Lisa MacKinney

Lisa MacKinney

Articles by Lisa MacKinney

CD and Other Review

Review: Tchaikovsky: Symphony No 6 (Czech Philharmonic/Bychkov)

Russian conductor Semyon Bychkov is a life-long Tchaikovsky devotee, and the Tchaikovsky Project is a personal homage to the composer with whom he first fell in love. The Project consists of performances in London and New York (initially), plus recordings with the Czech Philharmonic for Decca. The first of these is the monumental “Pathetique”, a musical autobiography of Tchaikovsky’s short life of 53 years. Its devastating final movement has been the source of much speculation, but for Bychkov, “it’s obvious to me the whole piece is a protest against death… the last movement tells us that the triumph [of the previous movement] is just an illusion. Death can’t be avoided, but the anger in the music tells us Tchaikovsky refuses to accept it.” It’s paired with another slice of doom-laden anguish, the instantly recognisable and gorgeously lyrical Fantasy Overture, inspired by art’s most famous lovers, Romeo and Juliet. Bychkov immersed himself in Tchaikovsky’s letters and other archival material and insisted on “unusually luxurious” recording conditions in order to “invest everything” in these sessions. The result is a robust, lush reading, deeply Romantic with well-paced climaxes rich in emotional intensity. Beautifully recorded in the Rudolfinum in Prague and accompanied by effusive…

March 3, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Mozart: Complete Piano Sonatas (Fazil Say)

Turkish pianist Fazıl Say is known for his virtuosic readings of core classical repertoire. He is also a composer and, in a tradition that has a long history in Western Classical music, incorporating folk influences from his native Turkey. Notoriously, Say was sentenced to a ten-month jail term in 2013 for making allegedly blasphemous comments on Twitter, a charge that was overturned by the Turkish Supreme Court of Appeals in 2015. Today, we find him signed to Warner Classics and turning his attention to the complete piano sonatas of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, with stunning results. The 18 sonatas and Fantasia in C Minor are grouped on six discs according to key, and were recorded in 2014 in the Great Hall of the Mozarteum Salzburg. For Say, Sonata No 14 in C Minor is the most momentous and a significant influence on Beethoven and Schubert. His playing is utterly assured, precise and crisp, with any potential for brittle timbre alleviated by the recording’s roomy warmth. Mozart’s music “requires us to assimilate it with our own bodies and beings… to live it and breathe it,” according to Say, who was striving for “a certain naturalness” throughout, and his detailed notes on each…

February 10, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Shakespeare Songs (Ian Bostridge)

Renowned conductor Antonio Pappano is best known as music director of the Royal Opera House, but he is also a very fine pianist. Songs on texts by William Shakespeare finds Pappano accompanying the equally renowned English historian and tenor Ian Bostridge on an expansive collection featuring composers across five centuries who have set Shakespeare’s texts and musical dramatic devices, very few of which are stand-alone songs, to music. Not surprisingly, English composers are a strong presence: these include Morley, Byrd and their contemporary John Wilson, whose Take, o take those lips away is a highlight. Quilter’s Come away, death is mysterious and affecting, greatly impressing and influencing  Warlock, who is also featured here, along with Britten and Tippett.  Bostridge is commanding throughout, and justly famous for his attention to detail and extraordinarily nuanced delivery. The recording is glorious: rich, spacious and resonant. The final track on this collection, When that I was and a little tiny boy (Anon.), sung a cappella by Bostridge, is nothing short of extraordinary, from both performance and recording perspectives.  The sumptuous packaging contains meticulously researched and detailed liner notes by Christopher Wilson, and includes all song texts. This is an excellent and beautifully presented collection…

January 18, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Gershwin: Arrangements for Piano (Dirk Herten)

Michael Finnissy was born in 1946 in London and has been active as a performer (pianist) and composer since the mid-1970s. He served as President of the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM) from 1990-96, and is currently Professor of Composition at the University of Southampton. His works are renowned for their demanding technical requirements, and often consist of transformative rearrangements of material by other composers: his Verdi Transcriptions for piano (1986) is one of the better-known examples. Finnissy has also completely reworked two sets of songs by George Gershwin for solo piano – Gershwin Arrangements and More Gershwin – and it is the first of these that is presented here in a new recording by Belgian pianist Dirk Herten. Thirteen famous songs, including How Long Has This Been Going On, Love is Here to Stay, Shall We Dance? and Embraceable You have been examined and dissected under the Finnissy microscope, with extremely rewarding results.  Spacious and delicately spikey, these arrangements are quite fascinating –Gershwin’s unmistakable melodies are instantly recognisable but embedded within new modernist frameworks that are at once compositionally sophisticated and completely accessible. Herten’s thoughtful and delicate reading prompted Finnissy himself to comment on its demonstration of a…

December 16, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Brett Dean: Shadow Music (Swedish Chamber Orchestra/Dean)

Brett Dean (b. 1961), born and raised in Brisbane, took up composing during his 14-year tenure as violist with the Berlin Phil. In 2000, he returned to Australia where his appointments have included Artistic Director of ANAM and curating the Sydney and Melbourne Festivals. Shadow Music brings together works for various permutations of chamber orchestra, in addition to an arrangement for flute, clarinet and string orchestra of the (third) Adagio molto e mesto movement of Beethoven’s first Razumovsky Quartet. Dean’s arrangement is approximately half the length of Beethoven’s, and beautifully expands the harmonic intensity of the already symphonic original. This segues into Testament, a reference to the famous Heiligenstadt Testament, written by Beethoven in 1802, in which he despaired of his increasing deafness. These two works form a complementary whole, the latter a meditation on Beethoven’s inner world of tinnitus and chaos. Etüdenfest (2000) is a gloriously hectic melange of string exercises with piano evoking the panic of practice rooms as exam time approaches. Shadow Music is elusive and at various turns dark, veiled, ghostly and diaphanous; Short Stories are a series of five interludes with literary allusions. This is nuanced, complex and fantastically assured music by a renowned Australian…

November 25, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Ives: Violin Sonatas (Annabelle Berthomé-Reynolds)

Much of his compositional output was written prior to a heart attack in 1918 and remained unperformed until after his death, but American modernist Charles Ives is now well-established as a significant and pioneering composer. Ives’ father George was a bandmaster during the American Civil War, and taught his musically-inclined son skills that included playing the piano in one key while singing in another.  In part, as a consequence of this, Ives’ works explored polyrhythms, dissonance, atonality, quarter-tones and other techniques that were to become international staples of experimentalism. Another of Ives’ enduring preoccupations was traditional American hymns and songs, references to which can be heard at various junctures in his Four String Quartets, composed between 1910 and 1917.  There have been regular releases of the set since the premiere recording by Rafael Druian (violin) and John Simms (piano) in 1957, but only a handful are currently in print. Welcome then, is this new recording from French violinist Annabelle Berthomé-Reynolds and Belgian pianist Dirk Herten. Berthomé-Reynolds brings a delicate lyricism to these intricate but very accessible works, and the interplay between violin and piano is unified and sympathetic. Ives veers from rousing sprightliness to dreamy pastoral (sometimes within a few…

November 17, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Mark Simpson: Night Music

Liverpool-born Mark Simpson has been attracting critical acclaim for his compositional prowess in addition to his virtuoso clarinet playing. In 2006, he became the first ever winner of both the BBC Young Musician of the Year and the BBC Proms/Guardian Young Composer of the Year, an astonishing achievement at just 17 years of age.  Night Music is a collection of eight chamber works covering the last decade, and the works are largely performed by the musicians for whom they were written. The titular work for piano and cello is assured, introspective, intricate and captivating, its intensity heightened by impassioned performances from pianist Alexei Grynyuk and cellist Leonard Elschenbroich.  Not surprisingly, several works have substantial clarinet parts, performed by Simpson himself. Echoes and Embers is a nuanced exploration of the clarinet’s timbral possibilities; Lov(escpape) a tug-of-war between gestural dynamics featuring fluttering, swoops and other extended techniques. Un Regalo for solo cello (performed by Guy Johnston) is also a highlight. Simpson’s detailed notes are included, but, unusually, no information about the performers.  This is a minor quibble in another stellar release from NMC, a charitable company dedicated to British contemporary music. Night Music is an exemplary recording and it will be fascinating…

November 4, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Monday’s Child

This is the third instalment in Stone Records’ fine series resurrecting Australian Art Songs that are “united in their unwarranted neglect,” as David Wickham puts it in his comprehensive liner notes.Soprano Lisa Harper-Brown and pianist Wickham both performed on the first two discs in the series; this third is a slight departure in its inclusion of works also scored for oboe and clarinet. It also features soprano Katja Webb, a graduate of the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts based at Edith Cowan University, where this album was recorded. Margaret Sutherland is heavily represented, with the two cycles Five Songs and Three Songs for Voice and Clarinet, as well as The Orange Tree and The Gentle Water Bird. Three of Geoffrey Allen’s cycles, Nursery Rhymes, Stile and Stump and Four Songs are included here, along with two by Melbourne composer Dorian Le Gallienne. This collection of material is dominated by themes relating to children, from settings of nursery rhymes to more oblique references to the life cycle. Webb’s fruity soprano is lithe and adventurous, tackling this little-heard repertoire with thoughtful poise and relish; Wickham is precise and sympathetic. This is an important series noteworthy for its excavations of musical expressions…

October 21, 2016