Raluca Stirbat plays Enescu at the Romanian Cultural Institute

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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 – Nicholas Angelich plays Chopin & Liszt

nicholas-angelich

Nicholas Angelich

Chopin 2 Nocturnes, Op.55 (1842-4) (12 minutes)

Chopin 3 Mazurkas, Op.59 (1845)

Liszt Piano Sonata (1854)

Listen to the BBC Radio 3 broadcast here, until 9 November

Arcana’s commentary

A very satisfying blend of poetic 19th century piano music from Nicholas Angelich. By beginning with a well-chosen selection of Chopin he set the scene perfectly for the drama that is Liszt’s Piano Sonata, one of the great works for the instrument and a real test of any pianist’s clout.

First, though, the Chopin – and two contrasting works that bear the title Nocturne. This was a form of music that was more or less invented by the composer John Field and taken up by Chopin, who found it an expressive means with a relatively free form. The first of the two (from 1:46 on the broadcast) was distracted in mood and more than a little downcast. Thoughtfully played, it gradually became more animated before calm was restored with the theme at 5:58. The second nocturne (7:43) had a more open sound, with an almost constant ripple of watery accompaniment.

Angelich’s performances of the Mazurkas showed just how different Chopin’s interpretation of this dance could be.

The last of the three (22:10) was the most dramatic, shifting tellingly from major to minor key at 23:08, and ending there from 25:31.

You could say that Liszt’s Piano Sonata is a one-act play in four scenes – or you could equally say that it is a four-act play. Such is its formal design that both approaches work across the course of half an hour, and it really is one of those pieces the listener can be totally absorbed in.

For that you need the right performance of course, and this one from Nicholas Angelich fitted the bill in every way. The drama should begin even before the first soft, low notes are sounded, and here the period of silence beforehand built the anticipation nicely.

Then once we were under way at 27:30 Angelich set out the musical arguments, allowing the first movement to build its tension through to the start of the faster music at 28:20. After this the music really got going, though it was around the 36:27 where the tempo was really flying, leading up to a grand statement of the slow theme from Angelich at 38:05, a great demonstration of both power and grace at the piano.

This performance really came into its own in the slow movement however (from 41:00), setting a restful and uncommonly sublime mood, until a warning at 48:05 where the music from the start revealed itself again. Other points of note to look out for in the recording are at 48:43 where the fugue begins.

Angelich made a real and clear sense of this tricky passage, beginning with the theme and continuing at 48:55 with the ‘answer’ – as fugues are wont to do. Then the pyrotechnics ensued, a showy movement but one that Angelich kept under control, especially at 52:13 and a triumphant return of the big, slow theme. The coda, from 57:38, was exquisitely paced, and the end, when it came, was soft and petered out to the silence with which the Sonata began.

A performance as impressive for its quiet moments as its loud ones – and a Liszt sonata packed full of incident, drama and romance the whole way through.

Further listening

Angelich has very helpfully recorded something of a ‘concept’ album that begins with the Liszt Sonata. This work was dedicated to Schumann, so we also get that composer’s set of eight fantasy pieces Kreisleriana, one of his very best piano works. Completing the album are two Etudes by Chopin, the subject of Schumann’s dedication.

by Ben Hogwood

The Oberon Symphony Orchestra play Sibelius, Liszt and the Saint-Saëns ‘Organ’ Symphony

oberon-orchestraOberon Symphony Orchestra and Samuel Draper

Richard Whitehouse on the Oberon Symphony Orchestra‘s latest concert of Sibelius, Liszt and Saint-Saëns, given at their home of St James’s, Sussex Gardens, London on Saturday 17 September

Sibelius The Swan of Tuonela Op.22/2 (1895)

Liszt Les préludes (1854)

Sibelius Valse triste Op.44/1 (1903)

Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 78, ‘Organ’ (1886)

Andrew Furniss (organ), Oberon Symphony Orchestra / Samuel Draper

Tonight’s concert (the fourteenth) from the Oberon Symphony had a strong element of Liszt running through it – not least a welcome revival of the symphonic poem Les préludes which, while its historical importance is undeniable, retains only a marginal place in the repertoire.

Although it started out as the autonomous overture to settings of Joseph Autran’s Les quatre éléments (the connection with Alphonse de Lamartine’s Nouvelles méditations poétiques was made later and its reasoning remains unclear), Les préludes is essentially an abstract reflection on the passage of life from aspiration to fulfilment, and Samuel Draper rightly emphasized the cyclical evolution of its themes as these outline a viable sonata design whose introduction and coda confirm the emotional distance travelled. The secondary themes are among Liszt’s most appealing and were eloquently rendered; if the stormy central development seemed inhibited, a convincing momentum was maintained from the ethereal interlude through the reprise then on to an apotheosis whose grandeur was shorn of bombast or unnecessary grandiloquence.

These latter qualities, wholly extraneous to Liszt’s thinking, had by the mid-twentieth century reduced this piece to little more than caricature: harmlessly in the case of its soundtrack to the adventure series Flash Gordon, but offensively so when the final bars were used to announce Nazi bombing successes during the Blitz. In stressing purely musical virtues, a performance such as this can only abet the work’s and the composer’s cause; hopefully Draper will have an opportunity to include another of Liszt’ s symphonic poems in these concerts before long.

When Saint-Saëns (retrospectively) dedicated his Third Symphony to the memory of Liszt, the latter’s reputation was still intact – not least in terms of its cyclical form, making this work the harbinger of an intrinsically French take on the genre that prospered over the next century.

Draper assuredly had the measure of this stealthy evolution across two parts. After a plaintive introduction, the Allegro took time to intensify towards the climactic reprise of its first theme, but the transition to the Adagio had the right expectancy and the latter movement was almost ideal in blending seraphic poise with a lucidly unfolding variation. Andrew Furniss ensured that the organ timbre was fully integrated into that of the orchestra – the Oberon being heard at its best in a scintillating account of the scherzo; after which, the finale was taken firmly in hand so that its big tune (did those smiles among the audience betray knowledge of its use as the 1977 hit ‘If I Had Words’?) emerged unhackneyed, while the fugal and pastoral episodes were drawn into a tight-knit and cumulative progression towards the resplendent peroration.

Prefacing each of these pieces in either half was music by Sibelius. For all its popularity, The Swan of Tuonela is among its composer’s most introspective statements. Draper brought out a sustained anguish in the strings, ideally complemented by plangent cor anglais playing from Bruno Bower. If the fraught climax of Valse triste was a little diffuse, the elegiac opening and close were tellingly rendered – underlining why this miniature rapidly became a worldwide success, and thus making the composer’s signing away of its copyright the more regrettable.

The next concert by the Oberon Symphony Orchestra, with a selection of Mozart’s arias and Mahler’s Fourth Symphony (soprano Anousheh Bromfield) is on Saturday 21st January 2017

Watch the previous concert from the Oberon Symphony Orchestra, with Cosima Yu as soloist in Copland‘s Clarinet Concerto:

Further information can be found at the orchestra’s website

BBC Proms 2016 – Louis Lortie: Venezia e Napoli

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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

In concert – Barbara Nissman plays Ginastera at Kings Place

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Barbara Nissman (piano); Hall One, Kings Place, London, 24 April 2016

Liszt Mephisto Waltz No.1, S514 (1862)

Bartók Allegro Barbaro, BB63 (1911)

Ginastera Tres Danzas Argentinas, Op.2 (1937)

Prokofiev Piano Sonatas – No.1 in F minor, Op.1 (1909); No. 3 in A minor, Op.28 (1917)

Ginastera Piano Sonata No.3, Op.55 (1982)

Bartók Night Music, BB89 No.4 (1926)

Ginastera Piano Sonata No.1, Op.22 (1952)

Written by Richard Whitehouse

Although his centenary has been widely reported, the music of Alberto Ginastera has been relatively little heard in the UK so far this year – making this recital from one of his most devoted pupils more welcome. Best known here for a cycle of Prokofiev sonatas a quarter-century ago, Barbara Nissman is a pianist wholly in the tradition of transcendental pianism – though such virtuosity never precludes an enquiring approach to the music at hand, as was evident in the thoughtfulness with which this morning’s programme had been assembled.

Beginning with Liszt’s First Mephisto Waltz was a case in point, as the essence of all that followed is encapsulated in its cunning juxtaposition of unbridled revelry and romantic yearning while Lenau’s decidedly sardonic take on the Faust legend is unfolded. Nissman despatched it with required verve and elegance, then summoned comparable impetus in the brief yet remorseless accumulation of energy of Bartók’s Allegro Barbaro – a repost to those who had doubted the integrity behind the unremitting intensity of his musical idiom.

There is nothing rebarbative about the Danzas Argentinas as were among Ginastera’s earliest successes, the teenage composer delighting in the rhythmic élan yet also insinuating lyricism of ideas inspired by though not beholden to the folk-music of his homeland. If the even younger Prokofiev was at all less assured stylistically when making his compositional debut with his First Sonata, this one-movement amalgam of sonata aspects within a more inclusive design lacks little in the resolve necessary to integrate its wide stylistic remit.

Nissman projected it with relish, then was no less convincing in the Third Sonata that – whatever the derivation from earlier material – brings appreciably greater individuality to bear on its ingenious four-in-one structure and uninhibited yet resourceful display. Qualities which are hardly less apparent in the Third Sonata which the ailing Ginastera wrote for Nissman, its allusion to Scarlatti extending beyond the use of binary form to a rhythmic and harmonic pungency as spills over into the effervescent coda with its curtly decisive close.

After the ‘Night Music’ movement from Bartók’s suite Out of Doors had provided a welcome moment of pensiveness, the recital was concluded by the First Sonata with which Ginastera moved decisively from his earlier nationalism towards a more wide-ranging musical outlook. That said, the spirit of the Argentinian pampas is heard simmering below the surface of the bracing initial Allegro and more overtly in those disembodied rustlings which permeate the Presto. The Adagio must rank among the most eloquent penned by its composer, with Nissman probing its depths as surely as she conveyed the energy of the finale when it surges towards a coruscating close. In its amalgam, moreover, of Classical formal poise with post-Romantic expression, the piece looks pointedly from its own time to that of the present.

A well-planned-recital and a welcome return for Nismann, who introduced each piece from the stage. A pity none of the recordings on her Three Oranges label was available, as these feature a wealth of unfamiliar as well as neglected music, and well deserve investigation.

You can read more about Barbara Nissman at her website, while her Three Oranges Recordings site can be accessed here