Music

Amazone

Bringing to front again Lea Desandre’s new CD is, as you’d predict, terrific. She and Thomas Dunford are stars: if you haven’t seen them together then you’ve missed some real delight. For example, here they are in a concert recorded at the end of last year … try, for example, Monteverdi’s “Lettera amarosa” from 19.35 minutes in, and you will be captivated!

For more tasters from the new CD, here is a video of Lea Desandre singing with Cecilia Bartoli a duet by Giuseppe de Bottis, from his 1707 opera Mitilene, Regina delle Amazzoni. Yes, quite new to me and it will be new to you too, as it is (surprisingly, given the lovely music) a world premiere recording, as are most others on this CD. Both singers are in wonderful voice and enjoying themselves, we also get a little bonus wafting in the video from Lea Desandre who trained for thirteen years to be a ballet dancer!

And here’s another very short video of track from the CD: this time Lea Desandre sings “Sdegni, furori barbari”, an aria of Celinda from Pallavicino’s 1690 opera L’Antiope. As I say, the whole CD is indeed exceptional.

Elisabeth Brauß plays Schubert

I have only just noticed that a recording of Elisabeth Brauß playing the four Schubert Impromptus D.899 last year is available now and for another week on BBC Sounds (start at 10 minutes into the programme). [Added: Link no longer works, sorry!]

This strikes me as extraordinarily good and very moving — with so much thought gone into every bar, yet the playing utterly honest and direct and unmannered. I have more than a dozen wonderful recordings of the impromptus from Schnabel on; but these performances bear comparison (in that these too are such that, while you listen, you can’t help but feel “yes, this is how the Schubert should be played …”).

Judging from her Mozart and Beethoven too, one day — and I do hope that this is where her inclinations take her! — Elisabeth Brauß could become one of the very finest of Schubert pianists. And, with the clock ticking away, I hope I will still be here to hear her.

The Chiaroscuro Quartet play Schubert’s Rosamunde

I hadn’t noticed before that there is a video of the Chiaroscuro Quartet playing Schubert’s Rosamunde Quartet from a concert in Gstaad a couple of years ago. Their earlier CD including this piece is wonderful, it goes without saying, but it is terrific to be able to watch them playing in a live performance. (To see the whole recording, you need to register, for free, for the Gstaad Digital Festival.)

“The truest thing that I know in this world”

Portrait by Felix Broede

“Mozart’s music is, for me, the truest thing that I know in this world. And playing his music has truly changed me, and I believe it can change anyone who is open to miracles.” Moving words from the young German pianist Elisabeth Brauß, and very moving playing of Mozart’s No. 23 in A major, K488 at her Proms debut. You can listen here (from 37 minutes in).

The Pavel Haas Quartet again: two online concerts

In these days of Covid, our chances of seeing live concerts from our favourite musicians are much reduced. In particular,  since we don’t live in the Czech Republic or nearby, I’m not going to get to see the Pavel Haas Quartet live again for a good while yet. But I will be catching a couple more online concerts, this time recorded for the West Cork Chamber Music Festival. The first is tonight (29th June), and then available on demand for 48 hours. The second is on Saturday (3rd July) and then again available on demand for 48 hours.

I don’t know quite how many readers here ever follow up the musical posts. However,  I do occasionally get ‘thank you’ emails! So let me say more about these concerts. Who knows, it might tempt a few readers to catch one or other of them. I hope so!

The first features Martinů, Quartet No.2; Schulhoff, Quartet No.1; Janáček, Quartet No.2 ‘Intimate Letters’. From the West Cork website:

Pavel Haas was a Jewish Czech composer like Schulhoff. They both perished in the Holocaust and the Nazis set out systematically to suppress their music by taking over music publishers and banning all performances of their music. This was lethally effective and it took decades to rediscover their music and to return it to its rightful place in the repertoire. This concert features a Prague-based Czech Quartet playing the music of three well-known Czech composers. Martinů was a wonderful composer of chamber music. He wrote: ‘It is hard for me to express the happiness I feel when I start composing chamber music – the delight of leading the four voices, in a quartet one feels at home, intimate, happy.’ Martinů wrote seven quartets that are seldom heard, hopefully a future Festival will include the full cycle. Schulhoff fought in the First World War and post-War turned away from traditional musical forms, associating them with the decadence of the old order that had led to the catastrophe of world war. He spent the Twenties experimenting with different forms both musically and politically. His First Quartet, dating from 1924, is an explosion of energy but otherwise follows a surprisingly conventional path. Janáček’s two quartets are well-known as they trace in music his obsessional love affairs. Milan Kundera wrote: ‘His music is a breathtakingly close confrontation between tenderness and brutality, madness and peacefulness; it condenses the whole of life, with its hell and its paradise.’

The second concerts features Dvořák, Piano Trio No.3 in F minor Op.65 and Piano Quintet No.2 in A major Op.81.  From the concert website again:

For this special concert, Pavel Haas Quartet is joined by Boris Giltburg for two major works by Dvořák, his tempestuous F minor Piano Trio and the infectious delight of his second A major piano quintet. For the Trio the Quartet’s leader, Veronika Jarůšková, and cellist, Peter Jarůšek, join Boris Giltburg. This concert was recorded at the Martinů Hall in Prague. Dvořák’s Third Piano Trio was composed shortly after his mother’s death, it opens in passionate agitation and ends in an emotional tempest. In between comes a tuneful and light-hearted Allegretto leading to a calm and meditative Adagio. Despite his personal loss, Dvořák is able to swathe his distress in a succession of the glorious melodies for which he was so renowned. The opening of the Piano Quintet never loses its magic however often we hear it, while the Andante gives the languid voice of his own instrument, the viola, a leading role. There are no shadows in this unblemished music.

Need I say more? These concerts should indeed be wonderful. Very inexpensive online tickets for the Tuesday concert available here and for the Saturday concert available here.

Pavel Haas Quartet and Boris Giltburg, video recording for the Library of Congress

Now available: wonderful new video performances recorded at the Suk Hall in Prague, of Smetana’s String Quartet no. 2 in D minor, Bartók’s String Quartet no. 4, and Brahms, Piano Quintet in F minor, op. 34. The Brahms in particular was a revelation to me — with Boris Giltburg’s playing quite magical. (He is also responsible for some striking photos of the quartet’s new line-up.)

The PHQ sounding so good too with their very impressive new violist Luosha Fang. It is difficult indeed to believe that they had been rehearsing together only a few weeks when this was filmed. A whole series of live concerts are now announced on their updated website  though mostly in the Czech Republic or nearby. But there are two more forthcoming online performances scheduled soon, about which more in a later post.

PHQ and Boris Giltburg, radio recording

Boris Giltburg and the Pavel Haas Quartet were playing last night to a live audience at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (that’s in Denmark, near Elsinore, on the Øresund coast).

The concert — in which they performed the Brahms and Dvorak Piano Quintets — was broadcast on Danish radio, and the concert is available for listening online on DR P2. (Player at the foot of the page; their concert starts at 43:04). Great stuff!

PHQ — Prague spring

Six months after their last live concert, with Covid restrictions easing in the Czech Republic, the Pavel Haas Quartet have been able to start playing again, streaming two concerts over the last weekend. It was wonderful to hear them.

One highlight, for me, was getting to know Martinů’s 7th quartet, which they played so engagingly in the first of the concerts, recorded for a Duke University series. John Gilhooly at Wigmore Hall had persuaded the PHQ to play a Martinů cycle starting last year  — but of course, like so many other musical plans, all that was thwarted by Covid. Hopefully the cycle (and a recording or two?) will still happen sooner rather than later: if this sample was anything to go by, PHQ will make Martinů their own in the same way that they give such compelling performances of the other Czech greats.

Another highlight was the performance of the Brahms Piano Quintet, joined by Boris Giltburg in the second of the concerts, recorded for a Spivey Hall series. In particular, the gentle second movement was simply magical (with Giltburg making other pianists in a couple of discs I know seem positively flatfooted). Another recording, please, of this together perhaps with the Shostakovich Piano Quintet! — for I’ve also heard Giltburg play that with the PHQ a couple of times quite outstandingly.

These concerts, perhaps, had more significance for the PHQ than just restarting playing; for they were joined for the first time by their new violist Luosha Fang. They had suddenly parted company with the violist, composer and conductor Jiří Kabát at the beginning of 2020, asked the prize-winning Luosha Fang to join them, and (again) plans were blown up by Covid. Now, I don’t have a good enough ear to be the best judge, but from these concerts she is surely an inspired choice for them. Her playing seems wonderful (for example in the exposed viola part in the movement  of the second quartet by Pavel Haas that PHQ played as an encore for the Duke concert), and very much in keeping with the style of the quartet. We can only hope this transatlantic marriage works out for them all.

The links I gave for the concerts in a post last week have now expired, as each was only available for three days. Hopefully the recordings will eventually be made available more widely.

Added: The PHQ and Boris Giltburg are playing the Spivey Hall programme, plus Bartok, in the Library of Congress series, freely available from June 18th —  details here.

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