Wigmore Mondays: Isabelle van Keulen & Ronald Brautigam play Beethoven, Fauré & Szymanowski

Isabelle van Keulen (violin), Ronald Brautigam (piano)

Beethoven Sonata for piano and violin in G major Op.30/3 (1801-2) (from 1:37 on the broadcast)
Szymanowski The Fountain of Arethusa from Myths Op.30 (1915) (from 19:51)
Fauré Violin Sonata no.1 in A major Op.13 (1875-6) (from 26:34)

Wigmore Hall, London; Monday 8 January 2018

Written by Ben Hogwood

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

Full marks to the Wigmore Hall for their choice of established recital partners and an invigorating program to start the 2018 BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert series. Isabelle van Keulen and Ronald Brautigam were clearly brought in to blow away the January blues and dispel any ‘back to school’ feelings among the audience, and they did so with freshly minted interpretations of Beethoven, Szymanowski and Fauré.

Beethoven’s eighth published Sonata for piano and violin, the third of his Op.30 set, began the concert (from 1:37 on the broadcast link). This spring-like work flew off its perch with a flourish, and once a few minor tuning issues at the outset were settled van Keulen and Brautigam enjoyed the close-knit ensemble playing in the first movement.

The second movement, a slow Minuet (from 8:00), was delivered as a passionate song and dance, a little quicker than expected, while the third movement (from 15:00) threw open the doors once again, van Keulen enjoying its folk dance associations.

The first of Polish composer Karel Szymanowski’s 3 Myths, also Op.30, had added electricity. Heralding a new sound world for the composer, The Fountain of Arethusa began with a watery cascade of notes from Brautigam (from 19:51), matched by tensile high register playing from van Keulen, both vividly portraying the fountain but also exploiting the sensual harmonies and rich textures. Hopefully van Keulen will go on to record the composer’s works for violin and piano.

The concert finished with one of the sunniest of works for the combination. Fauré’s Violin Sonata no.1, his first work in the form, surged forwards from the outset (from 26:34), the longer melodic phrases beautifully measured on the violin, while Brautigam’s sensitivity in balancing a busy piano part was a notable achievement.

The second movement (from 35:35) introduced darker, shaded thoughts and grew to a passionate climax of real stature. The third movement Scherzo (from 41:55) was a delight, showing off the qualities that secured an encore at the work’s first performance in Paris in 1877. The finale (45:45), initially elusive, brought all these elements and more together, and finished with an impressive sweep.

There was room at the end for an appropriate encore, giving homage to centenary composer Lili Boulanger. She died in 1918, aged just 24, and her Nocturne (from 52:13 on the broadcast), beautifully shaded here, was an atmospheric example of her unfulfilled potential.

Further listening

You can listen to recorded versions of the repertoire in this concert on this Spotify playlist. Meanwhile if you enjoyed the Fauré and Szymanowski in particular, this lovely disc from Augustin Dumay and Maria João Pires shows the depth of European repertoire from the 20th century for violin and piano.

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 – 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:

Remus Azoiţei and Eduard Stan play Enescu at the Romanian Cultural Institute

azoiteistanduoofficial1Enescu Concerts Series 2016/17 – Remus Azoiţei (violin) and Eduard Stan (piano) Photo: Cristian Drilea

Romanian Cultural Institute, London; Thursday 6th October, 2016

Porumbescu Ballade (1880)

Enescu Impressions d’enfance, Op. 28 (1940)

Fauré Violin Sonata No. 1 in A, Op. 13 (1876)

Ravel Tzigane, M76 (1924)

Almost a decade on from its inception, the Enescu Concerts Series is central not only to the activities of the Romanian Cultural Institute but also performance and wider understanding of George Enescu’s music in the UK. This latest season got off to an impressive start with a recital given by Remus Azoiţei and Eduard Stan, whose traversal of Enescu’s music for violin and piano is the recorded benchmark for this crucial aspect of the composer’s output; not least in the case of the Impressions d’enfance that was Enescu’s last major work for the medium.

Completed at the outset of the Second World War, Impressions could be described as a suite were it not for the motivic rigour informing every aspect of these 10 vignettes of childhood not merely evoked but recreated by Enescu over the course of a piece no less cohesive than the violin sonatas preceding it. Such was the impression left by tonight’s hearing – from the deft stylization of Moldavian street music in The Fiddler, through the exquisitely detailed recollections of ‘things lived and dreamed’ that emerge as the music unfolds, to the Sunrise that makes an eloquent and emotionally heightened apotheosis. The often intuitive interplay between the two musicians was undoubted, while the spontaneity with which they rendered Enescu’s detailed expression markings confirmed their appreciation of this music’s essence.

The account of Fauré’s First Violin Sonata was hardly less impressive. As the composer’s breakthrough piece in terms of wider acclaim, it has retained its place in the repertoire and this duo assuredly had the measure of the opening Allegro’s darting flights of fancy then the Andante’s melodic easefulness over Fauré’s favoured barcarolle underpinning. The scherzo had wit and insouciance aplenty, and if the finale can feel just a shade contrived in context, the formal and expressive conviction with which it rounds off this work was never in doubt.

Either side of these works came showpieces with a vengeance. His operettas remain unknown outside Romania, though Ciprian Porumbescu (1853-83) lives on through the Ballade which emphasizes the ‘doina’ melodic style that became a mainstay of later Romanian composers. Enescu was doubtless familiar with this piece and also championed Ravel’s Tzigane which, however uncharacteristic of the French master it may seem, is a rhapsody firmly within the virtuoso tradition and given here with just the right combination of soulfulness and panache.

Azoiţei and Stan duly returned for an encore in the guise of the Bagatelle by Ion Scarlatescu (1872-1922), whose quick-fire virtuosity brought this recital to an engaging close. This new series of the Enescu Concerts could scarcely have been launched in more impressive fashion.

Richard Whitehouse

Remus Azoiţei’s and Eduard Stan’s recording of Enescu’s complete music for violin and piano is on Hänssler Classics

Meanwhile The Enescu Concert Series continues at the Romanian Cultural Institute on Thursday 3rd November, when pianist Raluca Stirbat plays Enescu‘s Prelude & Scherzo and Third Sonata, along with Franck‘s Prelude, Choral et Fugue and Liszt‘s First Mephisto Waltz. Further details can be found at the Romanian Cultural Institute website

BBC Proms 2016 – Louis Lortie: Venezia e Napoli


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