Category Archives: CD

Sokolov: The Salzburg Recital

Grigory Sokolov (piano)

TPT: 109’ 02”

DGG 479 4342 (2CD)

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

COVER Gregory Sokolov - The Salzburg RecitalLike those two great pianists of an earlier era – Dame Myra Hess in the UK and Leopold Godowsky in the USA – Grigory Sokolov finds studio recordings enormously stressful. As well, Sokolov, more often than not, vetoes the commercial release of recordings of his public performances. But once in a very long while, he might give the nod to a release of a particular recital recording. Happily, this has been the case in relation to his 2008 Salzburg performance. Understandably, there’s been huge interest in the recording.

 

In the opening movement of Mozart’s Piano Sonata K280, the playing seems an instance of profound communion between pianist and composer. There are no stylistic oddities here, no grandstanding – just utter stylistic honesty. The slow Siciliano movement, in particular, is given a beautifully considered performance. The finale, too, is a delight, coming across with an aerial buoyancy, a lightness of touch and a delicious insouciance, It’s a perfect assessment of the music as is Sokolov’s account of K 332..

 

Chopin’s opus 28 – the 24 Preludes – is the musical equivalent of an Ali Baba’s treasure cave. Here, it is presented as if to the manner born. Listen to Prelude No 1 with its glorious lift to the phrase, each a gem of expressiveness. Prelude 2 comes across as the epitome of sadness and regret – and Prelude 3 is presented as a wondrously buoyant will-o’-the-wisp.

 

Prelude 4 in E minor, massacred by legions of well-intentioned children at eisteddfodau, is here a  deeply  meaningful utterance  and Prelude 5 comes across as an outburst of pure joy. In Prelude 6 in B minor, Sokolov plumbs a deep well of melancholy.

 

In Chopin’s famous Prelude 7 in A, Sokolov brings freshness to familiar notes. And the cruelly difficult Prelude 8 in F sharp minor comes across with breathtaking fluency; it’s a mini-marvel of fabulously fine, faultless fingerwork in the right hand.

 

Prelude 9 is pure enchantment – and Prelude 12 is masterly, flashing into enchanted life.

 

Prelude13 is offered as a touchingly introspective nocturne; it’s a model offering. And the outer sections of Prelude 15 – the much loved ‘Raindrop Prelude’ – come across in a movingly expressive way, a perfect foil for implacable repeated notes in the central section with their suggestion of a mournful, tolling bell.

 

Is there a more viciously difficult Prelude than No 16 in B flat minor? It’s been the graveyard of more than a few pianistic reputations. But in this brutally demanding piece, Sokolov reveals himself an Olympian keyboard athlete with near flawlessly accurate left hand leaps and astonishingly rapid fingerwork in the right hand. Bravo!

 

In Prelude18 in F minor, Sokolov’s playing is intensely dramatic, the more so for its subtle rubato. A beautifully considered, lyrical melody line in Prelude 19 is etched against a background of accompanying notes – and the famous, doomladen funeral march that is Prelude 20 is a model of solemnity. Sokolov brings a profoundly lyrical quality to Prelude 21.

 

In Prelude 22 – curiously – there’s a departure from the impeccable taste that informs almost all the rest of opus 28. Rubato is strangely excessive here.

 

Prelude 23, on the other hand, is in exquisite taste with gently glowing tone and subtleties that make this one of the chief joys of the set.

 

Prelude 24 is lacking in drama  – and surely needing greater intensity of attack?

 

Encores include Scriabin’s Poeme opus 69 no 1, magically insightful with gorgeous, glowing tone.

 

There’s more Chopin: the Mazurka opus 68 no 2 given an exquisitely poignant reading. Trills are perfectly spun.  There‘s also an achingly beautiful account of the Mazurka opus 63 no 3 – and wondrous trills and an aerial lightness elevate Sokolov’s account of Rameau’s Les Sauvages to the heights.

 

Bach’s Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ is like a benediction; it calls to mind the playing of Dame Myra Hess: there is no greater praise.

Island Songs

 

Amy Dickson (saxophone)

Sydney Symphony Orchestra

TPT: 60’ 13”

ABC Classics 481 1703

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

COVER_Amy_Dickson_-_Island_Songs_masterTo listen to the music of Peter Sculthorpe is to be drawn instantly into a unique sound and mood world  – and this is exquisitely apparent in his Island Songs, one of his last scores and written expressly for saxophonist extraordinaire Amy Dickson.

 

Calling an enchanted conch shell to mind, Dickson’s opening statement draws one ineluctably into Sculthorpe’s imaginative sound environment with the saxophone line beautifully set off by dark-toned utterances from the strings of Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

 

Finely scored percussion provides an intriguing counter-argument to a lulling, nostalgia-drenched solo line.

 

Song of Home is followed by a slowly unfolding, hushed account of Lament and Yearning. Avian twitterings  remind one of the composer’s enduring love of, and nostalgia for, the remoteness of outback Australia with which he identified so profoundly.

 

Here, every superfluous sound is scrupulously removed, the antithesis of, say, a good deal of the music of Mendelssohn, so often expressed in seemingly endless streams of rapid semiquavers. Not here, though. This is an exercise in which the least says the most, where less is more and there’s not a superfluous sound, each note carefully considered like precious gemstones, each immaculately positioned and set.

A drum tap here, a gentle harp utterance there, a cello’s deep, velvety note.

 

Benjamin Northey takes the SSO through an impeccable accompaniment.

 

Brett Dean’s The Siduri Dances is fascinating fare with saxophone flourishes that call bursts of fireworks to mind – and brief arabesques that evoke images of some inspired dance activity. Dickson is in impressive form, not least in virtuosic passages which she offers in flawless taste. Benjamin Northey presides over events, coaxing a lightly coloured accompaniment from the SSO, ideal for both the work’s more reflective moments and high-register, chatter-box virtuosity from the soloist.

 

A lengthy unaccompanied solo comes across with beautifully controlled tone, followed by what might be thought of as a frenetic conversation between voluble birds. Here, Dickson triumphs in a score replete with traps for all but the most adept and secure of soloists.

 

In Full Moon Dances, a concerto for alto saxophone and orchestra, Ross Edwards gives us a work to cherish, much of it couched in exquisitely gentle terms.

 

Are those castanets in the distance?  Delightfully light-textured instrumentation with gentle gong-like sounds present a fine background for Dickson’s very slowly unfolding saxophone line.

 

Sanctus comes across in a gentle, quiet way, the players sounding as if drawing on the same reservoir of inspiration. The saxophone line whether tonally assertive or quietly introspective is played as if to the manner born. It comes across like a gentle benediction.

 

An irresistibly delightful, dance-like movement that oscillates between cheerful  insouciance and quiet reserve completes the work. There’s excellent work on cello here.

 

Miguel Harth-Bedova takes the SSO through a finely supportive accompaniment.

 

All in all, archetypal Edwards at his most persuasive. There’s a storm of applause at the close of this ‘live’ recording.

 

On the evidence of this fine recording, it is clear that Amy Dickson is a worthy successor to Peter Clinch who did so much to raise standards and expectations of fine performances on an instrument heard still far too infrequently in a concerto context.   –

 

 

Incense and Arabie

 

Duncan Gardiner (guitar) and friends

TPT: 54’ 00”

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

Excellent diction and a plaintive melody line from Lucinda Rae with steady guitar chords and Louise McKay’s gentle  cello musings make Gardiner’s Incense and Arabie a splendid opening track.

 

053An arrangement of Greensleeves, that timeless Tudor evergreen, is given most sensitive treatment, too, in a performance blissfully free of the extraneous noises – squeaks, clanks, creaks – that so often bedevil the playing of lesser musicians. And in My Song (for you), composer/guitarist Gardiner gives us a gently melancholy, restful utterance.

 

Gardiner’s Peridot Suite for piano is played, beautifully, by FaithDuncanGardiner2 Maydwell in a performance which comes across in turn wistful, yearning and melancholy as if heard, rather delightfully, on a fine quality musical box.

 

Gardiner also plays his Tears All Around, music that’s informed by a gentle sadness.

 

Cradled in Time and Space places violinist Lena Bennett firmly in the spotlight. She  plays most expressively in synchronisation with Gardiner’s perfectly pitched, arpeggionated accompaniment.

 

In And so the Peacock Cried, we listen to the versatile Gardiner playing on recorder; it has a haunting quality.

 

There is much else in a delightfully laidback presentation. Bravo

Songs My Mother Taught Me

 

Nemanja Radulovic (violin) and friends

DGG 479 4922

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

If you’ve not yet come across the name Nemanja Radulovic, make a note of it. Because if his recent debut CD for DGG, titled Songs My Mother Taught Me, is anything to go by, this young man with an immense shock of hair and a frankly astounding musical gift, is on a fast track to fame. I listened in astonishment as he demonstrated phenomenal insight and finesse in this collection of encore-type miniatures.

 

image002Although many of these pieces have long been in the standard concert repertoire and recorded umpteen times, in this young fiddler’s hands, they sound transformed – newly minted. This is no small achievement.

 

Listen, for instance, to the Russian Dance from Tchaikowsky’s score for Swan Lake. Radulovic’s account is a miniature music miracle. Is there a more murdered piece than Monti’s famous Czardas? Yet, here too, the performance is revelatory, making familiar notes sound as if being heard for the very first time.

 

But although there are numerous pieces here that are very widely known, there are also a number of fascinating, seldom heard  items from Eastern Europe. Here, too, Radulovic makes magic, wielding his bow like some enchanted wand to take the listener into a sonic world that will be new and engaging for an international audience.

 

I would very much like to listen to Radulovic in one or other of the great fiddle concertos or, say, one of Bach’s works for unaccompanied violin to gauge the full extent of his phenomenal skill on the violin.

 

Kalajic’s Vatra Suze (Tears of Fire) ranges from a powerful, blazing intensity to ear-caressing gentleness. And Pasona Kolo, a traditional Serbian dance, is taken at absolutely phenomenal speed with piano, percussion and whistles combining to thrilling effect.

 

A seductive, sweet-toned nocturne by Khachaturian is delivered with a finesse which is beyond conventional criticism. The Romance which Shostakovich wrote for the Gadfly movie is offered at a similarly high level. As well, there’s a delightful take on Prokofiev’s March from The Love for Three Oranges.

 

The theme from Schindler’s List is given profoundly moving treatment, music that is a distillation of sadness and regret.

 

On the basis of this debut recording for DGG, Radulovic’s star is clearly on the ascendant – and it shines dazzlingly in this compilation.

 

 

Johann Peter Pixis: Concerto in C, opus 100; Concertino in E flat, opus 68

 

Sigismund Thalberg: Concerto in F minor, opus 5

Howard Shelley (piano and conductor)

Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra

Hyperion CDA67915

TPT: 70’10”

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

Recently, I conducted a mini-poll at an orchestral concert. During the interval, I asked a number of people whether they knew who Johann Peter Pixis was. No one had a clue. I followed up by asking the same question concerning Sigismond Thalberg. Identical outcome except for one concertgoer who wondered if he was a property consultant!

 

For this reason alone, Howard Shelley’s tireless work in retrieving and recording long-forgotten concertos deserves every encouragement. Certainly, it resuscitates music of an era when pianistic giants roamed the earth. Unlike the dinosaur, however, these piano concertos, courtesy of Shelley’s artistry, have been brought back to pulsing life.

 

Pixis  ThalbergPixis’ Piano Concerto in C is a charm-laden opus. It might not be music of any great depth but it is put together with skill – and Shelley plays it as if to the manner born.

 

From an authoritative opening statement, Shelley is entirely in command both of keyboard and orchestral accompaniment. And if through some miracle of time-travel, the shade of the composer had hovered over the recording session, I imagine the phantom Herr Pixis would have saluted a job well done.

 

This is music which in lesser hands, could well descend into drabness or meretricious note-spinning – but not here, performed as it is by a pianist/conductor at the top of his game.

 

DSC_8960In physical terms, the playing is entirely convincing. Even in the midst of avalanches of notes, there’s no hint of strain. It unfolds with an ease and clarity that warrant the highest commendation.

 

In the slow movement, Shelley’s playing is beautifully expressive – and he romps through the finale, in turn delightfully delicate and robustly emphatic.

 

Also on disc is the first ever commercial recording of Pixis’ Concertino in E flat. How easily the first movement could come across as a succession of Czerny-like studies – but Shelley, like the pianistic conjuror he is, makes the piece sound very much better than it in fact is.

 

There’s some fine horn playing in the adagio sostenuto, the piano part given a deeply expressive reading with contrasting moments of rapid fingerwork.

 

There’s an utterly engaging, jovial and devil-may-care insouciance to the finale.

 

 

Pixis, incidentally, was, as well as a composer, a fine pianist. Chopin, in fact, thought so highly of him that he dedicated his Fantasy on Polish Airs to him.

 

Shelley seems positively to revel in Sigismond Thalberg’s Piano Concerto in F minor, whether in dramatic flourishes or extraordinarily nimble passagework. He does wonders, too, in the adagio which comes across like an exquisitely considered nocturne; it is the high point of the concerto. And in the concluding rondo allegro, Shelley’s astonishingly nimble fingers steer a faultless way across treacherous  terrain where even a split second of hesitation could cause a musical crisis.

 

Not the least of this recording’s many pleasures is the consistently meaningful accompaniment which Shelley coaxes from an in-form Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. Its playing is a joy.