Sunday, 20 November 2016

November Bonanzas 3 and 4: Sarah Fox; Peter Martens.

Third night in a row, this time back in Skipton for the next Skipton Music concert. The November concert was a song evening, featuring Sarah Fox accompanied by Alexander Taylor. 

Normally I am not a big fan of opera and not always of classical song; but season ticket = no excuse! However it was a very enjoyable evening. Sarah programmed songs by Schubert, Richard Strauss, Duparc, Canteloube, Britten and ended with a selection of Cole Porter and Gershwin songs. The songs by Henri Duparc were super and had great piano parts too; and the selection from Songs of the Auvergne by Joseph Canteloube were great fun. 

A few days' rest for the ears before another Leeds University lunchtime concert. This time the performer was South African cellist Peter Martens, accompanied by Richard Casey. The standout piece from this concert was the Sonata for Cello and Piano (2010) by South African composer Peter Klatzow. Peter Martens introduced the work, explaining that Klatzow is one of South Africa's most well known contemporary composers. The piece was in 4 movements with a dose of asymetric meters. Very listenable (recommended!) and in particular I enjoyed the 'andante tranquillo' and the 'vivace'. The 'vivace' incorporated a call-and-response dialogue found in many African genres - this neatly dovetailed with the book I am currently reading (which is also recommended): The Other Classical Musics contains a chapter about the West African tradition of Mande jaliyaa. 
 

November Bonanza 2: Live at Wigmore Hall - Cuarteto Quiroga and Javier Perianes

With Sara Watkins still playing through my mind, on Monday 14th November I headed to Wigmore Hall in London. A definite treat for me  - my first visit to this legendary venue for one of the Radio 3 Lunchtime Concerts. Nice place! Though the balcony seating is rather snug.

After October and the Sacconi Quartet, two string quartets in as many months courtesy of Cuarteto Quiroga. They were joined by pianist Javier Perianes for a programme of Granados and Brahms. All musicians of a very high calibre from the programme notes. 

First up was Granados' Piano Quintet in G minor Op 49. I enjoy playing some of Granados' solo piano pieces but had not heard this piece before. All very exciting! The Quintet is a relatively early piece and reaches beyond a 'Spanish' sound, in particular in the first movement 'allegro. The second movement was pure poetry  - piece and the performance by the 5 musicians. In a less-is-more vein, the movement has a simple melody and sparse harmonies with a nod to Spain's Moorish past. This movement clearly captivated the whole audience - at least judging by the fit of coughing at the end! The 'molto presto' in the final movement incorporated a more Hungarian dance feel - very exuberant!

Cuarteto Quiroga and Javier Perianes have recorded the Granados Quintet - judging by the Wigmore Hall performance this will be going on my shopping list! The recording information is available at the Quiroga's website

After this amazing piece, to Brahms. I have a somewhat love/hate relationship to Brahms and whilst I have heard and enjoyed the Piano Quintet Op. 34 before, this time it wasn't communicating to me. Nothing to do with the performance - throughout both pieces the level of musicianship was fantastic - often lean and clean. However this time I found the Brahms very dense.  

As I write, the concert is still available on the Radio 3 website.

November Bonanza 1: Sara Watkins in Saltaire

If October was busy... something of a concert bonanza in November! The run started with Americana legend Sara Watkins playing The Live Room in Saltaire at the end of her UK tour. We saw Sara as part of the I'm With Her tour in Gateshead last year and have been much enjoying her current album Young In All The Wrong Ways. This album is quite a rocky/produced sound, so to hear the same songs from Sara alone with her instruments was a treat. It also meant that they lyrics stood out more. There were also older songs (including a few Nickel Creek tracks) and covers.

This was also our first visit to The Live Room, which is an award winning live space within Caroline Social Club in Saltaire. It's a very intimate space (a bit reminiscent of Belgrave Music Hall back in 2013 when we saw Basia Bulat), chairs, tables and low lighting. The live events are very reasonably priced and there are some great acts coming!

Sara had a local support, Serious Sam Barrett. Sam was very good, excellent chat and stories, and I was closely watching how he played his guitar.  For all that - his songs were slightly genre-bound. 

Sara played around 1 1/2 hours on stage with her and 4 instruments - two guitars, fiddle and ukulele. Fantastic mix of songs and instruments. I enjoyed them all - but the electric guitar Pat has a superb timbre. Young In All The Wrong Ways has been on regular rotation since! More details about Sara's many projects are available on her site.



Catching up with autumn - October highlights: The Sacconi Quartet and David Braid

With the change in seasons, my concert calendar has filled up again. Though with all my interests plus a day job writing time is somewhat elusive! My October highlights were the first event of Skipton Music's season, plus David Braid at University of Leeds' International Concert Series.

This year I have arranged for a Skipton Music season ticket. No excuses! The current season is a mix of chamber, song, instrumental and orchestral concerts. First up were Sacconi String Quartet with Robert Plane on clarinet. It is ages (so long I can't recall!) since I last heard a string quartet live, so it was a real pleasure to hear the Sacconi Quartet and their high quality timbres. Their first piece on the programme was Haydn's String Quartet Op. 76 No. 1; lively and humourous in particular with the 'gallop' in the final movement!

Robert Plane joined the Sacconi Quartet for the rest of the evening. The second piece was a truly interesting Phantasy Quintet for Bass Clarinet and Strings by York Bowen.  A one-movement chamber piece from 1932, in which Bowen incorporates the range of a 3 movement sonata. Robert introduced the piece and explained the relative paucity of music for the bass clarinet - this was the only piece in the evening to feature the instrument. Great stuff - at times I found the piece almost as if it had stepped from a Jean Cocteau movie! 

Finishing off the concert we heard Glazunov's Oriental Reverie for Clarinet Quintet - another one-movement piece, this one evoking hazy summer forests of Russia; and Weber's Clarinet Quintet in B flat Op. 34 - a return to a more classical/Romantic sound to finish.

During term time there are regular Friday lunchtime concerts in Leeds University School of Music. My first attendance this academic year was to hear Canadian pianist David Braid. David is an innovative and original jazz pianist/composer, who treated the audience to a concert based on his 2012 album Verge, with which he won a Juno Award. We heard La Phare, El Castillo Interior; and a few prepared piano pieces - 春江花月夜 (Spring Garden Night) and Richmond Square; finishing with Reverence. David has a very witty, at-ease style of presentation and made for a very enjoyable hour's music.

 

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Ribble Valley International Piano Week - Steven Osborne in recital

Piano galore day! After the July meeting of a new piano meetup group in Clitheroe (very good fun) and a tasty meal, M and I headed towards Westholme School for the final concert in this year's Ribble Valley International Piano Week. The Piano Week has been on my radar for a while... as has stellar pianist Steven Osborne. This year the two coincided nicely.

Steven's recital to close the Piano Week for 2016 was a programme of Schubert, Debussy and Rachmaninov:
Schubert – Moment Musical (D 780 No 2)
Debussy – Images (series I), Children’s Corner, D’un Cahier d’esquisses, L’Isle joyeuse
Rachmaninov – Études-Tableaux Op 33; Études-Tableaux Op 39 Nos 2 and 9

Throughout, Steven played with elegance and simple absorption in the music; his quiet concentration drew in the audience and it was soon very obvious why he is held in such high regard. The Schubert piece was fantastic and certainly got everyone's attention - at the end there was complete silence before the start of Debussy's Images. The whole first half was a superb performance, firm but smooth with no harshness, fitting the music very well. Highlights - Schubert plus the Images pieces and L'Isle joyeuse

The character of the Rachmaninov Études-Tableaux was very different. Steven introduced the pieces as expression's of Rachmaninov's deep emotions laid bare. Whilst excellently played they were most definitely unsettling and it was a more difficult listening experience. The encore, a prelude by the same composer, following from the content of the
Études-Tableaux was almost the opposite - calm acceptance of fate.

A very good evening and a good showcase for the Piano Week. Apparently 2017 is the event's 30th anniversary (I think I heard that correctly!) and the dates for 2017 are 19th-22nd July.

 

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Summer songs 3 - Hauschka and guests in Leeds, 24th June

Somehow I missed the information for Hausckha's Leeds concert until a few weeks ago... hurriedly planned but a great end to a holiday week. I first came across Hauschka in the German language magazine PIANONews and from there discovered his album with violinist Hilary Hahn, Silfra. Prepared piano is an intriguing concept - Hauschka's website has a good explanation - so it was really something to see it done live. At the Howard Assembly Room, Hauschka came on after his two support artists. introduced himself and a bit about the evening, then proceeded to perform for 50 minutes solid. Just the stamina was impressive - but also the ebb and flow of the pieces. A camera mounted onto the end of the piano meant the audience could see the prepared elements - where they were, how they moved and when Hauschka changed or removed them. At the end of the 50 minutes they were all on the floor by the piano stool. The soundscape was really quite different to Silfra - in some ways similar to pieces by Nils Frahm, but perhaps more acoustic.

Pianocam - taken after the show
 
First support was pianist and composer Matthew Bourne, showcasing his concept Moogmemory, creating pieces from live manipulation of synths. Moogmemory is available on Bandcamp. Second, Berlin-based British artist Tom Adams, who mixed piano based melodies and soaring lyrics. Lots of long arcs in voice and instrument. Tom also used his laptop - he explained that a microphone fed into his laptop from which he manipulated a program in real time to catch the resonances from the piano, adding an extra dimension to the sound. 

Both artists were well received and yes, I enjoyed their works, but I struggled to emotionally connect with their pieces. I'm putting it down to the tumult of the EU referendum result. 

Summer songs 1 and 2: Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain plus Concertgebouw Amsterdam

Do you uke? Yes? You'll come away inspired. No? ha - ditto anyway -  the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain come highly recommended. Not just a musical show but a real evening of entertainment. I was far too busy laughing for taking photos - whilst trying to follow the very intricate arrangements and playing styles.

In between jokes, the 8-strong orchestra played a variety of old and new songs arranged very skillfully for their ensemble of ukuleles - from 'fridge magnet' tiny to a bass ukulele. Some of the set pieces are available on the Orchestra's YouTube page. Amongst classics such as Morricone's The Good, The Bad and The Ugly were inspired takes on songs such as Get Lucky, Kiss and even Teenage Dirtbag. Party in the aisles of the Alhambra.

In complete contrast, a midday break from touristing round Amsterdam led us to the Concertgebouw for a bite-sized free concert. Within the calm of the Kleine Zaal  - packed with a mix of locals and tourists - we heard members of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra perform a 35-minute programme:

Weber - Finale - Allegro (from Trio in g, Op. 63, J 259)
Schulhoff - Andante con moto; Andante;  Rondino -  Allegro gaio (from Concertino)
Brahms - Scherzo: Allegro - Molto meno allegro (from Horn Trio in E-flat major Op. 40)  

The Weber movement suited the summer's day perfectly - bright and warm. The Schulhoff which followed was rather more complex but equally rewarding. The movements from the Concertino showcased a sound derived from the Carpathian folk tradition - lots of complex rhythmic motifs and contrasting melodies, with a very lively folk dance in the Rondino.  The exuberance continued into the final section, with the lively lighter movement from Brahms' Horn Trio.