Yuki Ito & Sofia Gulyak play Rachmaninov at the Wigmore Hall

Yuki Ito (cello, above), Sofia Gulyak (piano, below)

Rachmaninov
2 Pieces for cello and piano Op.2 (1891/2)
from the Morçeaux de fantaisie Op.3: Élégie; Mélodie; Sérénade (arr. Ito, Mélodie arr. Vlasov (1892)
Prelude in G flat major Op.23/10 (arr. Brandukov) (1903)
Lied for cello and piano (1890)
5 Songs: Morning Op.4/2 (1892), I the silence of the secret night Op.4/1 (1892), Lilacs Op.21/5 (1902), How fair this spot Op.21/7 (1902), Spring Waters Op.14/11 (1896) (arr. Ito)
Cello Sonata in G minor Op.19

Wigmore Hall, London; Saturday 2 June 2018

Written by Ben Hogwood

Rachmaninov’s music for cello and piano dates from the early part of his life, starting in teenage student years and working through to the mature sonata of his late twenties. With the addition of some judicious arrangements, Yuki Ito and Sofia Gulyak built a most attractive program for this concert, the last in the AVEX Recital Series at the Wigmore Hall for 2017-18.

They began near the start, with Two Pieces published as Op.2 in 1892. Rachmaninov’s gift as a melodist was already clear, as was his affinity with the piano, which already had a few demands placed on it here. Gulyak, as she did throughout the concert, proved an ideal partner, reining in the big textures where appropriate in the second piece, an attractive Danse orientale, so that Ito’s probing melodic line could still be heard.

A series of arrangements – maybe a couple too many in context – followed, several of them made by Ito himself. Rachmaninov’s songs have a register that fits the cello perfectly, as do the early piano pieces – and the Elegie and Sérénade, both Ito arrangements from the Morçeaux de fantaisie published as Op.3, worked well alongside a Mélodie arranged by Alexander Vlasov.

Of the following pieces the rich lower register of the Lied, an original cello piece, was beautifully brought to the fore by the Japanese cellist, while in the song arrangements the ardour surrounding In the silence of the secret night was nicely complemented by the higher arrangement of How fair this spot, and the onrush of the Spring Waters, where Gulyak’s control was exemplary.

And so to the Sonata, by far Rachmaninov’s biggest chamber work. It represents the culmination of his friendship with cellist Anatoly Brandukov in 1901, and is packed full of big tunes and tempestuous fast music. Once again the control and phrasing of Sofia Gulyak was key, and she was extremely attentive to Yuki Ito’s sensitive phrasing in the big-boned statements of the first and fourth movement in particular. The second movement scherzo, fleet of foot, had a tense drama about it, while the slow movement’s romantic tunes were lovingly delivered by Ito. The players returned for an encore, which was naturally more Rachmaninov – the Vocalise Op.34/14.

This was a fine chamber music concert, full of good things, with both players receptive to Rachmaninov’s style, phrasing and emotion. Yuki Ito is a fine young cellist, and has great things ahead of him – and as long as he continues to surround himself with musicians of the calibre of Sofia Gulyak, he will surely do extremely well.

For more information on Yuki Ito and Sofia Gulyak’s new disc of Rachmaninov, head to the Champs Hill website or listen on Spotify below:

BBC Proms 2017 – Rachmaninov’s All Night Vigil with the Latvian Radio Choir

Latvian Radio Choir / Sigvards Kļava (above)

Rachmaninov All Night Vigil (Vespers), Op.37 (1915)

Royal Albert Hall, Sunday 13 August 2017 (late night)

You can listen to this Prom here

Once in a while it is good to be reminded that some of the most moving music does not have to rely on volume to make its point.

Rachmaninov’s All Night Vigil is a case in point, sung here by the Latvian Radio Choir in a highly atmospheric late night Prom. This notoriously self-critical and doubting of composers believed in it as one of his very best compositions, and even wanted the central Nunc Dimittis sung at his funeral. Though designed to be performed in the course of a Russian orthodox day (beginning and ending at sunset) it lasts for just over an hour if performed in an unbroken span, and here it created a wonderful spell.

The work has been sung at the Proms three times before, in the Late Night slot each time, and its blend of music for the spirit and the soul is ideal for late night contemplation. That state of mind was easily reached here, in a clean and relatively understated way. Recordings of great Russian choirs performing this music show how great depth and volume can be achieved, but with six singers to each part the Latvian Radio Choir were daringly exposed, and their relative lack of heft encouraged the audience to listen more attentively.

That they did so was an indication of just how well observed this performance was. Delicately controlled by Sigvards Kļava, each section merged almost seamlessly into the next, and yet there was room for each hymn or anthem to breathe. The refrains of the third anthem, Blessed Is The Man, were beautifully observed, by now the reduced forces acclimatised to the cavernous Royal Albert Hall acoustic.

The pacing felt ideal too, so that when the bigger numbers – the Glorifying song of the Resurrection and the Great Doxology – arrived, they did not flag, and the high points of each were unfailingly hit. The longer melodic threads were beautifully phrased, unexpectedly drawing the parallels between this music and some of the big tunes elsewhere in Rachmaninov’s output, such as the opening of the Third Piano Concerto, heard earlier in the evening.

The standard of performance was high throughout, with a level of control and ensemble that never dipped below excellent. The sopranos were relatively bright in sound, and the basses controlled their notes down to the depths beautifully, not least the Nunc dimittis, where the audience were visibly straining to hear their descent. Earlier in this number the tenors showed restraint, but there was emotion in their voices nonetheless.

All these elements contributed to a night that frequently stopped the heart with its subtle but lasting beauty. The text, and Rachmaninov’s response, had a timeless feel that transcended this single concert experience, which will last long in the memory.

Ben Hogwood

You can hear the Latvian Radio Choir’s recording of the Rachmaninov All Night Vigil on the Spotify link below:

Live review – CBSO with Oliver Janes & Andrew Gourlay: Strauss, Copland & Rachmaninov

Oliver Janes (clarinet), City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Andrew Gourlay (above)

Symphony Hall, Birmingham. Thursday 6th April, 2017

Richard Strauss Don Juan Op.20 (1888)

Copland Clarinet Concerto (1948)

Rachmaninov Symphony no.3 in A minor Op. 44 (1936)

Written by Richard Whitehouse

An ear infection meant that Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla had to withdraw from this concert, which provided a welcome opportunity for Andrew Gourlay (now into his second season as Music Director of the orchestra in Valladolid) to make his debut at Symphony Hall with the CBSO.

A pity the Fourth Suite from the ballet The Golden Key by Mieczysław Weinberg had to be dropped from the programme, but that will hopefully be rescheduled (and if Gražinytė-Tyla could tackle one of this composer’s symphonies as his 2019 centenary approaches, then so much the better). Instead, Gourlay directed an account of Strauss’s Don Juan which, while it rather failed to ignite in the earlier stages, evinced some suitably enticing playing during the amorous central episode and then a rousing culmination prior to those fatalistic closing bars.

Hardly a natural complement to Copland’s Clarinet Concerto, but the latter piece works well in a variety of contexts. It also provided an impressive showcase for Oliver Janes, now into his third season as principal clarinet of this orchestra and a player whose elegant while never unduly soft-grained tone was admirably suited to the first movement, with its limpid backing for strings and harp. Janes tackled the central cadenza with no less security – necessarily so as, in addition to its technical virtuosity, it functions as a formal and expressive ‘bridge’ into the second movement. This latter, substituting piano for harp and focusing on the jazz idioms often to the fore in Copland, was a little too reined-in over much of its course with the final pages failing to lift off, though there was never any doubting Janes’s identity with the piece.

The highlight of the concert came after the interval with a perceptive and involving account of Rachmaninov’s Third Symphony. Although it lags well behind its predecessor in terms of performance, this piece has moved from the periphery of the repertoire as earlier tendencies to dismiss it as a rerun of past glories have yielded to a recognition of just how subtly while effectively it overhauls the composer’s thinking for the inter-war period. Not for nothing was Nikolay Medtner alarmed by what he heard as the ‘modernization’ of Rachmaninov’s idiom.

In terms of textural balance and formal continuity it poses more problems than any other of Rachmaninov’s orchestral works, but Gourlay was never fazed by these potential pitfalls. The unworldly ‘motto’ launching the first movement was hauntingly rendered, and the only error in what followed was the omission of an exposition repeat necessary to balance an extensive development whose crisis-riven denouement was acutely realized here.

Neither did Gourlay misjudge the integration of slow movement and scherzo in what follows – the outcome being a developing variation as seamless as it was affecting. If the finale then unfolded at slightly too relaxed a pace, this enabled Gourlay to characterize detail in as resourcefully orchestrated a movement as Rachmaninov ever penned – with the closing accelerando vividly brought off.

A convincing take, then, on this engaging symphony and a fine marker for Gourlay to have laid down in what should prove an ongoing association with this orchestra. Those unable to attend Saturday’s repeat can hear it being broadcast by BBC Radio 3 on Tuesday 18th April.

For more information on future CBSO concerts head to their website

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.

BBC Proms 2016 – Shostakovich, Rachmaninov & Emily Howard from Alexey Stadler, Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic

proms-stadler

Alexey Stadler pictured during his performance of the Shostakovich Cello Concerto no.1, with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vasily Petrenko (c) Chris Christodoulou

Prom 53; Royal Albert Hall, 25 August 2016

You can listen to the Prom on the BBC iPlayer

The BBC Proms should be commended for their commitment to new music, though this does come with a caveat, for it is not often that a commission for the Proms makes it to a second or third performance. Hopefully that fate will not befall Emily Howard’s Torus, a joint commission with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, who gave it a thoroughly committed and virtuosic first performance under Vasily Petrenko.

Torus is based on a mathematical phenomenon, but to Howard’s credit she did not make this the domineering feature of the piece – if she did, like all good composers, it was part of the essential framework rather than explicitly signposted. Instead we were able to enjoy the colours of the large symphony orchestra, and especially the percussion, the three players using bows on their cymbals to make the textures glint towards the end.

Though subtitled Concerto for Orchestra, there was no display of gravity defying, musical athletics for the sake of it. Rather we enjoyed the orchestra as an instrument, the melodic content taking on a distinctive falling motif as though the music were heading for a trap door.

proms-petrenko

Shostakovich’s popular Cello Concerto no.1 followed, with a last minute substitute, Alexey Stadler, standing in for the unfortunately ill Truls Mørk. Any doubts about inferiority were immediately quelled, the young Russian cellist finding the soul of the music in a searching account of the slow movement and cadenza in particular. Petrenko and the RLPO, so attuned to this composer’s music in their award winning accounts of his symphonies for Naxos, were superb in support, especially horn player Timothy Jackson – but Stadler rightly stole the show, adjusting to the acoustics of the Royal Albert Hall with commendable ease. His beautiful tone brought both pain and hope to the solo part in equal measure, and led to a gorgeous encore in the form of the Sarabande from Bach’s Solo Cello Suite no.2.

Finally Petrenko led his orchestra in the music of another composer with whom they share great familiarity – Rachmaninov. There are several warhorses in his output that are arguably overplayed in concert, but the Symphony no.3 is not one of them – and how wonderful it was in this account, with soulful melodies, sleights of hand from Petrenko and sudden bursts of light from the orchestra.

The tricky syncopations of the finale were expertly handled, the orchestra delivering the suddenly loud snaps like the slamming of a door, a thrilling effect in the live arena. Yet they were also alive to the music’s lyrical and occasionally less certain undercurrents, where leader Thelma Handy was a superb soloist.

As an encore Petrenko brought out Shostakovich’s arrangement of YoumansTea For Two, and gave it a brilliant send-up, as though conducting the last night. It was a beautifully judged encore, and showed again just how much this orchestra and conductor enjoy working together – which is what it’s all about, surely!

Ben Hogwood