Dominion String Quartet(Naxos)
The works of Alfred Hill make interesting listening for those who have always suspected there was more to Australasian music of this period than Percy Grainger. Born in Australia in 1869, Hill was raised in New Zealand and trained in Leipzig. He became a prolific composer, and this is the last instalment of the Dominion Quartet’s series encompassing all 17 of his string quartets. The final three, all apparently receiving their first recording, date from the late 1930s – but you wouldn’t know it from Hill’s writing, which displays his reverence for the northern hemisphere’s past masters of the form, especially Schubert and Dvorák. All are finely crafted and worth hearing. The slower movements tend to have a melancholic bent that brings John Ireland to mind; the faster ones skip with folk-music rhythms, especially in No 16, the “Celtic” Quartet, which lives up to its name with its jaunty appropriation of an Irish jig.
Segarra/Deutsches Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz/Steffens (Capriccio)
Nowadays the music of Astor Piazzolla is far better known than that of his one-time teacher Alberto Ginastera. But it was Ginastera who, from the 1940s onwards, gave a national identity to the music of Argentina, one that went beyond the world of tango, in much the same way that Heitor Villa-Lobos had put Brazilian music on the international map a generation earlier. The three are arguably the most significant South American composers of the 20th century.
Next year will be the centenary of Ginastera’s birth. No doubt there will be more releases marking the anniversary then, but this anthology provides a very useful starting point. As in conductor Karl-Heinz Steffens’s earlier disc of works by BA Zimmermann for Capriccio, pieces from different phases of the composer’s development are juxtaposed, so that the staging posts in Ginastera’s musical journey are clearly indicated. He started out in the 1940s as a card-carrying nationalist, keen to invigorate Argentinian music by incorporating folk tunes and popular songs into his style. The bombastic Obertura para el “Fausto” Criollo of 1943, and the rather more interesting and dramatically subtle symphonic triptych Ollantay, based on a Mayan legend, represent that period here. What the sleeve-notes writer calls the “subjective nationalism” of Ginastera’s music in the 1950s, which was much more refined and understated, is represented by the large-scale Variaciones Concertantes, a kind of concerto for orchestra in which each of the 12 variations spotlights instruments in the orchestra in a way that seems elegant and never contrived.
Barbican, LondonThere was some glorious singing, but Il Pomo d’Oro’s performance of Handel’s opera didn’t move as it should
Handel’s Tamerlano has become a calling card for Il Pomo d’Oro, the fine Italian period ensemble founded in 2012. Their recording of this most difficult of the composer’s operas, released last year, was a great achievement, which, along with a series of striking Wigmore Hall concerts, put them very much on the map as far as UK audiences are concerned. Their Barbican debut performance of the piece, part of their current European tour, revealed, however, that something has unfortunately slipped in the interim.
A change of conductor hasn’t helped. In place of the dynamic RiccardoMinasi, we now have the young Russian Maxim Emelyanychev, graceful, almost balletic in his movements, and fascinating to watch. But he seems to think in the moment rather than in terms of dramatic span, and an awkward lack of cumulative momentum undermined the impact of a work that trawls, with insidious slowness, through the mind of a psychopath, chronicling the disastrous consequences of the games he plays with the lives of others. Some sluggish recitatives, and lengthy pauses to retune, further impeded the flow.
Šimon Vosecek’s opera, based on the absurdist satire by Max Frisch, revels in mayhem. The director of the first UK production, Max Hoehn, explains how he orchestrated the chaos
I am four weeks into rehearsals for the UK premiere of Šimon Vosecek’s 2013 opera, based on Max Frisch’s absurdist 1953 play Biedermann and the Arsonists, and the visceral impact of the music continues to entertain and disorientate in equal measure. Enter its soundworld and you’re hit by the wailing clarinets, giggling strings and wild percussion that accompany its colourful lineup of eccentric characters.
Coliseum, LondonVerdi’s revenge tale is transplanted to the Spanish civil war for an unflinchingly brutal and finely sung and played performance
English National Opera’s third new show of the season, and the second that Mark Wigglesworth conducts as its music director, brings what is arguably Verdi’s most unsparing tragedy back to the Coliseum after more than two decades.
Wigmore Hall, London Gerhaher and Huber’s exceptional partnership drew out gripping drama and emotion in song cycles by Beethoven, Schoenberg and Berg
Christian Gerhaher’s latest recital with his regular accompanist Gerold Huber was structured round three song cycles that alternately define and push the boundaries of form: Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte, the first song cycle as such, and still one of the handful of examples to adopt a genuinely cyclic structure; Schoenberg’s Das Buch der hängenden Gärten, which redefines harmonic tradition by pushing into atonality; and Berg’s aphoristic Altenberg Lieder, ferocious in their compression, and taking the singer to extremes.
In many respects it was a remarkable occasion. Gerhaher is on superb form at the moment. Recent concerns about self-conscious artistry and disengagement evaporated, and his familiar, glorious, coloristic range was allied, in this instance, with an ease of manner and a naturalness of delivery. Sound and sense were finely fused, emotions grippingly realised.
The BBC National Orchestra of Wales is midway through an ambitious tour of Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, including a community residency celebrating the 150th anniversary of Y Wladfa, the Welsh settlement in Patagonia. Harpist Catrin Finch kept a diary of the first week of the residency
Wednesday 21 October, 2015We’ve been counting down to today for months. As soon as I heard about a possible tour to Patagonia with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, I knew it was an opportunity not to be missed, and as the trip was a three-and-a-half-week one, we decided to go en famille. I have two Welsh-speaking daughters aged five and eight, and was excited that they would get the opportunity to meet other children on the other side of the world who also spoke Welsh. Welsh settlers went out to Patagonia 150 years ago on the Mimosa, in search of similarly lush and green lands. The reality was very different, and the first few years were an exercise in survival before they started to build communities and settlements. Today in Patagonia, around 50,000 Patagonians are of Welsh descent, and estimates put the number of Welsh speakers at anything from 1,500 to 5,000.
The Old Market, Hove Brighton early music festival’s saucy production of Francesca Caccini’s 1625 opera is full of fun, well cast and beautifully sung
The centrepiece of this year’s Brighton early music festival, Francesca Caccini’s La Liberazione di Ruggiero dall’Isola d’Alcina is the earliest surviving opera by a woman composer. Premiered in 1625 at the court of the Florentine regent, Maria Maddalena of Austria, it also broke new ground by jettisoning classical subject matter in favour of a narrative drawn from a Renaissance epic, in this instance from Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso.
Two sorceresses, sensual Alcina and moralistic Melissa, battle for the soul and body of the warrior Ruggiero. Melissa is reckoned to be a thinly disguised portrait of the formidable Maria Maddalena herself.
The Art School, GlasgowFennessy premieres his second piece inspired by Herzog’s film Fitzcarraldo, sampling the Italian tenor’s recordings to create a mesmerising, melancholic choral work
There was already the faint sound of singing as we entered the room: warped samples of the Italian tenor Enrico Caruso, adored at the turn of the 20th century for his potent lyricism and ardent top notes. In Werner Herzog’s 1980s epic cult film Fitzcarraldo, Klaus Kinski sails the Amazon blasting Caruso records across the jungle to placate the natives. His grotesque facial expressions reach their most crazed and obsessive as he cranks up the gramophone and eyeballs the horizon.
David Fennessy, a Glasgow-based composer of deep sensitivity, style and a knack for doing imaginative things with old samples, has constructed his own kind of impossible Caruso obsession. He has been writing a series of pieces based around Fitzcarraldo’s big metaphor: that absurd image of a full-size steamboat being dragged over a hill in the swampy jungle. Fennessy’s first Herzog piece was an orchestral prologue fusing chords from Verdi’s Rigoletto with a 10-minute guitar glissando. Caruso (Gold is the sweat of the sun) is his second, and it’s mesmerising.
She cut her teeth on Jerome Kern, Rodgers and Hammerstein and Showaddywaddy, and, a former cornet player, she fancies learning the drums. The singer Jeni Bern shares her musical loves on and off the stage
How do you mostly listen to music?
I’ll listen to music anywhere I can, although these days it’s mostly online via Spotify or iTunes. Quite often I’ll be practising along to a CD in the car as I drive up and down the motorway, I do get some strange looks though! I have a very eclectic mix on my iPhone too. But sometimes this job means your ears are always busy, so often I just like to have silence. I live on the edge of Richmond Park and in the evening, I can hear the deer lowing (is the that name for it?) It’s relaxing to just listen to the birds and the wildlife once in a while.
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