Mstation Classical Reviews

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Mon, 04 Jul 2005

von Weber, Chamber Music

Carl Maria von Weber, Piano Quartet
Trio for flute, cello and piano
Quintet for clarinet and strings
The Gaudier Ensemble

Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826) lived in exciting times, both musically and otherwise -- Beethoven ... the French Revolution, Napoleon. Of his three hundred and eight compositions recognised by FW Jahns only three were chamber music (and none were string quartets) and it is these three pieces that are on this CD.

This is music of the Romantic era to its core and von Weber was very interested in the Romantic explorations of timbre and harmony as well as with virtuoso playing. Remember that, technically, a virtuoso is not a once in a lifetime genius, but rather an extremely good player.

For those that don't particularly like the huge orchestral pomposities that the Romantics so loved, chamber music is a way of appreciating the musical points of the movement in a slimmed-down, more intimate way.

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Tallis, Spem in Alium
plus bonus CD Monteverdi, Josquin, Palestrina, etc
Oxford Camerata
Jeremy Summerly
2 CDs, Naxos

Naxos are having their 18th birthday this year and recently celebrated with a do in London. Apparently they are also including a bonus CD with a few releases to share this birthday, or something like that.

In this case, it makes quite a good way for people who think they might like to get interested in early sacred music, to sample the fare at a reasonable price. Tallis's Spem in Alium is a beautiful piece, lovingly performed here, and the bonus CD includes a nice cross section of early masterpieces.

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Beethoven, piano

Beethoven – Complete Music for Piano Trio, Vol 4
The Florestan Trio

Piano Trio in c minor Op 1 No 3
Variations in E flat Op 44
Piano Trio in B flat Op 11

Recorded in Henry wood Hall, London, on 7-9 September 2003

Anthony Marwood – violin; Richard Lester – cello; Susan Tomes - Piano

Early Beethoven features on this disc, opening with a spirited performance of the sublime Op 1 No 3 trio. There are few groups around today that match the Florestan Trio for sheer polish of sound and integrity of intention in the classical repertoire. This writer has long been a particular fan of Susan Tomes and this disc is further good proof of why. She has an instantly recognisable sound, exemplified by warmth of touch but almost crystalline bell-like quality of timbre. Famous, of course, for her work with Domus before forming the Floristan Trio Tomes is so steeped in classical Chamber music that she appears to breathe the style with as much ease as Beethoven did. Her sound is simply absolutely right for this music. There is often in early Beethoven, as in Mozart, the combination of virtuosity together with melodic and harmonic subtlety. Susan Tomes brings this combination very much to the fore in her performances. The balance between hands, the shape of the melodic phrase, the direction of the line; all of this is so well judged and aided by the beauty of Anthony Marwood’s violin playing. The cello has a lesser role in the Op 1 trios, but comes to the fore in the variation slow movement, being especially enjoyable in the languid fourth variation solo.

The Variations in E Flat are based on a popular operatic tune by Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf. A fairly long delay in publication caused the misleadingly high opus number. These variations are another early work, dating from just before Beethoven left Bonn for Vienna. Cast firmly in the Rococo style, with the theme always recognisable, this is Beethoven in urban salon mood. The variations are largely delicate ornamentations of the theme and the Florestan Trio perform them with such delicacy and lightness that they make a most effective interlude in the disc, even if they are not Beethoven’s greatest outpouring in the variation genre.

Variations are also prominent in the B Flat Op 11 trio, this time on an operatic tune from Joseph Weigl’s 1797 work L’amor marinaro (‘Love at Sea’). This variation finale, a frothy and witty confection, Beethoven did consider replacing, possibly thinking it too lightweight, and allowing it to stand alone. A further unusual feature of the work is that it was originally scored for clarinet, cello and piano. Beethoven re-scored it for standard piano trio to maximise sales, making few adjustments to the clarinet part to fit it on the violin. There is typically dramatic Beethovenian modulation throughout the substantial opening movement but the Florestans never loose sight of the architectural sweep of the music. In typical Hyperion style the disc is superbly recorded and accompanied by excellent booklet notes by Richard Wigmore. All of the Florestan Trio’s recordings on Hyperion have been lauded and received numerous awards. With playing of such precision, humour and integrity this comes as no surprise and this Beethoven series will long have a place as a flag bearer of chamber music quality. Altogether this is a highly enjoyable Beethoven disc and is easily recommendable.

Peter Wells

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Bach, Concertos

JS Bach, The Keyboard Concertos - 1
BWV1052, BWV1058, 
Brandenburg Concerto No. 5
Triple Concerto

and The Keyboard Concertos - 2
BWV1053, BWV1054, BWV1055, BWV1056, BWV1057

Angela Hewitt
Australian Chamber Orchestra
2 CD's, Hyperion

A virtuoso Canadian piano player who lives in London, the Sydney, Australia, Symphony Orchestra, and a fine Italian piano in an Australian town hall, are the ingredients for this very fine recording of Bach's keyboard concertos. Originally, they were not, of course, performed on a piano, but on a harpsichord, and there might be Early Music fans that lament this, but this is a very tasteful rendering and the egoistic highjinks that are sometimes part of the piano player's reperiore are missing.

The interesting program notes are by Angella Hewitt herself, which is a nice touch. Hewitt is actually an accomplished Bach scholar in her own right, so this is entirely justified. One thing she mentions is that if you were to copy all J.S. Bach's works, it would take you a lifetime! (Count K)

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