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:

Wigmore Mondays: Inon Barnatan plays Bach, Franck & Barber

Inon Barnatan (piano, above)

J.S. Bach Toccata in E minor BWV914 (c1710) (6 minutes)
Franck Prelude, Choral et Fugue (1885) (18 minutes)
Barber Piano Sonata in E flat minor Op.26 (1949) (20 minutes)

Wigmore Hall, London; Monday 15 January 2018

Written by Ben Hogwood

The broadcast can be heard on the BBC iPlayer by clicking here

This was a fascinating hour in the company of American-Israeli pianist Inon Barnatan, exploring the role of the fugue in piano music while showing off considerable artistry and technical control of his instrument.

He began with Bach, and one of the lesser heard Toccatas for keyboard. This fell into three parts (starting at 4:06 on the broadcast) and initially took on quite a serious tone before relaxing for the fugue (which begins at 5:04). Barnatan signed off expansively, in a sense preparing for what was to come.

This proved to be Franck’s three-movement Prélude, Choral et Fugue, surely written in homage to organ pieces such as Bach’s Toccata, Adagio and Fugue, but working particularly well on the piano. Barnatan gave a performance of impressive stature, really getting to the nub of the deep and almost religious expression the Belgian composer achieves.

An expansive Prélude (from 12:40) was followed by a reverent statement of the Chorale in hushed tones (at 18:18), before this grew inexorably in stature, leading to a superbly controlled peak at 21:10. The Fugue was confidently delivered, gaining intensity from its initial statement (23:50) until the final peal of bells signalled its triumphant switch from B minor to B major (30:11).

The Barber Sonata was simply superb, and a timely reminder that this is a composer worth so much more than simply the Adagio for Strings. Good though that piece is, the Sonata explores much more aggressive and twisted musical thoughts, perhaps a surprising response to a commission from Irving Berlin and Richard Rodgers, in honour of the League of Composers’ twenty-fifth anniversary. As announcer Clemency Burton-Hill says in the radio introduction it is a formidable work, perhaps not surprisingly given its dedicatee, Vladimir Horowitz.

It is difficult to imagine a better performance than Barnatan gave here, setting the tone immediately with the jagged outlines of the first movement’s main material (marked Allegro energico, from 32:40). There was considerable drama as this tumultuous piece of music unfolded, with bits of occasional lyrical repose but ultimately big outbursts in the form of the inspiration behind the piece, Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Piano Sonata.

All were given with the utmost clarity by Barnatan, who softened the mood for the second movement Scherzo (40:39), then the intimate slow movement (Adagio mesto, from 42:52) which nonetheless reached a hair raising climax some three minutes or so later. Barnatan was totally inside the music, this passage described by Barber’s biographer as ‘the most tragic’ of the composer’s slow movements. Finally a terrific final movement Fuga, brilliantly played and with some complex figurations made to look easy!

The encore (from 54:00) was wholly appropriate, Busoni’s transcription for piano of the J.S. Bach choral prelude Nun Komm der Heiden Heiland, in which a sense of stillness returned.

Further listening

The music from this concert can be heard on the Spotify playlist below. Inon Barnatan has not recorded any of this repertoire to date, so the versions chosen here are by established pianists Glenn Gould, Jorge Bolet and Joanna MacGregor:

You can also see for yourself what the fuss is about by watching Inon Barnatan playing the first movement of Schubert’s C minor Piano Sonata below:

Meanwhile if you want an introduction to the music of Samuel Barber, starting with the Adagio for Strings, look no further!

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, BBC SO / Sakari Oramo – Schmitt, Franck, Ravel & Sibelius Symphony no.3

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano), BBC Symphony Orchestra / Sakari Oramo (above)

Barbican Hall, London; Friday 27 October 2017

Schmitt Symphony No.2 in E flat major, Op.137 (1957)

Franck Variations symphoniques (1885)

Ravel Piano Concerto in D ‘for the Left Hand’ (1930)

Sibelius Symphony No. 3 in C major, Op.52 (1907)

You can listen to the broadcast on BBC Radio 3 by clicking here (available until 26 November)

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

Sakari Oramo‘s Sibelius cycle continued as part of a judiciously balanced programme which opened with a rare revival of the Second Symphony by Florent Schmitt. This continues the French symphonism of Roussel and Honegger; albeit with a quirkiness of melodic thought and virtuoso handling of sizable forces to confirm Schmitt as no mere epigone. Indeed, the angular wit of the first movement suggests his willingness to confront post-war modernism head on, and if the central Lent admits warmer and even tender emotion, the finale resumes the assaultive mood with an unremitting intent through to its scabrous close. Oramo and the BBC Symphony Orchestra had the measure of this unsettling piece throughout; their responsiveness underlining that Schmitt was not one to accept the passing of his own era with even a hint of good grace.

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (below) then joined the orchestra for two staples from the French concertante repertoire, separated in time by almost half a century. Good to see that Franck‘s Variations symphoniques has now re-established itself in UK concert programmes, as this unlikely yet successful hybrid of elements from symphony and concerto, as drawn into the pithiest of its composer’s cyclical designs, has a substance more than equal to its entertainment. Bavouzet and Oramo were especially fine in the expressive contrasts of its opening minutes, and if the rhapsodic musing at its centre seemed a little inflexible, then the effervescence of its final section too forcefully projected, there was no doubting the coherence and the ingeniousness of its composer’s response to a piano-virtuoso tradition he spent much of his life despising.

That the Franck outlines a ‘three movements in one’ formal design makes it a more than likely precursor to Ravel‘s Piano Concerto in D major, the most enduring of those left-hand works written for the redoubtable (if frequently wrong-headed) Paul Wittgenstein. Not the least attraction of tonight’s performance was its emphasizing the canniness of the balance between soloist and orchestra, such that the former was never less than audible in the context of what is the most overtly rhetorical and combative of all Ravel’s works. Add to this Bavouzet’s limpidity in the eloquent theme which returns intensified in the cadenza, not to mention Oramo’s control of momentum in the jazz-inflected animation of the scherzo, and what resulted was a reading attentive to every aspect of this masterpiece: one that justifiably brought the house down.

Sibelius’s Third Symphony is easy to underestimate as a transitional work poised between overt romanticism and renewed classicism. It was to Oramo’s credit that elements of both aesthetics were not only evident but also reconciled – not least in an opening Allegro which moved between fervency and incisiveness with no mean purpose. The highlight came with a central Andantino whose quasi allegretto marking may have been minimal, but whose opening-up of emotional space made for a riveting listen. The final movement was hardly less impressive in its purposeful equivocation between scherzo and finale, Oramo teasing resolve out of uncertainty so the hymn-like theme that eventually emerges built to a powerful apotheosis. A gripping performance, reinforced by the conviction of the BBCSO’s response.

For more concert information on the BBC Symphony Orchestra, head to their website

You can hear a recording of the Florent Schmitt made by Leif Segerstam on Spotify below:

Raluca Stirbat plays Enescu at the Romanian Cultural Institute

raluca-stirbat

Raluca Stirbat (piano), above

Romanian Cultural Institute, London; Thursday 3rd November, 2016

Enescu Prélude et Scherzo (1896)

Franck Prélude, Chorale et Fugue, Op. 21 (1884)

Liszt Mephisto Waltz No. 1, S514 (1862)

Enescu Piano Sonata in D, Op. 24 No. 3 (1935)

The Enescu Concerts Season at Romanian Cultural Institute continued tonight with a recital by Raluca Stirbat, the Vienna-based pianist whose advocacy of Enescu – his residencies as well as his music – has long been central to her activities.

Enescu’s music, what she termed the ‘frames’ of his piano output, book-ended this programme – opening with the Prélude et Scherzo which is the composer’s first piano work of real consequence. A little too rhetorical and rhythmically stolid as the Prelude may be, the Scherzo’s vivid alternating between devil-may-care impetus and (in its trio) elegant repose recalls the eponymous work with which the teenage Brahms announced himself some 45 years earlier. Good, also, that these pieces were heard together, as the resulting expressive duality was to inform Enescu’s thinking thereafter.

Franck had passed on by the time Enescu arrived at the Paris Conservatoire, yet his approach to harmony and texture undoubtedly left its imprint – not least the Prélude, Chorale et Fugue with which the mature composer returned to the solo medium after several decades. Keeping its discursive manner in check, Stirbat duly pursued a secure course through the Prelude and maintained a keen textural clarity in the Chorale, before the Fugue wended its eventful course to a culmination where cyclical ingenuity and emotional fervour were bound together as one.

If Liszt is a less discernible influence on Enescu, the sheer virtuosity and lack of inhibition in much of his piano music is an audible touchstone; not least as deployed in the First Mephisto Waltz. Stirbat despatched the opening pages of this ‘dance in the village inn’ with requisite abandon, and if the central section slightly hung fire, this is arguably as much Liszt’s fault in overly delaying the transformed return of that earlier music; the latter being projected here as characterfully as were the teasing insouciance then the surging irony of its heady conclusion.

The main programme (played without pause and from memory) ended with the Piano Sonata in D which was to have formed the final part of Enescu’s Op.24 sequence had he completed its central portion. Despite advocacy from such as Dinu Lipatti and John Ogdon, the present work enjoys only infrequent revival – doubtless owing to its technical difficulty but also its singularity as music that opens ostensibly in the world of the late Baroque only to close with that of a renewed Classicism.

Stirbat had the measure of the initial Vivace’s rhythmic agility, then brought understated eloquence to the central Andante with its improvisatory variants on a motive of blithe self-effacement, before the final Allegro evinced purposeful onward drive toward an apotheosis which superimposes all the salient themes in a truly joyful outpouring.

A demanding recital, then, which Stirbat rendered with unflagging commitment and resolve. She returned for two encores: first the Baccanale from the Third Piano Suite by Constantin Silvestri, given with due physicality, and the Bourrée from Enescu’s Second Piano Suite – which, as was pointed out, is linked to the finale of the Third Sonata thematically as well as in terms of key. It made for an exhilarating conclusion to an impressive recital that reaffirmed Raluca Stirbat’s authority in the piano music of her native country’s pre-eminent composer.

Richard Whitehouse

The next event in the Enescu Concert Season is a recital by soprano Valentina Naforniţă on Friday 2nd December. More information at the Romanian Cultural Institute website

Wigmore Mondays – Kathryn Stott

kathryn-stott
Photo (c) Nikolaj Lund

Kathryn Stott (piano) performs piano music by Fauré, Franck, Ravel and Graham Fitkin

Wigmore Hall, London, live on BBC Radio 3, 14 September 2015

Listening link (open in a new window):

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06c9nwj

on the iPlayer until 20 October

Spotify

In case you cannot hear the broadcast, here is a Spotify playlist of the music in this concert – most of which Kathryn Stott has recorded.

https://open.spotify.com/user/arcana.fm/playlist/14B8Ld3EVlXF6jlyZUeA9y

What’s the music?

Fauré: Nocturne no.4 (1884) (8 minutes)

Franck: Prélude, Chorale et Fugue (1884) (20 minutes)

Ravel: Sonatine (1905) (12 minutes)

Fitkin: Relent (1998) (10 minutes)

What about the music?

Fauré wrote a good deal of extremely attractive piano music, ranging from dreamy Barcarolles and Impromptus to the Nocturnes, which tend to be more moody. Kathryn Stott’s choice for this concert, the fourth of thirteen such works Fauré completed, is one of the lighter coloured examples.

César Franck, treated as French although he was born in Liège, which is now Belgium, wrote a lot of organ music – but is not often regarded as a composer of piano music. This is a shame, because in the Prélude, chorale et Fugue he shows off a distinctive style and an adventurous harmonic approach, while also acknowledging a debt to J.S. Bach in the form and construction of the piece. This reaches its apex in the central chorale, a kind of hymn tune that is first heard in a solemn intonation but which then rings out in glorious technicolour.

Ravel completes the triptych of French piano works, his Sonatine a model of economy and precision – but also an intimate piece of three movements that is quite beautifully written for the piano. The word Sonatine refers to the short length of the piece rather than anything else that might be modest – for this is one of Ravel’s finest piano works.

Kathryn Stott ends her recital with Graham Fitkin’s Relent, completed in 1998 and written for Stott herself. On the composer’s website, Fitkin writes of how “This piece is about time. It is about my perception of time, its various manifestations and ultimate inevitability. I think about the way I use my time, how much I need and just how long it feels like. I think about continuous time, circular time and our society’s preoccupation with marking the passage of time. And then I think about the relentless addition of time and how for me some day it will just stop.”

Performance verdict

Initially this concert was to be given by Tine Thing Helseth, with Kathryn Stott in support at the piano, but the Norwegian trumpeter sadly had to withdraw through illness.

In her place Stott constructed a fine recital, moving naturally from the nocturnal thoughts of Fauré through a passionate performance of the Franck, beautifully played and extremely well voiced so that the themes could be clearly heard.

Stott is a modest performer – by which I mean she has a gracious air when performing – and that suited her performance of the Ravel and Fauré especially. However when she needs the power it is easily found, and the performance of Fitkin’s Relent brought out the kinetic energy of the piece perfectly.

What should I listen out for?

Fauré

1:22 – a relatively gentle beginning to the piece, which is deceptively simple in its execution, harking back a little to Chopin. The theme comes back at 2’29, this time in ‘octaves’ – that is, the tune is doubled by another finger in the right hand playing an octave higher on the keyboard.

The mood then darkens as we head into the minor key. As Stott herself was quoted in Fiona Talkington’s introduction on Radio 3, Fauré’s “harmonic language is fascinating, and I’m never bored by it”. Greater turbulence can be felt in the music – but an inner radiance returns with the theme at 6:41. The piece finishes in serene mood at 8’53”.

Franck

10:51 – the Prélude suggests a relatively relaxed approach and is almost improvisatory at first, before we hear the main theme in octaves. Despite being based on an older form this to me is a forward looking piece, using some spicy harmony and strong romantic leanings.

16:18 – the Chorale section begins (chorale essentially another word for hymn), and we first here the Chorale itself in subdued form at 17:21. At 18:37 we hear it in another key, the mood of contemplation starting to give way to more passionate thoughts – and when we hear it once more at 20:20, the effect is like a peal of bells.

21:30 – the fugue section begins, though the fugue itself doesn’t start until 22:56, initially retreating into quiet thoughts but then gathering momentum. Once again it softens though, the choral theme peeping through the rippling piano textures at 27:58. At 30:06 the final peal of bells rings out, ending with an emphatic double ‘B’ from the left hand.

Ravel

32:24 – this piece is notable for its clean lines and immaculate structure but also for the intimate atmosphere that Ravel immediately conjures within seconds of this first movement beginning. It has a slightly melancholic feel but is essentially positive. Some of the quieter music is beautiful and dreamy, especially at the end.

37:05 – Ravel leads more or less straight into the second movement, a Minuet (a dance in triple time). This has a persuasive lilt, as well as the same feel of intimacy carried over from the first movement.

40:07 – the third movement, a much more forthright piece of music marked Animé (Animated).The textures of the piano here suggest rippling water. The piece moves to a convincing finish at 43:54, Ravel’s structure nigh-on perfect.

Fitkin

44:57 – immediately Fitkin’s use of the piano suggests mechanical movements. The writing is incredibly bold, from the big, beefy sound of the lower register of the piano – often dealt out in octaves – to the syncopated lines from the right hand. These suggest a strong jazz influence, but possibly even the sound of a gamelan.

As the piece progresses so its mechanical nature continues, with a terrific amount of energy generated in its ten minute duration.

Encore

55:57 – ChopinPrelude for piano in E minor (3 minutes) – an encore of suitable stillness to follow the Fitkin, Chopin’s E minor prelude is one of his most popular, and one of his most sorrowful too.

Further listening

There are plenty of options available for further listening after this varied concert. Those enjoying the Ravel would be urged to seek out more of the composer’s piano music, in particular Gaspard de la nuit. The Franck may have its roots in the past a bit more but has some pretty exotic harmonies – and anyone enjoying it might want to head for Debussy’s suite Pour Le Piano, another look back to the past with an especially beautiful Sarabande at its heart.

Meanwhile for lovers of the Fauré the composer’s piano music has a particular late night beauty, as this selection of Barcarolles and Impromptus suggests. All are tagged onto the end of the original playlist here:

https://open.spotify.com/user/arcana.fm/playlist/14B8Ld3EVlXF6jlyZUeA9y