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British Composers Premiere Collections Vol.5
British Composers Premiere Collections Vol.5
Price: £9.12

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Revelations, 30 Mar 2014
What invigorating music! I am so pleased to have come into contact with both the composers featured on this CD - the 5th in the series.

The opening work is the first piano concerto by Kenneth Leighton. It's fresh and bright and very interesting. Leighton was born in Wakefield into a family that was not particularly musical, though very supportive. He could have had a career as a concert pianist, but preferred to make his way as a much-loved teacher, principally in Edinburgh, and as a respected composer. He died at the age of only 58. The works on this recording are played by one of his pupils, Angela Brownridge.

The other works on this CD are by Ruth Gipps. This composer had a far more musical background. Her first composition was published when she was 8 years old and she soon started performing as a pianist. She went to the Royal College of Music, where she studied composition with Vaughan Williams, piano with Gordon Jacob and oboe with Leon Goosens! In 1943 one of her works was performed - and praised - by Sir Henry Wood at the last night of the Proms. A childhood hand injury flared up in 1954 and stopped her solo piano career, so she concentrated on composing and conducting. Two obvious things stopped her becoming better-known - she was a woman in a man's world and she composed music that didn't follow the prevailing trends of the avant-garde. General sniffiness about women in her chosen branches of music prevailed. Read the CD booklet for the 1948 crit in the Birmingham Post of one of her works and you'll see what it used to be like!

The soloist, Angela Brownridge, another child prodigy, has already recorded 3 solo CDs for Cameo Classics and she wrote the very informative booklet for this CD. The recording itself sounds a little "dry", but the works still shine through.

Joachim Raff Piano Sonatas and Character Pieces
Joachim Raff Piano Sonatas and Character Pieces
Price: £10.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Unfairly sidelined. . ., 29 Mar 2014
The Swiss composer Joachim Raff was something of an unknown quantity to me, though I have a recording of his 5th symphony and the better-known Cavatina, mentioned in the excellent CD booklet that came with this completely remastered recording, originally issued in 2003. This CD gives us a chance to get to know some of Raff's meatier piano music better. His dates are 1822 to 1882 and he doesn't present any great surprises, or emerge as a fore-runner of the more angry composers who came later, nearer the first world war, but this music is more than just pleasant - that would be most unfair. It is in a noble tradition of a bygone age, when people were expected to be able to play the piano themselves, or to engage a pianist to perform the more difficult pieces for the entertainment of an invited group. If that seems to be damning with faint praise, I read that Raff's compositions were endorsed by Mendelssohn, though he lost contact with other contemporaries of his, Wagner and Brahms, so he moved in very high circles . . . again information gleaned from the CD booklet. It wasn't until late in his life that Raff became more adventurous with his musical forms. This CD is a very interesting way of getting to know more of his work. It's sad how some composers just sink into comparative obscurity, though Raff was well-known and respected during his lifetime. How unfair the life of a musician can be, either during his own lifetime or after his death!

Sadly, there's not a word about the very fine pianist in the CD booklet. Valentina Seferinova is playing all this difficult piano music. She is of dual Bulgarian and British nationality, living in Hampshire with her British husband and family. This excellent recording was awarded almost the full five stars by the Raff Society, when it was first published in 2003.

Turner Layton & Clarence Johnstone - Bye-Bye Blackbird: Their 28 finest 1926-1935
Turner Layton & Clarence Johnstone - Bye-Bye Blackbird: Their 28 finest 1926-1935
Price: £5.74

4.0 out of 5 stars Sheer Class!, 18 Feb 2014
Who would have thought that songs written between 1926 and 1935 would still be in the repertoire! It's impossible not to wonder if as many of the songs written during the subsequent 50 years will also be as familiar in the future, not to mention those written in the last ten years - or am I being unfair? Examples of the songs you'll know on this CD are 'I can't give you anything but love, baby' and 'Singing in the rain'. There are many others you're pretty sure to recognise as well.

The particular pleasure to be derived from this CD is that all the verses are included, if they were in the original song. OK, the delivery is very much of its time and might seem, perhaps, a little dated to our ears, but this is still a record of excellent songs, performed just with piano and voice - no recourse to our modern props - no rhythm section, no drum machines and so forth.

I'm old enough to know their names, though I don't ever remember hearing them perform before I put this CD in the trusty machine. These two Americans spent much of their career performing in England, starting from 1923 until the partnership was disbanded in 1935. It came to an end because Johnstone was implicated in a divorce suit - conduct too scandalous for those times. He died in 1953 in the USA. Layton carried on performing until 1946 and remained in London until his death in 1978. His story has a beautiful postscript: his daughter left the copyright and royalties earned by her father's music to Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children in London. What a wonderful gesture!

'Reflections' Music for Viola
'Reflections' Music for Viola
Price: £11.42

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bridge and Britten, 17 Feb 2014
Music by Frank Bridge is not played often enough, in my book. This CD, therefore, is delightful for the two reasons that there are two works out of the four by Bridge and that the music is for viola and piano. The viola is undoubtedly, among instruments, the 'bridesmaid' to the violin's 'bride'. Mozart played the viola, though. A good precedent! Both Bridge and Britten also played the viola, so they probably composed with more understanding than many for this gorgeous instrument. The two men knew each other from 1928 onwards, Bridge being Britten's teacher.

The violist on this recording is Martin Outram, described as being in the William Primrose mould, in other words, as having a wonderfully warm tone. The pianist is Julian Rolton, an equally experienced chamber music player. Not only have they chosen to perform music by Bridge and Britten, but also one of Frank Bridge's pieces was arranged for viola and piano by Benjamin Britten from its original 'Impression' for small orchestra. The CD begins with Martin Outram's transcription of the sonata for cello and piano for the viola and it works just as well in the higher register. Outram has also arranged Britten's 'Portrait No. 2 EBB', which was a self-portrait Britten published when he left school. There is scholarship as well as instrumental brilliance to be enjoyed on this CD of beautiful English music. I commend it to you.
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British Composers Premiere Collections Vol.1
British Composers Premiere Collections Vol.1
Price: £10.40

5.0 out of 5 stars Give this little-known music a chance!, 15 Feb 2014
New to the Wyastone stable is the Cameo Classics label. This was a company founded in 1973 by two men trained as sound engineers with BBC TV in London and Granada TV in Manchester. They have concentrated on recording unfairly-neglected classical music by British and Jewish German composers. It reminds me of the series Chandos undertook with Matthias Bamert and the London Mozart Players, to record similarly-neglected composers from the time of Mozart. There are many gems to be discovered - or re-discovered - and enjoyed in both series. Why should it be only the household names who get forever re-recorded?

Thus it is that I had the pleasure of listening to Vol. 1 of British Composers, Premiere Collections, recorded in the capital city of Karelia. The orchestra is the Karelia State Philharmonic, conducted by the 35-year-old Marius Stravinsky - British despite his illustrious Russian name. He started as a violinist, very young, and came to England when he was 10. He went to the Menuhin School, thence to Eton and on to both the Royal Academy and Royal College of music, so he's had a thorough education in Britain! He feels more at home in Russia at the moment, where he is the youngest man ever appointed to conduct this excellent orchestra. He has enjoyed introducing the musicians and the Russian audiences to British music, which he now greatly admires. He had been taught, when a child in Russia, that British music was not very good. Now he loves to conduct Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Walton and all these households names to British audiences. Less-well-known names, however are on the menu for this series.

The first work is by Dorothy Howell (1898-1982). The symphonic poem 'Lamia', premiered when the composer was only 21 in 1919, was conducted by Sir Henry Wood at the Queen's Hall, to critical acclaim. It's a sad tale which ends badly, but the music is wonderful and deserves to be heard far more often. It's last performance seems to have been in 1950!

Next on the menu is the Symphony in C, written in 1939 by Maurice Bowen. The first programme note in the CD booklet about the work is by his son, Thomas, and makes fascinating reading. The symphony is more than well-worth a listen.

The final work on this CD is Josef Holbrooke's Variations on "The Girl I Left Behind Me". Holbrooke lived from 1978 to 1958. As Gareth Vaughan writes in the CD booklet " . . the listener may wonder why this entertaining work is not a regular feature of the Last Night of the Proms". It's clever, beautifully-written and doesn't require any out-of-the-ordinary orchestral forces. Let's hope someone involved with the Proms reads this!

The CD has been a voyage of discovery for me. I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Bloch Schelomo & Voice In The Wilderness, Caplet Epiphanie, Ravel Kaddish
Bloch Schelomo & Voice In The Wilderness, Caplet Epiphanie, Ravel Kaddish
Price: £10.05

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Triumph of the Wallfisch Family, 17 Jan 2014
Whenever one reads of the survival of a musical family despite the best efforts of the Nazi régime, the heart has a tendency to lift. So it is for me with the latest CD to be performed by Raphael Wallfisch, the eminent cellist, with his son Benjamin Wallfisch conducting the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. The recording was made in the excellent accoustic of the Hoddinott Hall within the Wales Millennium Centre.

Anita Lasker-Wallfisch survived Auschwitz and Belsen because she was - and is - a cellist. She and her sister played with a group of musicians in the camps conducted by a niece of Gustav Mahler. It seems incredible that beautiful music could be appreciated by men and women whose business it was to perform such hideous acts on their fellow human beings, but so it was that Anita Lasker was able to survive the war, eventually make her way to England, meet and marry the pianist Peter Wallfisch and then have wonderfully-gifted children who also made their careers in music.

Her son, Raphael, has dedicated this CD of Jewish music to the memory of the many lost members of his family, killed in the Holocaust. It's all a long time ago, but the horrors of that time are not forgotten, nor should they be. This CD is published to coincide with Holocaust Memorial Day, on January 27th, which asks us to remember not just the Nazi persecution, but also subsequent holocausts, whether in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur or now, potentially, in central Africa.

The choice of music is an interesting mixture of the familiar and the less so. After Bloch's 'Voice in the Wilderness', there's a less familiar work, 'Epiphanie', by André Caplet. This is an unusual setting of the story of the Adoration of the Magi and the birth of Christ, with the cello as soloist in this kind-of concerto. After this comes the more familiar Ravel setting of the Jewish prayer, 'Kaddish'. Raphael Wallfisch greatly admired the closing work, 'Shelomo, une Rhapsodie hébraïque', even as a child, before he was able play the notes.

This is a beautifully-played and beautifully-recorded CD. I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Augusta Read Thomas Selected Works for Orchestra
Augusta Read Thomas Selected Works for Orchestra
Price: £10.73

4.0 out of 5 stars Contemporary American music, 17 Jan 2014
Having read the comprehensive and informative CD booklet by Paul Pellay that comes with this collection of music composed by Augusta Read Thomas between 1995 and 2013, it makes me even more ashamed that I had not heard her works before. Women composers are so few and far between, I should have! Her works are not necessarily easy to get into, but the effort is so well worth it. I was 'hooked' by the first track, called 'Aureole'. It's simply beautiful. Every hearing makes it more accessible and good to listen to. It's a composition from 2013, conducted by Cliff Colnot.

This CD is the first in a series planned to present the music of this composer who is much respected in her native USA and, due to her collaboration with many conductors and composers world-wide, her fame is by no means confined to Chicago, where she is currently one of the "University" Professors at the University of Chicago. If you're interested in exploring contemporary music, this CD is a good place to start. You'll need to concentrate a bit, but then should music be treated as wallpaper? I've never thought so, but we're all different, luckily, in our tastes and in what we look for in music.

Rachmaninov - Vsenoshchnoe bdenie (All-Night Vigil) Op.37
Rachmaninov - Vsenoshchnoe bdenie (All-Night Vigil) Op.37
Price: £8.11

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The All-Night Vigil, 8 Dec 2013
I'm not intending to be rude when I say that Russian Orthodox Church music is like Marmite, but it is so unlike any other religious music - and certainly unlike Protestant Church music - you have to be prepared for a very different sound.

In particular the low notes for the basses could present difficulties for Western choirs, but not on this recording by the Joyful Company of Singers. In the fifth movement especially, the Nunc Dimittis, the basses are required to go down to a pianissimo low B flat. When Rachmaninov took the score to the man likely to conduct the première, he expressed his concern as to where he would be able to find suitable bass singers. The composer reassured the conductor that he, Rachmaninov, knew the voices of his countrymen and well knew the demands he could make of Russian basses. It is, indeed, one of the more glorious sounds, to hear a Russian choir singing these low notes, but this choir makes the music beautiful too.

The Alto and Tenor soloists sound truly authentic in their tone quality. I commend this recording to you, either as a beautiful interpretation of a work you already know, or as an introduction to Russian Liturgical music.

Time Stands Still - Elizabethan & Jacobean Songs and Keyboard Music
Time Stands Still - Elizabethan & Jacobean Songs and Keyboard Music
Price: £11.79

4.0 out of 5 stars Music from a by-gone time, 28 Nov 2013
Listen to this CD and you could imagine yourself in the courts of Elizabeth 1st or James 1st, listening to the musicians in the gallery as you eat in the Great Hall, or, in the gentle pieces for voice and virginals, doing your embroidery by the window, wondering when the Lord of the Manor would return from his hunt, or whatever he was up to that day.

It's lovely music, beautifully performed by Simon Ponsford, countertenor, and his father David Ponsford at the virginals or organ. What a great pleasure it must have been for them to perform together this lovely selection of music by Byrd, Dowland, Campion, Ford and Johnson, plus a totally beautiful Sad Pavan for these Distracted Times, by Tomkins - my favourite track.

It's not music for everyone's taste, but if you know an admirer of the genre then this is a perfect present, recorded in a Devon church in April 2013.

Patti Page - All My Love: Her 29 Finest (1947-1958)
Patti Page - All My Love: Her 29 Finest (1947-1958)
Price: £5.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Quality Nostalgia, 28 Nov 2013
This CD of 29 songs recorded by Patti Page between 1947 and 1958 is beautifully produced. There are many songs included with which I grew up, but there are others which come as lovely surprises. Patti Page's voice and the harmonies are totally evocative of their times. She was more successful than Doris Day or Perry Como and she sold something in the region of 100 million records in her lifetime, which is extraordinary, even by today's standards of publicity machines and mass-advertising on TV!

They do say that most careers need a stroke of luck to start them off, and so it was for Patti Page, whose good fortune came with the need for someone to sing at very short notice on a radio programme. That was lucky in itself, but better still was that she was heard by a band manager, who recognised the individual quality of her voice and he became her manager and remained so for 52 years. The real breakthrough was at this manager's suggestion to Mercury Records to use over-dubbing in close harmony for the first time in her musical style, and so was born the specific Patti Page sound which made her popular and famous. Her career continued, with the odd stutter, until she was well into her 80s and she died just under a year ago at the age of 85.

I recommend this compilation CD to you, especially if you like a bit of nostalgia!

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