CD and Other Review

Review: Piffarissimo (Capella de la Torre/Bäuml)

★★★★☆ Capella de la Torre is dedicated to the performance of an older brand of music. Their instruments are similarly old, from shawms, slide trumpets and sackbut to lute, cow horn and percussion. With an eye to authentic historical readings, their playing evokes distant times and places, and frequently explores the music of the Middle Ages by focussing on people, locations and events. In their recent release, the group have reconstructed through music the 15th ecumenical council.  Imagine tens of thousands of dignitaries, clerics, noblemen and women of various nations gathered together at Constance for this important ecclesiastical meeting. Written accounts of the time describe great parades through the streets, accompanied by music of the various regions raining down from roof and castle-tops. The various tracks on the disc feature music for drums, pipes, strings and trumpets, in the music of noted medieval composers like Guillaume Dufay, Philippe de Vitry and Gilles Binchois.  Capella de la Torre’s musical reconstruction is a great success. With their keen eye for historical accuracy, the group have pieced together a programme of music that conjures the spirit of this momentous occasion. Admittedly, there’s not really enough on the disc to convince nonbelievers of the…

June 28, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Sculthorpe: The Quartets (Goldner String Quartet)

★★★★★ “I’m taking you on a journey through my life with string quartets… 70 years!” announces Peter Sculthorpe to a small studio audience gathered to celebrate his 83rd birthday, on April 29, 2012. And so he does, sharing anecdotes about his fascinating life, compositional processes, and use of motifs from Aboriginal music. Part documentary, part concert film, Sculthorpe shares the stage with the magnificent Goldner String Quartet, with whom he had a long and fruitful association. The warmth and ease between them all is palpable. The Goldners have performed all of Sculthorpe’s quartets, and recorded many in his presence and under his direction. This calls to mind the close relationship between Shostakovich and the Borodin Quartet; and Sculthorpe too was a socially conscious and political composer. In particular, his quartets address the plight of asylum seekers (No 16), Australia’s Indigenous histories (Nos 11, 14), and climate change (No 18). This is a fascinating, deeply moving film, an ethnographic history lesson with Sculthorpe as guide. It is beautifully recorded with glorious performances of excerpts from ten quartets. Furthermore, it is an invaluable historical document. Essential viewing for Sculthorpe fans, and recommended for anyone interested in the string quartet’s development in the…

June 27, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Smörgåsbord! (The Marais Project)

★★★★☆ This is the best kind of crossover. Swedish traditional and popular music across centuries and styles – folk, jazz, ABBA(!) – rubbing shoulders with songs and chamber music by composers Johan Helmich Roman and Carl Michael Bellman. The dishes are plentiful, varied and tasty without being overly rich, with just a little French dressing courtesy of Marin Marais.  Australian-based period instrument band The Marais Project features a flexible line-up which this time comprises Tommie Andersson on theorbo and guitar and Jennifer Eriksson on gamba with tenor Pascal Herrington, flautist Melissa Farrow and violinist Fiona Ziegler. For starters they serve up a strikingly beautiful instrumental arrangement of an old pastoral hymn which the booklet describes as “one of the most haunting and melancholy tunes from the region of Dalarna.” For dessert there’s Andersson’s cheeky yet effective arrangement of ABBA’s Waterloo in the form of a baroque courante. In between there is much to choose from. Bellman’s delightful songs, in which a limpid-voiced Herrington is accompanied by classical guitar with varying involvement from the other instruments, exude Mozartian charm and irreverence. Roman’s staid trio sonata provides a suitable palate cleanser before Andersson’s arrangement of late jazzman Esbjörn Svensson’s Pavane: Thoughts of…

June 26, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Sonorous Sonatas (Peter Sheridan)

★★★☆☆ Peter Sheridan’s Sonorous Sonatas reveals the rarely heard sounds of the lower flutes. Commissioned by Sheridan himself, the works feature alto, subcontrabass, and pretty much every flute in between.    Gary Schocker’s bubbly Music for a Lost Planet opens the album with Sheridan’s alto flute vibrato rhythmic in Above. The piano is so strikingly similar in range that the instruments seem to blend into one, but the aggressive Burn reaches more familiar realms with flute playing at a higher register.  A flutter-tonguing bass flute opens Taran Carter’s Owls Sfutel. The Allegretto movement initially seems an expression of random madness – but stick with it, as it soon falls into a jazzy rhythm. Con Molto Energy is announced by a metronomic pounding of the piano – not a style the ears are accustomed to after half an hour of ‘sonorous’ flutes! Andrew Downes’ Sonata for contrabass flute is far warmer – though it’s a shame about the clicky keys. Carolyn Morris’s Forest Over Sea features gorgeous harmonies. The album finishes with Houston Dunleavy’s bizarre Clumsy Dances – an opportunity to hear the subcontrabass flute, yes, but a poor fit for the release.  Everyone should invest time into listening to rarer…

June 26, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Revolution (Emmanuel Pahud)

Editor’s Choice: Chamber – July 2015 ★★★★★ For some years Emmanuel Pahud has been the poster boy of the flute fraternity with prominent positions in the Berlin Philharmonic and Claudio Abbado’s hand-picked Lucerne Festival Orchestra. His superb two-disc set The Flute King explored the German school hovering around the court of Frederick the Great, while this new release is a tribute to the French school of the late 18th century.  For those of us who grew up with hoary old music histories declaring this a period bereft of interest apart from Mozart and Haydn, other fascinating developments from a time of social turmoil are gradually coming to light. Earlier recordings of these works in the old “Dresden china” manner of playing were mostly deadly dull and reinforced those old prejudices so it is a delight to hear them taken by the scruff of the neck and presented with the sort of flair and élan that a crack team would lavish on a mainstream masterpiece.  Pahud’s playing is stunning with perfectly focused tone at all dynamics, immaculate articulation and a technique so supreme that one can simply enjoy it for its physicality and grace. A single sustained note from Pahud can…

June 22, 2015