5044275-origpic-df6a41The young Jordanian-Palestinian pianist Iyad Sughayer makes an excellent case for the piano music of Aram Khachaturian in this impressive debut album.

Most people are familiar only with Khachaturian’s ballet music for Gayaneh and Spartacus, which regularly appears in concert programmes, but he also wrote a considerable amount of piano music, though only the sparkling, technically-challenging Toccata (here despatched with finesse and élan by Sughayer) has made it into the recital repertoire. This disc is a very welcome opportunity to explore his rarely-played piano music.

Organised as a recital, the disc opens with the virtuosic and expansive E-flat Piano Sonata of 1961. Two big-boned, tumultuous outer movements are offset by a haunting, perfumed lyrical middle movement. Sughayer expertly handles the varying moods and technical demands of this work with a confident polish and a crisp direct sound.

The rest of the album comprises shorter works, including the charming Children’s Album, also known as The Adventures of Ivan. Originally written for pedagogical purposes, these appealing miniatures are by turns poignant, witty and playful, often infused with folk idioms, and Sughayer neatly catches their contrasting characters, elevating these pieces beyond teaching music with his expressive tone control and sensitivity to this music’s changing moods (attributes which are in fact evident throughout this disc).

The disc closes with the showpiece, the Toccata (1932), which Sughayer manages with an impressive aplomb. Overall, this disc is fine showcase for Iyad Sughayer’s talent and an excellent introduction to the piano music of Aram Khachaturian.

Recommended

Khachaturian – Piano Works is available on the BIS label.

 

 

1566285092For many pianists, our first encounter with the music of Cyril Scott is through his exotic, languorous piece Lotus Land. This was also Georgian pianist Nino Gvetadze’s first introduction to Scott’s piano music, through one of her teachers at Tbilisi Conservatory.

Scott’s music is rarely performed today, though Lotus Land remains a perennial favourite at courses and piano clubs (I first discovered it when a friend played it at a weekend piano course and was drawn to its impressionistic, Debussyan idioms). His characterful piano miniatures were popular at their time of writing, at the start of the twentieth century when a piano graced most drawing rooms and there was a keen appetite and fashion for small pieces and songs which could be enjoyed at home. Lotus Land was a novelty for its time; evocative of exotic Eastern places with its perfumed harmonies and black-key glissandi, it is based on one of Scott’s own poems.

Scott stood on the cusp of the modern era: born in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, as a student he heard Clara Schumann play, but his music and attitudes were forward-looking, even revolutionary. In addition to music, he also wrote poetry and copious prose on a variety of subjects from mysticism, religion and the occult to health and well-being. A vegetarian, he advocated alternative medicine and herbal remedies.

cyrilscott-nationalportraitgallery
Portrait of Cyril Scott by George Hall Neale (National Portrait Gallery, London)

Both John Ireland and Eugene Goosens recognised Scott’s position at the forefront of modern British composers, a key figure who pioneered a move away from the stranglehold of nineteenth-century Germanic romanticism and a musical conservatism, and he was admired by Wagner, Debussy, Richard Strauss, Stravinsky and his lifelong friend and enthusiastic supporter Percy Grainger. But despite a prolific output of orchestral and chamber music, two operas, incidental music, and works for chorus, by the time of the Second World War, Scott’s music had declined in popularity, though he continued to compose, undeterred.

In her new recording of Cyril Scott’s piano music, Nino Gvetadze hopes to give the listener a glimpse into his musical imagination, which produced music which Debussy described as “an intoxication for the ear”. This disc is a selection of Scott’s piano music (Leslie De’Ath has recorded Scott’s complete piano music on the Dutton label), including the six Poems, Summerland, Op 54, and the Pierrot Pieces, Op 35. And of course Lotus Land in a dreamy, hauntingly sensuous reading by Gvetadze which for me evokes the drowsy humid heat of the east.

The influence of Debussy and late nineteenth-century orientalism is clear in Scott’s music. The listener could easily mistake pieces like Sphinx, The Garden of soul-sympathy and the two Pierrot Pieces for the work of Debussy, with their colourful, unexpected parallel harmonies and modality. Poppies from Poems has a Satie-esque eccentricity about it, while Summerland is redolent of Schumann’s Kinderscenzen or Faure’s Dolly Suite. Other pieces are more pedestrian and obviously English, all Edwardian drawing rooms, antimacassars and aspidistras with just a whiff of the exotic in their piquant rhythms and harmonies.

Gvetadze brings much colour, nuance, delicacy and grace to these piano miniatures, assisted by a lovely warm piano. Her sound is transparent, lyrical and elegant, and she is adept at highlighting the quirkiness and undisputed charm of the music, but there is a certain ‘sameness’ to Scott’s music in this selection which tires after a while. But Gvetadze is clearly a passionate advocate of this music, and as an overview of Scott’s piano music, this is an enjoyable, handsomely-produced collection. The CD includes interesting liner notes by Desmond Scott, the composer’s son.


Visions – Cyril Scott Piano Works | Nino Gvetadze (Challenge Records)

 

qtz2134R. Schumann – Works for Piano / Joseph Tong

This new release by British pianist Joseph Tong on the Quartz label contains some of Schumann’s most intimate and autobiographical music, notably the Fantasie in C, Op 17.

Never one for disguising his emotions, Schumann described it as “perhaps the most impassioned music I have ever written” (writing to Clara Wieck, March 1838), and here he wears his heart on his sleeve in a remarkable display of soul-bearing. Imbued with passionate and unresolved longing, the music portrays the heart-fluttering panoply of emotions from ecstasy to agony which being in love provokes. It is a work of great virtuosity, a huge test for the pianist, but Joseph makes light of this, offering an authoritative, magisterial and poised reading of the first two movements, whose seemingly disparate elements segue fluidly to create a coherent sense of ongoing narrative. The final movement, by contrast, is tender and intimate, and Joseph holds back in the more climactic episodes where others might push the tempo and volume, thus bringing a greater insensity of emotion and expression. There’s a wonderful lyricism and clarity throughout the work, with many interior details highlighted.

The fantasie is prefaced by the charming Arabesque, also in C, which moves forward with relaxed purpose and elegance. Papillons, the other large scale work on the disc and a work which amply reveals the contrasting sides to Schumann’s personality, is rich in wit and colour, and recalls some of the heroism of the Fantasie. The disc closes with the Faschingsschwank aus Wien, an engaging and robust account.

The disc includes detailed, informative liner notes by Richard Wigmore.

Recommended.


508178Dystonia: Franz Schubert – Sonata in A, D959, Robert Schumann – Kreisleriana / Andreas Eggertsberger, piano

This is a very personal disc for Austrian pianist Andreas Eggertsberger and the reason is in the title, Dystonia. With diminishing use of his left hand, Andreas finally received the diagonosis of focal dystonia in 2012, the same neurological disease that was probably documented for the first time with Robert Schumann. Following five years of treatment and therapy, which required a complete re-learning of the piano and meticulous exercises to bring rehearsed movement back under control, Andreas has returned to performing.

The pairing of a late Schubert sonata and Schumann’s Kreisleriana is an intelligent choice. Schumann was a great admirer of Schubert and championed his music after his death in 1828.

Andreas gives the first movement of the Schubert sonata a generally good-natured air, the emotional voltes-faces are not laboured but feel fleeting and poignant. Nor does he push the tempo, which gives the movement a pleasing spaciousness without feeling overlong (and Andreas observes the exposition repeat). The second movement, too often given an overly psychological treatment with an almost funereal tempo (it’s marked Andantino, not Adagio!) by others who shall remain nameless, has a spare simplicity which contrasts well with the sprightly articulation and warm-hearted nature of the opening movement. It’s sombre rather than melancholy. The middle section unfolds with the drama of a Baroque fantasy, restrained at first so that the eventual climax is all the more impactful. Even in the bigger, louder gestures, the overall mood is introverted and reflective.  Again, a rather more leisurely tempo in the third movement gives the music more breathing space and time to appreciate smaller details, which are neatly articulated. The trio gives way to grandeur, briefly, but the overall mood is intimate. The good nature of the opening movement is reprised in the finale, and here Andreas brings a pleasing sense of nostalgia and warmth, the opening theme played with an elegant lyricism, its fragmented return at the close of the movement fleeting and tender. Overall, excellent articulation, tasteful pedalling and a clean, but not over bright sound (a Bosendorfer Imperial 1922). Having spent three years studying and learning this sonata myself, and listening to many different performances of it, Andreas’ account comes very close to my own and is perhaps the reason why I like his so much.

Kreisleriana, like Papillons, is a multi-movement work and reflects Schumann’s contrasting personalities, which he named Florestan (active, extrovert) and Eusebius (passive, introvert). Like the Schubert Sonata, this is elegantly and tastefully articulated with fine clarity, particularly in the more florid passages, and Andreas is ever alert to the shifting moods. The sehr langsam movements have a distinct poignancy, reflective, almost verging on tragedy. Overall, a colourful account, rich in character and contrast.

In addition to detailed notes on the pieces, the liner notes also contain an account of Andreas Eggertsberger’s journey from diagonosis to rehabilitation and as such may prove supportive to others afflicated with focal dystonia

Recommended

 

 

thumbnail_IMG_3393The beautiful packaging and handwritten note from the artist, embellished with pressed flowers, hinted at what was contained inside. For several days I didn’t want to open the package, it was so pretty, but when I did, I found something equally lovely, and intriguing too: an album of music, songs and poetry which reminded me of childhood holidays in Suffolk – by the sea at Aldeburgh or walking through the marshes and reed beds around Snape and Iken – and my parents listening to music by Benjamin Britten on their record player. And it is the music of Benjamin Britten which forms the basis of ‘The Wild Song’ – a musical and literary collaboration between soprano Marci Meth, pianist Anna Tilbrook, actor Simon Russell Beale and composer Mychael Danna.

marci_coverBritten was greatly influenced by the natural world, and specifically the coastal landscape of Aldeburgh and the windy, open marshes around the village of Snape where he lived and where he established the Aldeburgh Festival. One only has to listen to the Sea Interludes from ‘Peter Grimes’ to hear how much the sounds of the shoreline and the turbulent North Sea, the wind in the reed beds and birdsong infuse his music. His folksong arrangements are also rooted in the Suffolk landscape which he knew and loved so much, and 31 of them feature on ‘The Wild Song’, sung by Marci Meth with pianist Anna Tilbrook.

The songs alternate with poems by W B Yeats, read by actor Simon Russell Beale and selected by Marci, chosen because they complement the folksongs on a similar theme and their language resonates naturally with the lyrics of the songs. In addition, musical interludes by Oscar-winning film composer Mychael Danna are interspersed between the songs and poems. Each of Danna’s interludes contains a quote from the piano part of Britten’s folksongs – but slowed down, stretched and/or looped, so these become Danna’s own transcriptions of Britten’s.

Marci’s voice is elegant and sweet, perfect for Britten’s naïve song arrangements, and sensitively accompanied by Anna Tilbrook, whose piano sound is equally elegant, and both singer and pianist are alert to the shifting moods and charaters of these songs; there is plenty of wit, humour and robustness in the more lively songs. The poetry provides moments to pause and reflect – there is something very comforting about being read to and Simon Russell Beale surely has one of the most pleasing speaking voices – while Mychael Danna’s interludes act almost as a soundtrack, evoking Britten’s Suffolk. The entire album is very atmospheric. It is also beautifully produced with great care and attention to detail, including a generous booklet with all the song texts and poems. Appropriately, the album was recorded at the Britten Studio in Snape Maltings, Suffolk, where Britten lived and worked.

Recommended

Order The Wild Song

snape-winter-the-river-alde-at-snape-maltings
Reed beds and river Alde near Snape Maltings, Suffolk

When you see such a fragment, it brings you slightly closer to the struggles of the composer

Yehuda Inbar

4260330917126-cover-zoomWhy did Schubert leave so much music unfinished? Was it the rapidity and volume of his compositional output that works were set aside, and not revisited? Did he feel dissatisifed or struggle with certain pieces? In this impressive debut disc, Israeli pianist Yehuda Inbar seeks to throw light on the conundrum of the unfinished piano sonatas by this most introspective composer by presenting the fragmentary Sonata in F-sharp minor, D571, and the ‘Reliquie’ Sonata in C major, D840 together with Michael Finnissy’s Vervollstandidung von Schuberts D840 (in effect the third and fourth movements of the Reliquie) and Jorg Widmann’s Idyll und Abgrund.

There have been some notable completions of the D571, enabling pianists to perform a “complete” sonata in concert, but Inbar chooses to present this work in its incomplete form, finishing without warning before the recapitulation, a fleeting 7 minutes of extraordinary, intimate poignancy. Inbar’s account is elegantly paced with a warm, richly-hued sound (recorded on a concert Bechstein as opposed to a Steinway). The highlighting of certain details, including interior voices and bass accents, reveals the Mozartian clarity of Schubert’s writing and his fondness for long-spun songlines.

By contrast the C major sonata, probably the most significant of Schubert’s unfinished works, is Beethovenian in its grander orchestral textures and gestures, yet always shot through with the most intimate, introspective writing, its ambiguity made even more explicit through Schubert’s fondness for unusual harmonies and unexpected modulations. The transition between the F-minor sonata and this one works here because the C major Sonata opens with a sense of uncertainty, a spare, haunting motif rather than an emphatic statement. Inbar’s account is robust when required, but he is also acutely sensitive to the mercurial nature of this music.

Michael Finnissy’s piece is a stand-alone work but also completes the D 840 and was written for Inbar, who premiered it in May 2017. Finnissy describes Schubert as someone who has been “heavily marketed by the media, whose personality has been very frequently discussed….We don’t know our last moments and we shouldn’t think we know Schubert’s last moments either…I didn’t want a slow decline into an autumnal coda. I just wanted it to stop, almost with a question mark. Has it finished, has it not finished? What more do we know about Schubert from listening to this?” The work intriguingly interleaves distinctly Schubertian idioms and motifs with instances of unexpectedly crunchy dissonances and dramatic outbursts. Like the D571, it ends ambiguously. If you half-listen you might think this is pure Schubert in a particularly idionsyncratic mood, and, taken with the Widmann which follows, it’s instructive in revealing the essence of Schubert’s writing and the influence and pull of that writing on composers who followed him. Here, the new shines a light on the old, and vice versa.

The extremes of Schubert’s emotional landscape are reflected and distorted in Jorg Widmann’s Idyll und Abgrund, six little Schubert ‘reminiscences’ which combine dreamscapes, brilliance, drama and violence with fragments of Viennese waltzes, raunchy Ländler, and even a child’s music box, complemented by a whistle by the pianist, all handled with immediacy and panache by Inbar.

Highly recommended


Yehuda Inbar: Schubert – Finnissy – Widmann is available on the Oehms Classics label

 

 

 

 

artworks-000404027133-aju8pu-t500x500James Kreiling, piano (Odradek)

The music of Alexander Scriabin inhabits a distinctive, personal soundworld which is hard to define. It is the music of excess, ecstasy, tumult and passion. It is excessive, overripe, decadent, heavily perfumed, languorous and frenzied, lacking in structure and sometimes downright bizarre. The music of extremes, it is “hyper everything”, and as such it defies description or categorization. Its language is complex, often atonal and frequently almost impenetrable. For some listeners, and artists too, it is this “over-the-top-ness” that is off-putting; for others, myself included, it is this sense of excess and rapture that is so compelling. His personal life and outlook mirrored the excesses of his music: he was dissolute, he could be outrageous, he had high-falutin’ ideas of his own self-worth, and he believed music should be intimately connected to all of human experience. Perhaps this explains the breathless sensuality, the roaring passion and mystic spirituality of his music. All of human life is here, in all its ecstasy, agony, terror and beauty.

In his piano music, he reveals himself as a master of the miniature, and while he wrote 10 piano sonatas – interesting in themselves as they chart his compositional development (nos. 5 to 10 are included on this album) – his shorter works for piano, including some 85 Preludes, distil in microcosm his unique style.

If anything, Scriabin’s late piano music is perhaps his most interesting, revealing his move away from the “pure” Chopin/Schumann/Liszt-influenced romanticism of the nineteenth century as he experimented with unusual harmonies (his “mystic chord”, derived from a dominant 7th) and a kaleidoscopic tonal palette. In addition, fleeting fragments of melody, fleeting filigree figurations, brooding dream sequences, haunting chromaticism, febrile complex rhythms point towards Schoenberg, Messiaen and the avant garde and leave us wondering what Scriabin might have written had he lived longer into the 20th century.

In this generous 2-disc recording James Kreiling makes a persuasive case for Scriabin’s late piano music, suggesting in his detailed readable liner notes that this is the best place for the Scriabin ingénue to start exploring his music. With scrupulous attention to detail and an insightful approach to the music (James’s doctoral research focussed on the late piano sonatas), James captures the composer’s idiosyncrasies with a compelling naturalness and an acute sensitivity to the shifting moods and colours, combining muscularity and delicacy. The free-form nature of this unusual music and the brevity of many of the works draw the listener into a continuous flow of sound – and a lovely sound it is too. The piano is bright-toned yet warm (the recording was made at Henry Wood Hall with Iain Gordon as piano technician, engineered by Michael Ponder), and stylishly-produced album artwork reflects the high quality of the recording.

Recommended


Meet the Artist interview with James Kreiling