Wigmore Mondays – Annelien Van Wauwe & Nino Gvetadze play Debussy, Poulenc & Brahms

Annelien Van Wauwe (clarinet, above) and Nino Gvetadze (piano, below)

Debussy Première rapsodie (1909-10)

Poulenc Clarinet Sonata (1962)

Schumann Arabeske in C major, Op 18 (1838-9)

Brahms Clarinet Sonata in E flat, Op 120 No 2 (1894)

Wigmore Hall, London; Monday 20 March, 2017

Listen to the BBC broadcast here

Written by Ben Hogwood

The soft, languid tones of Annelien Van Wauwe’s clarinet were perfectly judged at the hushed start of Debussy’s Première rapsodie, the first piece in a nicely chosen set of music for clarinet and piano.

This piece is an elusive ten-minute train of thought, with two distinct ideas – the slow, sleepy opening paragraph (from 1:40 on the broadcast link) and another, spiky idea (around 3:42), begging for a jazz accompaniment. Gradually the two get closer together and the cumulative energy builds. Nino Gvetadze’s colourful piano accompaniment showed just how suitable the piece is for orchestra – which Debussy realised with a subsequent arrangement.

Poulenc’s Clarinet Sonata is one of his last published works, written in homage to fellow composer Arthur Honegger. Central to its success is the yearning theme of the central Romanza (16:36), where Van Wauwe’s tone and phrasing was beautifully observed. The first movement (beginning at 11:24) could have been a bit more mischievous, perhaps, but the brisk and largely upbeat finale (21:22) certainly hit the spot.

Following this was a chance for Gvetadze to take centre stage in Schumann’s lilting Arabeske (25:40), where wife Clara explicitly asked him to avoid making musical references to her. I’m not convinced he kept that bargain, because the music is very affectionate, and Gvetadze portrayed that too.

We then heard Brahms’ last published chamber work, the last part of an Indian summer instigated by the clarinettist Richard Mühlfeld, whose quality of tone directly inspired four pieces from the composer. This included a pair of sonatas published in 1894 as Brahms’s Op.120. These are lovely autumnal works, and both performers shaded the E flat work, the more positive of the two, with appropriate care. More authority could perhaps have been given to the second movement (marked Allegro appassionato, from 43:26 on the broadcast) but the outer movements had plenty to admire. The first movement (from 35:09) was largely contented, while the last, a theme and variations (48:50), was more changeable in mood and brilliantly played here, Brahms’ inspiration as keen as ever.

A final thought – what will Brexit mean for the non-English contingent the BBC choose for their excellent New Generations scheme? One of many questions classical music and the arts will face in the coming months and years.

Further listening

Brahms’s last works for clarinet are collected in the playlist below. They are autumnal in nature but have some wonderful lyrical writing for the instrument.

Wigmore Mondays – Kungsbacka Trio play Schumann and Ravel

Kungsbacka Piano Trio [Malin Broman (violin), Jesper Svedberg (cello), Simon Crawford-Phillips (piano)

Schumann Piano Trio no.2 in F major Op.80 (1847)

Ravel Piano Trio in A minor (1914)

Wigmore Hall, London; Monday 13 March, 2017

Listen to the BBC broadcast here

Written by Ben Hogwood

Schumann seems to have approached his career in clumps of music. 1841 was the fabled ‘year of song’, the catalyst for years of exceptional achievements in the form. The next year he ventured into the world of the string quartet, publishing three works. It wasn’t until 1847 that he decided to publish a piano trio, and here he was apparently spurred on by the quality of his wife Clara’s trio the year before. 1847 yielded two works for the combination.

The Second Piano Trio, Op.80 in his catalogue, begins with an outpouring of fervent but very positive feelings (1:35 on the broadcast), though its casting in F major makes it a little less tempestuous than the First Piano Trio in D minor, Op.63. Yes, it was a prolific year for the composer!

By now Schumann’s style was more contrapuntal – that is to say he was applying more of the practices perfected by Bach, linking his melodies through eventful interplay. The Kungsbacka Trio were alive to this way of writing, and all the parts were clearly audible, though when they merged into one there was some beautiful unison playing.

The second movement, a slow romance (from 9:57), was notable for the sweet tone of Malin Broman’s violin, though there was sterling work from cellist Jesper Svedberg at the outset. Meanwhile the third movement, a ‘canon’ (from 18:11), is almost like one bird following another in a slightly irregular waltz, the ‘canon’ being an almost exact imitation of one instrument (piano) by the others (cello and then violin). This movement softened further into the major key at the end. The finale (from 23:10) continued in the same high spirits.

The only Piano Trio of Ravel made a nice contrast. He did not publish much chamber music, but what his output lacks in quantity is compensated by works that remain right at the top of the repertoire. The shadow of World War I hangs over this work, published in 1914, especially as Ravel finished it before signing up as a truck driver. Despite moments of great sorrow and introspection in the slow movement, it ends on an ultimately positive note.

There are beautiful colours to be savoured, both through Ravel’s writing and this performance. The trio begins in dappled sunshine (31:10), and was especially notable in this performance for a first movement containing a lovely transition from the puffed up statements of the faster music to the slower, daintier second theme (leading up to 36:51).

The second movement (40:27) was also colourful, surging forwards in unison but also really attractively phrased for the second theme given by pianist Simon Crawford-Phillips at 42:23 and then a unison from the strings shortly after. Then the mood turned inwards at 45:09 for the solemn third movement passacaglia, a form where the same bassline is repeated again and again but the tune varies. The final movement (52:30) shimmered in the sunlight, making a timely appearance on the Wigmore Hall stage to accompany the beautifully rendered harmonics of violin and cello.

As an encore the trio gave Beethoven, a movement from his Piano Trio in E flat major, Op.70/2 – again beautifully played and consistent with 20 years of great artistry from this source.

Further listening

A very nice complement to both the Ravel and the Schumann can be found in the Kungsbacka’s recordings of Faure for Naxos. This album includes his late Piano Trio and the stormy – and thrilling! – Piano Quartet no.2

Live: Jörg Widmann & Mitsuko Uchida at the Wigmore Hall

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Jörg Widmann (clarinet, above – photo by Marco Borggreve) & Mitsuko Uchida (piano, below)

Wigmore Hall, Tuesday 31st January, 2017

Brahms Clarinet Sonata in F minor Op.120/1 (1894)

Berg 4 Pieces for Clarinet and Piano Op. 5 (1913)

Widmann Fantasie for solo clarinet (1993)

Schubert Impromptu in C minor D899/1 (1827)

Widmann Sonatina facile (2016, UK première)

Schumann 3 Fantasiestücke Op.73 (1849)

Written by Ben Hogwood

The sound made by the clarinet is surely one of the most beautiful in classical music.

Yet, as Jörg Widmann reminded a packed Wigmore Hall when playing his Fantasie for solo clarinet, the instrument’s qualities extend far and wide. Widmann explored multiphonics – playing more than one note at once – and also used the clarinet to evoke a lilting Alpine dance, some outrageous Gershwin-style slides and baleful, shy asides as though he was the only performer in the room.

Widmann has been chosen as the Wigmore Hall’s Composer in Residence for 2017-18. It is a chance to appreciate his versatility, for clarinet pieces are one side of a substantial catalogue. He has written for solo piano, but although Mitsuko Uchida’s UK premiere performance of the Sonata facile was superbly characterised, it was not as successful musically. Widmann takes Mozart’s Piano Sonata in C major, K545, as a starting point, but he effectively screws up the pages of the work, distorting and fragmenting so that they did not quite add up to a meaningful whole.

mitsuko-uchida-240815Far more purposeful was Uchida’s performance of Schubert’s first published Impromptu, where we explored the composer’s very heart through an interpretation that had the hall on the edge of their seats. The repetitive march theme was darkly coloured, but the transition from minor key to major brought brilliant shafts of light under Uchida’s quick fingers.

When the two musicians played together the results were electric. In spite of a mobile phone that rang for more than a minute, and a hearing aid that shrilled in close proximity to the pitch of Widmann’s clarinet, their Brahms was beautifully poised. The Clarinet Sonata in F minor Op.120/1 is a late, nocturnal treasure, its tension giving way to an autumnal glow in exchanges between the instruments that behave as though they are old friends. This performance caught that intimacy, especially in the slow movement, and enjoyed the dance of the finale with a spring in its step.

Schumann’s 3 Fantasiestücke faired similarly, closing the program wreathed in smiles, despite the occasional furrowed brow in the first piece. Here the interaction was again on the most intimate of scales, Widmann’s control exquisite in the slower music and matched by Uchida’s voicing of the individual parts.

Even better was the duo’s performance of Berg’s 4 Pieces for Clarinet and Piano, a relatively early publication from 1913 that explores the outer limits of tonality. The mysterious second piece had an extraordinary inner tension, fully released in a flurry of notes, while the last piece, also slow, hung on the air for an age.

Widmann’s control here was almost superhuman, and although he admitted to being out of breath after the Schumann, he and Uchida gave a substantial encore by the 14-year old Mendelssohn. The graceful second movement from his Clarinet Sonata sounded like the work of a much older man, and was lovingly played.

Wigmore Mondays – Peter Moore & James Baillieu: Trombone showpieces

peter-moore

Peter Moore & James Baillieu: Trombone showpieces

James Maynard Urban Variations (2016, world première)

Schumann Fantasiestücke Op. 73 (1849)

Axel Jørgensen Romance Op. 21 (publ.1921)

Duparc La vie antérieure (1884)

Rachmaninov Cello Sonata in G minor Op. 19 (3rd movt, Andante) (1901)

Hindemith Trombone Sonata (1941)

Arthur Pryor Annie Laurie (early 1900s)

Listen to the BBC broadcast here

Written by Ben Hogwood

Peter Moore is a remarkable talent.

Winner of the BBC Young Musician of the Year crown at the age of 12, co-principal trombone of the London Symphony Orchestra at 18 and now one of the BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists, he looks set for a long and lasting career at the top, if this superb recital is anything to go by.

The same can be said for partner in crime James Baillieu, a pianist of great sensitivity and style, whose musicality and technique mark him out as a very fine accompanist – using that term with the knowledge that it is not a secondary role!

The recital, a rare chance to experience the trombone in a solo capacity, was full of thrills and spills. Moore began with a flourish, the enjoyable Urban Variations of fellow trombonist James Maynard an evocation of three different cities – Berlin (from 1:42 on the broadcast), London (a calm St John’s Wood park at 3:10) and the bustle of New York (8:13)

Then Moore explored more romantic repertoire in straight transcriptions of three Fantasy Pieces by Schumann (10:59), a song by Duparc (26:13) and the slow movement of Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata (30:55), with an original piece from the Danish composer Axel Jørgensen added for good measure.

The Schumann was a tricky one for both performers to balance. It was superbly played but at the back of the hall the piano was a way back in the balance at times. The Duparc and Rachmaninov fared very well, an inspired pairing that proved a great showcase for Moore’s breadth of tone, while the Jorgensen (from 21:00) was a bright piece, dappled with sunshine.

The coup de grace, though, was a brilliant performance of Hindemith’s Trombone Sonata (from 38:25). Rarely heard in the concert hall these days, the composer’s music gets an unfair deal. Moore and Baillieu showed us why this is wrong, with plenty of humour, grace and a gritty resilience, the latter quality due in part to the work’s composition in 1941, around the Second World War. Both players performed heroically, whether it was Baillieu catching the rhythmic drive of the music, or Moore moving between technical trickery and sudden if brief lyrical asides. The third movement, wonderfully described as a Swashbuckler’s Song, found Moore at his outspoken best.

The two followed with a work by Sousa’s go-to trombone man, Arthur Pryor (from 48:50). Annie Laurie, an air and variations on the traditional Scottish tune, was a winning performance, the audience alternately gasping at Moore’s technique or laughing at some of the outrageous and funny musical statements. The encore, which was inevitable after a concert of such good quality, was an arrangement of Charlie Chaplin’s Smile (54:38)

If brass playing is your thing, I would urge you to catch Peter Moore live – and soon!

Further listening

The music played by Peter Moore and James Baillieu is included in the Spotify playlist below.

ECMA showcase – Pacific Quartet Vienna at the Wigmore Hall

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Pacific Quartet Vienna (Yuta Takase, Eszter Major (violins), Chin-Ting Huang (viola), Sarah Weilenmann (cello))

Flying in the face of Brexit, the European Chamber Music Academy is a body established in 2004 by the Alban Berg Quartet founder Hatto Beyerle.

It provides training for flourishing chamber ensembles, and here gave a showcase for the Pacific Quartet of Vienna, a chance for them to play at the hallowed Wigmore Hall for the first time.

There was much to admire. A nicely balanced program of Mozart and Schumann began with one of the six quartets the former composer wrote and dedicated to Haydn. The D minor is the darkest quartet of the six, exploring more oblique harmonies and melodies than the composer normally would. The quartet gave a nicely poised performance, the obdurate and slightly gruff outer movements punctuated by flashes of light. The slow movement was light and beautifully floated, as though they were performing an aria, while the trio section of the stern minuet took the weight away completely, a note of mischief added to the duets between leader Yuta Takase and violist Chin-Ting Huang.

For the Schumann the quartet had a noticeably warmer sound, and they bought joy to one of the composer’s happiest utterances, written in the wake of his marriage to Clara. The lyrical first movement and romantic third were affectionately played, Huang giving maximum expression to the melodies. The scherzo was fun but eventually paled in the shadow of the finale, which gets obsessed with a ten note motif to the point of distraction. Here it cropped up with amusing regularity, the intervening sections deliberately contrasted with it so that it felt like home.

This was an impressive first Wigmore outing for the quartet, who clearly enjoyed the experience and the music they brought with them. I would wager it won’t be the last!

You can read more about forthcoming ECMA events at their website, while further information about the Pacific Quartet Vienna can be found by clicking here