Monthly Archives: January 2015

Anatomy of a Trio

Jangoo Chapkhana Trio

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Jangoo Chapkhana is as versatile as he is gifted. As organist, he has given recitals internationally. At the piano, he is a musician of distinction in both classical and jazz styles. His skill as choral conductor derives not least from studies in St Petersburg, Russia.


Here, in ensemble with Murray Wilkins (double bass) and Dennis Vrcic (drums), we can listen to styles both serious and light. This was recorded ‘live’ at Callaway Auditorium – and this brings an added frisson to the listening experience.


I rather think that J.S.Bach himself would have been chuffed at the JCT’s take on his Prelude in E minor from the ‘48’ which comes across as laidback, cool in the best sense with discreet backing from bass and drums, the music by degrees straying away from the original to more rhythmically diverse use of the notes which also of course underscores yet again the extraordinary adaptability of Bach’s ideas to all manner of treatments.


Something Special is delightfully laidback with a pleasingly buoyant sense of momentum.


In Here’s that Rainy Day, there’s splendid agility on double bass and on-from contributions from drums.


Thriving from a Rift is given stylistically impressive treatment which draws the listener ineluctably into Charlie Parker’s unique sound and mood world: great stuff, irresistibly rhythmical, compulsively listenable.


There’s a bittersweet quality in Feed the Birds with splendid clarity of piano tone.


Bernstein’s Cool is just that, Broadway-tinted music that calls West Side Story to mind. And the lazy, laidback mood of Nuages is conveyed to a nicety.



Invitation to Tango

New Australian tangos with guitar

TPT: 57’04”

reviewed by Neville Cohn


I listened with fascination to this all-Australian, all-tango compact disc which brims with good things.


What gives a number of these pieces an extra allure is this: unlike archetypal South American-type tangos – La Cumparsita, say, or Jealousy – which almost invariably evoke images of a sombrero-wearing, Rudolph Valentino-type male with brilliantined hair dancing with shawled and sultry partners in some tobacco smoke-filled, inner-city tavern, many of the tangos recorded here call to mind dancing in a very much more wholesome, light-filled venue – in the open air, say. Lithe rhythms and transparent textures are much in evidence here.


Invitation%20to%20TANGO%20-%20cover%20[2]Another joy of this compilation is the near-total absence of those squeaks, clanks and creaks that so frequently and maddeningly bedevil guitar recordings.


Eight composers are represented here.


I particularly like Ruth Roshan’s Low Tide, a duet for guitar and mandolin, the charm-laden, delicate latter played by the composer with Tanya Costantino on guitar.


Mark Viggiani’s finely conceived Cabaret Closed is given point and meaning by Krzystof Piotrowicz whose own Tango dla Sergei Orekhov and Tango dla Sergei Rudnev are an intriguing blend of Slavic melancholy and Spanish hauteur. They both sound tailor-made for dancing.


Rohan Jayasinghe’s haunting Hungarian Tango, originally written as a piano solo, is given a fine reading, dripping with nostalgia, by Alan Banks whose own genial, laidback Tango Improvisation 1 introduces this compilation.


Catherine Cahill’s gently stated clarinet line blends beautifully with Stephanie Jones’ guitar in Philip Bracanin’s Se baila como eres I and II, oscillating between moments which are irresistibly toe-tapping and sweet melancholy.


Mardae Selepak is both composer and performer. His Tango para Segovia has a gentle, haunting quality. In between composing and performing, Selepak does invaluable work raising funds to build an orphanage in Uganda.


All credit to the sound engineer whose skill enables the listener to experience these performances in a most satisfying way.



Symphonies 1 & 2 (Borodin)

Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Valery Gergiev

Polovtsian Dances (Borodin)

London Opera Chorus

Philharmonia Orchestra cond. Vladimir Ashkenazy



TPT: 78’28”

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Even if he’d had no connection at all to music, Alexander Borodin would still be remembered as a remarkable high achiever. He was a medical man who became a professor of chemistry – he did important chemical research into aldehydes – and he was co-founder of the first medical school for women in Russia, sadly an initiative scuppered later by Tsar Alexander III.


Borodin’s wife Ekaterina, like her husband, an asthmatic, was also a hypochondriac and an insomniac given to wandering around the house in the small hours doing housework which often, thoughtlessly, interrupted her husband’s desperately needed sleep. Over time, this had a serious effect on his health. Incredibly, too many pages of Borodin’s music manuscripts were used by Ekaterina to line poo-boxes for the household’s cats, strays which the composer found wandering about in neighbouring streets.


4808946_BorodinSymphonies-Gergiev_CoverIt’s a minor miracle that Borodin produced any music at all under these circumstances. The Borodin household was always crowded, not only with cats but relatives and friends who were always welcome to stay as long as they pleased.


Under conditions such as these, with Borodin snatching morsels of time between his medical and academic work to focus briefly on composition, it’s hardly surprising that his Symphony No 1 took five years to complete. In fact, it is surprising that he wrote anything at all under these conditions.


Borodin worked on his Symphony No 2 for seven years. In Gergiev’s hands, the savage grandeur of its opening movement is riveting – and there’s a frankly thrilling response from the Rotterdam Philharmonic. The scherzo is a pulsing, extrovert delight with much precise pizzicato. The finale, too, is beautifully presented, its joviality, boldness and solemnity evoked to the nth degree.


The sound engineers have come up trumps, too. Tone quality is sumptuous.


Borodin’s symphonies deserve to be heard far more frequently, especially the first.

Hopefully, many will come to appreciate these masterly creations through this first rate recording.


Unlike the symphonies, Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances from his opera Prince Igor are long established favourites – and Vladimir Ashkenazy presides over the London Opera Chorus and the Philharmonia Orchestra to excellent advantage, bringing an engaging freshness to familiar notes. The LOC is in particularly fine form.


This is the first time that this performance of Polovtsian Dances, dating from 1983, is available on compact disc.




In the Wake of the Great War


Benjamin Martin, piano


TTP: 62’ 08”

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Understandably, in this centenary year of the outbreak of World War I, there’s been a flood of recordings of music influenced by this terrible and protracted upheaval.


Pianist Benjamin Martin recently recorded a number of works for piano written in the early aftermath of this conflict.


Arnold Bax’s Third Sonata in G sharp minor is of particular interest. It came into being at a troubled time for the composer, his immediate family – and two women with whom he was having affairs. While hardly anyone these days cares tuppence whether people living together are married or not, in the 1920s cohabitation was considered scandalous and talked about in low voices.


Of Bax’s two mistresses, Harriet Cohen and Mary Gleaves, it was Cohen who was by far the most famous – perhaps notorious is the better word. Miss Cohen, in fact, had an affair as well with Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald and extremely close relationships with other eminent Establishment figures.


Bax was Master of the King’s Musick – and uncharitable types would often snidely refer to Miss Cohen as Mistress of the King’s Musick. For years, Cohen was Bax’s muse, inspiring him to write many a work which might otherwise have not eventuated. The Sonata No 3 is in that category.


Its outer movements are turbulent and often confrontational, a response perhaps to the domestic quagmire Bax found himself in at the time, with much internecine warfare on the marriage front. Mrs Bax flatly refused to give her husband the divorce he wanted. And because of puritanical attitudes at the time, the Bax/Cohen liaison had to be conducted in furtive ways. The Sonata is dedicated to Cohen.


The first movement comes across as an extended improvisation, with mercurial sallies and bursts of energy that call to mind some of Scriabin’s busier piano preludes. There are also fleeting moments of tenderness. In less assured hands, this could all too easily come across as aimless, rambling, turgid and tedious. But Martin, with fearless fingers, steers a sure course through a musical minefield without coming to grief.


Martin sounds in his element in the slow movement which comes across as a murmuring, introverted sonic haze, like a peaceful nocturne – a calm harbour after stormy seas. And in the finale, Martin sails with elan and accuracy through a floodtide of notes.


Vaughan Williams’ Hymn-tune Prelude, also dedicated to Cohen, is an oasis of tranquillity, unhurried and beautifully considered, reinforcing that old saying that the best gifts often come in the smallest packages. It certainly applies here.


Three Preludes by Delius are frankly ephemeral, miniatures not without a certain faded charm, especially when presented with such insight as here.


Frank Bridge taught Benjamin Britten as a child and, in gratitude, Britten later wrote his Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge thus ensuring the older man a lasting celebrity which his own music might not.


All praise to Benjamin Martin for taking us across Bridge’s musical terrain with such authority – but not even this fine pianist can bring a sense of meaning to a veritable tsunami of notes. Handwringing anguish, moments of nocturnal tranquillity, bunched chords, moments of ominous confrontation, filigree coruscations, deep bass rumblings – there’s no shortage of ideas. But just as preparing a cake using fine ingredients is not enough to ensure an appetising outcome unless the flour, sugar, baking powder are brought together in a way that ensures success, so mixing often worthwhile musical ideas without a carefully thought-through strategy, can result in disappointment – a musical cake fallen flat.


Here, Bridge throws into the mix villainously difficult filigree coruscations,

dreamy nocturnal moments, emphatic bunched chords, quiet bass rumblings. But despite these being handled with the skill and staying power of an Olympic athlete, one is left with an impression of a succession of ideas (many impressive and engaging) that calls to mind a number of articulate people busily talking but without listening to one another.