September 15, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Stanford: Preludes (Sam Haywood)

For many, by the early 1920s, Sir Charles Villiers Stanford was the grand old man of English music. For some, however, he was a relic of a Victorian past whose publication of two sets of 24 Preludes, 39 of which are recorded here, must have confirmed that very suspicion. With his ‘old-fashioned’ music, Stanford honours the mighty ‘48’ of his hero JS Bach, but with stylistic nods to Chopin and Saint-Saëns – in other words, the polar opposite of the lions of the day: men like Ravel and Bartók. Not that Stanford cared. Hard up in the aftermath of the Great War, he needed the kind of income that came from the keen amateur market, and many of these miniatures would have appealed to professionals and the less-skilled alike. But are they any good? Brisbane-born British pianist Sam Haywood thinks so, and I think so too. Had they been written 40 years earlier, they would almost certainly have been taken up more enthusiastically. Rather than travel linearly from No 1 to No 48, Haywood roams at will, finding connections and resonances that build a satisfyingly varied recital. He begins among the Flats and the Minors, launching his disc with Stanford’s…

September 15, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Bach: Trios (Yo-Yo Ma, Chris Thile & Edgar Meyer)

It’s as difficult to know where to start describing the brilliance of this album as it is to avoid superlatives. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma, mandolin player Chris Thile and bassist Edgar Meyer are masters of their respective instruments. All are fluent in different musical styles and genres. All have collaborated with each other, either as duos or as part of a larger ensemble, on many occasions. All have performed and recorded JS Bach’s works for solo cello or violin to critical acclaim, so one can immediately assume a certain facility and intimacy when playing Bach together. Here, they present a programme comprising arrangements of mostly keyboard works, the only exception being the Viola da Gamba Sonata No 3 in G Minor. There is the Trio Sonata No 6 in G, the Passepied from the Partita No 5 in G, an excerpt from The Art of Fugue and a selection of preludes and fugues and chorale preludes. There are flashes of extreme virtuosity, such as the breakneck section in the E Minor Fugue BWV548, originally for organ. There are almost heartbreakingly beautiful renderings of some of Bach’s most famous chorale preludes, such as Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott, BWV721 and Wachet auf, ruft…

September 15, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Beethoven, Brahms & Fauré (Charmian Gadd & Phillip Shovk)

A reliable repertoire graces the new self-titled release from Charmian Gadd and Phillip Shovk. Recorded two years ago at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, the album features three sonatas for violin and piano. All in major keys, the works offer a chance to carve out an hour-or-so and indulge in some fine 19th-century music. Gadd’s timbre on violin is luscious with high frequencies in the opening Brahms Violin Sonata No 1 in G. Shovk burbles away with a neat brush of the keys, which satisfies the need for a fuller and warmer foundation of sound. In his notes, Shovk informs us this work is in the style of Beethoven – perhaps a reason he chose the master’s Sonata No 10 in G to complete the album. But sandwiched between these two legendary composers is Fauré: his Violin Sonata No 1 in A. A pivotal work in the chamber repertoire, Fauré’s music is composed and performed with affection (except during the rumbling momentum of the Allegro vivo). The Beethoven eventually arrives with a frisky little trill, instruments echoing each other before joining in rhythmic unison. In this Allegro moderato, Gadd and Shovk bare their abilities to respond acutely to each other’s musical approaches….

September 15, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Szymon Laks: Chamber Works (ARC Ensemble)

The Music in Exile series is a fantastic initiative by Canadian group ARC Ensemble (Artists of the Royal Conservatory). A spotlight on composers of suppressed music during the rise of Nazism, the most recent in the series looks at the chamber works of Paris-based Polish composer, Szymon Laks. Musically, Laks was something of a more cosmopolitan Bartók, with notes of Hindemith, Poulenc and even Prokofiev peppering his language. His works are infused with tuneful confidence, and many, particularly the Piano Quintet, draw on Polish folk tradition. The performances on this disc are all crystal clear, capturing the fine lines of Laks’ calculated counterpoint. Much of the music is light, and upbeat in character, with the works including winds having particular bounce. This is music in stark contrast to the darkness of the war, during which Laks was imprisoned at Auschwitz. In the midst of the terror of the Nazi regime, music might have been a light of hope, especially for those at Auschwitz. The camp had a few ensembles, and at one point Laks was appointed conductor of the men’s orchestra. Laks’ testimony, however, was that music provided little in the way of comfort: “In no case,” he said, “did…

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