January 6, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Brahms: String Quintets (Takács Quartet, Lawrence Power)

Limelight Editor’s Choice – Chamber – September, 2014 Was there really any doubt that this latest release from the Takács Quartet would be superb? Their previous discs of Brahms (including the Piano Quintet, Op 34 with Stephen Hough, and recordings of the string quartets) have been revelatory.  In writing these two quintets, Brahms chose to follow Mozart’s example in his choice of configuration for the strings with doubled viola, rather than the Schubertian choice of a second cello. Here, the Takács Quartet is joined by violist Lawrence Power to give powerful, dark-toned performances of Brahms’s string quintets. “Here is a marvellous example of how to work closely with other players in chamber music” The first quintet (in F Major, Op 88) was thought of by Brahms as one of his best works – he wrote to Clara Schumann boasting about it, and wrote to his publisher Simrock, saying simply, “You have never before had such a beautiful work from me”. It’s in this first quintet that Lawrence Power particularly shines, his tone enriching the texture most beautifully. The additional viola is given several extensive solos, and they’re played with passion and verve. In the slow movement, Brahms writes in the…

November 21, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: In Colour (Melbourne Guitar Quartet)

In its previous two recordings, the Melbourne Guitar Quartet chose rather unusual material, including an arrangement of Nigel Westlake’s hypnotic percussion work, Omphalo Centric Lecture, and a reimagining of William Walton’s Five Bagatelles, originally for solo guitar. Here, the repertoire is far less adventurous. Reworkings of Albéniz’s Cordoba and Granados’s various Danzas Españolas have been played on guitar since the early 20th century, so the material here isn’t as fresh and unexpected. The arrangement of Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque has a curiously earthbound feel to it – this won’t replace any of the great pianists for favoured recordings of the work, though the famous Clair de Lune is appropriately dreamy. Furthermore, I feel that the extracts from both Debussy and Ravel’s string quartets (in both cases the second movement) are flat-out unsuitable for guitar quartet format. For example, the trill in the Ravel that introduces the soaring theme that should sound effortless, sounds laboured. Were these pieces chosen simply because they feature pizzicatos in the original string quartet versions? In both cases, tempos are on the slow side, exacerbating the issue. The Granados and Albéniz, on the other hand, are played well, benefitting from the extended range provided by the quartet’s…

January 12, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: Rapsodia (violin: Patricia Kopatchinskaja)

Dubbed the “barefoot fiddler”, Patricia Kopatchinskaja is a young violinist from Moldova. This intimate disc captures her raw energy and stylistic hunger, with a mixture of folksongs, 20th century and contemporary classical works for violin with accompanying piano, double bass and cimbalom. It’s hard not to get swept up in her sheer love of music, her sense of freedom and spontaneity. You hear this especially in the folksongs. Likewise, the fully-notated classical works sound freshly invented. And Kopatchinskaja’s liner notes are as fun and as frank as her playing. Dubbed “the music of my life”, the disc is a family affair. Joining Kopatchinskaja at various points is either or both of her parents, Emilia and Viktor, playing violin/viola and cimbalom respectively. The mix of styles can at times seem a little bizarre, even if the pieces share Eastern European roots. The standouts for me are the folksongs, although they’re complemented well by the more classical outings. Ravel’s Tzigane might be an obvious inclusion and Enescu’s folk-inspired pieces are perhaps a little dry, however Ligeti’s unadorned Duo and younger composer Jorge Sanchez-Chiong’s vignette Crin are gems. Overall, a disc full of vivid colour and confident virtuosity.

January 11, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: BEETHOVEN Violin Sonatas Nos 2, 5,10 (violin: Alina Ibragimova, piano: Cédric Tiberghien)

Again, their readings are marked by a seemingly infinite variety of inflections, astutely calculated nuances and exquisitely judged tempi. Listen to the way they play the deliberately out-of-sync notes in the Spring Sonata’s tiny scherzo (all 81 seconds of it, displaying Beethoven’s rather tentative approach to the idea of the four-movement sonata!), or the delightfully delicate way they negotiate the finale to the Op 12 No 2, when the piano reaches the end one bar later than the violinist. Hilary Finch, in her excellent sleeve notes, writes of the melody in the first movement of the Spring Sonata as “irresistibly vernal, creative sap rising freely…” which makes the drama of the second half of the movement all the more effectively contrasted. For all these delights, my greatest interest lay in the Op 96, Beethoven’s last Violin Sonata. Unlike the symphonies, piano sonatas and string quartets, Beethoven’s violin sonatas did not penetrate his “late” period, so this work is as close as we get. Nonetheless, it’s still enigmatic: its opening trill always seems to come out of silence as the continuation of music which has already begun. The overall mood of the work is lyrical, with a delightfully spiky scherzo, realized…

January 11, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: Beau Soir (Janine Jansen, Itamar Golan)

The great names of French music leap out, and we are also tantalised by the inclusion of the famous name of Boulanger. In this case, Lili, sister of famous teacher and musicologist Nadia. Lili’s contribution is a limpid three-minute Nocturne with a passionate central section. Less well known is the Swiss composer, Richard Dubugnon, who Jansen tells us is heir to the French sound.And it is true; Dubugnon’s pieces are safely at home with his famous colleagues Debussy, Ravel and Fauré – so much so that it is not always easy to tell where some of their music stops and his begins. He has three works on the CD: La Minute Exquise, Hynos and Retour à Montfort-l’Amaury. This last was written for the CD and is the most vigorous of the three. Messiaen’s splendid Thème et Variations is from the same oeuvre as Quatuor pour la fin du temps. The composer ranges widely from intimate delicacy to an energetic, passionate vigour that forms the core of the work. Fauré’s Après un rêve, which follows, sounds as if it could be an extra variation. One of the larger works on the CD is Debussy’s Sonata for Violin and Piano, a fine…

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