Wigmore Mondays – Véronique Gens & Susan Manoff in French song

Véronique Gens (soprano, above, © Franck Juery) & Susan Manoff (piano, below)

Hahn Néère; Trois jours de vendange

Duparc Chanson triste; Romance de Mignon

Chausson Le Charme; Les Papillons; Hébé

Hahn Quand je fus pris au pavillon; Le Rossignol des lilas; A Chloris

Chausson Le Chanson bien douce; Le Temps des lilas

Hahn Études latines – Lydé; Tyndaris; Pholoé; Phyllis; Le Printemps

Wigmore Hall, London; Monday 8 May, 2017

Listen to the BBC broadcast here

Written by Ben Hogwood

This Wigmore Hall concert proved an ideal opportunity for listeners to venture off the beaten track in the richly rewarding world of French art song. It also seemed doubly appropriate in the wake of the presidential election the previous day that Véronique Gens should be on hand, for she is one of the best French singers around. In Susan Manoff she had a more than able partner to match her every move, and the two based their program on a recent Gramophone award-winning recital disc.

The concert was bookended by songs from Reynaldo Hahn, including excerpts from his Études latines. The serious Néère (from 4:02 on the broadcast) searched for a lost love, Gens a yearning presence, but Trois jours de vendange (Three days of vintaging) was a bigger celebration.

Attention turned to Henri Duparc, whose incredibly small musical output is led by his fine songs. Few are better than Chanson triste (11:01), which was powerfully delivered by Gens, set in the moonlight portrayed so vividly by Manoff’s piano. Romance de Mignon (14:00) offered a little more daylight, another passionate utterance in thrall to his hero Wagner.

It was a short stylistic shift to the songs of Ernest Chausson, Gens choosing a really wonderful selection that should be far better known. The partnership with Manoff was at its best here, the piano fluttering relentlessly in Les papillons (21:35) without settling, while Gens’ playful lines danced above. Le charme (20:00) and Hébé (23:05), two other songs from the same early set, were equally winsome. These were balanced by three more Hahn songs, and while the perky Quand je fus pris au pavillon (25:52) and melodious nightingale (Le rossignol des lilas, 27:15) were nicely done they were always going to be in the shadow of Á Chloris (29:17), its imitation of a Bach aria absolutely on the money in this performance.

Two more Chausson songs followed – the urgent Le Chanson bien douce (32:30) and softly majestic Le Temps des lilas (35:14) – and then we moved on to a quintet of Hahn works to finish. Four of these were from the Études latines (from 41:02), while Le Printemps (The Spring) literally flung wide the doors of the hall at (49:41). The quartet of studies were lyrically quite amusing while musically thoughtful, often finding the singer in a rather dishevelled state – especially the thoughtful Pholoé (45:19) and Phyllis (46:46). The closing Le Printemps celebrated the season which until now seems rather reluctant to arrive in the UK!

A generous selection of encores completed a memorable recital. We were treated to Les roses d’Ispahan, a lovely song by Gabriel Fauré (52:20), then an Offenbach song Le Corbeau et le Renard (56:20), and finally PoulencLes Chemins de l’amour (The pathways of love) (59:28)

Further listening

You can hear the album Gens and Manoff made with much of this material on Spotify:

For further French song listening, bringing in the worlds of Debussy and Fauré, try this wonderful selection with pianist Roger Vignoles:

Wigmore Mondays – Annelien Van Wauwe & Nino Gvetadze play Debussy, Poulenc & Brahms

Annelien Van Wauwe (clarinet, above) and Nino Gvetadze (piano, below)

Debussy Première rapsodie (1909-10)

Poulenc Clarinet Sonata (1962)

Schumann Arabeske in C major, Op 18 (1838-9)

Brahms Clarinet Sonata in E flat, Op 120 No 2 (1894)

Wigmore Hall, London; Monday 20 March, 2017

Listen to the BBC broadcast here

Written by Ben Hogwood

The soft, languid tones of Annelien Van Wauwe’s clarinet were perfectly judged at the hushed start of Debussy’s Première rapsodie, the first piece in a nicely chosen set of music for clarinet and piano.

This piece is an elusive ten-minute train of thought, with two distinct ideas – the slow, sleepy opening paragraph (from 1:40 on the broadcast link) and another, spiky idea (around 3:42), begging for a jazz accompaniment. Gradually the two get closer together and the cumulative energy builds. Nino Gvetadze’s colourful piano accompaniment showed just how suitable the piece is for orchestra – which Debussy realised with a subsequent arrangement.

Poulenc’s Clarinet Sonata is one of his last published works, written in homage to fellow composer Arthur Honegger. Central to its success is the yearning theme of the central Romanza (16:36), where Van Wauwe’s tone and phrasing was beautifully observed. The first movement (beginning at 11:24) could have been a bit more mischievous, perhaps, but the brisk and largely upbeat finale (21:22) certainly hit the spot.

Following this was a chance for Gvetadze to take centre stage in Schumann’s lilting Arabeske (25:40), where wife Clara explicitly asked him to avoid making musical references to her. I’m not convinced he kept that bargain, because the music is very affectionate, and Gvetadze portrayed that too.

We then heard Brahms’ last published chamber work, the last part of an Indian summer instigated by the clarinettist Richard Mühlfeld, whose quality of tone directly inspired four pieces from the composer. This included a pair of sonatas published in 1894 as Brahms’s Op.120. These are lovely autumnal works, and both performers shaded the E flat work, the more positive of the two, with appropriate care. More authority could perhaps have been given to the second movement (marked Allegro appassionato, from 43:26 on the broadcast) but the outer movements had plenty to admire. The first movement (from 35:09) was largely contented, while the last, a theme and variations (48:50), was more changeable in mood and brilliantly played here, Brahms’ inspiration as keen as ever.

A final thought – what will Brexit mean for the non-English contingent the BBC choose for their excellent New Generations scheme? One of many questions classical music and the arts will face in the coming months and years.

Further listening

Brahms’s last works for clarinet are collected in the playlist below. They are autumnal in nature but have some wonderful lyrical writing for the instrument.

Wigmore Mondays – Roderick Williams & Roger Vignoles in French art-song

Roderick Williams & Roger Vignoles – French Art Song

Fauré Mirages, Op 113 (1919)

Caplet Cinq ballades françaises de Paul Fort (1919-20)

Honegger Petits cours de morale (1941)

Poulenc Deux poèmes de Guillaume Apollinaire (1938); Parisiana (1954)

Listen to the BBC broadcast here

Written by Ben Hogwood

How heartening to have such an inventive hour-long recital of French art-song for a Monday lunchtime. In choosing a programme mostly comprising rarely performed works Roderick Williams and Roger Vignoles demonstrated both the depth of the genre and the rich variety of source texts on which the composers drew.

For this concert we had the intriguing combination of late Fauré, bright Caplet, silly Honegger and typically heart-on-sleeve Poulenc, and both baritone and pianist applied themselves to each with great enthusiasm and character. No stone was left unturned as they strove to bring the texts to life, helped as they were by some wildly differing moods of interpretation.

Late Fauré has a uniquely timeless approach, and the essentially slow Mirages are no exception. The composer’s last song cycle, it is a quartet of settings from the collection of the same name by Renée de Brimont. Williams and Vignoles inhabited a still world, especially in the remarkable passage in Reflets dans l’eau (Reflections in the water) (beginning 4:44 on the radio broadcast), the song almost stopping completely, seemingly in the middle of the lake, for sustained contemplation (from 8:08)

Still more affecting was Danseuse (Dancer), a haunting closing song that vividly portrays the languid movements of the dancer. With his single melodic line in the right hand Vignoles had the lilt just right, as did Williams in his controlled singing.

The Caplet cycle of Paul Fort setting was an altogether different story. André Caplet was a close friend of Debussy, and did a lot of work for him on editions and such. Debussy comes through to some of the harmonies and sleights of hand, but Caplet’s own style makes itself known and is fascinating. Here Vignoles was exceptional in his setting of the five scenes, with some incredibly tricky piano parts made to sound comparatively easy. The start of Cloche d’aube (Tolling dawn) (from 18:09) was a sparkling, brightly lit piano part, complemented by Williams’ sonorous tones.

Notre chaumière en Yveline (Our cottage in Yveline), the third song (from 23:38), was even more striking, falling over itself in rapture, while the glissando of the piano and soaring vocal of Songe d’une nuit d’été (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) (from 26:07) continued the rapt mood of the recently married composer and his domestic bliss. Only the final song, L’adieu en barque (Farewell from a boat) struck a note of caution with the refracted bell ringing conveyed so vividly by Vignoles.

The Honegger songs (from 34:46) were little picture postcards, lasting just over four minutes in total. Described as ‘a short course in morality’, they were written with some striking if rather odd observations by Jean Giraudoux, four of which centred on locations in the UK. Each one, given a woman’s name, had a certain charm – the wandering Jeanne, a rather brusque Adèle (35:25), the heady scents of Cècile (36:11), a strident Irène (37:03) and finally Rosemonde (37:48). Williams and Vignoles clearly enjoyed them, and were on sparkling form throughout.

Finally music by Poulenc, one of the great French songwriters, was given exemplary performances. We heard 2 poems by Guillaume Apollinaire, the colourful Dans le jardin d’Anna (In Anna’s Garden) (40:16), the increasingly bothered Allons plus vite (Move Along) (43:35) and the two Max Jacob poems making up Parisiana (Jouer du bugle (Playing the cornet)) from 46:44 and the short but riotous Vous n’écrivez plus? (You do not write any longer?) (48:15). Both performers were again wreathed in smiles as they enjoyed Poulenc’s direct emotional approach, and then, as a bonus, we had a reflective encore in the form of La Grenouillère (The Froggery).

Even Vignoles was silently singing along at this point, the two finding a strong bond in this little known but richly rewarding box of treats.

Further listening

One of my favourite discs of French song is from the baritone François le Roux, joined by a crack team of French soloists under Charles Dutoit. It includes Poulenc’s Le bal masqué and Le Bestiare cycles, along with the Rapsodie nègre:

BBC Proms 2016 – Louis Lortie: Venezia e Napoli

louis-lortie

Louis Lortie (piano) © Elias

Rossini, transcribed Liszt La regata veneziana; La danza (1830-35, transcr. 1837)

Poulenc Napoli (1925)

Fauré Barcarolle no.5 in F sharp minor Op.66 (1894); Barcarolle no.7 in D minor Op.90 (1905)

Liszt Venezia e Napoli (1859)

Cadogan Hall, Monday 22 August 2016

Listen to this concert on the BBC iPlayer

For an hour Louis Lortie managed to transport the Cadogan Hall audience to even sunnier climes – to Venice and Napoli, to be exact. He did this through a well constructed program painting pictures of the Italian cities and regions from afar, for none of the chosen composers were Italian.

All except Rossini, that is – though the two Soirées Musicales chosen for this concert were given in arrangements made by Liszt. Typically these were hyped up for concert audiences, but as in most of Liszt’s transcriptions there is a sensitive side staying true to the original, and Lortie found that unerringly in the humour of La danza.

We transferred from Venice to Naples for Francis Poulenc’s brief but vivid three-movement portrait. The central Nocturne was the great find here, a really lovely bit of descriptive music bookended by two fast movements typical of Poulenc in their wit and, in the Caprice italien, a deceptively soft heart that Lortie delighted in showing us.

It was especially good to hear two of Fauré’s Barcarolles included, especially as Louis Lortie has realised his love of the composer’s music in a new disc from Chandos. The Barcarolles are real diamonds, perfect for listening at either end of the day, and are highly original in their elevation of an older art form all but ignored by other composers. Lortie showed concert audiences need not be dissuaded by them either, with a darkly shaded Barcarolle no.7, which found some of the Fauré’s shadowy writing encroaching from the edges like the approach of night. Meanwhile the distinctive motif of the Barcarolle no.5 was ever-present, though towards the end of this the pianist was too full with his volume at the bell-like top end of the register.

That said, his playing throughout was remarkably accurate and expressive, and both qualities were evident in a superb performance of Venezia e Napoli, the epilogue to part two of Liszt’s piano travelogue Années de Pèlerinage. The virtuosity on show was breathtaking in the final Tarantella, but it was the poetic depiction of the gondola and the slower Canzone, with its majestic interpretation of Rossini’s Otello, that really hit home.

Ben Hogwood

Wigmore Mondays – Daniel Ottensamer & Christoph Traxler

daniel-ottensamer

Daniel Ottensamer (clarinet, above), Christoph Traxler (piano)

Wigmore Hall, London, 27 June 2016

written by Ben Hogwood

Audio (open in a new window)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07h6cn8

Available until 27 July

What’s the music?

Luigi Bassi Concert Fantasia on themes from Verdi’s Rigoletto (1901) (13 minutes)

Zemlinsky arr. James Breed 2 Fantasies on Poems of Richard Dehmel Op. 9 (1990) (6 minutes)

Poulenc Clarinet Sonata (1962) (13 minutes)

Horovitz Clarinet Sonatina (1981) (13 minutes)

Spotify

Daniel Ottensamer and Cristoph Traxler have not recorded this music, but the Spotify playlist below gives a guide to other versions in the event you are unable to access the broadcast link:

About the music

A range of music for clarinet and piano, most of which lies slightly off the beaten track compared to repertoire staples.

We begin in Italy, with the clarinettist and composer Luigi Bassi (1833-1871), whose concert fantasia on themes from Rigoletto is arguably his most popular work. We then move to Vienna and Alexander Zemlinsky, a composer who for a long time was better known as teacher to Arnold Schoenberg. In more recent times his music has taken on greater prominence, for it sits between the romantic approach of Brahms and Mahler and the music of his pupil, which eventually left tonality behind altogether.

The Richard Dehmel fantasies were written for piano, but James Breed discerned suitable lines for clarinet and arranged them with the instrument in mind.

Poulenc’s Clarinet Sonata is his last piece of chamber music, written in the summer before his death in 1962. Dedicated to Arthur Honegger, it was written for the clarinettist Benny Goodman.

Joseph Horovitz has been a prolific English composer, particularly for woodwind, and at the age of 90 still cuts a sprightly figure – he was in the audience for this concert! Born in Vienna, Horovitz emigrated to England at the start of the Second World War, and studied music in London. His sonatina for clarinet and piano, a short work with jazzy inflections, was completed in 1981.

Performance verdict

A fine and varied program of music for clarinet and piano, given with some panache by Daniel Ottensamer and Christoph Traxler. The Poulenc was an especially fine performance, with the faster movements taken at a daring pace. This meant a little bit of phrasing on the melodies was compromised, but the overall effect was thrilling.

This was also the case with Bassi’s Concert Fantasia, a real crowd-pleaser of a performance, which was nicely complemented by the heady romanticism of the Zemlinsky, effectively transcribing for clarinet and piano in James Breed’s sensitive arrangement.

The Horovitz was great to watch, especially with the composer’s enthusiastic reaction at the end. There were some persuasive rhythms here, some of which seemed to have been directly imported from the West Indies, and Ottensamer moved around the stage as he played, fully immersed in the music.

Another special moment was to follow in Popov’s arrangement of a late Brahms Intermezzo, bringing pure contemplation to the hall and some incredibly sensitive, quiet playing from both clarinet and pianist Christoph Traxler, who expertly shaded his lines throughout.

What should I listen out for?

Bassi

1:20 – the piano begins with a fanfare to make the audience sit up, preparing the way for the clarinet in a manner that suggests a grand orchestral piece. The clarinet arrives at 2:07, almost imperceptibly but then showing off through music of great athleticism. Once arrived it settles into a graceful theme. Then after another grand passage the clarinet showcases one of Verdi’s main themes at 4:23. The music becomes light and agile.

There is some very enjoyable back and forward between the clarinet and piano as they play Verdi’s themes and their variants, as though they are dancing on the stage themselves. The theatrical performance tricked the audience (including me!) at 10:10, where we thought the two had finished – but instead there were more athletics to come, finishing with a flourish at 14:00.

Zemlinsky / Breed

15:38 – Voice of the evening – as you might expect for music of the evening the mood is languid, the clarinet murmuring above the hazy piano. The harmonic language is rich with added notes, adding to the enchanted atmosphere.

18:45 – Forest rapture – this piece is more outwardly expressive in the clarinet part, but still carries a humid atmosphere, the trees close at hand. The arrangement for clarinet is a natural one.

Poulenc

23:28 – a bright, staccato start soon leads to one of the main themes of the sonata’s first movement, given on the clarinet at 23:43. Poulenc utilises the instrument’s capacity for bittersweet emotions, with music that alternates between charm and mischief. At 25:40 the music takes on a slow, thoughtful mood which the clarinet tops with a melody of great beauty. Then the music of the opening reappears, in a more sombre form.

28:49 – the second movement is a deeply felt Romanza, led by the clarinet with a lyrical opening, before another gem of a quiet melody at 29:36. This is countered by a higher, more raucous thought.

33:33 – after some introspection both clarinet and piano burst out of the blocks with an exuberant finale. It’s hard to resist the bright and breezy clarinet theme!

Horovitz

37:43 – a settled and fluid start from both clarinet and piano, quite lyrical in its delivery, though the music becomes livelier and has an undercurrent of angst in the exchanges between the two instruments. Then we return to the more convivial mood of the opening.

42:56 – a shadow falls across the start of the slow movement, with both instruments quiet and reserved.

47:14 – this is the most distinctive movement of the three, with a swaying rhythm immediately given out from the piano. This is a license for the clarinet to roam free, and it does so with persuasive good spirits.

Encore

51:30 – an arrangement of a Brahms piano piece – the Intermezzo, Op.118 no.2, made by Nicolai Popov. It is a lovely, autumnal piece of music.

Further listening / viewing

The clarinet was a very important instrument for one of this year’s anniversary composers, Max Reger. Reger is an undervalued composer, and some of his most expressive music was written for clarinet and piano, as this album from Eduard Brunner and Gerhard Oppitz reveals: