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…

April 23, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Serenissima (Rose Consort of viols)

Inspired by viol-maker Richard Jones’ copies of Venetian instruments, the Rose Consort of Viols presents a globe-trotting recital, centred on Venice (La Serenissima) – a hub for musicians of the time. There’s everything from lively galliards to free-wheeling fantasias, and covering a range of composers from Italy, Germany, France and England. Most of this music is heard far too rarely, and some of it is quite extraordinary. I was once told that Renaissance counterpoint “wasn’t nearly as complex as the Baroque”, and I suspect that such an ignorant statement could be easily shattered by some of the pieces here. For example, the liner notes point out that the tenor viol part of Henricus Isaac’s La my la sol doubles in speed each time it repeats, until it syncs up with the rest of the consort. So much for a lack of complexity! Not all of the works are so logically constructed. The Rose Consort give a fabulously rustic performance of some anonymous dances from the mid-16th century from both Italy and England, and it’s easy to imagine the music as the background to a ball or social event. Furthermore, Delphian have done a fine job in recording the plangent timbre…

March 17, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Sculthorpe: String Quartets (Del Sol Quartet)

Buy this album on iTunes:  Sculthorpe: The Complete String Quartets with Didjeridu – Del Sol String Quartet & Stephen Kent The string quartet was central to Peter Sculthorpe’s output. His last, No 18, had its premiere on his 81st birthday. He undoubtedly liked string instruments because of their ability to sustain long-held notes. Drones play a pivotal part, not only in imitation of indigenous music, but as an aural equivalent to the Australian outback. Strings are also adept at imitating birdcalls, as the third movement of Quartet No 14 shows. Sculthorpe’s quartet writing with its drones and repetitive ostinaticontain all of this, and through subtle harmonic and rhythmic juxtapositions he suggests the life with which this landscapes teems. Neither the terrain nor his musical depiction of it is remotely passive. In 2001 Sculthorpe was introduced to a young Aboriginal didjeridu player, William Barton, who asked Sculthorpe to write for him. The composer responded by adding a didjeridu part to some of his orchestral works, notably Earth Cryand Kakadu. He also added the instrument to his existing String Quartets Nos 12, 14 and 16 – the ones with the most significant Aboriginal themes. Later works…This article is available to Limelight subscribers. Log…

March 14, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Hadyn, Debussy: String Quartets (Huon Quartet)

Two minor string quartets recorded in the Ballroom of Government House, Hobart might sound underwhelming. but Virtuosi Tasmania provide a terrific match with Haydn and Debussy on their latest release. Debussy’s stunning String Quartet in G Minor is thrillingly suspenseful. The second movement throbs with metronomic pizzicato, supplying fantastic textural contrasts. The Andantino, doucement expressif is painful in its beauty: this is the sort of music string quartets were created for. The romance comes to an impossibly peaceful ending, weakened only by a shaky beginning to the final chord. A pulsing cello drives the final movement to its brilliant finish. Haydn’s String Quartet in F Minor, Op 20 No 5 sounds conservative and might have had more impact had it been placed first. This is not to suggest the two works aren’t an appropriate fit – in fact, Haydn offers an emotional respite after the intensity of the Debussy. Haydn’s reliably repetitive motives in the first movement are followed by a light Menuetto. Because of the subtlety of this quartet, the ballroom’s mildly reverberant acoustics are more apparent. The Adagio pulses like a lullaby before coming to a dreamy end, followed by the Finale: Fuga a due soggetti. These final…

February 27, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: An AIDS Activist’s Memoir in Music (Lyle Chan)

Lyle Chan has a story to be heard. As an activist at the height of the AIDS epidemic in Australia, he was part of the grass roots movement campaigning for the needs of the suffering, in a time when rampant stigma surrounded the disease. Chan’s story is told through a multi-movement string quartet, performed with skill by the Acacia Quartet, who are gaining a reputation for classy performances of new Australian music. Chan draws on a stockpile of genres, from classical to jazz, creating a language where nothing is out of bounds. He explains his cherry picking: “I never know what musical style will come onto the page when I compose… I’ve learned to allow all authentic voices out, to not judge anything that wants to be articulated.” His music conjures up the agitated period. A pursuit dominated by disjointed rhythms and police whistles depicts a small group of activists with a very large, but then illegal, purpose. The feeling of injustice is heightened in movements like Dextran Man, where a nervous rain dance tells of thousands calling out for medical aid when there was so little. Genuine grief is balanced by a cute sentimentality, and there are touches of humour,…

February 19, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Bartók: Chamber Works for Violin (James Ehnes)

After the more serious material of the first two volumes, James Ehnes finishes his survey of Bartók’s chamber music for violin on an entertaining note. Here’s the Hungarian master in unbuttoned mood, tapping into the rich folk traditions of his native lands alongside his move to America and his flirtation with jazz. Contrasts was written for Benny Goodman and violinist Joseph Szigeti in 1938. It was one of the first pieces Bartók wrote in America. The music includes complex Bulgarian dance rhythms as well as recognising Goodman’s jazz heritage. The piece features top clarinetist, Michael Collins and pianist Andrew Armstrong. The charming Sonatina, based on Transylvanian folk themes, was originally composed for solo piano until 10 years later a student, Endre Gertler, brought Bartók a solo violin transcription. Bartók told Gertler that he’d wished he written it for fiddle in the first place. For the Forty-Four Duos – bite- sized colourful slices of folk music from the Balkans – Ehnes is joined by Amy Schwartz Moretti. Few of these pieces last a minute, except for the lovely prelude and canon. Some tunes will be familiar in other settings but played by two duelling violins they make for a spicy and entertaining 48 minutes. It’s…

February 15, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Brahms: Clarinet Quintet (Martin Fröst)

Two masterpieces of Brahms’ late style, the Clarinet Quintet and the Trio for Clarinet, Piano and Cello were written in 1891 for the principal clarinetist of the Meiningen Orchestra, Richard Mühlfeld. For this recording, Fröst has separated the two with his own transcriptions of six of Brahms’ songs, including the beautiful Wie Melodien zieht es mir, which the composer revisited in his A Major Violin Sonata. The quintet and trio are major works by any standard, and Mühlfeld’s playing must have been extraordinary to have forced the middle-aged Brahms out of retirement with such spectacular results. But if you’re looking for the heart of Fröst’s approach to Brahms you’ll find its most unequivocal expression in the song transcriptions. Try Immer leiser wird mein Schlummer, where Fröst evokes a somnolent melancholy through a floating, vibrato-caressed tone, against Roland Pöntinen’s sensitive accompaniment. So – listen to the song transcriptions first. They’ll set you up nicely as fine an account of the B Minor quintet as you’ll hear anywhere. Joined by musicians of the calibre of Janine Jansen and Maxim Rysanov, Fröst infuses Brahms’ autumnal lyricism with a gentle urgency while responding to his partners’ impassioned yet poised playing with a touching sense of…

February 8, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Birdsong At Dusk (Barton, Kurilpa String Quartet)

William Barton is well known for his cross-genre collaborations and adventurous performance style. We see both on this disc that features his famous didgeridoo playing, married with his talents as a composer. He’s joined here by a formidable line-up of musos, including the Kurilpa String Quartet, vocalist Delmae Barton (William’s mother) and violinist John Rodgers, in a stunning album that sees a blending of classically notated, popular and Indigenous Australian musical styles. Barton explores the full range and virtuosity of his instrument, with rumbling drones and colourful animal calls – we’re even treated to the expressively plaintive voice of Barton himself. The title track Birdsong at Dusk opens with him singing over rich murmurs in the cello that build to encompass the full quartet. There’s a haunting beauty in this free, open music, before it is transformed into a vibrant dance through the rhythmic spirit of the didgeridoo and clapping sticks. Petrichore features an impossibly fast dialogue between violin and didgeridoo, with the rapid, bullet- like staccato in the didge answering the busy passagework of John Rodgers’ impressive violin playing. 7/8 not too late is a fascinating, improvisatory didgeridoo solo that at one point breaks out into a sort of pop-inspired beatboxing. Here Barton is…

January 11, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Belle Epoque (Galatea String Quartet)

If CDs can be judged by their covers then this intriguing release from the Zurich-based Galatea Quartet could be Record of the Year. And with typical creativity they don’t pair the venerable Debussy Quartet with its usual Ravel bedfellow, but instead throw in Milhaud’s First Quartet. And what a pleasant surprise it is, a work of real lyrical beauty and elegiac sensibility, until the vibrant finale whose darting rhythms and jack-in-the-box mood-swings so suits the playing style of this seriously engaging and altogether contemporary-sounding ensemble.  The Debussy too is excellently played, sounding crisp and fresh with the kind of youthful vigour, at which the Ebène are the current masters, and which typifies the current crop of outstanding new-generation string quartets. But perhaps most interest lies in the closing, three-movement Sonatine for String Quartet by Pierre Menu, a prodigiously gifted young French composer who at just 23 died from the effects of poison gas during the First World War. While the quasi-impressionist work itself isn’t especially individual, this world premiere recording does suggest that his premature loss to French music justified the grief expressed by his contemporaries.  It’s a close-miked recording, making some instrumental timbres and studio noises a touch too…

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.