January 5, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: If You Could Read My Mind (Carpenter)

Cameron Carpenter is one of those classical music anomalies: he plays the music, but his approach is anything but classical. He’ll play anything, from Bach to Bacharach, plus his own daring inventions thrown in for good measure, with a questionable (and frequently controversial) sense of style. This debut disc features his mighty digital touring organ, and begins with the famous Prelude from Bach’s Cello Suite No 1, played only on the foot pedals (why use hands?). This mutates into a monstrous elaboration that barrels and snarls with echoes of Bach blended with circus kitsch. Think Wurlitzer gone wild.  Next is a transcription of Bernstein’s raucous Candide Overture. It’s a brilliant work, which then jumps to the serene Rachmaninov Vocalise. Then one of his own compositions, followed by Piazzolla’s Oblivion. Not to mention his paraphrases of songs like Bacharach’s Alfie and Newley and Bricusse’s Pure Imagination. The program on the whole is baffling. Carpenter says each work “offers a different taste of ecstasy”, and while he does show off the colour range of the touring organ (and his own reckless brand of virtuosity), it’s a bit of a mess that misses out on the visual magic of his live shows. There…

January 4, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Corelli: Church Sonatas (Avison Ensemle)

Arcangelo Corelli was a surprisingly un-prolific composer; his reputation and influence was out of all proportion to the quantity of his output but it was a case of “never mind the length, feel the quality”. His prodigious melodic invention with virtuosic flourishes and sensuous harmonic progressions are like a Bernini marble rendered in sound and his own playing made him the reigning superstar of the day and the darling of the Roman courts. The bulk of his work are the four dozen trio sonatas which set the mould for later composers, yet we have had surprisingly few good recordings in this flourishing era of Baroque-mania.  This set of the Church Sonatas is a follow up to The Avison Ensemble’s set of Chamber Sonatas released last year and completes their much-welcome survey of Corelli’s complete published works. This excellent group of veterans of the British early music scene led by Pavlo Beznosiuk deliver refined performances. The continuo is varied and colourful with cello supported by harpsichord, organ and archlute, yet is not distractingly busy and the two violinists, while lean-toned, blend nicely with impeccable intonation and transparent textures that allow the interplay of Corelli’s part writing to come through clearly without…

December 7, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: Tender Earth (Simon Tedeschi)

Limelight Editor’s Choice – September, 2014 Simon Tedeschi has become something of a household name here in Australia. Known for thinking outside the classical box, he’s shown himself to be an artist of expert ability with some impressively diverse tastes. He collaborated with Australian jazz great James Morrison on his previous album with ABC Classics, Gershwin: Take Two, and this, his most recent release on the label continues his foray into the world of jazz. This compilation of local piano music has been chosen specially by Tedeschi, in what he calls a musical “self-portrait”. There’s something refreshing about the collection – it’s the perfect soundtrack for a lazy afternoon. You’ll find it has a soothing warmness, and at times an irresistible groove that instills it with a playful energy. Tedeschi’s performance is nuanced and sensitive, and perfectly suits the demands of the piano writing. “A warmness, and at times an irresistible groove, instills it with a playful energy” The disc opens with a Barcarolle by pianist-composer Mark Isaacs, whose music adds a calming touch to the album. He has five miniatures peppered throughout the collection, including the title track, Tender Earth – a stunningly gentle soliloquy brought to life through Tedeschi’s thoughtful…

December 2, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: Lebègue, Hardel: Harpsichord Works (Flint)

I must admit I wasn’t familiar with the composers on this disc, but they’re both discoveries that I’m happy to have made. Performing here on two magnificent Ruckers keyboards from the early 17th century, Karen Flint plays these French Baroque works with an exquisitely light touch, presenting Lebègue and Hardel’s dances in the best possible way.  The complete harpsichord works of Lebègue consist of his 1677 Les Pièces de Clavessin, and the 1687 Second Livre de Clavessin. Notably, it’s in the earlier collection that the very first unmeasured preludes (a form of prelude where each note’s duration is at the performer’s discretion) are contained. Most of the three discs are devoted to Lebègue’s music, but the potential dullness of a standardised sound is allayed through clever use of the two harpsichords. Although it’s not stated which one is used where, the benefit is clear in the pleasantly twangy Suitte en F ut fa, a very different sound from the richer instrument used elsewhere. Poor Jacques Hardel left only about 20 minutes of music, but it is extraordinarily beautiful. The noble Courante d’Ardelle, transcribed from a lute original, is particularly affecting. The liner notes are extraordinarily detailed in their descriptions of…

November 28, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: Mancini: Flute Sonatas (Gwyn Roberts)

The advantage a recording has over a live performance is the same as that of a printed score: freed from the shackles of time and place, one can feed as much or as little as, hunger dictates. This is often crucial with collections of works that weren’t intended to be listened to at one sitting. Yet there’s an assumption that people will listen through from beginning to end. So how to ensure the variety necessary to maintain interest? The wonderful Gywn Roberts takes her cue from historical uncertainty: for much of the Baroque period, the word “flute” could have meant either a recorder or the transverse flute proper. Thus, in this selection of works from Neapolitan composer Francesco Mancini’s 1724 collection “Solos for a flute with a Thorough Bass for the Harpsichord or for the Bass Violin” she uses a variety of instruments: two alto recorders, a voice flute (slightly lower in pitch than a treble recorder) and a transverse flute. Not only that: the continuo section continually, if you’ll excuse the pun, changes in colour and texture as Richard Stone and Adam Pearl, accompanied for the most part by Lisa Terry on cello, employ various combinations of harpsichord, organ,…

November 21, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: Beethoven: Piano Sonatas (Brawn)

This is the third in the Beethoven sonata series, played by English-born, sometime Australian resident, James Brawn. I enjoyed a recent recital (which included a thoughtful Pictures at an Exhibition).  Brawn shows every sign of thinking beyond the mere technical aspects of these works. In the early (1797) Sonata Op. 2 No 2, he keeps the music in proportion – this was still the Classical era – but also understands that the young Beethoven had a rough edge (bracingly evident in Brawn’s accented bass notes) and a sharp sense of humour. The latter imbues the scherzo with a quicksilver, throwaway quality. Brawn rightly brings more romantic ardour to the sturm und drang of the middle-period sonatas. His urgency in the tempestuous allegro of No 17 does not undermine the necessary Classical poise, while contrasting moments of calm are presented with sensitivity and clarity. Beethoven had a reputation as an improviser at the piano, and there is a real sense of this in Brawn’s playing. Sonata No 26, Les Adieux, can sometimes elude even the greatest Beethoven pianists. Its course is highly varied, both musically and dramatically. Brawn shapes every fleeting change of emphasis in the first movement, and even more…

November 20, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: Sculthorpe: Complete Solo Piano Music (Cislowska)

You certainly couldn’t wish for a better send-off. Though sadly passing away earlier this year, Peter Sculthorpe is celebrated in a wonderful way on this recording. Over the course of his entire career, Sculthorpe always returned to the piano, his own instrument. Before his death, he closely supervised the recording of this superb two-disc set, and specifically chose pianist Tamara-Anna Cislowska as the ideal proponent of his works. The program is organised chronologically, beginning with a set of short works written at the age of just 15. For the first half of the first disc or thereabouts, we’re comfortably in a sort of Debussy-esque territory that many wouldn’t quickly associate with Sculthorpe. These early works have rather delightfully evocative titles such as Falling Leaves, Prelude to a Puppet Show, and a slumbering Siesta. However, while these pieces (mostly written before he turned 20) are very beautiful, his unique compositional voice was yet to emerge. “Koto Music includes a sound that resembles nothing so much as a blues-style slide guitar” By the time we’ve arrived at the mid-1950s with the Sonatina, his familiar stylistic approaches have begun to make an appearance, and with the fully-fledged Sonata of 1963, we’ve come to…

February 8, 2012
CD and Other Review

Review: Homage To Paderewski (piano: Jonathan Plowright)

It seems hard to countenance today but in 1941 it was possible for a man to pass into legend who was not only a composer and the highest-paid musician of his day but also the Prime Minister of his country. The country in question was Poland; the man: Ignacy Jan Paderewski. As a tribute to his charismatic genius, boosey and Hawkes commissioned an anthology from 17 of the leading contemporary composers, which forms the starting point for this fascinating CD. The line-up of the great and the good forms a curious state-of-the-nation snapshot of music in the midst of WWII, for all of the composers were resident in North America at the time – some unable to return to their homelands. Represented here with distinction we find Bartók (cheating with the rehashed Three Hungarian Folk-Tunes), Milhaud, Castelnuovo-Tedesco (a charming mazurka), Goossens (a clever Homage based on Chopin’s C-minor Prelude), Martinu (another tangy mazurka) and even Britten, although the latter misunderstood the commission and composed a melancholy piece for two pianos. It’s good to see Australian-born Arthur Benjamin contributing an impressive, wistful Elegiac Mazurka. My personal favourite among many unknown gems was Stojowski’s delicate Cradle Song. The excellent british pianist Jonathan…

January 12, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: BEETHOVEN Live in Vienna (piano: Lang Lang)

Lang Lang has an unfortunate reputation for being a young “star”, in the worst sense of the word. Prima facie, this glossy, 2-CD plus DVD package does little to alter that impression. But the audio is actually relatively sober, and reveals a mature musician beneath the bravado. CD 1 is his first live recording of works by Beethoven. His reading of the Third Sonata is polished and measured, if a little honeyed. He is bold enough to follow it with the Appassionata. In the first movement, purely in terms of dynamic range the man they call “Bang Bang” is disappointingly demure, but his finale is scintillating. CD 2 features some of Albeniz’s short works and Prokofiev’s Sonata, No 7.He starts the Prokofiev brilliantly. At about half a minute or so in, however, the rhythm falters, and the tempo drops off, almost as if he’d started too fast. I had visions of Madame Sousatzka slapping her ruler on the piano top, shouting “Tempo! Tempo!” The second movement is fine; the Precipitato third draws squeals of delight from the crowd. All in all a great recital. If only he’d stopped there… The three Chopin encores represent the showman of old. The crowd…

January 12, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: BACH Keyboard Works (piano: Angela Hewitt)

The sheer beauty of these recordings (all of Bach’s major solo keyboard works in a 15-disc set) lets one forget the years of intense labour that lie behind it. Angela Hewitt began recording this cycle at her own expense back in 1994, with the Fantasia in C Minor, Two-Part Inventions, Three-Part Inventions and Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue. She had intended releasing the disc as an independent, but then offered it to Hyperion who accepted enthusiastically, also accepting the greater challenge of recording the complete major solo works. This was an odyssey of more than a decade, and Hewitt’s detailed notes gives an absorbing guide to her quest for perfection. Most of the recordings were made over just ten years – and then, in 2008, Hewitt decided to re-record the Well-Tempered Clavier using her own piano, an Italian Fazioli, regarded by most professionals as the finest piano made today. This set needs to be absorbed over time, so that one work does not slide into another. If you must choose just one by which to judge the whole, then listen to her magisterial Well-Tempered Clavier, which yields nothing to other Bach masters such as Richter or Schiff. She probes the inner…

January 12, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: SCHUMANN Davidsbündlertänze; Kinderszenen; Sonata in G minor (piano: Angela Hewitt)

Angela Hewitt has made a seamless and very successful transition from Bach to Schumann with her usual poise, precision, imagination and humanity. The Davidsbündlertänze are, even by Schumann’s standards, a poetic masterpiece. Hewitt is across every nuance, capturing the strangely off-centre melody of the first dance, the even stranger syncopation of the tarantella No 6 and the jolly polka of No 12 to perfection. In the penultimate number, Wie aus der Ferne (“As from afar”) the melody starts without a break from the previous section and then develops into a melancholy ländler. In Kinderszenen (“Scenes from Childhood”), sample the final section Der Dichter spricht (“The poet speaks”), savour the uniquely German quality of Innigkeit or “inner depths” Hewitt brings to this enchanting music. Time really does stand still here. The Second Sonata is more problematic. Although generally regarded as his best keyboard sonata, the form didn’t suit Schumann’s essentially dreamy nature and instinctively discursive expression. What some may see as excessive dramatic urgency I felt sounded more like relentless headlong impetuosity, although this is no reflection on Hewitt’s playing. The lovely song-like slow movement radiates a rapt tenderness. A lovely CD, beautifully recorded.

January 11, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: Bartók, Ligeti, Kurtag: Quartets (Cuarteto Casals)

This disc features string quartets by Bartók, Ligeti and Kurtag. All three are Hungarian, and while each spent formative years elsewhere it was their relationship to their homeland and its often tragic modern history that so significantly shaped them. The biggest name here is Bartók. His Quartet No 4 is a gutsy, primal work whose angular melodies seem freshly plucked from Hungarian soil. Composed in 1928, it could easily have been written by any number of composers today. Clearly indebted to it is Metamorphoses Nocturnes by Ligeti. This is by the young Ligeti, long before the clocks, clouds and absurdist outbursts took over – yet the later composer is not hard to find. The opening gives things away: ostensibly twelve-tone, its cool overlapping chromatic rising scales gradually warping and spiralling mercilessly out of control. The third work is Kurtag’s aptly named 12 Microludes. Barely a minute long each, these hyper-miniatures are restrained yet astonishingly rich, constantly morphing unexpectedly. The works sound impulsive and fresh in the hands of Cuarteto Casals, whose colour spectrum is unusually wide: at times whisper quiet, other times as gritty as a rock band. A brilliant disc.

January 2, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: From Shadows (Adam Herd)

Adam Herd is a young prize-winning pianist from Coffs Harbour. Don’t be misled by the “country-and-western” cover shot, or the bio that stresses his interest in sport and surfing: Herd may be a regular guy but he is also a sensitive and accomplished musician. His program is well chosen. Anatoly Liadov was a late 19th-century Russian composer, essentially a miniaturist. His three short pieces (Prelude Op 11, No 1, Barcarolle Op 44, and Novelette Op 20) are pretty but insubstantial; the orchestra was Liadov’s domain. Nonetheless, he was a precursor to Rachmaninov, whose rarely played Variations on a Theme of Chopin follow. The variations are on Chopin’s Prelude Op 28, No 20, a solemn chorale. Solemnity permeates the first ten minutes of this long work, poorly received at its premiere. The composer subsequently cut the 10th and 12th variations and the coda, and Herd plays the shorter version. Although the piece takes a while to get started, it eventually offers the performer opportunities to be fleet, tender, and vigorous. Herd meets these challenges with style and an innate feeling for rubato. Australian composer Carl Vine’s Third Piano Sonata was composed in 2007. In four linked movements, it progresses from a…

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