On record – Peter Cigleris: Dedication – The Clarinet Chamber Music of Ruth Gipps (Somm Recordings)

gipps

Ruth Gipps
The Kelpie of Corrievreckan Op.5b (1939)
Quintet Op.16 (1941)
Rhapsody in E flat major Op.23 (1942)
Clarinet Sonata Op.45 (1955)
Prelude, Op.51 (1958)

Peter Cigleris (clarinet) with Gareth Hulse (oboe); Duncan Honeybourne (piano); Tippett Quartet [John Mills and Jeremy Isaac (violins), Lydia Lowndes-Norcott (viola) Bozidar Vukotic (cello)]

SOMM Recordings SOMMCD0641 [67’37”]

Producer Siva Oke
Engineer Michael Wright

Recorded 1 and 2 November 2020 at Menuhin Hall, Stoke d’Abernon, Surrey

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

SOMM Recordings marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ruth Gipps (1921-99) with this collection of her chamber music featuring clarinet, all of which was written with Robert Baker (her husband for 57 years) in mind and all of which here receives its first recordings.

What’s the music like?

A gifted oboist, pianist and conductor, Gipps was an all-round artist whose accomplishment was matched by a feisty temperament (as this writer recalls) laced with bitterness at the lack of recognition latterly accorded her, though nothing of this is audible in the music heard here.

The Rhapsody in E flat for clarinet and string quartet is one of this composer’s most lyrical pieces – its single movement twice alternating ruminative content and trenchant interplay, if without losing sight of the music’s essential poise, for all that a deeper and more ambivalent vein of expression comes to the fore – to be encapsulated by the clarinet cadenza at its close. Inspired by a poem from Charles Mackay’s 1851 collection, The Kelpie of Corrievreckan for clarinet and piano evokes its source in lively and often wryly humorous terms – its capering progress evidently not intent on taking this tale of the ill-fated protagonist unduly seriously.

Most substantial here is the Quintet for oboe, clarinet and string trio. Its four movements open with an Allegro of elegant restraint, whose modally inflected writing denotes allegiance to an English pastoralism prevalent over its deftly wrought and self-effacing course. There follows an Adagio whose calmly methodical progress admits of appealingly wistful emotion, then the Energico injects a welcome degree of wit into proceedings; before the final Allegro returns to more serious matters as it steers this work to a close the more affecting for its understatement.

British music for solo bass clarinet is not abundant, but Gipps’s Prelude is a notable addition to a mainly radical repertoire; its stealthy unfolding informed by an acute sense of continuity across this instrument’s timbral and registral extent, so it unfolds as an unbroken melodic arc. Finally, the Sonata for clarinet and piano – its initial Allegro starting with a Maestoso gesture which has a pervasive influence over what follows. If this opening movement feels relatively impersonal, the Andante must rank among Gipps’s most eloquent in its unforced pensiveness, then the Scherzando abounds in a quizzical humour continued by the final Allegro – its stern Maestoso prefacing music whose limpid asides do not offset the carousing energy at its close.

Does it all work?

Yes, on its own terms. As with many composers who took against the more radical aspects of British cultural policy after 1960, Gipps was inherently a conservative whose music is often less reactionary than often supposed. It certainly provides a stern test of musicianship which the present artists – not least clarinetist Peter Cigleris – meet head-on, in performances that bring out the idiomatic feel of Gipps’s writing for the instrument(s) at hand while conveying the reticent, yet discernible and often appealing personality that comes through in her music.

Is it recommended?

Indeed, not least given detailed and realistic sound, along with informative notes from Robert Matthew-Walker. Hopefully the cycle of Gipps’s symphonies will be completed by Chandos – but, for now, the present release marks her centenary as she would doubtless have wished.

Listen & Buy

You can discover more about this release and listen to clips at the SOMM Recordings website, where you can also purchase the recording. For more information on Ruth Gipps, click here – and for more on Peter Cigerlis, click here. More information on the Gipps symphonies, as recorded by Chandos, can be found here

On record – Peter Fisher & Margaret Fingerhut: Malcolm Arnold – A Centenary Celebration (Somm Recordings)

arnold-centenary

Malcolm Arnold
Violin Sonata no.1 Op.15 (1947)
Violin Sonata no.2 Op.43 (1953)
English Dances (arr. Harris) – Set 1 Op.27 (1950): nos.1 & 3; Set 2 Op.33 (1951): nos.1-3
4 Scottish Dances (arr. Gedge) Op.57 (1957)
5 Pieces Op.84 (1965)
Miscellaneous Pieces (all arr. Poulton): Hobson’s Choice – Suite (1954); Solitaire – Sarabande (1956); Trapeze – Lola’s Theme (1956); The Chalk Garden – Madrigal (1964); Thème pour mon Amis (1965, rev 1985)

Peter Fisher (violin), Margaret Fingerhut (piano)

SOMM Recordings SOMMCD0640 [69’03”]

Producer / Engineer Michael Ponder

Recorded 21 November and 4 December 2020 at Henry Wood Hall, London

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

SOMM Recordings marks the centenary of the birth of Malcolm Arnold with this collection of his music for violin and piano, including a number of arrangements as are here receiving their first recordings, in what is an (unexpectedly?) wide-ranging overview of his creativity.

What’s the music like?

The three original pieces find Arnold gradually evolving a distinctive personality. If his First Sonata is indebted in many aspects to Bartók or Shostakovich, the tensile expressive contrasts of its opening Allegretto then the plaintive melancholy giving rise to wrenching anguish of its central Andante posits an emotional disjunction that the final Allegro’s stealthy tarantella can only waylay prior to a scabrous close. Its tensile single movement unique in Arnold’s output, the Second Sonata unfolds as oblique variations on a pensive theme whose speculative final guise implies much more than is being said. Playable separately, the Five Pieces (for Yehudi Menuhin) is a cannily integrated sequence that moves from an acerbic Prelude, via an edgy Aubade and a bittersweet Waltz, to an impassioned Ballad then a jazzy Moto perpetuo.

The arrangements from Arnold’s sets of dances provide ready-made encores. David Gedge’s take on the Scottish Dances is wholly idiomatic – hence the strutting gait of the Pesante with its ‘Scotch snap’, careering toward inebriation of the Vivace, wistful naivety of the Allegretto and whirling energy of the final Con brio. The English Dances selected by Paul Harris makes for a viable collection as it moves from the insouciant Op.33/2 and wistful Op.27/1, via the melancholic Op.27/3 and ruminative Op. 33/2, to the resolute Op.33/1.

The miscellaneous arrangements were all done by Alan Poulton – who, as Arnold’s manager during the 1980s, played a vital role in his rehabilitation as a composer. One of two specially written additions for Kenneth MacMillan’s ballet Solitaire, Sarabande is a mellifluous gem – as, in its rather more sensuous way, is Lola’s Theme from Carol Reed’s film Trapeze. Nor is a ‘Suite’ derived from David Lean’s Hobson’s Choice found wanting as a breviary of this inimitable film (Arnold’s favourite from his more than 120 scores), and the suave Madrigal from Ronald Neame’s The Chalk Garden gives no hint of that film’s ominous subject-matter. Conceived as a jingle for Player’s cigarettes then refitted for BBC2’s My Music series, Thème pour mon Amis is a delightful jeu d’esprit with which to recall this much-missed personality.

Does it all work?

Yes – given that Arnold, a professional trumpeter and skilled composer for brass, had ‘across the board’ mastery of instruments such that his writing for strings is hardly less idiomatic, as is witnessed by the original pieces. The arrangements should not be regarded as mere pièces d’occasion, given that these include several of Arnold’s most appealing melodic ideas and are worthwhile recital additions. The performances by Peter Fisher and Margaret Fingerhut, both long-time advocates of British music, could hardly be improved on for sensitivity and insight.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. The recording is well-nigh ideal in terms of the balance between these instruments, with Alan Poulton’s booklet notes highly readable and informative, though note the correct running-order of the English Dances as discussed above. Great booklet-cover artwork too!

Listen & Buy

You can discover more about this release and listen to clips at the SOMM Recordings website, where you can also purchase the recording. For more information on the Malcolm Arnold society, click here – and for more on the artists, click here for Peter Fisher and here for Margaret Fingerhut.

On record: Simon Callaghan: The Open Window – Sir George Dyson: Complete Music for Piano (Somm Recordings)

Simon Callaghan (piano) *Clíodna Shanahan (piano)

Dyson
Concerto Leggiero (1951)*
The Open Window (1919)
Primrose Mount (1928)
Bach’s Birthday (1929)
Untitled Piano Piece (1890)
Six Lyrics (1920)
My Birthday (1924)
Twelve Easy Pieces (1952)
Prelude and Ballet (1925)
Epigrams (1920)
Three Wartime Epigrams (1920)
Four Twilight Preludes (1920)

Somm Recordings SOMMCD0622-2 [101’58”]
Producer Siva Oke
Engineer Paul Arden-Taylor

Recorded 17-18 January 2020 The Menuhin Hall, Stoke d’Abernon, UK

Reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

As the cover suggests, this double album gives us the complete music for piano of Sir George Dyson, including five world premiere recordings ranging from the first piece the composer wrote at the age of seven to a two-piano version of Concerto Leggero, a substantial three-movement work for piano and orchestra completed in 1951.

Paul Spicer, the composer’s biographer, contributes a wonderful booklet note telling the story of Dyson’s life and highlighting the importance of the house piano, brought by Dyson’s parents to encourage his obvious gift for musical in the midst of an impoverished upbringing. It is rather moving to read of the composer’s progression through these years, the piano by his side at every turn.

What’s the music like?

The album is beautifully programmed, taking the biggest piece first. The Concerto Leggiero has many harmonic sleights and twists and turns, especially through its first movement, to which Simon Callaghan and Clíodna Shanahan are alive. This is in complete contrast to the early Dyson piano pieces, which are little nuggets you might expect to encounter in early piano learning – but which have an emotional substance ensuring they last well beyond that sphere.

The Open Window itself is charming, with a softly undulating Field and Wood the first of its eight short movements. Dyson’s descriptions are often little picture postcards, such as the restless description of Swallows, but they frequently have an emotive core, found most poignantly in the closing Evensong. In the same way this short suite was written for young pianists to develop their prowess, the Six Lyrics offer the same opportunity through their melodic cells.

Dyson’s very first Untitled Piano Piece is also included, the seven-year old composer offering a bold attempt lasting just under a minute. At the other end of the scale the Epigrams are slightly shady but intense pockets of emotion, each one somehow finding the uncertainty of post-First World War Britain. The Four Twilight Preludes are disarmingly simple, too, elusive portraits that hang in the air and on occasion call Debussy’s music for children to mind. These small but meaningful pieces show the composer’s ability to bring emotion from what on the outside appears to be simple material.

Bach’s Birthday, meanwhile, shows the composer’s skill at working tight compositional procedures into his music. He uses fugues here in music of remarkable density and expression.

Does it all work?

Yes – because Simon Callaghan proves a very sympathetic interpreter, and the programming gives exactly the right balance of light and shade. Given with affection, it is a charming set of music that works as a pleasant background but is more substantial when listened to closely. Dyson is a composer who, in these piano pieces, packs a lot of meaning into short duration. The experience becomes even more rewarding when enjoyed with Paul Spicer’s commentary.

Is it recommended?

Yes. The Open Window fills a notable gap in the British piano music archive, and its support from the Sir George Dyson Trust has secured the completion of an important release. It tells us much more about a composer revered primarily for his choral and orchestral music, illustrating the intimacy he could find in his work. It also serves as a timely reminder of the rich tradition of keyboard music on these shores throughout the 20th century.

For further information on this release, visit the Somm Recordings website

On record: Peter Donohoe – Stravinsky: Music for Piano Solo and with orchestra (Somm Recordings)

Stravinsky Music for Piano Solo and with orchestra Peter Donohoe (piano), Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra / David Atherton (Somm Recordings)

Stravinsky
3 Movements from Petrushka (1921)
4 Études Op.7 (1908)
Piano Sonata in F sharp minor (1903-4)
Piano Sonata (1924)
Serenade in A major (1925)
Piano-Rag-Music (1919)
Tango (1940)
Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments (1923-4, rev.1950)
Movements for Piano and Orchestra (1958-9)
Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra (1929/1949)

Reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Stravinsky’s output for piano is, perhaps not surprisingly, overshadowed by the blockbuster ballets. Yet, as recent collections from Steven Osborne and Jean Efflam-Bavouzet have shown, there is plenty to wonder at and enjoy here. Peter Donohoe takes up the mantle and goes one step further, providing an extra disc of the composer’s music for solo piano.

What’s the music like?

Extremely varied, and often spiky, exploring the piano’s capabilities as a rhythm instrument as well as a melodic one. Some of the solo works have a relatively dry musical palette, but all have interest and the earlier ones work especially well here.

The Four Études are virtuoso pieces with their roots in the language of Romantic Russian composers such as Tchaikovsky and early Scriabin. The two Piano Sonatas are a great illustration of the difference between early and middle period Stravinsky. The first, an expansive half-hour piece in F sharp minor draws inspiration from the composer’s teacher Rimsky-Korsakov as well as the Grand Sonata of Tchaikovsky. The composer had no time for it, declaring it ‘fortunately lost’ – unaware it was under lock and key in the National Library of Russia.

The Piano Sonata of 1924, a third of its length, inhabits a different world, ‘neo-classical’ Stravinsky compressing his music into forms derived from the 18th century. The perky Serenade and the short Piano-Rag-Music and Tango make a nice, sprightly contrast to the bigger works, as do the death-defying Three Movements from Petrushka. Always a spectacular experience, these sections from the ballet faithfully reproduce the colour of the orchestra and are a technical summit that pianists cannot resist conquering.

The works for piano with orchestra are fascinating. The Concerto for Piano and Wind has a stern face and is on occasion a bit caustic – the composer contrasting ‘sounds struck and blown’ in driving rhythms. In its slow music however there is a more intimate, even vulnerable heart. Movements, a set of five postcards dating from Stravinsky’s move away from conventional tonality, remain full of interest in their syncopations, tonal movement and snapshots of humour. Finally the three-movement Capriccio is a refreshing burst of energy in its outer movements, the last movement especially turning into a riot.

Does it all work?

Yes. Peter Donohoe is an expert guide to this music, his pedigree in Russian piano music almost unrivalled among his contemporaries. Those recordings of Prokofiev, Rachmaninov and Shostakovich serve him in good stead to present a consistent and illuminating portrait of Stravinsky in his very different phases.

He is a model of clarity in the trickier contours of the more modern works, making the most of the composer’s rhythmic impetus and bringing in humour when the chance allows. In the slow movement of the Concerto he sets the mood with a calming simplicity, enjoying heartfelt dialogue with the chorales of the Hong Kong winds.

In the more overtly Romantic music he is a model of virtuoso performance. The flurry of notes in the fourth Etude are superbly delivered, while in the grand Sonata in F sharp minor Donohoe makes a compelling case for the work despite its massive structure. The shorter pieces work well too, the spiky side to Stravinsky coming to the surface.

David Atherton, also a seasoned interpreter of the composer, secures excellent playing from the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra wind in the Concerto especially, their block sounds beautifully rendered. Those sonorities are also beneficial to the Capriccio and Movements, which are suitably punchy. These are slightly older recordings, from the mid to late 1990s, but hold up extremely well.

Is it recommended?

Yes. The musical contents may not be as immediately appealing as the ballets, maybe, yet this is a collection rewarding closer inspection. Spending time with this music gives a greater insight into Stravinsky’s development as a composer, and even if you love the more Romantic side of Russian piano music the solo works bring their own rewards.

Under the surface – Parry: English Lyrics

parry

Composer: Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (1848-1918)

Nationality: English

What did he write? One composition springs to mind when you think of Parry – for the hymn Jerusalem is heard at many a national occasion. Beyond the Last Night of the Proms his choral anthems are also revered, with I Was Glad and Blest Pair of Sirens two of the most popular. Beyond that there are five symphonies and a number of orchestral and chamber works.

What are the works on this new recording? Although his choral works are often heard, Parry’s songs are a relatively rare breed. Promisingly, this is billed as volume one of the English Lyrics, a massive collection in twelve volumes that the composer wrote between around 1885 and 1920. The 31 songs on this new recording include 26 from the English Lyrics but finish with five settings of Shakespeare.

What is the music like? The disc takes in many moods, and although it flits around the different volumes of English Lyrics it is very well structured in this collection. Parry’s setting of Shelley’s Good Night is an early high point, Susan Gritton slightly husky in her description of nocturnal, and this is followed by the refrain ‘Soft shall be his pillow’ in Sir Walter Scott’s Where shall the lover rest, Gritton controlling the vibrato on her top ‘G’ with impressive precision.

There are some very popular texts in these Parry settings, and Roderick Williams handles O Mistress Mine and Take, O take those lips away with unfussy poise. On the other hand there are tiny trifles such as Julia, where the baritone introduces a touch of mischief. Meanwhile Gilchrist is especially effective in the anonymous text Weep you no more, a lovely piece of consolation. Andrew West is a sensitive picture painter alongside the three singers, introducing When icicles hang by the wall with chilly detachment and accompanying Williams in On a time the amorous Silvy with an instinctive sense of when to push on and when to hang back.

What’s the verdict? Somm have put together an enterprising release that unites some of the best English singers around, with pianist Andrew West joined by Susan Gritton (soprano), James Gilchrist (tenor) and Roderick Williams (baritone). It is a nice and effective contrast to move between the male and female voices, and it helps that the words are sung so clearly.

Give this a try if you like… Brahms, Schumann or Vaughan Williams songs

Listen

You can listen to Good night, sung by Susan Gritton, here