Schubert’s Winterreise, published in 1828, the year of the composer’s death at the age of 31, is often described as the greatest song-cycle ever written, and its central themes and preoccupations – love and loss, life and death – resonate through the centuries and continue to have a deeply emotional and philosophical impact today.
German composer Hans Zender’s ‘Winterreise’ is not a transcription of Schubert’s original for small orchestra. It is a “composed interpretation”, a work in its own right, which reflects and refracts the original song-cycle. Its orchestration takes the listener from Schubert’s Vienna, through Mahler and Schoenberg to the cabaret of Weimar Berlin and Kurt Weil. In this way, it challenges received notions of authenticity, historical accuracy and interpretation, and the relationship between performer, composer and audience. If anything, Zender’s Winterreise is even bleaker than Schubert’s with its strong Expressionist flavour and rich sonic associations with contemporary repertoire and instrumentation.

(photo: Hugo Glendinning)

In this production at London’s Barbican Theatre, the music and its narrative are staged by director, designer and video artist Netia Jones using striking black-and-white film, projections, haunting shadows, and chiaroscuro. The video screen is slashed into jagged shards, like a broken mirror, onto which are projected images of frost, a river, bare branches, a lonely snowy landscape through which a solitary figure, Schubert’s tragic “fremdling”, trudges.

Read my full review here 

(photo: K Miura)

In a concert celebrating 25 years since his Wigmore Hall debut, Polish pianist Piotr Anderszewski presented a programme of music with which he is most at home – works by Bach, Schumann and Szymanowski, with an encore by Janáček. By his own admission, Anderszewski “cannot play just anything” and chooses to perform only those composers he feels a strong urge to play. By the standards of most pianists active today his repertoire might be regarded as “narrow”, but it is this limited focus which results in playing which is both fastidious (without fussiness) and spontaneous, and such spontaneity is clearly the result of a long association with the music coupled with a patient, thoughtful study of it.
Read my full review

Prokofiev – Sarcasms

Ravel – Miroirs

Prokofiev – Visions fugitives Op. 22

Rachmaninov – Piano Sonata No. 2 in Bb minor Op. 36

Steven Osborne, piano

Anyone requiring evidence of a thriving musical life outside of mainstream concert halls should look no further than local music societies, which offer varied concerts and busy seasons and attract top flight artists. St Luke’s Music Society, based at St Luke’s, a beautiful church in south-west London modeled on an Italian basilica and boasting a fine acoustic, was founded in 2003 and offers a popular season of concerts.  Artists this season include Nicola Benedetti and Michael Collins.

Appropriately for a concert held on Burns’ Night (25th January), the soloist was Scottish pianist Steven Osborne. But there the association ended, for the programme featured works by Russian and French composers – Prokofiev, Ravel and Rachmaninov.

The concert opened with Prokofiev’s rarely-performed Sarcasms (which Osborne has recorded for Hyperion). In these provocative miniatures, Prokofiev eschews the trend amongst late-nineteenth and early twentieth-century composers for writing salon pieces based on fairy tales and impressionistic evocations, and instead opts for biting mockery and the grotesque, much in the manner of Schoenberg’s Three Piano Pieces Op 11 or Bartok’s Burlesques and Allegro Barbaro. Alert to the idiosyncratic character of these brief pieces, Osborne’s imaginative approach gave the works the necessary snap and humour, with terse rhythms and a vivid percussive attack, though never at the expense of clarity and tonal quality.

In contrast, Ravel’s Miroirs are very much about impressionistic evocations, though they share Prokofiev’s desire to break free of formal confines. Steven Osborne has a deep affinity with the music of Ravel, and other French composers such as Debussy and Messiaen (his recording of the Vingt Regards sur l’enfant Jesus has received high praise, and his performance of the complete Vingt Regards at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall last year was one of the most involving and profound musical events I have ever experienced). His unerring ability to fully comprehend the structure and meaning of this music was amply demonstrated in an evocative and colourful performance, from the limpid figures of ‘Noctuelle’ to the foam-flecked swell of ‘Un Barque sur l’ocean’, the sultry rhythms of the ‘Alborada del gracioso’ and the plaintive, distant chimes of ‘La vallée des cloches’. Clarity of sound, tonal shading, deftness of touch and musical understanding brought Ravel’s impressions to life with an atmospheric and shimmering palette of colours and sounds.

More Prokofiev after the interval, and snapshots of his most characteristic moods – grotesque, aggressive, assertive, poetic, mystical, delicate – in the Visions Fugitives, short pieces which shows the composer’s burgeoning talent in their contrasting moods, melodies, textures and rhythms. Osborne acute ability to move between the capricious individual characters of these short pieces – graceful melodies, moments of meditation and repose, violent virtuosity – made for a persuasive and engaging account.

The final work of the evening, Rachmaninov’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, was tautly managed, yet expansive, Osborne giving rein to the full romantic sweep of this work, at times redolent of the Third Piano Concerto. The rich hues and dense textures of the first movement contrasted with a beautifully nuanced second movement before a brilliant and vibrant final movement which had members of the audience on their feet applauding before the last notes had died in the hall. A single encore, one of Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales, brought to a close a superb evening of music making of the highest order.

Steven Osborne performs the same programme at Wigmore Hall on 14th February.

St Luke’s Music Society

Ivana Gavric (image credit: Sussie Ahlburg)

Sarajevo-born British pianist Ivana Gavric gave a lunchtime recital of great insight, emotional intensity, and colourful storytelling combined with musicality and pianism of the highest order at London’s Wigmore Hall on Thursday 28th November. The concert, part of Lisa Peacock Concert Management’s Lunchtime Showcase Recitals series, marked the launch of Ivana’s new disc of works by Grieg and multi award-winning British composer Cheryl Frances-Hoad for Champs Hill Records, a label which actively supports young artists. The Two Lyric Pieces by Cheryl Frances-Hoad received their London premiere at the concert.

Ivana opened her concert with Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales, which the composer transcribed for piano in 1911. The work was presented in a concert of new music hosted by the Société Musicale Indépendante where the composers’ names were withheld to avoid favouritism or prejudice on the part of audience and critics. The Valses nobles et sentimentales were greeted with protests, cat-calls and booing, so acerbic was the harmonic and tonal palette, and only a handful of people correctly identified their composer. Ravel intended his Valses nobles et sentimentales to follow Schubert’s example (the 34 Valses Sentimentales D779 and 12 Valses nobles D969), creating a seamless suite of eight waltzes whose tonal colourings and harmonic complexities were already signposted in Gaspard de la Nuit (1908).

Ivana retained strong sense of the waltz rhythm throughout, and took the listener on a sensuous, romantic journey, conjuring up images of decadent Belle Epoque Paris and hinting at the Jazz Age to come. These stylish pieces were brought to life with subtle dynamic shadings, delicacy of touch (particularly evident in the final waltz), and sensitive articulation and pedalling. Moments of reflection were contrasted with bright exuberance in a performance rich in spontaneity, flexible yet convincing tempi, expression and musicality.

Janacek’s Piano Sonata 1.x.1905, “From the Street” signalled a complete change of mood, plumbing, as it does, the depths of melancholy with an aching poignancy in two movements entitled ‘Presentiment’ and ‘Death’ respectively. The incident which triggered the composition of this sonata was the death of a young worker during an anti-German demonstration on 1st October 1905. Ivana’s reading of this angry, agonised and profoundly emotional work was alert to the changing textures of Janacek’s writing, with fluid phrasing, and a convincing  judgement of mood, tempo and tonal colour. The first movement was haunting, with a tolling bell motive at the opening to which Ivana brought a spare stridency, which served to underline the tragedy in inherent in the entire work.

The Two Lyric Pieces by Cheryl Frances-Hoad, receiving their London premiere at the concert, formed a neat bridge between Janacek and the works by Grieg which closed the concert. The first piece, In the Dew, was inspired by the third of Janacek’s In the Mists and his Piano Sonata, and makes use of harmonic material from the former, and melodic material from the latter. The composer intended the piece to be performed after the Sonata, described by the composer as “something of a palate cleanser” after the sombre mood of Janacek’s work, with twinkling sounds and an accessible tonal idiom. Winsome and folksy in its outer sections, the lyrical middle section recalled Messiaen in some of its harmonies.

The second piece, Contemplation, is “a meditation (or contemplation!) on a few bars from the second movement of Grieg’s Sonata Op 7 (bars 17-20)…….I simply elaborated upon Grieg’s chords” (Cheryl Frances-Hoad). The work had a wonderfully transparency, thoughtfully translated by Ivana’s precise and delicate touch, and her clear understanding of the serenity of the piece.

The handful of bars which inspired Cheryl Frances-Hoad came after two charming short pieces by Grieg. The Sonata, in four movements, was performed with great colour, poetry and spaciousness, vividly evoking the landscape and folk music of the composer’s native Norway. And for an encore, Ivana treated us to more Grieg, a bright and rousing Wedding Day at Troldhaugen bringing to a close a recital replete in transparent sound, varied tonal shadings, technical security and an acute musicality.

Ivana Gavric’s new recording Grieg: Piano Works is available now. Details here

www.ivanagavric.com

Alexandre Tharaud (image credit: Marco Borggreve)

Despite the bad weather, the gales, and the cancelled trains, I managed to get into central London yesterday (thanks to the District Line which was fully operational from Richmond) to view the ‘Honoré Daumier: Visions of Paris’ exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts (review to follow), and to hear French pianist Alexandre Tharaud in a lunchtime concert of music by Bach, Schubert and Chopin. I had been much looking forward to this particular Wigmore lunchtime recital because the programme was all music I know well and love.

There is perhaps a lesson in here, for the concert was a disappointment, and it made me wonder whether I should, in future, select concerts which do not feature music I know well……

Read my full review here

brittencurated

An intimate portrait of Benjamin Britten, as seen through a sequence of bittersweet songs for voice and piano and voice and guitar, provided the perfect antidote to the Wagner marathon at the Proms. The concert included an intense and very moving performance of the Canticle ‘Abraham and Isaac’ with tenor James Gilchrist, soprano Ruby Hughes and Imogen Cooper at the piano.

Read my full review here

Watch the entire concert (click on the picture to go to the BBC Radio Three website)

pcm