Friday, October 2, 2009

This week I listened to

Barriere: Cello sonatas
Bruno Cocset; Les Basses Réunies

Jean Barriere (c1705-1747) was "one of the finest cello virtuosos in France", according to Grove. In the 1730s he published 4 books of sonatas for cello with basso continuo, and this recording gives a sample of 6 sonatas. This is wonderful music, full of life and expressiveness, with plenty of opportunity for the cellist to show off. Right now I'm listening to a gorgeous Larghetto (Sonata no.6 from Book II). Another fine production from the small French label Alpha. Recommended to pretty much anyone.

Part: "In Principio"
Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir; Estonian National Symphony Orchestra/Tonu Kaljuste
ECM New Series

Quite a dark-hued album. In principio (setting the start of St John's Gospel) is closer to Philip Glass than I've ever heard from Part. La Sindone is the Shroud of Turin; obviously not a descriptive tone poem but a brooding orchestral meditation that builds to a huge climax. Cecilia, vergine romana is another quite dark one, concerned I suppose with the saint's martyrdom rather than her role as music's patron. This is now my third version of Da Pacem Domine (this choir also sang it for Paul Hillier on Harmonia Mundi); I think it's one of Part's finest works, a vast rolling ocean. The last 2 pieces are orchestra-only: Mein Weg churns along, while Fur Lennart in memoriam is a mostly warm and gentle piece. As a whole, the album isn't the best of introductions to Part's music, but it's an excellent release nonetheless.

Ewazen: Orchestral music and concertos
various soloists; Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra/Paul Polivnick

I'd never heard of Ewazen until I happened to come across him on eMusic a couple of years ago. From the samples he struck me as a composer worth getting to know, but I didn't do anything about it until he appeared on the cover of a recent Fanfare. In the interview, Ewazen spent some time discussing the works on this particular album, so I decided this would make for a good introduction, and it certainly is. Ewazen says that in his tenor sax concerto he wanted to capture the nature of Prokofiev's "Classical" symphony, while in the Chamber Symphony he was aiming for a Brandenburg no.5 deal with a notable contribution from the piano. There's also a flute concerto and a Ballade for clarinet and orchestra. The cover of Fanfare uses the words "Appealing, enthusiastic, a melodic gift, a joy...", which is spot on.

Beethoven: Bagatelles
Linda Nicholson

The lighter side of Ludwig, here played on a lovely-sounding fortepiano. If you like fortepianos, that is. Those who insist that Beethoven was actually composing for a modern grand will probably be horrified, especially on those occasions when a string will twang like a sitar. Personally, I love it - I have no problems with a good fortepiano for Beethoven, and I think it's very much apropos for pieces like these. Linda Nicholson seems to have particular fun with Rage over a lost penny, a piece I think should be much better known, and she manages to blow the dust off Fur Elise too.

Shostakovich: The Nose
soloists, orchestra and chorus of the Mariinsky Theatre/Valery Gergiev

Based on a short story by Gogol, in which an official's nose disappears, prompting a search through St Petersburg. Shostakovich wrote this opera when he was 22, and it makes you pause and think what his composing career might have been like if Stalin hadn't intervened a few years later - Shostakovich's only other opera was Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. As you might expect given the nature of the story, this is crazy stuff, one of its more notable features being a 3-minute solo-percussion interlude. There's close to 100 separate roles - although most of them get a few lines at best. It's not often you see such effort being put into triviality! It's all great fun (assuming you have the libretto, obviously).

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