Ligeti String Quartet | Les Siècles | From Melodious Lay
A programme of 20th-century classics from the Ligeti Quartet closes the Sound festival’s weekend-long focus on the contemporary string quartet. Bartók’s majestic Fifth Quartet provides the stylistic benchmark, with the Hungarian thread followed through into early Ligeti (his first quartet, Métamorphoses Nocturnes) and late Kurtág (the Six Moments Musicaux); while for something very different there’s Xenakis’s tangled, confrontational Tetras.
First performed in 2007 by James Levine and the Boston Symphony, Charles Wuorinen’s Eighth is his most recent symphony to date. It carries the title Theologoumena, which apparently means “a private non-dogmatic theological opinion”, in this case a second-century attempt to reconcile ancient classical belief systems with Christian monotheism. The text suggested to Wuorinen a kind of symphonic progression, a fast-slow-fast structure in which each movement is dominated by a single type of material. It generates wiry, energetic music, sometimes densely contrapuntal, sometimes thinning out into a flamboyant instrumental solo, and all very much in the style of late Schoenberg and serial Stravinsky; Wuorinen has always been one of the most unrepentant of US modernists.
Two years earlier, the Fourth Piano Concerto had been a commission from Levine and the BSO, too – one of a number of pieces that Wuorinen has composed for Peter Serkin. It’s marginally more compact and a bit less prickly than the symphony, but it remains a formidably rigorous piece. As with the symphony, the recording is taken from the premiere, in which Serkin’s playing is consummately authoritative.
This second disc by high-class chamber-choir newcomers Ora draws together a varied but effortlessly coherent programme around Psalm 50 – the Miserere – and the writings of Savonarola, the 15th-century Florentine priest and reformer burnt for heresy. If the choir’s version of the Allegri Miserere sounds slightly unfamiliar, that’s because Ora use for the first few verses a new edition correcting a supposed transcription error; the “wrong” version, with its stratospheric high C, is heard later. The rest of the disc similarly merges old and new. The bookend to the Allegri is James MacMillan’s Miserere from 2009; at the centre of the programme are two versions of Infelix Ego, with a new, sliding and sighing setting by Eriks Ešenvalds seeming almost to grow out of the 16th-century one by Byrd. Everything here is heard to best advantage, thanks to the choir’s clean, supple singing under Suzi Digby’s direction.
The viola, that Cinderella of the orchestral string section, goes to the ball in this recital by violist Lawrence Power and pianist Simon Crawford-Phillips, thanks to fairy godmothering by 10 composers, mostly French and all active around the turn of the 20th century. Though they were writing showstoppers, none could ignore the viola’s propensity for melancholy, and Power’s capacity for spinning seamless melodies is as crucial to these stylish performances here as his and Crawford-Phillips’s virtuosity. Alongside the usual suspects – Ravel and Debussy – there are previously unrecorded works by the almost forgotten Léon Honnoré, Georges Hüe and Henri Büsser. A Soliloquy and Forlane by Hahn lightens the atmosphere, two pieces by Louis Vierne are beautifully done, and Lucien Durosoir’s 1934 Vitrail sounds rhapsodically modern; the highlight, though, might be George Enescu’s Concertstück. Most would sit better within a more varied programme, but it’s good to have them recorded.
Kopatchinskaja/Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra(Alpha Classics)
This being Patricia Kopatchinskaja, this is not your run-of-the-mill disc of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden. Instead, it’s a live recording led by the violinist of a concert in which the movements of Schubert’s string quartet – in Kopatchinskaja’s own string-orchestra version – are interspersed with other music to revealing effect. So the first movement is preceded by a medieval dance of death, all stomping rhythms and jangly percussion, and a psalm plainchant; the second, which Schubert begins in solemn pavane rhythm, follows a pavane by John Dowland. There’s also a madrigal by that famous musical murderer Gesualdo, and – Kopatchinskaja’s signature – two pieces by Kurtág. The Schubert gets an energetic, edgy performance from the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, sometimes nervy, occasionally playful; that second movement goes from a thrillingly forceful climax to a transcendentally sweet ending. The whole makes for thought-provoking, refreshing listening – and what impresses most, as ever, is the sheer aliveness of Kopatchinskaja’s music-making.
Royal Festival Hall, LondonThe penultimate concert of Osmo Vänskä’s peerless cycle of Sibelius symphonies with the London Philharmonic swept all before it
It’s six years since Osmo Vänskä last conducted a complete cycle of the Sibelius symphonies in London. That was with the London Philharmonic too, and this reprise is following the same chronological four-concert plan. So the third concert paired the fourth and fifth symphonies and, like the rest of the series, also included a British concerto; here it was Elgar’s Cello Concerto, with Raphael Wallfisch as the disappointingly prosaic soloist.
Yet Vänskä’s peerless Sibelius still sweeps all before it. His interpretations have continued to evolve over the years; phrases are more moulded now, textures more homogenised, while instead of the music being allowed to speak starkly for itself, its course is clearly signposted. But what remains as powerfully impressive as ever is the sense of shape that informs everything – of how every particle in each score contributes to the whole symphonic organism.
Olivier theatre, London Musicians are thrust centre stage to epic effect in Michael Longhurst’s revival, and Lucian Msamati is excellent as the composer locked in battle with the divine
Peter Shaffer, whose death in June is marked by this revival of his most popular play, once wrote that he hoped Amadeus would “enjoy a vigorous life in many differing productions”. His wish is certainly granted by Michael Longhurst’s production which turns it into an epic piece of music-theatre. It comes complete with 16 actors, six singers and the 20-strong Southbank Sinfonia and, while occasionally overblown, it reminds us of Shaffer’s talent for creating memorable theatrical spectacles.
When Salieri strikes a bargain with God, the onstage orchestra bow their heads; at other times, they are more mutinous
The national opera review is a damning indictment of the artistic planning at the heart of an industry that needs to change its tune
Good things come to those who wait, so the saying goes. But try telling that to Opera Queensland as the proverbial sword of Damocles, wielded by Helen Nugent and her colleagues on the national opera review panel, hangs above its Australian major performing arts group (Ampag) status.
After waiting more than two years for the arts ministry-ordered review to issue its assessment of Australia’s major opera presenters, the conclusions published in the overdue report this week were broad and bold, if not all that surprising.
Program spanning opera, film, dance, music, performance art and theatre to feature Rufus Wainwright’s ‘symphonic visual concert’ and Neil Armfield’s outdoor production of The Secret River
Canadian-American singer Rufus Wainwright, Australian theatre production The Secret River, Barrie Kosky’s production of Handel’s opera Saul and a film by artist Del Kathryn Barton starring Cate Blanchett mark the highlights of 2017’s Adelaide festival.
The March festival is the first under the co-artistic direction of Rachel Healy and Neil Armfield, who worked together for almost a decade at Sydney’s Belvoir St Theatre.
Chochieva/Gavrylyuk/Geniušas/Ghindin/Lugansky/Tomellini(Piano Classics, six CDs)
Though not explicitly intended as such, Piano Classics’ comprehensive Rachmaninov set is a brilliant showcase of what the label has done so successfully over the last five years – identifying and recording some of brightest talents among today’s exceptional generation of young pianists. With six different musicians involved on these discs there are unevennesses, but none of the playing is less than very good, and some is breathtaking.
Most of the recordings were made during the past five years. Some have been released by Piano Classics as single discs, while some, such as Elisa Tomellini’s busy roundup of Rachmaninov’s early piano pieces, are new. There are exceptions: Alexander Ghindin’s collection of the early Morceaux de Fantaisie and Rachmaninov’s assorted transcriptions dates back to the mid 1990s, while Nikolai Lugansky’s performances of the Second Piano Sonata (in the revised 1931 version) and the Corelli Variations, come from a Channel Classics disc made before Lugansky won the silver medal at the 1994 Tchaikovsky competition. While it’s odd that none of the label’s regular stable of pianists have made recent recordings of the sonata and the variations, which are two of Rachmaninov’s greatest works, the young Lugansky’s torrential playing doesn’t seem out of place among the precocious brilliance here.
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