Gordon Hamilton

Gordon Hamilton

Articles by Gordon Hamilton

9 September, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Bach: Violin Concertos (Cecilia Bernardini)

Baptised for the castle in Scotland’s capital, the Dunedin Consort’s reputation for Bach persists on this disc of concertos with Cecilia Bernardini, their regular leader, stepping up to the plate. The Concerto for Violin and Oboe in C Minor is famous for sustained lyricism in the second movement. Bernadini clutches mischievously at the apex of phrases in this and the Violin Concerto in E, interacting energetically with her collaborators, in this case oboist (and dad) Alfredo Bernardini. The older Bernadini offers a galaxy of dynamic detail in just the first note of the languid Sinfonia that opens the cantata Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis. The glittering finale of the Violin Concerto in A Minor is one of Bach’s most cheerful movements in a minor key. Bernardini weaves in and out of accompanying layers to sublime effect. This work (and the programme in general) exudes more the impression of chamber music than of soloistic fireworks.For the Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor Bernadini is joined by Huw Daniel. The two violins dart in and out of the aural foreground and beautifully-judged swells on long notes is evenly-matched in intensity between the two soloists. The Grammy-nominated Dunedin Consort under founder and Bach specialist John Butt…

29 July, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Elgar & Vaughan Williams (Pinchas Zukerman)

Paired here with Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending and his Tallis Fantasia are several big Elgars: the Introduction and Allegro and Serenade for Strings. A few of Elgar’s ‘pocket tunes’, Salut d’amour, Chanson de Matin and Chanson de Nuit make a welcome appearance. Plus, a novelty! The world premiere recording of Julian Milon’s arrangement of Elgar’s In Moonlight for solo viola (played by Zukerman), strings and harp. Along with Zukerman the Soloist we get Zukerman the Conductor. These days he is equally at home on the podium – in this case the one in front of the orchestra of which he is Principal Guest Conductor: the Royal Philharmonic. Zukerman first recorded the Lark with the English Chamber Orchestra 40 years ago – not the chart-topper then that it is now. He did it as a favour to Barenboim in 1973 at short notice. A casual comparison of durations indicates a more leisurely approach today than on the 1973 ECO recording. The phrasing is uncluttered and fluid.  The overwhelming gift of this disk (and especially this work) is Zukerman’s warmth of tone and organic pacing. He brings the intellect of a conductor to these familiar works – so often heard drenched in…

13 May, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Handel: Water Music (Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin)

The Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin (affectionately portmanteaued to ‘Akamus’) gives a blistering re-enactement here of George I’s 1717 noisy barge journey down the Thames. Dance tunes in the French outdoor tradition and a processional, military colour dominate. The three suites each use different instrumentation, a fact that points to their separate origins, and poaching from earlier output. Grammy-winning Baroque specialists Akamus began in East Berlin in 1982. For this recording they are 27 players (to Handel’s 50; probably a good thing) and are operating sans conductor, under concertmaster Georg Kallweit. They bring a perfect blend of ensemble unity and soloistic flair. Oboist Xenia Löffler embellishes the Adagio e Staccato (Suite 1) with supreme artistry. Supersonic tempi transform the horn-centric movements into Olympic feats. Water Music is the first time a pair of horns was heard in an English orchestra; imagine the virtuosic trills of the Allegro (Suite 1) blasting peasant ears near and far. Typical for excellent period ensembles, the rhythmic vigour required of baroque music is really apparent here. In the Bourrée (Suite 3), timpanist Friedhelm May is a standout soloist. The central suite is more intimate than the outer two. Flautist Christoph Huntgeburth and Lutenist Björn Colell bring…

10 November, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Joe Twist: Dancing With Somebody

A miniature EP by Joe Twist: three works about ‘dance’; only 23 minutes. As in most of Twist’s music, allusions to popular culture are abundant. Dancing With Somebody – a string quartet – celebrates the persona (with some musical quotations) of pop diva Whitney Houston. Twist sets rhythmic buoyancy against a dark struggle. A subversive structure plays out: patterns are set up, then disturbed (though not repeated!), all aided by first-rate playing from the Sydney-based Acacia Quartet. In I Dance Myself to Sleep, Twist looks to female characters from films such as Superman and Star Wars. Am I listening to contemporary music for the concert hall or cheap bar music? (I ask that with admiration: Twist squeezes a familiar genre into something weirdly beautiful). Pianist Sally Whitwell is a gorgeous co-conspirator in Twist’s ironic game. The crystalline sound of quartet and piano jars with the overly-sampled Gorilla, a film score. A couple on a weekend away meet an alluring woman and a ritualistic dance takes place. I imagined some sort of sacramental physical theatre but this has too much sampled music masquerading as live instruments. The fade-out at the end was too obvious for what was (so far) an exciting…

11 October, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Tallis: Ave, rosa sine spines (The Cardinall’s Musick)

This offering of Tallis’s motets reflects the changing demands on composers during the English Reformation. Henry VIII’s spurning of Catholicism in 1534, along with the taste of the early Reformation leader Thomas Cranmer, had a handsome effect on the composition of sacred vocal music. A syllabic, non-melismatic approach to word-setting was favoured – a trend reflected here in the blazing Mass for Four Voices. This music is full of striking harmonic effects; false relations abound! The spidery conclusion of In Manus Tuas, Domine is deftly handled: artful elegance applied to such dissonances gives the ear time to absorb the harmonic logic. Occasional intonation slips are just noticeable: a sharp soprano in the opening notes of Wipe Away My Sins, reaffirms her sharp inclinations in the otherwise sublime Miserere Nostri. The Cardinall’s Musick takes a rather reserved approach to the music, utterly appropriate to the style. Well-judged, vigorous singing flares up in the Gloria from the Mass for Four Voices. In that work, incredibly stellar chordal writing is intelligently balanced: a clear hierarchy in chordal notes is reflected in the tuning and volume of each note. As though a road map is placed in front of the listener, each phrase is…

14 June, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Beethoven: Emperor Concert (Nelson Freire, Leipzig Gewandhaus/Chailly)

  This is smashing programming: Beethoven’s last piano concerto and final piano sonata performed by two Decca war horses. Beethoven dedicated the concerto (as well as the Op. 111 Sonata) to Archduke Rudolf; the imperial epithet was coined by his English publisher (not the first or last time a publisher ‘re-interpreted’ a composer’s intentions!). In the context of a work in E Flat, the curious key relationship of the nocturnal second movement in B emphasises the movement’s reflective and subdued character. Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire first performed it in 1957 at the age of 12. Now 70, Freire changes gear effortlessly between rhythmic vitality and deliquescent lyricism in the prolonged opening movement. The Leipzig Gewandhaus occasionally seems more brawny in interpretation of this audacious music than Freire. The Piano Sonata No 32 arrived about ten years after the Emperor Concerto and falls into Beethoven’s late period. Not uniquely it is in two movements: a sonata-allegro followed by a set of variations including the famous proto-boogie-woogie third variation. The rhetorical vigour of the first movement comes off with genius. The herculean second movement is elegant, Freire poetic in tone and line. If really great playing by artists at the top of…

27 April, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Brahms: Choral Works (Cappella Amsterdam/Reuss)

Daniel Reuss has led Cappella Amsterdam for over half its 44 years, during which the troupe has released several dozen recordings of old and new music, mostly European. This catalogue of well-known secular Brahms choral works is bookended by two cycles of sacred motets. Brahms was himself the conductor of several middle-class choirs, and choral composition runs practically throughout his entire creative life. As in the grand polyphonic tradition of Palestrina and Bach, the harmony does the talking. Entire musicology lectures could be spun about any single phrase – so completely thought-through they are. Listening while following the text reveals how closely aligned are the harmony and the poetry. Reuss takes the unusual step of including a work for piano alone. But through the first ten minutes I had forgotten its existence, so alien is the world of liturgical choral music to that of the piano. Intermezzo is a welcome surprise, despite unadventurous playing. Though not always piercing in their intonation, the choir is persuasive, achieving in Schicksalslied a venomous timbre on the text “water hurled, from crag to crag” In the chorale of the title work, the phrase “Sanft und stille” (gentle and silent) was simple and breathtaking, just as…