On record – Aurora Orchestra / Nicholas Collon: Music of the Spheres (DG)

Pekka Kuusisto (violin), Iestyn Davies (countertenor), Sam Swallow (vocalist), Aurora Orchestra / Nicholas Collon

Mozart Symphony no.41 in C major K551 ‘Jupiter’ (1788)
Richter Journey (CP1919) (2019)
Dowland arr. Muhly Time Stands Still (1603)
Adès Violin Concerto ‘Concentric Paths’ (2005)
Bowie arr. John Barber Life on Mars? (1971)

Deutsche Grammophon 4838228 [69′]

Recorded 9 June 2019, Maida Vale Studio 1, London

Written by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Only the Aurora Orchestra could put together an album running from Mozart to David Bowie. Yet as we have seen from their previous themed releases such as Insomnia and Road Trip, there are no gimmicks involved in their musical choices and a clear theme runs through the programming.

Music of the Spheres is no exception, beginning with Mozart’s Jupiter symphony before music from Max Richter (Journey), Dowland via Muhly (Time Stands Still) and the Violin Concerto of Thomas Adès, subtitled Concentric Paths. The soloist here is Pekka Kuusisto, while the Aurora play the Jupiter symphony entirely from memory, as they did in the BBC Proms in 2016.

What’s the music like?

There is something for everyone here. Mozart’s Jupiter symphony is his 41st and final essay in the genre, setting a new bar for the form when it was completed. While the first three movements are particularly fine it is the finale that comes in for the greatest acclamation, for its well-nigh perfect fusion of melody and counterpoint.

Richter’s Journey CP1919, is inspired by and named after the discovery of the first Pulsar star. It fits perfectly onto the tail of the Mozart, running at a slow speed and operating in C minor rather than the earlier piece’s key of C major.

By contrast Adès’ Concentric Paths operates in a wider orbit, the violin soaring at great heights over the compelling orchestral writing, which has in its spiralling strong echoes of the music of Benjamin Britten. As soloist Pekka Kuusisto has described, ‘it’s hyper-emotional music for people in an accelerating world’.

Complementing these instrumental pieces are two songs of identical length but very different form – a serene early 17th century song from Dowland and one of the best-known pop songs of the 20th century. Having heard from Jupiter and CP1919, Sam Swallow asks, to effective arranged accompaniment, is there Life On Mars?

Does it all work?

Pretty much! The Jupiter gets an athletic performance from the Aurora Orchestra – no dallying here, or lingering on expressive notes. That does mean a darkening of the slow movement, and maybe some constricted phrases, but by contrast it means an exciting first movement, a mysterious Menuetto and a lithe finale, busy and brilliantly played.

The Richter is haunting and really effective, its simplicity leaving the orchestra plenty of room to create a remote atmosphere. The songs are great too – Iestyn Davies is the perfect choice for the Dowland, with Nico Muhly’s sensitive orchestration, while Sam Swallow puts his own stamp on Life on Mars? without losing the essence of the original, which is an impressive achievement.

Yet the performance I kept coming back to was Pekka Kuusisto’s white-hot rendering of the Adès. This is terrifically difficult music to play, but he makes it sound easy even at the highest points of the violin range, and the moods range from serenity to power and even anger as the music moves relentlessly forwards. On occasion I have to admit I find Thomas Adès music hard to relate to emotionally, but this is a clear exception and the music digs deep.

Is it recommended?

Yes. The Aurora’s albums are great at bringing music of very different origins together, exposing new elements and old qualities, and it does so again here. Freshly minted Mozart and brilliantly played contemporary works, plus a good deal of imagination. What’s not to love?

Listen

Buy

You can purchase this recording from various digital outlets via the Presto website

Wigmore Mondays – Lucie Horsch & Thomas Dunford: Music for Recorder and Lute

Lucie Horsch (recorder, above), Thomas Dunford (lute, below)

Wigmore Hall, Monday 10 February 2020 (lunchtime)

You can listen to this concert on the BBC Sounds app here (opens in a new window)

Review and guide by Ben Hogwood

The recorder does not appear to have great appeal or exposure to the concert-going public, yet with a few more concerts like this from Lucie Horsch and Thomas Dunford could change that perception very quickly indeed.

The Dutch player Horsch is still only 20, but she demonstrated incredible virtuosity and command of the four or five different instruments she called upon in this recital. Not only that but her musical instincts were extremely sound, her communication with equally stylish lute player Thomas Dunford borne of friendship and a shared enjoyment of the music. It said much that when the solo pieces were being performed, the instrumentalist not involved listened closely and often smiled in response to the phrases they heard.

The well-planned concert was packed with music from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, with a brief excursion to the 20th for a brave and brilliantly realised arrangement of Debussy’s Syrinx. That appeared fourth in a list of 11 pieces from no fewer than 10 composers, performed in four logical blocks.

Horsch and Dunford started together with the Sonata Seconda in stil moderno by Venetian composer Dario Castello (from 1:58 on the broadcast link). If you listen you will hear the purity of the recorder’s tone, on a soprano instrument, and the mottled sound of the lute which complements it ideally. It may sound as though Dunford is playing with a very relaxed air, but watching him confirmed there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes for the part to sound so instinctive. As the sonata unfolds here Horsch demonstrates her bravura in the faster music.

Dowland’s Preludium (7:31) follows, a subdued, slightly downcast piece for lute that works well as an introduction for Horsch’s own arrangement of the famous song Flow, my tears (12:19). Here the two communicated beautifully, even with the vocal line slightly tampered by the recorder’s limitations on producing vibrato.

This is followed by the Suite no.5 in F from the French composer Charles Dieupart, a set of six dance movements prefaced by an Ouverture (16:35). The dances are an Allemande (17:46) with an attractive lilt, then a lively and spiky Courante (20:54); both are countered by a slower Sarabande (22:11). Then comes a Gavotte with a spring in its step (24:24), a Menuet en rondeau (25:19) and finally a lively Gigue (26:46), where Dunford’s lute strumming gives a good snap to the rhythms.

We then jump forward over 200 years for Horsch’s own arrangement of Debussy’s famous solo flute piece Syrinx (28:48). This is a remarkable performance, given the definition Lucie gets from the very difficult lower notes on her recorder. Here the subdued but sonorous tones take on an exotic and faintly South American air.

She turns to a slightly smaller instrument for the Philidor, a Sonata in D minor with four movements. It begins with a slower introduction (32:16), an intricate fast movement with the players swapping melodies (34:33), an elegant Courante (35:37) and a much more deliberate Les notes égales et détachez (36:45), which blossoms into a lively fast section.

For the next sequence of three pieces we get an idea of how far the performers have looked for this programme, with a really nice blend of moods and colours. Les Voix Humaines (40:26), an arrangement of a piece for solo viol by Marin Marais, is subdued but stylish in Dunford’s solo lute performance. That blends into the enchantment of François Couperin’s nightingale, strongly evoked by Horsch in Le rossignol-en-amour (44:00). Horsch then gives a short but moving dance from Dutch composer Jacob van Eyck (46:35). Recercadas by Diego Ortiz (48:47) is a florid response, with the lute strummed like a guitar. Then comes the remarkably modern sounding world of Joan Ambrosio Dalza’s Calate ala spagnola (51:30), with repeated notes anticipating tremolos in much later guitar music, brilliantly played by Dunford before the music fades away.

Finally the Marais Couplets de folies (54:48), a set of variations on the famous tune La Folia. Dunford’s lute sets out the theme before the recorder enters. Its lines grow in difficulty, and there were some eye-popping moments of virtuoso brilliance from Lucie Horsch here. With the two performers sat together they still cut a relaxed presence, as though both were performing in your own front room. An unnamed encore, unfortunately dropping off the end of the broadcast, encapsulated the bright and instinctive music of the previous hour.

Repertoire

This concert contained the following music (with timings on the BBC Sounds broadcast in brackets):

Castello Sonata Seconda in stil modern (published 1629) (1:58)
Dowland Preludium (7:31); Flow my tears (12:19) (both 1600)
Dieupart Suite No. 5 in F major (publ. 1701) (16:35)
Debussy Syrinx (1913) (28:48)
Philidor Sonata in D minor (publ. 1712) (32:16)
Marais Les Voix Humaines (publ. 1701) (40:26)
François Couperin Le rossignol-en-amour (publ. 1722) (44:00)
van Eyck Lavolette (publ. 1646) (46:35)
Ortiz Recercadas (unknown, 16th century) (48:47)
Dalza Calate ala spagnola (unknown, 16th century) (51:30)
Marais Suite in D minor – Couplets de folies (Les folies d’Espagne) (publ. 1701) (54:48)

Further listening & viewing

The music from this concert can be heard in the playlist below, with some of the repertoire appearing on Horsch and Dunford’s most recent release Baroque Journey. The original versions of Dowland’s Flow, my tears and Marais’ Le Voix Humaines are included.

Baroque Journey is itself a very enjoyable listen, showing off the complementary talents of both of the soloists in this concert:

Meanwhile the music of Charles Dieupart can be explored in the company of Henry Purcell, both composers’ music for recorder making up this album from Hugo Reyne and La Simphonie Du Marais:

Finally a link to the remarkable music of Marin Marais and the second book of his Pièces De Viole, played by the masterful Jordi Savall:

Timothy Ridout & Frank Dupree – Bridge, Britten & Bowen @ Wigmore Hall

Timothy Ridout (viola, above), Jack Dupree (piano, below)

Bridge Pensiero; Allegro appassionato (1908)
Britten Lachrymae: Reflections on a Song of John Dowland Op. 48a (1950)
Bowen Viola Sonata No. 1 in C minor Op. 18 (1907)

Wigmore Hall, London
Tuesday 5 February 2019

Photo credit Kaupo Kikkas (Timothy Ridout)

Review by Ben Hogwood

The first Tuesday in the month usually brings with it a lunchtime recital at the Wigmore Hall from an artist on the YCAT roster. YCAT (Young Classical Artists Trust) is a charitable organisation looking after the development of emerging classical artists. A snapshot of its alumni (Alison Balsom, Simon Haram, the Belcea Quartet and Sean Shibe) bears testament to the success of their program and the longevity of the careers they boost.

On this evidence, viola player Timothy Ridout is another who looks set for great things – as does German pianist Frank Dupree, with whom he gave this recital. Dupree was demonstrating his versatility with a second appearance at the hall in nine days (previously appearing with BBC New Generation artist, trumpeter Simon Höfele)

The pair began with two compositions by Frank Bridge, himself a viola player – but one who seemed reluctant to write anything substantial for his own instrument. The Pensiero and Allegro appassionato are the only works that survive. Written in 1908, they fall into Bridge’s late Romantic period and make a very satisfying double. Ridout played the Pensiero affectionately and with a beautiful tone, which opened out for the surge of the Allegro appassionato that followed.

Bridge and Benjamin Britten enjoyed an inspirational creative partnership, the elder man a lasting influence on his pupil. Britten’s Lachrymae is his major work for viola and piano, though is more commonly heard in its orchestral arrangement. It is a masterful set of variations on a song by John Dowland, If my complaints could passions move, and reverses the variation format so that we hear all the variations first and the tune right at the end. He also refers to a second Dowland song, Flow my tears, in the course of the piece.

Ridout and Dupree gave a superb performance, atmospheric right from the start with a commendable attention to detail and a brooding passion which was unleashed in the fifth and sixth variations. The dynamic shadings were exquisitely realised, Ridout’s tone was beautifully judged, and Dupree’s punctuation marks were ideally clipped in the seventh variation.

Finally a very different form of Englishness was heard in the form of York Bowen’s Viola Sonata no.1. Bowen wrote this at the age of 20, and it shows an early command of the required form, as well as melodic invention, which both players clearly enjoyed. There was humour, too, in the coda parts of the first movement, and in the closing pages, which felt like a race to the finish between the two.

The sonata’s dimensions are considerable – 29 minutes in this performance – but the work did not outstay its welcome, thanks to the energy of the outer movements. These drove forward with great enthusiasm and lyrical input. Ridout’s tone was consistently strong and rich in the low register, his phrasing ideal – while Dupree matched him note for note in the tricky accompaniment. The slow movement found the emotional heart of the piece, but the sweeping optimism of the last movement stayed with the audience the longest.

As a nicely chosen encore Ridout introduced Bowen’s Melody for the G string (1917), its title a lightly humourous take on Bach’s Air but also rooting the viola player to the same string for the whole five minutes. With a charming tune, it provided a winsome finish to a very fine concert.

More music

You can watch Timothy and Jack in York Bowen’s Romance below, also at the Wigmore Hall:

Meanwhile to hear the music in this concert, the Spotify playlist below includes all the works performed, in versions currently available:

Timothy has not yet recorded any of the works featured, but his debut disc for Champs Hill is well worth hearing – the complete works for viola and piano by Belgian composer Henri Vieuxtemps:

Links

You can find out more about the work of YCAT and their artists on their website