On record – William Wordsworth: Orchestral Music Vol.4 (Toccata Classics)

wordsworth-4

Liepāja Symphony Orchestra / John Gibbons

William Wordsworth
Jubilation Op.78 (1965)
A Spring Festival Overture Op.90 (1970)
Confluence Op.100 (1976)
Symphony No. 7, Op. 107, ‘Cosmos’ (1980)

Toccata Classics TOCC0618 [59’21”]

Producer Normands Slāva
Engineer Jānis Straume

Recorded 4-5 February and 16-18 June 2021, Amber Concert Hall, Liepāja, Latvia

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Toccata Classics continues its survey of William Wordsworth’s orchestral music with a fourth volume featuring the composer’s Seventh Symphony, alongside three other pieces that reflect his increasing concentration and refinement of thought during those latter decades of his life.

What’s the music like?

If the Fifth Symphony and Cello Concerto (recorded on TOCC0600) represent a highpoint of Wordsworth’s orchestral output, the works that follow are only relatively less ambitious and equally personal. The four heard here appeared at five-year intervals. Subtitled ‘A Festivity for Orchestra’, Jubilation is akin to a ‘concerto for orchestra’ in its intensive while unshowy pursual of those possibilities inherent in its opening fanfare-like idea; one which returns near the close of this engaging piece to provide a rounding-off of good-humoured decisiveness.

A Spring Festival Overture is even more self-contained in its demeanour, though the gradual emergence of activity out of the sombre introduction is a telling metaphor for the coming of this season and the musical discourse attracts attention purely through its dexterity of thought.

Had Confluence been Wordsworth’s ‘sixth symphony’, no-one could surely have doubted its rightness given this music’s motivic density and textural subtlety. As it is, these ‘Symphonic Variations’ are a notable staging-post in the composer’s odyssey towards ever more distilled expression – the variations proceeding as distinct yet interrelated episodes where most of the instruments have a soloistic spot. The penultimate section, with its allusion to Elgar’s Violin Concerto, finds Words worth at his most felicitous and the final build-up at his most visceral.

Scored for comparably sizable forces, the Seventh Symphony continues a process of formal elaboration across a single, unbroken span – its seven sections less a series of variations as a succession of paraphrases on ideas which are nothing if not rarefied. Appropriate, then, that its ‘Cosmos’ subtitle should embody a lifelong fascination with the universe – whether in its astronomical or spiritual dimensions. Inclusion of a prepared tape suggests something more radical than is the case – pre-recorded material limited to two slowly repeating string chords that recur at crucial formal and expressive junctures to channel underlying momentum over   a course inevitable as to its ultimate destination. Paul Conway’s booklet note implies this as being Wordsworth’s most original orchestral work and the present writer would not disagree.

Does it all work?

Yes, though this is not the place to start for anyone new to Wordsworth’s music (the previous instalment with the Fifth Symphony makes for an ideal point of entry). Playing the works in chronological order (rather than Opp. 90, 107, 78 and 100 as on this disc) reveals ever greater focus on motivic essentials allied to an understated while often questing harmonic sense that may have reflected their composer’s immersion in the Scottish East Highlands or the wisdom accrued with age, yet the experience feels never less than absorbing and sometimes profound.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. The playing of the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra is comparable to that on earlier volumes, while John Gibbons directs with his customary ear for detail and care for balance. Hopefully a fifth volume, perhaps including the hitherto unheard Sixth Symphony, will not be long in coming.

Read, listen and Buy

You can read Richard’s review of the first three volumes in the Wordsworth series on Arcana, clicking here for the first volume, here for the second and here for the third

You can listen to clips and purchase this disc from the Toccata Classics website. For more information on WIlliam Wordsworth, click here. For more on the performers on this recordings, click on the names for websites devoted to John Gibbons and the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra respectively.

On record: Steve Elcock: Orchestral Music, Volume Three (Toccata)

elcock-3

Steve Elcock
Symphony No. 6 Op.30 ‘Tyrants Destroyed’ (2017)
Symphony No. 7 Op.33 (2020)
Manic Dancing Op. 25 (2015)

Marina Kosterina (piano, Manic Dancing), Siberian Symphony Orchestra / Dmitry Vasiliev

Producer/Engineer Sergei Zhiganov
Recorded 21-25 June 2021, Philharmonic Hall, Omsk

Toccata Classics TOCC0616 [75’54”]

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Toccata Classics continues its survey of Steve Elcock’s orchestral music with a third volume that features two of his most recent symphonies alongside his piano concerto malgré-lui, each demonstrating a visceral immediacy and a quixotic individuality as previously encountered.

What’s the music like?

After the Beethovenian dialectic of his Fifth Symphony, Elcock concentrated on smaller scale projects prior to its successor. Cast in two movements (the first slightly longer), this might be felt to emulate another totemic Fifth, that by Nielsen, but Elcock’s Sixth is a wholly different proposition. The opening Molto moderato unfolds incrementally and even hesitantly from its subdued beginnings on lower strings, so making the baleful climactic processional the more unnerving when it suddenly arrives. Nor does the ensuing Allegro bring any real catharsis – its gradual and methodical build-up (via that cumulative harmonic and rhythmic intensifying found in Pettersson but which Elcock has made his own) at length culminating in a vehement peroration which would seem to fulfil the remit of this work’s subtitle in unequivocal terms.

Three years on and the Seventh Symphony sees a very different approach. Here every aspect speaks of intended equivocation, the single movement redolent of Elcock’s Fourth in variety of incident yet eschewing its tonal and textural complexity for an overt transparency abetted by relatively modest instrumentation and modally informed clarity of content. Vestiges of an expanded sonata design can be sensed in the stealthy alternation of slower and faster tempos, leading to a central developmental crux as brings in its wake less a reprise than the statement of a melody evidently heard in a dream but whose eloquence and poise seem nothing if not tangible. From here the music heads back towards its modal origins, then it evanesces away for what is the deftest and most affecting conclusion in any of Elcock’s symphonies thus far.

Placed between these symphonies as (necessary) shock-absorber, Manic Dancing is another of Elock’s concertante pieces. The integration of piano and orchestra recalls the Sinfoniettas Giocosa and La Jolla by Martinů, even if the febrile velocity of its outer Allegros could hardly be mistaken for urbanity. The central Largo in the emotional heart in every sense – its limpid opening offset by a restiveness to the fore in twin climaxes, with cadenza-like facets emerging out of the texture before the animated music resumes its designedly manic course.

Does it all work?

Indeed, not least in underlining the overt distinctiveness of Elcock’s symphonies as taken on their own terms. As before, the playing of the Siberian Symphony Orchestra leaves nothing to chance in bringing out the sheer imagination and richness of the orchestral writing, with Dmitry Vasiliev ensuring that formal cohesion remain paramount. Marina Kosterina contributes animated and resourceful pianism, and those who have responded positively to earlier volumes in this series (TOCC0400/0445) will be gripped or maybe even a little disconcerted by this latest addition.

Is it recommended?

Yes, not least with sound of clarity and impact comparable to earlier instalments, and detailed notes from Francis Pott. Toccata will hopefully continue its series of Elcock’s chamber music, while the English Symphony Orchestra has recorded his Eighth Symphony for future release.

Listen

Buy

For further information, audio clips and purchase information visit the Toccata Classics website. For more on Steve Elcock you can visit the composer’s website

On record – Myaskovsky: Vocal Works Vol. 1 (Elizaveta Pakhomova, Tatiana Barsukova, Marina Dichenko & Olga Solovieva) (Toccata Classics)

myaskovsky

Myaskovsky
Romances on Verses by Mikhail Lermontov, Op. 40 (1935-6)
Violin Sonata in F major, Op. 70 (1946-7)
Notebook of Lyrics, Op. 72 (1946)

Elizaveta Pakhomova (soprano, Romances), Tatiana Barsukova (soprano, Notebook), Marina Dichenko (violin), Olga Solovieva (piano)

Producer & Engineer Ilya Dontsov (Romances & Notebook), Maria Lenarskaya (Sonata)

Toccata Classics TOCC0355 [68’16”]

Recorded 25 May 2007 at Theatre and Concert Centre, Moscow (Violin Sonata), 29 April & 29 June at Studio One, Russian Radio House, Moscow (Notebook), 23 & 24 January at Production Complex Tonstudio, Mosfilm, Moscow

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Toccata Classics here inaugurates a significant series which is devoted to the complete vocal works by Nikolay Myaskovsky, whose sizable corpus of songs remains the one aspect of his output still to be explored, together with a further recorded appearance for the Violin Sonata.

What’s the music like?

Myaskovsky’s 115 published songs come predominantly from his formative years and early maturity. Notebook of Lyrics is actually his last cycle so conceived, ‘six romances’ dedicated to Mira Mendelson (second wife of Prokofiev) whose texts furnish the opening four songs – their introspective and confessional mood culminating in the anguished pathos of the fourth, How often at night. Mendelson’s translation of two Burns poems round-off this cycle, the fervour of My heart’s in the Highlands followed with the poignancy of My Bonnie Mary.

Appealing as this cycle is as sung by Tatiana Barsukova, the Romances on Verses by Mikhail Lermontov is the highlight here – its 12 songs confirmation of Myaskovsky’s rootedness in a lineage stemming back from Rachmaninoff via Tchaikovsky to Glinka. The initial A Cossack Lullaby marginally outstays its welcome, but thereafter each of these settings renders its text with unerring candour as they build to the inevitable yet understated climax in Forgive me! We will not meet again – its enveloping valediction ideally caught by Elizaveta Pakhomova. Interestingly, these two cycles were premiered at the same Moscow recital by Nina Dorliak and Sviatoslav Richter on 29th April 1947 such as also featured a first performance for the composer’s Violin Sonata by the formidable partnership of David Oistrakh and Lev Oborin.

As was once remarked about buses, one waits ages for an account of the Violin Sonata only for three to come along in as many years. Ironic when the third to appear should have been the first to be recorded: Marina Dichenko’s predating over a decade those by Alexey Lundin with Mikhail Ludsky (Moscow Conservatory Records, coupled with Myaskovsky’s 11 piano sonatas), then Sasha Rozhdestvensky with Viktoria Postnikova (First Hand Record, coupled with violin sonatas by Shebalin and Nechaev). The present recording is that of the definitive version as published in 1948, which aims to clarify aspects of the interplay between this duo as well as the work’s unusual trajectory – a flowing though restrained Allegro followed by a Theme with Twelve Variations and Coda, which latter brings about the decisive conclusion.

Does it all work?

Very much so. The two cycles featured here confirm Myaskovsky to be no less skilled in his writing for voice than for piano, string quartet or orchestra – while his identification with the text at hand comes through almost all these settings. It helps to have so sensitive and attuned a pianist as Olga Solovieva – already familiar to Russian music enthusiasts for recordings of Lyadov (Northern Flowers), Shebalin (Toccata) or Boris Tchaikovsky (Albany and Naxos) – whose subtle resourcefulness duly enhances the expressive immediacy of the music-making.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. The various dates and localities yield relatively little difference in terms of their sound quality, while Yuri Abdokov’s annotations are exemplary in terms both of specific works and general context. One hopes this is a series which circumstances will enable to run its course.

Listen

Buy

You can discover more about this release and make a purchase at the Toccata Classics website.  For more information on Myaskovsky, click here, and for more on pianist Olga Solovieva, click here

On record – Ronald Stevenson: Piano Music Volume Five: Transcriptions of Purcell, Delius and Van Dieren (Christopher Guild) (Toccata Classics)

stevenson-5

Delius The Young Pianist’s Delius (1962, rev. 2005)
Purcell Toccata (1955); The Queen’s Dolour – A Farewell (1959); Hornpipe (1995); Three Grounds (1995)
Stevenson Little Jazz Variations on Purcell’s ‘New Scotch Tune’ (1964, rev ’75)
Van Dieren String Quartet No. 5 (c1925, rev. 1931; transcr. c1948-1987); Weep You No More, Sad Fountains (1925, transcr, 1951); Spring Song of the Birds (1925, transcr. 1987)

Christopher Guild (piano)

Toccata Classics TOCC0605 [80’57”]

Producer / Engineer Adaq Khan

Recorded 5 – 6 September 2020, 5 January 2021 at the Old Granary Studio, Toft Monks, Norfolk

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Christopher Guild continues his survey of Ronald Stevenson’s piano music with this volume comprising transcriptions of Purcell, Delius and Van Dieren – the latter’s Fifth Quartet fairly exemplifying Stevenson’s dedication to the spirit as much as the letter of the music at hand.

What’s the music like?

The essence of Stevenson’s re-creative approach is evident in his Purcell transcriptions, not least the Toccata with its deft changes of register and tensile rhetoric where Busoni’s benign presence can be felt. A lighter and more playful manner is evident in the Hornpipe, whereas the Three Grounds point up conceptual as well as musical links with Bach and, through their forming a ‘sonatina’ of unlikely cohesion, Beethoven. Greater license is demonstrated in the Little Jazz Variations, surely among Stevenson’s most delightful pieces in its blurring of the ‘boundary’ between transcription and composition and enhanced by its discreet take on pre-bop jazz idioms. The Queen’s Dolour looks to the poignant final aria from Dido and Aeneas for what is one of the most characteristic and, moreover, affecting Stevenson transcriptions.

All these pieces have been previously recorded, but not the remainder of this programme. A pity that The Young Pianist’s Delius is not more widely known, as this cycle of 10 miniatures drawn from across the composer’s output is a gift to pianists who have little original Delius to work with, whereas listeners who are unfamiliar with or deterred from investigating this easily misunderstood figure could hardly hope for a more representative or appealing breviary of his music. It helps that Stevenson’s transcriptions are straightforward but not in the least didactic.

Two songs by Bernard van Dieren – gravely eloquent as regards Weep You No More or deftly effervescent in Spring Song of the Birds – have secured a measure of familiarity when heard as encores. Not so the Fifth Quartet, never recorded in its original guise, whose transcription occupied Stevenson over almost four decades. Premiered in its revision in 1931, this work is among the most substantial from its composer’s later years as it unfolds from a discursive (if never rhapsodic) sonata design, via circumspect and headlong intermezzi, to a lively scherzo then soulful Adagio – before a resolute finale offers closure. Tonal ambivalence and textural intricacy are borne out in this recasting in terms of piano which lasts five minutes longer than the Allegri Quartet’s 1988 broadcast; not that Guild’s reading seems to lose focus in any way.

Does it all work?

Yes, given Stevenson’s command of keyboard technique and, moreover, his placing of this at the service of the piece in question. To paraphrase his comments on Liszt – were the classical repertoire suddenly to disappear, much it could still be accessed through those transcriptions that he made over the greater part of his career. Nor is the technique required of a consistently advanced degree, with the Delius and several of the Purcell pieces accessible to most capable pianists, though the Van Diren quartet necessitates an ability not far short of the transcriber!

Is it recommended?

Indeed. Christopher Guild is a resourceful and probing guide to Stevenson’s art; his Steinway D heard to advantage and his booklet notes readably informative. One final thought – the Van Dieren Quartets positively cry out for an integral recording: how about it, Toccata Classics?

Listen

Buy

You can discover more about this release at the Toccata Classics website, where you can also purchase the recording. To find out more about the composer, visit the Ronald Stevenson Society, while for more on Christopher Guild, click here

On record – Ronald Center: Chamber and Instrumental Music Volume 2 – String Quartets 1-3 (The Fejes Quartet) (Toccata Classics)

center

Robin Center
String Quartet no.1 (c1955)
String Quartet no.2 (1962-4)
String Quartet no.3 (1967)

Fejes Quartet [Tamás Fejes and Yoan Hlebarov (violins), Theodore Chung Lei (viola), Balázs Renczés (cello)

Toccata Classics TOCC0533 [70’34”]

Producer / Engineer Michael Ponder

Recorded 29 June – 2 July 2019 at RSNO Centre, Glasgow

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Toccata Classics continues its coverage of the Chamber and Instrumental Music by Ronald Center (1913-73) with this release of his three string quartets, written over his final 12 years of creativity and illustrating in full measure the strengths and weaknesses of his composing.

What’s the music like?

Born in Aberdeen then resident in the town of Huntly during his final three decades, Center was evidently a circumspect and retiring figure – if a hard taskmaster for those who studied with him. His modest output includes the powerful cantata Dona nobis pacem (issued on LP by Altarus back in the 1980s and well worth a new recording) and three string quartets – the first being the only work of his which saw publication in his lifetime. Taken as a whole, they epitomize an idiom that is trenchant and idiosyncratic, but often touching in its vulnerability.

The First Quartet is launched by an introduction whose dense textures duly set up the main Allegro by turns forthright and acerbic, its dissonance imbued with stealthy onward motion. There follows a scherzando-like movement whose tensile rhythms underpin ideas of a folk-inflected vitality, then an Adagio where facets of chorale and canon merge into a plangent and haunting threnody. After its equivocal opening bars, the final Allegro maintains a keen impetus – spurred on by pronounced ostinato patterns – through to its curtly decisive close.

The Second Quartet is on an incrementally larger scale, the opening movement setting forth with a proclamatory summons which the main Allegro unfolds in varied and often ingenious ways – not least the way its deceptively episodic trajectory evolves a long-term momentum. There follows a Vivace whose waspish demeanour is by no means devoid of humour, then a Mesto whose modal inflection and wistful central section make it the work’s emotional heart. Dance elements pervade the finale, an Allegro of headlong and ultimately unresolved energy.

The Third Quartet is outwardly more exploratory in its intensive use of serial elements and a seven-movement format, out of which larger sub-groupings emerge. Hence the opening two movements outline a methodical then ruminative first part; balanced by the speculative then quizzical, and impetuous then halting character of those which follow. That leaves the final Allegro to provide its forceful if increasingly eloquent and not a little fatalistic conclusion to a work which, though he was to live for a further six years, proved to be the composer’s last.

Does it all work?

Almost. Center was evidently a composer fully aware of what had been written in Europe up to the Second World War and after 1945, yet his three quartets suggest an ongoing struggle to redefine the possibilities of Bartók and Shostakovich et al in his own terms – hence leading to a sense of frustration, even inhibition, which is reflected in the frequent formal and expressive discontinuities of each piece. Qualities that come over in these excellent accounts by the Fejes Quartet, whose interpretative equivocation is – necessarily? – bound up with that of the music.

Is it recommended?

Yes. The first two quartets have been recorded (by the Saltire and Isla Quartets respectively) but having all three in first-rate sound with insightful notes by Alasdair Grant can only be to Center’s benefit. Might it be possible to record the music for string orchestra in due course?

Listen

Buy

You can discover more about this release at the Toccata Classics website, where you can also purchase the recording. To find out more about the composer, visit the Ronald Center website, while you can click on the links for more on the Fejes Quartet and Deveron Projects