Playlist – Sound of Mind 6: Celebrating mothers

Today is a celebration of mothers.

My own mother Coralie passed on five years ago, but this is a chance to celebrate her musical influence (which I did in written form here)

Here is a selection of her own favourite music, from Mozart‘s Clarinet Quintet – which she studied at college – through to Sibelius, Spanish guitar music, which she had a real fondness for, and Sir Peter Maxwell DaviesFarewell to Stromness.

I’m sure you’ll agree there is music here to match the blue skies today brings here in the UK – and it offers a chance to celebrate our mothers, too. Happy listening.

Ben Hogwood

Playlist – Sound of Mind 3: Orchestral

Today’s playlist of music for the mind has an orchestral theme, which will hopefully bring you some colour if you’re stuck indoors.

This one features Aaron Copland‘s brightly-scored ballet music Appalachian Spring, the first movement of Rachmaninov‘s Second Piano Concerto, Elgar‘s Sospiri, shorter works by Grieg and Debussy, and Vaughan Williams‘ timeless Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis:

I hope you enjoy it – and stay tuned for some uplifting Friday vibes tomorrow!

Ben Hogwood

Wigmore Mondays – Daniel Müller-Schott & Annika Treutler: Dvořák, Webern & Franck

Daniel Müller-Schott (cello, above), Annika Treutler (piano, below)

Wigmore Hall, Monday 17 February 2020 (lunchtime)

You can listen to this concert on the BBC Sounds app here (opens in a new window)

Review and guide by Ben Hogwood

There is so much original music for cello and piano dating from the 19th century that there is a danger of feeling short changed in a concert when presented with music arranged from a different instrument. Yet such was the conviction with which Daniel Müller-Schott and Annike Treutler played these pieces that it was possible to forget those thoughts and enjoy the music, pure and simple.

It also showed just how flexible some of the original music is. Dvořák’s 4 Romantic Pieces began as works for string quartet but their songful nature gives them just as much expression in their better known arrangement for violin and piano, and then in Müller-Schott’s own arrangement here. The first piece, a Cavatina, is a lyrical treat (2:36), while the second has a comparatively stern expression (5:44), ending with imaginative use of harmonics from the cellist. The third and most lyrical of the four pieces (8:28) returns to the same key as the first, and is ideally suited to the cello’s range, while the fourth and longest piece (10:51) is more thoughtful and affecting.

It usually takes longer to write about Webern’s music than it does to perform – which is again the case here. Yet such is the compressed intensity of his writing that the Drei Kleine Stücke will have stuck in people’s memories, despite lasting less than 5 minutes. Webern wrote the three pieces at a particularly fraught time in 1914, and Daniel Müller-Schott’s probing tone communicates their strength of feeling. As did Annika Treutler’s timely interventions, lingering on the mysterious chords of the first (from 19:06) signing off the second piece abruptly (20:15) and then the two savouring the ghostly sonorities of the slow, stretched out notes of the third piece (20:42).

The Violin Sonata in A major is one of César Franck’s most enduring works. Brimming with good tunes, it has an air of spring about it, and its abundance of good feeling makes it a very popular concert piece – as it surely was in its first performance, at the wedding of legendary Belgian violinist and composer Ysaÿe. Although originally written for violin and piano Franck was fully aware of the potential of a version for cello, and specified it could be played as such. This was eventually realised with the help of French cellist Jules Delsart.

Because most of the melodies are an octave lower in pitch it means the sonata does not have quite such a sunny outlook in its cello arrangement – but it does bring out the red blooded Romanticism of the stormy second movement.

Before that, Müller-Schott and Treutler delight in the dreamy first movement, threading Franck’s thematic ideas together beautifully (from 24:11). The second movement, the most effective in the arrangement, powers forward with impressive momentum (30:15), the music flowing freely as Müller-Schott’s probing tone and intonation shine through. At the same time Treutler proves the ideal anchor, the two judging the tempo just right.

The third movement is a freeform recitative for cello with subtly voiced thoughts for the piano (38:22), and the pair’s instinctive feel for the music gives it just the right amount of room to breathe. The finale (46:17) is a masterful bit of writing, a canon where the cello part shadows the piano at a close distance almost constantly. There is little more to say here than simply to enjoy the music and Franck’s powers of invention in an ideal performance!

Repertoire

This concert contained the following music (with timings on the BBC Sounds broadcast in brackets):

Dvořák, arr Müller-Schott 4 Romantic Pieces Op.75 (1887) (2:36)
Webern Drei Kleine Stücke Op.11 (1914) (19:06)
Franck, arr. Desart Sonata in A major (1886) (24:11)

As an encore we had a nicely chosen Schumann treat, the first of 3 Fantasiestücke Op.73 (54:04). Like the Dvořák and Franck before it, this is a piece whose songful nature means it can be arranged for any number of instruments. The cello does just fine here though!

Further listening & viewing

The music from this concert can be heard in the playlist below, most of it recorded by Müller-Schott himself:

Beyond the Violin Sonata and Piano Quintet, very little of César Franck’s chamber music gets a regular airing. This playlist adds the String Quartet and Trio Concertant no.1, two substantial and major works that show off once again Franck’s talent for recycling and developing melodies:

On a very different tip are Webern’s works for chamber forces. Never one to overstay his welcome, he did nonetheless contribute some remarkable works in the smaller form, among them the Concerto for 9 instruments and four distilled pieces for violin and piano. They are included here as part of a disc that begins with the famous Symphony:

As well as writing large scale chamber works, Dvořák was able to put together much shorter pieces for the salon and light entertainment. The Cypresses for string quartet fall into this category, essentially working as songs without words:

Live review – Renaud Capuçon, CBSO / Anja Bihlmaier: Dvořák, Ravel, Chausson & Bizet

Renaud Capuçon (violin), City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Anja Bihlmaier

Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Wednesday 30 October 2019 (2.15pm)

Bizet arr. Hoffman Carmen Suite no.2 (1887)
Chausson Poeme Op.25 (1896)
Ravel Tzigane (1924)
Dvořák Symphony no.7 in D minor Op.70 (1885)

Written by Richard Whitehouse

This afternoon concert by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra brought a welcome appearance from German conductor Anja Bihlmaier, presiding over an unlikely yet appealing programme as juxtaposed French and Russian music of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Bizet‘s Carmen has maintained its hold on the operatic repertoire such that individual items are seldom encountered in concert other than as encores. As arranged by Fritz Hoffmann, this Second Suite astutely alternates entr’actes with vocal numbers. Thus the purposeful Marche des contrebandiers (akin to an offcut from Elgar’s Wand of Youth) precedes the smouldering Habanera, then a Nocturne which is Micaela’s third act aria with its vocal line transferred to violin and soulfully rendered by guest leader Tamas Kocsis. That of the evergreen Chanson du toreador is similarly heard on trumpet, which instrument is duly partnered by flutes in the infectious La garde montante, before wind instruments variously come to the fore during the Danse boheme which rounded off the present selection in appropriately exhilarating fashion.

Renaud Capuçon then joined the orchestra for an unlikely coupling of concertante pieces that is highly effective in concert. It may have been inspired by a Turgenev story, but Chausson‘s Poème is an autonomous entity whose rhapsodic impulses are balanced by formal rigour and an organic evolution as elides between the introspective and ecstatic – a trajectory conveyed with due eloquence by Capuçon, his fastidious tonal shading deftly reinforced by Bihlmaier’s nuanced direction. What is so often an elusive work left a powerful and enduring impression.

As, albeit in its rather more demonstrative way, did Ravel‘s Tzigane. Effectively the result of a bet with violinist Jelly d’Aranyi that this composer could come up with a rhapsody inspired by Hungarian gypsy music, the piece wears its Lisztian antecedents lightly while pointing the way toward the similarly conceived rhapsodies of Bartók. Capuçon teased out the high-drama of its unaccompanied initial section, then – with harpist Alma Klemm – made a breath-taking transition into its heady medley of gypsy-inflected themes prior to the rousing final flourish.

After the interval, Dvořák’s Seventh Symphony came almost as a corrective in its seriousness of purpose and powerful formal logic. Bihlmaier directed a performance as left no doubt as to such qualities, at its best in a thoughtful while never staid account of the slow movement – its brief yet elated climax ideally judged – then a scherzo whose underlying furiant rhythm was suffused with Brahmsian trenchancy (one reason this piece displeased the anti-Dvořák faction decades hence). Not that there was much lacking with the outer movements, though the coda of the initial Allegro was a little too deadpan for its ominousness fully to register, and that of the finale felt too reined-in emotionally; those granitic cadential chords marginally failing to clinch what is surely the most fatalistic of any major-key ending in the symphonic repertoire.

Even so, this was a finely realized account of a work as can all too often misfire. Bihlmaier will hopefully return before long: next week, the CBSO’s principal guest conductor Kazuki Yamada directs a performance of Mendelssohn‘s Elijah, premiered in this city 173 years ago.

Arcana at the Proms – Prom 61: Leonidas Kavakos, Vienna Philharmonic & Andrés Orozco-Estrada – Dvořák & Korngold

Prom 61: Leonidas Kavakos (violin), Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra / Andrés Orozco-Estrada

Dvořák The Noonday Witch Op.108 (1896)
Korngold Violin Concerto (1945)
Dvořák Symphony no.9 in E minor Op.95 ‘From The New World’ (1893)

Royal Albert Hall, Wednesday 4 September 2019

Reviewed by Ben Hogwood
Photo credits Chris Christodoulou

You can listen to this Prom on BBC Sounds here

If ever a piece of music could depict the passing of summer, Dvořák’s symphonic poem The Noonday Witch would make a good choice. Introduced to the Proms by Sir Henry Wood in its year of composition, 1896, it raised the curtain for the second Prom of the season from the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

There was charm aplenty in the opening pages of this late work, the mother and young son going about their domestic business with a sense of blissful routine, but as the witch of Karol Jaromir Erben’s folk tale appeared the mood grew decidedly chilly. Strings turned icy, woodwind soured and the brass sounded warning notes, telling us how everything was about to go very wrong indeed. The Viennese would not have been too familiar with this music, but it showed in a good way as Andrés Orozco-Estrada secured an insightful performance, the darker hues of the story coming to the fore with descriptive power.

The sun reappeared from behind the cloud for Korngold’s Violin Concerto, soloist Leonidas Kavakos taking us to the heights. The concerto begins with one of the composer’s top-drawer themes. Full of big screen occasion but tender enough to melt the heart, it reaches for a perfect melodic interval and deliberately falls just short, tugging at the heartstrings. That sense of yearning powers the first movement, in which the orchestra were a smooth partner for the ardent violinist. Kavakos possesses a sumptuous tone, even at quiet dynamics, though on occasion when he reached for the highest notes his tuning was just awry.

The second movement glittered with its Hollywood scoring, beautifully rendered by Orozco-Estrada, while Kavakos effortlessly hit the sweet spot with his part without cloying. The finale crackled with energy in response, the to and fro with the orchestra brilliantly judged and executed, before signing off with aplomb. In a daring encore Kavakos gave us Ruggiero Ricci’s arrangement of Tárrega’s most famous guitar piece Recuerdos de la Alhambra, performed with an admirable lack of fuss given the considerable physical challenges behind the scenes. Kavakos really is the swan of the violin, channelling the physicality of his playing into the most natural of styles.

After the interval, a fresh set of clothes for Dvořák’s beloved Symphony no.9, From The New World. It is easy to forget just how many good original tunes this symphony holds, the composer spoilt for choice as he moulds, develops and interweaves them. One of the first symphonies to make such prominent use of the pentatonic scale, it is a continued delight when presented to the audience fresh, and the lightness of touch often experienced here gave room to the melodies themselves.

The Largo was the undisputed highlight. Aided by a wonderful cor anglais solo from Wolfgang Plank, it was slightly faster but still found the time to breathe with its phrasing, pausing where necessary, and in the magical coda allowing the solo strings to come to the fore.

The first movement may have lacked a little drama but Orozco-Estrada was clearly enjoying the interplay between his outstanding wind section and the equally capable strings. Having recorded the piece with an American orchestra, the Houston Symphony, he knows the piece well enough to impose sensible phrasing and an attractive give and take on the tempo.

The third movement Scherzo was feather-light in its outer exchanges before the finale took the performance up a level, its first statements probing deeper and the unexpected discords near the end making themselves known, examples of Dvorak’s underappreciated daring with harmony.

After a rapturous curtain call we were given a Viennese encore in the shape of Josef Strauss’s Ohne Sorgen Polka-Schnell Op.271, where orchestra and audience enjoyed a call and response shout. It was slightly out of place with the concert’s mood but judging by the lasting smiles it left Orozco-Estrada had made the right call once again.