Playlist: Herbert Blomstedt at 95

by Ben Hogwood

To mark the 95th birthday of the great Swedish conductor Herbert Blomstedt on Monday just gone, Arcana has put together a playlist including a snapshot of some of his greatest and most enduring recordings.

They include the Fifth Symphony of Nielsen, part of a landmark cycle of the composer’s symphonies with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra for Decca. Blomstedt’s recordings with that orchestra in the 1990s were notable for their sonic prowess but left some critics cold; however on revisiting his Sibelius cycle, for instance, they stand up very well. The Third Symphony is included here, as is the first Peer Gynt Suite of Grieg.

Also in the 1990s came a trio of fascinating discs lending weight to the cause of Paul Hindemith. A disc of the Mathis der Maler Symphony, the Symphonic Metamorphoses and Trauermusik was to be expected, perhaps, but the follow-ups were even more valuable – a disc of the music for Nobilissima Visione, the Konzertmusik for Brass and Strings and Der Schwanendreher, and a pairing of the Symphonia Serena and symphony from the opera Die Harmonie der Welt, included here.

Blomstedt has more recently recorded a well-received Brahms cycle with the Leipzig Gewandhaus, though prior to that recorded a fine disc of the composer’s choral works in San Francisco. With the Gewandhaus, however, he has completed his most recent release, that of Schubert’s Unfinished and Great symphonies. The former is included here. Enjoy this selection of wonderful recordings!

In concert – Clare Hammond, CBSO / Michael Seal: Nielsen, Grieg & Sibelius

clare-hammond-grieg

Nielsen Helios Overture FS32 (1903)
Grieg
Piano Concerto in A minor Op. 16 (1868)
Sibelius
Symphony No. 1 in E minor Op. 39 (1898-9)

Clare Hammond (piano, above), City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Michael Seal

Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Wednesday 9 March 2022 (2.15pm)

Written by Richard Whitehouse

A Scandinavian programme this afternoon from the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, featuring music by the three most famous of this region’s composers (so no representation for Sweden), and presided over with his customary authority by CBSO’s associate conductor Michael Seal.

Unusual nowadays to have a programme consisting of overture, concerto and symphony – but Nielsen’s Helios is as fine a curtain-raiser as any, its ‘sunrise to sunset’ scenario captured with one of the most graphic crescendos and diminuendos in the literature. Seal ensured this gradual emergence, and its faster evanescence, were unerringly paced – the horns’ echoing sonorities enfolded into the orchestral texture; and if the intervening intermezzo and fugato rather tread water by comparison, their role within the formal scheme made for a cohesive overall entity.

Whether or not Grieg tired of hearing or at least playing his Piano Concerto, he would surely have appreciated Clare Hammond’s take on its solo part. The inedible opening gesture might have been less than usually arresting, but the opening movement proceeded methodically and often poetically so its structural seams were barely in evidence – culminating in a resourceful account of the cadenza with the composer’s motivic ingenuity much in evidence. Easy to pass off as a bland interlude, the Adagio had an appealing poise that opened into keen pathos at its height. Trenchant rather than impetuous, the outer sections of the finale were rarely less than engaging but it was the warm soulfulness at the centre that really struck home; its return for a triumphal apotheosis did not quite avoid portentousness, but it ensured a decisive conclusion.

A distinctive and, for the most part, convincing performance which Hammond followed with the caressing harmony of the eleventh from Szymanowski’s Op. 33 Etudes – music in marked contrast to the existential drama of Sibelius’s First Symphony which came after the interval.

The latter work’s emergence against a background of fraught self-determination has inevitably taken on far greater resonance during recent weeks, and it was to Seal’s credit that he played down any tendency to overt sentiment – rendering the first movement, its sombre introduction limpidly realized by Oliver Janes, as the striking and frequently innovative study in expressive contrasts it should be. Nor was there any lack of Tchaikovskian pathos in the Andante, whose whimsical passages were as vividly delineated as those eruptive outbursts towards its climax.

The ensuing Scherzo had the right rhythmic tensility and, in its central trio, enticing whimsy – but it was the Finale as set the seal on this performance. The ‘Quasi una fantasia’ marking can result in emotional overkill but Seal kept its prolix follow-through in focus at all times – whether with the anguished recall of the work’s initial theme, surging impetus of its swifter sections, or the heart-on-sleeve immediacy of its ‘big tune’; pervaded by an ambivalence to the fore in a peroration which (almost) avoided histrionics on the way to its fatalistic close.

A fine response from the CBSO, playing here with burnished eloquence and Matthew Hardy making the most of a timpani part that has structural as well as expressive significance. Few having heard it are likely to underestimate this work’s status in Sibelius’s symphonic output.

For more information on the CBSO’s current season, visit their website. Meanwhile for more information on the artists, click on the names to access the websites of Clare Hammond and Michael Seal

Wigmore Mondays – Marnis Petersen & Camillo Radicke: Anderswelt (The Otherworld)

Marnis Petersen (soprano, above), Camillo Radicke (piano, below)

Wigmore Hall, Monday 23 September 2019 (lunchtime)

You can listen to this concert on the BBC Sounds app here

Review and guide by Ben Hogwood

A song recital that was truly out of this world.

German coloratura soprano Marnis Petersen and pianist Camillo Radicke brought the concept of their most recent recording, Dimensionen: Anderswelt, to the Wigmore Hall for an hour of 20 songs by no fewer than 18 composers.

The description ‘coloratura soprano’ depicts a singer that specialises in an operatic style, often high in the register – and that fits the music in this extraordinary collection. Most of the songs – and a couple of the composers – will surely have been new even to the most devoted Wigmore Hall attendee, and as Petersen and Radicke threaded the links cleverly through sections entitled The Otherworld, Elves, Mermaids and Mermen and Northern Lights, they plotted a course from deepest Germany to northern Iceland.

To begin Petersen read a short passage before the first group of five songs. Hans Pfitzner’s Lockung (Temptation) (2:25), with its twinkling piano and entreating mermaids, beckoned us in to the first of the Elves sections. Here we found Reger depicting a ‘pert and wanton’ elf, to a suitably heady vocal from Petersen, then the first of three settings of Eichendorff’s Elfe poem from Bruno Walter (7:28).

Camillo Radicke was superb here, with the insistent trills high up in the piano’s register, over which Petersen floated beautifully. Julius Weismann’s setting of the same text (9:43) again opted for the high register, this time in an attractive triple time dance. Though written in the same year as the Walter, it felt considerably older – and transitioned nicely to Brahms, setting Heine’s seductive water nymph in Sommerabend (Summer evening) (11:21), which found Petersen’s vocal control in very fine shape.

The Mermaids and Mermen section, again five songs in length, had an intriguing juxtaposition of composers. Hans Sommer’s Lore im Nachen (Lore in the skiff) found Radicke catching the ‘shimmer in the evening gold’ on a tranquil lake, as Petersen again soared high in the register. Grieg’s Med en Vandlilje (With a water lily) (18:09) introduced a wary atmosphere with the lurking water sprite (18:09) before Carl Loewe, heard to such great effect in Benjamin Appl and Kristian Bezuidenhout’s recital the previous week, was at it again with the boldly descriptive Der Nöck (The nix) (20:46). The nix (Petersen) and its harp (Radicke) were both strikingly portrayed, and Petersen’s vocal was superb. Sinding’s Ich fürcht’ nit Gespenster (I fear no ghosts) (29:18) was also a striking song, appropriately ghoulish in its coda from Radicke after Petersen had confidently confronted her spectres. Finally we heard a pupil of Hindemith, Harald Genzmer, and the agitated Stimmen im Strom (Voices in the river) (31:32)

To another quintet of songs on Elves, beginning with the cheeky Elfenlied, Wolf’s subject humourously caught by Petersen, who sang into the piano as her subject staggered about having banged his head. Friedrich Gulda’s setting of Elfe – the third of the concert – was a collector’s item (37:34), the 16-year old intriguingly matching the other two in the high treble area for an impish setting. Carl Loewe’s second appearance was with the operatic Die Sylphide (39:20), Petersen’s voice again reaching sparkling heights. Franz Schreker’s Spuk (Spook) (41:42) felt like some of the most modern music here, flitting about with uncertainty and tension, while in a rare outing for the music of conductor-composer Hermann Zumpe, Liederseelen (Song-Souls) (43:58) was affectionately sung.

Petersen and Radicke saved the most adventurous part of their concert until last, with four songs from Scandinavia and Iceland. Ariels Sang (48:06) was a rapturous contribution from Nielsen, boldly delivered, before Sinding reappeared with Majnat (May night) (50:26), a more thoughtful affair. Swedish composer Stenhammar’s Fylgia (53:25) was fulsome and florid in its praise of the spirit, but Sigvaldi KaldalónsHamraborgin (Castle crags) (55:46) painted its subject with uncanny atmosphere, depicting the rarefied atmosphere of the Northern Lights. Petersen capped her vocal performance here with a stunning top ‘B’ at the end.

It was a great way to finish – though after Radio 3 had departed there was another gem in store courtesy of the Finnish composer Yrjö Kilpinen, and an encore of his song Berggeist.

This was a recital of great imagination and technical brilliance. As an introduction to the classical song it would present some challenges to the casual listener, but with the enchantment offered by Petersen and Radicke’s partnership it would prove difficult to resist. Those familiar with the world – or otherworld in this case – should dive right in, as there will definitely be something new!

Repertoire

Marnis Petersen and Camillo Radicke performed the following songs (with timings on the BBC Sounds broadcast in brackets):

The Otherworld

Pfitzner Lockung Op.7/4 (1888-9) (2:25)

Elves I

Reger Maiennacht Op.76/15 (1903-4) (5:23)
Walter Elfe (1910) (7:28)
Weismann Elfe Op.43/4 (1909-10) (9:43)
Brahms Sommerabend Op.85/1 (1878) (11:21)

Mermaids and Mermen

Sommer Lore im Nachen Op.13/1 (publ. 1891) (15:25)
Grieg Med en Vandlilje Op.25/4 (1876) (18:09)
Loewe Der Nöck Op.129/2 (1857) (20:46)
Sinding Ich fürcht’ nit Gespenster (1885) (25:42)
Genzmer Stimmen im Strom (1941) (31:32)

Elves II

Wolf Elfenlied (1888) (35:24)
Gulda Elfe (1946) (37:34)
Loewe Die Sylphide Op.9 (1837) (39:20)
Schreker Spuk Op.7/4 (1898-1900) (41:42)
Zumpe Liederseelen (publ. 1895) (43:58)

Northern Lights

Nielsen Ariels Sang (1916) (48:06)
Sinding Majnat Op.22/3 (1893) (50:26)
Stenhammar Fylgia Op.16/4 (1893-7) (53:25)
Kaldalóns Hamraborgin (c. 1910) (55:46)

Encore – Kilpinen Berggeist Op.99/3

Further listening

All the songs in this concert can be heard from Petersen and Radicke’s recording on the Spotify playlist below:

One of many possible further steps is Wings In The Night, a collection of Swedish songs from mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter and pianist Bengt Forsberg:

There are so many songs by Carl Loewe that it is difficult to know where you could start. Given his artistry, tenor Christoph Prégardien would seem to be a good bet, this album of songs recorded with pianist Cord Graben:

Live review – Christopher Maltman & CBSO / Michael Seal perform Mahler, Sibelius & Nielsen

Christopher Maltman (baritone), City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Michael Seal (above)

Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Wednesday 10 April 2019

Sibelius Symphony no.3 in C major Op.52 (1907)
Mahler Songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn
Nielsen Symphony no.5 FS97 (1922)

Written by Richard Whitehouse

Photo of Christopher Maltman (c) Pia Clodi

Michael Seal’s concerts as Associate Conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony are seldom without interest and tonight’s programme featured a typically bold juxtaposition of Nordic symphonies from the early twentieth century, alongside orchestral songs by Mahler.

Time was when Sibelius’s Symphony no.3 was overlooked even by his keenest advocates, but it has long since become a regular fixture and this account doubtless benefited from the CBSO’s lengthy association with the piece under Sir Simon Rattle and Sakari Oramo. That said, Seal had ideas of his own to impart – most evident with the gradually intensifying curve of momentum over the first movement’s development into the reprise, then close alignment of tempo between its successor’s diverse episodes and the lilting main theme so it elided deftly between slow movement and intermezzo. The finale was a slight disappointment – lacking that ominous mystery in its initial ‘scherzo’ phase, with the closing pages a little provisional in their affirmation – though there was no mistaking the unanimity of response on the way.

After the interval, Seal set a notably swift tempo for the first phase in the opening movement of Nielsen’s Fifth Symphony, though this was never at the expense of ongoing incident or the music’s questing ambivalence. The ensuing Adagio was eloquently projected, building to an apotheosis more powerful for Adrian Spillett’s bravura rendering of its side-drum cadenza – subsiding into a rapt though never somnolent coda where the receding presence of offstage side-drum was ideally offset by Oliver Janes’s limpid clarinet solo at the rear of the platform.

There was nothing anticlimactic about the second movement, its four-sections-in-one design itself amounting to a cohesive entity such as Seal recognized in his taut yet flexible handling of the initial Allegro – tapering away seamlessly into a Presto whose surging energy poses a challenge to ensemble that was confidently met here. The yearning polyphony of the Adagio was finely sustained by strings and woodwind, and if the notoriously tricky final pages felt a shade reined-in, their clinching of the tonal and emotional argument could hardly be gainsaid.

Between these imposing symphonies, a selection from Mahler’s song-sequence Des Knaben Wunderhorn. Christopher Maltman was the persuasive guide through their evocations of life in all its manifestations – beginning with the guileless exchanges of soldier and lover in Der Schwildwache Nachtlied (1892), before bringing a suave nonchalance to the ruminations of Rheinlegendchen (1893) then an ominous sense of dread from amid the sombre fanfares of Wo die schönen Trompeten bläsen (1898). A brief though pertinent interlude was provided by the droll moralizing of Lob des hohen Verstandes (1896), then the selection was rounded off by the stark processional of Der Tamboursg’sell (1901) with its anticipations of the Fifth Symphony then in progress. Maltman once again proved a sensitive and insightful exponent.

Throughout the selection, Seal drew playing of refinement and finesse from the CBSO which seems never to have given this sequence as an integral whole. The orchestra will, however, be returning to Mahler with Ilan Volkov when they perform the Ninth Symphony on April 23rd.

For further information on the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra’s 2018-19 season click here You can read about the forthcoming Mahler Ninth Symphony concert here

Further listening

Unfortunately the concert was not recorded for broadcast, but you can hear a playlist of the pieces heard on Spotify below on leading versions:

On record: The Waldegrave Ensemble – Matthew Taylor: Chamber Music Vol.3 – Music for Winds (Toccata)

Taylor Chamber Music, Volume Three: Music for Winds

The Waldegrave Ensemble and friends

Introduction and Capriccio op.7 (1990)
Trio in memoriam VH op.21 (1997/2018)
Serenata Trionfale op.34 (2005)
Wind Quintet op.51 (2014-15)
Skål! (2004)

Toccata Classics TOCC0486 [54’16”]

Producer/Engineer Michael Whight
Recorded July 20-21 at Trinity United Reformed Church, Wimbledon; Trio recorded March 3 2018 at St Barnabas, Mitcham

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

A further disc from Toccata Classics of Matthew Taylor (b. 1964) focussing on his not inconsiderable output for wind ensemble, played by musicians who have worked with this composer on numerous occasions and have a sure understanding of his unmistakable idiom.

What’s the music like?

Most substantial in actual content are the two pieces for wind octet. Among Taylor’s earliest acknowledged works, Introduction and Capriccio comprises an opening section that exudes an ominous expectancy, duly offset by the main section which, with its vaunting motion and ever more demonstrative exchanges, provides a succinct yet eventful showcase for what is still a largely untried medium. Any stylistic uncertainty has been ironed out by the time of Serenata Trionfale, a companion piece to Nielsen’s Serenata in vano and proffering a rather different scenario from its deadpan stoicism. Formally Taylor’s work unfolds in deceptively Classical fashion from the alluring harmonies and unforced motion of its initial Andante, via the impetuous exchanges (not a little Tippett-like) of its scherzo then the more nuanced and often speculative dialogue of its intermezzo, to a finale whose bewitching introduction from offstage oboe is succeeded by a Presto which drives forward to its suitably uproarious close – the taciturn protagonist having in this instance been purposefully and successfully wooed.

Mention of Nielsen is a reminder his Wind Quintet remains unequalled in this genre. Taylor plays oblique tribute to in with Skål!, a jeux d’esprit that coincidentally offers a masterclass in how to fit the maximum allusions to Nielsen’s six symphonies into a minimal time-span (that to the First Symphony might well take some spotting). Only recently has Taylor essayed a Wind Quintet, and here the underlying model is not Nielsen but Malcolm Arnold. Its seven short movements play continuously – beginning with a lively Preludio festivo then taking in a skittish Hornpipe and Pensive Waltz with more than a hint of wistfulness; followed by a teasing Habanera and energetic Tarantella, before a Pastorale evinces the most searching and soulful music prior to an Epilogue which brings the whole work infectiously full circle.

That leaves the Trio in memoriam VH for flute, violin and cello, a typically individual tribute to the Danish composer Vagn Holmboe (1909-96). The opening movements are both marked Allegretto, with the elegant interplay and often reticent expression of the former (pointedly marked ‘innocente’) finding potent contrast in the playful manner of its successor; the work closing with a Moderato whose plangent musing draws on timbral shadings of real poise and finesse. Taylor’s commemoration results in the deepest and most eloquent music on this disc.

Does it all work?

Yes. Taylor has an instinctive feel for wind instruments (not surprising given he played the oboe during his formative years), evident throughout those works featured here – idiomatic and innovative despite (or even because of?) the absence of ‘advanced’ playing techniques.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. Performances by the Waldegrave Ensemble and associated musicians do full justice to this music’s distinctive qualities, abetted by a recording that affords clarity without undue closeness of perspective. Taylor himself provides the informative and amusing booklet notes.

You can read more about this release and listen to clips on the Toccata Classics website, or listen in full on Spotify below:

Matthew Taylor’s composer website can be found here, while for more on the Waldegrave Ensemble click here