Brett Allen-Bayes

Articles by Brett Allen-Bayes

18 May, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: Strauss: Complete Operas (Various Artists)

Even though his father Franz had played horn in the premieres in several of Wagner’s operas, the old man was not a fan of Herr Richard’s music dramas. His son, the composer Richard Strauss, would hold a similar position until his late teens when he discovered the piano score for Tristan and Isolde and he would prove a master of the orchestral tone poem and lieder before writing his first opera – the Wagnerian pastiche, Guntram – around his 30th birthday. However it was not until his third work in the field – Salome (1905), after Oscar Wilde’s notorious play – that he would have a major success de scandale with many productions being rapidly presented across Europe.  With this and his take on the classical tale of Elektra a few years later, Strauss would electrify audiences while balancing precariously on the edge of tonality. However he would suddenly pull back to celebrate his other major influence, Mozart, and with the likes of Ariadne auf Naxos and particularly Der Rosenkavalier, he would create the much loved dramas wherein his unique ability to write for the female voice would shine, creating a template for the rest of his operatic output amounting…

15 May, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: Ge Gan-Ru: Orchestral music (Orquesta Sinfónica de Castilla/Diemecke)

Ge Gan-Ru (b.1954) has been described by as China’s finest avant-garde composer. Like the young Takemitsu, he had to study Western classical music in secret but when the Shanghai conservatory was reopened in 1974, he found an affinity for the likes of Stockhausen, Ligeti and Debussy. These became influences in Ge Gan-Ru’s own compositions and merged successfully with traditional Chinese music in a way where the styles were truly synthesised into an individual and exciting compositional voice. This new BIS disc is a marvel where orchestral colours and big Messiaenic blocks of sound brilliantly coalesce to form a highly individual sound world where seemingly disparate musical styles seamlessly knit with the 2,000 year old Qin tales that provide the inspiration (the suite Lovers Besieged is based on the famous Farewell, My Concubine).  Fairy Lady Meng Jiang was composed for the Israeli flute virtuoso Sharon Bezaly who has no problems whatsoever with the unfamiliar Asian influences within this highly impressive work. Both works find their inspiration in difficult periods of Chinese history but never do the Western and Chinese elements oppose or work against each other. For here is truly international music – a Chinese-American composer, an Israeli soloist and Spanish…

8 May, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: Adés, Stanhope: Orchestral works (MSO/Northey)

This latest recording in the MSO Live series features premieres of two spectacular instrumental showcases that, despite their differences, find common ground. Here we have the world premiere of Paul Stanhope’s Piccolo Concerto recorded in Hamer Hall in August 2012, alongside the Australian premiere of British composer Thomas Adès’ Polaris. In the latter work, Adès has recourse to the ancient technique of canon, while the 12 tones of the chromatic scale keeping coming back to a “magnetic” central pitch in the same way stars seemed to move around the North Star. It’s a colourful, highly textured and spatially inventive work with an impressive climax and moments of reflective beauty, and receives a highly compelling performance by the MSO under Markus Stenz. In his two-movement Piccolo Concerto,Paul Stanhope uses another ancient technique – the chorale prelude – with the first movement partly based on the hymn tune Love Unknown; the second movement is more overtly virtuosic, especially its cadenza, which the MSO’s Principal Piccolo Andrew Macleod dispatches with the same crisp élan he displays throughout. Benjamin Northey and the MSO bring out Stanhope’s logically rigorous yet unashamedly lyrical writing while giving Macleod room to exploit his opportunities. Given the dearth of…Continue…

22 April, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: The Messiaen Nexus (Sellars, Fujimura)

This disc should be praised as much for thoughtful programming as for musicianship. Using Olivier Messiaen as its nucleus, violinist Elizabeth Sellars and pianist Kenji Fujimura focus on chamber works for violin and piano deriving their inspiration from the Paris Conservatoire under that composer's period of tutelage. Sellars and Fujimura also present works by Messiaen's teacher Paul Dukas as well as a trio of his finest students (the gifted Englishman George Benjamin, Kurtág and the inimitable M. Boulez). Whilst the music of Benjamin was highly praised by critics a decade or two ago, it’s great to see these eloquent musicians open this recital with his Violin Sonata – a work which was premiered by two giants of contemporary music, Arditti and Aimard – whilst the Hungarian Kurtág is represented by two works here (three pieces for violin and piano and selections from the evocative Signs, Games and Messages for violin solo). Similarly Boulez’s Anthèmes for piano are highly concentrated works whilst the solo entry by Messiaen’s own teacher, Dukas (Prélude Élegiaque) is as fine a piece of modal composition as anything by his contemporaries Ravel or Debussy (where has this piece been?) Messiaen himself has two early pieces here from the days…

20 April, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: Mozart Arranged (Australia Ensemble, Adam, Herscovitch)

This double CD presents some of Mozart’s best-loved instrumental works but in arrangements that will be unfamiliar to most modern listeners. However, 200 years ago it wasn't so easy to listen to works in their original incarnations. Thus it is in anonymous 19th- century arrangements for string quintet and sextet that members of the Australia Ensemble (basically the Goldner Quartet with another musician or two) present these works. I must admit to having only heard Grieg’s arrangement of the familiar Sonata facile No 16 for two pianos, in a fine live performance by Argerich and Anderszewski (EMI) and while Julie Adam and Daniel Herscovitch may lack some of their flashy virtuosity, they make a convincing and sympathetic case for this and the other three sonatas presented here. The other works date from much earlier in the 19th century by now unknown composers. In the case of the Sinfonia concertante, the work is scored for much reduced forces – in fact one instrument per part. All of these arrangements were made in order that the works be heard and similarly as string players were more common than virtuosic clarinettists, the much loved Clarinet Quintet took on a new life as a string quintet. So, as…

3 April, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: Amore (Calleja, BBC Concert Orchestra/Mercurio)

Following his homage to the people’s tenor Maria Lanza, it makes sense for Calleja to come up with a recital ranging from Leoncavallo and Tosti to Morricone and Edith Piaf. Although there are songs in no less than six languages, the Maltese tenor is obviously most at home in his mother tongue, Italian. Many critics have commented on the ‘golden-age’ quality of his voice, his ease of production and his wish to remain a man of the people. However for all of the ease and honeyed legato, one often yearns for geater involvement with the text. One also wishes more care had been taken in the choice of repertoire and the lush orchestrations. The sheer beauty of the voice is almost enough to justify Time to Say Goodbye but the rounded Italianate vowels are too much for as simple a tune as You Raise Me Up. Similarly Piaf’s La Vie en Rose remains an odd choice as it is so strongly associated with the feminine (though here his French vowels are far more agreeably idiomatic). Equally odd is the vocal take on the Adagio from Rodrigo’s Concerto De Aranjuez though it’s nice to hear Calleja in Spanish. His German and…

7 March, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: Busoni: Late piano music (Hamelin)

Although critics tend to single out his marathon Piano Concerto in five movements and his magnum opus, the opera Doktor Faust, like Franz Liszt, the vast majority of the Florence-born Feruccio Busoni’s compositional output is devoted to work for the solo piano. It is indeed appropriate that the Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin who specialises in obscure and difficult scores has now turned his gaze on this virtuoso and teacher.  Perhaps more than any other composer this side of Henze, Busoni has brought an ingenious balance to bear between Teutonic counterpoint and sunshine and passion from the Mediterranean. Whilst Busoni’s philosophical ideas in the New Aesthetic pair him with the likes of Nietzsche, his musical composition is perhaps not so forward thinking – like Mahler, he still teeters on the edge of tonality whilst suggesting the ideas of Paul Hindemith’s sonatas of the 1930s. Even now pianists, if they approach Busoni, tend to focus on his Bach transcriptions rather than upon original works – though even here we find witty appropriations of English folksong (Greensleeves) and Bizet’s Carmen. Very little of this work has been favoured by modern pianists. The major exception is the Adelaide-born and Dutch-based contrapuntal specialist Geoffrey Douglas Madge…

6 February, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: Composed Noise (The NOISE)

James Eccles of Sydney-based string quartet The NOISE says they began improvising for fun – avoiding the usual through-composed repertoire. Their first release comprised improvised or semi-composed original music without a ‘cover version’ in sight. This new release Composed Noise allowed them to commission works from seven composers that contain a central element of chance or improvisation with occasional sound effects thrown in. A two-disc set features a work each from established composers Andrew Ford, Rosalind Page and Lyle Chan as well as emerging ones like Paul Cutlan, Andrew Batt-Rawden, Amanda Cole and Alex Pozniak. The element of chance or improvisation has come to classical music through jazz and the I Ching associated with composers like John Cage and Lou Harrison. Composed Noise, however, has music, which is just as influenced by contemporary electronica and trance. Rosalind Page’s opening Zerkalo takes its influence from the Russian film director Andrei Tarkovsky and pairs him with the modal simplicity of Pärt and Tavener. A similar modal quality underlies Cutlan’s Merge/Emerge thereby starting each disc with something easy to listen to, whilst opening the ear to improvisation. Ford, on the other hand, achieves his objective by playing individual players off against their work…

9 January, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: Berkeley: Complete Music for violin and piano (Paling, Teniswood-Harvey)

Lennox Berkeley has often been more of a biographical footnote than a well known composer. Highly regarded as a teacher (students include Richard Rodney Bennett and the recently passed John Tavener), his oeuvre includes symphonies, opera and chamber music. A collaborator of Britten, he was equally friendly with Ravel and Les Six and his output has a more international sound than many of his British contemporaries. Written between the 1930s and the 1950s, his works for violin and piano immediately strike one for their clarity of purpose. Here is chamber music that is both cultured and approachable. The English violinist Edwin Paling together with the Tasmanian- based pianist Arabella Teniswood- Harvey (the wife of Michael Kieran), proves to be an ideal musician for the task at hand. And here is a task that is both scholastic and musical, bringing together a previously unpublished first Violin Sonata as attractive as any of the other works in this program. Equally fine are the Introduction and Allegro composed for the underrated Israeli violinist Ivry Gitlis and the earlier second sonata written whilst Berkeley studied with Nadia Boulanger. Whilst it is not necessarily ground breaking in terms of invention, Berkeley’s chamber music for violin and piano is…

9 January, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: Henze: Complete Deutsche Grammophon Recordings

Hans Werner Henze regarded himself as an outsider in terms of politics, sexuality and race. Upon fleeing Germany in the early fifties, he arrived in Italy where he would remain for the rest of his life – the Teutonic tempered by the Neapolitan sun and indeed the Italian language. He quickly solidified his position as the preeminent German symphonic composer this side of Hindemith although he was seen as conservatively tuneful by the likes of Boulez and Stockhausen. It was during this period that Deutsche Gramophon recorded much of his work commencing with the  Neapolitan Songs written for the great Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Such fine recordings form the bulk of this important 16CD set. DFD also features in excerpts from the opera Elegy for Young Lovers and the pro-‘Red’ cantata  Der Floss der Medusa (the straw that broke the German middle class back when a red flag was unfurled at the premiere). Highlights include the sublime works commissioned by Paul Sacher, the double concerto for harp and oboe featuring the Holligers and the magical  Fantasia for strings (1966) – a movement of which was used over the closing credits to  The Exorcist. Later works are included as well as the delightful Undine – the approachable…