Tony Way


April 20, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: Rejoice, the Lord is king! (Westminster Abbey Choir/O’Donnell)

Although modern British society is these days avowedly multicultural and secular, it only takes a royal wedding or funeral for millions to tune in and get a dose of good old-fashioned Anglican culture. Arguably, the most memorable element of these services is the hymn singing, where the great and good let rip whilst the choir and organ contribute soaring descants. Such occasions are vividly evoked with this selection of favourites. Vaughan Williams’ arrangement of the Old Hundredth is an obvious curtain raiser and before we reach the rousing finale of Jerusalem, we encounter such beloved items as The Lord’s my shepherd (sung at the Queen’s wedding) and Love divine, all loves excelling in the fine arrangement O’Donnell made for the most recent royal wedding. The absence of a congregation allows for slightly faster tempos and more creative treatments than would otherwise be possible. One such example is Robert Quinney’s idiomatic arrangement of the title track. Quinney delights in adorning Handel’s tune with as many accented dissonances as possible. The result is delicious. I heard the voice of Jesus say and Let all mortal flesh keep silence also receive atmospheric renderings. As usual, O’Donnell draws the very best singing from his choristers…

April 17, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: CPE Bach: Württenmberg Sonatas (Esfahani)

Mahan Esfahani, the young Iranian-American harpsichordist, is becoming one of the most ardent promoters of the instrument today. After a formation that included studies with Australian harpsichordist, Peter Watchorn, he has been bringing the music to new audiences, including the first ever solo harpsichord recital presented at the BBC Proms in 2011. Esfahani is clearly captivated by these sonatas from one of the Bach clan’s most notable scions. Written just before Carl Philipp Emmanuel turned 30 and published in the year he married his wife, the sonatas are dedicated to one of his former students, the Duke of Württenmberg. They embody the marvellous (and mischievous) nonconformist musical attitudes of the age by juxtaposing seemingly random and unconnected passages as part of a whole. This presents the performer with numerous expressive possibilities as well as considerable interpretative challenges. Using a beautiful instrument (which includes an unusual four-foot “flute” register) based on the work of Michael Mietke (1671-1719), maker of harpsichords to the Berlin court, Esfahani delights in the extraordinary range of colour, texture and mood in these pieces. All is sensitively recorded by Hyperion’s engineers. Whether it is the caprice and operatic mock-seriousness that opens the Sonata in B Minor or the vocally inspired material of the Sonata in A…

March 26, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: Sibelius: Masonic Ritual Music (Lahti Symphony/Kuusisto)

Mozart is undoubtedly the most well known composer to have been a freemason, but many others have been devoted to “the Craft” including Boyce, Haydn, Liszt and even Irving Berlin. Sibelius’s involvement dates from early 1922, but it was not until 1927 that his Masonic music appeared in its first published form.  Consisting of processionals, hymns and songs, these short pieces are a mixture of the solemnity and brotherly love that would have been celebrated in meetings of the lodge. Within the limitations of this gebrauchmusik Sibelius fashions some catchy tunes, notably the song Whosoever hath a love and the Ode to Fraternity. There is also an imposing funeral march and an arrangement of the Finlandia hymn for male chorus. The music is presented first in its original form with organ accompaniment. A shorter selection also appears in an orchestral arrangement by Jaakko Kuusisto. His masterly way with these scores lifts the music into another realm, in particular the funeral march, which takes on an imposing grandeur reminiscent of the composer’s mature symphonic style. The Lahti Symphony plays with insight and commitment. Mika Pohjonen’s light, well-rounded tenor serves the orchestral version well, while Hannu Jurmu’s instrument sounds a little forced…

March 7, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: Debussy, Ravel: Two piano music (Pascal & Ami Rogé)

Pascal Rogé and his wife Ami are no strangers to these shores, having performed at the Australian Festival of Chamber Music in Townsville and in 2011 premiered the Concerto for Two Pianos of Sydney-based composer, Matthew Hindson, commissioned in honour of their wedding. However, the repertoire on this disc is decidedly Gallic and apart from Saint-Saëns’ rarely heard Scherzo, the pieces are two-piano transcriptions of well-known works for orchestra. Herein lies some of the difficulty with this recital. The vivid impressionistic orchestral palette of Debussy and Ravel is so well known to listeners that piano transcriptions can seem somewhat penny plain in comparison to their lavishly orchestrated counterparts. Despite those apparent disadvantages, the performers here give readings of great sensitivity and tonal nuance. Ravel’s Ma Mère l’Oye (Mother Goose) is particularly atmospheric and Debussy’s famous Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun is also well handled. For me, the performers’ own arrangement of La Mer is less successful, again perhaps because it is so well-known as a work for large orchestra.  Ravel’s atmospheric Rapsodie Espagnole is familiar in its two-piano incarnation and certainly charms here, while his lesser-known arrangement of Debussy’s sparkling Fêtes is definitely worth getting to know. The thoroughly…

March 2, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: Palestrina: Choral Music (The Sixteen/Christophers)

Harry Christophers’ current series of Palestrina recordings is very welcome. Given the esteem the composer is accorded not only by the Catholic church but by choristers the world over, it is very odd that there has been little sustained exploration of his output. Perhaps the sheer volume is daunting; with no fewer than 104 masses, let alone a vast corpus of other music besides. The latest instalment in The Sixteen’s cycle presents a Mass, a Magnificat and various other motets associated with the seasons of Advent and Christmas. In the middle of the program we are also given three of Palestrina’s settings from the Song of Songs. This generous selection is delivered with the group’s customary clarity and commitment, mirroring the counter-reformation ideals with which Palestrina is associated. Based on the motet of the same name, the Missa O magnum mysterium is an attractive five-voice work that shows great respect for the liturgical text, presenting sonorous and quietly fervent treatments of the Kyrie and Agnus Dei, while allowing Christmas joy to permeate the upbeat Osanna sections of the Sanctus and Benedictus. The Song of Songs has long had the notoriety of being the bible’s “naughty book”. Palestrina treated these erotic texts in a madrigalian…

February 19, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: Monteverdi: Heaven and Earth (The King’s Consort/King)

  Monteverdi is celebrated for bringing opera to birth, but his extraordinary creativity also saw the gradual dissolving of the stylistic boundaries between sacred and secular music. Here we have a pleasantly varied sample of Monteverdi’s secular music, drawn from the later books of madrigals and some well known operatic items. Two of the items, the arresting Toccata from Orfeo and the vivacious Chiome d’oro from the Seventh Book of Madrigals, were ‘recycled’ as sacred pieces. One of the themes running through this selection is, as the booklet note puts it, “the sweet pains of love”. The most intense expressions of painful love are found in three laments. Lasciatemi morire, the only surviving music from the opera Arianna, was reworked as a five-part madrigal in which Arianna’s pain is intensified by some wonderful dissonances. A Dio, Roma from The Coronation of Poppea is movingly sung by Sarah Connolly while Lamento della Ninfa (one of the first laments over a descending bass) moves and impresses by gaining maximum impact from so little material. Charles Daniels sings Possente spirito, the famous tour de force from Orfeo with great agility and empathy, expertly accompanied by a phalanx of cornetts. The prologue from Orfeo…

January 30, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: Bach: Christmas Oratorio (Stephen Layton)

Colourful, inventive and utterly appealing, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio is one of those works that listeners enjoy returning to again and again. All the more reason then, to have a good recording – such as this one. Stephen Layton brings his customary insight to the presentation of this series of six linked cantatas that were designed to be sung on various days of the Christmas season and gathers together an impressive group of performers that give the work a truly festive air. Chief among the many attractive features of this performance is the incisive singing and diction of the Trinity College Cambridge Choir. Jauchzet, frohlocket, the opening chorus, is given a stately swagger that establishes a wonderfully joyful mood, but equally there is no loss of rhythmic momentum in such florid choral writing as Ehre sei Gott in the second cantata.  Layton’s soloists are all first rate. James Gilchrist is an excellent, honey-toned Evangelist who tells the story with clarity and conviction. Katherine Watson has a suitably angelic soprano voice, while countertenor Iestyn Davies (a Layton regular) brings warmth and musicianship to everything he sings. The rich, seasoned bass of Matthew Brook cuts an imposing figure in Grosser Herr, und starker…

January 23, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: Stanford: Partsongs (Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir)

Given his fine achievements with the Finzi Singers, Paul Spicer is exactly the person to guide today’s burgeoning vocal talent into an appreciation of English choral music of the last 150 years. He does so here with excellent results in a generous program of 25 songs. Overshadowed by his successes in church music, Stanford’s partsongs show him alive to the myriad musical possibilities of text and a deep respect for the tradition of the Elizabethan madrigal. Many are settings of anonymous Elizabethan lyrics with the usual nymphs and shepherds, whilst others set the poetry of friends: Mary Coleridge and Alfred Lord Tennyson (Stanford memorialized Tennyson in 1892 with a heartfelt setting of the 57th canto from In Memoriam). Amongst highlights are the haunting and deservedly well known The Blue Bird (the solo exquisitely sung by Natalie Hyde), the imposing double-choir setting of Milton’s On Time, an evocative treatment of Mary Coleridge’s The train and the elegant When Mary thro’ the garden went. The Birmingham students sing with vibrant, crystalline tone and exemplary diction, always underlining the meaning of the texts. Occasionally there is some overindulgence, as in Out in the windy west, a paean to Queen Victoria, but the abiding…

November 7, 2013
CD and Other Review

Review: Couperin, Clérambault, dAnglebert: …pour passer la mélancholie (Andreas Staier)

Johann Jacob Froberger led an interesting life, not least when his ship was attacked by pirates on a voyage some time in the early 1650s! Arriving penniless in London, so the story goes, he accepted work as an organ blower – a job he then lost because he was consumed with ‘melancholia’.   Presumably the combination of pirates, poverty and English weather led him to compose the Plaincte…pour passer la mélancholie – the starting point for Andreas Staier’s engrossing journey into the melancholic utterances of 17th-century keyboard music. Using a beautifully restored harpsichord, Staier guides the listener through a well-paced program that illustrates the fantastic and colourful fruits of the melancholic temperament.   Bookended with works by the hapless Froberger, the recital also includes music from D’Anglebert, Louis Couperin, Fischer, Clérambault and Muffat. Forms such as the tombeau (a musical gravestone), the passacaglia or the chaconne allow the composer, player and listener to work through their melancholy in musical tension and release. Staier coaxes a wonderful range of tone from his instrument.   Only Fischer’s wild Toccata and Passacaglia threaten to push it beyond its musical limits. Closing the disc is an exquisite account of Froberger’s Lamento on the death of Ferdinand IV, the perfect antidote to melancholia.

October 31, 2013
CD and Other Review

Review: Wesley: Choral Works (St John’s College Choir, Cambridge)

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 minioratorios featuring soloists and…

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…

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