Anthony Clarke

Anthony Clarke

Articles by Anthony Clarke

12 January, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: MESSIAEN Poèmes pour Mi (soprano: Anne Schwanewilms; Orchestre National de Lyon/Jun Märkl)

It was originally composed for piano and soprano; this is the version for orchestra first performed a dozen years later. It’s sung here by Anne Schwanewilms, known as an interpreter of Strauss and Wagner. She is obviously a dab hand at more intimate lieder, as these songs – very personal love songs from Messiaen to his wife, mixed with the religious motifs which formed such an idiosyncratic core in his work – are sung with great delicacy and sensitivity. The religious motifs are heard even more strongly in the second offering on this disc, Les Offrandes Oubliées (The Forgotten Offerings) from 1930, Messiaen’s first published orchestral work. This still sounds contemporary in its harvesting of impressionistic dissonances and untamed musical emotions. On this evidence, Messiaen’s personal view of his religion bore heavily on pain and sacrifice and there is a great deal of very quiet solitary introspection too amidst the fury.The final work is a concentrated (9 min) offering to the memory of Mozart, which was commissioned for a premiere performance in 1991, the bicentenary of Mozart’s death. Beautiful mystical passages alternate with barbed sections based on birdsong. Although Messiaen said this piece was meant to evoke the happiness of…

12 January, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: CHOPIN Mazurkas, Polonaise-Fantaisie, Scherzo and Nocturne (piano: Cédric Tiberghien)

The awesome fecundity of Chopin and the sheer breadth of his invention often blinds us to the fact that in visual art terms, he was a water-colourist who eschewed the grander mediums of oil or sculpture. But with his chosen palette of the piano, he was grand enough – and delicate enough – for any purpose. In Chopin’s hands, the piano seems to have limitless scope for expression, from the most poised miniature waltz or mazurka to the most dramatic nocturne or scherzo. This recital from French pianist Cédric Tiberghien uses a clever selection of works to show the range of Chopin’s accomplishments. At its heart is a choice of some 13 of the approximately 50 mazurkas Chopin left us. Nestled within these polished miniatures are three more meaty works – the intensely dramatic Scherzo Op 20, the lyrical Nocturne Op 48, and the Polonaise-Fantaisie Op 61, of which Tiberghien writes: “If I were allowed to keep only one work by Chopin, it would be this… it’s the perfect expression of his personality”. This beautifully chosen recital has the benefit of extraordinarily clear acoustics. But the lilting yet powerful performances are enough to make the listener want to seek out…

12 January, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: BACH Keyboard Works (piano: Angela Hewitt)

The sheer beauty of these recordings (all of Bach’s major solo keyboard works in a 15-disc set) lets one forget the years of intense labour that lie behind it. Angela Hewitt began recording this cycle at her own expense back in 1994, with the Fantasia in C Minor, Two-Part Inventions, Three-Part Inventions and Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue. She had intended releasing the disc as an independent, but then offered it to Hyperion who accepted enthusiastically, also accepting the greater challenge of recording the complete major solo works. This was an odyssey of more than a decade, and Hewitt’s detailed notes gives an absorbing guide to her quest for perfection. Most of the recordings were made over just ten years – and then, in 2008, Hewitt decided to re-record the Well-Tempered Clavier using her own piano, an Italian Fazioli, regarded by most professionals as the finest piano made today. This set needs to be absorbed over time, so that one work does not slide into another. If you must choose just one by which to judge the whole, then listen to her magisterial Well-Tempered Clavier, which yields nothing to other Bach masters such as Richter or Schiff. She probes the inner…

12 January, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: SCHUMANN Dichterliebe, Liederkreis (tenor: Werner Gura, piano: Jan Schultz)

The same is true, in a way, of great paintings, and of most Baroque and classical music. But there is something different about art song: while the works of the old masters now carry a patina of age, the stripped-back nature of the song-cycles means they have defied the years. On this recording, the words of the German poets Joseph von Eichendorff (Liederkreis) and Heinrich Heine (Dichterliebe) are brought to us with their freshness untouched by time. These compositions speak to us as a friend would in the most intimate conversation. Schumann’s songs of the joys of love and the anguish of unrequited yearnings are given a lucid and heartfelt reading by German tenor Werner Gura, who specialises in Lieder and oratorio. Although a tenor, he is reminiscent of the youthful Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau – this is a light voice, never strained, and with a flexible baritonal extension. His accompanist Jan Schultsz (who is also a horn-player and conductor) is supportive at all times, but very much the partner. Everyone has their favourites in this repertoire, but this one is a worthy rival for the most celebrated Lieder recordings. A recital for the ages.

11 January, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: MOZART Requiem; Exsultate, Jubilate (singers: Sara Macliver, Sally Anne Russell, Paul McMahon, Teddy Tahu Rhodes; Cantillation; Orchestra of the Antipodes/Walker)

On the first listening, I was slightly underwhelmed. This performance, with orchestra using ‘period’ instruments just didn’t deliver the liveliness and inventive brilliance this classic Requiem usually shows.The fault was mine. The next day I cranked up my amp and played it at something approaching recital hall level. The music blossomed. Instruments opened up and voices became truly dynamic. Some music needs this approach. Forget the neighbours – let everyone share in Mozart’s final creation. Yes, a Requiem is often sad. But despite the fact that Mozart was dying as he wrote it, this piece is also full of great joy. For me, there are three great Requiems, by Mozart, Verdi and Fauré; all share this transcendental nature. Of the four very capable soloists, Sara Macliver shines out, and her performance of the very beautiful Exsultate, Jubilate is a particularly fine addendum. Also included on the disc are two gems; Ave verum Corpus and Sancta Maria, mater Dei, making a fully-rounded program of Mozart’s sacred works. Antony Walker’s Cantillation choral group and his Orchestra of the Antipodes are as lustrous as ever. Walker’s career is now centred on the USA, but long may he be able to return home to…

3 January, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: MOZART Sonatas for Piano & Violin (Mitsuko Uchida, Mark Steinberg)

Pianist Mitsuko Uchida and violinist Mark Steinberg have been playing these sonatas together for 12 years now. Their playing is as natural as breathing. Choosing just four must have been a difficult task. The result is remarkable, giving us a sweeping portrayal of the depths Mozart was able to find within this most honed-back of all chamber ensembles. The first two (K377 and K303) are relatively optimistic and playful pieces, although even these give glimpses of the depths Beethoven would later plumb in this genre. But Mozart finds his own emotional depths in the work in E Minor, K304, written just after his mother died. This is a surprisingly bleak and sorrowful composition, devoid of the sunlight which flows abundantly from most of his work. The final quartet, in A major K526, was written much later and is a far more complex work showing the composer’s full artistic maturity. It is as important a work as anything he composed, intense and dramatic, though with abundant joy and light. Our two performers grace these compositions with lucid, intelligent playing; and the warm, intimate recording serves them with distinction.

3 January, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: Bassoon Concertos (Karen Geoghegan, BBC Philharmonic/Noseda)

It is a sweet-sounding instrument, quite emotional and even, in her hands, elegant, but always within a relatively narrow band of expression when compared to the more virtuosic concerto partners, the piano, violin or the unabashed French horn. Mozart’s only surviving concerto for bassoon (he wrote three others, all lost) is a charming work, written when the composer was only 18 years old. It features a particularly beautiful andante, which has a delicious theme anticipating his famous aria Porgi amor from The Marriage of Figaro. The main item on the disc is a recently-discovered concerto by Gioachino Rossini, or at least attributed to him by some scholars. If they are correct, this would be the last piece he wrote for orchestra, before he left Bologna to live the high life in Paris. Sadly, it is a rather perfunctory piece with some pleasing moments but concluding with a rondo in which all high spirits seem assumed. It suggests, more than anything else, that the now-retired Rossini had said all he wanted to say in music. More interest is found in two 19th-century concertos by Conradin Kreutzer and Bernhard Crusell, who ride above the limitations of the solo instrument to provide some…