June 28, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: Herrmann: Psycho Suite; Echoes; Souvenirs de Voyage (Tippett Quartet)

At first glance this disc of chamber music might appeal exclusively to film music buffs. Upon closer inspection this is not so, especially when only ten minutes are devoted to music derived from a film score. The principal work on the CD is the Souvenirs de Voyage, said to be inspired by Vaughan Williams’s setting of On Wenlock Edge. I also hear the mellifluous breath of Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll in this music. It is a fine work, worthy of more regular attention in the concert hall. Herrmann was one of America’s finest film composers, certainly the composer with the most original style. Whereas most film composers use the standard orchestral ensemble to canvas their musical ideas, Herrmann was always seeking unusual groupings: in Journey to the Centre of the Earth for example, he created primeval effects using five harps, four organs and a serpent. The music holds as powerfully today as when it was written in 1959. In Psycho, he went as spare as he could, using a string orchestra to produce the riveting and driving music required for the drama. The taut, astringent figures are perfectly at home in the milieu of the contemporary string quartet, which is why…

June 28, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: A LESSON IN LOVE: Songs by Schubert, Schumann, Debussy et al (soprano: Kate Royal; piano: Malcolm Martineau)

Two previous solo recordings by the British soprano Kate Royal displayed her broad musical interests and imaginative programming. Her new CD is equally thoughtful. Rather than structure a recital in the usual “four groups plus two encores” format, Royal has devised a story arc for her album. This “lesson in love” concerns a young girl’s journey from the anticipation of romance, meeting Mr Right, their marriage, and his ultimate betrayal. Opening with the little-known Waitin’ by William Bolcom, Royal fits many well-loved songs into the scenario, including Schubert’s Gretchen am Spinnrade, Duparc’s Extase, Britten’s setting of the folksong O Waly, Waly and three songs from Schumann’s Myrthen. Waitin’ is sung again at the very end by the now worldly-wise protagonist, this time with a more pensive and knowing attitude. Most of the 28 songs fit the storyline neatly; only a couple, such as Danny Boy, seem to come from out of nowhere. Royal’s soprano is surprisingly strong, though not naturally warm. She hails from a line of British singers that includes Felicity Lott, Margaret Price and the Australian Elsie Morison. Occasionally at forte her very top register takes on a raw quality, although in Gretchen her high notes are perfectly…

June 28, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: HANDEL: Music for the Royal Fireworks; Water Music Suites Nos 1-2 (TSO/Abbott)

Under the baton of Graham Abbott, one of our greatest Handelians, this tired old coupling gleams anew. Ideally sized for this repertoire, the 47-piece Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra plays on modern instruments but with the textural clarity of Baroque-styled phrasing and performing practices. Bright strings and well-balanced brass and winds bring commanding flamboyance to La Réjouissance in Fireworks with rhythmic drive maintaining interest. The refined, springy quality of the menuets and other regal dance forms highlight the contrasts between delicate winds and fuller orchestral sections with timpani. In the F Major Water Music suite the ear is drawn to the lively horn ornamentation, while the D Major hornpipe’s impressive antiphonal trumpets and horns are the mark of distinction in Abbott’s reading, full of personality and an airy charm that buoys us down the Thames. My taste in this repertoire veers towards risk-takingly earthy period-instrument performances, particularly those of Hervé Niquet and Le Concert Spirituel (who would have brought the French onion dip to the river party), and Canada’s Aradia Ensemble, both recordings including the third suite in G Major. Abbott and the TSO may lack the blazing energy and thrilling variety of these readings, but the performance is never tentative and certainly…

June 28, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: GRIEG • BARTOK • R STRAUSS: Violin Sonatas (violin: Vilde Frang; piano: Michail Lifits)

This disc introduces an impressive duo. Perhaps “introduces” is not the correct term for 25-year-old Norwegian violinist Vilde Frang, already a star of the European festival circuit. Anne-Sophie Mutter chose her to play second fiddle (literally) in the Bach Double Concerto on a recent tour. Frang has also recorded Sibelius and Prokofiev concertos, but this is the first time we’ve heard her in a chamber setting and the result is compelling.  In the Grieg and Strauss sonatas, Frang is accompanied by another young virtuoso. Lifits was born in Uzbekistan in 1982, and won the Busoni International Piano Competition in 2009. As a team they achieve real symbiosis: listen to the way they press forward and pull back in the 3/4 movement of the Grieg sonata, sharpening each nuance and finding the precise textural weight in perfect sync. Their program is attractive and far from hackneyed. Grieg’s Third Violin Sonata is his chamber masterpiece, but I had not heard the youthful First. These artists reveal it to be the exuberant outpouring of an inspired and vigorous young composer. Frang and Lifits also find warmth and tenderness in the young Strauss’s Sonata. In between, Frang gives a strong, detailed rendition of Bartók’s…

June 28, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: HAYDN: Piano Sonatas Vol 2 Nos 49, 32, 50, 19, 2 (piano: Jean-Efflam Bavouzet)

Haydn’s set of about 62 piano sonatas forms section XVI of the enormous Hoboken catalogue of his complete works. I was listening to one with a work colleague the other day. He remarked that they really are inventive and delightful pieces. That seems to be the case with this category of Haydn’s output: people are mildly surprised that they should enjoy them so much.  Personally I think they are right up there with Mozart’s sonatas. They’re full of invention and wit, some movements pensive and reflective, some dazzling in the extreme, all full of sophisticated joy. This music is also strong enough to shine in any format – harpsichord, fortepiano or modern piano. It’s the latter that French virtuoso Jean-Efflam Bavouzet chooses – a Yamaha Premium Grand, in fact – to present what he describes as “the boundless treasures of this sublime music”. Typical (if any can be said to be typical) of these wonderful pieces is the Sonata No 50 in D. This is one of the best-known and most often performed. The first movement is a bravura allegro, and Bavouzet carries it off with panache. The slow movement recalls the French overture with its dotted rhythms and stately elegance. It leads directly into the Finale, which is a departure, via…

June 21, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: CPE BACH: Cello Concertos (Truls Mork vc; Les Violons du Roy/Labadie)

Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach was the second-eldest surviving son of Johann Sebastian, and a highly individual composer for his time. The abrupt contrasts in his music, and the emotional intensity of his slow movements in particular, point the way ahead to Beethoven. From 1738 to 1767 Bach was employed in the court of Frederick the Great of Prussia. The king was musically conservative, preferring the music of Quantz. Perhaps this is why the works Bach wrote outside of his royal duties turned out so adventurous. The three cello concertos were composed in quick succession, between 1750 and 1753. As Simon Heighes’s informative note explains, musicologists long thought these concertos were arrangements of other works, as they also exist in versions for flute and keyboard. Only recently has critical consensus changed – there is now evidence to suggest the cello concertos were the original versions. They certainly sound it here, played by the brilliant Norwegian cellist Truls Mørk. The solo parts are showy and difficult but undeniably idiomatic. Mørk is accompanied by Les Violons du Roy, a small string orchestra based in Quebec, who recently released the best recording I know of Britten’s Frank Bridge Variations. These terrific musicians respond to all…

June 21, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: BRITTEN: Peter Grimes (Glyndebourne)

Peter Grimes is one of the roles for which American tenor Anthony Dean Griffey is best known: Australian audiences may have seen him in the cinema broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera’s Peter Grimes or at the West Australian Opera in 2009. This, however, is a much earlier Grimes, recorded live at Glyndebourne in 2000, and it’s likely his interpretation has matured since then. Griffey sings with a strong, often beautiful voice, but his delivery is disappointingly monochromatic and restrained, never properly plunging into the vast emotional depths the role offers. From the indignation of the Act I storm scene, to the wistfulness and subsequent violence of Act II, to the final desolation of the mad scene, Griffey’s Grimes sounds basically the same, his expressive palette too limited to suggest the character’s extraordinary trajectory. As his Ellen, Vivian Tierney makes a pallid beginning, but then hits her stride, singing the Embroidery Aria with a poignant, brittle sweetness. Susan Gorton is a suitably bawdy Auntie, though her voice is at times easily confused with that of Hilary Summers’ menacing Mrs Sedley, and Steven Page makes a solid if unmemorable Balstrode. Other roles are all filled respectably and the Glyndebourne chorus is in…

June 21, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: ALLEGRI: Miserere and The Music of Rome (Cardinall’s Musick)

Following their final William Byrd album’s accolade of Record of the Year in the 2010 Gramophone Awards – only once before bestowed on an early music disc – The Cardinall’s Musick boldly go where many, many choirs have gone before. In his informative liner note, Andrew Carwood elucidates the convoluted history of the familiar modern version of Allegri’s Miserere and the happy mistranscription of that stratospheric C (here sung by a soprano). He doesn’t explain, however, why his interpretation is pitched close to a semitone higher than any other I’ve heard on record or in concert. No matter. It’s not a cheap thrill but rather a rare and radiant pleasure. The vocal sound is enveloping, though the recording is a little distant and the reverb doesn’t seem entirely natural to the church acoustic. Even the most exposed moments of vocal counterpoint are lush and well nigh flawless. Readings by The Tallis Scholars and The Sixteen are more measured, as if in a solemn procession, but The Cardinall’s Musick take a more supple, refreshing approach. The main event on this disc is Missa cantantibus organis, a collaborative work with seven High Renaissance composers each contributing a movement. What follows is a…

June 21, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: LISZT: Harmonies du Soir (piano: Nelson Freire)

Leslie Howard’s 99-CD set of Liszt’s piano music has recast the Liszt problem for 2011: it’s not that his music is underrated, misconstrued or maligned, it’s that most of it simply hasn’t been heard. With this CD of rarely programmed works, Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire makes his own compellingly listenable – and relatively concise – case for why there’s more to Liszt than Liebestraum.  However, not all the pieces on the disc are lost gems. Freire opts for one of the least played Hungarian Rhapsodies, the thanklessly stark No 3, which he imbues with a sensitivity the piece probably does not merit. More worthy of revival is the Ballade No 2. This is a fierce and entertaining tussle of Sturm vs Drang, a more rhetorical and grandiloquent work than any of Chopin’s four, but with a lyrical middle section to rival any by the Polish composer (who dubbed Liszt “a clever craftsman without a vestige of talent”). Freire brings an opulent lyricism to these moments of Chopinesque reverie, most notably in the third of the Consolations, based on the opening of Chopin’s D-flat Nocturne, Op 27, No 2.  Other pieces, such as Au Lac de Wallenstadt from Années de Pèlerinage,…

June 7, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: Deleted Scenes from the Cutting Room Floor (Caro Emerald)

Dutch singer Caro Emerald holds the record for the longest time at No 1 on the Netherlands pop charts. But Deleted Scenes has even more impressive things to recommend it. Emerald has taken the sound world of 1920s Chicago and given it a slick, studio sound of today. So you could use it to dance the Charleston, or the krump, or whatever it is the kids do nowadays. I can handle the electronic beats, but the synthesized horns really cheapen this recording. But all in all, a delightful bit of Eurotrash to titillate fans of Helen Kane, Fats Waller and maybe even Amy Winehouse.

June 7, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: David Hobson: The Best of David Hobson

This CD shows tenor David Hobson in his most appealing guise – as a purveyor of song. From pop (Roy Orbison’s Crying) to showtunes (The Impossible Dream from Man of La Mancha) to folk (O Waly Waly), Hobson is very comfortable in an idiom he describes in the liner notes as his “second home”. There is a natural ease to his voice and delivery that makes him compare very favourably to the likes of crossover crooners such as Clay Aiken and Russell Watson.

June 7, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: The Gate (Kurt Elling)

The Grammy-winning vocalist describes this album as “definitive” Kurt Elling. One thing’s for certain: his move to producer Don Was results in a more highly produced album, featuring layered backing vocals and other effects which, in a way, detract from Elling’s natural “wow factor”. Even more assured, however, with a maturing grainy crackle around the edges, are the highlights of The Gate – two songs only six years apart in birthdate, but poles apart in DNA – the Davis/Evans Blue in Green and the Lennon/McCartney Norwegian Wood. Laurence Hobgood remains a prized collaborator and foil.

June 7, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: Home (Jane Monheit)

For those who have followed Jane Monheit’s career since she was a 20-year-old runner-up to Teri Thornton in the 1998 Thelonious Monk Institute vocal competition (Roberta Gambarini was third), this is the album we have been waiting for. At 33, eleven years after her recording debut, she has come of age as a jazz singer. This shows in her sense of dynamics and the confident way she tackles a lyric – with a voice like a shot of whiskey and honey. Her scat singing, especially, befits someone who cites Ella Fitzgerald and Mel Tormé among her early influences. There are many highlights: the spirited feistiness of Everything I Have is Yours with Mark O’Connor’s violin; plumbing the emotional depths in I’ll Be Around; and the romanticism of There’s a Small Hotel with lovely piano by Michael Kanan. They all show she’s the real deal.