Saturday 29 September 2018

It's not British Music...but Une Voix Française: 20th Century Organ Masterworks

One day, in April 1979, I was listening to an organist practising on the Cavaillé-Coll organ in Notre Dame, Paris: the music sounded superb. I asked a fellow listener (an Englishman) what was playing, and he told me that is was Jeanne Demessieux’s Te Deum, op.1. It was a masterpiece, which I have not heard as often as I would have liked over the past 40 years.  Despite the work being a near perfect ‘fit’ for this prodigious Parisian organ, it was composed with the Ernest M. Skinner instrument in St John the Divine, New York in her mind.
The entire piece is based a Gregorian chant used for the Te Deum.  The work is presented in three segments. A quieter almost impressionistic middle section is flanked by two extrovert, rhythmically-complex and technically-demanding toccata-like movements. This is a work to bring the house down. It would make an ideal recessional voluntary after a service of Choral Matins, preferably with a very large cathedral organ!
Listeners usually associate Nadia Boulanger with teaching music. Her famous pupils include such diverse composers as Elliot Carter, Lennox Berkeley, Astor Piazzolla and Burt Bacharach. Yet, she was also a composer, with several attractive works to her name. Granted, most of her catalogue is devoted to vocal music, there are a handful of instrumental works, and a few orchestral pieces. The present dreamy ‘Improvisation’ is from her ‘Trois Pièces’ for organ or harmonium composed around 1911. This is a hushed work that showcases several stops on this Mander organ, especially the ‘voix-celeste.’

I have not consciously heard any organ music by Jacques Ibert. Alas, he is usually recalled only for his delightfully witty Divertimento for orchestra. Other important works include the sparkling Escales, the romantic, dancing Tropismes pour des amours imaginaires and the Concertino da camera for Alto Saxophone and Eleven Instruments. Ibert wrote precious little for the organ. The present ‘Fugue’ is the third of ‘Trio Pièces’ dating from 1920.  Organ enthusiasts will appreciate that this piece is inspired by César Franck. The ‘Fugue’ begins quietly before building up to a huge climax supported by considerable chromatic harmonies and melodies.  It is dedicated ‘à Mademoiselle Nadia Boulanger.’

Every organ enthusiast knows Jehan Alain’s Litanies. There are 27 recordings of this work currently in the Arkiv CD catalogue. However, looking at Jehan Stefan’s list of Alain’s compositions reveals more than 140 works. Few have entered the repertoire, and several appear unrecorded. 
Alain died in battle at Saumur in the Loire Valley during the summer of 1940, aged only 29. He is a French war hero. If Alain had survived, his contribution to French music would have been gigantic, perhaps even rivalling Messiaen as the ‘greatest’ organ composer of the 20th century. The clue to his success is the clever synthesis of styles that he created. In his music the listener will experience allusions to ‘Gregorian chant’, jazz rhythms, the ‘exotic tonalities and complex rhythms of Moroccan and Indian music’, as well as a solid grounding in the whole corpus of French organ music.
The present Variations sur un thème de Clément Jannequin is based on a folk tune found in a book of old French songs. The theme is by an anonymous sixteenth century composer and not by Clément Jannequin. The song, ‘L'Espoir que j'ai d'acquérir votre grace’, is a love lyric enjoining the addressee to not wait too long before responding to the author’s suit. Whatever the song’s origin, Alain has developed the tune into an acknowledgement to Jannequin. It is composed in three sections, mirroring early French practice. The opening section presents the tune in a simple manner initially with the harmonies of the original and then contrived in a more acerbic mood. The middle section is a short fugato passage which is followed by a reprise of the tune subjected to several chromatic changes. Altogether, a lovely piece that demands to be played with ‘freshness and tenderness.’

Andre Isoir wrote only one original organ work, the Six Variations sur un Psaume Huguenot, op.1 (1974). It was written in response to a composition contest run by the ‘Friends of the Organ’ and it won First Prize. The jury included Olivier Messiaen and Henry Barraud. The piece was published in 1979 and subsequently revised in 2009.
In his Six Variations, Isoir balances an engaging modernism supported by organ registrations common in the French Baroque era. This is a colourful work that explores a wide variety of timbres and moods and concludes with a vibrant ‘toccata.’  
Much of Isoir’s career was spent as an organist with a deep interest in J.S. Bach. He was involved with the restoration and new-builds of period organs. Isoir has made more than 60 recordings of organ music.

The Pièces de Fantasie, Deuxième Suite, op.53 is popular and needs little introduction to organ enthusiasts. In all, there are four suites, which included 24 separate pieces. They were composed between 1926-27. Several have become extremely popular, including ‘Les Cloches de Hinkley’, ‘Carillon de Westminster’ and ‘Naïades.’  The Second Suite features six pieces: ‘Lamento’, ‘Sicilienne’, ‘Hymne au soleil’, ‘Feux Follets’, ‘Clair de Lune’ and ‘Toccata’. The liner notes provide a good overview of these pieces. My two favourites are ‘Feux Follet’ and the ‘Toccata.’ The former is a scherzo-like, ‘will o’ the wisp’ piece that is impressionistic in temper and not lacking in musical humour.  It is chock-full of ‘bizarre rhythms’, imaginative registrations and technically-demanding manual changes. The final number in this Deuxième Suite and the last track on the CD is the stunning ‘Toccata.’ This is a perpetuum mobile that is unrelenting in its perusal of semiquaver figuration. The work builds up to a shattering climax with all the stops pulled out. An excellent conclusion to a fascinating CD. It is just a shame that this ‘Toccata’ does not seem to have gained the traction of a certain piece by a gentleman called Widor.

The booklet notes (French and English), written by Renée Anne Louprette and are straightforward and helpful: they include the all-important organ specification of this superb four-manual and pedals, Noel Mander instrument.
The organ was installed in 1993 and is currently the largest ‘tracker action’ (purely mechanical) instrument in New York City. The acoustic is judged to be ideal and this is reflected in the great recording of these pieces on this CD.  Details of the Renée Anne Louprette can be found on her webpage.
This is a great introduction to some lesser-known French organ works. They are splendidly played by the soloist who shows great understanding and empathy with the genre. 

Track Listing:
Jeanne DEMESSIEUX (1921-68) Te Deum, op.1 (1958)
Nadia BOULANGER (187-1979) Trois Pièces pour orgue ou harmonium (1911) No.2 ‘Improvisation’
Jacques IBERT (1890-1962) Trois Pièces, No.3 ‘Fugue’ (1920)
Jehan ALAIN (1911-40) Variations sur un thème de Clément Jannequin (1937)
André ISOIR (1935-2016) Six Variations sur un Psaume Huguenot, op.1 (1974)
Louis VIERNE (1870-1937) Pièces de Fantasie, Deuxième Suite, op.53 (1926/27)
Renée Anne Louprette (organ)
Rec. The Church of St Ignatius Loyola New York, New York, USA 2-4 November 2016
ACIS APL 01609
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published

Wednesday 26 September 2018

Benjamin Britten: An Alpine Suite for recorder trio.

If the CD catalogues are consulted, the listener will discover that there are 66 versions of The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, 50 of The Ceremony of Carols, 45 editions of the Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes and 37 for the Simple Symphony. All great works and all demanding many interpretations. Turn, however, to the delightful Alpine Suite (1955) for recorder trio and a very different story emerges. There are only three recordings presently available. And one of them is not in the original instrumentation. More about that later.

The Alpine Suite was composed during February 1955 whilst Britten was holidaying with Peter Pears and the artist Mary Potter. Included in the party were Ronald and Rose-Marie Duncan. Duncan was a poet, playwright and writer: he provided Britten with the libretto for his opera The Rape of Lucretia. They were staying in the Swiss mountain resort of Zermatt. Lying in the shadow of the Matterhorn, this town is well-known for skiing, climbing and hiking. The story goes that Mary Potter fell and injured her leg on the first day of the holiday, so was confined to the hotel.

Pears, Potter and Britten were competent recorderists, so the composer felt that a short piece of music for three recorders (2 descant and 1 treble) that the three of them could play, would be a fitting gesture. They had all taken their recorders with them on holiday.

There are six short movements in this charming 7½ minute work:
1 Arrival at Zermatt
2 Swiss Clock (Romance)
3 Nursery Slopes
4 Alpine Scene
5 Moto perpetuo: Down the Piste
6 Farewell to Zermatt.

Unless the listener knew this music was by Britten, I doubt that they would ever guess. It is largely tonal in concept and straightforward, but always spontaneous in form. Harmonic dissonances tend to arrive by contrapuntal clash rather than a ‘piling up’ of chords.  There is a definite ‘modal’ feel to some of this music that may derive from modulations to the submediant (6th degree of the diatonic scale) and the subdominant (4th degree of the diatonic scale).

The Alpine Suite is not programme music, but I think that the temperament of the music captures the mood of this mountain resort. Certainly, the brittle sound of the recorders lends a cool atmosphere to the snow and frost bound winter landscape. Highlights for me are the gentle 6/8 ‘meander’ on the ‘Nursery Slopes’, the swishing ‘Down the Piste’ dominated by semiquaver runs, and a ‘romance’ featuring the charmingly ticking ‘Swiss Clock’, minus the cuckoo…The ‘Alpine Scene’ is probably the most descriptive and challenging of these six pieces. My only concern is that the entire piece is over all too soon.

The first public performance was given on 26 June 1955 by members of the Aldeburgh Music Club by The Meare which is an artificial lake at Thorpeness, near Aldeburgh.  It was broadcast the following year on the BBC Home Service on the morning of 8 December.  This was performed by the Stanley Taylor Recorder Consort.
The score of the Alpine Suite for three recorders was published by Boosey & Hawkes in 1956.

In 2015 Michela Petri (recorder) and Mahan Esfahani (harpsichord) released a CD of music for their instruments (OUR RECORDINGS 6.220611 SACD).  This included works by Gordon Jacob, Malcolm Arnold and Vagn Holmboe. As part of their programme, the artists arranged Britten’s Alpine Suite for solo recorder and harpsichord. In my opinion this arrangement works just as well as the original, and, if anything, is fresher and more vibrant.

The original version has been issued on Dutton Epoch (CDLX 7142) played by The Flautadors. This CD includes the complete recorder works by Britten and Edmund Rubbra. The Alpine Suite has also been included on the massive Decca issue of Britten’s Complete Works.
The three-recorder version can be heard in a splendid performance on YouTube. 

Sunday 23 September 2018

Arthur Bliss: Quintet for Oboe & String Quartet (1926)

I have always loved the Bliss’s Oboe Quintet– it seems to me to evoke an age long passed- perhaps from a time before the horrors of the trenches with which the he was so well acquainted?

The work came resulted from the composer’s relationship with Mrs. Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge.  This American lady had a great enthusiasm for modern music and was prepared to put her money where here heart was. Bliss was impressed with her patronage and intellectual grasp of music and had already dedicated his Two Interludes (1925) for piano solo to her. And the respect was mutual: Mrs Coolidge commissioned the present work for the 1927 Venice Festival. It was inspired by the playing of Leon Goossens who gave the first performance in that city with the Venetian Quartet.  It is reputed to have gained an enthusiastic response from Alban Berg.

We can hardly imagine Berg using Connolly’s Jig as a part of any composition – but some readers may be aware of an instance of the Austrian master resorting to Irish folk tunes in his works! Bliss is quite happy to exploit this material for the finale of his Quintet. It is not as simple as making the band sound like a Celtic ceilidh. Bliss uses the theme as a mine to extract phrases and motifs to be tossed between strings and woodwind. Echoes from the first movement are heard before the work ends.

The first movement, Assai sostenuto, is written in loose sonata form. The easy-going opening theme is soon challenged by more intense and urgent material; the movement ends with a quiet coda. The heart of the work is the gorgeous and inspiring ‘Andante con moto.’ This is everything we could possibly imagine English music to be. Perfect equilibrium between the soloist and strings, long breathed tunes and delicious harmonies. The faster middle section looks both backwards to the opening movement and to the ‘Irishry’ of the finale. This is near perfect: I can never tire of this music.

The fundamental beauty of this work is the balance that Bliss manages to achieve between competing styles and influences. There is no doubt that the impressionists in general and Ravel in particular, are called to mind. But there are certainly many nods to the prevailing ‘Georgian’ pastoral imagery. Occasionally jazz is implied and perhaps something a little more astringent imported from the Germanic countries?  Yet the balance of styles is perfect: it is an extremely satisfying and ultimately beautiful work. 

One splendid recording of Arthur Bliss’s Quintet for Oboe & String Quartet (1926) is on An English Renaissance, Oboe Classics CC2009. This work is coupled with Dorothy Gow’s Oboe Quintet (1936), Elizabeth Maconchy’s Quintet for Oboe & Strings (1932), Benjamin Britten’s Phantasy Quartet for Oboe & Strings (1932) E.J. Moeran’s Fantasy Quartet (1946). The oboe soloist is George Caird. 

Thursday 20 September 2018

Rain Songs and other works: The Music of Karel Janovický

What do we know about the Czech composer, journalist and pianist Karol Janovický?  Bohus Frantisek Simsa (real name) is one of many émigré composers who arrived in the United Kingdom in the aftermath of European Totalitarianism. Born in the Bohemian town of Pilsen on 18 February 1930, he travelled to Germany in 1949 and then to London where he studied at the Royal College of Music. He worked for the BBC for many years as a producer in the gramophone department and later at the BBC World Service where he directed the Czechoslovak Service. He has been a great champion of Anton Dvorak and has participated in Dvorak Society activities for many years. 
Karol Janovický has a huge catalogue, with an especial focus on chamber and instrumental music.  However, there are many orchestral works, songs and an opera.  His music is modern-ish sounding, but from what I have heard on this CD is certainly not avant-garde. If I were to give a clue to listening, I guess I would say his music lies somewhere between Béla Bartók, Leoš Janáček and Mátyás Seiber, with a little Antonín Dvořák thrown in for good measure. Occasionally, in these works I heard echoes of Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten, but that may have been my imagination. All this is only a hint: he is very much his own man.

The CD opens with the vibrant Festive Fantasia and Fugue for recorder and piano. It was written as a 70th birthday gift to the present recorderist John Turner. From the opening bars of this work, and the exotic sounds produced by the wind instrument one just knows that this is will be an enjoyable work. The liner notes are correct: there is a ‘cheeky’ squaring up to each other for fun rather than for fight. The fugue is based on Verdi’s aria from Falstaff (my favourite Shakespearean character) ‘Tutto nel mondo é burla. L'uom é nato burlone’, - The whole world is a joke, man is born a jester. It is good to hear music that lacks angst and is quite simply fun.

The eponymous Rain Songs are settings of poems by the Hungarian-born poet and translator George Szirtes (b.1948). These were written in 2010 in memory of the composer Mátyás Seiber. Seiber came to London in the1930s as a refugee: he is noted for his eclectic musical style, working with folk music, serialism and jazz. He died in 1960.  As the title implies, the poems evoke water and rain, although there are also references to historical issues, such as the trenches of the First World War with gas and mud. The imagery in these poems is impressive (as would be expected from Szirtes). One of my favourite lines is ‘The whistling of small birds among wet leaves/A scroll of gull, an even stream cloud…’ 
Karol Janovický has set these poems with imagination and dexterity. The song-cycle is a carefully made synthesis of voice, recorder and piano. Often the ‘pitter patter’ of the rain can be heard in musical onomatopoeia. The aesthetic of these songs is timeless: it would be unfair to say that they ‘sound like’ any other composer. They are contemporary, yes, but always approachable and often quite beautiful.

The other song-cycle on this CD is Passages of Flight for soprano and piano, dating from 1995. The five poems set were chosen by their author, Richard Robbins, who is a friend of Karol Janovický.  There is a strange beauty about these ageless settings that reflect the bitter-sweet subject matter of Robbins’ poems.

The Sonata for recorder (2013) followed on from the Festive Fantasia and Fugue. Janovický was so impressed by John Turner’s performance of this work, that he immediately began on the Sonata. It is written in three movements with the finale being an excuse for a musical thriller. Once again, the recorderist is encouraged to produce some bizarre effects on their instrument. There are some serious moments here, but the mood is typically positive. A lovely romantic second subject features in the opening movement, which contrasts with the ‘Jack-in-the-Box’ main theme. The slow movement is dreamy in mood and suggests a lazy, warm summer’s day.

My personal favourite track is the Piano Sonata dating from around 2005. Like most of the other instrumental pieces on this CD it is an agreeable work that is not emotionally demanding. There are moments of depth here, but the overall impression is one of fun and ‘joie de vivre.’ The first movement uses sonata form to tell a story (plot unknown) which is well-balanced between love and intrigue. The slow movement is reflective but not in any way sad or gloomy. The Sonata ends with a ‘playful’ romp framed as a ‘rondo.’ 
The style of pianism is quite old-fashioned in its sound and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that: it could have been written at almost any time over the past 100 years. I felt that there was a touch of Les Six in places. It is inspiringly played by Joan Taylor.

I liked the Quintet for recorder and string quintet. The work was first heard in Cambridge at a memorial concert (2010) for Mátyás Seiber. Once again, it is dedicated to John Turner. This is a considerable piece, lasting for nearly 14 minutes. There are three movements, which are full of invention and interest, including much rhythmic vitality, especially in the final movement. The recorder is always to the fore and has a technically challenging part. The ‘mood swings’ are considerable: from idyllic to intense by way of a touch of romance. Written in an amicable, but sometimes wayward, modern style this work is faultless in it effect.

Bearing in mind that this CD consists largely of premiere recordings from a relatively unknown composer, I would have liked more detailed liner notes. I understand that a listener and a reviewer can ‘critique’ a piece of music with little or no background: it would have been helpful to have just a little bit more information. For example, I had to refer to the composer’s webpage to find out when some of these pieces were composed.  
The text of both song-cycles is given. There are no biographical details of the performers, although once again this can be explored on the Internet. The composer’s biography is also a bit skimpy, although there is a link in Janovický’s webpage to an essay by Dr David C.F. Wright, which for reasons well-known to readers of MusicWeb International cannot be quoted (even if one wanted to).  The cover design by Clarissa Upchurch is suitably ‘rainy’ in its effect. I would have expected a slightly better-quality insert: on my copy the printing on the middle pages is a wee bit ‘squiffy’, with the last line of the text of the poem ‘Flight’ nearly cut off.
The sound quality is ideal on the entire CD. From the initial impact of hearing this works for the very first time (I did listen to this CD twice-through) exhibits sympathetic playing. As always, Lesley-Jane Rogers’ singing is a sheer pleasure. Her voice is ideally suited to these two sets of songs. John Turner’s performances are excellent. His impact is felt in every bar of this CD: he seems to act as an unheard MC in those works he is not involved in.  Naturally, the Manchester Camerata Ensemble are in tip-top condition. I have already recognised the splendid rendition of the Piano Sonata by Joan Taylor.

I noted that there are many works in Karel Janovický’s catalogue. It may be a bit ambitious to hope for a recording of the symphonies and sinfoniettas, however, there is vast amount of chamber music for a wide variety of instrumental forces, many piano works and dozens of songs (several in the Czech language) that demand to be explored. 

Track Listing:
Karel JANOVICKÝ (b.1930)
Festive Fantasia and Fugue for recorder and piano (2013)
Rain Songs for Soprano, Treble Recorder and Piano, (2010)
Sonata for treble recorder and piano (2013)
Passages of Flight: a cycle of five songs for high voice and piano (1995)
Sonata for piano (2005)
Quintet for recorder and strings (2010)
John Turner (recorder), Lesley-Jane Rogers (soprano), Joan Taylor (piano), The Manchester Camerata Ensemble.
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published

Monday 17 September 2018

Elizabeth Maconchy: Quintet for Oboe & Strings (1932)

It is hard to imagine the Daily Telegraph running a chamber music competition in today’s climate. Without delving too deeply into the pros and cons of political correctness, it would seem unlikely that any contemporary event would confine itself to ‘string quartets’ and ‘wind quintets’ - there would have to be equal status for entrants writing works for didgeridoo and Tibetan nose flutes. But the world was a different place in 1932 and Elizabeth Maconchy won an award in the competition with her excellent Oboe Quintet. Her work was a precursor to the great cycle of String Quartets that the composer was to write throughout her career.
In the same event the young Benjamin Britten received a commendation with his Phantasy Quartet..

Elizabeth Maconchy’s Quintet opens with a declamatory phrase from the oboe followed by urgent string chords - this devolves into some discursive music where oboe and strings vie with each other to gain the upper hand. However, much of this first movement is quite reflective. The harmonies tend to be rather astringent yet there is a sense of Arcadian pastoralist even amongst this Bartok- tinged music.
The second movement continues the meditative mood of this work. This is the heart of the piece. There is no sense of the archetypical 'cow leaning over the fence' here - but neither does the prevailing modernism destroy the sense of Englishness that pervades this work. There is even a hint or two of folk tunes - perhaps a nod in the direction of her composition teacher Ralph Vaughan Williams.
This folk idiom really comes to the fore in the last movement. The programme notes suggest that there is suggestion of the ‘moto perpetuum’ about this music. True, but there is still the melancholy feel that has pervaded the entire work from the opening bars. And lookout for the exciting cross rhythms that cause considerable technical difficulties to the performers. The movement finishes with a few apparent reminiscences of what has gone before.

The only recording of Elizabeth Maconchy’s Quintet for Oboe & Strings (1932) is on An English Renaissance, Oboe Classics CC2009. This work is coupled with Dorothy Gow’s Oboe Quintet (1936), Arthur Bliss’s Quintet for Oboe & String Quartet (1926), Benjamin Britten’s Phantasy Quartet for Oboe & Strings (1932) E.J. Moeran’s Fantasy Quartet (1946). The oboe soloist is George Caird.  

Friday 14 September 2018

New Music for New Oboe: Volume 2

Oboes making squeaky noises is usually outside my comfort zone, but I did enjoy this thought-provoking album of music. The title of this new CD refers to the fact that all this music is played on the newly created Howarth-Redgate (or is it the Redgate-Howarth) oboe as well as the recently-devised ‘lupohpon’ which is a bass incarnation of the instrument.  
Christopher Redgate is an indefatigable performer of contemporary oboe works. His CD catalogue includes music by Edwin Roxburgh, Michael Finnissy, Rob Keeley and Howard Skempton. In concerts, Redgate often performs improvisations which has allowed him to ‘explore the more extreme areas of the oboe and its potential’. His vast appreciation and understanding of avant-garde techniques has led him to develop this new instrument. Detailed information about Redgate’s new oboe can be found at his website.

The works on this CD have been composed/created with collaboration between Redgate and the composers. Many of them use the extended range that this instrument provides, as well as possibilities of ‘microtonal’ and ‘multiphonic’ sounds. Other innovations include ease of playing, very high notes and sounding the oboe without the reed.
As a definition, ‘multiphonic’ means playing multiple notes on an instrument designed to play only single notes – flute, oboe, trumpet, human voice etc. I understand one of the earliest examples of this technique was called for by Luciano Berio in his Sequenza 1 for solo flute, written in 1958. ‘Microtonal’, means the further subdivision of the scale into intervals smaller than the semitone: there is a quarter-tone scale available throughout this oboe’s range.

I would suggest plunging into this CD with Paul Archbold’s Zechstein. I wondered if this was a make of German piano: I was wrong. The composer explains that it refers to the Zechstein Sea which was a large lagoon in the centre of the ancient Pangea super-continent, with its waves lapping against the shores of what is now County Durham. The water dried up and the tectonic plates separated, slowly evolving into the land masses we recognise today. It was a wee while ago, round about 250 million years, in fact. But the concept lives on in the imagination.
Zechstein is an idyllic work written for solo oboe that balances a reflective and tranquil mood with a range of sounds made possible by the Howarth-Redgate oboe. It is a timeless work, with the ‘multiphonics’ adding to the haunting atmosphere of this long-departed landscape feature.

The programme notes for Sam Hayden’s surface/tension for oboe and piano does not give an immediate, succinct clue to the nature of the work. Let me give two examples: ‘In addition, artificial inharmonic spectra and complex rhythmical structures were generated algorithmically by the computer, and then chosen by the composer’ and ‘The spectral analyses of multiphonics unique to the instrument were used to generate microtonal pitch fields’ doesn’t really help the average music-lover. I can only assume that this work is designed for cognoscenti only, and not for most music lovers.
If I paraphrase, what I think is happening is two-fold. Based on a pre-chosen set of notes and harmonies, the piano and oboe enter dialogue, debating and discussing this material. The music vacillates between fast and slow, virtuosity and stasis. There are certainly some amazing sounds. Full stop.

Dorothy Ker’s Clepsydra is based on the Greek ‘water thief.’ Empedocles, the 5th century BC poet and philosopher, developed a theory of respiration by making an analogy with the clepsydra, which was an ancient mechanical device used to carry water. Carl Sagan has defined it as ‘... a brazen sphere with an open neck and small holes in the bottom, it is filled by immersing it in water. If you pull it out with the neck uncovered, the water pours out of the holes, making a small shower. But if you pull it out properly, with the neck covered, the water is retained in the sphere until you lift your thumb.'
Ker writes that the Greek’s theory ‘resonated with the emerging notion of the oboe as an instrument for the crafting of timbre by fine control of its ‘porosity’ (through the multitude of new key combinations available), combined with the oboist’s virtuosity in controlling the column of air to coax exquisite tones from the sweet-sounding cocobolo wood. The material and journey of the piece are informed by this image and related ideas of aggregation and transformation in fluid motion.’
I found the verbosity of the philosophical underpinning of this piece as wee bit hard to engage with. However, as a piece of music it is agreeable, with some fascinating noises emerging from the oboe.

The longest work on this CD is Edward Cowie’s The Colours of Dark Light (2013). This is written for oboe, cor anglais and lupohpon (all played by Redgate) and the Coull [String] Quartet. The work is inspired by physics, and has been written in ‘collaboration’ with Sir Michael Berry FRS. Clearly, acoustics is a branch of physics. Cowie writes that ‘time and energy…are the fusion-models for the interplay between the two disciplines.’ The music explores a concept known as ‘the colours of dark light’ or ‘the heart of darkness.’ Again, the liner notes stretch the understanding of the layman – what exactly does ‘a movement about time-order-chaos-randomness and forms of thinking which converge towards solutions through often troublesome and unpredictable ways of forming and acting in matter and energy’ mean? The titles of the four movements are: 1. Michel Berry: Sonic Portrait, 2. Random Ph(r)ases, 3. Tracking a Phase Singularity and 4. The Colours of Dark Light. The opening movement is a ‘sonic portrait of the scientist himself.’ The final three make a journey from chaos to order. But just how much order is a question that begs to be answered.
Finally, I passed Higher [A] level Physics at Coatbridge High School - but I do not ken what ‘Phase Singularity’ is.  Wikipedia tells me that it is ‘An optical vortex (also known as a photonic quantum vortex, screw dislocation or phase singularity) is a zero of an optical field; a point of zero intensity.’ Hmmm.
By dumping the programme, I thoroughly enjoyed this music. In fact, it is my favourite work on this challenging disc.

I did have to check my sound system whilst playing Christopher Fox’s Unlocking the Grid (2015). There were times when I thought it had stopped playing. This work, which is written for solo woodwind and an electronic accompaniment derived from three overlain sound channels, was specially written to showcase the new oboe. The inspiration for this work was the artwork of Agnes Martin, and, as the composer says, is ‘in part a homage to her.’ For my untrained eye Martin’s work seems a little lacking in interest often consisting of what looks like squared paper, like that used at primary school. It could be said that the slow-paced exposition of Fox’s piece is equally devoid of attention-seeking attributes. Yet the mood of almost complete stasis which lasts for 16 minutes-plus is an achievement. Unlocking the Grid did bore me, a little: it was certainly a long and tedious quarter of an hour.

The CD booklet is a masterclass in design. From the interesting cover, through the programme notes for each work and the composer and artist biographies, it gives all the required information. There are several photographs of all concerned, as well as a picture of a standard Howarth oboe next to a Howarth-Redgate instrument for comparison. I must confess that, not being a woodwind player, it does not tell me too much, but I am sure it will be of interest to those musicians who are.
I have noted the sometimes-unfathomable programme notes above. My suggestion is to enjoy the music, one piece at a time and largely ignore the highfalutin’ musico-philosophical speculation.
The recording impressed me, as did the performances, which clearly appear to be first-rate, even if I have nothing to compare them with.
This is a splendid disc. It may not feature my preferred oboe sound-world, nevertheless there are many captivating and interesting moments in this programme. For lovers of post-Berio music this will be a treat. It is ‘truly cutting-edge music for today.’

Track Listing:
Edward COWIE (b.1943) The Colours of Dark Light (2013)
Paul ARCHBOLD (b.1964) Zechstein (2015)
Sam HAYDEN (b.1968) surface/tension (2012)
Dorothy KER (b.1965) Clepsydra (2012)
Christopher FOX (b.1955) Unlocking the Grid (2015)
Christopher Redgate (oboe), Stephen Robbings (piano), Coull Quartet (Cowie), Paul Archbold (electronics) (Fox)
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review first appeared.

Tuesday 11 September 2018

Dorothy Gow: Oboe Quintet in one movement (1936)

Dorothy Gow is a name that is hardly known to music lovers. She is certainly not a regular on Classic FM or Radio 3. Look at the current (2018) CD catalogues and there appears to be none of her works available. There only three entries in the British Library Catalogue: the present quintet, a Piece for horn and violin and a String Quartet in one movement (c.1957). 

A few biographical notes may be of interest. Dorothy Gow was born on 30 November 1893 in London. After schooling she studied at the Royal College of Music with R.O. Morris and Ralph Vaughan Williams. However, her compositional style was most influenced by her period with Egon Wellesz in Vienna. 
Back at the Royal College of Music she formed a club with fellow composers Elisabeth Lutyens, Elizabeth Maconchy and Grace Williams.  George Caird writes that due to her ‘acute shyness, diffidence and ill-health she never enjoyed quite the same success as they (her colleagues) did.’  Anne Macnaghten considered that Gow was perceived as being a composer of ‘great distinction whose work became widely known and now is in danger of being forgotten.’  Elisabeth Lutyens wrote that she was ‘utterly devoid of malice or ambition. Her talent is original and her ear remarkable and the few works she has written are, to me outstanding.’ Dorothy Gow died in London on 1 November 1982.

Listening to Gow’s Oboe Quintet in 2018, it is difficult to imagine how a) it is not already part of the standard repertoire and b) how a composer of a work of this stature is virtually an unknown quantity.

I suppose I was a bit worried when I read that it was a serial work, what with her Second Viennese School credentials and study with Wellesz. But I need not have been concerned. What she manages to achieve is what many so called ‘greater’ composers have failed to do and that is to use serialism to construct the work that does not try the listeners’ patience. In fact, she manages to create a piece that is both emotionally satisfying and intellectually challenging. It is an often-lyrical work that displays great originality, technical prowess and sheer enjoyability.

The Oboe Quintet (1936) is in one longish movement although it is divided into four well-defined sections. The theme or ‘tone row’ is presented by solo oboe after the opening string chords of the ‘moderato.’ The competent way that all the instrumental parts are written is impressive. There is a great sense of freedom - yet each ‘voice’ has its part to play. There is never a moment when the listener feels that the composer has padded out the form. Instrumental colour lends great variety to the unity of this work.
The highlight of the Quintet is the slow ‘andante tranquillo’ for the strings – it is in such contrast to the intensity of the opening pages.  This is deeply moving music that emerges from the very heart of the English tradition of string writing. Yet the technique used is one that harks back to both early music and to Wellesz: this is basically a string canon!
Just beyond the halfway point in this 14-minute work the music emerges into the sunlight of the ‘scherzo.’  This is where the soloist and the quartet earn their pay. This is technically difficult music – yet it never sounds pretentious.  Soon, the mood of the slow movement is recovered leading to a reflection on the opening material. The last few moments of the Quintet are intense – yet the work ends on a positive if restrained note.

There is no doubt in my mind that this is a masterpiece – certainly of the composer, but more importantly in the genre of British chamber music. It is a work that both needs and deserves to be recovered for the repertoire. It would not be too much to say that this is a work of genius – and I never use that word lightly. And one last thing – the remaining works of this remarkable composer need to be unearthed and re-appraised as a matter of considerable urgency.
Since writing an early draft of this review in 2008, I am disappointed that no further examples of Dorothy Gow’s music has emerged onto CD or stream.

The only recording of Dorothy Gow’s Oboe Quintet in one movement is on An English Renaissance, Oboe Classics CC2009. This work is coupled with Elizabeth Maconchy’s Quintet for Oboe & Strings (1932), Arthur Bliss’s Quintet for Oboe & String Quartet (1926), Benjamin Britten’s Phantasy Quartet for Oboe & Strings (1932) E.J. Moeran’s Fantasy Quartet (1946). The oboe soloist is George Caird.  

Saturday 8 September 2018

Edward Loder: Raymond and Agnes, a stunning Victorian Opera

For many enthusiasts, English opera stopped with Purcell’s The Fairy Queen (1692) and began again when Britten’s Peter Grimes (1945) was first heard in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. Gilbert and Sullivan and possibly Edward German are exceptions to this analysis, yet what they wrote was (typically) operetta and not Grand Opera. A period that is especially despised is/was the Victorian/Edwardian era.  
Fortunately, in the last two decades aficionados have been encouraged to investigate works from this 250-odd year ‘interregnum’. Recent years have seen recordings of Ethel Smyth’s The Boatswain’s Mate and her The Wreckers. Even Sullivan’s efforts at Grand Opera have been ‘revived’: there are CDs of his Haddon Hall, Ivanhoe, The Yeoman of the Guard (not an operetta in my opinion) and The Beauty Stone. A previous generation is represented by recordings of Michael Balfe’s The Bohemian Girl, William Vincent Wallace’s Maritana and George MacFarren’s Robin Hood. So, a premiere recording of Edward Loder’s Raymond and Agnes is greatly welcome. Over the years this work has come to be regarded by several critics as the composer’s operatic masterpiece.

Retrospect Opera who have produced and issued Raymond and Agnes, is an organisation ‘devoted to researching and recording 18th, 19th and early 20th-century operas and related dramatic musical works by British composers’. They have previously issued CDs of Smyth’s The Boatswain’s Mate, Burnand and Solomon’s Pickwick and George Grossmith’s Cups and Saucers, Christmas Gambols and The Musical Tour of Mr Dibdin by Charles Dibdin

A few notes about the composer Edward Loder will be of interest. He was born in Bath on 10 July 1809. After youthful studies with Ferdinand Ries in Frankfurt, he enjoyed a relatively short career of composing and conducting. In 1846, Loder became musical director at the Princess’s Theatre in London and from 1851 at the Theatre Royal in Manchester. Although remembered today (if at all) for his operas, which were once popular, he did compose a cantata, The Island of Calypso, several string quartets, piano music and many songs. His operas include Deerstalkers (1845), The Night Dancers (1846), Puck (1848) and the present Raymond and Agnes (1855). Edward Loder died in London on 5 April 1865.

Raymond and Agnes was premiered at the Theatre Royal, Manchester on 14 August 1855 with the composer conducting. It was reasonably well-received. A subsequent performance of a revised version (three acts instead of four) in London some four years later, was ‘somewhat of a disaster.’ After this, the opera was put to one side, and later deemed to be ‘lost.’
More than half a century ago, Raymond and Agnes was revived at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge (2 May 1966). The music had been edited by nineteenth-century music specialist Nicholas Temperley based on a single copy of the vocal score. One of the problems faced was the loss of the libretto by Edward Fitzball, which meant that the spoken dialogue was missing. Temperley reconstructed the story with a new dialogue written by Max Miradin.

Despite Raymond and Agnes having limited critical success at its premiere and London performance, critics have begun to see this opera as presenting ‘a quality of invention and dramatic power that raises it to an unusual position in English nineteenth-century opera’. (Biddlescombe, English Opera from 1834 to 1864 (1994).  One writer went as far as discovering music ‘that would not disgrace middle period Verdi.’

Retrospect Opera commissioned Valerie Langfield to prepare the present performing edition. It is based on the score prepared for the 1859 performance, which had been discovered in the Library of Congress, Washington, the printed vocal score and a copy of the libretto found since the 1966 revival. Langfield states that it is near impossible to reconstruct the original 1855 version.
The scoring has been adjusted for consistency and some of the longer repeats in the choruses were cut. A new vocal score was created, as the original was hard to read, lacked bar numbers and rehearsal cues. It was collated with the full score. The published libretto was amended ‘in the interests of comprehensibility.’

I refuse to plot-spoil. But two things can be said without injuring the [melo]dramatic impact of the opera. Firstly the ‘book’ is loosely based on Matthew Lewis’s gothic horror story The Monk with elements from the same author’s The Castle Spectre. Basically, the story concerns the wicked Baron of Lindenberg who will not allow his ward to marry the Spanish nobleman Raymond. If this sounds a little bit like a Gilbert and Sullivan plot for a comedy such as Ruddigore, the big difference is that the Baron gets his comeuppance. Secondly, it must be noted that there are several subplots and symbols which include a Der Freischütz-ian wolf-hunt, an inherited curse, a Gothic castle, a bleeding nun, mistaken identity and an attempted murder. Predictably all ends happily for the Raymond and Agnes.

The actual performance is all that can be desired. It is a model of how an opera can be repristinated. The singing is superb from the first note to the last. The dialogue is convincingly enunciated and is essential to the progress of the plot.  The orchestral playing is ideal, revealing a ‘forgotten’ composer who was clearly a master of his instrumental forces.
Musically, the score owes much to Carl Maria Weber who was a hero of Loder. As noted above, the elder German’s opera Der Freischütz is a major source of inspiration. Earlier operas such as Balfe’s The Bohemian Girl owed more to Italian composers than German. It is not difficult to look forward from Loder’s Raymond and Agnes towards the work of Arthur Sullivan and beyond.  It could be added that Loder’s music is often more melodramatic and musically powerful than much of Sullivan’s.

Nicholas Temperley wrote: ‘Loder’s musical and dramatic gifts were far more impressive than those of Balfe and Wallace. [Raymond and Agnes] … maintains a high level of inspiration, variety, and continuity almost throughout. Loder reveals quite unexpected resources of harmony, while his orchestration is masterly; and he provides memorable tunes, both plain and ornate, when appropriate’ (Musical Times, April 1966).

The liner notes are a model of clarity and interest for an opera recording. There is an introduction by Richard Bonynge followed by a series of essays setting Raymond and Agnes in context, an explanation as to how it was revived and a discussion about the opera’s background and its literary and folk-lorish sources. Finally, Valerie Langfield contributes a major essay on the work’s Nineteenth-century Reception and Textual Sources. They provide a model for future discussions of ‘forgotten’ operas. A synopsis by David Chandler is included for those who wish to know the story before listening. The entire libretto is presented, and this includes the spoken dialogue. This is keyed into the CD tracks for ease of reference. Short biographies are given of the principals and the orchestra.

Finally, Nicholas Temperley in his article on Edward Loder for Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians wrote: ‘It remains to be seen how the work would be received if it were to be revived on stage in a full production faithful to the original.’ Based on this present recording, it would be an ideal next step to move from the recording studio to the opera house. I believe that it would make a stunning addition to the repertoire of one of the great opera companies.

Track Listings:
Edward LODER (1809-65) Raymond and Agnes: A Grand Opera in Three Acts
Majella Cullagh (Agnes), Mark Milhofer (Raymond), Andrew Greenan (The Baron of Lindenberg), Carolyn Dobbin (Madelina), Quentin Hayes (Antoni), Alessandro Fisher (Theodore, valet to Raymond) and Alexander Robin Baker (Francesco, valet to the Baron), Timothy Langston (Landlord), Phil Wilcox, David Horton (Antonio’s sons), Valerie Langfield (Ravella), Retrospect Opera Chorus, Royal Ballet Sinfonia/Richard Bonynge
Rec. St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, 16-19 October 2017 
Retrospect Opera RO005 
Raymond and Agnes can be purchased from the Retrospect Opera on-line shop

Wednesday 5 September 2018

Ralph Vaughan Williams ‘Ca’ the yowes’ for tenor and mixed chorus

‘Ca’ the Yowes’ was composed in 1922, between the ‘Pastoral’ Symphony and the Mass in G minor. It was one of several small-scale works written at this time, including the folksong ‘A Farmer’s son so Sweet’, a Dirge for Fidele to words from Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, the part song ‘It was a Lover and his Lass’ and the eight-part motet ‘O Vos Omnes’.
Ca’ the Yowes’ was based on a poem collected and elaborated by Robert Burns (1759-96), originally entitled ‘Hark! The Mavis’. The textual history of the poem is difficult, there being at least three versions in existence. The original would appear to have been sung by a certain Isobel Pagan (c1741-1829). The author John Macintosh writes in his ‘The Poets of Ayrshire’ that Pagan “was born about four miles from Nith-head in the parish of New Cumnock, where she lived till about fourteen years of age. Being lame from infancy she was unfitted for laborious work of any kind and passed the greater part of her life in a cottage romantically situated on the banks of the Garpel Water (the Parish of Muirkirk). She did not live as a recluse, but was always ready to receive visitors, who frequently spent their evenings there singing and carousing, making her house the favourite ‘howff’ of all the wits and ‘drouthy’ neighbours in the district. “

Ca' the yowes tae the knowes, [ewes: hills]
Ca' them whar the heather grows,
Ca' them whar the burnie rows, [stream: flows]
My bonnie dearie.

Hark, the mavis' e'enin' sang, [thrush]
Soundin' Cluden's woods amang;
Then a-fauldin' let us gang, [putting into the sheepfold]
My bonnie dearie.
Ca' the yowes...

Fair and lovely as thou art,
Thou hast stol'n my very heart;
I can die, but canna part,
My bonnie dearie.
Ca' the yowes...

While waters wimple to the sea, [meander]
While day blinks in the lift sae hie [sky]
Till death shall blin' my e'e
Ye shall be my dearie.
Ca' the yowes...

Burns himself made two ‘improved’ redactions of this song. The present a-cappella setting is a concatenation of verses from all three versions. The tune is traditional.
A tenor soloist begins the piece unaccompanied before the chorus reiterates the refrain. The soloist and the choir share the verses and refrains between them with the climax of the piece being the last verse. Commentators have remarked on the sheer simplicity of the setting which is a perfect synthesis of words and music.
In 1935 a transcription was made by Herbert Pearce for baritone solo and male chorus.

My favourite version of ‘Ca’ the Yowes’ was issued by EMI and featured the London Madrigal Singers. His Master's Voice ‎– HQS 1215 (1970) LP. It was my first opportunity of hearing this piece. There have been several other excellent recordings issued over the years.

With thanks to the English Music Festival where this note was first published. 

Sunday 2 September 2018

Rarities of Piano Music at Schloss vor Husum 2017

Three species of music are included on this impressive volume of Rarities of Piano Music at Schloss vor Husum 2017.
Firstly, there are a few works by well-known composers that have achieved their place in the repertoire of many pianists and feature in several recordings. Only two works fall into this category: ‘Ludus tonalis’ by Paul Hindemith and Percy Grainger’s often-performed ‘Irish Tune from County Derry’.
‘Ludus tonalis’ is compendium of twelve fugues and eleven interludes preceded by a prelude and concluding with a fugue: it was composed in 1942, whilst the composer was in the United States. It is subtitled ‘Studies in Counterpoint, Tonal Organisation and Piano Playing’. The entire piece can be explained as a practical exploration of the composer’s theoretical principles, balancing ‘didactic’ music with some perfectly attractive pieces. Moscow-born pianist Lukas Geniušas performed the entire 50-minute work at the 2017 Husum Festival. Here the vibrant Interludium (Vivace)[Fast], is followed by the gigue-like Fuga quinta in E. The selection closes with the introspective Interludium (Molto tranquillo) [Very Quiet]. 
The reflective Percy Grainger ‘Tune’ is played by the American soloist Daniel Berman in a manner that does not over-egg the sentimentality of the piece.

The second group of pieces are unknown works by ‘famous’ composers - either original or in transcription. An obvious candidate for this is the ‘Tristanesque’ Elegie in A flat major by Richard Wagner. Clearly better known for his five-hour operas, this little miniature, played by Lukas Geniušas is haunting and utterly beautiful.
I will include Carl Czerny as a ‘famous’ name. Certainly, he is well-kent by piano students for his voluminous quantities of studies of varying difficulty. He is rarely heard in the concert hall. The present Variations on a Theme by Rode ‘La Ricordanza’, op. 33 (1822/3) is a pleasure. The Rode in question was Pierre Rode, who wrote much music for the violin. I am not sure what work the ‘theme’ is derived from: the words mean ‘The Remembrance.’ From the quiet presentation of the opening, through the ever-increasing difficulty of succeeding variations, Italian-born Antonio Pompa-Baldi keeps control of this sparkling music and presents a work that demands to be in the repertoire of many more pianists.  
Francis Poulenc [born in 1899 and not 1866 as per track-listing] wrote much piano music. I guess that relatively little is heard in recital rooms these days. Perhaps the Novelettes, Napoli and the ‘Mouvments perpetuels’ hold their own. I have always particularly admired the ‘Improvisations’ for piano, after first hearing them in a ‘salon’ in Paris in 1979. The present ‘Les chemins de l'amour’ was originally a song written as incidental music to Jean Anouilh’s play Leocadia. Pompa-Baldi has created an enjoyable and suitably urbane transcription this fine dance.
Sigismund Thalberg is well known for his opera transcriptions. He has put his hand to music by Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi, Mozart and Bellini. The present work is the Fantasy on ‘Casta Diva’ (From Bellini's Opera Norma), op. 70. For listeners expecting fireworks from Thalberg’s pen, it will be disappointment. This is a heartfelt fantasy played with perfectly measured restraint by the Finnish pianist Satu Paavola.
The final piece in the section by well-known composers is Chopin’s Nouvelle Etude No. 1, F Minor. The virtuoso pianist Leopold Godowsky produced arrangements of Chopin’s music, making them even harder to play. The most famous collection is the 53 Studies on Chopin's Études (1894–1914). The present number was one of several pieces that Godowsky did not complete. It has been finished by the present pianist Marc-André Hamelin. This is a complex arrangement that showcases the rhythmic diversity of Chopin’s original piece but does not descend into sheer exhibitionism.

The final group of pieces are by largely unknown composers – at least to this reviewer. Gabriel Dupont was a French musician born in Caen in 1878. He had a tragically short life, dying of tuberculosis in 1914. His music was, I think, mainly for piano, although there are several operas. The audience at Husum were presented with Dupont’s complete ‘Les heures dolentes’ (1905) played by Émile Naoumoff. This unusual work depicted the sick pianist himself in bed hallucinating about his past life. The gorgeous ‘Après-midi de Dimanche’ strikes a perfect balance between Fauré and Debussy. Listen for a musical representation of church bells, heard in the distance as Dupont lay ill. I will certainly try to hear more of his piano music.
I was impressed by Marc-André Hamelin’s Toccata on ‘L'homme armé’ composed in 2016. This was written as a test piece for the 15th Van Cliburn Piano Competition held in Fort Worth, Texas.  The ‘toccata’ is based on a once-popular French tune from the time of the Renaissance. The listener may feel that Prokofiev is the inspiration for much of the harmonic activity in this vibrant and sometimes acerbic piece. It is played with seemingly frightful ease by the composer.
Leonid Desyatnikov (b.1955) is a Russian composer from Kharkiv. Better known (apparently) for his film music and operas. His ‘Reminiscences of the Theatre’ (2014) were constructed out of music the composer had written in his youth for puppet shows. The suite is a collection of pieces ‘depicting a small entertaining theatrical review.’ Listeners will be reminded of Elgar’s Wand of Youth Suites and Robert Schumann’s Album for the Young - in concept at least. There is nothing challenging about the fifth number here, the very short ‘Rondo-Chase’, which certainly looks back to a more romantic style of composition. It is played with affection by Lukas Geniušas.
Equally ‘petite’ is American all-rounder Abram Chasins’s Prelude in E flat minor: this lovely piece, composed in 1928, is unashamedly quixotic in its mood.
Three composers were involved in the realisation of the ‘popular’ song ‘Body and Soul’. It was originally written by Johnny W. Green in 1930. It was included in several transcriptions of ‘standards’ made by American pianist Earl Wild. However, it was unfinished at the time of Wild’s death. So Daniel Berman, created a ‘performable version.’ It could be described as ‘souped-up’ cocktail piano music: and none the worse for that.
A major discovery on this CD is Dmitri Blagoy’s (1930-1986) Fairy Tale Sonata composed as late as 1958. He was a Soviet Russian composer, journalist and teacher at the Moscow Music Academy. Despite its title, the present Sonata would appear to have no programme or reference to any fairy-tales. The music is a fusion of neo-classical and early Prokofiev. Certainly, there is much that is ‘romantic’ in these pages. Listeners who have encountered the piano music of Nicolai Medtner and his numerous ‘Skazki’ or fairy tales for piano will appreciate Blagov’s achievement. It is stunningly played (in its entirety) by Italian pianist Vincenzo Maltempo.
Maltempo also performs a short ‘Arabesque valsante’, op. 6 by Russian-born Misha Levitzki (1898-1941) dating from 1936. This is a good example of those charming miniatures that regularly crop up on Husum Festival CDs. They are not master-pieces, but they make life even more worth living!
Equally appealing is the romantic sounding ‘Scherzo-Valse’ (1952) by fellow Russian Vladimir Drozdov (1882-1960). This work, although some 130 years late with its Chopinesque style, is convincingly played by the young Bulgarian pianist Nadejda Vlaeva. Her other representative piece on this disc the Armenian composer Arno Babadjanian’s (1921-1983) deeply moving ‘Elegy’ (1978) which acknowledges and reflects on the death of Aram Khachaturian.
Moving from Armenia to Azerbaijan, Serbian pianist Misha Dacič plays two short pieces by Fikret Amirov (1922-1984). They are gleaned from his ‘10 Miniatures’ which were composed in 1971. Both the ‘Nocturne’ and the ‘Lullaby’ exhibit a profound response to the folk-music of his country.  Clearly written during the ‘Soviet’ era, they are not challenging to the listener, just perfectly stated.
The last track on this CD, played by Dacič, is ‘El Vals del Duende’ written by the Argentine broadcaster, musician, writer and actor, Alejandro Dolina and arranged by fellow- Argentinean composer and pianist Pablo Ziegler. This is a moody, lugubrious little tango that brings this splendid selection of rare piano music to a thoughtful conclusion.

I have noted the outstanding playing in the main body of my review. The general recording is excellent, despite being made at live performances. The liner notes by Jesper Buhl are most helpful and include much information on these ‘rare’ composers and their music. They are printed in German and English.

There much to inspire interest on this CD. I have said before about the Husum Festival CDs that it is practically impossible to pick out highpoints: in fact, it is a continual highlight from the first track to the last. Long may this series continue. And could the 2018’s Festival compilation be released as a ‘doubler’ please?

Track Listings:
Carl CZERNY (1791-1857) Variations on a Theme by Rode ‘La Ricordanza’, op. 33 (1822/3)
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)/Antonio POMPA-BALDI (b.1974) Les chemins de l'amour (1940) Antonio Pompa-Baldi (piano)

Gabriel DUPONT (1878-1914)
From ‘Les heures dolentes’: No.5 Après-midi de dimanche (1905)
Émile Naoumoff (piano)
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-35)/Sigismund THALBERG (1812-71) Fantasy on Casta Diva (From Bellini's Opera Norma), op. 70 (?)
Satu Paavola (piano)
Frederic CHOPIN (1810-49)/Leopold GODOWSKY (1870-1938)/Marc-André HAMELIN (b.1961)
Nouvelle Etude No. 1, F Minor (?)
Marc-André HAMELIN Toccata on ‘L'homme armé’ (2016)       
Marc-André Hamelin (piano)
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963) From ‘Ludus tonalis’ (1942) Interludium (Vivace); Fuga quinta in E (Vivace); Interludium (Molto tranquillo)
Richard WAGNER (1813-83) Elegie in A flat Major, WWV 93 (1882)
Leonid DESYATNIKOV (b.1955) From ‘Reminiscences of the Theatre’ (2014) No. 5 Rondo-Chase    
Lukas Geniušas (piano)
Abram CHASINS (1903-87) Prelude in E flat Minor, op. 12, No. 2 (1928)
Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961) Irish Tune from County Derry (1918)
John[ny] W. GREEN (1908-89)/Earl WILD (1915-2010)/ Daniel BERMAN (b.1956) ‘Body and Soul’ (1930)
Daniel Berman (piano)
Dmitri BLAGOY (1930-1986) Fairy Tale Sonata (1958)
Misha LEVITZKI (1898-1941) Arabesque valsante, op. 6 (1934)
Vincenzo Maltempo (piano)
Vladimir DROZDOV (1882-1960) Scherzo-Valse (1952)
Arno BABADJANIAN (1921-1983) Elegy (1978)
Nadejda Vlaeva (piano)
Fikret AMIROV (1922-1984) From ‘10 Miniatures’ (1971) ‘Nocturne’; Lullaby
Alejandro DOLINA (b.1945)/Pablo ZIEGLER (b.1944) El Vals del Duende (?)
Misha Dacič (piano)
Rec. 18-26 August 2017 Schloss vor Husum