In Appreciation – Lars Vogt

by Ben Hogwood

Yesterday we learned of the incredibly sad news that the pianist Lars Vogt had died, at the age of 51.

The warmth and appreciation of tributes paid to him from fellow artists yesterday evening testify to his warm personality, strength of character and great musicianship. Lars was diagnosed with cancer early in 2021, but even in his chemotherapy found that playing the piano channelled the most positive energy and feeling. Here, for instance, is a wonderful performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto no.24 given as part of the Parnu Festival with the Estonian Festival Orchestra and Paavo Järvi.

Lars was an extremely versatile artist, either as a soloist, chamber musician or conductor. Regular partners included violinist Christian Tetzlaff and cellist Truls Mørk, while he took part in a formidable piano trio with Christian and cellist Tanja Tetzlaff. He also proved himself a conductor of some note from the keyboard, directing the Royal Northern Sinfonia from the piano in recordings of the concertos of Beethoven and Brahms, and the Orchestre de Chambre de Paris in the concertos of Mendelssohn.

His orchestral partners spoke of him with great warmth, and certainly his time in Newcastle with the Royal Northern Sinfonia was characterised by energetic, creative music making and seasonal planning. My own memories of solo performance run back to a spellbinding account of the Goldberg Variations at Wigmore Hall:

As a concerto soloist I also recall a memorable account of BrahmsPiano Concerto no.2 with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Jiří Bělohlávek at the Proms:

At the same festival, I also recall a full-blooded account of the Bartók Violin Sonata no.1 with Christian Tetzlaff:

As a recording artist, Vogt enjoyed many peaks, mostly in the company of the Ondine label. The playlist below brings together just a section of these recordings, in the knowledge that a couple more are yet to be released.

He will be greatly missed, and we send condolences to all his family and friends. His lasting gift to us is in the form of recordings we will treasure greatly:

Playlist: Herbert Blomstedt at 95

by Ben Hogwood

To mark the 95th birthday of the great Swedish conductor Herbert Blomstedt on Monday just gone, Arcana has put together a playlist including a snapshot of some of his greatest and most enduring recordings.

They include the Fifth Symphony of Nielsen, part of a landmark cycle of the composer’s symphonies with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra for Decca. Blomstedt’s recordings with that orchestra in the 1990s were notable for their sonic prowess but left some critics cold; however on revisiting his Sibelius cycle, for instance, they stand up very well. The Third Symphony is included here, as is the first Peer Gynt Suite of Grieg.

Also in the 1990s came a trio of fascinating discs lending weight to the cause of Paul Hindemith. A disc of the Mathis der Maler Symphony, the Symphonic Metamorphoses and Trauermusik was to be expected, perhaps, but the follow-ups were even more valuable – a disc of the music for Nobilissima Visione, the Konzertmusik for Brass and Strings and Der Schwanendreher, and a pairing of the Symphonia Serena and symphony from the opera Die Harmonie der Welt, included here.

Blomstedt has more recently recorded a well-received Brahms cycle with the Leipzig Gewandhaus, though prior to that recorded a fine disc of the composer’s choral works in San Francisco. With the Gewandhaus, however, he has completed his most recent release, that of Schubert’s Unfinished and Great symphonies. The former is included here. Enjoy this selection of wonderful recordings!

In concert – BBC Philharmonic Orchestra & Jac van Steen – David Matthews Symphony no.10 world premiere, Schubert & Brahms

jac-van-steen

Brahms Piano Concerto no.1 in D minor Op.13 (1854-8)
Schubert
Overture to Rosamunde D797 (1820)
David Matthews
Symphony no.10 Op.157 (2020-21) [World premiere]

Stephen Hough (piano, below), BBC Philharmonic Orchestra / Jac van Steen (above)

MediaCity UK, Salford Quays
Friday 20 May 2022, 3pm

Written by Richard Whitehouse

A substantial programme was the order of the day for this afternoon’s studio concert from the BBC Philharmonic with Jac van Steen, given at the orchestra’s regular base in MediaCityUK and that featured a first performance anywhere for the Tenth Symphony by David Matthews.

Whereas his previous symphony was written for relatively modest dimensions, the Tenth marks a return to larger forces: triple woodwind (with doublings), four horns, three each of trumpets and trombones, tuba and four percussionists alongside timpani, celesta, piano, harp, and strings. It also finds Matthews (above) retackling the one-movement format that dominated his earlier symphonies, allied to a subtle process of developing variation such as ensures unity across a varied and eventful discourse. Not least when that massive opening chord sets out a long-range tonal and harmonic trajectory for this work overall, and to which a pensive (offstage) cor anglais solo then intensifying string fugato provide both continuation and contrast by anticipating the types of expression and motion as variously come to the fore.

Distinctive in themselves yet drawn into a tensile and cohesive entity, the constituent sections take in a wistful intermezzo then an agile scherzo on the way to a central culmination whose increasingly explosive energy likely marks a point of greatest engagement with that opening chord. The music duly heads into a slower episode of sustained emotional raptness, elements heard earlier gradually being recalled through an unforced while never discursive process of reprise towards a coda whose ending seems the more conclusive for its poised equivocation. An absorbing and often gripping exploration of symphonic tenets such as Matthews has long pursued, persuasively realized by the BBCPO and van Steen – whose support of the composer – having already recorded the Second, Sixth and Eighth Symphonies – hardly needs restating.

Before the interval, Stephen Hough (above) was soloist in Brahms’s First Piano Concerto – a piece he has given many times (not least a memorable reading at London’s Royal Festival Hall in the early 1990s, Andrew Davis also giving a seismic account of the Symphony by the late Hugh Wood). There was emotional breadth aplenty in the initial Maestoso, but also latest energy as came to the fore in a combative development and tempestuous coda. Nor was the symphonic aspect underplayed in what is still the most monumental opening movement of any concerto.

If the central Adagio lacked a degree of repose in its orchestral introduction, Hough’s take on its almost confessional solo passages brought the required inwardness, with the course of this movement towards its agitated peak or enfolding serenity at its close never in doubt. Nor was that of the closing rondo, especially a central episode whose string fugato was deftly rendered then the piano’s gentle response enticingly conveyed. After the cadenza, horns and woodwind emerged as if leaving a benediction prior to the triumph that coursed through those final bars.

Throughout this performance, van Steen was an alert and responsive accompanist – then put the BBC Philharmonic through its paces with an animated account of Schubert’s Rosamunde (a.k.a. Die Zauberharfe), which made for an engaging if unlikely entrée into the Matthews.

For more information on David Matthews you can visit his website here. For more on the artists in this concert, click on the names to access the websites of Stephen Hough, Jac van Steen and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra

Nicholas Angelich – An appreciation

by Ben Hogwood

Earlier this week the very sad death of Nicholas Angelich was announced, at the age of just 51. Thankfully the highly-regarded pianist made a good deal of recordings for Virgin Classics and later Warner, many of which included the music of Beethoven and Brahms, at whom he excelled.

This playlist includes the late set of Fantasias published by Brahms as Op.116, then a sparkling clip from Prokofiev’s arrangement of music from his ballet Romeo and Juliet. I was lucky to see Angelich perform Brahms’s Piano Quartet no.1 in G minor at the Wigmore Hall with violinist Renaud Capuçon, viola player Antoine Tamestit and cellist Gautier Capuçon, around the time of their excellent recording for Virgin Classics. You can hear that as part of the playlist, which ends with Angelich in Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, a lean account with the Insula Orchestra and Laurence Equilbey:

In concert – CBSO Centre Stage: Mozart and Brahms Quintets

cbso-centre-stage-horn

Mozart Horn Quintet in E flat major K407 (1782)
Brahms
String Quintet no. 1 in F major Op. 88 (1882)

CBSO Soloists: Mark Philips (horn), Philip Brett and Charlotte Skinner (violins),Christopher Yates and Catherine Bower (violas), Arthur Boutillier (cello)

CBSO Centre, Birmingham
Thursday 3 February 2022 2pm

Written by Richard Whitehouse

The Centre Stage series, featuring musicians from City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, continued this afternoon with an attractive coupling of quintets written exactly a century apart and which are among the most characteristic works of their respective composers’ maturities.

His first piece for the virtuoso Joseph Leutgeb (quite frequently the butt of Mozart’s scabrous humour, though for whom he went on to write four concertos) the Horn Quintet remains one of Mozart’s most engaging chamber pieces – not least through the presence of two violas that yield additional tonal depth to the lively outer Allegros, besides reinforcing the limpid pathos of the Andante. A little reticent toward the outset, Mark Philips came into his own during that central movement with its wistful poise and elegant interaction with those middle registers of the strings. Nor was there any lack of wit in the scintillating finale, its writing for the horn of no less agility than that found in the parallel movements of Mozart’s concertos; all the while suggesting the association between composer and musician was, after all, an endearing one.

Although he had originally intended his Piano Quintet to be a string quintet with two cellos, Brahms only got round to composing what became his First String Quintet as he was nearing fifty. Eschewing both the immediacy of his sextets and the austerity of his quartets, this piece typifies the ruminative warmth but also the expressive ambivalence of his music henceforth – not least an opening movement whose emotional surges are kept in check by the burnished richness of ensemble. The highlight, of the work as of this performance, is a slow movement that offsets its underlying introspection with two scherzo-like episodes whose effervescence carries over the finale – an Allegro of an impetus not so often encountered in Brahms’s later music, while culminating in a coda such as reinforces the home-key with exhilarating effect.

Such, at any rate, was the impression left by an assured and involving performance of a piece which conveyed the extent of this ‘dark horse’ among Brahms’s chamber compositions. Next week sees an ensemble from the CBSO tackle the epic expanse of Schubert’s String Quintet.

You can read more about that next Centre Stage recital, and book tickets, on the CBSO website