Music

Schubert on Sunday 3: Esmé Qt play Death and the Maiden

The much-admired Esmé Quartet won first prize at the 2018 Wigmore Hall String Quartet Competition, and have since rightly had a stellar career. Here they are, a year ago, playing Schubert D810, the Death and the Maiden quartet.

There is an astounding, prize-winning, recording by the Pavel Haas Quartet of great depth, charged and driven from the first note to the last, but of great subtlety of colour and phrasing. The Esmé Quartet’s performance, I think, bears comparison. Outstanding.

Schubert on Sunday 2: Eric Lu plays D959

The young American pianist Eric Lu won the Leeds Piano Competition in 2018 at the age of 20. He has since released two discs, the second of music by Schubert, including the extraordinary penultimate sonata in A major, D959.

Some have found Lu’s performance over-romantic. But I like it greatly and find his interpretation very affecting indeed. Here he is playing the sonata in Warsaw in 2021.

Schubert on Sunday 1: Janine Jansen and friends play the Octet

I don’t know how many readers of this blog follow up the musical posts, but I do get occasional appreciative messages. Anyway, I am in the mood to start another series of weekly links to performances on video. This time, of pieces all by one composer, for as long as the spirit moves me. (Is it just by chance that, in the past, talking to other philosophical or logical music lovers, it seemed to be Schubert who was so often mentioned as particularly close to their hearts too?)

Where to start? As we’ll find, there are some stunning video recordings available. I’ll try to leaven the heart-wrenching with the more consoling, though in the end I suspect there might be more of the former (did I say it would all be Schubert?). But you can’t get more full of joy than this, to start with.

Leonkoro Quartet and Elisabeth Brauss

Just a note of a BBC broadcast of a concert from the Cheltenham Festival, with the terrific multi-prize-winning young Leonkoro Quartet (they won last year’s Wigmore Hall string quartet competition in style) and the equally terrific Elizabeth Brauss. The quartet played Webern’s Slow Movement for String Quartet (which I didn’t know) and  Schulhoff’s 5 Pieces for String Quartet, and then were joined by Elisabeth to perform Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E flat major, Op 44.

Wonderful, I thought.

A link to the concert on the BBC website.

The Pavel Haas Quartet at Wigmore Hall

The great PHQ played a short concert of music by Czech-born composers at lunchtime today at Wigmore Hall. The medieval chorale on which the Meditation by Dvořák’s pupil and son-in-law Josef Suk is based is still well known in the Czech Republic. Martinů’s Second Quartet (1925) was the first of his works to garner him international attention. Brno-born Korngold’s Third Quartet dates from 1944-5.

This was one of PHQ’s first concerts with their new permanent (oh, let’s hope!) viola player. They have had troubled times in that position since their founder violist Pavel Nikl sadly had to leave the quartet in 2016 due to family illness, and have taken their time after another sudden departure to settle on a replacement. They have played a number of concerts to much acclaim with the terrific Dana Zemtsov (who is based in Amsterdam); but it is very understandable — famously intensive rehearsers that they are — that they have in the end chosen to work from now with another Slovak living the Prague, another fine player, the young Šimon Truszka, previously of the Kukal Quartet. May it work out well for all of them! We need PHQ to be back in the recording studio.

In concert: Concerto Köln play Sammartini

Once upon a time, a full-price classical LPs cost almost £40 at today’s prices. No wonder cheaper labels flourished. And I remember some of those cheaper LPs with great fondness, including a Saga recording of pieces by Giovanni Battista Sammartini (c. 1700 – 15 January 1775). The first piece on the record was this short Symphony in A, played here — with engaging zest — by Concerto Köln.

Sammartini was prolific: if you want to hear another piece by him, this time in the performance on that Saga LP, then try this delightful Symphony In G For Trumpet And Strings. Or if you have time for the whole eighty odd minutes of the excellent concert by Concerto Köln, with pieces by Bach, Vivaldi, Locatelli and Dall’Abaco, then the complete video is here.

And since you asked, the cover of the LP is a self-portrait by Filippino Lippi, so only about three hundred years out of time with the music.

In concert: Janine Jansen and friends play the Mendelssohn Octet

I’m inspired by some recent discoveries to re-start posting weekly links to online music videos. As before, they might be old or new, perhaps just part of a concert, perhaps just half an hour more or less. Let’s see how it goes again.

This week one of the most sheerly enjoyable videos yet — the wonderful Janine Jansen with seven other mostly young musicians playing the Mendelssohn Octet. This is about the best performance I have ever heard, played with such verve and such shared delight in the music that it is very affecting. [33 mins]

Oh, I know, it is such a cliché to mention it. But it is somehow difficult to get over the astounding fact that Mendelssohn was 16 when he wrote the Octet.

By the way, linked videos from nine of the ten posts of the earlier series are still available to watch from here.

In concert: Noa Wildschut plays Bach

I’m hardly exploring the more obscure musical corners in these weekly posts! But no matter. This week, it’s the ridiculously gifted Noa Wildschut engagingly enjoying herself playing Bach with great verve and musicality. A delight to watch as Mrs Logic Matters particularly agreed. Just what is needed after a very busy and rather stressful week!

In concert: András Schiff plays Schubert D 946

The weeks seem to rattle round too fast. Here, to slow down and pause over, is Sir András Schiff playing the late Drei Klavierstücke D 946 [29 mins]. I have always thought that the second of the three pieces in particular [starting here at 8.45] is one the most magical of Schubert’s piano works. And Schiff is one of my favourite Schubert pianists. Enjoy!

In concert: Vivaldi’s Nisi Dominus

This week, a rightly classic performance from the great countertenor Andreas Scholl with
The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra. [23 mins]


Vivaldi’s works were already going out of fashion in Venice well before he died in 1741, and for the next two centuries he seems to have been remembered — except in a small handful of historical studies — just for a few violin concertos. And even those who knew a bit more about the range of his instrumental music music seem to have been ignorant of (or at least very much downplayed) Vivaldi’s religious and secular vocal music.

It wasn’t until about 1930, and after some detective work, that the Biblioteca Nazionale of Turin acquired a large collection of Vivaldi’s music that had been bought by the Austrian ambassador to Venice in the second half of the eighteenth century and then split and passed down through two branches of his descendants. And there re-emerged such central masterpieces as the Gloria RV 589, the Stabat Mater RV 621, and not least the motet Nisi Dominus RV 608, receiving their first performances since Vivaldi’s time in 1939.

We know that the motet was probably composed about 1715, in one of the periods while Vivaldi was officially maestro de’ concerti at the Ospedale della Pietà, but unofficially was also filling in for the maestro de’ coro (who was responsible for religious music). And it is thought that it was written for the vespers service for the patronal feast of the Pietà (i.e. the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary), when Psalm 126, Nisi Dominus, is prescribed.

The motet, then, was written to be sung by a woman — and it could well have been intended for quite a mature contralto (for the retirement age from the coro of the Pietà was 40). But it seems that most modern recordings are by countertenors. Of video recordings by countertenors, there is a particularly good one by the one-time Cambridge choral scholar Tim Mead, performing in Santa Chapelle. If you want to hear a contralto, then Lucile Richardot also gives a very fine performance in Prague’s Church of Saints Simon and Jude. But in the end, my first choice has to be Andreas Scholl. Not just for his voice but also because, in the transcendent Cum Dederit (here at 6.15), Vivaldi marks the strings to be played “con piombi” (with lead mutes) and in this recording the orchestra obey, using unusually heavy mutes to produce such atmospheric tones. A wondrous effect.

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