Saturday, February 6, 2016

Christian Blackshaw in Mozart

Where was Christian Blackshaw all these years? He was born in 1949, and tutored by Clifford Curzon (who wasn't a person for taking on pupils, by all accounts), but absent from the concert platform for many years. It was only in 2011 that he returned, playing the Mozart piano sonatas in a series of concerts that resulted in one of the finest recordings of the sonatas in recent years. I innocently picked up one of the recitals on Radio 3 and was immediately arrested by the playing (superb control of a warm, rich sound palette) and the interpretation. 

But no, I'm not posting any of the sonatas. They are available commercially. But to give you a taste of the playing, I'm posting the magnificent quintet for piano and winds. I cannot recall ever loving playing a piece as much as this. Mozart was justly proud of it – he wrote to his father that it was the best thing he had ever written. I can only attribute its lack of popularity to the forces required. There are very few piano and wind quintets, and even fewer that are first rank masterpieces. 

This is quietly masterful playing. Just a single example: listen to the coda of the last movement. The piano figuration is simply perfectly judged – if it doesn't make you smile with pleasure, there's simply no hope for you.

Mozart : Quintet for piano and winds - Christian Blackshaw, Royal Northern Sinfonia Winds
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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Abrahamsen : Let me tell you - Barbara Hannigan

I've been listening to this over and over again for the last week. Hans Abrahamsen's piece for soprano and orchestra "Let me tell you" is based on a novel by Paul Griffiths that tries to tell the story of Ophelia in Hamlet in her own words. And by "in her own words", Griffiths means "using only the 481 words that Ophelia utters during the play". Abrahamsen's text is extracted from the novel. 

At the centre of this performance is the remarkable Canadian artist Barbara Hannigan. Hannigan is not just a singer of astounding stature. She is also a pianist and conductor. She utterly animates this haunting and difficult score. The music, often using the higher voices of the orchestra, veers from ethereal through operatic, into stammering hysterical madness, and ultimately into oblivion (“Snow falls. So: I will go on in the snow. I will have my hope with me.”). The tiny vocabulary creates a strangely allusive text in which Ophelia tries to tell us, tries to appear, but remains an insubstantial revenant. 

It's astonishing. You should be ordering the album now. 

This post is a live recording, in beautiful sound, taken from the radio. So you can marvel, in addition, at the sheer flawless perfection of the performance, done with no retakes, no breaks. Make no mistake, this is going to be album of the year. Go get! 

Abrahamsen : Let me tell you (2013)
Barbara Hannigan, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Andris Nelsons
Broadcast 03.07.2015, text after Shakespeare by Paul Griffiths
320 Kbs

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