Tony Way

October 24, 2013
CD and Other Review

Review: Wesley: Ascribe Unto The Lord (Sacred Choral Works)

Once considered something of a ratbag, Samuel Sebastian Wesley is now regarded as a rather quaint figure, remembered for a handful of popular choral and organ works that make an occasional appearance with Anglican choirs. History reveals him to have been a colourful character. Despite being the nephew of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, he was born of his father’s teenage housemaid and after a childhood stint in the Chapel Royal, he spent a lot of his early career as a musician for the theatre. Wesley’s penchant for the theatrical was reflected both in his music and in his life. His tenure in various church music jobs was never overly long and his music often attracted trenchant criticism because of its mould-breaking style and form. While it is good to hear such evergreens as Blessed be the God and Father, Wash me throughly and Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace sung so beautifully, the real contribution of this disc is the opportunity to hear some neglected works in tasteful and disciplined performances. Ascribe unto the Lord, O give thanks unto the Lord and The wilderness and the solitary place are cast as mini- oratorios featuring soloists and an…

October 3, 2013
CD and Other Review

Review: Bloch, Bridge, Hough: In the Shadow of War (Isserlis)

It doesn’t matter that Steven Isserlis has recorded Bloch’s Schlemo and Bridge’s Oration before – these new performances are utterly compelling and deserve the widest possible audience. The Bloch is a favourite with cellists and listeners alike and its ardent romanticism and celebration of Jewish culture has a fervent advocate in Isserlis. Bridge’s Oration is a superbly crafted work that should be better known. It calls to mind other neglected orchestral canvases of the period such as Grainger’s The Warriors and Holst’s Egdon Heath and looks forward to that outpouring of his student, Britten – the War Requiem. Isserlis evokes the drama and futility of war with an amazing range of tone colour. Noting that Bloch (a Jew) and Bridge (a pacifist) responded to human suffering in different ways,  Isserlis offers his own imagined ‘program’ for each work. Whether or not you find that helpful, the quality of the playing is not in doubt and Hugh Wolff directs the DSOB with passion and empathy. To conclude we get The Loneliest Wilderness by composer pianist Stephen Hough. Based on a poem by Herbert Read, this concerto (originally conceived for bassoon) evinces a very English sensibility that is a good match with…

October 3, 2013
CD and Other Review

Review: Haydn: Piano Sonatas (Bavouzet)

Given that Haydn left few instructions concerning the interpretation of his sonatas, Bavouzet notes that the performer “must, even more than usual, create his own world, his own logic, left only to hope that … he will not distance himself too far from the composer’s intentions”. Bavouzet relishes this challenge of bringing Haydn’s sonatas to life. In the latest instalment of his cycle he takes two early and four later sonatas and works his own musical magic with them. Of particular concern are the issues of ornamentation and repeats. Repeats are ornamented with imagination and elegance and in certain cases codas are ‘saved’ for the final repeat. These performances are admirable in their attention to detail and are delivered with a technical fluency that is always at the service of the music. The insightful annotations reveal Bavouzet’s fascination with these delightful works and his sense of artistic freedom. In the A major sonata (Hob XVI: 12) he was intrigued by the chromatic, minor mode Trio of the Menuet. As a thoughtful epilogue, he plays it at a much slower speed than would be possible ‘in situ’. Bavouzet’s use of a Yamaha piano with its clear, bright treble is one point…

September 26, 2013
CD and Other Review

Review: Berlioz: Grandes Messe des Morts (LSO)

“If you seek a monument, look around you.” So visitors to St Paul’s Cathedral, London are famously advised as they look for evidence of the architect, Sir Christopher Wren. So the crowd that gathered inside Wren’s masterpiece in June last year to witness this account of the Berlioz Requiem could well have been told “if you seek a monument to Sir Colin Davis, listen to this”. This utterly imposing performance of Berlioz’s grandest work was one of the last great triumphs of Sir Colin Davis’s long and illustrious career. That career, which spanned nearly sixty years, covered an astonishing breadth of repertory but he will be particularly remembered for his championing of Tippett, Sibelius and, of course, Berlioz. In this account we hear all the fruits of Davis’s extensive performing experience and profound intimacy with this idiosyncratic yet evocative score. A master sound-sculptor, Davis ensures the work’s apocalyptic explosions of sounds are thrillingly executed but cleanly placed within the acoustic, whilst the numerous quieter splashes of orchestral colour are lovingly brought to the fore. The louder sections of the Dies irae, such as the Tuba mirum, Rex tremendae and Lacrymosa are literally breathtaking in their intensity; whilst the quiet, haunting…

September 19, 2013
CD and Other Review

Review: Couperin: Leçons de Tenebres (Sampson, Kielland)

  Couperin’s three surviving Leçons de Ténèbres (settings of texts from the Lamentations of Jeremiah to be sung at the office of Tenebrae in Holy Week) are surely some of the greatest glories of the French Baroque and a validation of the musical taste of Louis XIV. The first two lessons are scored for just one voice, and then to heighten the dramatic and spiritual intensity of the music, the third lesson is scored for two voices. English soprano Carolyn Sampson and Norwegian mezzo Marianne Beate Kielland deploy their different voices to great effect in the first two lessons, and when they come together we hear how complementary their instruments are, giving the music an admirable amount of light and shade, particularly in the urgent final refrain, “Jerusalem, return to the Lord, your God”. Robert King and his consort afford nuanced support for the singers, opting for traditional organ continuo. For an alternative view with harpsichord continuo, the account with William Christie, Les Arts Florissants and sopranos Sophie Daneman and Patricia Petibon remains a classic. Apart from strong performances in the main work, the added appeal of this newcomer lies in the generous selection of makeweights. These include Couperin’s famous motet…

September 12, 2013
CD and Other Review

Review: Erasmus of Rotterdam: In Praise of Folly (Savall)

This mammoth tribute to the great Renaissance philosopher Erasmus could well be considered a folly (at least from a business point of view) in these times of global economic woes. Encased in a lavishly illustrated hardcover book are six discs; three of them containing the complete program, which includes both music and narrated excerpts (in French) from the works of Erasmus and his contemporaries, while the other three discs contain the music alone. A voucher accompanying the book allows the purchaser to download the narrated program in an impressive six other languages of choice, including English, from the Alia Vox website. It is no surprise that the first disc entitled ‘Praise of Folly’ pays homage not only to Erasmus’s great work of that name, but also to the famous dance music tradition of ‘La Folia’. The second disc, ‘Time of Reflections’ surveys events surrounding the earlier life of Erasmus while the third disc, ‘Time of Confrontation’ chronicles the advent of Machiavelli, the Reformation, and the death of Erasmus. The literary and musical breadth of the program, conceived by Jordi Savall and his late wife Montserrat Figueras, is monumental. By using recent recordings as well as some from as far back…

July 17, 2013
CD and Other Review

Review: Bach: D-Minor Partita, Beethoven: Kreutzer sonata (Vengerov, Golan)

This April 2012 recital heralded Vengerov’s return to recital work after a period where an exercise injury had forced him to concentrate on conducting. Consisting of two monumental works of the repertory, Bach’s D-Minor Partita and Beethoven’s Kreutzer sonata, the program seems designed to allow the artist to re-present his credentials to the public, which he does quite convincingly. Although structured like a suite of dances, the Partita issues the performer with enormous artistic challenges in shaping the musical material, most especially in the concluding Ciaccona. Vengerov chooses a stately and spacious approach on the whole, leaving quicksilver effects to others. (Richard Tognetti comes to mind.) I was left with the impression that in his Bach playing Venegerov is anxious to make every note count with beauty and weight of tone. Admirable though this is, the listener can lose sight of the bigger picture and the rhythmic thrust inherent in the dance-like origins of the work. Supported by Itamar Golan’s empathetic pianism, Vengerov’s Beethoven is thoroughly irenic. The joy of performing is powerfully communicated by both players and they give this famous work a wonderful breadth of expression. The Presto finale is particularly appealing when it is delivered with the…

July 10, 2013
CD and Other Review

Review: Martin: Mass & Duruflé: Requiem (St George’s Cathedral Choir)

Choral music aficionados will love this program, featuring as it does two great mass settings of the twentieth century, Frank Martin’s Mass for Double Choir and Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem. Both works in their own way exude a very Gallic musical and spiritual sensibility. Martin’s a cappella Mass is an early work and reflects something of his Swiss Calvinist upbringing, but its austerity is relieved with some lush harmony derived from his love of French composers Franck and Debussy. Duruflé’s Requiem is a thoroughly Catholic affair, based largely on the plainsong Mass for the Dead but clothed in a luxuriously colourful harmonic idiom. The St George’s Consort, an adult ensemble formed in 2008, handles the Martin with equal amounts of skill and passion. As in all choral music recordings, a balance has to be struck between closely observed vocal power and the enchantment of distance. In the Martin, the balance is tipped in favour of immediacy. This allows for sections like the Pleni sunt coeli of the Sanctus, with its motoric rhythms, to make maximum impact as well as showing how capable the group is of sustaining long phrases like those in the Agnus Dei. The cathedral choir and consort together…

June 24, 2013
CD and Other Review

Review: Chausson: String Quartets (Pike, Poster, Doric Quartet)

Chausson’s all too brief life (he died in a bicycling accident, aged 44) produced more than its fair share of memorable music, including much fine chamber music. The Concert scored for violin, piano and string quartet, Op 21, is a gorgeously ripe example of über-romanticism and it is given an appropriately impassioned performance by the Doric with violinist Jennifer Pike and pianist Tom Poster. It’s wonderful to be swept
 away by the group’s collective emotional sense; whether in the mercurial closing pages of the first movement or the dramatic menace of the slow, third movement or the truly grand finale (with its Franckian return to the very opening of the work). The hefty piano part is well handled by Poster, who knows when to throw caution to the wind and live in the musical moment. Pike matches his intensity well. The Dorics display fine ensemble and the excellent intonation that 
is so essential in French romantic chamber music where parts so often have to play in octaves. While the ebullient Concert makes a triumphant conclusion 
to the disc, Chausson’s String Quartet, Op 35, is a more sombre curtain-raiser. The third was completed after the composer’s death by his friend Vincent…

June 20, 2013
CD and Other Review

Review: Elgar: Symphony No 2, Sospiri, Elegy (Oramo)

Finnish maestro Sakari Oramo 
is no stranger to the music of Elgar, having been at the helm
 of the City of Birmingham Symphony for ten years, where he played a leading role in the Elgar sesquicentenary celebrations in 2007. He was subsequently awarded the Elgar Medal in 2008 for his efforts as a non-British musician in advancing Elgar’s music. The Second Symphony 
is prefaced with a quote from Shelley: “Rarely, rarely, comest thou Spirit of Delight!” Oramo captures the ebullient mood of the “Spirit of Delight” which permeates the opening, but is also responsive to the darker, more troubled music in the haunting slow movement that emphasises “Rarely, rarely, comest thou”. BIS’s super-audio engineering shows the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic to be a well-oiled machine, the brass responding magnificently to Elgar’s many musical and technical challenges, especially in the opening movement and the brilliant Scherzo. The strings are well disciplined throughout, but could have been encouraged to even greater pathos in the slow movement. Oramo’s speeds are comparable to those set by Sir John Barbirolli in his 1964 recording, but there were occasional moments when I felt that Barbirolli was freer with the music and able to wring greater expressiveness and…

June 19, 2013
CD and Other Review

Review: Grainger: Works for large chorus (MSO, Davis)

It’s the story of a lovely lady, who was bringing up just one boy on her own … Well, not really. The story of Rose Grainger and her precocious son Percy has more in common with Fifty Shades of Grey than The Brady Bunch. Abandoned by a drunken, syphilitic husband, the domineering mother home-schooled her son, introducing him to a wide range of literature, including the Nordic legends that influenced his music so deeply. By age 16, it appears that Percy had developed a taste for sadomasochism and as he grew
 up his mother did her best to stymie her son’s budding romantic relationships. The suggestion that she was incestuously involved with her son played tragically with her already fragile mental health and
 she jumped to her death out an office block window. It’s no surprise,
then, that Grainger 
remained obsessed
 with his mother for the
 rest of his life. The works recorded here (most for the first time) bear her imprint. Marching Song of Democracy is dedicated to her and celebrates their “adoration” of Walt Whitman, while Thanksgiving Song extols “womankind’s contribution to terrestrial immortality”. Scored for wordless chorus and large orchestra, these works reveal Grainger’s masterly orchestration and questing…

June 5, 2013
CD and Other Review

Review: Mendelssohn: Violin & Piano Concerto, Octet (ACO, Tognetti)

Perennially young at heart, the ACO has 
just the right touch with these two works written while Mendelssohn was in his teenage years. While the latter of these works, the Octet is well known, the Concerto in D Minor for Violin, Piano and Strings was written when the composer was just fourteen and deserves a wider audience. Exhibiting the influence of his onetime teacher Johann Nepomuk Hummel, the concerto is full of the flashy and, at times, dreamy music that precocious
 child prodigies such as the 
composer would have enjoyed playing. Mendelssohn wrote the piece to play with his older friend and violin teacher, Eduard Ritz. Russian pianist Polina Leschenko, who toured the work with the ACO last year, is a perfect match for Tognetti. Together they bring all the necessary effervescence and vitality 
to the score with its moments of devil-may- care gypsy music, gentle melodic filigree and dramatic technical display. In all this they are splendidly supported by the ACO which (once again) proves an ideal accompanist. Written just two years after the enjoyable, if somewhat derivative, Concerto, the astonishingly mature and original Octet was a gift to Ritz on his 23rd birthday. (Lucky man!) In addition to…

March 7, 2013
CD and Other Review

Review: Fauré: Requiem (Tenebrae); Bach: Ciacona (Nikolitch)

What is it about the key of D Minor? Think of the mighty Toccata and Fugue in that key we ascribe to Bach, or Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. There seems to be something monumental embedded in the DNA of this key that speaks to us of life and death, of the meaning of our existence. Enterprising programmers at the City of London Festival in 2011 used D Minor to forge an interesting musical link between Bach’s solo Violin Partita No 2 and the Fauré Requiem. Obviously the Requiem is
 concerned with death, but research presented with this disc suggests 
that the outsize Ciacona with which Bach concluded the Partita is a memorial for his first wife Maria Barbara, who died suddenly at Cöthen in 1720 while Bach was away with his patron, Prince Leopold in Karlsbad. Professor Helga Thoene further suggests that the whole partita is based on a series of chorales (inaudible to the listener) and has the secret theme of death and resurrection. To prove this theory, violinist Gordan Nikolitch performs the Partita interleaved with apposite chorales sung by Tenebrae.
 In the concluding Ciacona the forces join together to create an atmospheric, if not wholly convincing musical hybrid. The…

Thank you! Your subscription has been confirmed. You'll hear from us soon.
Subscribe To Our Newsletter