Monthly Archives: July 2015

Artemis Quartet

Mendelssohn String Quartets: No 2 (opus 13); No 3 (opus 44 No 1); No 6 (opus 80)

Erato 0825646366903

TPT: 87’ 41” (2 CD)

reviewed by Neville Cohn


packshot artemisIn a more enlightened world than existed when Fanny – sister to Felix Mendelssohn – lived her tragically brief life, she’d have had far greater recognition as a composer than was the case in the mid-19th century. Women most certainly didn’t get a fair deal in those days. Indeed, to get her work into the public domain, Felix published some of his sister’s songs under HIS name! Apparently, that was just about the only practical way to get the songs known to the wider community.


But Felix and Fanny were not only siblings and very fine musicians. They were good friends  –  and when Fanny died, too early, her brother’s grief was overwhelming. He poured his sorrow into the writing of his string quartet opus 80 in F minor, one of his darkest works. And the Artemis musicians home in unerringly on its mournful essence. Certainly, it comes across with electrifying intensity.


There is about the music a barely controlled anguish, a breast-beating sense of bereavement. And in the second movement, bows bite strings to produce a grainy-toned, throbbing quality that sounds entirely right. In the adagio which follows, the Artemis ensemble is no less persuasive in evoking moods of hopelessness and despair.  I cannot imagine anyone failing to respond to this darkest of all Mendelssohn’s quartets which could be thought of as a requiem for Fanny.


From first note to last, the Artemis Quartet is entirely in sympathy with the work.


Mendelssohn’s Quartet No 3 in D occupies a very different mood world, much of it bracingly buoyant and rhythmically emphatic, as refreshing in its idiosyncratic way as a cold shower on a hot day. How convincingly and confidently the Artemis players draw the listener into the composer’s vibrant teenage world.  There’s a youthful audacity about the writing – and the Artemis musicians convey this with immense confidence and brio.



Sokolov: The Salzburg Recital

Grigory Sokolov (piano)

TPT: 109’ 02”

DGG 479 4342 (2CD)

reviewed by Neville Cohn


COVER Gregory Sokolov - The Salzburg RecitalLike those two great pianists of an earlier era – Dame Myra Hess in the UK and Leopold Godowsky in the USA – Grigory Sokolov finds studio recordings enormously stressful. As well, Sokolov, more often than not, vetoes the commercial release of recordings of his public performances. But once in a very long while, he might give the nod to a release of a particular recital recording. Happily, this has been the case in relation to his 2008 Salzburg performance. Understandably, there’s been huge interest in the recording.


In the opening movement of Mozart’s Piano Sonata K280, the playing seems an instance of profound communion between pianist and composer. There are no stylistic oddities here, no grandstanding – just utter stylistic honesty. The slow Siciliano movement, in particular, is given a beautifully considered performance. The finale, too, is a delight, coming across with an aerial buoyancy, a lightness of touch and a delicious insouciance, It’s a perfect assessment of the music as is Sokolov’s account of K 332..


Chopin’s opus 28 – the 24 Preludes – is the musical equivalent of an Ali Baba’s treasure cave. Here, it is presented as if to the manner born. Listen to Prelude No 1 with its glorious lift to the phrase, each a gem of expressiveness. Prelude 2 comes across as the epitome of sadness and regret – and Prelude 3 is presented as a wondrously buoyant will-o’-the-wisp.


Prelude 4 in E minor, massacred by legions of well-intentioned children at eisteddfodau, is here a  deeply  meaningful utterance  and Prelude 5 comes across as an outburst of pure joy. In Prelude 6 in B minor, Sokolov plumbs a deep well of melancholy.


In Chopin’s famous Prelude 7 in A, Sokolov brings freshness to familiar notes. And the cruelly difficult Prelude 8 in F sharp minor comes across with breathtaking fluency; it’s a mini-marvel of fabulously fine, faultless fingerwork in the right hand.


Prelude 9 is pure enchantment – and Prelude 12 is masterly, flashing into enchanted life.


Prelude13 is offered as a touchingly introspective nocturne; it’s a model offering. And the outer sections of Prelude 15 – the much loved ‘Raindrop Prelude’ – come across in a movingly expressive way, a perfect foil for implacable repeated notes in the central section with their suggestion of a mournful, tolling bell.


Is there a more viciously difficult Prelude than No 16 in B flat minor? It’s been the graveyard of more than a few pianistic reputations. But in this brutally demanding piece, Sokolov reveals himself an Olympian keyboard athlete with near flawlessly accurate left hand leaps and astonishingly rapid fingerwork in the right hand. Bravo!


In Prelude18 in F minor, Sokolov’s playing is intensely dramatic, the more so for its subtle rubato. A beautifully considered, lyrical melody line in Prelude 19 is etched against a background of accompanying notes – and the famous, doomladen funeral march that is Prelude 20 is a model of solemnity. Sokolov brings a profoundly lyrical quality to Prelude 21.


In Prelude 22 – curiously – there’s a departure from the impeccable taste that informs almost all the rest of opus 28. Rubato is strangely excessive here.


Prelude 23, on the other hand, is in exquisite taste with gently glowing tone and subtleties that make this one of the chief joys of the set.


Prelude 24 is lacking in drama  – and surely needing greater intensity of attack?


Encores include Scriabin’s Poeme opus 69 no 1, magically insightful with gorgeous, glowing tone.


There’s more Chopin: the Mazurka opus 68 no 2 given an exquisitely poignant reading. Trills are perfectly spun.  There‘s also an achingly beautiful account of the Mazurka opus 63 no 3 – and wondrous trills and an aerial lightness elevate Sokolov’s account of Rameau’s Les Sauvages to the heights.


Bach’s Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ is like a benediction; it calls to mind the playing of Dame Myra Hess: there is no greater praise.

Island Songs


Amy Dickson (saxophone)

Sydney Symphony Orchestra

TPT: 60’ 13”

ABC Classics 481 1703

reviewed by Neville Cohn


COVER_Amy_Dickson_-_Island_Songs_masterTo listen to the music of Peter Sculthorpe is to be drawn instantly into a unique sound and mood world  – and this is exquisitely apparent in his Island Songs, one of his last scores and written expressly for saxophonist extraordinaire Amy Dickson.


Calling an enchanted conch shell to mind, Dickson’s opening statement draws one ineluctably into Sculthorpe’s imaginative sound environment with the saxophone line beautifully set off by dark-toned utterances from the strings of Sydney Symphony Orchestra.


Finely scored percussion provides an intriguing counter-argument to a lulling, nostalgia-drenched solo line.


Song of Home is followed by a slowly unfolding, hushed account of Lament and Yearning. Avian twitterings  remind one of the composer’s enduring love of, and nostalgia for, the remoteness of outback Australia with which he identified so profoundly.


Here, every superfluous sound is scrupulously removed, the antithesis of, say, a good deal of the music of Mendelssohn, so often expressed in seemingly endless streams of rapid semiquavers. Not here, though. This is an exercise in which the least says the most, where less is more and there’s not a superfluous sound, each note carefully considered like precious gemstones, each immaculately positioned and set.

A drum tap here, a gentle harp utterance there, a cello’s deep, velvety note.


Benjamin Northey takes the SSO through an impeccable accompaniment.


Brett Dean’s The Siduri Dances is fascinating fare with saxophone flourishes that call bursts of fireworks to mind – and brief arabesques that evoke images of some inspired dance activity. Dickson is in impressive form, not least in virtuosic passages which she offers in flawless taste. Benjamin Northey presides over events, coaxing a lightly coloured accompaniment from the SSO, ideal for both the work’s more reflective moments and high-register, chatter-box virtuosity from the soloist.


A lengthy unaccompanied solo comes across with beautifully controlled tone, followed by what might be thought of as a frenetic conversation between voluble birds. Here, Dickson triumphs in a score replete with traps for all but the most adept and secure of soloists.


In Full Moon Dances, a concerto for alto saxophone and orchestra, Ross Edwards gives us a work to cherish, much of it couched in exquisitely gentle terms.


Are those castanets in the distance?  Delightfully light-textured instrumentation with gentle gong-like sounds present a fine background for Dickson’s very slowly unfolding saxophone line.


Sanctus comes across in a gentle, quiet way, the players sounding as if drawing on the same reservoir of inspiration. The saxophone line whether tonally assertive or quietly introspective is played as if to the manner born. It comes across like a gentle benediction.


An irresistibly delightful, dance-like movement that oscillates between cheerful  insouciance and quiet reserve completes the work. There’s excellent work on cello here.


Miguel Harth-Bedova takes the SSO through a finely supportive accompaniment.


All in all, archetypal Edwards at his most persuasive. There’s a storm of applause at the close of this ‘live’ recording.


On the evidence of this fine recording, it is clear that Amy Dickson is a worthy successor to Peter Clinch who did so much to raise standards and expectations of fine performances on an instrument heard still far too infrequently in a concerto context.   –