On record – Lyadov: Choral Music (Academy of Russian Music Chamber Choir / Ivan Nikiforchin) (Toccata Classics)

lyadov

Lyadov
Two Choruses from the Final Scene of Schiller’s ‘Die Braut von Messina’, Op. 28 (1878)
Glorification for Valdimir Stasov (1894)
Slava, Op. 47 (1899)
10 Russian Folksongs (1899)
Glorification for Vladimir Stasov (1899)
Farewell Song of the Schoolgirls from the Empress Maria Institute, Op. 50 (1900)
‘Drip, Ek’ Fugato (1900)
Glory to Nikolai Andreevich Rimsky-Korsakov (1901)
Hymn to Anton Rubinstein, Op. 54 (1902)
Five Russian Folksongs (1902)
Chorus from Cantata in Memory of Mark Antokolsky (1902)
Music to Maurice Maeterlinck’s ‘Soeur Béatrice’, Op. 60 (1906)
15 Russian Folksongs (1908) – Nos. 3, 9, 10 and 14
10 Settings from the Obikhod, Op. 61 (1909) – Nos. 7 and 10
The Hourly Prayer of St Joasaph Gorlenko (1910)
Three Russian Folksongs (1912)
Glory to Evgeniya Ivanovna Zbrueva (1913)

Academy of Russian Music Chamber Choir / Ivan Nikiforchin

Toccata Classics TOCC0614 [66’46”] Russian (Cyrilic) texts and English translations / summaries

Producer / Engineer Ilya Dontsov

Recorded 5 November – 22 December 2020 at Concert Hall of Academy of Choral Arts, Moscow

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Toccata Classics continues its intensive exploration of music’s (mainly) worthwhile byways with this anthology of choral music from Anatoly Lyadov (1855-1914), enticingly sung in a sympathetic ambience – with all but two of the 39 pieces featured here being first recordings.

What’s the music like?

The irony that Lyadov is today most remembered for what he did not compose (the score of Diaghilev’s ballet The Firebird, for which he might not actually have been commissioned in any case) should not detract from the sizable corpus of piano music or limited but even more distinctive output of orchestral pieces which duly confirm a miniaturist of rare fastidiousness. Such quality is hardly less apparent in his acapella choral music, most of it featured here and which falls into three distinct categories such as are helpfully presented in generic sequence.

The first three tracks represent Lyadov’s ‘Original Religious Chants’ and find the composer enriching a genre that, almost by definition, went essentially unaltered over the two centuries from Bortnyansky to Gretchaninov. If his contributions lack the expressive fervour that later exponents – notably Rachmaninov – attained, the clarity of his writing and suppleness of his phrasing evince no little mastery and make these pieces as grateful to sing as they are to hear. Sung in English, they would hardly seem out of place within the context of domestic services.

The next 22 tracks survey most of Lyadov’s ‘Arrangements of Russian Folksongs’ which fall into two main categories – choral songs that are mainly slow and introspective, with spiritual or lamentational connotations; and choral dances as are mainly swift and demonstrative, with earthly or celebratory overtones. Again, later composers – notably Stravinsky in this instance – found a new level of harmonic astringency and rhythmic flexibility in such music, which is not to deny those qualities of pathos and charm this composer draws from his arrangements.

The closing 14 tracks comprise Lyadov’s ‘Complete Original Choral Works’ which prove a motley assortment – from choruses for theatrical productions, via homages to distinguished musical personages with a commemorative (not always memorial) function, to pieces of an occasional nature. Those the composer published indicate what he felt worth disseminating, with Op. 50 belying its rather cumbersome title for music whose wistful eloquence amounts to just under four minutes of understated bliss and the undoubted highlight of this collection.

Does it all work?

Yes, in that Lyadov clearly had an innate understanding of what was required when writing for unaccompanied voices. Those who are looking for emotional expansiveness or rhythmic invention will be disappointed, though such an approach was as far removed from Lyadov’s thinking within the choral medium as in those pieces for orchestra or piano. Rather, he opts for an intimacy and poise such as are effortlessly conveyed in these stylish renderings by the Academy of Russian Music Chamber Choir under the assured direction of Ivan Nikiforchin.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. The clear if atmospheric acoustic provides an ideal ambience for these performances, with insightful notes by Igor Prokhorov who also provides English summaries for each of the folksongs. Those already familiar with Lyadov’s orchestral and piano music need not hesitate.

Listen

Buy

You can discover more about this release at the Toccata Classics website, where you can also purchase the recording.

On record – William Wordsworth: Orchestral Music Vol.3 (Toccata Classics)

wordsworth-3

Florian Arnicans (cello), Liepāja Symphony Orchestra / John Gibbons

William Wordsworth
Symphony no.5 in A minor Op.68 (1957-60)
Cello Concerto Op.73 (1963)

Toccata Classics TOCC0600 [65’55”]

Producer Normands Slāva
Engineer Jānis Straume

Recorded 1-5 February 2021, Amber Concert Hall, Liepāja, Latvia

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Toccata Classics continues its series devoted to the orchestral works of William Wordsworth (1908-88) in a coupling of two pieces from around the turn of the 1960s, when the changing priorities of the British musical establishment meant such music was increasingly overlooked.

What’s the music like?

Although it had to wait over a decade before its first performance in January 1975 (perhaps as it was written with no specific soloist in mind), the Cello Concerto is unerringly conceived for this instrument – not least the substantial opening Allegretto whose brusque initial orchestral tutti hardly prepares one for the wide-ranging if never discursive dialogue that follows. There is a lengthy and developmental cadenza before a reprise which continues the evolution of its pithy ideas prior to the ruminative close. Designated Nocturne, the ensuing Lento is among Wordsworth’s most atmospheric slow movements; the cello’s eloquent main theme provides a focal point thrown into relief by woodwind via a series of haunting asides, without seriously undermining the repose made tangible in the evocative closing bars. The final Allegro vivace is centred on a lively, even nonchalant refrain whose trenchant rhythmic profile comes to the fore in a fugal section whose accrued energy subsides into a musing solo passage – from out of which the earlier repartee continues through to a decisive while not a little sardonic coda.

Although premiered in 1962 and broadcast thereafter, the Fifth Symphony only now receives its first commercial recording – a pity, given this is arguably Wordsworth’s most emotionally involving such piece. A calmly undulating ‘motto’ at the outset is heard in three guises over each of three movements. Thematic in the initial Andante maestoso, its supplicatory writing for strings complemented with plangent woodwind in a discourse where the slowly emergent ‘landscape’ may well be that of the mind – not least its quietly ecstatic writing for solo violin toward the close. Rhythmic in the central Allegro, a scherzo whose spectral writing for tuned percussion and upper woodwind has more than a little malevolence – even with a whimsical trio to provide contrast. Its recalcitrant ebbing away makes the finale’s slow introduction the more striking, strings building to an expressive apex from where the Allegro begins. Here the harmonic aspect of the ‘motto’ is dominant, episodes of tensile fugato alternating with gentler asides on the way to an apotheosis whose affirmation is necessarily tempered by experience.

Does it all work?

Yes, in that both pieces find Wordsworth’s often elusive tonal language at its most searching. Florian Arnicans cannot have known the Cello Concerto before these sessions, but he captures its brooding understatement with undoubted assurance and thereby reinforces its claim to be the deepest and most substantial of this composer’s concertante works. The Fifth Symphony can be heard in a 1979 studio reading by Stewart Robson with the BBC Scottish Symphony (Lyrita), but Gibbons reveals more fully why it is likely the highlight of Wordsworth’s cycle.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. The playing of the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra is on a par with that of the previous two instalments in this series, and Paul Conway contributes his usual thorough booklet notes. Good to hear the fourth volume in this series, featuring the Seventh Symphony, is imminent.

Read, listen and Buy

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

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 Florian Arnicans, John Gibbons and the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra respectively.

On record – Arnold: Symphony no.9 & Grand Concerto Gastronomique (Liepāja Symphony Orchestra / John Gibbons) (Toccata Classics)

toccata-arnold

Malcolm Arnold
Grand Concerto Gastronomique Op.76 (1961)
Symphony no.9 in D Op.128 (1986)

Anna Gorbachyova-Ogilvie (soprano, Concerto), Liepāja Symphony Orchestra / John Gibbons

Toccata Classics TOCC0613 [57’30”]

Producer Normands Slāva
Engineer Jānis Straume

Recorded 14-16 June 2021 at Great Concert Hall, Liepāja

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Toccata Classics marks the centenary of Malcolm Arnold’s birth (falling on October 21st) in a pertinent coupling of his final symphonic statement with music finding this composer at his most irreverent and, by so doing, juxtaposes the two sides of his creativity to startling effect.

What’s the music like?

It was the compositional hiatus resulting from emotional breakdown then tortuous recovery as provided the catalyst for the Ninth Symphony, whose superficial simplicity belies the anguish beneath its surface. John Gibbons (who had earlier conducted this work in London, as part of a nine-year Arnold cycle, and Northampton) brings tangible expectancy to the opening Vivace, its arresting initial gestures soon revealing that textural starkness which goes on to define the whole work, with a circuitous evolution even more marked in the Allegretto – an intermezzo whose wistful theme effects less a series of variations than poignant searching for formal and expressive closure. The ensuing Giubiloso is more overtly a scherzo with its headlong motion or trenchant exchanges between wind and strings, yet even here a curious detachment prevails.

Arnold’s eight previous symphonies each concluded in a relatively short and decisive finale, but the Ninth’s final Lento proves anything but – its sustained slowness abetted by restrained dynamics and a sparseness of detail which could have made for unrelieved gloom were it not for those myriad ‘shades of grey’ the composer draws from his reduced palette. An additional factor is Gibbons’s pulse for this movement as a tactus (one-second) rather than crotchet beat, leading to a traversal several minutes less than earlier recordings by Andrew Penny (Naxos), Vernon Handley (BMG) or Rumon Gamba (Chandos) and, as a result, making the cadential chord one of benediction than resignation. Whether or not this approach convinces depends on how one views the symphony overall, but there can be no doubting its sincerity of intent.

Composed for the Astronautical Music Festival – the last of several events inspired by Gerard HoffnungGrand Concerto Gastronomique is Arnold at his most uproarious. Its designation ‘for Eater, Waiter Food and Large Orchestra’ betrays a visual aspect not essential for enjoying this 15-minute consumption of Brown Windsor soup, roast beef, cheese, Peach Melba – with a sensuous cameo by soprano Anna Gorbachyova-Ogilvie – then coffee with brandy; framed by a Prologue and Epilogue of due portentousness, but thankfully no ‘Mr Creosote’ in evidence.

Does it all work?

As a coupling, yes. As to content, the Ninth Symphony will likely always divide opinion as to whether it is what Arnold intended or merely the best that he was able to achieve after the traumas of the preceding decade, but no-one could accuse Gibbons of realizing it as other than a cohesive entity whose formal proportions are as precisely judged as its expressive trajectory is purposefully conveyed. Listeners not convinced by those earlier recordings should certainly hear this new account, lucidly and persuasively rendered by the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra.

Is it recommended?

Yes, enhanced by thought-provoking booklet notes from Timothy Bowers along with realistic sound. Should still-missing orchestral pieces by Arnold (notably the Op. 1 First Divertimento or the Op. 12 Symphonic Suite) come to light, Gibbons will hopefully be asked to record them.

Listen

Buy

You can discover more about this release at the Toccata Classics website, where you can also purchase the recording. You can read more about the Malcolm Arnold society at their website, while for more on each of the performers, click on the names Anna Gorbachyova-Ogilvie, Liepāja Symphony Orchestra and John Gibbons

On record – Weinberg: Complete Violin Sonatas Volume Three (Yuri Kalnits & Michael Csányi-Wills) (Toccata Classics)

weinberg-violin-sonatas

Mieczysław Weinberg
Violin Sonata no.3 Op.37 (1947)
Violin Sonata no.6 Op.136bis (1982)
Solo Violin Sonata no.3 Op.126 (1979)

Yuri Kalnits (violin), Michael Csányi-Wills (piano)

Toccata Classics TOCC00096 [60’36”]

Producers Yuri Kalnits, Michael Csányi-Wills
Engineer Rupert Coulson

Recorded 9-12 July 2016 at St John’s Fulham, London; 7-8 July 2020 at K Studios, London (Solo sonata)

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

After a lengthy hiatus, Toccata Classics duly continues its series devoted to the violin sonatas by Mieczysław Weinberg with this third volume featuring two further sonatas with piano and the last of his solo sonatas – in performances comparable to those on the earlier two volumes.

What’s the music like?

It is a measure of how the Weinberg discography has grown that, in the decade or more since this cycle commenced, all the composer’s violin sonatas have now been recorded on several occasions. Good, then, that Toccata has opted to see it through as the interpretative stance of Yuri Kalnits and Michael Csányi-Wills is a persuasive one – not least for the subtlety of its interplay between violin and piano such as underlines the increasingly and flexibly idiomatic nature of Weinberg’s writing for a medium that remains problematic whatever its popularity.

With the Third Sonata (1947), Weinberg achieved an all-round assurance as is evident from the flexible handling of content within each of these progressively longer movements. Thus, the moderately paced initial Allegro exudes a purposefully provisional feel, fulfilled by the central Andantino with its achingly expressive deployment of Jewish folk elements, before being intensified in the final Allegretto cantabile that moves adeptly between eloquent and energetic ideas prior to a Lento coda which brings the work deftly and movingly full-circle.

Unlike its predecessors the Third Solo Sonata, dedicated to the memory of the composer’s father, unfolds as a continuous span which, though it can be viewed as several interrelated movements, is more akin to variational episodes on the motives heard at the outset. As if to underline this audacity, the writing for violin is the most resourceful and imaginative to be found in in any of these pieces – a heady succession of mood and textures such as reaffirms Weinberg’s technical and creative mastery when confronting apparent restrictions head-on. 

Weinberg abandoned the duo medium in the late 1950s and when the Sixth Sonata emerged, it went unacknowledged until 2007. Yet a work dedicated to the memory of his mother must have held a deeply personal significance. The initial Moderato, where the instruments come together only at the centre and are framed by an anguished prologue for violin then resigned epilogue for piano, speaks of intensely subjective emotion – as do the elegiac central Adagio and a finale which surveys previous material in a more consoling if ultimately fatalistic light.

Does it all work?

Yes, not least given the widely differing concept that underlies each piece (further proof that Weinberg repeated neither himself nor other composers), as well as the undemonstrative yet searching approach of the performers. Others may favour the commanding rhetoric of Linus Roth (Challenge Classics) or the forthright incisiveness of Stefan Kirpal (CPO), but the more understated manner of Kalnits and Csányi-Wills likely brings out the inward intensity of this music more completely. As a cycle for repeated listening, it should prove difficult to surpass.

Is it recommended?

Indeed, abetted by almost perfect instrumental balance and detailed notes by David Fanning. A fourth volume – which, other than the early Three Pieces, might feature the Sonata for Two Violins and Gidon Kremer’s arrangement of the 24 Preludes for cello – is keenly anticipated.

Listen

Buy

You can discover more about this release at the Toccata Classics website, where you can also purchase the recording. You can read more about Yuri Kalnits here, and more about Michael Csányi-Wills here

On record – Alexander Tchaikovsky: Orchestral Music Volume One (Siberian Symphony Orchestra / Dmitry Vasiliev) (Toccata Classics)

alexander-tchaikovsky

Alexander Tchaikovsky
Symphony no.3 Op.75 (1995-2002)
Symphony no.7 Op.139 ‘Quarantine Symphony’ (2020)

Siberian Symphony Orchestra / Dmitry Vasiliev

Toccata Classics TOCC0587 [60’12”]

Producer Vadim Dedik
Engineer Adaq Kahn

Recorded in live performances: 19 May 2019 (Symphony no.3), 20 September 2020 (Symphony no.7) at Philharmonic Hall, Omsk

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Toccata Classics continues to investigate those paths lesser trod with this first instalment of symphonies by Alexander Tchaikovsky, likely the leading composer of the older generation in Russia, whose music is directly and audibly in the lineage of his geographical forebears.

What’s the music like?

Born in Moscow in 1946, Alexander Tchaikovsky is a nephew of composer and pianist Boris – but, in contrast to the latter’s selective output, has built an extensive catalogue featuring 14 operas (in addition to operettas and musicals) and three ballets, alongside numerous concertos and (to date) seven symphonies that frequently evince an illustrative or at least programmatic aspect. This is borne out in music highly evocative in import if without loss of that formal or expressive focus needed to sustain the two, wholly different, abstract arguments pursued here.

With its lengthy gestation and opulent instrumentation, the Third Symphony is a key work in the composer’s output. Its minimalist aspects occasioned more by Nielsen or Prokofiev than any post-war figure, the initial Allegro opens stealthily as its main theme gradually comes to the fore – tension increasing through a series of dissonant outbursts towards a massive climax across the orchestra that subsides into a sombre close. The central Allegro molto is described as ‘‘essentially a sequence of waltzes’’, which indicates its motion but not its stark emotional contrasts and violent denouement. It remains for the final Andante, proceeding without pause, to attempt a reconciliation; its furtive gestures opening-out onto a sustained expression whose restive and volatile content does not pre-empt the inexorability of the waltz music at the close.

Its title referring to the COVID-19 pandemic that occasioned its compact design and smaller forces (strings with percussion and piano), the Seventh Symphony comprises two movements. The first of these alternates between a plaintive Andante and trenchant Allegro molto, which latter gradually comes to the fore in a conclusion of unbridled abandon. Almost twice as long, the Adagio unfolds on the lines of a ‘prelude and fugue’ – the initial section sustaining a rapt eloquence that is intensified after the strings’ airy ascent and the commencement of the fugue in its methodical while deeply felt progress towards a fervent close. It is worth noting that the composer himself contracted the virus soon after completing this work – and which duly led to his missing the premiere in Omsk – but from which he has fortunately made a full recovery.

Does it all work?

For the most part, yes. This is music governed by the impulses as brought it to fruition, such that its underlying logic can be difficult to discern even on repeated hearings, while ensuring that a sense of destination – and arrival thereat – is never absent. The playing of the Siberian Symphony Orchestra is up to the standards of earlier releases for this label, Dmitry Vasiliev bringing a discipline and cumulative momentum to the often lengthy individual movements. There is little evidence of audience ‘presence’ in what are designated as live performances.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. The sound conveys the impact of these symphonies (the Third in particular) with no lack of immediacy, and there are insightful notes by pianist and composer Jonathan Powell. Hopefully more volumes of Alexander Tchaikovsky’s orchestral music will be forthcoming.

Listen

Buy

You can discover more about this release at the Toccata Classics website, where you can also purchase the recording. You can read more about Alexander Tchaikovsky here, and more about conductor Dmitry Vasiliev here