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

Wigmore Mondays – Ailish Tynan & Malcolm Martineau in French song

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Ailish Tynan (soprano, above), Malcolm Martineau (piano)

Wigmore Hall, London, 9 May 2016

written by Ben Hogwood

Audio (open in a new window)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b079m13q

Available until 8 June

What’s the music?

Fauré Cinq mélodies de Venise (1891) (12 minutes)

Debussy Fêtes galantes Set 1 (1892) (7 minutes)

Hahn Fêtes galantes (1892) (2 minutes)

Ravel Sur l’herbe (1907) (2 minutes)

Fauré Clair de lune (1887) (3 minutes)

Hahn À Chloris (1916) (3 minutes)

Poulenc Fiançailles pour rire (1939) (13 minutes)

Spotify

Ailish Tynan has recorded some of the Fauré songs in this recital, and in case the broadcast cannot be heard they are on the playlist below – together with other versions of the songs by Debussy, Poulenc and Hahn:

About the music

The contrast between these Verlaine settings is fascinating. Fauré’s Venetian set is heady music that flows, melodically rich but harmonically even more so, its flowing nature reflecting his ‘barcarolle’ piano writing and the watery setting.

Debussy’s, written just a year later, could almost be from another planet, with deep blue colours invoked by the singer and piano as they explored the mysterious worlds of the poet.

The central selection of songs shows off the abundance of French song writing talent at the turn of the century, while Poulenc’s Fiançailles pour rire, a brief but intensely concentrated cycle and the composer’s most popular for the female voice, explores extremes of emotion. It is a classic example of Poulenc’s bittersweet but utterly compelling ways of word setting.

Performance verdict

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Malcolm Martineau (piano)

French song lends itself well to an hour-long recital program, and in Ailish Tynan and Malcolm Martineau’s Wigmore Hall lunchtime concert we explored the extraordinary poetry of Paul Verlaine through the musical eyes of Fauré, Debussy and Hahn.

You would not have known Tynan was standing on for the indisposed Angelika Kirschlagers, so surefooted was her partnership with Martineau, and with her compelling performances, aided by expressive gestures, she took us on an instinctive and fascinating tour.

Fauré’s Venetian songs were glorious, and Tynan’s ability to vary her vibrato was invaluable, while Martineau had the essential Fauré ‘flow’ at the piano.

Debussy’s Fêtes galantes had the requisite mystery, while Hahn’s celebrated A Chloris sparkled in this partnership, but it was in the Poulenc cycle Fiançailles pour rire where Tynan really shone. From the breathless Il vole to the sorrowful Dans l’herbe, where the darkness at the very edge of Poulenc’s music was drawn in, this was a compelling performance. A beautiful encore, Fauré’s Nell, was followed by a characteristically funny introduction to Dave Frishberg’s Another Song About Paris, where both performers’ humour sent the Wigmore Hall audience away smiling.

What should I listen out for?

Fauré

1:38 Mandoline A jaunty song describing the ‘gallant serenaders…beneath singing boughs’. The grey moon at the end is suitably evoked by the flowing piano.

3:32 En sourdine The hazy twilight is immediately obvious in this rather sensual song, with a full timbre from the soprano and an accompaniment typical of Fauré’s broad, flowing style.

6:35 Green A greater urgency to this song, a heady statement of devotion with a spring-like air.

8:25 A Clymène The piano introduction evokes the ‘mystical barcarolles’ of the opening line of this song, an exotic and heavily perfumed statement with some awkward gaps between notes for the singer!

11:05 C’est l’extase This song (translating as ‘It is rapture’) certainly has a rarefied air, the soprano in a higher register as she swoons of the ‘delicate, fresh murmuring’ and the ‘subdued lament’ of two lovers.

Debussy

15:10 En sourdine A very different setting of this poem from Debussy, with a distant, mysterious picture immediately evoked by the piano. The singer is subdued and the tempo is much more deliberate than the Fauré setting.

17:58 Fantoches The swirl of the piano transports us to a completely different world, with quick glances and urgent musical statements, the soprano sweeping up to a top ‘A’ and back towards the end.

19:20 Clair de lune Debussy was to write a more famous Clair de lune for piano alone, but this one is just as evocative of the moonlight, somehow evoking the dark blue colours in its lustrous beauty.

23:29 Hahn Fêtes galantes The clanging octaves of the piano introduce a song that has a similar stop-start feel to the first Fauré song in this concert. The end is brilliantly done.

25:30 Ravel Sur l’herbe This song (which translates as On the lawn) is a rather bizarre Verlaine poem, a conversation between an abbot and some shepherdesses. Ravel captures all the back and forth between the speakers over an elusive piano line.

27:43 Fauré Clair de lune Fauré’s setting of moonlight has more defined lines than Debussy’s, and a longer piano introduction to set the scene, but has an understated beauty, supported again by a flowing accompaniment.

30:47 Hahn À Chloris Hahn’s celebrated love song is clearly influenced by Bach in its stately introduction, after which the soprano sings of pure, unconditional happiness in love. Very much a case of ‘less is more’!

Poulenc

35:09 La Dame d’André A song of uncertainty, describing a man about to marry who worries about his wife and if he’ll love her in the future. Poulenc’s response is appropriately worrisome – but the softer chord at the end suggests he’ll be alright!

36:35 Dans l’herbe A sorrowful and tortured song, particularly in the second verse – though there is a lightness of texture also. This brings in the darkness Poulenc often has at the very edge of his music.

38:38 Il vole Some breathless observations from the soprano in this song, with happiness elusive but not too far away. ‘I want my stealer to steal me’, she concludes.

40:38 Mon cadavre est doux comme un gant Once again a shadow falls over the music, and this strange song of a corpse casts its spell. With long, high notes it is a particularly tricky one for the soprano. Her last note (43:02) is telling, as it resolves the whole song.

43:26 Violon A strange air is around this song, because both soprano and piano operate at the highs and lows of their ranges. There is dark humour, too, as the singer tells of how ‘I love those long wailings’ of the violin. The harmonic language is exotic but restless too, until a clipped chord at the end.

45:27 Fleurs A simple air is around this song, which shows how Poulenc can make beautiful sounds from apparently very little. The text is repeated very quietly to a soft but rather sad close.

Encores

49:02 Fauré Nell (1878) The flowing piano and floated soprano line indicate this is a song of adoration. It is the sort of song that flings the doors wide open, though Fauré’s rapture is always just a little reserved.

51:32 Dave Frishberg Another song about Paris (4 minutes) A classic cabaret song, brilliantly written with just the right amount of humour in text and performance!

Further listening

Ailish Tynan’s disc of Fauré comes highly recommended, and can be heard on Spotify here:

If however you’d like to hear her in the music of her homeland, Ireland, An Irish Album is self-recommending:

Wigmore Mondays – Kathryn Stott

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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

 

The Schubert Ensemble – French piano quartets

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The Schubert Ensemble Milton Court, 11 March 2015.

An evening chamber music concert has the potential to take the sting and stress out of a busy day – as was the case here, with the Schubert Ensemble giving their first recital at the still relatively new Milton Court venue.

As an annex to the Barbican Centre in the City of London the hall is a desirable alternative to its larger cousin – which remains difficult to navigate even after two decades! Milton Court feels fresh and exciting, though it can get a bit claustrophobic around the bar area when the main hall is turning out.
Thankfully the Schubert Ensemble’s music making was airy enough to completely dispel any discomfort, though they had a few problems of their own to contend with in the shape of violinist Simon Blendis, who had fractured his arm.

Blendis, allocated the role of compère, praised his more than able stand-in, Krysia Osostowicz, one of the finest chamber musicians around – and she fitted seamlessly into the group’s music making here. Though unfortunately not credited in the program, William Howard (piano), Osostowicz, Douglas Paterson (viola) and Jane Salmon (cello) were all at the top of their game.

Unfortunately because of the injury we lost the Saint-Saëns Piano Quartet from the program, which was a shame as this not often performed, and the Schubert Ensemble doubtless have the energy and grace from which this work would benefit. Instead of that, however, we had the First Piano Quartet of Fauré – which was not exactly a hardship, for this is a lovely, tuneful work where emotion simmers just below the surface, breaking through in a passionate finale. Led by their superb pianist Howard, the group played with poise and control but clearly felt the music, and the resultant half-hour passed quickly!

After the interval a close musical relation of Fauré, Ernest Chausson, took his chance to shine in the form of a substantial Piano Quartet, a work he completed in 1897. There is an unexpected Eastern flavour to the opening of this piece – of Chinese origin, arguably – and Howard held back a bit on the tempo to give this plenty of air. Douglas Paterson found real depths of emotion in his viola solo from the slow movement, while the third movement waltz swung dolefully.

To begin with we had heard music from the composer after which the Schubert Ensemble are named – a movement for String Trio (violin, viola and cello) from 1816. This musical palette cleanser proved a suitable introduction to the two meatier works on the program.

A Spotify playlist containing the works heard can be accessed below. The Fauré is as recorded by the Schubert Ensemble themselves: