August 19, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Recording of the Month: Lawes: The Royal Consort (Phantasm)

Recording of the Month: September 2015 ★★★★★ I can, it’s true, find a jazz analogy in most things, and this two-CD set of dance music from the 1630s proves to be no exception. Listening to William Lawes’ The Royal Consort, I’m reminded of why hipsters digging Miles Davis and John Coltrane too often find the early 1920s recordings of King Oliver and Louis Armstrong a problem. The sheer ancientism of the music apparently operates under completely different rules and feels so utterly alien to the modern world that its archaism flips over into something entirely new: an avant-garde relic that has to be grappled with. William Lawes inhabited a medieval London that was about to be irreplaceably altered by the Great Fire of 1666. He found gainful employment as a composer at the court of King Charles I and as Parliament flexed its republican instincts, he felt moved to add the prefix ‘Royal’ to his Consort pieces. The much good it did him though: Lawes was killed fighting for the Royalists during the Siege of Chester in 1645. As with all genuinely great dance music – from Rameau right up to Cage – Lawes’ pieces are as much about the idea…

July 24, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Beethoven: Complete String Quartets Volume 1 (Elias String Quartet)

★★★★☆ A few years ago, I interviewed the London-based Elias Quartet about plans to tour and record Beethoven’s complete string quartets. A few days later the publication that commissioned the interview folded and, as I write, our conversation remains untranscribed: lost words of wisdom. But one section, where we cracked into the true nature of spontaneity in music as familiar as Beethoven’s, rewound through my mind as I listened to these deftly articulate and noticeably personal performances of Op. 18 No 4, Op. 74 The Harp and Op. 130, complete with Grosse Fuge finale – all recorded live at the Wigmore Hall in 2014.  The first thing you notice is the sound. Do I hear residual traces of the old-school charm of, say, the Busch or Borodin Quartets? Quite possibly, but then again this playing is perpetually and effortlessly contemporary. Unlike Riccardo Chailly’s extreme-sports take on the symphonies, the quartet’s tempi stick within a narrow bandwidth. But their performance of Op. 130 aspires to something quasi orchestral, their muscular, pile-driver tone motoring the Grosse Fuge forwards in time, the crystal-cut clarity of line against line never negating their meticulous plotting of the music’s kaleidoscope of inner harmonic tensions. You are…

July 24, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Boccherini, Cirri: Cello Sonatas (Catherine Jones)

★★★★★ Giovanni Battista Cirri (1724-1808) and Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805) were both born in Italy; were both virtuoso cellists; worked extensively abroad (Cirri in England, Boccherini in Spain); and had a collection of six cello sonatas printed in London around 1775. But Italian-based Australian cellist Catherine Jones is surely right when she says that Cirri “is already composing in an early Classical style” while Boccherini “is a composer of the high Baroque.” To prove her point, she presents three sonatas from each, revealing the delight she shares with both composers in the cello’s technical and expressive capabilities.  Jones has previously recorded three Boccherini sonatas from the same collection while a student; the Cirri sonatas – Nos 3, 4 and 5 – are premiere recordings. Her light, responsive touch and pungent, mostly vibratoless tone perfectly match Boccherini’s playfulness, exuberant embellishment of repeated figures and his imitations of the strummed chords of the Spanish guitar, which are redolent of another Italian who worked in Spain, Domenico Scarlatti.  Jones, supported throughout by Nuti, McGillivray and Carter, also luxuriates in the rich sonorities of the drawn-out single and multiple-stopped tones. These characterise certain episodes in Boccherini’s music. Cirri’s, by contrast, display a Classical restraint. Highly…

July 24, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: The Sky is Melting (Marianne Rothschild, Glenn Riddle)

★★★☆☆ In The Sky is Melting Linda Kouvaras responds to the heat of the Australian summer – an idea translated into sound with great success by Australian duo Marianne Rothschild (violin) and Glenn Riddle (piano), whose new album is an impressionistic journey taking in a range of compositions from contemporary Melbourne. The title track opens with dreamy piano themes reminiscent of Debussy before Rothschild’s striking melody takes the forefront. The first of Stuart Greenbaum’s Six Occasional Pieces reveals Rothschild has little intention of colouring her tone to suit the feel of different works, and the pure consistency of sound does evoke a sense of aural fatigue, but hers is an attractive tone nevertheless. Riddle’s piano gives the piece a contemporary feel, with repetitive cycles of chords commonly heard in modern song. Life Cycles was written for a funeral, though the solo violin lament lacks sensitivity. But a refreshing pizzicato and charmingly simple melody represents an “occasion” of childbirth in For Alette – an uplifting celebration of new life.  Argentinian Etching by William James Schmidt was inspired by a 1970s artwork by Stefan Strocen of a figure reaching toward a sun-like orb, and the duo make it a well-executed rhapsody with…

July 24, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: The Chopin Album (Sol Gabetta, Bertrand Chamayou)

★★★★☆ A title like The Chopin Album, might lead you to expect a disc from the latest pianistic talent, but happily on this occasion it’s a collection of repertoire for cello and piano duo from close friends, cellist Sol Gabetta and pianist Bertrand Chamayou. The stunning centrepiece is the significant Cello Sonata in G Minor. The complexity of the first movement alone is a marvel, and it’s a shame the piece isn’t more widely known. Gabetta talks about approaching Chopin as a bel canto composer, who was always aware of a ‘vocal’ line in the music. It’s a fitting analogy and Chamayou and Gabetta show great sensitivity towards the primary melody, while still uncovering Chopin’s rich polyphony. The Largo movement is achingly beautiful, without becoming too overly sentimental.  The militaristic Polonaise Brilliante provides both Chamayou and Gabetta with plenty of virtuosic scope and both performers relish the opportunity. The remainder of the album serves as a tribute to the friendship between Chopin and respected cellist Auguste-Joseph Franchomme. The two men co-authored the Grand Duo Concertant and worked independently on arrangements and transcriptions of Chopin’s music. An original work of Franchomme’s is included on the album, the Nocturne for Cello and…

July 21, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Mozart: Divertimenti (Scottish Chamber Orchestra)

Editor’s Choice: Chamber, July 2015  ★★★★★ Although this is a debut recording by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra Wind Soloists, the six players each boast impressive individual track records. As part of the SCO itself, they previously made a recording of wind concerti by Weber, which in turn inspired the creation of the ensemble on this disc.  As the liner notes point out, throughout Mozart’s life, one constant was that he always wrote music for entertainment. Whether that music was designed to be played at parties or banquets, at evenings out or formal ceremonies, it’s abundantly clear that Mozart took all this good-natured music very seriously. “It’s abundantly clear that Mozart took all this good-natured music very seriously” The recording opens with the Serenade in E Flat, K375. There’s a well-known letter to his father in which Mozart describes his delight at discovering the musicians performing the work beneath his window as a surprise one evening. Similarly, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra Wind Soloists present us as listeners with a pleasant surprise, as they (somewhat unusually) play the original version of this work for pairs of clarinets, horns and bassoons. Normally, the Serenade in E Flat features a pair of oboes as…

June 28, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Piffarissimo (Capella de la Torre/Bäuml)

★★★★☆ Capella de la Torre is dedicated to the performance of an older brand of music. Their instruments are similarly old, from shawms, slide trumpets and sackbut to lute, cow horn and percussion. With an eye to authentic historical readings, their playing evokes distant times and places, and frequently explores the music of the Middle Ages by focussing on people, locations and events. In their recent release, the group have reconstructed through music the 15th ecumenical council.  Imagine tens of thousands of dignitaries, clerics, noblemen and women of various nations gathered together at Constance for this important ecclesiastical meeting. Written accounts of the time describe great parades through the streets, accompanied by music of the various regions raining down from roof and castle-tops. The various tracks on the disc feature music for drums, pipes, strings and trumpets, in the music of noted medieval composers like Guillaume Dufay, Philippe de Vitry and Gilles Binchois.  Capella de la Torre’s musical reconstruction is a great success. With their keen eye for historical accuracy, the group have pieced together a programme of music that conjures the spirit of this momentous occasion. Admittedly, there’s not really enough on the disc to convince nonbelievers of the…

June 27, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Sculthorpe: The Quartets (Goldner String Quartet)

★★★★★ “I’m taking you on a journey through my life with string quartets… 70 years!” announces Peter Sculthorpe to a small studio audience gathered to celebrate his 83rd birthday, on April 29, 2012. And so he does, sharing anecdotes about his fascinating life, compositional processes, and use of motifs from Aboriginal music.  Part documentary, part concert film, Sculthorpe shares the stage with the magnificent Goldner String Quartet, with whom he had a long and fruitful association. The warmth and ease between them all is palpable. The Goldners have performed all of Sculthorpe’s quartets, and recorded many in his presence and under his direction.  This calls to mind the close relationship between Shostakovich and the Borodin Quartet; and Sculthorpe too was a socially conscious and political composer. In particular, his quartets address the plight of asylum seekers (No 16), Australia’s Indigenous histories (Nos 11, 14), and climate change (No 18). This is a fascinating, deeply moving film, an ethnographic history lesson with Sculthorpe as guide.  It is beautifully recorded with glorious performances of excerpts from ten quartets. Furthermore, it is an invaluable historical document. Essential viewing for Sculthorpe fans, and recommended for anyone interested in the string quartet’s development in the…

June 26, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Smörgåsbord! (The Marais Project)

★★★★☆ This is the best kind of crossover. Swedish traditional and popular music across centuries and styles – folk, jazz, ABBA(!) – rubbing shoulders with songs and chamber music by composers Johan Helmich Roman and Carl Michael Bellman. The dishes are plentiful, varied and tasty without being overly rich, with just a little French dressing courtesy of Marin Marais.  Australian-based period instrument band The Marais Project features a flexible line-up which this time comprises Tommie Andersson on theorbo and guitar and Jennifer Eriksson on gamba with tenor Pascal Herrington, flautist Melissa Farrow and violinist Fiona Ziegler. For starters they serve up a strikingly beautiful instrumental arrangement of an old pastoral hymn which the booklet describes as “one of the most haunting and melancholy tunes from the region of Dalarna.” For dessert there’s Andersson’s cheeky yet effective arrangement of ABBA’s Waterloo in the form of a baroque courante. In between there is much to choose from. Bellman’s delightful songs, in which a limpid-voiced Herrington is accompanied by classical guitar with varying involvement from the other instruments, exude Mozartian charm and irreverence. Roman’s staid trio sonata provides a suitable palate cleanser before Andersson’s arrangement of late jazzman Esbjörn Svensson’s Pavane: Thoughts of…

June 26, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Sonorous Sonatas (Peter Sheridan)

★★★☆☆ Peter Sheridan’s Sonorous Sonatas reveals the rarely heard sounds of the lower flutes. Commissioned by Sheridan himself, the works feature alto, subcontrabass, and pretty much every flute in between.    Gary Schocker’s bubbly Music for a Lost Planet opens the album with Sheridan’s alto flute vibrato rhythmic in Above. The piano is so strikingly similar in range that the instruments seem to blend into one, but the aggressive Burn reaches more familiar realms with flute playing at a higher register.  A flutter-tonguing bass flute opens Taran Carter’s Owls Sfutel. The Allegretto movement initially seems an expression of random madness – but stick with it, as it soon falls into a jazzy rhythm. Con Molto Energy is announced by a metronomic pounding of the piano – not a style the ears are accustomed to after half an hour of ‘sonorous’ flutes! Andrew Downes’ Sonata for contrabass flute is far warmer – though it’s a shame about the clicky keys. Carolyn Morris’s Forest Over Sea features gorgeous harmonies. The album finishes with Houston Dunleavy’s bizarre Clumsy Dances – an opportunity to hear the subcontrabass flute, yes, but a poor fit for the release.  Everyone should invest time into listening to rarer…

June 22, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Revolution (Emmanuel Pahud)

Editor’s Choice: Chamber – July 2015 ★★★★★ For some years Emmanuel Pahud has been the poster boy of the flute fraternity with prominent positions in the Berlin Philharmonic and Claudio Abbado’s hand-picked Lucerne Festival Orchestra. His superb two-disc set The Flute King explored the German school hovering around the court of Frederick the Great, while this new release is a tribute to the French school of the late 18th century.  For those of us who grew up with hoary old music histories declaring this a period bereft of interest apart from Mozart and Haydn, other fascinating developments from a time of social turmoil are gradually coming to light. Earlier recordings of these works in the old “Dresden china” manner of playing were mostly deadly dull and reinforced those old prejudices so it is a delight to hear them taken by the scruff of the neck and presented with the sort of flair and élan that a crack team would lavish on a mainstream masterpiece.  Pahud’s playing is stunning with perfectly focused tone at all dynamics, immaculate articulation and a technique so supreme that one can simply enjoy it for its physicality and grace. A single sustained note from Pahud can…

June 18, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Recording of the Month: Reinventions

Recording of the Month: July 2015 ★★★★☆ Apparently Mozart didn’t much like the flute. Apparently Calvin Bowman doesn’t much like Mozart. But Bowman loves JS Bach – as do Elena Kats-Chernin and Genevieve Lacey. What are we to make of this love-hate recording? Bach’s two-part Inventions are, like the three-part Sinfonias, staples of the (advanced) student piano repertoire. Kats-Chernin’s six (a classic Bachian number) Re-inventions came about as she and Lacey were exploring different recorders, just jamming, when, as Kats-Chernin recounts in the booklet notes, “a bit of a Bach Invention showed itself in one of the figurations that we improvised with. And suddenly this idea presented itself – to base the piece on Bach Inventions.” An organist himself, Calvin Bowman’s sensitive transcription for string quartet of Bach’s chorale prelude O Mensch, Bewein’ dein’ Sünder Gross (O mortal, weep for your great sin) BWV622 from the Little Organ Book is neatly balanced by his transcription for the same forces of the tenor aria Seht, was die Liebe Tut (Behold what Love does) from Bach’s cantata BWV85 Ich bin ein Gutter Hirt (I am a Good Shepherd). “The musicians play with a mix of delight in their own virtuosity and reverence” The two…

April 24, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Invitation to Tango (Various Guitarists)

In his booklet note, West Australian luthier and broadcaster Graham Hawkes writes, “A long time ago I realised that many of the songs I loved were in fact tangos.” To enrich the repertoire, Hawkes commissioned new tangos from a number of composers, many of them fine guitarists in their own right. Invitation to TANGO, shows just how adaptable this Argentinean form is. Of the works for solo guitar, Alan Banks’ bluesy, highly virtuosic Tango Improvisation 1, Krzysztof Piotrowicz’s Tango dia Sergei Rudnev, Mardae Selepak’s Tango para Paco and Owen Thomson’s Midnight Tango stand out, not least for the composers themselves delivering such passionate, idiomatic performances. Banks also gives a riveting account of Rohan Jayasinghe’s substantial Hungarian Tango. Veteran composer Philip Bracˇanin is represented by Se baila como eres I & II, two finely crafted contrasting tangos performed with panache by clarinettist Catherine Cahill and guitarist Stephanie Jones, while mandolin and guitar duo Ruth Roshan and Tanya Costantino revel in Roshan’s playful Low tide and Sunset.  For Hawkes this project has been a labour of love, and if Mark Viggiani’s festive Cabaret Closed brings a sense of finality to proceedings, well, as one of tango’s great exponents Carlos Gardel sang, “You always return…