Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Charles-Valentin Alkan - Etudes Op. 35 (Bernard Ringeissen)


Information

Composer: Charles-Valentin Alkan
  1. 12 études dans tous les tons mineurs, Op. 39: No. 12 in E minor (Le Festin d’Ésope. Allegretto senza licenza quantunque)
  2. 12 études dans tous les tons mineurs, Op. 39: No. 3 in G minor (Scherzo diabolico. Prestissimo)
  3. 12 études dans tous les tons majeurs, Op. 35: No. 1 in A major (Allegretto)
  4. 12 études dans tous les tons majeurs, Op. 35: No. 2 in D major (Allegro)
  5. 12 études dans tous les tons majeurs, Op. 35: No. 3 in G major (Andantino)
  6. 12 études dans tous les tons majeurs, Op. 35: No. 4 in C major (Presto)
  7. 12 études dans tous les tons majeurs, Op. 35: No. 5 in F major (Allegro barbaro)
  8. 12 études dans tous les tons majeurs, Op. 35: No. 6 in B flat major (Allegramente)
  9. 12 études dans tous les tons majeurs, Op. 35: No. 7 in E flat major (L'incendie au village voisin. Adagio)
  10. 12 études dans tous les tons majeurs, Op. 35: No. 8 in A flat major (Lento - Appassionato)
  11. 12 études dans tous les tons majeurs, Op. 35: No. 9 in C sharp major (Contrapunctus. Amplement)
  12. 12 études dans tous les tons majeurs, Op. 35: No. 10 in G flat major (Chant d'amour - Chant de mort. Adagio)
  13. 12 études dans tous les tons majeurs, Op. 35: No. 11 in B major (Posément)
  14. 12 études dans tous les tons majeurs, Op. 35: No. 12 in E major (Andando)

Bernard Ringeissen, piano
Date: 1990
Label: Marco Polo
http://www.naxos.com/catalogue/item.asp?item_code=8.223351

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Review

Alkan came from the great nineteenth-century tradition of composer pianists that included Chopin. Liszt, Schumann, Brahms and Busoni. For a time he shared the lavish praise heaped upon these giants of the keyboard, but in 1848 rejected the life of a travelling virtuoso and spent many years as a virtual recluse. His reinstatement as a composer of remarkable depth and sensitivity has been gradual, but is by no means complete. With a pianist of Ringeissen's calibre, this new Naxos series is a substantial step towards wider recognition.

The first two items prepare us for the sheer technical brilliance that practically all Alkan's works demand. Both are clearly intended to wow the audience, and succeed in doing so without virtuosity becoming an end in itself: this is far more impressive stuff than mere pianistic fireworks - Le Festin d'Esope, a rich feast of 25 variations on an original theme that sounds very like the nursery song Baa baa black sheep, develops in many unexpected ways. Childish thoughts are quickly set aside for a thoroughly adventurous treatment of the innocent theme; even humour - not a conspicuous component of romantic piano music - is not absent: several of these variations raise a genuine smile.

The second, Scherzo diabolico, comes closer to Liszt's energetic concert studies but, devilishly difficult though it undoubtedly is, adds up to considerably more than keyboard gymnastics. It is, however, in the 12 Etudes in all the major keys that we encounter Alkan at his most innovative and powerful. There are occasional echoes of Chopin but, needless to say, these are not studies in the same sense as those by Czerny or Bergmuller, though all of the first nine address specific aspects of technique. As a coherent cycle the Etudes test the interpretative resources of a mature recitalist on all fronts, from expressive cantabile to the dramatic metrical changes in the dramatic No, 12 in E flat major, a challenge calmly and creditably met on this record. The scores were scrupulously written and meticulously marked by the composer, and Ringeissen intelligently avoids creating additional hurdles by conspicuously parading his virtuosity. The playing is neat and observant and we are left with a convincing exploration of the mind of a remarkable musical personality.

-- Roy Brewer, MusicWeb International

More reviews:
http://www.classical-music.com/review/alkan-2
http://www.gramophone.co.uk/review/alkan-piano-works-2
http://www.amazon.com/Alkan-Piano-Music-Volume-Etudes/dp/B00005NUOR

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Charles-Valentin Alkan (30 November 1813 – 29 March 1888) was a French composer and pianist. At the height of his fame in the 1830s and 1840s he was, alongside his friends and colleagues Frédéric Chopin and Franz Liszt, among the leading pianists in Paris, a city in which he spent virtually his entire life. His music requires extreme technical virtuosity, reflecting his own abilities. Busoni ranked Alkan with Liszt, Chopin, Schumann and Brahms as one of the five greatest composers for the piano since Beethoven. For much of the 20th century, Alkan's work remained in obscurity, but from the 1960s onwards it was steadily revived.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles-Valentin_Alkan

***

Bernard Ringeissen (born 15 May 1934 in Paris) is a French classical pianist. He studied with Marguerite Long and Jacques Février. He has performed widely and served on competition juries in many countries. He teaches in Rueil-Malmaison, and gives master-classes at the Salzburg Mozarteum and at the International Summer Seminar in Weimar. His recordings include the complete piano works of Camille Saint-Saëns and of Igor Stravinsky, and many works by Charles-Valentin Alkan, Frédéric Chopin, Claude Debussy (with Noël Lee) and the Russian masters.

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Charles-Valentin Alkan - Recueil d'impromptus (Laurent Martin)


Information

Composer: Charles-Valentin Alkan
  1. Recueil d'Impromptus, Op. 32: Première recueil: 1. Vaghezza
  2. Recueil d'Impromptus, Op. 32: Première recueil: 2. L'amitié
  3. Recueil d'Impromptus, Op. 32: Première recueil: 3. Fantasietta alla moresca
  4. Recueil d'Impromptus, Op. 32: Première recueil: 4. La foi
  5. Recueil d'Impromptus, Op. 32: Deuxième recueil: 1. Andantino
  6. Recueil d'Impromptus, Op. 32: Deuxième recueil: 2. Allegretto
  7. Recueil d'Impromptus, Op. 32: Deuxième recueil: 3. Vivace
  8. Recueil d'Impromptus, Op. 32: Deuxième recueil: 4. Andante
  9. Salut, cendre du pauvre!, in B flat major, Op. 45
  10. Alleluia, in F major, Op. 25
  11. Rondeau chromatique, in B minor, Op. 12
  12. Variations sur un Thême de Steibelt, in E major (after Concerto-Orage), Op. 1
  13. Super flumina Babylonis, paraphrase on "Psalm 137" in G minor, Op. 52

Laurent Martin, piano
Date: 1992
Label: Marco Polo
http://www.naxos.com/catalogue/item.asp?item_code=8.223657

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Review

Marco Polo's much appreciated commitment to the Alkan cause continues with two more issues of piano music performed by Laurent Martin. The first disc contains music that, to my mind, will be more appropriate to the Alkan connoisseur rather than the first-time explorer—the main works of interest undoubtedly being the two sets of Impromptus, Op. 32 (each containing four pieces) dating from 1848–9. Although these are undoubtedly a long way from the complexities of the Grand Sonate composed two years earlier (they are, as Ronald Smith has commented ''relaxed, uncomplicated pieces designed more for private enjoyment than public exposure'') the Impromptus, nevertheless, have an unmistakable Alkanesque tang which naturally lifts them out of the run-of-the-mill salon-style of their day.

The first set are all titled and reasonably straight-forward, in so far as Alkan ever wrote a straightforward piece. Of these, the second, ''L'amitie'' (which sounds like a revivalist hymn taken at full gallop) and the third, entitled ''Fantasietta alla moresca'' are perhaps the most interesting. The second set is schematic and is the product of Alkan's encounter with the Basque dance, Zoricico in 5/4 rhythm. Description is best left to Smith again, who says ''Had Grieg and Bartok conspired to write a Chopin mazurka for quintupeds they might have produced something like the first impromptu''. His description of the third as sounding like ''a catchy, five-legged rumba'' is also spot on!

Salut, cendre du pauvre! (''Hail, ashes of the poor!'') is a characteristically dark and sombre piece with hymn-like outer passages and a central climax replete with drum-effects in the low registers, whilst the short Alleluia is an imposing study in massive, sonorous chords, played at the extremities of the keyboard. Alkan's penchant for translating passages from the Old Testament into piano music can be heard in the highly effective concert piece,Super flumina Babylonis, a dramatic paraphrase on Psalm 137. The remaining items on the disc, the Rondeau chromatique, Op. 12 and the Variations on a theme from Steibelt's Orage Concerto, Op. I (a recently rediscovered manuscript) are, as the opus numbers imply, extremely early works dating from Alkan's youth. Both are typical display pieces of their time; effective and impressive enough as the products of a teenager, but lacking the individuality of the Alkan to come.

The second disc, which is devoted to the Esquisses, needs little description. These perfect little miniatures (48 in all) may not be Alkan at his most demonstrative in terms of technical display but they certainly rank among his more important works. The breadth of mood encompassed in these sketches is exceptionally wide: some are miniature studies ''Le Staccatissimo'', ''Le Legatissimo'' ''La Poursuite'' and ''Toccatina'' are examples—whilst others, ''Le Frisson'', ''Le Premier Billet Doux'' and the marvellous ''Delire'', are effectively tiny mood paintings. Some look back in style (''Fuguette'', ''Duettino'' or ''Petit Prelude a 3'') while others are courageously forward-looking most notably ''Les Soupirs'' which anticipates Debussy, and ''Les Diablotins'' with its outrageous tone clusters. Needless to say, the Esquisses are essential listening for both newcomers and veterans to Alkan's music alike.
Laurent Martin has already proved himself a fine interpreter of Alkan's piano music and these two discs are further evidence of this. His sharply etched and beautifully crafted account of the Esquisses is particularly recommendable. The recorded sound of both is good, if perhaps a trifle hard in places.

-- M. Stewart, Gramophone
reviewing this disc, couple with Alkan's Esquisses by Laurent Martin

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Charles-Valentin Alkan (30 November 1813 – 29 March 1888) was a French composer and pianist. At the height of his fame in the 1830s and 1840s he was, alongside his friends and colleagues Frédéric Chopin and Franz Liszt, among the leading pianists in Paris, a city in which he spent virtually his entire life. His music requires extreme technical virtuosity, reflecting his own abilities. Busoni ranked Alkan with Liszt, Chopin, Schumann and Brahms as one of the five greatest composers for the piano since Beethoven. For much of the 20th century, Alkan's work remained in obscurity, but from the 1960s onwards it was steadily revived.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles-Valentin_Alkan

***

Laurent Martin (born 12 September 1945 in Lyon) is a French classical pianist. He studied piano at the Paris Conservatoire with Joseph Benvenuti and Monique Haas. He continued his studies with Germaine Audibert and Pierre Sancan. Martin is now recognized as a leading advocate and expert on less known French Romantic composers. His discography exceeds 41, with a fair share of premier recordings.
https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laurent_Martin_(pianiste)
http://www.laurentmartinpianiste.com/

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Charles-Valentin Alkan - Esquisses (Steven Osborne)


Information

Composer: Charles-Valentin Alkan
  • (01-12) 48 Esquisses, Op. 63 - Book 1
  • (13-24) 48 Esquisses, Op. 63 - Book 2
  • (25-36) 48 Esquisses, Op. 63 - Book 3
  • (37-48) 48 Esquisses, Op. 63 - Book 4
  • (49) 48 Esquisses, Op. 63 - Book 4, Postlude: Laus Deo

Steven Osborne, piano

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Review

Here is a superlative record of music to confound the sceptics, including Steven Osborne himself who, in his witty and concentrated accompanying essay, expresses his surprise on discovering Alkan’s Esquisses and their journey into intimacy rather than gargantuan bravura. Not that these 48 fragments, many of them of a teasing and enigmatic brevity, could be by any other composer. Gnomic, introspective, full of odd twists and turns of phrase and expression, they invariably catch you unawares. 

In ‘Confidence’, a Field-like innocence is countered by enough surprises to at once declare the composer’s identity. ‘Les Soupirs’ is so much more than a foretaste of Debussyan impressionism. ‘Inflexibilité’ holds the listener in a vice-like grip and the change from charm (‘Petite marche villageoise’) to grimness (‘Morituri te salutant’) is wholly typical of Alkan’s volatile yet rigorous command of the widest variety of ideas and pastiches. ‘Le frisson’, ‘Pseudo-Naïveté’, ‘Délire’, ‘Fais Dodo’, ‘L’Homme aux sabots’ – the very titles predict an eccentricity that is nonetheless qualified by a formidable intellectual focus. 

Laurent Martin’s able but limited Naxos recording (the Esquisses call for the widest variety of responses) is quite surpassed by Osborne, whose performances are of a sensitivity, radiance and finesse rarely encountered from even the finest pianists. He floats the opening of ‘La vision’ in a magical haze or nimbus of sound (‘aussi chante et lie que possible’ indeed), peppers the keyboard with an immaculate virtuosity in ‘La staccatissimo’, relishes the Norwegien tang of ‘Début de quatuor’ (almost as if Grieg had stepped into the picture) and brings a wicked frisson to ‘Les diablotins’ where Alkan’s little devils are hustled from the field almost as if the composer had lost patience with his own grotesque creation. Misha Donat’s notes are as affectionate as they are perceptive and Hyperion’s sound is of demonstration quality. An invaluable disc, particularly for those drawn to music’s by-ways.

-- Bryce Morrison, Gramophone

More reviews:
ClassicsToday  ARTISTIC QUALITY: 10 / SOUND QUALITY: 10
BBC Music Magazine  PERFORMANCE: ***** / SOUND: *****

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Charles-Valentin Alkan (30 November 1813 – 29 March 1888) was a French composer and pianist. At the height of his fame in the 1830s and 1840s he was, alongside his friends and colleagues Frédéric Chopin and Franz Liszt, among the leading pianists in Paris, a city in which he spent virtually his entire life. His music requires extreme technical virtuosity, reflecting his own abilities. Busoni ranked Alkan with Liszt, Chopin, Schumann and Brahms as one of the five greatest composers for the piano since Beethoven. For much of the 20th century, Alkan's work remained in obscurity, but from the 1960s onwards it was steadily revived.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles-Valentin_Alkan

***

Steven Osborne (born 1971) is a Scottish pianist. He was taught by Richard Beauchamp at St Mary's Music School in Edinburgh before going to the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester to study under Renna Kellaway. His recording career began when he was signed to Hyperion Records in 1998 and has resulted in bi-annual recordings. Steven Osborne has returned almost annually to the BBC Proms. At the Edinburgh Festival he has appeared both as a soloist and chamber musician.

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Charles-Valentin Alkan; Adolf von Henselt - Piano Concertos (Marc-André Hamelin)


Information

Composer: Adolf von Henselt; Charles-Valentin Alkan
  • (01-03) Henselt - Piano Concerto in F minor, Op. 16
  • (04-12) Henselt - Variations on "Quand je quittai la Normandie", Op. 11
  • (13-15) Alkan - Concerto da camera in C sharp minor, Op. 10 No. 2
  • (16-18) Alkan - Concerto da camera in A minor, Op. 10 No. 1

Marc-André Hamelin, piano
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Martyn Brabbins, conductor

Date: 1994
Label: Hyperion
http://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/dc.asp?dc=D_CDA66717

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Review


If, like me, you have derived a great deal of pleasure from the six previous issues in Hyperion's enterprising series, ''The Romantic Piano Concerto'', then you will surely want to explore the latest volume which, to my mind, could well be counted amongst the finest, if not the finest, to have appeared so far. Much of the credit must go to the phenomenal playing and superb musicianship of Marc-Andre Hamelin (whose account of the staggeringly difficult Henselt Concerto is quite breathtaking) but plaudits must also go to the imaginative programming and excellent accompanying booklet-notes.

The main work of the disc, both in terms of quality and length, is of course the above-mentioned Henselt F minor Concerto, which, although once an active participant in the repertoire of most top league pianists during the late nineteenth century (at least those sufficiently technically equipped to approach it), dropped out of sight in the early part of this century until revived by those 'champions of the forgotten', Raymond Lewenthal and Michael Ponti. As a concerto it is particularly 'giving' to the listener and very unforgiving to the pianist, as the extreme technical difficulties are concealed in such a way that they become almost transparent to the ear—which probably accounts for its disappearance from the repertoire. Rubinstein once recounted that ''I procured the concerto and his etudes, but after working on them for a few days I realised it was a waste of time, for they were based on an abnormal formation of the hand. In this respect Henselt, like Paganini, was a freak.'' Egon Petri described it as one of the hardest pieces he had ever played. Musically the concerto owes allegiance to Chopin (in the Larghetto) and Thalberg and Mendelssohn in the outer movements, but generally the overall Henseltian style has its own peculiar flavour which I am sure will win many friends through Hamelin's highly persuasive and thoroughly committed performance. The slightly earlier Variations de concert (on a theme from Meyerbeer's Robert le Diable) is admittedly slighter fare but is nevertheless an attractive and enjoyable work which hails from the same stable as Chopin's La ci darem Variations.

The remainder of the disc consists of two 'mini' concertos by Henselt's exact contemporary and fellow 'reticent' Charles-Valentin Alkan (Henselt, like Alkan, gave very few public concerts due to stage-fright that bordered on the pathological). The two early Concerti da camera (the only surviving concertante pieces by Alkan) are not, it has to be said, 'major' Alkan works, but they are original in invention and full of melodic appeal, with more than a hint or two of the Alkan of later years. Hamelin, who has already proved himself a formidable Alkan exponent with his outstanding recording of the Concerto for solo piano (Music & Arts, 8/93), delivers them with astonishing dexterity and panache and, as in the Henselt pieces, he is given equally committed support from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Martyn Brabbins. A thoroughly enjoyable disc, well worth exploring!

-- Michael Stewart, Gramophone


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Adolf von Henselt (12 May 1814 – 10 October 1889) was a German composer and pianist. To some ears, Henselt's playing combined Franz Liszt's sonority with Hummel's smoothness. It was full of poetry, remarkable for his use of extended chords and technique. His Piano Concerto in F minor, Op. 16 was once frequently played in Europe, and of his many valuable studies, Étude in F-sharp major Si oiseau j'étais was very popular. Despite his relatively long life, Henselt ceased nearly all composition by the age of thirty and withdraw from concert appearances by age thirty-three.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolf_von_Henselt

***

Charles-Valentin Alkan (30 November 1813 – 29 March 1888) was a French composer and pianist. At the height of his fame in the 1830s and 1840s he was, alongside his friends and colleagues Frédéric Chopin and Franz Liszt, among the leading pianists in Paris, a city in which he spent virtually his entire life. His music requires extreme technical virtuosity, reflecting his own abilities. Busoni ranked Alkan with Liszt, Chopin, Schumann and Brahms as one of the five greatest composers for the piano since Beethoven. For much of the 20th century, Alkan's work remained in obscurity, but from the 1960s onwards it was steadily revived.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles-Valentin_Alkan

***

Marc-André Hamelin (born September 5, 1961 in Montreal, Quebec) is a Canadian virtuoso pianist and composer. Hamelin is recognized worldwide for the originality and technical brilliance of his performances of the classic repertoire. He has made recordings of a wide variety of composers with the Hyperion label. He is well known for his attention to lesser-known composers especially of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and for performing works by pianist-composers. Hamelin has also composed several works, including a set of piano études in all of the minor keys.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marc-Andr%C3%A9_Hamelin

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Various Composers - Hamelin live at Wigmore Hall (Marc-André Hamelin)


Information

Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven; Frédéric Chopin; Mily Balakirev; Charles-Valentin Alkan; Ferruccio Busoni; Nikolai Medtner
  1. Beethoven - Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37: 1. Allegro con brio (arr. Alkan)
  2. Chopin - Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11: 2. Romanza. Larghetto (arr. Balakirev)
  3. Alkan - Trois grandes études, Op. 76: 1. Fantaisie in A flat major for left hand
  4. Alkan - Trois grandes études, Op. 76: 2. Introduction, Variations & Finale in D major for right hand
  5. Alkan - Trois grandes études, Op. 76: 3. Mouvement semblable et perpetuel: Rondo-toccata in C minor
  6. Busoni - Kammer-Fantasie über Carmen (after Bizet), BV 284
  7. Medtner - Forgotten Melodies I, Op. 38: 3. Danza festiva

Marc-André Hamelin, piano
Date: 1994
Label: Hyperion
http://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/dc.asp?dc=D_CDA66765

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Review

This disc needs no recommendation for readers familiar with Marc-Andre Hamelin's previous recordings (Hyperion's recent Henselt/Alkan issue, 8/94, or Hamelin's recording of Alkan's Concerto for solo piano on the Music & Arts label, 8/93) or those who attended the Wigmore Hall concerts at which these performances were recorded. Others, less familiar with Hamelin's playing, may well be put off by the solo transcriptions on the first half of this disc. To that I would say most emphatically—don't be! These are not intended as substitutes for the real thing, at least not in the context of this disc, but are presented here as supreme examples of the art of piano transcription in the late nineteenth century. In addition, they are superb display pieces, revealing not only the subtleties of the transcriber's art and, in this case, the pianist's ability to render them audible, but also Hamelin's extraordinary ability to make the pieces sound like originals rather than transcriptions. Indeed, in the Alkan transcription of the first movement of Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto, the absence of the orchestra never became a concern for me; more importantly, however, I was left with a satisfying sense of symphonic structure in Hamelin's titanic performance. Titanic, too, is the only word for Alkan's cadenza which flies in the face of today's less ostentatious climate with its cataclysmic climax juxtaposing the concerto's opening subject with material from the finale of the Fifth Symphony.

The principal glory of the disc for me, however, is Hamelin's account of Alkan's Etudes, Op. 76, for the hands separately and reunited—an exceptionally formidable opus (one that Ronald Smith claims ''alone establish[es] Alkan as the rival, if not indeed the peer, of Liszt as the joint architect of transcendental piano technique'') which here receives an equally formidable and awe-inspiring performance that is certainly the equal of Smith's own 1987 recording (EMI, 11/88—nla). The absence of Smith's recording from the catalogue makes my task somewhat easier when it comes to choosing between the two, for although I would certainly hate to be without Smith's classic account, Hamelin's reading is just that little bit extra special. Like Smith's, Hamelin's account is authoritative and magisterial in stature, but we also have the added frisson of knowing that what we hear is a single take before a live audience; listen to the hair-raising final study, a blistering, unbroken five-minute salvo of prestissimo semi-quavers—Hamelin's precision is truly phenomenal! Duration buffs may like to note that Hamelin shaves no less than seven minutes off Smith's timing of the second study.

The remaining items on the disc, a scintillating account of Busoni's Sonatina No. 6 and Medtner's ebullient Danza festiva from Op. 38, provide further evidence that Hamelin is a considerable presence in the pianistic world at the moment, and one which I foresee remaining so for a very long time to come. The recorded sound varies a little from piece to piece (they were recorded over three evenings) but all are excellent in quality and have a natural, intimate ambience. A disc I cannot recommend too highly—buy it!

-- Michael Stewart, Gramophone

More reviews:
BBC Music Magazine  PERFORMANCE: ***** / SOUND: *****
http://www.classical.net/music/recs/reviews/h/hyp66765a.php
http://www.amazon.com/Live-Wigmore-Hall-Marc-Andre-Hamelin/dp/B000002ZVE

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Marc-André Hamelin (born September 5, 1961 in Montreal, Quebec) is a Canadian virtuoso pianist and composer. Hamelin is recognized worldwide for the originality and technical brilliance of his performances of the classic repertoire. He has made recordings of a wide variety of composers with the Hyperion label. He is well known for his attention to lesser-known composers especially of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and for performing works by pianist-composers. Hamelin has also composed several works, including a set of piano études in all of the minor keys.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marc-Andr%C3%A9_Hamelin

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Monday, November 28, 2016

Charles-Valentin Alkan - Concerto for solo piano; Recueil de chants (Marc-André Hamelin)


Information

Composer: Charles-Valentin Alkan
  1. Concerto for solo piano: 1. Allegro assai (Op. 39 No. 8)
  2. Concerto for solo piano: 2. Adagio (Op. 39 No. 9)
  3. Concerto for solo piano: 3. Allegretto alla barbaresca (Op. 39 No. 10)
  4. Recueil de chants, Op. 65: 1. Vivante
  5. Recueil de chants, Op. 65: 2. Esprits follets
  6. Recueil de chants, Op. 65: 3. En Canon à l'Octave
  7. Recueil de chants, Op. 65: 4. Tempo giusto
  8. Recueil de chants, Op. 65: 5. Horace et Lydie
  9. Recueil de chants, Op. 65: 6. Barcarolle

Marc-André Hamelin, piano
Date: 2007
Label: Hyperion
http://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/dc.asp?dc=D_CDA67569

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Review


This is Marc-André Hamelin’s second recording of the Alkan Concerto for Solo Piano (the first for Music & Arts dates from 1992 – 8/93) and his fifth Alkan CD for Hyperion. Yet following in the pioneering footsteps of Raymond Lewenthal and, more particularly, Ronald Smith, Hamelin now trumps his previous ace with a performance of the Concerto of such brilliance and lucidity that one can only listen in awe and amazement. Scaling even the most ferocious hurdles with yards to spare, he is blessedly free to explore the very heart of Alkan’s bewildering interplay of austerity and monstrous elaboration. In the gigantic first movement you can hear avalanches of notes, at, for example, 3'55" and 8'06", given with the rarest focus and trenchancy. And whether you turn to the finale’s helter-skelter pages (with their curious Eastern underpinnings) or the baleful centralAdagio, you can only marvel at such a unique mix of blazing if nonchalantly deployed virtuosity and poetic conviction.

For his substantial encore Hamelin gives us Alkan’s Troisième recueil de chants where outward convention vies with that sinister and pervasive oddity so central to this composer’s nature. No 3 is a near bitonal canon, No 4 a polonaise with memories of the Etudes from which the Concerto is drawn and a crazy, race-away coda, while the concluding Barcarolle contains ironic echoes of Liszt’s Au lac de Wallenstadt.

All this is superbly recorded and presented, prompting some not unreasonable conjecture: if Liszt feared Alkan’s mastery as a pianist he may well have feared Hamelin’s.

-- Bryce Morrison, Gramophone

More reviews:
ClassicsToday  ARTISTIC QUALITY: 10 / SOUND QUALITY: 10

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Charles-Valentin Alkan (30 November 1813 – 29 March 1888) was a French composer and pianist. At the height of his fame in the 1830s and 1840s he was, alongside his friends and colleagues Frédéric Chopin and Franz Liszt, among the leading pianists in Paris, a city in which he spent virtually his entire life. His music requires extreme technical virtuosity, reflecting his own abilities. Busoni ranked Alkan with Liszt, Chopin, Schumann and Brahms as one of the five greatest composers for the piano since Beethoven. For much of the 20th century, Alkan's work remained in obscurity, but from the 1960s onwards it was steadily revived.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles-Valentin_Alkan

***

Marc-André Hamelin (born September 5, 1961 in Montreal, Quebec) is a Canadian virtuoso pianist and composer. Hamelin is recognized worldwide for the originality and technical brilliance of his performances of the classic repertoire. He has made recordings of a wide variety of composers with the Hyperion label. He is well known for his attention to lesser-known composers especially of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and for performing works by pianist-composers. Hamelin has also composed several works, including a set of piano études in all of the minor keys.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marc-Andr%C3%A9_Hamelin

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Charles-Valentin Alkan - Symphony for solo piano; Trois morceaux dans le genre pathétique (Marc-André Hamelin)


Information

Composer: Charles-Valentin Alkan
  1. Symphony for solo piano: 1. Allegro (Op. 39 No. 4)
  2. Symphony for solo piano: 2. Marche funèbre. Andantino (Op. 39 No. 5)
  3. Symphony for solo piano: 3. Menuet (Op. 39 No. 6)
  4. Symphony for solo piano: 4. Finale. Presto (Op. 39 No. 7)
  5. Salut, cendre du pauvre!, Op. 45
  6. Alleluia, Op. 25
  7. Super flumina Babylonis "Paraphrase du Psaume 137", Op. 52
  8. 3 Morceaux dans le genre pathétique, Op. 15: 1. Aime-moi
  9. 3 Morceaux dans le genre pathétique, Op. 15: 2. Le vent
  10. 3 Morceaux dans le genre pathétique, Op. 15: 3. Morte

Marc-André Hamelin, piano
Date: 2000
Label: Hyperion
http://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/dc.asp?dc=D_CDA67218

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Review

Alkan’s Symphony for solo piano is far more difficult to bring off than Marc ­André Hamelin makes it sound. Not that it is by any means his most pyrotechnically extreme composition‚ but its first movement in particular is chunkily textured and stiff in construction‚ and it takes every ounce of Hamelin’s pianistic ingenuity to minimise its defects. A combination of restrained dynamics and volatile phrasing is the recipe‚ and this allows the outbursts on the final pages to crown the structure magnificently. The four movements grow in character‚ and Hamelin rises to their mounting technical challenges. He steamrollers through the scherzo‚ which is like an industrial stength version of the corresponding movement in Chopin’s Funeral March Sonata‚ and he rides the bucking bronco finale with astonishing ease. Alkan’s quirky individuality may be even more pronounced in his Concerto and his Grande Sonate (the latter brilliantly recorded by Hamelin on Hyperion CDA66794‚ 12/95)‚ but given this kind of advocacy the Symphony is certainly an exhilarating experience.

The shorter works on offer sum up the curious mixture of Lisztian rant‚ Brahmsian muscular sturdiness‚ early ­Romantic rhetoric and uninhibited experimentalism that Alkan’s detractors find so disconcerting and his supporters so compelling. In every instance Hamelin is a fluent and idiomatic advocate – supremely deft in the proto ­impressionistic flurries of Le vent‚ yet also thoughtful and exploratory in the later religious pieces‚ and alive to the possibilities of coloration even when the surface of the music seems to be unrelievedly grey.

Hyperion’s recording matches the high standards of all its Hamelin issues‚ and François Luguenot’s extensive booklet essay reproduces‚ and intelligently comments on‚ interesting contemporary critiques by Schumann and Liszt of Alkan’s shorter works.


More reviews:
ClassicsToday  ARTISTIC QUALITY: 10 / SOUND QUALITY: 10
BBC Music Magazine  PERFORMANCE: ***** / SOUND: *****

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Charles-Valentin Alkan (30 November 1813 – 29 March 1888) was a French composer and pianist. At the height of his fame in the 1830s and 1840s he was, alongside his friends and colleagues Frédéric Chopin and Franz Liszt, among the leading pianists in Paris, a city in which he spent virtually his entire life. His music requires extreme technical virtuosity, reflecting his own abilities. Busoni ranked Alkan with Liszt, Chopin, Schumann and Brahms as one of the five greatest composers for the piano since Beethoven. For much of the 20th century, Alkan's work remained in obscurity, but from the 1960s onwards it was steadily revived.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles-Valentin_Alkan

***

Marc-André Hamelin (born September 5, 1961 in Montreal, Quebec) is a Canadian virtuoso pianist and composer. Hamelin is recognized worldwide for the originality and technical brilliance of his performances of the classic repertoire. He has made recordings of a wide variety of composers with the Hyperion label. He is well known for his attention to lesser-known composers especially of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and for performing works by pianist-composers. Hamelin has also composed several works, including a set of piano études in all of the minor keys.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marc-Andr%C3%A9_Hamelin

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Charles-Valentin Alkan - Grande sonate; Sonatine; Le Festin d’Ésope (Marc-André Hamelin)


Information

Composer: Charles-Valentin Alkan
  1. Grande sonate "Les quatre âges" Op. 33: 1. 20 ans (Très vite)
  2. Grande sonate "Les quatre âges" Op. 33: 2. 30 ans (Quasi-Faust. Assez vite)
  3. Grande sonate "Les quatre âges" Op. 33: 3. 40 ans. (Un heureux ménage. Lentement)
  4. Grande sonate "Les quatre âges" Op. 33: 4. 50 ans. (Prométhée enchaîné. Extremement lent)
  5. Sonatine, Op. 61: 1. Allegro vivace
  6. Sonatine, Op. 61: 2. Allegramente
  7. Sonatine, Op. 61: 3. Scherzo-Minuet
  8. Sonatine, Op. 61: 4. Coda (Tempo giusto)
  9. Recueil de chants, Op. 65: 6. Barcarolle (Assez lentement)
  10. 12 etudes in the minor keys, Op. 39: 12. Le Festin d’Ésope

Marc-André Hamelin, piano
Date: 1994
Label: Hyperion
http://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/dc.asp?dc=D_CDA66794

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Review

Hyperion's new recording with Marc-Andre Hamelin of Alkan's extraordinary Grande sonate makes a most timely appearance. The work, subtitled ''The four ages'', is an extraordinary piece in many respects, not least in its rather unconventional layout of four movements, each employing progressively slower tempos. Perhaps for this reason it has never attained a place in the repertoire – the Extremement lent finale is hardly the sort of movement to ignite an overwhelming response from an audience at the close of the sonata, despite the feats of hair-raising bravura required in the first two movements. As we might expect, Hamelin's performance is everything one could wish for. The crispness and precision of his finger-work in the dazzling first movement (Alkan's portrait of the man in his twenties) is quite breathtaking and the sometimes superhuman feats of pianism demanded in the Faust-inspired second movement are executed with astounding ease. His reading of the third movement (Alkan's imagined picture of domestic bliss) is beautifully poised and charmingly rendered whilst the tragic, Promethean finale is most effectively and powerfully projected, though it should be noted that here Hamelin is no less than 2'46'' faster than Ronald Smith, whose reading is perhaps closer to Alkan's written tempo indication of Extremement lent.

The Sonatine, Op. 61 is an entirely different matter, ''concise and concentrated in the extreme'' is how Francois Luguenot describes it in his informative booklet-note. Hamelin's direct, finely articulated no-nonsense reading brings out the clarity and economy of the writing, and he is quick, too, to underscore the work's more classical stance. A beautifully serene and hypnotic account of the seductive ''Barcarolle'' follows, and the disc closes with a stunning display of pianistic gymnastics in the shape of ''Le festin d'Esope'' from the Op. 39 Etudes. Recorded sound is excellent. Another Hyperion/Hamelin must.

-- M. Stewart, Gramophone

More reviews:
BBC Music Magazine  PERFORMANCE: ***** / SOUND: *****  (reviewed by Jessica Duchen)
BBC Music Magazine  PERFORMANCE: ***** / SOUND: *****  (reviewed by Wadham Sutton)

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Charles-Valentin Alkan (30 November 1813 – 29 March 1888) was a French composer and pianist. At the height of his fame in the 1830s and 1840s he was, alongside his friends and colleagues Frédéric Chopin and Franz Liszt, among the leading pianists in Paris, a city in which he spent virtually his entire life. His music requires extreme technical virtuosity, reflecting his own abilities. Busoni ranked Alkan with Liszt, Chopin, Schumann and Brahms as one of the five greatest composers for the piano since Beethoven. For much of the 20th century, Alkan's work remained in obscurity, but from the 1960s onwards it was steadily revived.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles-Valentin_Alkan

***

Marc-André Hamelin (born September 5, 1961 in Montreal, Quebec) is a Canadian virtuoso pianist and composer. Hamelin is recognized worldwide for the originality and technical brilliance of his performances of the classic repertoire. He has made recordings of a wide variety of composers with the Hyperion label. He is well known for his attention to lesser-known composers especially of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and for performing works by pianist-composers. Hamelin has also composed several works, including a set of piano études in all of the minor keys.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marc-Andr%C3%A9_Hamelin

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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Gabriel Pierné - Orchestral Works Vol. 2 (Juanjo Mena; Jean-Efflam Bavouzet)


Information

Composer: Gabriel Pierné
  1. Paysages franciscains, Op. 43: I. Au jardin de Sainte Claire (Couvent de Saint Damien)
  2. Paysages franciscains, Op. 43: II. Les Olivaies de la plaine d'Assise (Crépuscule d'automne)
  3. Paysages franciscains, Op. 43: III. Sur la route de Poggio-Bustone (La Procession)
  4. Les Cathédrales (Prélude pour le poème dramatique de M. Eugène Moraud)
  5. Scherzo-Caprice, Op. 25 (Valse symphonique for piano and orchestra)
  6. Poème symphonique, Op. 37 (for piano and orchestra)
  7. Fantaisie-Ballet, Op. 6 (for piano and orchestra)
  8. Nocturne en forme de valse, Op. 40 No. 2
  9. Étude de concert, Op. 13

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, piano (5-9)
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra (1-7)
Juanjo Mena, conductor (1-7)

Date: 2015
Label: Chandos
https://www.chandos.net/products/catalogue/CHAN%2010871

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Review

At the heart of this disc lie three works that Gabriel Pierné (1863-1937) composed for piano and orchestra: the Scherzo-Caprice (1890), the Poème symphonique (1901) and the Fantaisie-Ballet (1886). Pierné was one of those composers whose importance in his own day was far greater than his posthumous reputation might suggest. He was a Prix de Rome winner, and in his youth he was more highly regarded even than his near-exact contemporary, Debussy. None of his works, however, has achieved anything like core repertoire status. Even these three piano and orchestra works, which are all short (eight, 11 and 13 minutes) and would work well in concert as foils to either of the Ravel concertos, have made no lasting impact.

Pierné was a piano virtuoso himself, a factor that colours the spirited writing of all three works. At the same time, his creative pedigree comes clearly to the fore. A little way into the Poème symphonique there is a particular hue to the harmony in a chorale-like passage that instantly conjures up images of César Franck, one of Pierné’s teachers and an inescapable influence on all younger French composers other than those who studiously avoided him. With that Franck connection in mind, the Scherzo-Caprice begins to recall the Symphonic Variations. Nor was Pierné oblivious to the music of Liszt, as is evident in the inflated pomp at the start of the Fantaisie-Ballet.

They all repay hearing, especially in these dynamic performances by Jean Efflam Bavouzet and the BBC Philharmonic, but perhaps even more interesting is the way Pierné’s creative stance shifted from gifted though fairly anonymous works towards more personal Impressionist tendencies in Paysages franciscains of 1919, a work that merits much wider attention.

-- Geoffrey NorrisGramophone

More reviews:
http://www.classical-music.com/review/piern-orchestral-works-volume-2
http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2015/Sep/Pierne_orchestral_v2_CHAN10871.htm
http://www.audaud.com/pierne-orchestral-works-vol-2-bbc-philharmonic-chandos/
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Pierne-Orchestral-Jean-Efflam-Bavouzet-Philharmonic/dp/B010W2QMGG

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Gabriel Pierné (16 August 1863 – 17 July 1937) was a French composer, conductor, and organist. He succeeded César Franck as organist at Saint Clotilde Basilica in Paris from 1890 to 1898. As a conductor, he conducted the world premiere of Igor Stravinsky's ballet The Firebird, at the Ballets Russes, Paris, on 25 June 1910. Pierné wrote several operas and choral and symphonic pieces, as well as a good deal of chamber music. His discovery and promotion of the work of Ernest Fanelli in 1912 led to a controversy over the origins of impressionist music.

***

Juanjo Mena (born 21 September 1965, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Basque Country, Spain) is a Spanish conductor. Mena attended the Madrid Royal Conservatory, where his teachers included Carmelo Bernaola (composition and orchestration) and Enrique García Asensio (conducting). He also studied conducting with Sergiu Celibidache in Munich. Mena was artistic director and principal conductor of the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra (1999-2008) and the ninth chief conductor of the BBC Philharmonic since 2011. He was also principal guest conductor of the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra from 2007 to 2013,

***

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (born 1962 in Lannion, France) is a French classical pianist. Grew up in Metz, he started his music studies there, encountering such luminaries as Iannis Xenakis, Olivier Messiaen, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Boulez. Moving to the Conservatoire de Paris, he studied under Pierre Sancan, among others. He also had private lessons with Georg Solti. although never performed in public. His recordings for Chandos have received several Gramophone Awards, and numerous other awards, including the BBC Music Magazine Award, the Choc de la Musique and the Diapason d'Or.

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Saturday, November 26, 2016

Sergei Bortkiewicz - Piano Sonata No. 2; etc (Nadejda Vlaeva)


Information

Composer: Sergei Bortkiewicz
  • (01) Six Preludes, Op. 66: No. 1 in F sharp major: Andante
  • (02) Six Preludes, Op. 66: No. 3 in E flat minor: Moderato e cantabile
  • (03-08) Fantasiestücke, Op. 61
  • (09-12) Lyrica nova, Op. 59
  • (13-15) Three Mazurkas, Op. 64
  • (16) España, Op. 63 No. 4 (originally for violin and piano, arr. by the composer)
  • (17-22) Jugoslavische Suite, Op. 58
  • (23-26) Piano Sonata No. 2 in C sharp minor, Op. 60

Nadejda Vlaeva, piano
Date: 2016
Label: Hyperion
http://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/dc.asp?dc=D_CDA68118

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Review

Sergei Bortkiewicz (1877-1952) was a man born out of his time, musically and physically. He had no time for atonal or dodecaphonic music and resolutely stuck to being – as he described himself – ‘a romantic and a melodist’. The 22 miniatures which form the bulk of this disc were composed between 1940 and 1947, none of them troubled by any harmonic innovations of the preceding half a century. One can easily imagine a number of them being offered as an end-of-recital encore, or any one of the four Lyrica nova having lyrics attached.

Nadejda Vlaeva gave the North American premiere of the Second Sonata in 2007 when she also recorded it for Music & Arts, a wining recital I reviewed in October 2009. Though written in 1942, the sonata might well be mistaken for something by the young Scriabin or Rachmaninov (Bortkiewicz unapologetically quotes from the latter’s Second Piano Concerto and Kalinnikov’s First Symphony). Of course Bortkiewicz can be dismissed as a peddler of second-hand ideas or for writing a work of such lyrical profusion during the Second World War, but there are many for whom music is a comfort blanket and who will be grateful to hear a substantial (23'02") four-movement work for solo piano without being assaulted by the leftovers of the Second Viennese School.

Vlaeva plays all this with commanding authority. She can sing, she can charm, she can thunder, and she has a wonderfully innate rubato that suits Bortkiewicz’s idiom to perfection. My one reservation is the sound. I was present when Ms Vlaeva gave the German premiere of the Sonata in 2006 and she is not a pianist who produces the glassy, metallic tone at ff and above heard here (listen to the Fantasiestück No 5 or the last movement of the sonata). Piano? Microphone placement? Hall acoustic? A shame, as it militates against the complete success of an otherwise noteworthy recital.

-- Jeremy NicholasGramophone

More reviews:
MusicWeb International  RECORDING OF THE MONTH
http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2016/Mar/Bortkiewicz_piano_CDA68118_RB.htm
http://www.allmusic.com/album/bortkiewicz-piano-sonata-no-2-op-60-three-mazurkas-op-64-jugoslavische-suite-op-58-fantasiest%C3%BCcke-op-61-lyrica-nova-op-59-mw0002914391
https://www.amazon.com/Bortkiewicz-Piano-Sonata-Mazurkas-Jugoslavische/dp/B018GRNXP2

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Sergei Bortkiewicz (28 February 1877 [O.S. 16 February] in Kharkov – 25 October 1952 in Vienna) was a Romantic composer and pianist. Bortkiewicz's piano style was very much based on Liszt and Chopin, nurtured by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, early Scriabin, Wagner and Ukrainian folklore. He was unaffected by the music trends of the 20th century: The composer never saw himself as a "modernist". The greater part of his printed compositions, which were held by his German publishers (Rahter & Litolff), were destroyed in the bombing of German cities in WWII.

***

Nadejda Vlaeva was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, and began playing the piano at the age of five. She studied with Anton Dikov, Jan Wijn, Ruth Laredo and Lazar Berman, whom she considers her mentor. Among her major awards are First Prize at the Liszt competition in Lucca, Italy and Third Prize at the International Liszt Competition in Budapest. Vlaeva has recorded six internationally released CDs. She is a Yamaha Artist.

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Friday, November 25, 2016

Albert Roussel - Piano Music (Emanuele Torquati)


Information

Composer: Albert Roussel

CD1:
  • (01-04) Des heures passent..., Op. 1
  • (05) Résurrection, Op. 4 (Symphonique prelude after Tolstoy, arr. Roussel)
  • (06-08) Rustiques, Op. 5
  • (09) Petit canon perpétuel
  • (10) Doute
  • (11) Conte à la poupée
  • (12) L'accueil des muses (pour le tombeau de Claude Debussy)
CD2:
  • (01-04) Suite in F sharp major, Op. 14
  • (05-06) Sonatine, Op. 16
  • (07) Le Festin de l'araignée, Op. 17: Waltz
  • (08) Segovía, Op. 29
  • (09) Prélude et Fugue, Op. 46
  • (10-12) Trois Pièces, Op. 49

Emanuele Torquati, piano
Date: 2012
Label: Brilliant Classics


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Review

It boggles the mind that a composer of the quality and ingenious creativity of Albert Roussel, born in 1869, is still barely known (and only sporadically recorded) 140 years later. His principal champion during the 20th century was Ernest Ansermet, who recorded two of his symphonies and the music from his ballet Le festin de l’araignée (The Spider’s Feast, from which Arturo Toscanini also performed the symphonic suite). But even a figure as respected as Ansermet could not sell Roussel to the larger public. Thus it was a great gesture on the part of Naxos to have Stéphane Denève record his complete orchestral music, and now here we have a recording of his complete piano music.

Technically speaking, this is the second such recording: the first was made for Philips in 1969 by Jean Boguet, still available from ArkivMusic as a special reissue on Philips 422138, which I haven’t heard. Nor have I heard the single disc of Roussel piano music made by Alain Raës in 1979, still available on Solstice Records 08. Yet in a sense, it is almost a good thing to come to Roussel’s piano music without any preconceived notions, because he was such a good composer that one is both enriched and surprised by the high quality of his scores. Although Roussel was strongly influenced by d’Indy and therefore considered a “non-impressionist,” I hear a great deal of the French impressionist style in his piano music, particularly in Des heures passent and Résurrection, with their fluttering left-hand figures and chromatic inflections in the right-hand melodic line, even though the fourth piece in Des heures, titled “Champêtres,” has quite a formal canonic structure more reminiscent of Bach than of Ravel or Debussy.

Speaking of Résurrection, this piece—written in 1903 and inspired by Tolstoy’s novel—was originally composed for mezzo-soprano, tenor, and baritone with full orchestra. There is a version available in this format by Nathalie Stutzmann, Nicolai Gedda, and José van Dam with the Toulouse Capitole Orchestra conducted by Michel Plasson (EMI Classics 65564), but I haven’t heard that disc. This piano transcription receives its world premiere recording here. As in all his performances on this set, Italian pianist Emanuele Torquati plays with a good feeling for the delicacy and warmth of the score, bringing out its subtle and, yes, impressionistic harmonies with exquisite taste and touch. Debussy-like impressionism is also heard in the three-movement Rustiques, Roussel’s first attempt at a major piano work, inspired by the forest of Fontainbleau. Much of this work is reminiscent of Charles Koechlin’s Les heures Persanes, not least the unusual rhythmic figures, which sound “regular” until one starts counting and gets lost. Such patterns eventually suggest no regular tempo at all, but merely a ruminating quality, which was apparently Roussel’s intention. Most evocative of the three pieces is the central one, titled “Sentimental Promenade in the Forest.”

The strong impressionistic quality of Roussel’s piano music continues through the other pieces on CD 1: Petite canon perpetual, Doute, Conte à la poupée and L’accueil des muses pour le tombeau de Claude Debussy (well, you’d almost expect as much in the last-named piece). But with the 1909-10 Suite in F?-Minor, a clearer, less opaque aesthetic comes to the fore and the influence of d’Indy becomes more apparent. I must admit being less impressed by the Sonatine of 1912: yes, this music has a sort of moto perpetuo about it, but by and large it stays in one place rather than going somewhere. The little waltz from his ballet score Le festin de l’araignée, on the other hand, is utterly charming, as is the piece—originally written for guitar—dedicated to Andrés Segovia. The latter, in fact, has much more modern harmonies than the previous pieces in the set. On the other hand, the last two works—a Prelude and Fugue from 1932-24 and the Three Pieces, op. 49, of 1933 (dedicated to Robert Casadesus)—are very much modern music, and extremely fine music at that. Gone completely is the impressionistic feeling of the earlier pieces; while still French in character, this music sounds more in line with the works of Poulenc or Honegger.

Torquati’s playing is consistent, and consistently good. I would highly recommend this set to any student of Roussel, or those who wish to explore this fine composer beyond his orchestral works.

-- Lynn René Bayley, FANFARE

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Albert Roussel (5 April 1869 – 23 August 1937) was a French composer. He spent seven years as a midshipman, turned to music as an adult, and became one of the most prominent French composers of the interwar period. His early works were strongly influenced by the impressionism of Debussy and Ravel, while he later turned toward neoclassicism. He studied with Julien Koszul in Roubaix, with Eugène Gigout in Paris, then continued his studies until 1908 at the Schola Cantorum de Paris where one of his teachers was Vincent d'Indy. While studying, he also taught. His students included Erik Satie and Edgard Varèse.

***


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Thursday, November 24, 2016

Albert Roussel - Chamber Music (Jean-Jacques Kantorow; Schoenberg Quartet)


Information

Composer: Albert Roussel

CD1:
  • (01-03) Piano Trio in E flat major, Op. 2
  • (04) Divertissement for piano & wind quintet, Op. 6
  • (05-07) Sonata for violin & piano No. 1 in D minor, Op. 11
CD2:
  • (01) Impromptu for harp solo, Op. 21
  • (02-03) Deux poèmes de Ronsard, for flute & soprano, Op. 26
  • (04-07) Joueurs de flûte, for flute & piano, Op. 27
  • (08-10) Sonata for violin & piano No. 2 in A major, Op. 28
  • (11) Ségovia for guitar, Op. 29
  • (12-14) Sérénade for flute, string trio & harp, Op. 30
  • (15) Duo for bassoon & double bass
  • (16) Aria No. 2, for oboe & piano
CD3:
  • (01-03) Trio for flute, viola & cello, Op. 40
  • (04-07) String Quartet, Op. 45
  • (08) Andante and Scherzo, for flute & piano, Op. 51
  • (09) Pipe for piccolo & piano
  • (10-12) String Trio, Op. 58
  • (13-16) Music from Elpénor, Poème radiophonique, for flute & string quartet, Op. 59
  • (17) Andante from an unfinished Wind Trio, for oboe, clarinet & bassoon

Jean-Jacques Kantorow, violin
Schoenberg Quartet
Janneke van der Meer, violin
Wim de Jong, violin
Henk Guittart, viola
Viola de Hoog, cello
& other artists

Date: 2006
Label; Brilliant Classics (licensed from Olympia, 1994)


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Review

This complete recording of the chamber music of Albert Roussel – in chronological order – was previously issued, in the mid-1990s, on the Olympia label (Olympia OCD 706).

The works fall fairly naturally into divisions that correspond to the three CDs. On the first, we have the first three works listed above, covering the years from 1902 to 1908; the second CD contains works written between 1919 and 1928; the third collects the chamber music written in the last eight years of Roussel’s life, between 1929 and 1937.

Roussel’s path towards a career as a composer was a rather unorthodox one. Roussel (who has been orphaned very young), first received piano lessons at the age of eleven; an interest in music soon developed, but on leaving school he studied at Marine College in Brest, and went on to become a naval officer, eventually commanding a torpedo boat in Indochina. His career at sea ended in 1894, when he resigned his commission and he took the decision to devote himself to music. He studied in Paris, first with Eugene Gigout and, from 1898, with Vincent d’Indy at the Schola Cantorum; he did so with such success that in 1902 he was invited to teach counterpoint at the Schola (where one of his students was Satie). He was in the anomalous position of being both student and Professor. Indeed, there is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a thoroughly academic quality to both the Op.2 Piano Trio and the Sonata for piano and violin (Op.11). Both have a long-windedness that was not to remain characteristic of Roussel, whose mature work is more readily characterised as terse. In these two early works, it would be fair to say that Roussel the composer has not yet found his own voice. They are the product of his teaching (whether as teacher or as taught), perfectly ‘correct’, and thoroughly committed to the kind of cyclic procedures of which d’Indy was an enthusiastic advocate. They are pleasant enough – particularly the sonata – but don’t really grip or intrigue in any very compelling fashion.

The ‘real’ Roussel is perhaps first discernable in the Divertissement for piano and wind quintet. There is more of his rhythmic quirkiness, there are more adventurous harmonies. Essentially a rondo, structurally speaking, the contrasts between its rapid passages and its rather dreamy slower sections makes for some deliciously crisp music, the musical equivalent of a dry white wine. It gets an engaging performance here, its twists and turns relished, run round the palate as it were, but nothing is lingered over excessively, nothing rushed.

After these early works Roussel’s musical attention very much switched to orchestral writing and to the composition of his opera-ballet Padmâvatî, stimulated in part by the visit he and his wife made to India in 1909, a year after their marriage. It was only some ten years later that Roussel began, again, to write chamber music. The oriental interests which prompted the writing of Padmâvatî are audible in the Impromptu for harp of 1919. Roussel avoids most of the clichés of the harp music of the time, and the three-note motif at the beginning, as it transmutes into the mildly hypnotic main theme which succeeds it, has a distinctive quality that is peculiarly Rousselian, and also underlies most of the succeeding sections of the Impromptu.

The two settings of Ronsard are attractive and mildly haunting, without perhaps being entirely satisfying or especially memorable. Much more striking is Joueurs de flute. Its four short(ish) movements are dedicated to four legendary or fictional players of the instrument: Pan, Tityrus, Krishna and, rather less well known, Monsieur de la Péjaudie, hero of Henri de Régnier’s 1920 novel La Pécheresse. The moods and materials of the four pieces are nicely distinguished. ‘Pan’ (dedicated to Marcel Moyse, later to teach James Galway) has some lean melodic lines which gradually evolve into fuller statement, while never losing the dignity of Pan’s status as a divinity; ‘Tityre’ (dedicated to another important flautist, Gaston Blanquart) is a short, quasi rustic dance, befitting Tityrus’ station as a shepherd (however poetic) in Virgil’s Eclogues. ‘Krishna’, in 7/8 and using an Indian mode (‘Shri’), is bewitchingly sensuous and languorous, the interplay of flute and piano particularly lovely (‘Krishna was dedicated to Louis Fleury, flautist at its first performance in Paris in 1925); the brief ‘M. de la Péjaudie’ (dedicated to Philippe Gaubert) has a rather less timeless quality, and speaks much more directly of the early twentieth century, not least in its bustle and seeming uncertainty of tone and direction. Paul Verhey and Jet Röling give an eloquent and persuasive performance of this excellent suite.

The second Sonata for Piano and Violin is certainly more rewarding than its predecessor. Its opening allegro con moto has a sense of drama and insistent expressiveness, while the central Andante is quietly beautiful, fusing grace and terseness in a manner which is the very essence of Roussel and, perhaps also typical, not entirely without moments of darkness too. The Presto which closes the Sonata is a concise dance, of sorts, drily witty and sharp. The performing partnership of Kantorow and Röling works very well together, some of Kantorow’s phrasing and variety of tone being especially pleasing.

Roussel’s Segovia is an attractive musical tribute to the great guitarist, and Jan Goudswaard conveys much of its charm, but his performance is somewhat compromised by a less than vivid recorded sound. A shame, especially as the recorded sound is generally good on these three discs. Certainly there are no sound problems in the Op.30 Serenade. Indeed, the recorded sound lets us hear very well what Roussel makes of his unusual combination of instruments. The Serenade is one of Roussel’s finest works. The initial allegro has a kind of impudent and easy panache, the instrumental colours filling in around and behind the flute with an almost conversational ease; the slow movement has an air of mystery, of a vaguely tropical (Indian?) sensuality which seems more religious than sexual; there is more direct eroticism in the final movement, with its opening and closing dance rhythms (which could have borne a bit more incisive aggression in the performing) framing a central section in which all energy seems exhausted, all senses fulfilled. As with a few of the pieces on this set, the Serenade perhaps doesn’t get the very best performance it has ever had, but it gets an intelligent, accomplished reading, well worth hearing by those who know the work well and admirably suited as an introduction for those who don’t.

The Duo for bassoon and double bass is altogether slighter, but good fun. It was written for Koussevitzky (a virtuoso of the double bass) on the occasion of his being made a member of the Legion d’honneur. It is a playful piece which enjoys the improbable combination of instruments and the sonorities available through it. The Aria No.2, an arrangement for oboe and piano, made by Arthur Hoérée, of one of the Vocalises written by Roussel for voice and piano, is pleasantly lyrical, even if not a work of any great substance.

On the third CD there are a few pieces which are, for one reason or another, do not make especially significant contributions to the body of Roussel’s work. Pipe was written as an instructional piece for the recorder and is a pretty slight affair; Elpénor was written as part of a radio programme, designed to complement poems by Joseph Weterings and heard as a suite it is somewhat meandering, certainly by the tight formal standards one comes to expect from the mature Roussel. The Andante and Scherzo for flute and piano don’t find Roussel writing as well for the flute as he usually does. The andante from the Wind Trio left unfinished at Roussel’s death is perhaps more of a curiosity than anything else. Elsewhere there are works of rather more gravity. Roussel’s only String Quartet is a minor masterpiece of concision, and gets an excellent performance from the Schönberg Quartet, played as it is with fine judgement of tempo and dynamics and with real commitment. I am surprised that we don’t hear this quartet more often; apart from its own intrinsic merits, its relative brevity would surely make it useful balance in quartet recitals built around a couple of longer works. There are some acerbic yet engaging passages in the opening allegro, an attractively worked out sonata; the adagio has real weight and suggestiveness and the both the scherzo of the third movement and the partially fugal final movement are full of compressed and thoughtful music.

Members of the Schönberg Quartet are on hand again in a fine account of the String Trio, the last work Roussel completed, barely a month before his death (he had a good deal of ill health in the last ten years of his life). It isn’t, I think, only the advantage of hindsight that persuades one of the presence of a kind of haunted pain in much of this trio; the allegro seems more a ghost of previous Rousselian allegros, lacking the sheer substance of the ‘real’ thing; the long and marvellous central adagio is at times disturbingly poignant, at times marked by a kind of wistful resignation; the closing scherzo teeters on the edge of the grotesque, its elegance distorted into a kind of macabre dance. The String Trio is quite a powerful work, in a somewhat discomforting manner, the work, surely, of a composer who knew he hadn’t long to live. The other work of substance on this third disc, the 1929 Trio for flute, viola and cello is altogether less troubled. Its three movements are models of Roussel’s neoclassicism, etched like figures on a frieze, the edges clear, the statements aphoristic. After the slightly false start of his very early work, Roussel developed as a composer who hardly ever wasted a note; he says enough and no more. His music isn’t to all tastes and certainly it is rarely music that invites self-indulgence on the listener’s part, any more than it is ever self-indulgently written.

This attractively packaged set is a convenient assemblage of Roussel’s work in the field of chamber music, a sequence of works characterised by the acute, even astringent, intelligence that has gone into their writing and the distinctive beauty of at least some of the results. In some cases better performances of individual works can be found; but there is nothing here that isn’t at the very least assured and accomplished. Either as an invitation to get to know one aspect of the work of a composer who still seems to me rather underrated, or as a ‘library’ set, or as a genuine source of musical pleasure, this is a reissue much to be welcomed.

-- Glyn Pursglove, MusicWeb International
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Albert Roussel (5 April 1869 – 23 August 1937) was a French composer. He spent seven years as a midshipman, turned to music as an adult, and became one of the most prominent French composers of the interwar period. His early works were strongly influenced by the impressionism of Debussy and Ravel, while he later turned toward neoclassicism. He studied with Julien Koszul in Roubaix, with Eugène Gigout in Paris, then continued his studies until 1908 at the Schola Cantorum de Paris where one of his teachers was Vincent d'Indy. While studying, he also taught. His students included Erik Satie and Edgard Varèse.

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Jean-Jacques Kantorow (born 3 October 1945 in Cannes) is a French violin virtuoso and conductor. Since the 1970s he has been noted for his solo performances in a very wide range of repertoire, and as a chamber music performer. His recordings have won many awards. He plays a Stradivarius attributed violin, the ‘ex-Leopold Auer’, dated 1699. In the 1980s he began a separate career as conductor.

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In 2001 the Schoenberg Quartet celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary. The musicians of the Quartet (Janneke van der Meer and Wim de Jong, violins; Henk Guittart, viola; Viola de Hoog, cello) share a common interest in the composers of the Second Viennese School – Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, Anton Webern and Alexander Zemlinsky – and the complete works for strings by these composers form the heart of their repertoire.

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