Warwick Arnold

Warwick Arnold

Articles by Warwick Arnold

July 7, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Sibelius • Kortekangas: Kullervo, Migrations (Minnesota Orchestra, YL Male Voice Choir/Osmo Vänskä)

Osmo Vänskä gave us a superb Kullervo in 2001 as part of his lauded cycle with the Lahti Symphony, but this release justifies itself by preserving a programme celebrating Finnish musical identity recorded over several chilly Minnesota nights in February 2016. Premiered in 1892, the sprawling work was a watershed in Sibelius’ creative development – he effectively invented the Finnish musical idiom overnight – its runic tunes and “wind rustling through the pines” textures would be distilled in the later tone poems and symphonies. The work does have its longueurs – Vänskä is daringly expansive in the second movement (Kullervo’s Youth) yet it somehow works, despite its 19-minute duration. Lilli Paasikivi reprises her role as Kullervo’s sister; she pretty much owns the role, though her widening vibrato is worrying. Tommi Hakala is an excellent Kullervo. Vänskä maintains a fine balance of expansive atmosphere and thrilling bite though I miss the intensity of Berglund’s 1985 Helsinki recording with a blistering Jorma Hynninen at his peak. Commissioned as a companion piece for similar forces, Olli Kortekangas’ Migrations is a tribute to the Finnish immigration to North America on texts by Sheila Packa, a Minnesotan of Finnish heritage. A fine piece of atmospherics,…

June 30, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Heimat (Benjamin Appl, James Baillieu)

Benjamin Appl was Gramophone Young Artist of the Year 2016, suggesting a 20-something budding talent. It was a surprise then to discover he was born in 1982 and, as evident from this recital, is a fully mature artist. Lieder-philes would have been alerted by his Wigmore Hall Schubert recital with the venerable Graham Johnson, which I will eagerly now hunt out. This release signals a serious intent – a Konzept Liederabend if you will – its title one of those succinct words that defy direct translation; a sense of national affinity for one’s homeland. Appl has contrived his tribute to two homelands; having grown up near Regensburg, Schubert and Brahms figure heavily with some Wolf, Strauss, Reger and Schreker thrown in for good measure, while some British songs and Poulenc’s Hyde Park represent his residency in London since 2010. Most moving is Adolf Strauss’ Ich weiß bestimmt, ich werd’ dich wiedersehen (I know I shall see you again) written in Terezin before the composer was murdered at Auschwitz. The recital concludes with two songs in german by Grieg. Appl has a lovely voice with a degree of grain to add gravitas – he sings “on the words” but not so…

May 5, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Oh Boy! (Marianne Crebassa, Mozarteumorchester/Minkowski)

French mezzo Marianne Crebassa’s debut disc makes a stylish calling card that should raise the stock of this fine artist. Her characteristic French tang, tight vibrato and tasteful use of portamento harks back to an earlier style but her precise intonation and control in passage work is very much of our time. There is a true mezzo quality to her timbre but she doesn’t bellow in chest voice. Her plangent manner recalls a young Frederica von Stade. The programme alternates 19th-century French arias with Mozart’s seria plums for castrati but, while it may be a celebration of trouser roles, she sounds resolutely feminine. From the impish cover shot, I suspect she is convincingly boyish on stage, so thankfully she doesn’t resort to arch guying; the inevitable Cherubino numbers are refreshingly straight. Flashy numbers show off her immaculate legato fiorature with no nasty aspirants: Il tenero momento from Lucio Silla is a showstopper. The bravura aria from Gluck’s Berliozed Orphée with its cadenza padded out by Saint-Saëns might horrify purists but Crebassa’s elegant poise channels the spirit of Pauline Viadot. The number from Chabrier’s L’Étoile is a sensuous delight as is Sommeil, ami des dieux from Thomas’ Psyché. Marc Minkowski directs…

May 5, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Pictures of America (Natalie Dessay, Paris Mozart Orchestra/Claire Gibault)

I have long admired and respected Natalie Dessay so it saddened me to hear of her retirement from the opera stage. Her fearless tackling of daunting coloratura repertoire and the searing intensity of her stage presence proved too much for such a slight physique. Having built a fine discography with Warners she has jumped ship to Sony Classical France – this lavishly presented first release may be a success in the home market but I suspect the critical response elsewhere may cause some executives to lose sleep. Graciane Finzi’s Scénographies d’Edward Hopper is a melologue with texts by Claude Esteban spoken over a string orchestra. As a preface, Dessay has selected songs from the American Songbook matching each to a specific Hopper painting. Finzi’s tone painting is effective if unmemorable and Esteban’s texts left me out in the cold – my basic French couldn’t keep up with the semantic intricacies. For the songs, Dessay adopts an intimate chanteuse delivery but I have long opined that few classical singers can successfully cross-over to the popular idiom unless they hail from the American continent and Dessay doesn’t convince me otherwise. She tries hard with the language but certain elisions and tortured vowels…

March 31, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Berg: Lulu (Marlis Petersen, Metropolitan Opera/Lothar Koenigs)

Marlis Petersen has been the preeminent Lulu for two decades. Since she announced that she would be retiring from the role after this Met production, this Bluray is an important document. Visual artist William Kentridge wowed the Met a few years ago with a hyperactive production of Shostakovich’s The Nose, but I was wary of his take on Berg’s towering masterpiece – with a work of such dramatic intensity I’d happily swap all the Met’s technical gee-gaws for a few chairs and a spotlight. I suspect his arresting visual trickery might have been distracting in the theatre, but thankfully the filming strikes an ideal mean with cameras focusing our attention on the intense drama. That said: it is certainly a visual feast with constantly evolving projections referencing Expressionist and Weimar Republic visual cues with India ink, linocut and woodcut overlaying newsprint. The occasional Rorschach blot is a clever visual metaphor for both the moral ambiguity of Lulu (“I’ve never pretended to be anything but what men see in me”) and the opera’s formal arch structure. The cast is excellent. Johan Reuter manages to draw sympathy as a younger than usual Dr Schön, his anger more menacing for that. Susan Graham…

March 22, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: A Verlaine Songbook (Carolyn Sampson, Joseph Middleton)

Considering her sizable discography, 2015’s Fleurs was surprisingly Carolyn Sampson’s first song recital. It turned out a corker and set a very high bar for a follow-up. I can happily report that this release comfortably vaults that bar. The clever thematic programming continues, this time in various settings of Symbolist Decadent Paul Verlaine’s moonlit evocations. Debussy’s setting of Fêtes Galantes, Ariettes Oubliées and Fauré’s La Bonne Chanson are old favourites along with Hahn’s lovely L’heure Exquise and Tous Deux, but the five settings by Poldowski, aka Régine Wieniawski (daughter of the violin composer), are an unfamiliar treat; accomplished vocal writing, gorgeous harmonies and imaginative accompaniments – her En Sourdine is delicious. The performances are breathtakingly beautiful. As expected from the impeccable Sampson there is some astonishingly pure and precisely controlled vocalism, but lest she be typecast as an early music specialist there has been a perceptible increase in richness and colour over the last few years. Her delivery is mostly intimate and confessional, the full voice used sparingly so at key moments when it opens out and expands the result is spine-tingling. She has an ideal partner in Joseph Middleton, a superb musician with a keen ear whose hypersensitive touch…

January 18, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Krenek: Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen (Florian Boesch)

Ernst Krenek’s resumé reads like a pro forma template of Austro-Germany’s forgotten composers sent into exile by the political climate of the 1930s. Studying with Franz Schreker and a short-lived marriage to Mahler’s daughter Anna ensured a thorough grounding in heady Late Romantic expressionism, dabbling with atonality before embracing Hindemithian democratic craft and making a big splash in 1927 with Jonny Spielt Auf; a key example of Zeitoper. Staged in over 100 European theatres, the pseudo-jazz inflected score and Jonny’s ethnicity would bring fame and notoriety but aroused the ire of the racial purifiers waiting to seize power. Krenek’s adoption of Schoenberg’s serial technique in the 1930s would seal his fate; his opera Karl V would be banned by the Nazis and he would be denounced as a “degenerate” so he decamped to Palm Springs, sheltering in academia for the rest of his life where he produced a steady stream of fine compositions that, apart from occasional performances in rebuilt Germany, were ignored.  His Reisebuch aus den Österreichischen Alpen song cycle of 1929 was a response to the previous year’s 100th anniversary of the death of Schubert. Spurred by a visit to the Alps, it is a revisionist take on…

January 6, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Mozart: Violin Concertos (Isabelle Faust)

Isabelle Faust is an exemplar of the new generation of Modern String Players who have assimilated the techniques of Historically Informed Performance with cross-pollination, inspiring a pragmatic hybrid style. The sickly constant vibrato and bland homogenised phrasing of yesteryear is replaced with a clean-cut sound of impeccable intonation and rhythmically alert rhetorical gestures, effortlessly articulated by her phenomenal bowing technique, (as heard in her breathtakingly beautiful performances of the Mendelssohn Concerto on tour in Australia this year). Faust’s self-effacing persona and collaborative spirit is evident from her various partnerships in chamber music, while the breadth of her repertoire choices and her interest in contemporary works reveals a sharp musical intellect. Yet the end results are music-making of a stimulating spontaneity with a complete freedom from stylistic dogma. This latest release is a perhaps surprising collaboration with Il Giardino Armonico, one of the first Italian groups to embrace HIP. Their early recordings of Vivaldi were a shock to the system with their abrasive rustic accents, but in later years, changes of personnel have refined their sound and they are truly magnificent here under long-term director and co-founder Giovanni Antonini. Accents are as crisp as ever but not so grating as to…

January 5, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Schubert: Piano Trios (Staier, Sepec, Dieltiens)

Andreas Staier established himself in the 1990s as a perceptive Schubertian with revelatory recordings on period pianos of the late sonatas and Lieder performances with Christoph Prégardien. His hyper-sensitive touch coaxes a myriad of colour and sonority out of the fortepiano so my expectations were high for this set of Piano Trios. Using a lovely copy of a 1827 Conrad Graf, Staier’s colouristic playing gives us plummy bass notes and pinging treble, creating fascinating tints, his companions adding delicate brushwork. Moments such as the second statement of the main theme of D898 with pizzicato strings supporting Staier’s impeccable articulation are breathtakingly beautiful and many such moments abound; the funeral march of D929 is gaunt and sepulchral. However his companions seem to be channelling an earlier era; both are superbly expressive exponents of Baroque string playing but their approach here seems at odds with Staier. Their lithe dynamic thrust in fast movements make for an exciting ride but they refuse to indulge us with any hint of Romantic expression, their blank phrasing with barely any vibrato and minimal tonal variation works against Schubert’s long, singing lines and large-scale structures so that periods of reflection drag despite flowing tempi. A frustrating release…

November 17, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Lerner & Loewe: Paint Your Wagon (New York City Centre Encores)

Paint Your Wagon is one of those shows that, despite the fine craft of its lyricist and composer, proved difficult to revive thanks to a less than compelling book. A morality play set in gold-rush California, grizzly Ben Rumson and his daughter Jennifer strike gold and found Rumson Town attracting a horde of roughnecks. Jennifer falls for Mexican Julio Valvera so is packed off east for schooling, but not before Dad purchases a Mormon’s spare wife. Jennifer returns but the gold has run out so she and Julio settle down to farm the ravaged land.  The show opened in 1951 but ran for a disappointing 289 performances, doing better in the 1953 West End run with 477. I Talk To The Trees and They Call The Wind Maria became popular hits. Years later Hollywood took a sledgehammer to the book, dropped several fine songs with replacements penned by André Previn and let loose Josh Logan who, despite his Broadway origins, had a knack for spoiling fine shows on celluloid. The result was an overwrought mess at a somnolent 158 minutes with Lee Marvin’s Ben Rumson a drunken buffoon mugging for the camera and growling out Wand’rin Star.  A radical ‘revisal’…