concerto music

NIGEL HESS - PIANO CONCERTO     UCJ 1774850

Nigel Hess Piano ConcertoNigel Hess is an award-winning British composer best known for his television, theatre and film soundtracks, including the theme tunes to Wycliffe, Dangerfield and Ladies in Lavender. He studied music at Cambridge University, where he was music director of the Footlights Revue, and went on to become music director and house composer for the Royal Shakespeare Company, where he contributed twenty scores and was awarded the New York Drama Desk Award for his work on Much Ado About Nothing and Cyrano de Bergerac. In 2007, The Prince of Wales commissioned Hess to write a piano concerto in memory of his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. One of the composer’s earliest memories is watching the Humphrey Jennings wartime documentary, Listen To Britain, and seeing his great-aunt Dame Myra Hess playing Mozart in London’s National Gallery during one of the famous lunchtime concerts, with the then Queen Elizabeth in the audience. His new twenty-three minute composition is made up of three movements which reflect key aspects of The Queen Mother’s personality. The first one is light and gay, the second quietly reflective, and the third opens with echoes of the dark days of the Blitz before finishing in a celebration of her extraordinary life. The concerto received its world premiere at a concert dedicated to the memory of the Queen Mother and organised by Music in Country Churches, of which the Prince of Wales is patron. The soloist then and on this recording is the phenomenal Chinese pianist Lang Lang, who gives a characteristically exhilarating performance with the London Chamber Orchestra under Christopher Warren-Green. This attractive, neo-Romantic music is tuneful and highly accessible - clearly influenced by Rachmaninov and Richard Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto, appropriately written for the 1941 film, Dangerous Moonlight.

VIVALDI – CONCERTOS AND SONATAS      WARNER 2564 64320-2

Vivaldi ConcertosThe astonishingly prolific Antonio Lucio Vivaldi composed over 500 concertos, 46 operas, 73 sonatas, sinfonias, chamber music and much inspiring church music. Of his concertos, approximately 350 are for solo instrument and strings, and of these about 230 are for violin. The others are for bassoon, cello, oboe, flute, viola d’amore, recorder, lute, and mandolin. About 40 concertos are for two instruments and strings, and approximately 30 are for three or more instruments and strings. This splendid 18 disc box set features Vivaldi’s published concertos and sonatas, opp.1-12, six sonatas for cello and harpsichord (without opus number) and Nicolas Chedeville’s ‘Il Pastor Fido’ - six sonatas for flute and harpsichord (attributed to Vivaldi).The soloists are Piero Toso, Giuliano Carmignola and Juan Carlos Rybin (violins), Gianni Chiampan and the great Paul Tortelier (cellos), Jean Pierre Rampal (flute), Pierre Pierlot (oboe), Edoardo Farina and Robert Veyron-Lacroix (harsichord). I Solisti Veneti are directed in dynamic style by Claudio Scimone and bring a freshness and authority to this irresistible music.

MOZART – PIANO CONCERTOS    BERLIN CLASSICS 0002462CCC

Harpsichord concertos were written throughout the Baroque era, most notably by J S Bach, but in the 18th century the piano became a more popular choice. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was an amazingly prolific composer and was the most important figure in the early development of the piano concerto, writing many of his 27 solo piano concerti for himself to perform. The first four concertos are arrangements of other early works and contain no original material, but the Concerto No. 5 in D (composed in 1773 when Mozart was only 17) is an ambitious work and No.9 in E Flat (the ‘Jeunehomme’). This magnificent 10-CD box set contains all of Mozart’s piano concertos from 5 to 27, apart from the 7th (a less serious piece for three pianos, written for a countess and her two daughters) and the 10th (composed for two pianos). The CDs include some of the greatest piano concertos ever written, such as No.15 in B Flat with its ‘hunting’ finale, the graceful No.17 in G, No.19 in F and one of Mozart’s best known works, No.21 in C, the haunting slow movement of which was used for the film Elvira Madigan. Kurt Masur was ppointed conductor of the Dresden Philharmonic in 1955 and in 1967 he became the Orchestra’s chief conductor, a post he held until 1972. They can be heard in fine form together on these 1970s recordings with East German soloist Annerose Schmidt. Her intelligent musicianship and sympathetic phrasing is particularly evident in the grand Concerto No.25 in C, with its imposing first movement that would later influence Beethoven's fourth piano fifth symphony, and the ethereal No. 27. Also included are two delightful Rondos for piano and orchestra. Highly recommended.

POULENC/MILHAUD/BARTOK    BRIDGE 9224

Susan Grace and Alice Rybak are two distinguished pianists who have earned acclaim as soloists and chamber musicians in the United States and abroad. They share a special interest in the vast repertoire for two pianos and the unique collaboration involved in its performance. Playing together as Quattro Mani, their special interest has been in twentieth century repertoire, collaborating with composers such as George Crumb, Joan Tower and Frederic Rzewski and playing in contemporary music festivals throughout the USA, Asia and Europe. On this attractively produced CD from Bridge, the duo join Scott Yoo and the Colorado College Festival Orchestra (together with percussionists David Colson, Peter Cooper, John Kinzie and Michael Tetreault) to perform three brilliant twentieth century concertos - Francis Poulenc’s sparkling Concerto in D minor for Two Pianos and Orchestra, Darius Milhaud’s rarely heard Second Concerto for Two Pianos and Percussion, and Béla Bartók’s superb Concerto for Two Pianos, Percussion and Orchestra. The Milhaud concerto was influenced by the Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion by Bartók, a composer he greatly admired, and Bartók himself scored this sonata as a concerto with orchestra, adding woodwinds, four horns, trumpets, three trombones, celesta and strings to bring even more colour and intensity to a piece. All of the famous Bartók trademarks are present: ‘night music’, fugal sections, original instrumental effects and joyous dance music. Highly recommended.

PORTRAITS – JENNIFER KOH      CEDILLE CDR 90000 089

Born in Chicago of Korean parents, the internationally acclaimed violinist Jennifer Koh now lives in New York City. A precocious childhood talent - she played alongside the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the age of eleven - Koh won the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1994 and has become a master of her instrument. An elegant, intelligent performer, she combines lightness of touch with an often adventurous and innovative repertoire. On this new CD she plays three demanding works for violin and orchestra by Bela Bartok, Bohuslav Martinu, and Karol Szymanowski. The recording quality is excellent and the Grant Park Orchestra, conducted by Carlos Kalmar, has a perfect understanding with the soloist. Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 35 is perhaps the most accessible piece here and Jennifer Koh brings out all its lush lyricism. Martinu’s dynamic Violin Concerto No. 2 receives a suitably extrovert performance, and the revolutionary Two Portraits, Op. 5, by Bartok were inspired by his love for the violinist Steffi Geyer. Assured virtuosity and bold repertoire make this a memorable and rewarding album that will further enhance Jennifer Koh’s enviable reputation. ‘She’s exciting to watch, a petite firebrand who revels in emotional display’ - Chicago Tribune.

STUART MACRAE - VIOLIN CONCERTO & OTHER WORKS   NMC D115

The acclaimed young Scottish composer Stuart MacRae was born in Inverness, in 1976, and first came to public attention as a finalist in the 1996 Lloyd’s Bank Young Composer’s Workshop with his orchestral piece Boeraig. In 2001 his remarkable Violin Concerto was premièred at the BBC Proms, performed by soloist Tasmin Little and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Martyn Brabbins. Between 1999 and 2003, MacRae was Composer-in-Association with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, who can be heard on this recording under its chief conductor Ilan Volkov. The soloist in MacRae’s intense and challenging Violin Concerto is the internationally-renowned Christian Tetzlaff. The orchestra also gives a rugged performance of Stirling Choruses, written for the brass section of the BBC SSO, which resoundingly reflects upon the ‘dark and foreboding’ Stirling Castle. These works are joined by Motus, a processional for six instruments, written for and outstandingly played by the excellent Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, conducted by Susanna Malkki. This ensemble also perform Two Scenes from the Death of Count Ugolino, a piece based on a gruesome section of Dante Alghieri’s Inferno and featuring the mezzo-soprano Loré Lixenberg. Stuart MacRae recently completed his first opera (The Assassin Tree) and is the Edinburgh Festival’s Creative Fellow for 2005/6.

VIVALDI - CELLO CONCERTOS          HYPERION CDA67553

Like most instruments, the cello has a mixed and anonymous parentage, developing out of the viol da gamba, the viola di fagotto and bass viols of various descriptions. Most such viols had six or seven strings where the cello today has four, is tuned in fifths rather than fourths, and has no frets on the fingerboard. The first cellos were produced in the town of Cremona, in 16th Century Italy, and perfected by the Amati, Guarneri and Stradivari families. Antonio Vivaldi wrote more cello concertos (at least twenty-eight) than anyone else to date. This new recording includes six of his most accomplished works as well as one particularly fine concerto whose attribution is open to question. All seven are wonderful examples of the form to which Vivaldi continually returned throughout his long composing career. He is not known to have been a cellist, but his interest in the instrument can be ascribed to a distinguished list of virtuosic performers at the Pietà, the Venetian orphanage whose musical prowess was the envy of contemporary Europe. Vivaldi himself worked for the institution for many years, continuing to supply fresh compositions long after other engagements took him further afield. The music here is performed by the versatile young British cellist, Jonathan Cohen, accompanied by Robert King and The King’s Consort, acknowledged leaders in the interpretation of Vivaldi. They are joined by Sarah McMahon in the three-part Concerto for two cellos in which the two solo instruments maintain a wonderful balance, each in perfect proportion to the other and often sharing exact notes.

MENDELSSOHN - VIOLIN CONCERTO   DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 476 3159

This disc is the follow up recording from the remarkable young Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti to her first CD with Deutsche Grammophon, which featured her outstanding performance of the challenging Szymanowski Concerto No 1. The BBC’s Young Musician of the Year for 2004 now turns to the more mainstream Mendelssohn Violin Concerto and her playing is again as assured, fresh and lively as we have come to expect. As well as the Mendelssohn masterpiece, the new album also includes the World Premiere recording of an atmospheric two-movement piece by her fellow-Scot, James MacMillan, composed especially for Benedetti. The title ‘From Ayreshire’ is a reference to the musicians’ shared home county. Both of these pieces as well as an arrangement of Schubert’s Serenade (Leise flehen meine Lieder, D957) are conducted by James MacMillan with the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Completing the disc are a harp and violin arrangement by Skaila Kanga of Schubert’s ever popular Ave Maria and two short Mozart pieces (Rondo K.373 & Adagio K.261) directed by Benedetti from the violin. This is elegant musicianship from a performer who is still not quite 19 years old, and although Nicola Benedetti failed to win the two awards she was nominated for at the recent Classical Brit Awards she will surely gather many others before too long.

SHOSTAKOVICH - VIOLIN CONCERTOS NOS. 1 & 2    WARNER 2564 62546-2

Dmitri Shostakovich was working on this wonderful Violin Concerto No. 1 in 1948 when Stalin’s cultural apparatchik made a speech denouncing him along with Prokofiev and others, charging them with ‘formalism’. Shostakovich therefore put away the concerto until a more propitious time, which was shortly after Stalin’s death. In the mid-1950s, he completed two of his most acclaimed works: the great Tenth Symphony and this first Violin Concerto. Although there are similarities, the inward-looking, introspective Concerto in A minor, is very different from the outward looking, expansive symphony. Its first movement, called ‘Nocturne’, is supremely beautiful and meditative. The second is an amazing Scherzo and the third a complex movement containing thematic references to the Tenth Symphony. The fourth movement, entitled ‘Burlesca’, is an exciting whirlwind of dance-like themes. This concerto, together with Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 2 and the Romance from The Gadfly, is performed here by Daniel Hope with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Maxim Shostakovich - the composer’s eldest son, for whom he wrote his second piano concerto. Born in 1974, the British violinist Daniel Hope has won many awards, including the Classical Brit Award for Young British Classical Performer in 2004, and became the youngest ever member of the legendary Beaux Arts Trio. His music-making has explored a wide variety of musical ideas, including jazz and Indian music, and he actively commissions works by young composers. ‘The future of the contemporary violin is indeed safe in his hands’ - BBC Music Magazine.

HARTY - PIANO CONCERTO     NAXOS 8.557731

The composer Sir Herbert Hamilton Harty was born the son of a church organist in Hillsborough, Northern Ireland, in 1879. Hamilton played viola, piano and organ as a child, and followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a church organist from the age of 12. After moving to London in 1901 he worked as accompanist to an impressive range of soloists, including John McCormack, Joseph Szigeti, Fritz Kreisler and the soprano Agnes Nicholls, whom he later married. As well as being one of the leading accompanists of his day, Harty was also a fine conductor and an accomplished composer of works such as An Irish Symphony, the tone poems With the Wild Geese and The Children of Lir, his Violin Concerto, and a setting of Ode to a Nightingale for soprano and orchestra. He was permanent conductor of the Halle Orchestra from 1920 until 1933, during which time it became one of the country’s premier orchestras. He was knighted in 1925 and died on February 19, 1941, since when his compositions have been unfairly neglected. The Ulster Orchestra under the direction of Takuo Yuasa perform Harty’s Piano Concerto in B minor (with the excellent soloist Peter Donohoe), Fantasy Scene, and Comedy Overture. The Romantic Piano Concerto is reminiscent of Rachmaninov and was composed at Fiesole in Italy in 1922 before being first performed the following year. A Comedy Overture was one of Harty’s most popular early works and Fantasy Scenes (From an Eastern Romance) paints the conventional ‘Arabian Nights’ picture in four movements: The Laughing Juggler, A Dancer’s Reverie, Lonely in Moonlight and In the Slave Market. This new release from Naxos is particularly welcome and should bring Harty’s impressive music to a wider audience.

MUSIC OF ELLIOTT CARTER, VOL. 7   BRIDGE 9184

Born in New York City in 1908, Elliott Carter became interested in music in high school and was encouraged by Charles Ives. He later studied with Walter Piston at Harvard University and with Nadia Boulanger in Paris before returning to New York to devote his time to composing and teaching. He is widely recognised today as one of the great innovators of 20th century music, with challenging works such as the Variations for Orchestra, Symphony of Three Orchestras, and his many fine concertos and string quartets. Carter received his first of his two Pulitzer Prizes for his contributions to the string quartet tradition. Stravinsky greatly admired his orchestral works, such as the Double Concerto for harpsichord, piano and two chamber orchestras (1961) and Piano Concerto (1967), and Aaron Copland called him ‘one of America's most distinguished creative artists’. Carter has been awarded the Gold Medal for Music by the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the National Medal of Arts, membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and honorary degrees from many universities. This latest edition in the excellent Bridge series celebrates his centenary by featuring the BBC Symphony Orchestra in premiere recordings of four Carter compositions from the past six years. Conducted by Oliver Knussen, these remarkable works reveal a composer still at the peak of his powers. The magnificent Dialogues for piano and chamber orchestra was a BBC Radio 3 commission for the outstanding young British pianist Nicolas Hodges and is written for piano solo and chamber orchestra. Boston Concerto is based on a William Carlos Williams poem, ‘Rain’, chosen to convey the composer’s love for his wife Helen. The Cello Concerto, played by Carter specialist Fred Sherry, is scored for a large orchestra. The light-hearted 12 minute ASKO Concerto was commissioned by the Asko Ensemble of Amsterdam and the recording here is of its first performance public in the Concertgebouw in 2000. Bridge also recently issued Volume Six of this series, featuring Rolf Schulte’s performance of Carter’s Violin Concerto (BRIDGE 9177).

HALFFTER - SINFONIETTA/GUITAR CONCERTO     ESSAY CD1092

Ernesto Halffter was one of Spain’s leading 20th-century composers and is best known for his Sinfonietta, which typically combines the various influences on Spanish composers at that time (1927). Halffter was much influenced by Manuel de Falla, with whom he co-author his cantata Atlantida, and was also a friend of and collaborator with Dali, Garcia Lorca, Alberti, Bunuel and others of the ‘Generation of 1927’. His works also reveal the influence neo-classicism as well as of Stravinsky, Ravel (with whom he studied) and French composers such as Milhaud, Poulenc and Honegger. Ernesto Halffter was born in Madrid in 1905 and composed his first piano music at the age thirteen. He later took composition lessons with Manuel de Falla in Granada. Halffter’s Sinfonietta quickly won him international acclaim and his career subsequently combined composing, conducting and teaching (he was professor to the Spanish Institute in Lisbon). Ernesto Halffter was among the talented Spanish artists of his generation and this excellent CD brings together two of his most enduring works. Richard Kapp conducts the Philharmonia Virtuosi in a concert performance of the impressive Sinfonietta and the outstanding American guitarist Eliot Fisk joins them as soloist in an earlier (1987) concert recording of the graceful Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra, first played at Town Hall in New York in 1969. Fisk’s technique is dazzling and the orchestra performs with great vivacity throughout. Highly recommended.

VIOTTI - THE COMPLETE VIOLIN CONCERTOS   DYNAMIC CDS498/1-10

Giovanni Battista Viotti was born in 1755 in Fontanetto da Po, Piedmont, Italy. He must have been an outstanding young violinist because by the age of eleven he joined the court of Prince Alfonso dal Pozzo della Cisterna in Turin. Alfonso financed his training and one of his teachers was Giulio Gaetano Pugnani. Viotti made his first concert tour abroad with Pugnani in 1780 then moved to Paris, where he made a strong impression as a musician and entered the service of Marie-Antoinette. The Revolution in 1792 caused him to seek refuge in London, where he played at concerts in which Haydn was involved during his visits to London in the 1790s. Political exile from London took Viotti to Germany and on his return to London at the beginning of the new century he occupied himself with the wine trade, rarely playing in public. In 1819 he was appointed director of the Paris Opéra, a position he relinquished two years later, when he returned to London, dying there in 1824. His career as a performer was short, but his influence on violin-playing was considerable, inspiring a new generation of players such as Rode, Kreutzer and Baillot. Viotti’s orchestral music consists principally of his violin concertos, written in a style that develops from the compositions of the early 1780s to the romantic lyricism of the later concertos. This magnificent 10-CD box set is the culmination of a fifteen-year-long project by Dynamic, featuring all 29 of Viotti’s elegant and imaginative Violin Concertos. In many cases these are world première recordings of works that are virtually unknown. Franco Mezzana is the soloist and also conducts the Viotti Chamber Orchestra and Orchestra da Camera Milano Classica. This is an indispensable collection of music that provides a fascinating link between 18th-century violin tradition and the imminent Paganini revolution.

FEURMANN IN CONCERT    CELLO CLASSICS CC1013

Emanuel (‘Munio’) Feuermann was born in Kolomea, Galicia (then part of the Austrian Empire, now part of the Soviet Union) on 22 November 1902 and died in New York City aged only 39 and at the height of his powers. At the time of his tragically early death, he was recognised by Pablo Casals and many others as one of the finest cellists of the twentieth century. This new release features Feuermann playing the Saint-Saëns Concerto No.1 with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, originally broadcast live in 1939. This is the only recording of the work by Feuermann and has survived incomplete. It has been re-mastered for this enhanced CD and completed with the help of cellist Steven Isserlis (playing the same Stradivarius cello used by Feuermann) and some exceptionally clever technical wizardry. Also included as an encore is the only recording of unaccompanied Bach that Feuermann ever made, as well as previously un-heard takes of works by Bach and Fauré. An unusual feature of this CD, accessible by playing the disc on a computer, is unique film footage of the great cellist in a short film made in 1939, with two popular works from his repertoire: Dvorak’s Rondo and Popper’s Spinning Song. This is essential listening for admirers of a remarkable virtuoso and anyone interested in the history of cello music.

LES SAISONS AMUSANTES - VIVALDI/CHEDEVILLE    LINN CKD 070

Nicolas Chédeville (1705-82) ingeniously adapted Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons to create a new seasonal cycle of six concertos. They are arranged from various movements of the original but only ‘Spring’ is used in its entirety. ‘Summer is omitted completely and the outer movements of ‘Autumn’ embrace the central largo from ‘Winter’. The remaining material is borrowed from other concertos and simplified, with solo parts arranged for violin, recorder, the wheezing hurdy-gurdy and the musette (a variety of bagpipe). The inventiveness of this delightful novelty should appeal to anyone overexposed to to the standard Four Seasons. The Palladian Ensemble are Pamela Thorby (recorders), Rodolfo Richter (violin), Susanne Heinrich (viola da gamba) and William Carter (archlute, theorbo, guitar), with guest musicians Richard Egarr (harpsichord, organ), Nigel Eaton (hurdy-gurdy) and Jean-Pierre Rasle (baroque musette). This acclaimed period-instrument group’s sparkling performance on this recording is irresistible. ‘The Palladian Ensemble and their guests make the most of their opportunities with verve, virtuosity and varied instrumental colour’ - Gramophone.

 

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