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Mon, 27 Feb 2006

Vivaldi, Motezuma

Antonio Vivaldi, Motezuma
Il Complesso Barocco
Alan Curtis
recorded Nov 2005
3 CD's,
Deutche Grammaphonon Archiv

This was first performed on 14 November 1733 at the Teatro San Angelo and might have been directed by Vivaldi from the first violin position. Its history after that is a bit clouded and it sank completely from sight and has not been in the Baroque repertoire at all. This is, in fact, the first performance of what was considered to be a "lost" work. It was actually found in an archive in Berlin. How it got there no-one knows. It was rediscovered by accident by a musical scholar.

What of the work itself? It is one of those grandeloquent operas of the times but with a bit of a twist. The subject is Mexico's Montezuma and his defeat by the forces of Spain and with the idea of the spread of Christianity being rather a good thing. We all know that the way it was done was hardly very good for the natives and we also know that many villians over time have used used their religion as a general excuse to be beastly to all and sundry. In this case we might expect that Vivaldi, who was after all a priest, might side with the forces of the church. He does not completely do so at all and one is left feeling more compassion for Montezuma than joy for the victors.

The work is nicely done without, I think, the extra-special magic that makes some works really stand out. It will garner quite a few new fans though. And this production is quite excellent. (Baron K)

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Shostakovich

Dmitri Shostakovich
Piano Trio No. 1 in C minor, op.8
Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor, op. 67
Seven Romances on Verses by Alexander Blok, op. 127*
CD, Warner Classics

Beaux Arts Trio
Daniel Hope, violin
Antonio Meneses, cello
Menahem Pressler, piano

Joan Rodgers, soprano*
Recorded in Auer Hall, Indiana University, Bloomington, 
Indiana 8-12 July 2005

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) is now regarded as one of the musical giants to emerge from the Soviet Union. His style is diverse and unique, ranging from the near-‘cheesy’ style use for film music (think ‘Tea for Two’), to some of the deepest and most powerfully emotive works of the 20th century reflecting the struggle of the Russian people and for which he was at times persecuted by the Soviet authorities (for example, his 4th Symphony). He was born in St. Petersburg and as a child revealed himself as a prodigy, both in piano and composition. In 1922 at the age of just 16 he was accepted into the Petrograd Conservatory, then headed by Alexander Glazunov. His first symphony was composed on his graduation and throughout his life composed a further fourteen. The composer Gustav Mahler was a major influence, and this can be seen through his use of a vocalist in the 13th symphony and, indeed, his Seven Romances on Verses by Alexander Blok.

The first piano trio was composed in 1923 but was only published after Shostakovich’s death. The work is dedicated to Tatyana Glivenko (for whom he had had an early love) and was first performed by Shostakovich and two of his friends who had apparently rehearsed in a cinema where their music had been used as an accompaniment for silent films. This element of film music may not have been conventional at the time, but can be believed. The work is a single movement, but covers several different characters, moods and styles, at times giving a glimmer of romantic film music as well as energy and drama.

The second piano trio is now more widely played and well known. It was composed between 1943 and 1944 (during the second World War) and begins with unusual harmonics from the cello and ends with what has been described in the inlay cover as “a gruesome dance of death; its quiet ending is the stillness of the mass grave”, and certainly reflects the composer’s feelings confronted with the death and anguish that surrounded him.

The Seven Romances were initially intended for the legendary cellist Rostropovich and his wife, the singer Galina Vishnevskaya, but the scoring soon expanded (although the instruments only play all together in the last movement). The work was composed after Shostakovich had a major heart attack in 1966.

The Beaux Arts Trio are an American Ensemble, having won the prize of “Music America’s Ensemble of the Year 1997,” and play throughout the CD with fantastic ensemble, variety of colour, intensity and are not afraid to make ‘nasty’ sounds when required (which can be quite often when playing Shostakovich). Joan Rodgers seems to show an equal understanding of this music. This CD is ideal for any Shostakovich fans. (M.North)

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Poulenc concerto

Francis Poulenc
Concerto for Two Pianos in D minor*
Piano Concerto
Aubade (concerto choreographique pour piano et 18 instruments)
CD, Apex

Francois-Rene Duchable piano
Jean-Philippe Collard piano*
Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra
James Conlon conductor
Recorded in De Doelen, Rotterdam, June and October 1984

Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) was born in Paris and received his initial piano tuition from his mother, an amateur pianist. Despite spending lots of time in the Loire valley to find the solitude he much preferred city life to the countryside. He was called to military service twice, the first time being in early 1918, during which he served a ten-day sentence in military prison for overstaying a leave in his beloved Paris. An open homosexual, he had his first relationship with the painter, Richard Chanelaire. Poulenc was described by the critic Claude Rostand in a Paris-Presse article (July 1950) as being “half bad boy, half monk.” His musical output is diverse and shows a large range of influences – one of the defining features of his music. These influences include Stravinsky, Satie and Chabrier. He was refused a place at the Paris Conservatoire by the composition teacher Paul Vidal who said “Your work stinks… Ah! I see you’re a follower of the Stravinsky and Satie gang. Well, goodbye!” When Stravinsky heard of this, he arranged for works by Poulenc to be printed by Chester Music. Posterity has shown which of these two composers (Vidal and Poulenc) has been more noted in the history of music anyhow, mainly by the fact that Poulenc was included in the formidable “Les Six.” He wrote over 150 French art songs, set to the words of many avant-garde poets such as Guillaume Apollinaire and Paul Eluard, with whom he was friends.

The second piano concerto was composed in 1932 and can be described as being pure entertainment. The mood is generally fun and light, with sparkling solo parts, executed brilliantly by both pianists with vigour, blending extremely well. The concerto for piano, composed in 1949, has (in addition to the usual piano concerto pyrotechnics) sumptuous, unforgettable melodies (this is one of my favourites) that Duchable plays with both impressive technical ability and artistic sensibility. The same can be said for Aubade, composed in 1929, which is a unique concerto (hinted at in its title) for 18 instruments; basically for solo piano and chamber orchestra, originally commissioned as a ballet. It can almost be seen as programme music, in the fact that its subject is of Diana’s chastity and solitude, with Poulenc saying himself: “At daybreak, surrounded by her companions, Diana rebels against the divine law condemning her to eternal purity. Her companions console her, and restore her sense of divinity by presenting her with a bow. Sorrowfully, Diana seizes it, then bounds into the forest, seeking, in the hunt, a derivative to her amorous torrents.” In this track, you get a real sense of the chamber music ensemble between the members of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra (soloists in their own right in this case) and the pianist, admirably directed by James Conlon.

M.North

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Mozrt Requiem

Mozart Requiem
Miriam Allan, Anne Buter, Marcus Ullmann, Martin Snell
GewandhausKammerchor, Leipziger Kammerorchester,
Morten Schuldt-Jensen
2 CD, NAXOS

Is it ironic, that I get to review Mozart’s Requiem in the anniversary year of his birth? This excellent example of choral and chamber expertise is an apt tribute to Mozart’s perfection in composition. Mozart himself did not wholly complete the requiem. He died believing he was writing his own Requiem Mass, and his student Franz Xaver Süssmayer completed the music for publication in that same year, 1791.

The combination of first class soloists, choir, and chamber orchestra has produced one of the best recordings of the Mozart Requiem I have heard. This is among my top five favourite compositions, and this is definitely in my top 10 recordings. Significant moments are the perfect timing between the choir and the orchestra particularly in the Kyrie. The clarity of the soloists - the Bass in the Tuba mirum, the rapport between the soloists in the Recordare and the pure voice of Miriam Allan in the Lux Aeterna. One should also respect the wonderful interpretation of the Lacrimosa, made even more difficult by the fame of the movement.

This album also comes with a bonus CD entitled Grand Choral Classics. This has been added as a Naxos birthday celebration having produced excellent quality recordings for 18 years, and hopefully for many years to come.

(E Walton)

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Medieval French Songs

The Unicorn – Medieval French Songs (Chants médiévaux franćais)
Anne Azéma, various artists
CD, Apex

I am very much a novice when it come to France, the French, and one would assume at this point with French literature. You would not be mistaken! I have never come across this music before, and although my first impression was one of doubt over whether I would like it, I was pleasantly surprised to find this album more than inviting.

One is presented with period instruments, and the earliest French literature of this kind known to date. Anne Azéma has a beautiful sweet voice that has no fear of expressing itself. The poems, (translated in the back for those like myself who are not so good with languages), express the deep desires of love and lust. The female voice can surely be the only true voice for this literature, with links as far back as the sixth century where women were condemned for their “lascivious songs”. This album would not have worked if men had performed it. With Anne, the French becomes a language we can all understand. You can see past the words, and feel the meaning all for yourself.

The album is put together with combinations of sung, spoken, and accompanied verse, with short instrumental interludes balancing the atmosphere perfectly. The quality of the performance is among the best of period recordings. The accompanying booklet is excellent, describing the history in a concise and practical way. Being new to this music, I found it enormously helpful.

Do invest in this beautiful recording, and enjoy at the start, and the end of the day.

(E Walton)

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Toshiro Mayazumi

Toshiro Mayazumi, Mandala Symphony,
Bugaku, Symphonic Mood, Rumba Rhapsody
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Takuo Yuasa
LP, Naxos

This composer was born in 1929 to rich parents in an area of Japan that was virtually created in Meiji times, and thus a new community with a less traditional outlook. His father was a well-to-do sea captain and so there were exotic influences there as well. In any case, Mayazumi went on to be a very experimental composer in terms of the strictures of Japanese society and even though a lot of that had been turned upside down by the aftermath of WWII.

He played with different forms and was the first in his country to experiment with electronic music. What we have here is actually an application of European avant-garde music ideas and timbres to traditions of Japanese music and religious thought. While this is very interesting intellectually, it might leave a lot of Westerners with the feeling that they'd actually prefer to hear the originals -- which are quite hard to get as a matter of fact.

The Rumba Rhapsody comes out of a time in wartime Japan when Latin American music was one of the few allowed Western genres.

Early twentieth century avant-garde completists should probably have this. Everyone else should most likely have a listen first before purchase. (Baron K)

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Contemporary and Medieval

various, All the ends of the earth
contemporary and medieval music
Choir of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge
Geoffrey Webber
LP, Signum Classics

The idea here is that some contemporary music is inspired by that of the medieval. This particular movement started off as a reaction to the sometimes bombastic Romantics and perhaps has as its real root, a search for more tranquility in a noisy world.

The composers range from Anonymous from c. 1000 to Judith Weir, James Weeks, Bayan Northcott, John Dunstaple, Gabriel Jackson, and a slew more Anonymous's from the 14th and 15th centuries.

It is nicely concieved and put together and very nicely performed by the Gonville and Caius (pronounced "keys") choir and somehow avoids the aura of new-age krankiness that sometimes goes with this sort of thing. (Baron K)

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