Lisa MacKinney

Lisa MacKinney

Articles by Lisa MacKinney

CD and Other Review

Review: Beethoven: Sonatas for Fortepiano and Violin Volume 1 (Ogata, Watson)

Violinist Susanna Ogata is a tenured member of the Handel and Haydn Society. Keyboard player Ian Watson has had a long and distinguished career as an organist, conductor and as a director of early music, recently working with Harry Christophers and The Sixteen on a new edition of Bach’s St Mark Passion. In that same year, Watson and Ogata embarked on a project to record all ten of Beethoven’s Violin Sonatas on period instruments, and this release on The Sixteen’s Coro label is the first recording.  First up: Sonata No 4 in A Minor, Op. 23 (1801), and Sonata No 9 in A, Op. 47, the famous ‘Kreutzer’ from 1803. Watson plays a replica of an Anton Walter (1752-1826) Viennese fortepiano (both Mozart and Beethoven played Walters) while Ogata performs on a Joseph Klotz violin from 1772. It’s a remarkable sound world into which the listener is plunged and, given Watson and Ogata’s rigorous research, it is one we can assume to be similar to that inhabited by the composer himself. The sinewy violin lines are transformed by the deeper but slightly coarser and more nasal tone of the period instrument, making them noticeably more penetrating; this is particularly so…

December 22, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: John Adams: Absolute Jest (San Francisco Symphony)

This new recording on the San Francisco Symphony’s own label presents two works written three decades apart by American composer John Adams. Although Adams is most commonly associated with Minimalist compositional techniques, these are only very obliquely in evidence in this world premiere recording of Absolute Jest (2013 Most unusually, the work is scored for string quartet with symphony orchestra – “pretty much a repertory black hole,” as Adams notes dryly. This piece takes as its starting points phrases from late Beethoven string quartets, predominantly Op. 131, 135, and the Große Fuge (Op. 133), weaving them into “a colossal 25-minute scherzo” with orchestral elaborations, digressions and counterpoints, and nods to other Beethoven works. “Absolute Jest is playful, in the literal sense of scherzo as joke, but it is by no means lightweight”  It’s hugely playful, in the literal sense of scherzo as joke/jest, but it is by no means lightweight, flippant or ironic. Rather, it’s a vivacious, lively homage, a recent example in a long line of composers (including Brahms and Stravinsky, to name but two) looking back and ‘sampling’ the work of their forebears in order to create new and exciting compositions.  Absolute Jest is paired here with a…

November 18, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Paganimania (Christopher Janwong McKiggan)

Paganimania is a collection of newly commissioned works for piano by seven contemporary composers. Their brief? Take Paganini’s 24th Caprice for solo violin and use it as the basis of a new composition. This project was the brainchild of Christopher Janwong McKiggan, an English-born pianist currently resident in the US and completing a doctorate at Rice University, Texas. It has produced some spectacular results, and McKiggan’s playing is uniformly commanding. Robert Beaser’s Pag Rag teases out American Rag-influences with lyrical and rhythmic panache, while James Mobberley’s Capricious Invariance gently unfolds into cascades of colour with hints of fugues. Scène V by Moon Young Ha is meditative and expansive, allowing the resonant qualities of each note/chord to radiate outward in space. On this topic, it’s a good point at which to note that Paganimania is particularly well-recorded with the rich, warm tones of McKiggan’s piano hanging reverberantly in the air.  Other highlights include Zhou Jing’s Jade Clappers, a meditation on cross-cultural intersections between China and Europe through the Tai Ping Ge Ci music that, to her ears, is reminiscent of Paganini’s Caprice. Thai composer Narong Prangcharoen’s Pact Ink is fast, furious and captivating. As a pianist actively commissioning new works McKiggan…

October 6, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Songs My Mother Taught Me (Nemanja Radulovic)

This is a deeply personal collection from violinist Nemanja Radulovic. It’s an engaging mix of violin showpieces with traditional Serbian dances and film music sitting comfortably alongside short works by classical composers that take varying degrees of inspiration from Eastern European folk traditions. These include a Brahms Hungarian Dance, the Danse Russe from Swan Lake and the March from Prokofiev’s The Love for Three Oranges. Radulovic is also a great champion of somewhat neglected Georgian composer Aram Khachaturian; two of his works appear here including the famous Sabre Dance, which Radulovic plays like leaping flames. His affinity for fiery gypsy dances (there’s a lot of dancing) is clear and his playing full of passion and vigour with a raggedly emotional edge. Radulovic meanwhile is all long, wild hair, skinny black jeans and impossibly shiny boots – a compelling combination as unforced and natural as his playing.  The closing Macedonian song, Zajdi, Zajdi, Jasno Sonce, features the only vocals on the album, from the extraordinary Ksenija Milošević, a well-known Serbian violinist and singer who has made several appearances at Eurovision. It’s hard to convey in words how riveting this piece of music is; the words weep without the listener requiring any…

September 4, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Masques (Jiang Yi Lin)

★★★★☆ The prodigiously talented Jiang Yi Lin began studies at age six, won his first competition the next year, and made his orchestral debut at ten. He’s now 27, and for his first recording has chosen a selection of works united by the concept of that which is hidden or concealed.  Three Masques by Szymanowski are each named for literary figures who hid their true intentions behind literal or figurative masks. These vivid, electrifying pieces are constantly shifting, polyrhythmic studies in tonal nuance, and push the performer to “the limits of pianistic possibilities,” as Jiang puts it. Two complementary early-20th-century pieces follow: a Masque by Scriabin, which ripples and flashes for barely a minute, and a longer Masque by Debussy, a complex rendering of conflicting positions.  Schubert’s Drei Klavierstücke, D946 function as a mirror to the Szymanowski, with Jiang equally at home exploring his dancing mask of sorrowful concealment. Jiang returns to the early 20th century to conclude with a piece by Cantonese composer Lü Wencheng, the title of which translates as Autumn Moon over the Calm Lake. The inspiration is West Lake in Hangzhou, near Jiang’s hometown of Shanghai, and here, he says, it’s possible to drop “one’s personal…

July 24, 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