Robert Stove

Robert Stove

Articles by Robert Stove

CD and Other Review

Review: Medtner: Violin Sonata Nos 1 & 3 (Hanslip, Tchetuev)

“I respect him very much… I consider him the most talented of all the modern composers.” Thus Rachmaninov, no less, in a 1912 encomium to Nikolai Medtner. Both pieces here have been recorded before, notably by Sviatoslav Richter (No 1) and David Oistrakh (No 3). But in hi-fi terms, these two Soviet-era accounts cannot begin to approach Hyperion’s sumptuously engineered issue, played with marvellous confidence and attention to each passing detail. Anyone with the slightest enthusiasm for post-Romantic musical melancholy, by a still-undervalued master, should own it. Lazy critics have traditionally pigeon-holed Medtner as “the Russian Brahms”. This soubriquet Medtner himself, with justice, resented. Very little in either of these compositions sounds Brahmsian, save inasmuch as Medtner largely shunned programmatic connotations. Fauré – rightly mentioned in the booklet note – is much likelier than Brahms to enter the hearer’s mind during the three-movement First Sonata, which never bespeaks youth, though Medtner finished it when still only in his 30s. Now and again, the rich textures and hints of woodland fantasy suggest Elgar also. The sole trace of Rachmaninov comes with the extraordinary bell-like opening to the finale. No wonder Medtner gave his 1936-38 Third Sonata the name Sonata Epica. At 47…

January 16, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: CPE Bach: Keyboard Sonatas (Spányi)

We are all familiar with the disappointment when an eagerlyanticipated full-price CD turns out to be a pretentious lemon. The converse also (if more rarely) occurs: a full-price CD which one inserts into the player with limited enthusiasm, but which turns out to be most enjoyable. So here. Many of us will greet such a release by recourse to Britney Spears’ lexicon: “I am sooooooo not a clavichord expert.” And 79 minutes of clavichord is a lot of clavichord. But what threatened to be a chore proved revelatory. While CPE Bach’s oft-recorded 1773 symphonies deserve the rebuke uttered years ago by English broadcaster Basil Lam – “the too-easy surprises of a style where anything may happen” – the present keyboard sonatas, mostly dating from the 1760s, are much more coherent works. Gone are the symphonies’ improvisatory flourishes, their stop-start approach to modulation, their general sense of attention deficit disorder. In their place is a firm, Haydn-like approach to structure, though with no shortage of inventiveness. One curiosity is the appearance of various sonatas’ slow movements in several different versions, varying according to the amount of ornamentation (which CPE himself wrote down). Clearly CPE was an inveterate reviser. Incidentally this production…

October 31, 2013
CD and Other Review

Review: Goldmark: Symphones No 1 & 2 (Singapore Symphony)

Karl Goldmark creeps into the more expansive music reference works for two reasons: his brief teaching – in Vienna – of Sibelius; and his 1877 Rustic Wedding Symphony, a five-section, 45-minute divertissement which Sir Thomas Beecham enjoyed reviving. Other than that, he seems almost entirely forgotten (though a handful of violinists, including Joshua Bell and the late Nathan Milstein, have recorded his concerto).   Most people will have been totally unaware that Goldmark even attempted a Second (i.e. non-Rustic-Wedding) Symphony, but he did, and this is actually its second CD version. The first – a Marco Polo release two decades old – was unavailable for comparative purposes, which is perhaps as well, since the golden-toned new disc surely surpasses it. Singapore can now boast a really effective local orchestra, better than some Australian bands and worthy to rank with all save the topmost American ensembles. Touches of string portamento give a pleasantly old-fashioned atmosphere to various passages. Latter-day Beckmessers might dock points for some slightly crude trombone sounds and for the cornet-like first trumpet that dominates the symphony’s third movement; the rest of us will not care a toss about such venial flaws. While in stylistic terms the work owes something to Schumann’s exuberance (and shares with Schumann’s Rhenish the key of E Flat), Goldmark the orchestrator is in the highest…

October 17, 2013
CD and Other Review

Review: Widor: Organ Symphonies Nos 1 & 2 (Nolan)

It is rather frightening to contemplate the sheer swiftness with which Widor found his mature style. Every phrase on this CD dates from Widor’s twenties, and though he wrote much equally good music later on, he seldom if ever surpassed his achievements here. Alas, outside France almost no organists now play these two works in concert, unless they have prepared a cycle of all ten Widor symphonies. Readers still unfamiliar with the composer’s idiom will find delightful surprises aplenty. To pluck out instances at random: in No 1, the richly Franckian Adagio, the once celebrated Marche Pontificale with its Elgarian tinge, and the Meditation which in the reticent pathos would not have disgraced a Fauré Barcarolle; in No 2, the prelude’s proto- Reger chromaticism, the Salve Regina movement’s effortless mystic rapture, and the Toccata’s harmonic detours (a thousand pities that this Toccata has been so comprehensively overshadowed by its hackneyed, inferior counterpart from No 5). Perth-based Joseph Nolan favours a moderate approach. At times he might be thought a little too cautious, and he is not always as exuberant as Widor’s admittedly puzzling metronome marks would imply. For example, Widor gave a crotchet = 100 indication for No 1’s Allegretto;…

September 26, 2013
CD and Other Review

Review: JS Bach & Family: Trumpet Works (Freeman-Atwood, Pienaar)

The Bach family seems set on becoming as inescapable as the Kardashian fungibles. Once again, music by all sorts of profoundly obscure Bachs, as well as by JSB, Carl Philipp Emmanuel, Wilhelm Friedemann, and Johann Christian, has been covered. And yes, we behold here a piano in all its tonal glory, not a harpsichord, let alone a clavichord. The trumpet-piano combination has seldom generated original music (among front-ranking composers only Hindemith employed it, and even he struggled to make it interesting). Still, in these arrangements, carried out by pianist Daniel-Ben Pienaar from a bewildering variety of organ, chamber, and orchestral originals – even the theatre is acknowledged, an overture from JC Bach’s 1779 opera Amadis of Gaul having been included – it works like the proverbial charm. Jonathan Freeman-Attwood is a real find. His trumpet timbre resembles the late Maurice André: intrinsically straightforward but with judicious vibrato for emotive purposes, and with boundless panache. The pianism of his colleague avoids both undue pedalling and tiresomely excessive staccato. On occasion fast speeds impair chorale- preludes’ contrapuntal lucidity; yet overall, jaded sensibilities will consider this production a very agreeable tonic. Both performers benefit from remarkably vivid, well-balanced sound. May we have a…

September 12, 2013
CD and Other Review

Review: Bach Family: Organ Music (Militello)

It looked an enervating prospect: an entire disc devoted to Bach family members who in several cases are too obscure for any musical encyclopaedia smaller than Grove. The result – consistently well played on an organ in Melk Abbey, Austria – quickly banishes boredom to prove an improbable artistic success, aided by a beautifully austere cover design. Heinrich Bach died in 1692, but the chorale prelude with which this CD begins sounds so pleasantly old-fashioned as to imply a 16th rather than 17th-century composer. By contrast, the Prelude and Fugue in E Flat by Heinrich’s son, the underrated Johann Christoph Bach (1642-1703), second cousin of Johann Sebastian), could easily be mistaken for Buxtehude. The Fugue in C Minor by a much better known figure, WF Bach, likewise possesses real distinction, tending to justify the hopes which JSB placed in his eldest son, and inspiring in at least one listener a desire to track down the rest of WF’s organ output. Uniquely among the compositions on this release, the remarkably effective fugue by Johann Christian Bach – not the eponymous ‘English Bach’, but a younger man whose dates were 1745-1814 – is based on the B-A-C-H theme afterwards so profitable to Liszt,…

September 5, 2013
CD and Other Review

Review: MAGNIFICAT: Organ of the Scots Church Melbourne (Douglas Lawrence)

Anyone who has heard the four-manual organ designed for Melbourne’s Scots Church by Austria’s Rieger firm will be aware of its heart-stopping magnificence. The church’s resident organist Douglas Lawrence offers an inspired choice of pieces avoiding the hackneyed at every turn; only Buxtehude’s Prelude and Fugue in G Minor could be called popular.  The intricate polyphony of Bach’s E minor Trio BWV528 is best conveyed by an organist with three heads; pending that particular anatomical configuration, Lawrence’s performance attains everything that could be desired. A virtuosic prelude by Gabriel Pierné – the former Franck pupil who conducted the premiere of Stravinsky’s The Firebird – makes a beguiling alternative to Widor’s Toccata and fully deserves the attention Lawrence expends on it. From half a century earlier comes a splendid contribution in B flat major by Alexandre Boëly (1785-1858), one of the very few Frenchmen of his time who cared for Bachian counterpoint. Among Boëly’s predecessors, Michel Corrette (1709-1795) harks back gratifyingly in his own music to the great age of Couperin.   Where lesser players too often impart a stodginess to German Baroque material, Lawrence demonstrates his keen gift for registrations at once idiomatic and ear-catching. Whilst perhaps the recording quality lacks…

September 8, 2011