Rarely performed music by Robert Schumann, György Kurtág and Galina Ustvolskaya gets an outing at a festival exploring mental health and the arts
In music, as in other walks of life, to keep oneself interested in what one is doing, one has to be on constant lookout for new or lesser-known material, and for new aspects in old pieces. By advertising all these “B composers” – Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner and Bruch – you can sell tickets and fill halls, and audiences will hear immortal works by immortal composers. Everybody knows that the B composers are the greatest ever - they really are! so there is no need for any effort – nor even to listen – to have a great experience. To repeat the same immortal pieces has become the norm today. Wouldn’t some madness be preferable to this normality?
I am very happy to have been invited to London to play some pieces from the borders of the current repertoire, even if I think it’s madness that it takes a festival about mental health and the arts to explore interesting works in more depth.
Simon Rattle was ‘bowled over’, Stephen Fry compared her to Mozart. Deutscher is a brilliant performer, but it is her composing that has got the connoisseurs talking
At a recital for press and music industry figures last week in London, Alma Deutscher played, and talked about, passages from her own compositions for piano and violin as well as singing a couple of arias from her opera version of Cinderella. Deutscher is in demand as both a performer and speaker, participating at last year’s Google’s Zeitgeist conference alongside Stephen Hawking, Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman and chancellor George Osborne. She has a polished stage presence that combines splendid playing, dry humour – “I don’t seem to have an orchestra with me at the moment so you’ll have to imagine” – and a willingness to throw in the odd party trick, such as when she picks four random notes out of a hat and then uses them to improvise a bravura finale to the evening.
This would all be impressive from any young musician starting off in the business, but for a 10-year-old ... ? When we meet a few days before her concert, Deutscher is unfazed by the prospect of playing in public. “I never get nervous on stage, as I’m just happy that people want to come and listen to my music,” she straightforwardly announces. “When I play, I am in control, I know what I’m doing and so I don’t see what there is to be nervous about.” Quite.
Ambache/Robb/Dilley/Juritz/Knight et al
Pianist Diana Ambache is on a mission to give music by women a fair hearing, and this collection of French chamber works, in committed performances, can be enjoyed with no special pleading. The earliest is the 1861 Cello Sonata by Louise Farrenc, a graceful salon piece some decades behind its time; the latest, and most impressive, is the buoyant, astringent 1952 Concertino by Germaine Tailleferre, the only female member of Les Six. In between, there is the elegantly turned Sonatine for violin and piano by the former opera singer Pauline Viardot, and a haunting violin Nocturne by Lili Boulanger, sister of Nadia and the first woman to win the Prix de Rome. Scènes de la Forêt, by Debussy’s classmate Mél Bonis, combines flute, horn and piano to create a bucolic yet sensuous atmosphere; Claude Arrieu’s 1936 Reed Trio couldn’t be any more French if it were shrugging at you over a pastis.
Fröst/Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra/Adolf Fredriks Flickkör
Clarinettist Martin Fröst’s eclectic tastes are part of what makes him such an interesting artist. Roots – loosely, an exploration of how folk and dance music filter into art music – sees those tastes leading him into very persuasive performances of folk-influenced works by Brahms, Schumann, Falla and others, but they also bring a few tracks on which “ancient” music is given a quasi-mystical, new-agey patina that renders it toothless. The opening track is a mix of ancient Greek chants and Hildegard of Bingen, in which Fröst duets with a distant-sounding girls’ choir; shades of Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble, with less bite. Bartók’s Romanian folk dances, however, have all the teeth one could want. Piazzolla’s La Muerte del Angel, punchy and languid by turns, is another highlight, and it’s hard not to dance along to the rollicking Rolig Pers Polska, which begins with Fröst doing a spot of beatboxing.
Mørk/Lortie/Mercier/Bergen Philharmonic/Neeme Järvi
Two of Saint-Saëns’s greatest hits are on this disc, both very well done, but it’s the relative rarities that make it stand out. Cellist Truls Mørk searches for every opportunity to make phrases speak, and his soaring playing makes the Concerto No 2 almost as memorable as the more flowing first. Louis Lortie brings a gorgeously light touch to two showpieces for piano and orchestra: Wedding Cake, a sparkling then boozy waltz, during which the effects of the champagne take hold, and Africa, which makes a big splash with a Tunisian folk tune. The Bergen Philharmonic, under Neeme Järvi, could at times be crisper, but is wonderfully vivid in Carnival of the Animals. Glass harmonica lends extra eeriness to the Aquarium, in which we usually hear only the glockenspiel; Lortie and Hélène Mercier star as a pair of delightfully mal-coordinated Pianists, and as the uncommonly beautiful rippling accompaniment to Mørk’s Swan.
(Deutsche Grammophon, two CDs)
A year ago, Deutsche Grammophon inaugurated its exclusive contract with Grigory Sokolov by releasing a recital of Mozart and Chopin he gave at the Salzburg festival in 2008. This follow-up includes part of another Salzburg recital: Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata, and the Rameau and Brahms encores following it come from the 2013 festival, while the Schubert was recorded in Warsaw three months earlier. It’s a less consistent collection than the earlier one, but still with enough moments of pianistic magic to make it thoroughly memorable. The Hammerklavier is certainly different from the norm – the outer movements are classically restrained, almost relaxed, with miraculously transparent textures, and the emotional centre of gravity is rooted in a radiant account of the slow movement, though the sense of wholeness and scale of the sonata are unmistakably retained. Some of the Schubert is more problematic, though. Sokolov emphasises the emotional and dynamic extremes of the D899 Impromptus with a sometimes exaggerated rubato that can be uncomfortable, and he turns the three posthumous pieces of D946 into major statements too, so that the first of them in E flat minor lasts longer than his opening movement of the Hammerklavier. Perhaps best of all is the final encore, the second intermezzo from Brahms’ Op 117, in which every tiny nuance, every fleck of colour, seems perfectly placed.
My friend Sarah Gordon, who has died aged 71, got her first job in music as a secretary with the London Symphony Orchestra, rushing soloists around in her bright new Mini and making important friends for the future. She then gained experience with several agencies before joining Yehudi Menuhin’s London operation in the 1980s. Remembering those days, she liked to recall taking one of his priceless violins to Paris for authentication. The delicate instrument could not be left alone for a second; it must have its own seat on the aircraft and accompany her to the loo (a manoeuvre that nowadays would surely trigger a terrorist alert).
Other projects for Menuhin were more mundane. But as her own career in concert management developed, Sarah came to share one of his lifelong concerns – that young musicians should be given practical help to launch themselves into this overcrowded profession. In the early 1990s she was appointed administrator of the Kirckman Concert Society, whose raison d’etre is to give exceptionally talented youngsters their first engagement at a prestigious London concert venue.
St John’s Smith Square, LondonSchubert, Debussy and Rachmaninov were played with a sense of control that put their works across more effectively than any grandstanding
You would never compliment a pianist by saying he made all the composers on his programme sound like one another. But in this recital, Steven Osborne made Schubert, Debussy, Crumb and Rachmaninov seem as though they were different faces of the same musical entity. Pieces grew out of the context of the one before; Osborne’s playing sought colour and texture above display or drama, but not at their expense.
There was certainly drama in his two Schubert Impromptus, D935 Nos 1 and 4. The first began urgently and firmly, as if Osborne wanted to push through to the other side of the keyboard; this gave way to, and eventually intertwined with, a major-key passage that was beautifully sustained, with barely a ripple on the surface.
Grand theatre, LeedsThe Don is no dusty old pedant in Jac van Steen’s eloquently conducted production, which features a future star in Máire Flavin
If it’s a sign that you must be getting older when police officers appear younger, does the same apply to Don Alfonsos from Così Fan Tutte? Tim Albery’s Opera North production has been around for some time, though not so long that you’d expect William Dazeley, one of the great Guglielmos of recent years, to have graduated to the role of the cynical old philosopher.
Don Alfonso can be a thankless part – a largely unsympathetic character who goes through a three-hour opera without a proper individual aria. But Dazeley’s Alfonso subtly alters the dynamic of the evening. This Don is not a dusty old pedant, but a still-virile figure whose job is to remind his young companions that he was once in their shoes as one day they will be in his.
Wigmore Hall, LondonThe Takács lavished care on Timo Andres’s unremarkable Strong Language, but Elgar’s Piano Quintet, with Aleksandar Madžar, and early Beethoven were irresistible
Though their repertoire spans three centuries, from Haydn and Mozart to Shostakovich and Britten, the Takács Quartet generally have little to do with new music. But the centrepiece of this recital was Strong Language, a 25-minute piece written for them last year by Timo Andres, who belongs to the same post-minimalist, easy-listening generation of US composers as Nico Muhly.
Strong Language is apparently one of the pieces in which Andres has confined himself to the minimum of musical ideas – one for each of the three movements in this case. The first, Middens, is built out of an oscillating melodic line that passes between the four instruments, while other material – what Andres calls “sonic detritus” – gradually accumulates around it. The second, Origin Story, crams more and more contrapuntal complexity into an ever smaller musical frame, while the third, Gentle Cycling, reverses the process of the first, allowing a melodic duet for viola and cello to emerge out of a background of pizzicatos and harmonics, until it eventually overwhelms the whole quartet.
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