Christopher Latham

Christopher Latham

Christopher Latham has been an ACO violinist and festival director. He was Canberra’s 2013 Artist of the Year, created the Gallipoli Symphony, and directs the Flowers of War. Awarded the French Government’s Order of Arts and Letters, he is artist-in-residence at the Australian War Memorial.


Articles by Christopher Latham

January 19, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: Classic Protest Songs from Smithsonian Folkways (various artists)

A wave of American protest folk singers charged with this calling emerged from the Depression and this movement came to its apex in the 1950s and 1960s, gaining its widest exposure in the early folk persona of Bob Dylan, which he had modelled on Woody Guthrie. Curiously, two generations later these protest songs continue to have enormous currency as we saw at the US inauguration when Woody Guthrie’s ‘This Land is Your Land’ was sung by Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen and the half a million Americans who were in attendance. In fact there is almost no public protest anywhere in the US that won’t contain an airing of ‘We Shall Overcome’. They represent the popular songbook of the American people, and to our detriment it is hard to see the Australian equivalent. This CD brings together most of these classic songs in their original versions, the 78 masters having been beautifully restored in many cases. One can only feel somewhat nostalgic for an era when the wish to change the world seemed somehow more possible. This is a wonderful document of a precious time where musicians took on the mantle of effecting change and engaged directly with forces infinitely greater…

January 19, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: PHILIP GLASS Glass Box

The Glass Box represents only about a third of all his works. Notable omissions include Orion, Low, Heroes, The Light, the 2nd, 4th and 6th Symphonies, and all the concertos. Also regrettably missing is the score to Naqoyqatsi as well as many of his ballets, operas and theatre works, not to mention many of the chamber works.  Having said that, the Glass Box offers an extraordinary survey of the most famous living composer today, whose work continues to astound and confound in equal measure. The central enigma continues to be his seeming reliance on such a small palette of sounds, but increased listening does open one to the vast kaleidoscope of truly unique works he creates out of such simple means. The Glass Box, through its scale, also gives the listener a deep experience on one hand of the visceral power and at the other extreme the profound tenderness of Glass’s creative vision.  The box proceeds in somewhat chronological order, starting with three early works, Music in Contrary Motion, Music with Changing Parts, Music in Similar Motion before his first masterwork Music in 12 Parts appears on disc two. Pristine, austere, perfectly proportioned and exquisitely crafted, Music in 12 Parts…

January 19, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: GUDMUNDSEN-HOLMGREEN Kronos Plays Holmgreen (baritone: Paul Hillier; Kronos Quartet; Danish NSO/Dausgaard)

He is an iconoclast who pioneered “new simplicity” (a reaction to the “new complexity” that was fashionable in 1970’s Europe). This CD focuses on his most recent works for String Quartet, Concerto Grosso for String Quartet and Orchestra, Moving Still for Baritone and Quartet and Last Ground for Quartet and Ocean sounds. The Kronos Quartet has enjoyed a long relationship with Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, having commissioned and premiered his 8th Quartet, Ground, in ‘84 as well as the other works on the CD in ‘90, ‘04 and ‘06 respectively. Concerto Grosso is an engaging through-composed work that strongly features the percussion section. More emotionally affecting is Moving Still, for baritone and string quartet, written for the bicentenary of Hans Christian Andersen. The first movement is based on text by Andersen where he aptly predicts that Americans will one day be able to fly to Europe and see it all in a week. The second movement is based on a popular song setting of Andersen’s In Denmark I was Born. It is an unusually beautiful work which becomes more and more Arabic-sounding, a commentary on the increasingly multicultural makeup of Denmark. The final work, Last Ground, has been described as the composer’s farewell…

January 19, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: MACMILLAN Seven Last Words from the Cross (The Dmitri Ensemble/Ross)

These seven sentences are immensely powerful statements with enormous dramatic potential. MacMillan’s setting is the most successful of all the above, and is rightly considered his masterpiece. His musical language straddles the modernist world and the holy minimalist world of Tavener and Pärt, but is drawn from the Celtic tradition rather than their Orthodox world. One striking feature of MacMillan’s writing is his torn-off statements that hang in the air during unusually long silences, which he uses so effectively in both the second movement “Woman, behold thy Son” and the opening of the last movement, “Father, into thy hands I commend my Spirit”. This is music that is truly heartbreaking. Most performances of it plunge the audience into floods of tears and if MacMillan had only written this work, his position in the lineage of English music would be assured (although he would remind people that indeed he was Scottish). The Dmitri Ensemble under Graham Ross are simply magnificent, the singing and playing are utterly committed and cannot be more highly praised. This is a masterwork of our time perfectly captured by a profound performance.

January 19, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: The Virgin’s Lament (mezzo: Bernarda Fink; Il Giardino Armonico/Antonini)

If Trevor Pinnock and Christopher Hogwood represent the cooler end of the period instrument music-making spectrum, then Giovanni Antonini and Il Giardino Armonico represent the other explosive extreme. If you add to that volatile mix the melodramatic gestures of mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink, who is more hyper-emotional than the most exaggerated daytime soap actress, then you are in for an ‘over the top’ listening experience, where the recitatives almost require sea sickness pills in order to deal with all the swells. The Italian tendency for outburst is given free reign in this collection of Marian works, and it is all utterly convincing, if not somewhat shocking. In certain dramatic figures, the strings play incredibly roughly, and yet at the beginning of the CD the playing is so quiet and delicate, the gut strings only just speak. This CD isn’t for everyone but I suspect it is closer to what Vivaldi and his colleagues had in mind when they wrote these works, and it certainly matches the historical descriptions of the weeping and wailing of famous Baroque divas. The works here are by a combination of minor Italian composers such as Ferrandini, Conti and Marini interspersed with works of Vivaldi and Monteverdi…

January 19, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: VARIOUS COMPOSERS Homage (violin and viola: James Ehnes)

Every generation there is a new high-water mark in virtuoso violin playing set by a recording artist. Heifetz, Julian Sitkovetsky, Michael Rabin, Gidon Kremer and others each took it upon themselves to create cutting-edge recorded documents that revealed the advances in technique they had achieved, and here is the equivalent CD of our time.  James Ehnes takes virtuosity to a new level in Homage, playing on 12 different priceless instruments from David Fulton’s collection – quite likely the greatest private collection in history. All up it includes six Strads, two Del Gesu Guarneris (including Menuhin’s Lord Wilton), as well as a Pietro Guarneri, and violas by Gasparo da Salo, Andrea Guarneri and Guadagnini. Aware of the history-making opportunity afforded to him by having access to these instruments, Ehnes has risen to make a classic violin recording.  Matching the cleanness of Heifetz, but with a richer sound and a more varied tonal palette than all of the above, and with an astounding and instinctive melodic gift that only Kremer could rival, Ehnes has staked out a unique place in the violin-playing firmament. If people think that this may be a result of the wonders of digital editing, there is even a DVD…

January 19, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: NYMAN The Piano Concerto; MGV (piano: Kathryn Stott; Michael Nyman Band and Orchestra; Royal Liverpool PO/Nyman)

Argo, under Andrew Cornall, in the late 1980s and ‘90s produced an extraordinary array of historic recordings of American and English minimalists such as Bryars, Nyman, Torke, Kernis and Turnage. Much of the Argo back catalogue is now being released by Decca as digital downloads, although this CD, along with the other Nyman Argo recordings, is being released on Michael Nyman’s own label. Nyman initially studied Baroque music and much of his music is based on the same structures as one would find in Purcell. His breakthrough came when he played the Mozart “Catalogue Aria” from Don Giovanni in a style reminiscent of Jerry Lee Lewis, and realised that the structures of Classical and Baroque music continued to function perfectly when combined with the impetus and energetic thrust of rock and roll. In a way he got lucky with one truly great idea that produced a career’s worth of pieces of which the visceral MGV is one of his best. The title stands for Musique à Grand Vitesse (High Speed Music) and the powerful momentum it produces creates an amazing effect. Meanwhile The Piano Concerto, drawn from his ingenious film score for The Piano that made his name a global…

January 19, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: NYMAN The Piano Concerto, MGV (piano: Kathryn Stott; Michael Nyman Band and Orchestra; Royal Liverpool PO/Nyman)

Argo, under Andrew Cornall, in the late 1980s and ‘90s produced an extraordinary array of historic recordings of American and English minimalists such as Bryars, Nyman, Torke, Kernis and Turnage. Much of the Argo back catalogue is now being released by Decca as digital downloads, although this CD, along with the other Nyman Argo recordings, is being released on Michael Nyman’s own label. Nyman initially studied Baroque music and much of his music is based on the same structures as one would find in Purcell. His breakthrough came when he played the Mozart “Catalogue Aria” from Don Giovanni in a style reminiscent of Jerry Lee Lewis, and realised that the structures of Classical and Baroque music continued to function perfectly when combined with the impetus and energetic thrust of rock and roll. In a way he got lucky with one truly great idea that produced a career’s worth of pieces of which the visceral MGV is one of his best. The title stands for Musique à Grand Vitesse (High Speed Music) and the powerful momentum it produces creates an amazing effect. Meanwhile The Piano Concerto, drawn from his ingenious film score for The Piano that made his name a global…

January 19, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: BACH Toccatas and Fantasias for Organ (organ: Bernard Foccroulle)

As a result this record of the Belgian organist Bernard Foccroulle playing Bach‘s most famous works for organ came as a real surprise to me. Gone are the emphatic tempi and exaggerated gestures, the gluey fingering, the creakiness and delay of the larger pipes and the bloated sense of music-making swimming in enormously reverberant acoustics that gave the worst organ playing its reputation as having an overblown sense of grandeur. However here we have tight, clean articulation that sacrifices no sense of scale in its gestures, married to bright, clear registers, all of which brings everything back to a more human scale. It feels like two centuries of dust has been blown off and Bach finally sounds like himself again and not just a test piece for subwoofers for the most expensive stereo in the hi-fi showroom. I’d have to say I enjoyed this more than any other organ CD in memory. For one, my ears remained fresh throughout, and second the quality of the recording is superb. I’d have to say based on this recording Bernard Foccroulle is the finest organist I have ever heard. To paraphrase Haydn’s compliment to Mozart – “he has great skill but more importantly…