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!
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!
“Of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” And of making many string quartets there also is no end. But much listening to new ones can be a balm to the soul. Well, not quite a newly made quartet, for the Aris Quartett was founded in 2009. But they counted as BBC New Generation Artists as recently as 2018–2020.
Here they are playing Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 1 in F major Op. 18/1, in Madrid three years ago. This is, I think, extraordinarily good. [29 mins]
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.
The plan has been to post a weekly link to share some performances, ones that you too might find really worth pausing over for a reflective moment one evening. As I said at the outset, they might be old or new, maybe just part of a concert, perhaps just half an hour more or less — and available online at least for the next couple of weeks, so you can find a chance to stop to watch and listen.
This sixth week — in particularly grim days — let’s turn to Bach, who else? Here is the wonderful Beatrice Rana playing Bach BWV 1052 with the Amsterdam Sinfonietta in 2019. [22 min.]
I particularly like the way the small-forces orchestra is standing closely gathered round the piano as she plays. It seems to engender such engaged performances from both pianist and band. The result surely is a stunningly good interpretation of this great music.
Chamber music can be profound, difficult, emotionally wrenching. But much can be more fun, a delight for friends or scratch ensembles to play just for the enjoyment of it.
Last year, while in Manchester to play concerts as a soloist with the Hallé, Elisabeth Brauss got together with the orchestra’s Sergio Castelló López and Simon Turner to play Beethoven’s Piano Trio in B-flat major, Op. 11 for piano, clarinet and cello (known as the Gassenhauer Trio). The Hallé have just newly put a video recording online, and it is captivating, with the players’ enjoyment indeed shining through. So I thought I would share! [Just 22 minutes]
I have been listening to a couple of CDs by the violist Dana Zemtsov. And I thought I’d also share this video of a relaxed and very engaging short concert she gave with friends a couple of years ago. I particularly enjoyed the opening two pieces by Beethoven and Lutosławski, and the final pieces (starting at 51.40) by Shostakovich.
What took me to exploring Dana Zemtsov’s recordings was finding that she is to be the violist with the Pavel Haas Quartet for the coming months. She is obviously a very fine player, but also (or so it strikes me) her approach and playing style should be a terrific fit. [Added: And a review of their Madrid concert, a couple of days ago, comments that they were “perfectamente integrados”, mentioning particularly Dana Zemtsov’s viola as something “fantástico” given how new she is to the quartet.] I really do hope this works out for them all — we so need the PHQ to settle into a happy new line-up and then feel able get back to the recording studio!
Meanwhile, here are two BBC radio recordings from PHQ concerts at last year’s Bath Mozartfest. First, the Prokofiev’s String quartet No 2 (which they recorded on a prize-winning CD a dozen years ago) and Schubert’s String quartet in G major, D 887 (starting at 6.14). [You might need to use a VPN pointed to the UK to access BBC sounds.]
And some other PHQ news, in case you missed it. In the BBC Radio 3 Record Review programme last Saturday, their “Building a Library” episode was surveying recordings of Shostakovich’s String Quartet No 8 in C minor. Surely one of the very greatest pieces of chamber music of the second half of the twentieth century. The reviewer’s top recommendation was the PHQ recording. So yet another accolade for them. You can listen to a podcast of the episode here. And then their recording of the Shostakovich was broadcast here (starting at 17.00).
Not my usual kind of music! But, this week, here is a performance of Grażyna Bacewicz’s Double Piano Concerto of 1966. The soloists are Peter Jablonski, who last year released a very well received CD of Bacewicz piano works, and Elisabeth Brauss. And since this concert in December, they have recorded the Concerto together for another CD to be released in the spring. Visit the concert page here, press Katso (play), and go to about 22.30 for the Concerto (which last less than twenty minutes). I’m not sure what to make of the music, but I much enjoyed watching them play!
Peter Jablonski and Elisabeth Brauss also play a very short and delightful encore by Ligeti, at 42.10. And then, if you want something a lot calmer, here is another very short piece, this time by Hindemith, quite beautifully played by Elisabeth. Hopefully a trailer for a DG solo disk by her.
Here is a video of the wonderful Chiaroscuro Quartet at a recent concert in Stockholm. They begin with Haydn’s String Quartet Op. 33, No. 4, followed (at 16:30) by Emilie Mayer’s String Quartet No. 1 (first performed in 1858). The concert concludes (from 47:30) with Beethoven’s String Quartet, Op. 59, No. 3.
I leave you to make your own mind up about the Mayer piece. But I’m really linking this video because of the performance of the third Rasumovsky. That quartet has been a quite special favourite of mine ever since I saw Godard’s One Femme Marieé at a very impressionable age — do you remember this scene? I have never found out which quartet’s performance was used in the film — though of the recordings from that era which I know, it is quite similar to that by the Amadeus.
The greatest live performance I’ve ever heard was by the Pavel Haas about three years ago, who were absolutely on fire at Wigmore Hall. I have never heard the transcendental second movement played more affectingly, or the final movement propelled with such passion. Astonishing (as the audience obviously felt at the time). But this performance by the Chiaroscuro, with their distinctive timbre on gut strings, is very fine indeed.