In concert – Elisabeth Brauß @ Wigmore Hall – Domenico Scarlatti, Mozart, Ravel & Prokofiev

Elisabeth Brauß (piano)

Domenico Scarlatti Sonata in C minor Kk56; Sonata in C Kk159 ‘La caccia’; Sonata in B minor Kk27; Sonata in B minor Kk87; Sonata in G Kk427 (exact dates unknown)
Mozart Piano Sonata in A minor K310 (1778)
Ravel Sonatine (1903-05)
Prokofiev Piano Sonata no.3 in A minor Op.28 (1917)

Wigmore Hall, London, 24 January 2022

reviewed by Ben Hogwood from the online broadcast

Seven sonatas and a sonatine in the space of an hour represents good value for a lunchtime concert – and even more so when the works in question span nearly two centuries. This was down to the clever programming of German pianist Elisabeth Brauß, a member of the BBC New Generations Scheme. She presented a potted history of the development of the sonata, moving as it did to the very centre of the concert platform by the twentieth century.

Brauß began her imaginatively thought-out hour with five sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, just under 1% of the composer’s remarkable output in the form. Within his 550 or so published works there is an inexhaustible variety, and Brauß gave us some fine examples. Her crisp delivery of the C minor work was complemented by the playful ‘Caccia’ sonata, Scarlatti’s writing of parallel thirds tastefully ornamented in the right hand. Slipping into B minor, there was a more obvious Bach influence in an elegant performance of the Kk27 sonata, before a more reflective example in the same key, given plenty of room with ideally weighted inside parts. This thoughtful and emotive account was swept to one side by the showy G major sonata, chasing the clouds away.

Mozart‘s A minor sonata followed, a profound work written in the wake of the sudden illness and death of the composer’s mother Anna Maria in Paris, 1778. The principal phrase of the first movement is conspicuous for a ‘wrong’ note, an E flat played at the same time as an A minor chord, which can throw the listener. Brauß did well to give it the surprise factor, resulting in quite an unnerving and uncertain mood.

The second movement was initially calm, bringing out the singing style of Mozart’s marking of Andante cantabile con espressione rather beautifully. There was a refreshing lack of weight to this performance, the melodies floating on air, in contrast to a heavy-set middle section. The Presto finale, initially serious, brightened as the tonality moved into the major key, Brauß sensing hope in Mozart’s writing.

There was clarity in her Ravel, too, which found the right combination of technical flair and intimacy. Brauß portrayed the questioning nature of the first movement, just before its main theme returns and resolves. A limpid second movement was followed by a finale notable for its virtuosity – following the Animé marking – but which kept its conversational qualities.

Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata no.3 is a compressed firecracker, a work with plenty to say in its eight minutes. This performance was very impressive if holding back a little in the more raucous moments. Brauß was a more than capable guide to this impetuous piece, however, finding the heart of the adventurous coda, which sounds a lot newer than its 1917 composition date would suggest.

She clearly loves Prokofiev, as the Prelude in C major Op.12/7 made an ideal encore, bringing out the composer’s balletic side. There was less percussiveness in this lyrical account, notable for some lovely melodic phrasing.

Watch and listen

You can listen to the repertoire from this concert in choice recordings on the Spotify playlist below (Elisabeth has not yet recorded any of the pieces):

In concert – Johan Dalene & Nicola Eimer play Ravel, Rautavaara & Prokofiev @ Wigmore Hall

johan-dalene-fredrik-schlyter

Ravel Violin Sonata in G major (1923-27)
Rautavaara Notturno e danza (1993)
Prokofiev Violin Sonata no.2 in D major Op.94b (1944)

Johan Dalene (violin, above), Nicola Eimer (piano, below)

Wigmore Hall, London
Monday 22 November 2021

Written by Ben Hogwood. Photos by Fredrik Schlyter (Johan Dalene) and Hedley Dindoyal (Nicola Eimer)

This was the first Wigmore Hall recital for talented Swedish violinist Johan Dalene, the BBC New Generation Artist performing a lunchtime concert with British pianist Nicola Eimer. It was a programme matching the music to the bright November sunlight visible through the roof of the hall.

Unfortunately the concert programme did not contain any biographical artist information, which was a shame as Dalene has already achieved a great deal by the age of 21. By no means the least of his achievements is a fine album for BIS Records with Christian Ihle Hadland, Nordic Rhapsody – where he juxtaposes fine works for violin and piano by Grieg, Stenhammar, Sinding, Sibelius and Rautavaara.

The latter composer provided the Notturno e Danza at the centre of today’s programme, an appealing piece for students that is deceptively difficult to get right. Dalene’s tone carried an atmospheric Notturno capturing the composer’s depiction of changing light patterns, and shaded the quick Danza beautifully and with impressive volume.

Before the Rautavaara we heard an excellent performance of Ravel’s second Violin Sonata, as it is now recognised. This work was completed in spite of the composer’s frank admission that he didn’t think violin and piano were a good match – but here they united in a compelling account. This was in spite of the first movement, where both instruments essentially go their own way. The musical material is elusive, worrisome even, but with the clarity of Dalene’s bow strokes, Ravel’s thoughts were never anything less than convincing. Eimer’s attentive piano part pulled the music towards different tonalities, as Ravel would have wished.

The second movement relocated us to New York with bluesy incantations and jazzy rhythms. It fell naturally under Dalene’s spell, with a wide range of colours and shades on display, while Eimer provided beautifully judged punctuation to bring the syncopations to the fore. Only the last movement was able to break free of these sleights of hand, its moto perpetuo brilliantly judged and fearlessly executed, both players brilliant in their virtuosity.

Another sonata formed the third work in the programme. Prokofiev’s Violin Sonata no.2 in D major may be an arrangement, being a re-edit of his Flute Sonata at the request of David Oistrakh in 1944, but it is a most genuine work for the two instruments. Dalene and Eimer gave a sunlit performance, enjoying the melodic abundance Prokofiev lends the violin, but were wary too of the shadowy presence beneath the surface of the scherzo and the slow movement in particular. Dalene’s tone was ideally suited to the occasionally barbed lyricism of the former, while the lyrical slow movement had a sunlit warmth to go with the weather. So, too, did the finale, capping a wonderful performance where the rustic theme stayed in the mind for long after the concert had finished.

As a thoughtful encore Dalene and Eimer included Lili Boulanger’s Nocturne, a starry-eyed diversion of subtle beauty, the harmonic shifts tastefully secured. Both players made a very strong impression throughout the concert, their natural partnership blossoming on the stage. Watch it online if you can!

You can watch this concert on the Wigmore Hall website for the next 28 days – and you can hear the music played by Mischa and Lily on the Spotify playlist below, including Johan’s recording of the Rautavaara:

In concert – Sol & Pat (Sol Gabetta & Patricia Kopatchinskaja) @ Queen Elizabeth Hall

pat-sol

Leclair Violin Sonata in C major Op.5/10: Tambourin (c1734)
Widmann 24 Duos: Valse bavaroise; Toccatina all’inglese (2008)
J.S. Bach Prelude in G major (from BWV860) (c1722)
Francisco Coll Rizoma (2017)
Domenico Scarlatti Sonata in G, Kk.305
Ravel Sonata for violin & cello (1922)
J.S. Bach 15 Two-part Inventions BWV772-86 (selection) (c1723)
Ligeti Hommage à Hilding Rosenberg (1982)
Xenakis Dipli zyia (1951)
C.P.E. Bach Presto in C minor Wq114/3 (c1768)
Kodály Duo Op.7 (1914)

Patricia Kopatchinskaja (violin), Sol Gabetta (cello)

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Tuesday 26 October 2021

Written by Richard Whitehouse

Combining two of the most charismatic and creative string players of their generation was such a good idea to make one surprised it had not happened earlier, but tonight the Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Sol Gabetta double-act hit the Southbank Centre in no uncertain terms.

A stomping entrée to Leclair’s Tambourin in C (a rare instance when Kopatchinskaja donned footwear) launched proceedings in arresting fashion, while Jörg Widmann’s Valse bavaroise and Toccatina all’inglese – both from his resourceful playbook of 24 Duos – allured and engaged. Bach’s Prelude in G (from BWV860) afforded a limpid breathing-space, then Francisco Coll’s Rizoma fairly intrigued with its incrementally shifting textures and ethereal harmonics – just the sort of piece, indeed, necessary for energizing the violin-and-cello medium. Kopatchinskaja admitted to disliking the arrangement of Scarlatti’s Sonata in G (Kk305) and canvassed the audience for its opinion, the response encouraging an incisive take on music whose enthusiastic response left her shaking her head in mock consternation.

The first half concluded with Ravel’s Sonata for violin and cello – much less often revived than it should be, ostensibly on account of the duo-medium, but an undoubted masterpiece when rendered with such commitment as here. Kopatchinskaja and Gabetta teased out those exquisite tonal obliquities of the Allegro, countered by the alternate brusqueness and suavity of the scherzo or distanced rapture of the slow movement; before the finale brought matters to a head with its headlong syncopation and no lack of that ‘spirit’ as indicated in the score.

A brief inclusion from Bach’s 15 Two-Part Inventions (BWV772-86) opened the second half with pointed understatement (presumably more so than the Scarlatti sonata that was originally scheduled), with the expressive poise of Ligeti’s Hommage á Hilding Rosenberg duly making way for the acerbic interplay of Xenakis’s Dipli zyia which is among the most Bartókian of the formative pieces to have found posthumous revival by this composer (who is hopefully being suitably commemorated throughout his centenary in 2022).

Kopatchinskaja and Gabetta then sat side by side for a speculative reading of C.P.E. Bach’s Presto in C minor (Wq.114 No. 3) made the more so through its being played pizzicato throughout. Interesting, too, how such an arrangement can dissolve any perceived boundary between musical epochs.

The programme reached a culmination in every sense with Kodály’s Duo, one of several large-scale chamber-works for strings on which his reputation as a composer of ‘abstract’ music rests. After a tensile account of the preludial Allegro, Kopatchinskaja and Gabetta rendered the central Adagio with sustained pathos and a timbral acuity made more so by their faultless intonation. Nor was there any lack of eloquence in the finale, its deliberate progress building a momentum that was released in the coda to heady and exhilarating effect.

Quite a concert, then, with a performance to match by two musicians who complement each other’s playing to a mutually beneficial degree. Hopefully they will be returning with another wide-ranging programme before too long. The enthusiastic audience evidently felt likewise.

For more information on the new Sol & Pat release, head to the Linn Records website

In concert – Aris Quartet play Schulhoff, Kurtág & Mendelssohn @ Wigmore Hall

Aris 5

Schulhoff 5 Pieces for String Quartet (1924)
Kurtág Officium breve in memoriam Andreae Szervánszky Op.28 (1988-9)
Mendelssohn String Quartet No. 3 in D major Op.44/1 (1838)

Aris Quartet (above, photograph (c) Sophie Walter) [Anna Katharina Wildermuth, Noémi Zipperling (violins), Caspar Vinzens (viola), Lukas Sieber (cello)]

Wigmore Hall, London
Monday 11 October 2021, 1pm

Written by Ben Hogwood (reviewed live from online stream below)

The Aris Quartet are part of the BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists scheme, and this was their first appearance at the Wigmore Hall. They presented themselves as a lively ensemble who clearly enjoy their music, and they played with sensitivity and panache

Also revealed was a strong instinct for programming. Schulhoff’s 5 Pieces for String Quartet are beginning to make themselves known more in the concert hall, presenting as they do a number of sides of this unique musical personality. The Czech composer was arrested in Prague before he could be issued with a visa to emigrate to Moscow in the Second World War, and died at the Wülzburg concentration camp at the age of 48. His music is still relatively young in its exposure because of this, only really coming through in the 1990s. Initial criticism from those sceptical at his integration of jazz and dance forms is giving way to more outright respect, and – as could be seen here – the 5 Pieces make a great start to a concert.

The Aris Quartet gave a vibrant account of the first movement, marked Alla Valse viennese, but soon a chill was forming as the Alla Serenata progressed, its ghostly presence reminiscent of early Shostakovich. The muted instruments danced over a distracted drone from the cello before biting hard in a sequence that was almost anti-lyrical. There was an impressive cut and thrust to the Alla Czeca, bringing out the composer’s heritage, then an attractive sway to the Alla Tango milonga, beautifully played but with an unexpectedly ominous finish. Finally the buzz of the lively Alla Tarantella set a strong unison violin melody against brisk viola and cello.

Officium breve by György Kurtág was next, a requiem to fellow Hungarian composer Andreae Szervánszky. By his standards it is a lengthy piece indeed, but with 15 sections in barely 12 minutes it was packed with compressed melodies of great intensity. Kurtág is a master in obtaining deep expression from the shortest of phrases, achieving this through carefully pointed melodies and highly imaginative quartet textures. Such a thorough knowledge of string quartet capabilities informs the many sides of grief felt here, and the Aris Quartet reveled in the nuances of the piece. The gripping account took hold from the distracted opening, where cellist Lukas Sieber effectively set out the pitches of the open strings of hit instrument, to savage chords wrought with pure anger later on. The composer’s use of microtones was deeply expressive, as were the ‘double stopping’ passages, the quartet playing as one instrument with eight or more voices. It was a moving and mind-expanding performance.

A wholesale change of mood took us to Mendelssohn, and the joyous outpouring of the first in his trio of quartets published as Op.44. Anna Katharina Wildermuth’s songful first violin was key here, but so were the quartet textures, with lots going on but impressive clarity to reveal the dialogue between the instruments. This was a lovely, fluid performance, with a sunny first movement giving way to a less excitable but equally persuasive Menuetto, showing off its rhythms and soft-hearted theme. Feelings ran deep in the slow movement, especially in the minor key episode, where Wildermuth probed deeper with her phrasing. The finale recaptured the mood of the first movement, good spirits bubbling over to cap an affectionate and energetic performance.

It was great to see an ensemble playing as one with such obvious enthusiasm and commitment for the music, and based on this evidence the Aris Quartet have a bright future indeed. Watch the concert stream and see for yourself!

You can also listen to the repertoire from the Aris Quartet’s concert on this Spotify playlist:

For more information on the Aris Quartet visit their website

Playlist – World Mental Health Day: Music To Grow To

Today – Sunday 10 October – is World Mental Health Day.

Rather than post the latest concert review on Arcana, I decided to take some time out to come up with a simple playlist of music I have found helpful to listen to in busy or fraught times.

I have called it Music To Grow To, as it begins with one player (Ravel‘s Menuet antique for piano) and grows to music for two people (Messiaen‘s timeless Louange à l’Éternité de Jesus from his Quatuor pour le fin du temps), then three (Mozart‘s sublime Divertimento for string trio).

Philip Glass‘s restful Company is next, for string quartet, then we switch to wind instruments for the 12-player Serenade by Dvořák, a lovely piece.

Finally a long, contemplative piece that should be experienced live whenever you get the chance! John Luther AdamsBecome Ocean performs the function of being incredibly immersive, ambient music and it uses the whole orchestra from small beginnings to slow, steady growth.

Give the playlist a try on Spotify below: