Anthony Clarke

Anthony Clarke

Articles by Anthony Clarke

February 29, 2012
CD and Other Review

Review: ARCADIA LOST: Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending; Flos Campi; On Wenlock Edge; Britten: Sinfonia da Requiem Michael Dauth v; Roger Benedict va; Steve Davislim t; Benjamin Martin p; Hamer Quartet;

Here is a compendium of four British rhapsodies for lost worlds. Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending is a sublime expression of pure joy, as violin soars against orchestra to weave its line of melody against the sky. Michael Dauth and the SSO combine with lyrical delicacy in a work that demands surrender to its idyllic beauty. More attention is needed for the song cycle On Wenlock Edge, Vaughan Williams’s settings of A E Housman taken from A Shropshire Lad  – rural poems of love and grief as soldiers went to die on foreign soil. Tenor Steve Davislim with Benjamin Martin on piano and the Hamer Quartet find quiet beauty in the sadness of these poems, and the fine audio experience provided by the SACD format makes for a profoundly moving experience. Vaughan Williams’s work for viola, chorus and orchestra Flos Campi is performed perhaps better than it deserves to be. The work always sounds to me like the soundtrack to a portentous 1950s sci-fi movie.  Amid these pieces is a solitary symphonic work by Benjamin Britten, his Sinfonia da Requiem, a supposedly celebratory piece commissioned by the Japanese Government shortly before that country entered into the Second World War. It…

February 1, 2012
CD and Other Review

Review: BACH: Cello Suites (Michael Goldschlager)

The six Bach Cello Suites are the cornerstone of the cello repertory. They make for ultimate judgement, able to intimidate and awe player and listener alike. Pablo Casals discovered them for the modern world and made them his own. Now Michael Goldschlager has put his own stamp on them. There’s no sign of intimidation here. From the first moment, Goldschlager gives us a committed and profoundly thoughtful interpretation of the Suites. The warm acoustic, though fine, does not quite match the deep glow of my favourite recording by Heinrich Schiff, but this is a different reading, with Goldschlager seeming to imbue the music with deep, intense personal emotion. In his thoughtful notes to this 2-CD set, Goldschlager explains that he finds the Suites almost skeletal in outline, believing that if Bach had revisited them they might have been fleshed out with far more embellishment. But it is this very austerity in which he seems to rejoice in performance, an austerity which is, at the same time, the essence of beauty. This is a wonderful reading which can find a place alongside the best and most famous in the catalogue. The performance is notable for its cohesion and commitment; the Bach…

January 25, 2012
CD and Other Review

Review: SAINT-SAENS: Elan – Ballet Music from Operas

This exceedingly rare anthology presents ballet music from four seldom-performed operas by the French late-Romantic composer Camille Saint-Saëns. This disc may be the only way most people will ever experience these delightful works. We know the operatic Saint-Saëns for the most part only through Samson and Delilah and its famous aria Softly Awakes My Heart. His other operas have languished, but here we have excerpts from his Henry VIII, Ascanio, Étienne Marcel and Les Barbares – all mostly consigned to the music history books.  Orchestra Victoria under Guillaume Tourniaire makes a persuasive case for ending this neglect. If the rest of the operas are as graceful and beautiful as the ballet music suggests, then their resurrection is well overdue. The music is elegant, and surprisingly modern touches are couched in musical language wittily evoking a more Classical era.    Tourniaire weaves an orchestral tapestry of the most delicate beauty and fluidity. The orchestral sound is never excessive – this refined music is always on its best behaviour. Orchestra Victoria’s playing has a silky sheen and is layered as if translucent. Their level of professionalism makes it extraordinary that our federal and state governments and even The Australia Council are not willing to give this body…

January 16, 2012
CD and Other Review

Review: CHOPIN: Fantaisie in F Minor; Ballades; Mazurkas; Nocturnes (piano: Yevgeny Sudbin)

In his notes to this anthology, Russian pianist Yevgeny Sudbin opines that, in a way, the very young are sometimes best fitted to play Chopin, as they can be free from the accretions of conceptions and misconceptions about that composer. As an example, he cites the young Evgeny Kissin – anyone who has heard that prodigy’s sublime recording of the Second Piano Concerto recorded when he was only 12 years old would have to agree. At 31, Sudbin is somewhat older, but he approaches Chopin in what seems a wonderfully youthful and transparent way, removed from “accepted” practice or conceptions. This is a far cry from the delicate Chopin of drawing rooms or Hollywood’s image of the neurotic consumptive genius. Here instead are highly-charged, powerful accounts of some of Chopin’s strongest works, including a spectacular reading of the Ballade No 4 – Chopin with muscle. Sudbin’s pianism is assured and constantly exciting. So is his inventiveness, as shown when he closes this recital with his own paraphrase À la Minute, a witty reinvention of the Minute Waltz as Rachmaninov might have imagined it. The program opens with another major piece, the Fantaisie in F Minor, and the recital, which also comprises…

December 15, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: BRAHMS: Works for Cello and Piano (Zuill Bailey; Awadagin Pratt)

These two young Americans – Zuill Bailey (cello) and Awadagin Pratt (piano) – could have been born to perform these works. There is an absolute commitment in their performances; Bailey in particular stands out as one of the pre-eminent cellists of his generation, whose immaculate technical skills only serve his deep musicianship. The Brahms chamber music is somehow contradictory. On one hand the works embody Romanticism in full flight, yet the essence of Brahms is his rigorous intellectual honesty, even austerity. The two aspects should clash. Here, with these performers, the one illuminates the other. Brahms was a perfectionist and almost had to be forced to make some of his works available for performance. There are examples here, including the famous Sonatensatz, part of a scherzo written solely as a three-movement party diversion for the famous violinist Joachim, who was challenged to name which composer wrote each movement. Only after Brahms had died did Joachim realise the now-famous contribution deserved publication. The two Brahms Sonatas for Cello and Piano are presented here alongside eight short works. The sonatas show another contradictory aspect to Brahms’s oeuvre in that the First is seemingly the more thoughtful, while the Second, an older man’s…

October 12, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: BRUCH: Violin Concerto; Romance; String Quintet in A Minor (violin: Vadim Gluzman; Bergen PO/Litton)

It’s good to see the Scandinavian company BIS persevering with the high-end SACD format at a time when the majority of music buyers no longer seem to care about quality audio reproduction at all. This disc has three audio layers to choose from: SACD Stereo, SACD Surround and standard-CD. When played through a good system boasting SACD reproduction, it shows just what the format is capable of. The sound here is simply superb. The violin has its natural warmth with plenty of bite, and the detail in the orchestral sound is exemplary, revealing layer on layer. Of course, that would be worthless if we were listening to a mundane performance. This is anything but. Soloist Vadim Gluzman and the Bergen Philharmonic under Andrew Litton give a committed interpretation of Bruch’s First Violin Concerto, and we can understand from this fine account why the success of this work overshadowed the rest of the composer’s career.  The Romance for Violin and Orchestra is a pleasant enough piece, much like a stocking-filler at Christmas. But the rarely heard String Quartet in A minor is a revelation. Written in 1918 when the composer was 80 and near the end of his life, this is a vigourous, even…

October 6, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: CHOPIN: The Warsaw Recital (piano: Daniel Barenboim)

For many, Daniel Barenboim is thought of primarily as a conductor today. But this album, recorded in Warsaw only last year, sees him back at the piano in triumphant form. This live recital spans a huge range of Chopin’s works, from his Fantasia in F minor to the Nocturne in B-flat major; the Sonata in B-flat minor, through Barcarolles, Waltzes, the Berceuse in D-flat major, and the resounding Polonaise in A flat major. It’s an all-encompassing tribute marking the 2010 bicentenary of Chopin’s birth. There are many idiosyncrasies in Barenboim’s reading – sometimes a playfulness with tempi and weight that make the listener hear a piece in a completely new way, or a thoughtful new interpretation of a phrase or interval. Only once, in what seems a wilful account of the martial Polonaise in A-flat major, does the interpretation seem at odds with the work – or at least, with the interpretations we are most familiar with. The recording reaffirms his position as one of the great pianists of the latter part of the 20th century and it is great to see his keyboard career extended into the new century in such a manner. This is a live recording, and…

September 1, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: MENDELSSOHN Piano Concerto; Double Concerto (fortepiano: Kristian Bezuidenhout; Freiburger Barockorchester/von der Goltz)

As a child prodigy Mendelssohn composed this Piano Concerto when aged just 13 for his sister Anna; the Double Concerto for violin and piano followed just a year later. But these works go far beyond early-teen precocity. They brim with delicious insight and innovation, and easily could have come from the composer’s assured maturity. The Piano Concerto in particular is stamped with a wonderful dynamism which demonstrates his contagious and exhilarating confidence in his own prowess. The middle-movement Adagio gives pause for reflection, but the jaunty Finale reaffirms the joy of being so gifted, and just 13.  The Double Concerto seems more consciously mature. But the lessening of an impetuous joie de vivre in the earlier work is more than compensated for by the sheer beauty of its writing and in the more reflective nature of the dialogue between the two solo instruments. The Freiburger Barockorchester led by violinist Gottfried von der Goltz gives a nicely judged accompaniment – which is the right term, as this Double Concerto is really a Sonata for two instruments with orchestral support. These period-instrument performances give full expression to Mendelssohn’s gifts. Particularly pleasing is the beautiful tone of Kristian Bezuidenhout’s fortepiano, an American model copied…

August 23, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: BRAHMS: Violin Sonatas (Jack Liebeck; Katya Apekisheva)

Listening to this disc, it’s clear why the three Brahms violin sonatas are so beloved by violinists: they comprise some of the most beautiful writing committed to manuscript for the instrument. So persuasive is this account by young British violinist Jack Liebeck that it’s hard to tell who is gaining the fullest pleasure – the performer or listener. Which is of course as it should be. The First Sonata was penned in 1879 when the composer was in his mid-40s. He then waited seven years before composing the final two. All three works are brimming with melodic and rhythmic riches – while the first two sonatas spill over with sun-suffused beauty, the third has noticeably more complex drama and emotion at its base. This does not mean that the first two do not carry profound passages; the First Sonata’s Adagio for instance is one of the most intense movements in Romantic musical literature. It is the favourite of many violinists, and it’s interesting to note that in fact this may have been Brahms’s least favourite. “Play it once”, he told a friend. “More it does not deserve…” These works would serve as a perfect introduction to Brahms’s chamber music. They belie the fact that…

July 28, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: Poeme (violin: Julia Fischer; Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo/Kreizberg)

The last recording I reviewed by Julia Fischer was her standout performance of the Paganini Caprices, where the performer was in splendid isolation, with nothing between her and her audience. Here she performs wrapped in the embrace of rich orchestration, in concert works by Ottorino Respighi (Poema autunnale), Josef Suk (Fantasy in D minor), Ernest Chausson (Poème, Op 25) and Ralph Vaughan Williams (The Lark Ascending).  The Suk work runs to 25 minutes. At that length, and in its dramatic scope, it amounts to a virtual one-movement violin concerto. The other pieces are much shorter, at around 15 minutes each. None except for the ethereal Lark is heard much on stage nowadays.  Yet they all deserve a wide audience. The drama of both the Suk and the Chausson and the warmly evocative nature of the Respighi make fine companions for the Vaughan Williams. Perhaps the finest piece of all here is the Chausson work which gives its name to this collection. Its drama is indeed revealed within an intensely poetic setting. Fischer’s playing is of the highest calibre throughout the album, but for the Chausson she really makes her violin sing.  She plays an 18th-century instrument by Giovanni Battista Guadagnini,…

July 12, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: MOZART: Violin Concertos 1, 2 & 4; Rondo K 371, Adagio K 261 (Richard Tognetti/ACO)

The very first Mozart violin concerto I ever heard was the composer’s first, dating from 1773, when Mozart was just 17. The performance was by David Oistrakh, and I found it simply wondrous, especially the Adagio movement, with the violin arching with aching beauty over the orchestra.  That was many years ago, when I was a very young teenager. It was the natural springboard to the other four violin concertos, which each mirror Mozart’s increasing maturity. I love that concerto still, and Richard Tognetti and the ACO capture perfectly its youthful brilliance and zest. In fact, all three concertos heard here, plus the Rondo and Adagio, are presented in a way which confirms that our ACO is one of the very finest chamber orchestra ensembles performing anywhere in the world today. Particularly delightful in this recording are Richard Tognetti’s cadenzas, which seem to have grown organically from the source-material. There is an almost transcendental quality to some of this performance, such as in the Adagio of the Second Concerto, which can hardly be equalled anywhere on disc.  This disc can be heard in the superior sound format SACD in either stereo or five-channel Surround modes, though there is also a…

July 12, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: RACHMANINOV: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini; Piano Concerto No 2 (piano: Yuja Wang; Mahler Chamber Orchestra/Abbado)

Is there really room for yet another recording of these two Rachmaninov warhorses? For Yuja, yes. Her playing is fresh and wondrously alive, in both pieces. And Claudio Abbado’s conducting is astonishing, delineated with absolute chamber-like clarity. Wang combines strength and delicacy, but most appealing in her playing is her sharp articulation of phrasing and that indefinable stamp of pianistic authority. In the Rhapsody the famous 18th variation has all the limpid beauty it demands, and the 24th accentuates the fantastical, swaggering pseudo-Orientalism of its finale. Her final dying notes have all the wry sarcasm which so cleverly and affectionately mocks all that has gone before, delivered with an offhand grace I’ve seldom heard before. It’s totally delicious stuff. And the Second, deservedly the most famous of Rachmaninov’s concertos, is played with a poise and steel which totally belies the impish pianist’s image on the CD cover.  These special readings seem to come from live performances – the Concerto gives this away with a snatch of applause at the end, but there is no other indication of this. The sound quality is as detailed as the finest studio recording; both the piano and orchestra are caught in awesome fidelity. This…

June 7, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: MOZART: String Quartets K157, K458, K589 (Jerusalem Quartet)

These are invigorating accounts of three Mozart string quartets that neatly encapsulate the history of his writing for this musical medium. Mozart’s string quartets fall into three major brackets of works spread over 17 or 18 years, each represented here. The first quartet K157 in C major dates from 1772, when Mozart was just 17 years old. The quartet form was undergoing rapid development at this stage and Mozart, fresh from his musical explorations across Europe, was brimming with ideas. His youthful zest is already tempered by deep reflection, as shown in the astonishing depth of the Allegro which makes up the first movement. His prodigious development as a musician is reflected in the clutch of works known as the “Haydn” quartets. Here is Mozart in 1784, not quite 30 but already in his full maturity as a composer. The performance here of the Hunt quartet (K458) shows why this bracket of quartets is regarded as the finest he ever wrote. Mozart evidently thought he had pretty well exhausted his explorations of the genre, for although he was later commissioned to write a further set, he never completed the proposed cycle. Here from that final series is one of his…