williams A Sea Symphony (Symphony No. 1) (1903-1909)

Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool; Thursday 9 November 2017

Written by Ben Hogwood

This live encounter with Vaughan WilliamsSymphony no.1 (A Sea Symphony) was an unforgettable experience. Under Andrew Manze the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra are working their way through a recorded cycle of the composer’s nine symphonies, and this performance was the only chance to catch the fruits of their labours in the live concert hall.

There was a last-minute change to the solo ranks, baritone Mark Stone replacing the indisposed Andrew Foster-Williams, but his voice was perfectly suited to the occasion. It was twinned with the ringing soprano of Sarah Fox, and the two dovetailed beautifully in the outer movements. One of many highlights of the performance was the nocturnal glint of the moon on the waves for the second movement, On The Beach At Night Alone, which was evocatively cast.

The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir – over 100strong in this performance – were on superb form, sharply rehearsed and clear in diction, meaning there was no need for the accompanying words. They found the swell of the waves with unerring confidence and passion. Manze clearly loves this music, and brought the Scherzo to a half with shattering precision before grasping the last movement’s ebb and flow to great satisfaction, making good sense of what can be a long movement in the wrong hands.

Prior to this we enjoyed another encounter with the raw elements through Hamish MacCunn’s overture, The Land of the Mountain and the Flood. A tuneful work, it was immediately appealing through the tasteful ornamentation of the Scotch snaps in the cellos’ melody at the start. The music blossomed under Manze’s direction, though could have been even more exuberant in its closing pages.

Perhaps this was because it followed a rapt and incredibly restful performance of Vaughan Williams’ A Lark Ascending, his famous response to the George Meredith poem of the same name. Under the spell of James Ehnes‘ violin, we climbed effortlessly into the sky, ending the ascent in barely audible song as the bird disappeared from earshot. It was proof that despite the ubiquity of the ‘Lark’, Vaughan Williams still holds the ability to stop the listener in their tracks.

The first item in the concert was deceptively named as David MatthewsNorfolk March. It was in fact a concert performance of Vaughan Williams’ Norfolk Rhapsody no.3, a piece lost in the wake of its first performance in 1906. Matthews however had a detailed programme note about the piece with which to work, describing its structure and folksong origins, and responded with a piece that was well above mere pastiche. In fact it proved a poignant reminder of the climate in which it was written, anticipating World War I in eight years’ time. There, alongside the cheery and resolute folk tunes, was uncertainty and barely concealed dread. Just over 100 years on it proved a timely reminder for many of those in the audience young and fortunate enough not to have experienced such times.

Further listening and reading

You can read in more detail about David Matthews’ Norfolk March here

Photos of Andrew Manze and James Ehnes (c) Benjamin Ealovega

Meanwhile a Spotify playlist with music from the concert (with the exception of the Matthews, which has not yet been recorded) can be accessed below:

Joanne Lunn, Hallé Orchestra / Ryan Wigglesworth – Mozart & Mahler

Joanne Lunn (soprano, above), Hallé Orchestra / Ryan Wigglesworth (conductor and piano)

Mozart Ch’io mi scordi di te, K505 (1786)
Mozart Symphony no.34 in C major, K338 (1780)
Mahler Symphony no.4 in G major (1892, 1899-1900, rev. 1901-10)

Bridgewater Hall, Manchester; Wednesday 8 November 2017

From 24 November you will be able to listen to a BBC Radio 3 broadcast of this programme – link to follow

Written by Ben Hogwood

This was a nicely programmed afternoon concert, an attractive set of pieces with a Viennese connection that could initially be seen as lightweight but which were anything but.

First up was an inventive choice, Mozart’s standalone concert aria Ch’io Mi Scordi De Te?, a tribute to the soprano Nancy Storace. Written for soprano with piano and reduced orchestral forces, the composer used a text attributed to Lorenzo Da Ponte, who wrote the libretto for Don Giovanni, The Marriage of Figaro and Così fan tutte. Joanne Lunn sang with great purity of tone, with her high notes particularly well-judged, while Ryan Wigglesworth (below) directed with sensitivity from the piano in the tender duet sections, where the orchestra felt like eavesdroppers.

This was followed by an extremely tasteful reading of Mozart’s Symphony no.34. This is a work that doesn’t get to poke its head above the parapet as much as its neighbouring ‘named’ symphonies in the composer’s output such as the Haffner and Linz. Wigglesworth chose his speeds well, so that the lovely Viennese textures were just the right density for Mozart’s lighter (but not lightweight) melodies. The energetic Hallé strings went well with the more graceful woodwind, particularly in the joyful finale, while the serene slow movement was also a highlight.

Mahler’s Symphony no.4 is, on face value, his most ‘classical’, following traditions established by Schubert and the like, innovatively adding a soprano for the final movement, a child’s vision of heaven. Wigglesworth’s interpretation was carefully thought out and extremely well played, the woodwind of the Hallé rising to the considerable challenges posed by this deceptively difficult symphony.

On the surface, the Fourth is grace and charm personified, but the cracks often show in the music, the lower you go in the orchestra. The first movement was crisp and clear, a bright outdoors scene beautifully painted, but a chill shadow was cast in the second movement thanks to leader Paul Barritt’s solo contribution on a specially tuned violin, not to mention those ominous rumblings in the bass. The slow movement had a beautiful serenity but the feeling of slight unease persisted, quelled briefly by a magnificent evocation of the gates of heaven, Wigglesworth securing rich, bright colours from the orchestra.

Lunn returned to the stage for the child’s vision of heaven, a radiant encounter but with the macabre orchestral elements present and correct. Wigglesworth consistently found the delicacy of Mahler’s scoring, as well as the ghoulish apparitions that are never far from the surface of this enchanting piece.

While this concert is not yet available online, you can listen to a Spotify playlist of the works performed below:

Alina Ibragimova & Il Pomo d’Oro – Michael Haydn & Mendelssohn at the Wigmore Hall

Alina Ibragimova (violin, above), Il Pomo d’Oro (below) / Frederico Guglielmo

Michael Haydn Violin Concerto in G major (c1757-64)
Mendelssohn String Symphony no.10 in B minor (1823)
Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in D minor (1822)

Wigmore Hall, London; Tuesday 7 November 2017

Written by Ben Hogwood

A relatively rare Tuesday lunchtime treat from the Wigmore Hall took the form of an hour of music from the late classical period from Il Pomo d’Oro, their concertmaster Federico Guglielmo and violinist Alina Ibragimova.

It would have been all too easy for them to program Mendelssohn’s much-loved Violin Concerto in E minor as the main work, but Ibragimova has a special affinity with a much earlier work in the same form. The Violin Concerto in D minor, accompanied by a smaller force of string orchestra, was written when the composer was just 13, and is a spiky, energetic piece channeling the spirit of C.P.E. Bach’s ‘Sturm und Drang’ period from the 1770s.

In this performance the notes fairly leapt from the page, with quick tempo choices demanding and receiving dextrous fingerwork from all the string players. Il Pomo d’Oro were an equal match for Ibragimova’s pyrotechnics, which were delivered with deceptive calm but communicated the passionate music within the fast movements. A sanguine slow movement offered sunnier, breezier climes before the energetic finale took a catchy tune and spun it so that Mendelssohn’s melodic invention stayed rooted in the mind long after the concert.

Providing a rather lovely contrast was the Violin Concerto in G major from Michael Haydn, Franz Joseph’s older brother. Often the poor musical relation of the family, he nonetheless wrote some fine works himself, particularly in the choral field, with memory recalling a fine Requiem performed relatively recently by the King’s Consort at the BBC Proms.

This performance at the Wigmore Hall was notable for its lively interplay and distinctive melodies, and the interactions between violinist and orchestra showed their mutual enjoyment of Haydn’s music, especially in the jaunty finale. Here Ibragimova took the lead, as she did in the aria-like slow movement, where the violin sang more graciously, ideal in the hall’s acoustic.

Between the two concertos we heard the String Symphony no.10 in B minor, another remarkable example of Mendelssohn’s promise as a teenager. This one was written a year after the Violin Concerto, and quite how a teenager could achieve such an assured standard with such substantial melodies remains a mystery! The language again is direct, as are all the minor key works from this period. Il Pomo d’Oro played with poise and guile, paying sensitive attention to their melodic phrasing through selective vibrato, led by Guglielmo. It helped define their colourful sound, a complete rebuff to those who might suggest ‘period instrument’ ensembles are lacking in subtlety and variation. Here we had those qualities in abundance, the best possible advocates for Mendelssohn’s well-spent youth!

Unfortunately this concert is not available online, but you can listen to clips of Alina Ibragimova’s recording of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concertos at the Hyperion website. Meanwhile a Spotify playlist including the works from this concert can be enjoyed below:

On record: Robin Walker: Orchestral Music (Toccata)

Walker Great Rock Is Dead; Odysseus on Ogygia; The Stone King; The Stone Maker

Novaya Rossiya Symphony Orchestra / Alexander Walker

Toccata Classics TOCC0283 58’13”

Producer Pavel Lavrenenkov Engineers Gennady Tarabantov and Alexander Karasev Recorded September 2nd-5th at Studio 5, Russian State TV and Radio Company Kultura, Moscow

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

Summary

The first disc devoted to the orchestral music of Robin Walker (b1953), whose idiom evolved over several decades before arriving at the singular and uncompromising music featured here, in what is another venture facilitated by the redoubtable Martin Anderson of Toccata Classics.

What’s the music like?

Readers with longer memories may recall certain pieces by Walker which attracted attention during the 1980s, not least the ensemble piece Dance/Still and the plangent Seven Last Words for electric guitar and percussion. Several of his chamber and instrumental works were issued by Riverrun Records (RVRCD66) at the turn of the century, yet anyone familiar with that disc will likely be surprised with what they find here. Interesting, too, that Walker (to judge by his website) is intent on covering his tracks, Ustvolskaya-like, regarding most of his earlier music.

Much the longest work is The Stone Maker, completed in 1995 after an eight-year gestation and described as a symphonic poem, though it could be assessed in terms of a one-movement symphony. The composer’s booklet note avoids any concrete programme, focussing instead on its modification of symphonic archetypes (notably Beethoven’s Fifth and Brahms’s First) in the light of his own aesthetic. This is worth bearing in mind because, unlike numerous of his contemporaries, Walker has not repudiated Modernism per se but reintegrated it into his highly individual take on the musical past. Tippett and Birtwistle are mentioned as guiding presences, and the more visceral passages of this work do indeed recall the latter composer (notably his Earth Dances), but there is equally a modally-inflected tonal underpinning such as sustains its 32 minutes with demonstrable purpose. No less striking are those stretches of more inward expression, notably that before the inexorable final build-up – while the tailing-off that ensues, and the suspenseful concluding bars are both realized with exquisite finesse.

None of the shorter pieces that emerged a decade on suggest a notable broadening or opening -out of Walker’s approach. The Stone King (2005) is another symphonic poem, though here the overall duration (barely a third of the earlier piece) militates against the emotional force shoe-horned into this music with its elemental ground-plan of equilibrium lost then regained. Great Rock is Dead (2007) is a funeral march inspired by the death of the composer’s father, implacable in its forward motion though any sense of emerging triumph is tenuous at best – not helped by the Bruckner-cum-Sibelius bathos of a coda that fails to convince. Best is the Prelude to Odysseus on Ogygia (2011), as adapted from the eponymous opera Walker wrote after 1995 and whose simmering intensity bodes well for this 90-minute ‘staged symphony’.

Does it all work?

Not always (as detailed above), but when it does come together this is impressive music – imbued with that sense of naturally accruing momentum which readily holds the attention. Anyone responsive to the tradition within which Walker is working needs to hear this disc.

Is it recommended?

Indeed, especially given these performances are so attuned to its essence. Alexander Walker secures a committed response from the Novaya Rossiya Symphony Orchestra, which is heard to advantage in a recorded ambience that amply brings out the filmic opulence of this music.
To listen to clips from this release and for further information visit the Toccata Classics website, while for more on Robin Walker you can visit the composer’s website