Sunday, January 29, 2012

Herbert Murrill : Cello Concerto No 2

I'm not claiming this as a neglected masterpiece, but I am putting it forward as a fine piece of cello music. Murrill is remembered, if at all nowadays, as the composer of an evensong setting that is still commonly sung in Anglican worship. Indeed, I got to know him through my many years of cathedral singing. I had instinctively imagined him as a wrinkly old organist, and this photo of an earnest young man made me realise that old organists were once young too.

Not just that, but I would not have imagined him at work during the war (people my age call World War II "the war") in Bletchley Park, the top-secret intelligence centre that cracked the German and Japanese ciphers and greatly shortened the odds against the allies. In September 1944 ‘Sergeant’ Murrill conducted the Bletchley Park Musical Society in four performances of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. Having an eye (and ear) for authenticity, Murrill brought over especially a harpsichord from Cambridge. You can read more about him here

The second cello concerto is subtitled "El cant dels ocells" in homage to Pau Casals, to whom it is dedicated. It was premièred by Murrill's second wife, Vera Canning, at the London Prom concerts in August 1951. 

It's fair to say that it is a work that does not plumb the depths, but instead spreads a picnic tablecloth on the grass and enjoys the birdsong. Raphael Walllfisch does the work proud, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under the idiomatic baton of Tod (Vernon) Handley. 

mp3, 192kbs

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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Jan Lisiecki at Verbier, 2011

That (very) young man is Jan Lisiecki, a Canadian pianist and an outstanding one, if I may say so. He first caught my eye when I bought his Chopin piano concertos. My enjoyment was only slightly marred to find that the final movement of one of the concertos was missing on iTunes. I wrote to him to alert him, and, to my surprise, received a link to a temporary 'replacement' track, recorded live, which, in turn lead to a brief exchange of emails on the subject of signing up with DG and retaining some sort of artistic control. He was pretty adamant that he would.

I was delighted, then, to come across this recital at the Verbier festival. The recording is at least fourth hand, having been at least as far East as Bulgaria, and having ended up being tagged in cyrillic! Aside from re-tagging it in European script, I've had no role. It's a very decent recording at about 150kbs VBR. 

And the playing? An antidote to the antics of many of the monkeys of the keyboard of the present day. He even makes Liszt sound bearable (it seems almost impossible to play Liszt without seeming utterly idiotic and vulgar – only Arrau managed it consistently). His Chopin studies are the music without the antics, and his thoughtful Beethoven Op 78 is an interesting approach to a sonata that baffles many pianists by its sheer simplicity. In fact, throughout the recital I found myself simply immersed in the music, almost forgetting to be grateful to Lisiecki for making it so. 

Bach: Prelude and Fugue in F sharp minor BWV 883
Beethoven : Sonata in F sharp number 24 in C major. Cit. 78 Liszt
Concert Studies .S 144 
Il Lamento 
La Leggierezza 
Un Sospiro 
Mendelson-Bartholdy : Variations Serieuses Op 54
Bach : Prelude and Fugue in F minor  BWV 857 
Chopin : Etudes Op 25Valse Op 64/1
Nocturne Op Posth

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Suk : Mass in B flat major, 'Krecovicka'

The teenage Josef Suk made his one and only foray into the realm of religious music with this short mass. You will not hear the composer of Asrael here, but you will hear a young, talented composer, brimming with ideas.

The work abounds in happy detail, notably a remarkable timpani part and occasional telling interventions from the organ loft. 

The same forces subsequently recorded this work - see link in the comments - and if the remaining works on the CD are on a par with this committed and energetic performance, I'll be delighted I ordered it. 

Marie Matejkova,
Ilona Satylova,
Jiri Vinklarek,
Michael Mergl,
Czech Radio Choir,
Pilzen Radio Orchestra,
Stanislaw Begunia

BBC Radio 3 internet HD stream, tracked and tagged

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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Paul Baumgartner live at Lugano 1964

A bit of a rarity here. The discography of the Swiss pianist Paul Baumgartner  (21 July 1903 – 19 October 1976) is pretty sparse. And, indeed, so are biographical details (I know, I wrote most of the tiny Wikipedia entry). His pupils included Alfred Brendel, and the very-underrated Karl Engel, who recorded one of the finest Mozart concerto cycles I know. 

As you might expect, the playing is insightful, and the selection of music is certainly not run-of-the mill. In 1964 you didn't hear Masques or Brahms Op 117 routinely programmed. The playing is also remarkable for its refusal to resort to grand gesture – listening to the Brahms, the little nuances of rubato seem to come from inside the music rather than outside, if that makes any sense. It is rubato that helps each note to find its rightful place in the flow of the music, rather than rubato that gives a customised colour to each phrase. The opening of the Andante Favori seems, well, matter of fact, but listen to the second statement of the theme – he was holding back something, wasn't he? And the Brahms Op 117/1 – less instant atmosphere than you or I might like, but by the time the last chords arrive you realise that the effect he has been working towards is the effect of the whole piece, not the notes.

But first and foremost, this upload is a tribute to all the touring pianists who played at the Royal Dublin Society in the fifties and sixties. My mother would take me along. Sure, I got to hear some household names – Arrau, Vasary – but many of the pianists were the traveling recitalists of yesteryear – Jacques Klein, for example, was a regular visitor. Who? — Exactly. A whole tradition pretty much gone. (Klein was a Brazilian, and although I cannot find any recordings, I think he was pretty good – at least my childhood self thought so.) 

Beethoven : Piano Sonata Op 27/2, Andante Favori
Brahms : 3 Intermezzi Op 117
Debussy : Images Book I, Masques
Chopin : Ballade No 4
Schubert : Moment Musical Op 94/6
Chopin : Waltz Op 70/3
Recorded 17 Feb 1964

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Saturday, January 7, 2012

Victoria : Requiem - The Tallis Scholars

Last year was the 400th anniversary of the death of Tomás Luis de Victoria, and it brought with it some fascinating insights into the composer's vast output. I hadn't appreciated how the developments of the baroque influenced him – he tends to be portrayed as the last composer of the Spanish golden age, a Bach-like figure whose work was the final great expression of renaissance ideals. Far from it! The man was clearly in touch with all the latest developments. I've been savouring a 10-CD box of his work from the Ensemble Ne Plus Ultra. Highly recommended!

Meanwhile, here is the Victoria we have all come to know and love: the six-voice Requiem, in a live performance by the Tallis Scholars from the 2011 Prom concerts. The requiem was composed in 1603 for the funeral rites of the Dowager Empress Maria, sister of Philip II of Spain, in whose entourage Victoria had spent several decades as a composer. It is often portrayed as a valedictory work, a final monument to the ideals of the renaissance, but frankly I think that the clear textures and highly expressive harmonies owe at least as much to the baroque æsthetic as they do to the traditions of the older generation.

My own favorite movement is the Versa est in luctum - a movement that builds up, wave upon wave of grief – My harp is tuned for lamentation and my organ into the voice of those who weep – until it finally reaches a shattering climax on the words Spare me Lord, for my days are as nothing. It is impossible, as it is with Lassus' 5-voice requiem, not to believe that this is a profound personal statement of grief. 

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Sunday, January 1, 2012

Schumann : Symphonic Studies - Ingrid Fliter

A pianist that is neither without admirers nor detractors – I've heard some rather scathing things said about her Chopin waltzes in particular. Here's a chance to put her to the test in a work that defies the pianist to string together its many gems into a coherent necklace. Local colour and inspiration are just not enough; a sense of the big picture is needed too. 

I think she holds the work together well, but see what you think!

Radio 3 HD internet stream.

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