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Rachmaninov: complete piano preludes: 1941 – 1942 recordings

 

Prelude opus 3 no 2; 10 Preludes opus 23; 13 Preludes opus 32

Moura Lympany (piano)

DECCA 482 6266 (2CD)

TPT: 76’ 42”

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

She was christened Mary Johnstone – but because the name sounded too ordinary for an on-stage career, Miss Johnstone became Moura Lympany, the surname an altered version of her mother’s maiden name. And she was – and will ever be – the only musician to have recorded the complete piano preludes of Rachmaninov on, firstly, 78rpm discs, then on LP and, finally, on CD.

 

All the 78rpm recordings were made at DECCA’s West Hampstead studios during WWII. It was often a stressful experience. Editing out errors was not possible on 78 rpm discs. It was all-or-nothing.

 

If there was a slip of the finger, smudged pedalling, a fluffed note, a loss of momentum – a lapse of any sort – the prelude would need to be recorded again from scratch. At one particularly frustrating session, not a single prelude was deemed good enough for preservation. Sometimes, all would go well, at other times, a piece would sound below par and needing to be recorded again and again (and yet again) if considered necessary. It says much, then, for Lympany’s abilities that there’s not a dull moment; every piece sounds fresh and newly minted.

 

During the Blitz – like fellow pianist Dame Myra Hess in Hampstead –  young Moura would take shelter beneath her grand piano in the event of a Luftwaffe bombing raid. There were so many terrible happenings during these horror years. One morning in May, 1941, for instance, Moura, on her way to Queen’s Hall to record Cesar Franck’s Variations Symphoniques, found, to her horror, that the hall had taken a direct hit, leaving a pile of rubble.

 

True, some of her later recordings of these works have greater depth, others are approached in slightly subtler ways – but they all bear the stamp of distinction.

 

Throughout, Lympany sounds utterly in control, again and again surmounting with ease the sort of technical hurdles that would cause lesser players to throw their hands up in despair. Some more about hands: Rachmaninov’s were enormous and he wrote music to take advantage of this – to the despair of  musicians with smaller hands.

 

It is 76 years since Lympany’s Rachmaninov recordings first came on the market. They have weathered well. Brash, lilting, aggressive, sensuous, gentle, melancholy, introspective, suave – these and a myriad other moods are summoned up by a musician at the peak of her skills.

 

Stephen Siek’s liner notes are first rate. They make engrossing reading.

All-Mozart compilation

various concerto soloists

Symphonies 29, 33 & 35

Concertgebouworkest

Eduard van Beinum, conductor

Eloquence 482 5525  (2CD)

TPT: 147’ 11”

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

Mozart CD CoverNot the least of the many good things flowing from this re-issue of Philips LP recordings in the compact disc format is making available to an entirely new constituency of listeners the work of musicians of considerable consequence whose recordings of decades ago, for a variety of reasons, have, as it were, fallen through the cracks. The tireless Cyrus Meher-Homji continues this important work with a 2CD re-issue of an all-Mozart compilation of recordings that thoroughly deserve being brought back to life.

 

As a young teenager, I was given an LP recording of Hubert Barwahser playing on the now defunct Philips label. I still have it. Here, Barwahser sounds at his eloquent, articulate best in ensemble with another almost-forgotten soloist: Phia Berghout on harp in the Concerto for flute and harp.  Yet another musician richly deserving this resurrection is the formidably gifted English pianist Kathleen Long who in the mid-20th century enjoyed a dazzling career.

 

This is vintage Long.  Listen to her playing Mozart’s C minor concerto; it’s a joy from start to finish, blissfully free of fuss or frills.

 

Presiding over events from the podium is Eduard van Beinum, a first rate musician to which the players of the Concertgebouw Orchestra would respond time and again to provide some of the most satisfying and meaningful recorded music in mid-century Europe and further abroad.

 

Bram de Wilde is a fine soloist in the Clarinet Concerto. Tone quality is particularly appealing in the chalumeau register. The work unfolds near-flawlessly.

 

Van Beinum recorded Symphony No 29 in 1957. Sixty years on, it’s as relevant and stylistically meaningful as it would have been when first made available on LP.

 

This CD is all the more to be treasured because these works are the ONLY Mozart works which van Beinum recorded with the Concertgebouworkest.

The Clarinotts

Ernst Ottensamer, Daniel Ottensamer, Andreas Ottensamer (clarinets)

with Wiener Virtuosen

Mozart, Mendelssohn, Rossini, Ponchielli et al

DGG 481 19172

TPT: 56’ 50”

reviewed by Rosalind Appleby

 

“We know what our partners will do a millisecond before they do it”, says Andreas Ottensamer, the youngest member of The Clarinotts. “It’s a luxury you’ll rarely have with any other ensemble”.

 

The incredible cohesion between the three clarinetists is what struck me on a ‘blind’ listen to The Clarinotts album – that and their uncannily similar sound quality. It made sense when I had a closer look at the performers and realised it was Ernst Ottensamer in ensemble with his sons, the famous Viennese ‘Royal Family of the Clarinet’.

 

Ernst Ottensamer is being mourned around the world after dying tragically of a heart attack on 22 July. He was only 62. Ernst was principal clarinet in the Wiener Phiharmoniker from 1983 and founding member of the Wiener Blaserensemble and Wiener Virtuosen.

 

Ernst inspired a generation of clarinettists around the world, including his own children. His eldest son Daniel became co-principal clarinet in the Vienna Philharmonic alongside his father, and his youngest son Andreas is principal clarinet in the Berlin Philharmonic. Together, the three of them formed The Clarinotts, releasing their first album in 2009 and their second in 2016.

 

The 2016 self-titled album opens with Mendelssohn’s sparkling Concert Piece No 1 for clarinet, basset horn and orchestra. The brilliant duet was composed rather appropriately for the father-son duo of Heinrich and Carl Baermann. It is full of dazzling operatic writing and I was struck by the warm, full bodied sound of the basset horn and clarinet – and the driving energy of their playing.

 

The album’s repertoire traces Ernst’s career trajectory including his time in the pit of the Vienna State Opera with works like the trio Soave sia il vento from Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte and the Fantasy on themes from Verdi’s Rigoletto by Franz and Karl Doppler. Dance-style works also get a look in with Rossini’s La danza quoting from the overture to William Tell and the sentimental French-style waltz of Cantilene from Francaix’s Petit Quatuor.

 

Ponchielli’s Il Convegno has both sweetness and fire. Andreas and Daniel perform with extraordinary precision, their virtuosic runs, flourishes and dramatic rubato perfectly synchronised.

 

As you would expect, this is an album of great finesse and class, accompanied by none other than the Wiener Virtuosen, an ensemble made up of the section principals of the Wiener Philharmoniker. They are certainly some of the best players for the romantic/early 20th century repertoire that dominates the first half of the album.

 

Bela Koreny’s Cinema I is based on the plot of Paul Verhoeven’s film Basic Instinct and you can feel the intrigues and the tension in Ernst’s spooky bass clarinet and the wails of Andreas’ and Daniel’s clarinets over the top, accompanied by the Wiener Virtuosen with Christoph Traxler on piano. The bossa nova tune Morning of the Carnival by Luiz Bonfa was another contrast; slick and sultry.

 

A comment for clarinet nerds: check out the almost inaudible articulation from all three. It sounds like diaphragm articulation but it has the even attack of tonguing, generating sublimely clean playing.

 

The richness of this album is the synergy of three virtuosic clarinetists who really do seem to be of one mind:  it sounds like one person multi-tracking!  But what makes it really gripping listening are the energy and emotion the Ottensamer family bring to their music making. They really pull out all the stops in Olivier Truan’s unaccompanied trio The Chase and it’s an exhilarating conclusion to the album. Turns out, it is also a fitting final bow from Ernst Ottensamer; a testimony to a life spent sharing music with excellence and passion.

Unheard Mozart

 

 

Anthony Goldstone (piano)

divine art dda25051

TPT: 71’ 44”

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

Over the years, as I’ve listened to the recordings of Mozart by Anthony Goldstone, I almost invariably think of the biblical story of Ruth who, following in the wake of  those harvesting this or that grain, would find nourishment for herself and others from the scattered ears of corn or wheat. Ruth was a gleaner. So, too, in a very different context, was Goldstone.

 

Think of these snippets of musical thoughts, incomplete or abandoned ideas, scraps of paper with a scribble or two (meaningless to most but musicologically beyond price in some cases) –  which, in the minds of most, would be considered as so much rubbish to be thrown away.

 

In the biblical Ruth’s case, her gleanings sustained life – and in Goldstone’s case, tiny scraps of paper, sometimes a bigger piece left unfinished or unedited were re-animated. Here, Goldstone breathed life into what almost everyone else would have dismissed as inconsequential – to be thrown away with no thought given to the possibility it might be musical gold. What most others would regard with indifference, Goldstone saw as rich possibility.

 

And what fascinating miniatures these are: part, perhaps, say of a piece that would be carefully completed by Goldstone: a minuet perhaps – or a sarabande.

 

Mozart aficionados the world over owe an immense debt of gratitude to this remarkable man who with scrupulous care – and affection – brought to life what, in lesser hands (and minds), would simply have been left lying in the dust. His passing leaves us all the poorer.

 

Goldstone realised the potential of these snippets which others might unthinkingly have dismissed as worthless, ephemeral, expendable, barely worthy of attention. Wrong!

 

There is a delightful improvisatory quality to the opening Praeludium: the recorded sound quality is excellent in a piece which oscillates between slow introspection and virtuosic brilliance. It’s rather like an improvised cadenza. Glowing, golden tone and impeccably spun trills are fine features.  A number of pieces were found unfinished and – one senses a profound humility in this – lovingly, respectfully completed.

 

 

Sibelius Piano Trio

Yarlung Records 52630

       reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

As a child working towards a Trinity College of Music piano exam, I particularly liked a short piece – Arabesque – by Sibelius. It is a charm-laden, miniature delight and my first encounter with the Finnish master. It’s one of a considerable number of short pieces that poured from Sibelius’ pen. But how many of Sibelius’ little pieces come to mind as you read this?

 

Sibelius_YAR52638_FrontcoverDuring the interval at a recent orchestral concert, I asked a number of concertgoers at random which works of Sibelius they could call to mind other than the symphonies, the Violin Concerto, the vast works inspired by Finnish legends and Finlandia? No one – and these were folk who were regular and enthusiastic concertgoers – could call any to mind. Certainly, there’s work to be done to make people more aware of at least some of Sibelius’ neglected works.

 

Sibelius’ output as a child (his first piece is said to have been written at the age of ten!) and as a young man is astonishing. At least part of the reason is that he grew up in a home where music was an inextricable – and very important – part of daily life. His siblings played piano and cello. Jean was the violinist of the family. His hopes of becoming a violin virtuoso were never realised. He’d have had to commence fiddle study much earlier to have had a hope of succeeding in that field. As was the case of Schumann, Sibelius’ having to forgo a life as a virtuoso was a personal tragedy – but his work as a composer brought an enduring fame that could never have been equalled as a concert soloist, no matter how gifted.

 

In addition to this, this intriguing compilation encompasses music written by contemporary  Finnish composers whose names could well be new to most listeners living beyond the borders of Scandinavia.

 

Diego Schissi’s Nene, for instance, opens with a terrific, offbeat dance. It radiates gusto, with tricky rhythms and much pizzicato.  Listen to a background of quiet pizzicato across which runs a dream-like cello line. Later, the attention is drawn to the piano with its stab-like utterances. The movements are intriguingly titled: Jumping on the Walls, Dozing on a Hanger; Riding a Mosquito!

 

David Lefkowitz’s Ruminations calls up images of Middle East dances and what might be a folksy Yiddish extemporisation, desperately melancholy and introverted.

 

There’s charm aplenty in Sibelius’ Korppoo Trio. True, it’s not recognisably by the Finnish master: the work is too early for that. But its jejune melodies are beautifully played. The finale. is a jovial, three-in-a-bar knees-up with an obeisance to Brahms and much tinkling from the piano near the top of its range. One could think of it as a trial run for an ascent to greatness.

 

Consider this: at a similar age, Shostakovich was already well ahead in the originality stakes. Mendelssohn’s overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream was written as a teenager:  his style was already fully formed. But with Sibelius, it was a case of good things being well worth waiting for.

 

Recordings like this don’t just happen. And those who have pooled their resources to this excellent end deserve real praise.The focussed work of many has been called upon to bring this CD into being: executive producer Ann Mulally, 100th Anniversary sponsors Randy and Linda Bellous and, crucially, the Sibelius Trio (Petteri Iivonen, Juho Pohjonen and Samuli Peltonen). This initiative is to mark the100th anniversary of an independent Finland.