Warwick Arnold

Warwick Arnold

Articles by Warwick Arnold

November 17, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Arnold & Hugo de Lantins: Secular Works (La Miroir de Musique)

The music of the Medieval and early Renaissance is a startlingly unfamiliar language for modern ears with its strange clashes and cadences. Thanks to the tireless work of scholars, specialist performers and boutique labels, nowadays we can immerse ourselves in order to become sufficiently ‘fluent’, yet one can only wonder at what emotional responses this music must have triggered in the average 14th-century listener. Next to the big names of the Burgundian School, Arnold and Hugo de Lantins were second league but their works pop up in various codices alongside Dufay and Binchois. Little is known about Arnold but even less about Hugo – we’re not even sure they were brothers – but they were both clerics in the diocese of Liège. The first evidence of their work appeared in Northern Italy. This recital by Le Miroir De Musique, a superb ensemble of four singers and six instrumentalists, offers a lovely programme of secular chansons and rondeaux interspersed with instrumental arrangements.  The vocalists here strike an ideal balance of disciplined purity with an unforced, open vocal delivery. Clara Coutouly is especially enchanting in her solo turns Hélas amour, que ce qu’endure and Puis que je voy, belle, que ne m’aimes;…

November 17, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Le Concert Royal de la Nuit

Louis XIV was 15 in 1653 when he took part in a lavishly staged ballet performed on seven evenings in the Salle du Petit-Bourbon at the Louvre Palace. It was engineered by his ministers as a clever piece of political propaganda to cement the divine authority of the monarch along with a centralised government after the unrest of the Fronde rebellions. The spectacle was remembered for decades after and gave Louis his title of “the Sun King”; the four “watches” of the night with some sinister post-midnight revelries culminated in a glorious dawn with the King strutting his stuff in a costume of glittering celestial glory. Sébastien Daucé has spent three years recreating this work from fragments and disparate sources; a project of great scholarship, integrity and imagination. Amongst the anonymous dance tunes, and those of Jean de Cambefort, Daucé has interpolated airs du cour by Michel Lambert and Antoine Boësset, while scenes from Cavalli’s Ercole Amante and Rossi’s Orfeo have been added to remind us of the dominance of Italian opera in Parisian theatres before Lully. Ensemble Corespondances are superb exponents of this rarefied repertoire and the expansive forces of 18 voices and 33 instrumentalists deliver spine-tingling results.  Daucé’s…

September 15, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Handel: Giulio Cesare in Egitto

This 2012 production was the centrepiece of Cecilia Bartoli’s first season as Artistic Director of the Salzburg Whitsun Festival. It’s a pleasure to note that Andreas Scholl has retained almost all his tonal beauty over 20 years now. Costumed as a European Union bureaucrat, his towering physical presence and wonderful sound befits the stature of the role.  Christophe Dumaux exudes danger and menace as Tolomeo. His nemesis, Sesto, usually comes across as a dithering ninny but Philippe Jaroussky takes hold of the role, his youthful look suggesting a boy out of his depth in a pool of circling sharks. Anne Sophie von Otter has gravitas as aging beauty Cornelia, singing with such artistry as to conceal any marks of time.  Bartoli’s Cleopatra is a knockout; a big, blousy Elizabeth Taylor portrayal sung with flamboyance in triumph and tenderness in defeat. The big tragic arias are heart-rending showstoppers, the artist spinning endless strands of silken tone. In contrast there’s Bartoli in frizzy blonde wig astride a missile. Once seen it’s difficult to unsee. And there’s the rub – wonderful musical performance in an ugly mess of a production. I counted off the directorial clichés; No 7 – dancers in army fatigues,…

September 15, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Hugo Wolf: Kennst du das Land

I have been aware of Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser’s fine work in early repertoire for some years now but somehow missed her first release on Harmonia Mundi of Poulenc, which Andrew Aronowicz praised in these pages back in 2014; on hearing this latest delight I shall eagerly hunt out the former. Wolf has a reputation as a tough nut to crack for most listeners; his melodic style is a world away from Schubert, with wild, chromatic harmonies of Wagnerian sensuality, although naive simplicity sometimes pops up unexpectedly and he mostly avoided repetitive strophic form so that each setting is a miniature dramatic scene. His accompaniments, often carrying a bold subtext, can sometimes seem more inspired than the vocal line with evocative scene-painting and extended epilogues. In the wrong hands those accompaniments can sometimes turn turgid (like Schumann on acid) but no concerns here; Eugene Asti’s work is breathtakingly beautiful, perfectly graded and balanced – the recording is stunningly clear and present, every pellucid touch audible.  As for the singing – I was bowled over. While expecting the clarity and tonal beauty of such a fine Mozart exponent I was surprised by the dramatic range on offer. The top of the…

August 30, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Koch: Symphonies Nos 3, 4 (Swedish Radio Symphony/Hammarström)

Erland von Koch (1910-2009) had a long and distinguished career embracing various ‘styles’. This sample of his ‘serious orchestral style’ certainly whets the appetite. The two symphonies, receiving world premiere recordings, date from 1948 and 1952 and are superbly crafted without an ounce of flab. The style might be described as Hindemith-lite with a touch of Bartók, but the melodic invention is fresh and memorable. Koch’s formal structure and thematic development is organic and lucid with a satisfying inevitability yet never predictable; a divertingly novel path to a foregone conclusion. The orchestration is clear and transparent but with just enough weight to satisfy the senses and never resorts to gimmickry. The melodic lines are coloured by subtle instrumental doublings and mixtures (marvellous wind writing) and the arguments are cogent, logical and always moving forward with striding confidence. Movements avoid outstaying their welcome such is his concentration and economy of means. Impulsi, a thrilling orchestral showpiece with nervous triplet repetitions would make a marvellous concert opener while the Nordic Capriccio is an amiable, folk-tinged romp. The performances are impeccable with a sense of commitment and relish.  Sound is as transparent and natural as one expects from the label. Marvellous stuff.

August 12, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Beethoven: Complete Works for Solo Piano Volume 14 (Ronald Brautigam)

Serious record collectors should regularly light a candle for Robert von Bahr whose label BIS has brought so many fine artists to our attention; his willingness to green-light projects of dubious financial return is much appreciated by those of a completist turn. Ronald Brautigam’s surveys of Haydn and Mozart keyboard works were distinguished not only by the exceptional performances of the major masterpieces as by his diligent attention to every extant scrap from the composer’s desk. This latest release in his Beethoven cycle includes some of Ludwig’s least inspired scribblings but does have some gems to treasure. The lesser works can be a bore on a modern piano so the lovely characterful sound of the period instrument, an impeccable copy of an 1819 Conrad Graf by Paul McNulty, does wonders for their charm factor. This particular instrument featured heavily in earlier volumes and is a magnificent device with a lovely liquid top register and engagingly nut-brown bottom-end. Brautigam wrings the maximum expression and colour out of the instrument without ever pushing through the tone, while the light action abetted by his superb technique make for some thrilling flourishes. For the slyly charming variations on God Save the King, Rule Brittania…

June 2, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Schnittke: Penitential Psalms (RIAS Kammerchor)

Alfred Schnittke’s early life, with a Jewish father, Volga German mother and a musical education in occupied Vienna, was haunted by the fears and tensions of the outsider. The ‘polystylist’ language he eventually developed, with its wild juxtapositions of the ‘banal’ and ‘refined’ and a jabbing irony that confounded Soviet apparatchiks, may thus have been a fortified wall shielding a serious avant-gardist, but he risked coming across as a composer in search of a voice.  As time passed by and regimes began to crumble, he allowed cracks to appear in that wall and offer glimpses of the vulnerable artist within. Declining health in the 1980s revealed spiritualist tendencies, most apparent in the Penitential Psalms for mixed choir a cappella, written in 1988 to commemorate the millennium of the Christianisation of Russia.  Setting poems for Lent by anonymous monks from an anthology of Old Russian texts, the principal themes are that of original sin, the wrongs of the past and the need to repent and forgive; significant sentiments as the Soviet Union was breaking apart and old scores were being settled. The work has elements of traditional Russian Orthodox Liturgical chant with syllabic declamation and hummed drones, but tight contrapuntal lines…

April 19, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Brahms: Piano Quartet Op. 60, Piano Trio Op. 8 (Trio Wanderer)

A decade has passed since Trio Wanderer gave us a superb set of Brahms’ Piano Trios with the first Piano Quartet as filler. That recording set a benchmark thanks to the ensemble’s ideal balance of elegance and expressive intensity, so this sequel is long overdue. The rarely heard first version of the Op. 8 Trio is a fascinating adjunct to that set and the Wanderers tackle the work with a different mindset, helping to delineate the self-critical composer’s maturing concision. They don’t linger as they did during the lengthy first movement, which Brahms initially over-egged with five themes,  several of which were replaced by the lovely secondary subject.  Hanslick thought the fugato passage as inappropriate as a schoolboy Latin quotation in a love poem and the composer took note and cut it. The marvellous Scherzo he left well alone but for a few nips and tucks, however he wisely remodelled the middle of the slow movement; the mood swings of the original are superfluous with such animated flanking movements.  The last movement meanders through some tortured passages with a good third of the movement later excised and the clunky conclusion scrapped. While it’s an interesting example of a composer’s distillation…

March 23, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Caldara (Valer Sabadus)

Antonio Caldara, born in Venice in 1670, became vice-Kapellmeister at the Viennese Hofkapelle in 1716 remaining until his death in 1736. There he had a fine ensemble of musicians and this recital showcases some of the more unusual instruments he had at his disposal including the salterio – a large hammered dulcimer. Valer Sabadus, one of the five star countertenors on Virgin’s lauded recording of Vinci’s Artaserse, performs a brace of arias from opera and serenati. His bright bell-like tone and effortless fiorature is startling from the get-go and his accompanists play with gusto. Sample track five Ahi! Come quella un tempo città, where a plethora of plucked instruments is a sheer delight with the state-of-the-art recording capturing every nuance from thrumming bass notes to glittering treble. Ditto the following Ah se toccasse a me with a pair of lutes duetting in call and response. Questo è il prato pairs haunting flute and chalumeau – a primitive ancestor of the clarinet with a peculiar rustic sound of its own.  Lute aficionados will enjoy this disc as Caldara wrote for the great Francesco Bartolomeo Conti, and Michael Dücker (who leads the ensemble) is a thoughtful player. Cellist Ulrike Becker and ensemble…

March 23, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Hindemith: Symphonies (NDR Sinfonieorchester/Eschenbach)

It may have seemed politically naive of Paul Hindemith in 1933 to start planning an opera asserting the moral duty of an artist under a repressive regime, but like many intellectuals of the day, he didn’t take the Nazis seriously and hoped they would soon be out of power. Mathis der Maler would be his undoing and force him into exile in 1938. Hindemith later took themes from the opera and wove them into a large-scale symphony and the harmonic outline of the work brilliantly portrays the internal development of the artist. Christoph Eschenbach’s hyper-romantic way allied with the superb Hamburg orchestra would seem ideal for this reaffirmation of the Germanic symphonic tradition. The opening Concert of Angels promised much with impeccable intonation from blended wind and strings, but as the movement proceeded the conductor’s tendency to underline phrases with modifications of pulse allowed momentum to sag. The Entombment becomes ponderous. The Temptation of St. Anthony is grand and mighty but lacks bite.  The Symphony in E Flat was the first major work Hindemith wrote after arriving in America so is an appropriate coupling. With Stokowski, Bernstein or Tortelier it is a breezy romp of a score. Eschenbach trudges, attempting…

March 16, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Brahms: String Quartets (Artemis Quartet)

Since signing to Virgin (now Erato) the Berlin-based Artemis Quartet has recorded some superb accounts of core repertoire including one of the finest Beethoven cycles of recent times.  Brahms supposedly wrote some 20 quartets that ended up in the bin before the rigorously self-critical composer felt ready to publish the three extant examples. Each inhabits its own sound world and are tough nuts to crack; the dramatic intensity of the first and the sly playfulness of the third can both easily turn turgid if slathered with heavy-handed Romantic excess, so Artemis proves to be ideal exponents with their modernist sensibility tempered by warmth of expression and miraculous variety of tonal colour and dynamics.  The opening movement of the First Quartet is perfectly judged, veering between nervous energy and sweet repose but with an eye always on the architecture so that the ebbing conclusion seems an inevitable consequence rather than a mere petering out. The Romanze is breathtakingly beautiful, drawn with the gentlest brushstrokes of tone; the players’ telepathic ensemble playing at the lowest dynamic level is a wonder to behold. Their variety of vibrato and colour illuminates the Scherzo with half-lights and veiled tone evoking a half-remembered dream so that…

February 22, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Poetry in Music (The Sixteen/Harry Christophers)

Harry Christophers has crafted this superb programme around four settings of King David’s lament for his slain son When David heard and describes it as “a best of poetry in music” – a big call, bearing in mind it is mostly sacred.  William Harris’s Faire is the Heaven and Bring us, O Lord God are sumptuous double-choir anthems full of delicious added-note harmonies and make a glittering wrapping for the delights within. James MacMillan’s The Gallant Weaver is a modern miniature masterpiece of accessible appeal with its gentle hints of Scottish folksong; such a clever piece of vocal writing – its decaying repetitions at different speeds evoke the stacked digital delay effects of modern-day electronic techniques. A surprising rarity is Ivor Gurney’s Since I Believe in God the Father Almighty, an anthem for double choir that is a deeply moving prayer from a troubled soul; Gurney’s experiences at the Western Front haunted him and despite a brief flourish of creative activity after the War he spent the rest of his days institutionalised where he wrote this work. The austere lines set against rich harmonies with surprising side-steps of tonality betray a fragile bipolar state of mind. Sample the line “And…