November 8, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Brahms: Violin Concerto and Sonata No 1 (Vadim Gluzman, Angela Yoffe, Lucerne SO/James Gaffigan)

Vadim Gluzman has done some fine work on the Bis label – his Korngold is one of my favourites – so I am delighted he has set down his Brahms Concerto as sampled by Australian audiences last year. As a Ukranian-born Israeli it’s no surprise where his stylistic DNA can be traced back to, and it’s fitting that he plays the legendary “Auer” Strad. His sound has the bear-hug warmth of the Russian players kept in check with a degree of classical restraint; think of Oistrakh cut with Szeryng. His secure technique allows every phrase to sing with carefully graded vibrato and colour yet never draws attention to itself – no mannerisms to mar the line – the art that conceals art. The orchestral contribution is in the modern clean-cut style with taut rhythms driving forward, but I do wish Gaffigan had relaxed a little in the Adagio – it lacks that certain magic. The finale has a nice snap but might also have had a little more space to manoeuvre as the final pay off doesn’t quite satisfy. Despite quibbles, this is an honest performance of great integrity and would be an ideal library reference for students. Likewise the…

November 8, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Tchaikovsky: Manfred Symphony (Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Semyon Bychkov)

In the booklet for this latest release in his ‘Tchaikovsky Project’, Semyon Bychkov puts up a spirited defence for the composer’s flawed masterpiece, but despite the committed testimony of the Czech Philharmonic, their performance doesn’t quite secure an acquittal. Critic Vladimir Stasov came up with the idea for the work after Berlioz had conducted Harold In Italy on his visit to Russia in 1867. Stasov tried to convince Balakirev, who wasn’t so keen, but passed it on to Tchaikovsky who initially declined but later conceded after re-reading Byron’s poem while staying in the Bernese Alps where the ‘metaphysical drama’ takes place. Byron’s semi-autobiographical tale must have struck a chord with the composer who would have identified with the self-loathing anti-hero tortured by the guilt of an unmentionable offence; his dirty little secret. Though enthused during the writing, Tchaikovsky later wished to burn all but the first movement – he obviously recognised the structural deficiencies that critics have pointed out ever since. It is a devil of a piece to make work in the hall and few performances convince under the scrutiny of the microphone. Unavoidably episodic due to the source material, the structure can sag under its own weight so…

October 31, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Szymanowski & Karłowicz: Violin Concertos (Tasmin Little, BBC SO/Gardner)

It’s only recently that Tasmin Little released her recording of Karol Szymanowski’s Violin Sonata on the Chandos label, and she must have a liking for the composer as she’s followed it up with readings of both concertos by the Polish master. There’s much to be found in Szymanowski’s music, which draws on various early-20th-century influences. His Violin Concerto No 1 is considered by many to be the first modern violin concerto, and it’s a true stylistic melange: a heady concoction of impressionist colours, expressionist drama, and the sweeping lyricism of late romanticism (basically, what would become the stock template for the Hollywood soundtrack within a few decades). There’s so much detail in the vibrant orchestration, it’s easy to get swept up in the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s vivid and immersive performance under the direction of Edward Gardner. It’s a truly brilliant score, and so temperamental: rich romanticism one moment, playful and mercurial the next. Little’s performance is luscious and nuanced – broad and lyrical at moments of high drama, as well as spirited and finely articulated in faster passages. The cadenza here is a truly captivating moment. The Second Violin Concerto marks a complete change. Its language is more akin to folksong, particularly in…

October 6, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Dean • Francesconi: Dramatis Personae, Hard Pace (Storgards)

Taking upon himself the task of addressing the relative dearth of trumpet repertoire, Swedish master Håkan Hardenberger has built a career on championing modern works from composers such as Henze and Pärt, among others. To these he adds recent concertos by Australian Brett Dean and Italian Luca Francesconi. Dean’s Dramatis Personae is a theatrical work, its first movement pitting a sometimes heroic, sometimes hapless hero against musical forces that constantly threaten to overwhelm. Soliloquy sees our hero turn inward and the work closes with the comical and mischievous Accidental Revolutionary, inspired by the antics of Charlie Chaplin. Hardenberger’s acrobatics underscore this modern musing on the relationship between soloist and orchestra, struggling with and against the Gothenberg Symphony under Storgårds. Francesconi’s Hard Pace is rather different, evoking the lonely lyricism of the trumpet. The composer refers to an affection for Miles Davis in the liner notes. Where Francesconi’s jazz training emerges, however, one is reminded more of the exquisitely spare tension of Polish trumpeter, Tomasz Stan´ko. His evocation of Davis is, however, not so much a referenced musical style as it is about language, poetry, and song. Cast on this curious pairing as both the romantic bard and the virtuosic hero,…

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