Saturday, June 29, 2013

Newly heard: R Murray Schafer, etc

Pick of the last fortnight is the Molinari Quartet's second collection of string quartets by Canadian composer R Murray Schafer, whose 80th birthday is in a couple of weeks (ATMA). I remember several years back on eMusic people were urging me to listen to the first set (nos.1-7) but that was one of many things I never got round to. Now here's nos.8-12, written between 2000 and 2012. They're works with immediate appeal, and each quite different: 8 has some orientalisms in it; 9 makes use of a recording of a girl's voice singing an innocent tune, along with occasional interruptions from the sound of children playing; and the evocative 10, subtitled "Winter Birds", includes a brief recitation by the composer describing the snowy world of his farm in Ontario.

Rachel Barton Pine's "Violin Lullabies" (Cedille) could, in other hands, have been Classical Diabetes, but this is a genuinely lovely album. Her tone avoids the cloying sweetness we might associate with these sorts of pieces, and she makes use of various types of mute for half the works. And it's not just the usual suspects here - it opens with the Brahms but before we get to Gershwin's "Summertime" we hear music from Ysaye, Rebikov, Beach, Schwab, and Respighi. So it manages to be both a good "starter" album for parents and a bit of a byway exploration for us collector types.

Vox Luminis's new album (Ricercar) focuses on the music used for the funeral of Queen Mary, which was composed not just by Purcell but also by James Paisible, Thomas Tollett, and Thomas Morley; there are also other funeral works by Thomas Weelkes, Thomas Tomkins, and Purcell again (his Funeral Sentences were apparently not written for Queen Mary). This is music I know through the classic Winchester Cathedral recording, but obviously Vox Luminis's 16 voices bring a very different sound, which I must say I prefer.

Kimmo Hakola's guitar concerto takes medieval Spain, and specifically the Sephardic Jews, as its inspiration. If, like me, you already know his clarinet concerto and enjoy its klezmer influences, then this is probably recommendation enough to get the new recording from Timo Korhonen with the Oulu Symphony Orchestra under Santtu-Matias Rouvali (Ondine). For me, Hakola's work is the main event of the album, but there's also two substantial (at times, huge) pieces by Toshio Hosokawa, both of which are inspired in some way by the lotus; Blossoming II is for orchestra, while Voyage IX (Awakening) is a guitar concerto.

I'm gradually building up a picture of Erwin Schulhoff's music, and the second volume of piano works (mostly from the 1920s) on Grand Piano from Caroline Weichert reveals the influence of jazz and other popular music. It's by and large rather light stuff, though a great "whut the...?" moment comes with the Fünf Pittoresken of 1919; after a Foxtrot and a Ragtime, we're treated to a piece called In Futurum, which consists entirely of rests. An amiable disc, and it sounds well too. Grand Piano seems to have found a good niche for itself.

Andreas Staier's new album of harpsichord music is - well, that should be recommendation enough for a lot of people.  Anyway, it's called "Pour passer la Mélancolie" (Harmonia Mundi) and while it's not exactly a laff riot the music is far too interesting for us to dismiss it as generically gloomy. I find harpsichord recitals are heavily dependent on the sound of the instrument, and this one brings everything to life. The album grew on me each time I returned to it.

Finally, a special mention to the splendid cover disc on the most recent BBC Music Magazine, a 1973 Proms performance of Holst's Planets from Adrian Boult and the BBCSO. It was a Boult recording of the work that first introduced me to classical music so there's a wee bit of nostalgia attached, but it's a marvellous performance anyway. Plus it's accompanied by a more recent Proms performance, Paul Lewis in Beethoven's 1st piano concerto.

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