Monthly Archives: January 2015

Baroque Inspirations

Hideko Udagawa (violin)

Scottish Chamber Orchestra cond. Nicholas Kraemer

TPT: 57’ 35”

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Baroque InspirationsTartini’s Devil’s Trill Sonata is known to millions of music aficionados but few, I imagine, have encountered it in the version recorded here by Hideko Udagawa. She reveals a very different take on this venerable work. In it, the conventional keyboard accompaniment is completely jettisoned and the sonata is presented as a violin solo. The same applies to Vivaldi’s miniature Andante in C minor. Both the Tartini and Vivaldi works are given their world premiere recordings here as is the Concerto in B flat by Karl Stamitz which is performed with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.


Udagawa’s performance of Devil’s Trill makes fascinating listening. Initially, it sounds, as it were, incomplete, the audio equivalent of looking at a famous painting, say one of van Gogh’s impressions of sunflowers, with some of the blooms missing. But this sense of oddness, resulting from the absence of the keyboard part, evaporates as one falls under the spell of Udagawa’s persuasive artistry.


In the second movement, the playing is intense, passionate and forceful. It’s a powerful statement with finely maintained momentum. And in the famous finale, assertive, grainy-toned intensity, with finely spun trills – with fleeting digressions into introspection – combine to impressive effect. Certainly, the version of the finale offered here is so convincing in stylistic terms that the presentation sounds completely satisfying; the absence of an accompaniment here barely registers..


Vivaldi in brief, a three-minute Prelude with finely negotiated double-stopping, is another rarity.


There’s first-rate orchestral accompaniment from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in the Concerto in B flat by Stamitz. A charm-laden Allegro gives way to a sweet-toned Adagio but solo intonation is less than secure. The concluding dance-like Rondo brims with good cheer although less than totally reliable intonation-wise.


Fritz Kreisler is famous for writing music miniatures which he would pass off as the work of this or that obscure composer as well as delightful Viennese-style pieces (Praeludium and Allegro, Liebesfreud – the list is long). Here we have a violin concerto “in the style of Vivaldi”. Its first movement has a pleasantly rhythmical if ersatz charm, all of it revealed with finesse. In the andante doloroso, Udagawa mines the music for all its melancholy charm with notes clothed in warmly mellow tone. A fine pace is maintained in an assertively rhythmical finale with conductor Nicholas Kraemer presiding efficiently over events.


Intonation is not always secure in the Kreisler work – and curiously wayward pitch mars an account of Vitali’s Chaconne.


Mendelssohn: Heimkehr aus der Fremde

Piano Concerto in E minor

Chopin: Grand Concerto

TPT: 75’00”


reviewed by Neville Cohn


Both composers featured on this CD died before they’d reached the ago of 40. One can only speculate what musical riches were denied the world by so tragically early a demise. Often, death intervened before works were completed. Entire movements were needed to complete Mozart’s Requiem. And years after Elgar’s death, his Symphony No 3 was completed by a third party. Mendelssohn, too, left unfinished works.


7312Now Martin Yates has taken up the challenge of building to completion a concerto of which Mendelssohn had left only the briefest of sketches. It would have been a huge challenge – and a labour of love – to embark on so daunting a musical mission from so miniscule a base. Of course, there’s the possibility that Mendelssohn might have felt the work wasn’t worth taking to completion. No one can be certain. Was this task shouldered by Yates worth the time and effort invested? On the evidence of this recording, I’d say a definite ‘yes’.


Unlike the piano concertos in G minor and D minor, the work in E minor lacks a virtuosic introductory flourish. But there are nonetheless pages of demanding writing for the solo instrument – and the work, as built up by Yates and interpreted to such exquisite effect by Sangiorgio, inhabits a charm-laden sound and mood world that frequently calls to mind some of Mendelssohn’s engaging Songs without Words. And the gentle, elegiac lift to the phrase – and its quiet simplicity – in the slow movement could hardly be bettered – as also the jovial, buoyant, polka-like measures of the finale, all of which falls most agreeably on the ear. As well, in this world premiere recording, string playing is lively and precise.


Unlike the Mendelssohn work, Chopin’s Piano Concerto No 1 is, of course, one of the most loved and frequently heard works in the repertoire. This version, though, is somewhat off the beaten track in that the orchestration has been revised by Mily Balakirev (he of the Russian Five) to take clever advantage of what would at the time have been relatively recent improvements in the construction of brass and woodwind instruments. It’s put together very cleverly. Balakirev also added a part for cor anglais – and he titled the work Grand Concerto. This is the first ever digital recording of the Balakirev version.


Sangiorgio plays it beautifully in turn tender and sighing with, often, a light-textured aerial quality to the phrase that makes this reading memorable. Throughout, Yates and the Royal Northern Sinfonia come up trumps.


There’s also an orchestral rarity: Mendelssohn’s Heimkher aus der Fremde which makes a charming overture to the two concertos.





Souvenir of a Dear Place

Fremantle Chamber Orchestra

Rudolf Koelman (violin)

Christopher van Tuinen/ Jessica Gethin

reviewed by Neville Cohn                                          


Rudolf Koelman, who frequently visits Perth to give performances with the Fremantle Chamber Orchestra, sounds at the top of his game in this recording made in Fremantle Town Hall.


Let it be said at once that the FCO sounds transformed on this occasion. I cannot recall ever before hearing this ensemble at such a high level of presentation – and Koelman employs his formidable command of the violin to dazzling effect.


FCOSarasate’s much loved Zigeunerweisen springs into intense life. Whether reflective or passionate, both soloist and orchestra are consistently impressive.


In the lengthy opening solo of Ravel’s Tzigane, Koelman sounds in his element, bringing to this cruelly difficult work an understanding of the genre and a physical command of the violin that results in a reading almost beyond criticism in the conventional sense – apart from some very brief loss of focus in rapid pizzicato. The presentation throbs with intensity.


Chausson’s Poeme is a world away from the virtuosity of the Sarasate and Ravel works – and it is given a memorable reading in which Koelman reveals its idiosyncratic secrets with an understanding of style and mood that elevates the performance to the stars. I cannot readily recall a performance of this work that equals this beautifully conceived reading. Poeme, in less than totally assured hands, can so easily sound mawkish and sentimental. Not here. This performance is a model of its kind.


Tchaikowsky’s Souvenir of a Dear Place is seldom heard, apart from the celebrated Melodie. More’s the pity because it brims with memorable moments. In the outer sections of the Scherzo, Koelman maintains a sizzling, faultless pace with a finely contrasted slower central section. The concluding Melodie is beautifully fashioned.


Christopher van Tuinen and Jessica Gethin do sterling work on the podium.

The Idea of North

An Anthology

ABC Jazz 470 4196

reviewed by Helga Sand


In 1997, a vocal quartet calling itself Idea of North recorded an album – its first –   intending it as a souvenir of a brief musical association. There was no thought of maintaining the ensemble in the long term. But fate – and very real ability – decreed otherwise and Idea of North’s singing, seventeen years on, is as fresh and frankly delightful as it has ever been.


image002Seventeen tracks are taken from earlier albums – and two new pieces demonstrate unequivocally that Idea of North is still sparking on all plugs. Although Idea of North would have sung these miniatures over and over again, there’s no sign whatever of familiarity breeding indifference. These delightful offerings, redolent of fastidious preparation, are just the thing to wind down to after a terrible day at the office.


In fact it WAS a terrible day: an extended electricity failure resulting in blank PC screens – and rising humidity with non-functioning air conditioners. But back home, Idea of North came to the rescue, its often-lulling, gently laid back singing far more preferable to winding down than resorting to any pill.


True, Idea of North is habit forming – but hey! This is an addiction highly recommended


Big Yellow Taxi swings delightfully. Embraceable You’s crystal clear diction and

immaculate harmonising make this a highlight.iscrystal clear diction toe-tapping, swinging delight. Ensemble is never less than precise, especially ion Sailor’s Lament.


It might as well be Spring with discreet, meaningful contributions on guitar, drums double bass and piano is tailor-made for satisfying listening.

Cello Concerto in E minor (Elgar); Cello Concerto (Walton)

Four Sea Interludes (Benjamin Britten)

London Philharmonic Orchestra

Li-Wei Qin (cello)/ Zhang Yi (conductor)

ABC Classics 481 1243

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Li-Wei Qin’s account of Elgar’s Cello Concerto is breathtakingly fine. I cannot too highly praise his all-encompassing vision of this great work. I rather imagine that had Elgar himself been able to listen to this performance, he’d surely have been moved by its profound insights. Certainly, both soloist and the London Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Zhang Yi earn lavish, thoroughly deserved, laurels. And the sound engineers, too, come up trumps. It is a triumph all-round.


It is Li-Wei Qin’s ability to reveal, in the most subtle way, the concerto’s evolving moods that brings the stamp of distinction to this reading.


For a performance of such consistent excellence, there is little the critic has to do other than to salute musicality of very high order. It is rather like being taken across familiar, much loved terrain by a master guide able to reveal a musical landscape of which one had not been earlier aware. It is a fascinating, deeply probing reading. I hope this CD reaches many listeners.


Whether listening to the gently rocking motif of the opening movement, a profound intensity of feeling in the slow movement or, with first rate support from the LPO, a finale that thrills the ear, it’s clear that orchestra, cellist and conductor are in top form.


Li-Wei Qin was born in Shanghai and came to Australia as a teenager. After winning the ABC Young Performer of the Year Competition, he went on to advanced studies with Ralph Kirshbaum at Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music. In 2008, he was soloist with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra at the Beijing Olympics. He plays a superb 1780 Guadagnini cello. On the evidence of this recording, he is entirely worthy of it.


481 1243 Li-Wei DigipakIn William Walton’s Cello Concerto, Li-Wei produces a stream of seductively beautiful, warmly mellow sound. It’s magical music making. Listening to this performance calls to mind Mrs Gaskell’s famous comment that she wished Anthony Trollope’s Framley Parsonage would go on forever. The other-worldly beauty of the playing cannot be too highly praised. Whether introspective or boldly assertive, the concerto sounds as if it might have been purpose-written for the soloist.


In Britten’s Four Sea Interludes from his opera Peter Grimes, the then-young Britten revealed to an astonished world just how inventive a young composer touched by God can be.


Each of the Interludes is a mini-masterpiece of striking originality, sound pictures that draw the listener into the composer’s idiosyncratic sound and mood world. And Zhang Yi and the LPO sound in their element as they breathe life and meaning into the score.


In Dawn, the bleakly austere, attention-gripping measures with their simulated bird calls are beautifully handled. And in Sunday Morning, in-form horns provide a sonic background for darting string motifs. Splendid brass responses and fine flute playing give nocturnal point and meaning to Moonlight. And the LPO does wonders in suggesting a dark, dramatically turbulent Storm.