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Christine M. Pluck "meyhem" (UK)
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Schumann - Andante & Variations; Stücke im Volkstom; Adagio & Allegro; Phantasiestücke
Schumann - Andante & Variations; Stücke im Volkstom; Adagio & Allegro; Phantasiestücke
Price: £17.50

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rare and original chamber music gems., 2 Jan. 2013
This disc contains four delightful and original compositions by Schumann which are rarely performed.

I will describe them in the order they appear on the disc:

1. Andante and Variations for two pianos, two cellos and horn. (just under 20 minutes).

This was completed in 1843 but published posthumously, by Brahms, in 1893.
It opens in sombre mood with pianos and cellos dominant but the 1st and 3rd variations are vigorous
allegros where the horn makes significant contributions. There is a most delightful passage between
10 and 13 minutes where the horn's interjections are like a series of good-natured hunting calls.

2. Funf Stucke Im Volkston (Five pieces in Folk Style)for Cello and piano. (Just over 15 minutes).

This is a suite of "songs" (from 1849)which evoke song, dance and daily life.
i Delightful, playfully evoking the caricature of a folk dance.
ii Is a slower cradle song where there is more intimate dialogue between keyboard and strings.
iii Not quick, is again conversational between piano and cello.
iv Begins with a march rhythm and is more vigorous throughout.
v Strong and Cadenced, the piano is lively and the cello more cheerful, playing more in its upper
registers as if recounting some legend or epic scene.

3. Adagio and Allegro for horn and piano (1849) (A little under 9 minutes).

Showing off the capabilities of the modern three-valve horn, there is a moving nocturne and a
brilliant rondo where the horn is lugubrious and jocular in turn. This, for me, is the
highlight of the CD!

4. Phantasiestucke for piano, violin and cello. Composed between 1842 and 1850. (17 minutes).

A most creative piano trio revised extensively after being written in the classical mode.

i Romance
ii Humoresque (from the original Scherzo) full of "catchy" tunes.
iii Duett
iv Finale with two highly contrasting delightful trios.

The Guarneri Trio, Prague and additional soloists are on fine form with Radok Babarak on the
horn making an exceptional contribution in showcasing the full range of moods of the French Horn.

While this CD is a little on the expensive side - it contains over an hour of some of the most
original chamber music of the Romantic period. It will enthrall lovers of Romantic chamber
music and show a different side of his talents to devotees of, the often underrated, Schumann.

The recording is clear and bright and does full justice to the music.


Bantock: Sappho and Sapphic Poem
Bantock: Sappho and Sapphic Poem

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bantock at his brilliant best!, 29 Dec. 2012
Sir Granville Bantock, though not a household name, was a composer much admired by Sibelius, Elgar and Sir Thomas Beecham; in fact he was the dedicatee of Sibelius 3rd, Symphony.

In the period 1898 to 1905, Bantock wrote 4 song cycles, of which Sappho was the final one. Sappho was a Greek Lyric poet, born on the Island of Lesbos around 620 BC and only one complete poem: Hymn to Aphrodite remains. There is also a significant fragment "Peer of the gods he seems.", the rest of the poems exist only as odd lines. Bantock's wife, a competent Poet acted as Librettist and skillfully arranged, edited and supplemented those poems where only a few lines existed.

The Song Cycle (which has Susan Bickley as the Mezzo-soprano, lasts around an hour) comprises:

Prelude - Completely orchestral. Opening with a harp evocative of Sappho with her lyre and contains the most wonderful, sustained climax;this contains elements which appear again in the Songs.
Hymn to Aphrodite - probably the pick of the songs - Bickley's rendition and diction are superb.
I loved thee once Atthis, long ago
An Evening Song
Stand Face to Face, Friend
The Moon Has Set - an excellent song, with full orchestration, reminiscent of the prelude.
Peer of the Gods he seems - opens with a wonderful understated fanfare.
In a dream, I spake.
Bridal Song, this serves to showcase Susan Bickley's range and talent.
Muse of the Golden Throne.

All the words are in English from the original translations by Henry Thorton Wharton and Susan Bickley's performance is outstanding, supported by a wonderful recording.

As a bonus the disc contains the eleven minute Sapphic poem for cello and orchestra, with Julian Lyoyd Webber as the soloist.

This is an outstanding disc by a Conmposer at the top of his craft, containing two sublime works with wonderful orchestration and superb soloists.
It is a must for those who enjoy Bantock and is highly recommended to those who are not familiar with his works. If you want more Bantock may I recommend the Celtic and Hebridean Symphonies (see one of my earlier reviews).


Flos Campi/ Viola Concerto
Flos Campi/ Viola Concerto
Price: £14.16

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magical and Mystical Viola Gems and a major viola concerto, 23 April 2012
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This is a most wonderful CD. The Vaughan Williams pieces are both magical and mystical and the concerto by John Blackwell McEwan is not only on a large scale but one of the best in the repertoire. As these pieces may be unfamiliar and you may be wishing to "dip your toe into the water of something a bit different", I will outline the works in the order they occur on the disc.

Vaughan Williams Suite for Viola and Small Orchestra (25.5 minutes)

There are eight separate element in three Groups:

Group 1
Prelude - majestic and uplifting - the viola really soars.
Carol - beautiful but more reflective.
Christmas Dance - lively and more rustic.

Group 2
Ballad - An elergy - a slow opening is transformed into a lively dance.
Moto perpetuo - very lively indeed, sounds as though Paganini has got hold of the viola. Not pretty but techically brilliant.

Group 3
Musette - Thoughtful and beautiful with a hint of wistful melancholy, moving into a more highly orchestrated passage,
interesting contributions from the harp.
Polka melancolique - Just as it sounds.
Galop - rather jazz-like series of cadenzas - the pace is furious but the music beautiful.

John Blackwell McEwan's Viola Concerto is a major work (31 minutes) and more heavily orchestrated than most viola concertos. This was one of Lionel Tertis' first major commissions. The lightly scored Allegretto second movement, with delightful harmonies between viola and woodwind, provides good contrast to the two Allegro movements. The concerto opens dramatically with orchestral outbursts, interspersed with the viola elaborating on the orchestral themes. There is a bustling finale where the viola threatens to catch fire. I think you may be very pleasantly surprised by the originality and quality of this significant work which deserves much greater recognition.

Vaughan Williams Flos Campi (Flower of the Fields), A suite for Viola, wordless chorus and orchestra (which includes useful contributions from a celeste). Just under 20 minutes. The work in six parts, each superscripted by a quoation from the Song of Songs. It is essentially pastoral in nature and the wordless Chorus sings a succesion of Ah sounds which vary in pitch and intensity. The effect is rather reminiscent of the fional mnovement of his third symphony with the viola providing, melody, beauty and, occasionally, attitude.
1 Lento - a quiet introduction with the oboe providing a sense of longing before the entry of the wordless chorus raises the intensity.
2 Andante con moto - essential pastoral.
3 Allegro con brio - the viola is more intense and searcing - the entry of the wordless chorus adds urgency.
4 Moderato alla marcia - the March is as if a ghostly regiment is coming down a rural lane before the viola develops the theme, this piece climaxes
with a very late but dramatic entry of the wordless chorus before going straight into the entry (wonderful contrast)
5 Andante quasi lento - The viola soars, rather reminiscent of the violin in The Lark Ascending.
6 Moderato tranquillo - In pastoral mood again - the chorus enters suddenly to swell to a dramatic false-ending before the work truly ends in rather
haunting fashion.

This is a most original and wonderful work of enchanting beauty, evocative of green pastoral scenes.

The recording is bright and clear and the perforamances by Lawrence Power and also the Welsh chorus, are sublime. Martin Brabbins and the BBC National Orchestra handle the work with authority and sympathy, in particular bringing out the tenderness in Flos Campi.


Walton / Bowen: Viola Concertos
Walton / Bowen: Viola Concertos

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A most imaginative viola programme, most brilliantly performed., 22 April 2012
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There are over 35 recordings of Walton's Viola Concerto, at least ten of which are paired with his own, much better known, violin concerto. If you have the violin concerto already then this is probably the disc for you. What makes it stand out is the imaginative couplings of top quality viola music from Vaughan Williams, Howells and Bowen, along with the energetic brilliance of Helen Callus, well-supported by the increasingly impressive New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Mark Taddei.

I shall deal with the pieces in the order they occur on the disc.

The first three tracks are Part 1 of Vaughan Williams' suite for Viola and Orchestra. Although the complete work comprises eight pieces, this is the best version I have ever heard of these three - particularly the opening track. The opening is majestic and uplifting in which the viola soars. The second is beautiful and reflective, while, the third - much shorter is unashamedly rustic in tone. (Total playing time about 11 minutes).

The next track is Howells Elergy for Viola, String Quartet and String Orchestra (ten and a half minutes).
After about one and a quarter minutes there is a lovely sonorous passgae where the viola climbs to a bright climax. I can pay the Elergy no higher compliment than saying that the whiole work is very reminiscent of Vaughan Williams' Variations on a Theme of Thomas Tallis.

Walton's Viola Concert (about 28 minutes).
This is the 1961 revision of the 1929 work which was premiered by Paul Hindemith on viola. The revision reduces the wind and brass but adds a harp.
This piece needs little introduction and, unusually opens with an Andante slow movement of real depth and quality although, if you are new to the work it will require several listenings to gain a full appreciation of all the subtleties and combinations of instrumental voices.
The second movement (a four and a half minute Vivo) is an absolute, almost Nigel-Kennedy jazz-style, gem. The third movement, while perhaps the least memorable is performed outstandingly and fades away most wonderfully to its unique, if surprising, ending

York Bowen's Concerto for Viola (about 32 minutes) is more of a mixed bag. The first movement is absolutely delightful with a main theme sounding a bit like a menacing introduction to a murder mystery movie (see if you agree?). The second movement has, at first, a touch of melancholy - but the velvet viola's mood is lifted by both brass and woodwind, the contrast of the harp is also most pleasing. The third movement is, for me, a little disappointing - while I admire the sheer technical brilliance of Callus's cadenza(s), I do find them a touch eccentric but this is a minor criticism of an absolutely brilliant CD containing almost 80 minutes of top-quality Viola-based music. I cannot recommend it too highly.

Very informative "sleeve-notes" nice to see all the composers lived to a great ages of 86, 91, 81 and 77 respectively!


Bruch: Swedish & Russian Dances
Bruch: Swedish & Russian Dances
Price: £14.67

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Orchestral pearls -evocative folk melodies and delightful dances, 23 Mar. 2012
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Max Bruch is best known for his outstanding 1st. Violin Concerto but he composed a number of beautiful concertos and orchestral masterpieces with which many lovers of Romantic music are only just becoming familiar. This CD contains a number of orchestral gems.

Tracks 1-6 Suite after Russian Folk Melodies
Tracks 7-11 Serenade after Swedish Melodies
Tracks 12-19 Swedish Dances suite I
Tracks 20-27 Swedish Dances suite 2

The opening to the Russian Folk Melodies is particularly impressive with wonderful woodwind sounds preceding the introduction of the harp. Melodies 4 and 5 are also memorable and I am sure everyone will identify The Volga Boatmen is this loud and vigorous set of variations on track 6.

The serenade of Swedish Melodies is generally of slower tempo with many Bruchian orchestral subtleties, though perhaps less memorable than the Russian Folk Melodies.

The two dance suites are very pleasant, in places reminding one of the slower tempo dances in Dvorak's Slavonic Dance Suites. The last dance of the first suite (Track 19) and the sixth dance of suite 2 (track 25) are, for me, the most pleasing.

The whole CD benefits from several listenings to become familiar with the subtle developments and repetitions.

A sympathetic interpretation and for the most part an excellent recording, although Track 6 sounds a touch overdriven and, in places, a little strident. However these are minor criticisms of a CD with some of Bruch's more exquisite orchestral pearls.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 2, 2012 7:31 PM BST


Irish Pub Songs Volume 2
Irish Pub Songs Volume 2
Price: £7.88

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding versions of some of Ireland's finest Folk Songs, 6 Feb. 2012
The Title "Pub Songs" does not do it justice. This is an outstanding CD and represents one of the finest Collections of Irish Folk Songs. If you want to have one CD of Ireland's Folk Songs - this is the one to have.

1. Salonika - Dublin City Ramblers
2. The Lark in the Morning - Paddy Reilly
3. The Field of Athenry - Dublin City Ramblers
4. A Place in the Choir - Barleycorn
5. Star of the County Down - Fair Isle Folk
6. Spancil Hill - Paddy Reilly
7. Treat My Daughter Kindly - Wolfe Tones
8. The Black Velvet Band - Barleycorn
9. The Boston Burgler - Johnny McEvoy
10.Westering Home - Fiddlers Green
11.Four Green Fields - Dublin City Ramblers
12.Carrickfergus - Barleycorn
13.The Crack was Ninety in the Isle of Man - Paddy Reilly
14.The Flight of the Earls - Barleycorn
15.Sullivan's John - Johnny McEvoy
16.The Boys of Killybegs - Barleycorn
17.Come to the Bower - Wolfe Tones
18.Black Gold - Jolly Beggarmen
19.Peggy Gordon - Paddy Reilly
20.The Irish Rover - Dublin City Ramblers

This is the finest version of Carrickfergus I have ever heard and features one of the best Irish Folk Groups - Barleycorn, with the voice of big Derek McCormack -the finest singer of a generation. Also particularly notable are: Barleycorn's song "Flight of the Earls"(a modern take on youth unemployment) and Paddy Reilly's "Spancil Hill" (a biographical song about Michael Considine and his childhood sweetheart. Michael emigrated to California only to die three year's later and this is a song he wrote ewhge he knew he was dying). The fine fiddle opening in Fair Isle Folk's, "Star of the County Down" will have you tapping your feet and this song has an authentic feel to it - lacking in many versions.

All the words of each song are contained in the sleeve notes.

I cannot recommend this disc too highly. Should appeal to the connoisseur as well as to those wanting a top-quality introduction to the Irish folk scene.


Rodrigo: Guitar Music, Vol. 1
Rodrigo: Guitar Music, Vol. 1
Price: £5.99

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Colourful chords and dance rhythms evocative of Spain, 14 Nov. 2011
Rodrigo is best known for his first Guitar Concerto (1939), Concierto de Aranjuez but he wrote many other works including some 25 pieces for solo guitar.
Although Rodrigo was a pianist he understood well the nature and capabilities of the Guitar and wrote particularly challenging passages for the soloist.

This CD contains almost 63 minutes of lively, enchanting and often exquisite music for Spain's National instrument. Colourful chords explode into lively dance rhythms which evoke the spirit and landscapes of Spain. If you like the opening movement of Concierto de Aranjuez then it is highly likely that you will enjoy the 63 minutes of Guitar Music on the CD.

Tres piezas espanolas (Three Spanish Pieces), at just under 12 minutes, opens with a lively Fandango moving on to a first quiet and thoughtful Passacaglia which blossoms into louder dance rhythms and then a Zapateado finale (one of the gems on the disc) which incorporates flamenco elements.

The Sonata Giocosa, 11 minutes, is divided into the traditional three movements of fast, slow, fast; it opens with a delightful and intricate Allegro (another gem), the Andante second movement is charming and the finale is a vigorous Zapateado, again recalling the flamenco dance rhythms.

For me, the highlight of the disk is Pour los campos de Espana (In the Spanish Countryside), just over 26 minutes, where colourful Spanish folk rhythms brilliantly portray, in an Impressionistic style, the Spanish landscape. The guitar is at its clearest and brightest in the opening movement "In the Wheatfields"; there is vigorous strumming in "Coming Down from the Plateau" towards Andalusia in part 111 and, the guitar is at its liveliest in the frenetic coda to part 5 (the finale) "Among Olive Groves" .

The Tonadilla for two guitars, just under 12 minutes, demonstrates Rodrigo's sympathy and mastery of the guitar and its capabilities and contains many opportunities for dazzling virtuosity - in places breathtaking.

The final very short Fandango del ventorrillo, at one and three quarter minutes, is part of a piano suite arranged for two guitars by Pepe Romero.

The recording is first rate - the guitar sound is bright and clear but remains intimate. Jeremy Jouvre is a most wonderfully sympathetic soloist and is very well supported by Judicael Perroy for the last two works.

Rarely have I enjoyed a CD for a solo musical instrument as much. You cannot just let it wash over you, it sucks you in. I cannot recommend it too highly.


Virtuosi of the Accordion, Balalaika & Domra
Virtuosi of the Accordion, Balalaika & Domra
Price: £13.24

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Delightful and Innovative orchestral compositions using traditional folk instruments, 3 Oct. 2011
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There are over 73 minutes of serious orchestrasl compositions using Russian folk instruments.

The major work (25 minutes) is a three movement concerto for the Accordion, or Bayan as it is known in parts of what was the Soviet Union. This concerto by the Ukranian Composer Nikolai Chaikin (1915-2000) is in three movements fast-slow-fastest. The Bayan is a serious instrument for study and composition in the composer's homeland (even Tchaikovsky used one in his Suite No.2) and it is 25 minutes of originality and interest. The second movement opens with a delightful melody reminiscent of Borodin and the third movement brings the concerto to a lively and energetic conclusion. The soloist is Yuri Kazakov, one of Chaikin's former star-students and a genuine virtuoso.

The CD opens with a shimmering Balalaika solo in the first movement of Yuri Shishakov's two-movement Concerto for Balalaika, a competent work that would benefit from an evocative slow movement. However Mikhail Rozhkov is superb as the soloist. If you enjoy this Balalaika concerto, try that by the Estonian Composer Eduard Tubin.

There are number of very pleasant concert variations for Balalaika that show the full capabilities of the instrument but for me, the track that steals the honours is the final one (just over 7 minutes) the Concerto for Domra (or Dombra) and folk instruments, opening with a presto and ending with a breath-taking climax. It is composed by Zaritski and the soloist is Emmanuel Sheikman. After several listenings you will come to appreciate the distinctive sound and qualities of this instrument from which the modern day balalaika probably evolved.

The only reason for the four star rating is that I suspect some of the recordings are rather old and there is occasionally a little background noise and although the solo instruments sound bright and clear the accompaniment can occasionally seem muffled.

However, this is still a delightful CD and an excellent introduction to those who wish to hear traditional folk instruments in a serious orchestral setting.


Shine
Shine
Price: £15.49

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful voice - lovely songs, 29 Sept. 2011
This review is from: Shine (Audio CD)
Mary-Jess Leaverland is a student studying Music and Chinese at the University of Sheffield. Her course involved work-experience in China and it was there, singing in Chinese, she won a competition (the Chinese equivalent of X-Factor).

This debut album has twelve top-quality songs, with strong poetry in the lyrics; seven were co-written by Mary-Jess. Her voice is outstanding, her diction clear and the recording is excellent.

The opening track (the best of all in my opinion) "Are You The Way Home?" shows the Chinese influence in her music and Track 8, the delightful "Yue Guang Al Ren" (A love before time), is sung largely in Chinese. Track 2, "Glorious", with a strong orchestrated rhythm from percussion and strings, shows the full range of her capabilities.

Other particularly strong songs include; Track 3 "Lighthouse Of Mine" (heart-warming poetry), Track 4 "Rising From The Fire", Track 11 "Burning Love" (with a wonderful piano climax) and Track 12 "Heaven Is Empty" (where again the Chinese Influence is unmistakable). In fact there isn't a duff song on the album - the CD notes include all the song lyrics over which it is worth meditating. In common with the other reviewers. I have no hesitation in recommending this outstanding and unique album.


Let Me Fly
Let Me Fly
Price: £13.97

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sara Kempe - someone special producing something outstanding, 21 Sept. 2011
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This review is from: Let Me Fly (Audio CD)
It is rare that something this special comes along. Sara is a young Welsh singer in her early twenties, yet her first collection "Let Me Fly" shows great maturity. Her voice is clear, strong and, as other reviewers have said, beautiful and her performance is assured. The recording is also first class.

Many of the arrangements have a distinctly Celtic sound to them, especially at the beginning often swelling to more orchestrated backing in choruses or climaxes.

The title track 'Let Me Fly', chosen for the Ryder Cup, is suitably evocative. But probably the three most stunning tracks are: 'Frozen', a song written by Madonna, with its haunting sound and powerful lyrics; 'Angel', full of sincerity and emotion with powerful poetry in the lyrics and 'Chasing Cars' for the images it creates. The nostalgically beautiful "Bedshaped" (about one person who has outgrown a relationship and the other who would like it to continue) has a lovely cello and piano introduction.

The frequently covered 'Time After Time' stands comparison with the best and although I feel 'Fields of Gold' is a little too fast in tempo, it has grown on me and is only a minor criticism in what I consider to be a masterpiece of a CD.

I recommend it to you unreservedly and also buy it for someone special as a gift, it will be much appreciated.


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