Saturday, November 24, 2012
Look who I saw yesterday.
I'm in Lucerne, of course. In November, the pianists take over the town. The Lucerne Festival is now not just a summer thrill, but a specialist haven for piano buffs in the unlikely month of November. Last night Paul Lewis (centre) performed the last three Schubert sonatas; and first his one-time mentor (left), who needs no introduction to JDCMB readers, gave a lecture about the works, playing extracts of them, and describing them as a "family" of works with some fascinating motivic connections to explore. (The proud gentleman on the right is Tom Hull, agent to them both. No wonder he looks happy.)
I've been privileged to follow Paul's career for the past 20 years and watching him grow from hugely gifted student and competition prizewinner to one of the finest Schubert players around has been a treat from the beginning. He is especially good at conjuring the "distant" world of Schubert through a touch that is as soft as fur and filled with sensitivity to inner echoes, hints of far-off bells, haunted by an invisible Lieder singer. Parts of his performance were perfection, and that's not a phrase I would use lightly: the slow movement of the B flat and the last movement of the A major stood out as moments in which I could almost imagine I was listening to Schubert himself. Occasionally one wants more sense of fear, the feel of living under the Sword of Damocles that Schubert faces head on in the A major slow movement's encounter with hell, or the C minor's Erlkoenig-like dance of death finale. But frankly, that is splitting straws: it was a mesmerising and unforgettable evening.
Playing all three of this final trilogy in succession remains a programming quirk that I, personally, am not entirely comfortable with. It always seems, whenever I hear them done this way, that the C minor, which goes first, doesn't come off as perfectly as it should; and the B flat, which goes last, sometimes misses its exposition repeat, which really should be mandatory, but you can't help reflecting that by this time we are all very, very exhausted by Schubert's intensity and his 'heavenly length'. I feel we might appreciate each work more were it to be performed individually as part of what another pianist I'm hearing here tomorrow has been known to call a "mixed salad" programme.
Meanwhile the jazzers are out in force. Lucerne has a variety of exquisite hotels, the bars of which are transformed into jazz piano outlets for the festival duration. Today at teatime Simon Mulligan is performing in the one downstairs from where I'm now writing; last night we could wind down after the Schubert by listening to the veteran Johnny Varro there, with a lovely young couple excelling at an impromptu spot of Lindyhop and Ceroc. A number of jazz pianists are resident in the festival and circulate between the venues; trotting between them to compare and contrast is becoming a pastime of choice for enthusiasts of all descriptions. It's also a great way for the festival to draw the whole town in to the festival and perhaps persuade people who mightn't choose a full-blown recital to give it a go. And the festival academy remains active now as ever, with masterclasses for fortunate young pianists given last week by Leon Fleisher.
Not that Lucerne has to do very much outreach. I was aware, interviewing festival director Michael Haefliger yesterday, that his comment "We do OK," is probably understatement of the year.
View from my window:
Thursday, September 27, 2012
Off to the RealLifePoshPlace (as opposed to the JDCMB Cyberposhplace) for a day of celebration and suspense as the Gramophone Awards are announced...oh wait... No suspense, except for Record of the Year. A press release has just plopped into the in-box telling us all the others. Which you'd think kind of defeats the purpose of having the entire UK music business sit in the Dorchester all day...
But there's some really wonderful news: Benjamin Grosvenor has won both Young Artist of the Year and Instrumental, in the latter category pipping to the post no lesser personages than Stephen Hough and Paul Lewis. That definitely requires something bubbly.
Right now I'm busy putting on a smart dress and a bit o' slap, so I'm going to post the press release. Stand by for the full inside report on the goings-on after the event and follow on Twitter at #GramoAwards. I may tweet now and then if I have any reception on the fruityphone.
GRAMOPHONE AWARDS 2012 - THE “OSCARS OF CLASSICAL MUSIC”
· Benjamin Grosvenor becomes youngest artist to achieve double-Award win
· Joseph Calleja voted ‘Artist of the Year’
· Claudio Abbado honoured with ‘Lifetime Achievement’ Award
· Murray Perahia wins new ‘Piano Award’
· Naïve crowned ‘Label of the Year’
· ‘Recording of the Year’ to be revealed later today
The Gramophone Awards – the world’s most influential classical music prizes – are announced today at London’s Dorchester Hotel in a ceremony co-hosted by two of classical music’s hottest properties: composer and conductor – and professional model – Eric Whitacre, and Danielle de Niese, described by The New York Times as “opera’s coolest soprano”.
James Jolly, Editor-in-Chief of Gramophone said:
“With more than 750 new recordings of phenomenal range and quality under consideration for the 2012 Gramophone Awards, coming up with the shortlists and winners has been challenging, but extremely enjoyable. This is an extremely exciting and vibrant time for classical music and the winners announced today represent the best of the best, where the best is a very rich feast indeed.”
The Gramophone Awards 2012, now in their 35th year, are presented in association with Steinway & Sons and EFG International.
The most coveted prize, ‘Recording of the Year’, will be revealed during today’s ceremony and announced this afternoon.
Crowning a magnificent year that saw him become both the youngest soloist to open the BBC Proms and the youngest pianist ever to be signed by Decca, Benjamin Grosvenor now becomes Gramophone’s youngest double-Award winner. He is named Young Artist of the Year and wins the Best Instrumental category for his debut disc of music by Ravel, Chopin and Liszt on Decca. The 20-year-old from Southend-on-Sea has been highly praised for his poetic expression and virtuosity, and this double accolade from Gramophone is another noteworthy badge of honour in his rise to international acclaim.
Joseph Calleja is named Gramophone’s Artist of the Year in the only Award decided by public vote. It rounds off an incredible year for the Maltese tenor, described by Gramophone as “a tenor of uncommon distinction, whose elegance and sense of style are second to none on the operatic stage today.” From performing at the Last Night of the Proms to reaching No. 1 in the Danish pop charts Calleja is now established as a regular at all the leading opera houses in the world, including the Royal Opera House and New York’s Metropolitan Opera. Joseph reaches out to a wide public who respond as much to his open and charming personality as his voice. His latest album ‘Be My Love,’ a tribute to Mario Lanza, became an instant best-seller.
“His vision has left an imprint on every orchestra in Europe” says fellow conductor Daniel Harding, of this year’s Lifetime Achievement winner, Claudio Abbado. Abbado conducts the best orchestras, yet devotes much of his time to nurturing young talent, as founder and music director of the Youth Orchestra of the European Union and the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra, as well as artistic director of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, and founder and principal conductor of both the Lucerne Festival Orchestra and Italy’s Orchestra Mozart. He has recorded for Deutsche Grammophon since 1967, amassing a discography that includes the entire symphonic works of Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, Mendelssohn, Schubert and Ravel and more than 20 complete opera recordings.
A new prize for 2012, The Piano Award, goes to one of today’s most respected musicians, Murray Perahia. Gramophone has long celebrated Perahia’s exceptional sensibility, lyricism and naturalness, but in the year that Perahia celebrates 40 years of recording for Sony Classical and its forerunner CBS Masterworks, Gramophone pays special tribute to this exceptional pianist. In addition to the Award, Gramophone has produced a digital magazine that gathers together every Perahia review it has ever published.
Superbly produced, gorgeously packaged recordings of artistic vision and integrity from musicians of the highest calibre, symbolises naïve - Gramophone’s 2012 Label of the Year. Naïve’s artist roster is rich and impressive, from Jordi Savall, Anne-Sofie von Otter and Marc Minkowski with his Musiciens du Louvre, to Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Bertrand Chamayou and Francesco Piemontesi. The label looks set to leave a legacy with its ground-breaking Vivaldi Edition, one of the most ambitious recording projects ever undertaken. Now in its twelfth year, the unprecedented Vivaldi Edition captures on record the entire collection of autograph manuscripts by the composer preserved in Turin’s Biblioteca Nazionale, making up some 450 works and unearthing never-before-heard works along the way.
A special Historic Reissue Award honours an extraordinary 1939 live recording of Smetana’s Má vlast by the Czech Philharmonic under Václav Talich. The extraordinary recording, issued by Supraphon, captures a spontaneous outburst of the Czech national anthem by the audience, symbolising the burning presence of Czech patriotism in a German-occupied Prague.
Winners were also announced across the 15 album categories (see below).
Gramophone has been producing a series of podcasts supporting the Awards at www.gramophone.co.uk and during the month of August, nearly 50,000 were downloaded. Gramophone has also formed retail partnerships with Amazon, i-Tunes and many of the UK’s specialist retailers. iTunes is offering a free sampler featuring Award-winning recordings at www.itunes.com/gramawards.
Gramophone’s Awards issue is published on Friday 28 September with full information about the Awards and winners.
The Baroque Instrumental category acknowledges the remarkable level of musicianship that has built on decades of scholarship to create one of the most dynamic areas of the current music scene. The Freiburg Baroque Orchestra is one of the most thrilling ensembles around today, and wins a Gramophone Award for the second year in a row. Gramophone says: “It’s hard to imagine an eminent Baroque ensemble more temperamentally suited to the esprit of Bach’s four orchestral essays than the Freiburgers.”
Along with its Instrumental sister category, Baroque Vocal is one of the most dynamic areas of music-making today and this winner is impeccably performed, recorded and presented. Lionel Meunier and Vox Luminis’s release of Schütz’s Musicalische Exequien “embodies everything a Recording of the Year should be,” according to Gramophone. Schütz’s Baroque masterpiece, which inspired Brahms for his German Requiem, is performed by a vocal ensemble “over-endowed with impressive individual turns.”
Making music with friends is one of the most rewarding pursuits anyone – amateur or professional – can do, and this category allows music lovers to glimpse musicians – most decidedly professional and at the top of their game – getting together and performing in intimate surroundings. Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes – no stranger to the Gramophone Awards – teams up with his regular musical partners Christian and Tanja Tetzlaff in Schumann's music for piano to create what Gramophone describes as “a remarkable achievement.”
Stephen Layton – nominated twice in this category this year – is one of the few choirmasters to work both within the Oxbridge choir tradition (as music director at Trinity College, Cambridge) and outside it (as the director of Polyphony and a much-sought-after guest by many top-league choirs). With his Cambridge choir, he here celebrates one of English music's most appealing composers, Herbert Howells, in a recording described by Gramophone as “a perfect disc of its kind.”
Isabelle Faust, a former Gramophone Young Artist of the Year, returns to the Awards in some very distinguished company, Orchestra Mozart and Claudio Abbado. Here Beethoven is intriguingly coupled with Berg in concerto performances described by Gramophone as “models of artistic and human discipline, meticulously probing Berg’s and Beethoven’s intentions but conveying also a sense that such peaks of human achievement are something you assume from within, not take by force from without.”
Rautavaara’s magnificent, highly contrasting percussion and cello concertos make for a sensational release. Performed with “coruscating virtuosity” by percussionist Colin Currie and with cellist Truls Mørk “caressing out the subtleties” in the cello concerto, Ondine vividly sets the seal on this superb Contemporary Award-winner. The soloists are supported by John Storgårds – going from strength to strength on the podium – and the excellent Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra.
'Music makes a City', a film made by Owsley Brown III and Jerome Hiler, tells the scarcely believable, but inspiring, story of the Louisville Orchestra from Kentucky and its belief that new music was the answer to creating wealth and power for the city following the Great Depression and crippling floods there in 1937. The list of composers who were commissioned by the Orchestra reads like a roll-call of 20th-century greats and the film includes interviews with the senior generation of American musicians, from the centenarian Elliott Carter to the near-nonagenarian Ned Rorem. A compelling and beautiful documentary.
Honouring great musical performance on film, the winning performance “takes a special, even unique, band of musicians and friends who (we can see) love what they do, making chamber music on the grandest scale.” Claudio Abbado revitalised the Lucerne Festival Orchestra in 2003, bringing back to life an ensemble that had first performed in 1938 under Toscanini's baton. Though a part-time group, the orchestra is comprised of some of the finest musicians in Europe, many of them soloists, gathered around a 'core' of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. They are now one of the world's finest orchestras and performances of Bruckner don't get much more compelling than this.
The Early Music category has become a showcase of the glorious polyphonic choral music written before 1600, which has become increasingly popular in recent decades. Tomás Luis de Victoria was celebrated in 2011, the 400th anniversary of his birth, and this 10-disc set of around 90 works emerged as a truly stunning tribute to this Renaissance Spanish master. “It is just deeply human and emotional music that [Ensemble Plus Ultra and Michael Noone] perform not only with great tenderness but so simply that one is struck every time – as if for the first time – by its crystalline, uncomplicated beauty.”
The Historic category, reserved for recordings making their first appearance as a commercial release, has put the spotlight on extraordinary treasures and this previously unissued recording of Chopin’s Etudes by Maurizio Pollini is no exception. It was made shortly after the teenage Pollini won the International Chopin Piano Competition in 1960, but became the first in a long line of recordings not to be sanctioned by the notoriously highly strung pianist. As the pianist turned 70 his early thoughts on these works was warmly welcomed by Gramophone, which said: “It is surely astonishing that Pollini could reject his early superfine brilliance, his aristocratic musicianship, his patrician ideal in the Chopin Etudes.”
Gramophone’s Young Artist of the Year also scoops the Award for Best Instrumental with his album of Chopin, Liszt and Ravel. Full of “coltish exuberance” and a “subtle brand of bravura,” according to reviewer Rob Cowan, Grosvenor’s virtuosity and dexterity are clear, but it is in Liszt’s En rêve that his artistry paints the most beautifully subtle canvas. Grosvenor’s debut disc on Decca topped the specialist classical charts for several weeks.
Claudio Abbado's Fidelio, caught live with his superb Lucerne Festival Orchestra in the pit in 2010, also finds two of today's finest dramatic singers in the central roles: Nina Stemme, today's leading Isolde, and Jonas Kaufmann, today's most accomplished dramatic tenor. Gramophone says: “If Fidelio speaks as no other opera does of the miraculous resilience of the human spirit, Claudio Abbado’s late re-creation of it serves only to compound that miracle.”
In what is traditionally one of the most hotly contested categories and sparring ground of today's major conductors and orchestras, Jiři Bělohlávek triumphs with this superb set of the Martinů symphonies recorded live at the Barbican in 2009/10 with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Gramophone critic Mike Ashman firmly dismisses talk of “the grace and elegance of Bělohlávek’s conducting” in these colourfully scored wartime works – though that is clearly there – and highlights “the pain and stress” they often depict which is “superbly realised here”.
A superb collection of 18th-century arias written for the castrato Gaetano Guadagni from leading British countertenor Iestyn Davies. Reputedly a “wild and careless singer” when he first came to London, Guadagni’s untapped potential was soon identified and nurtured by Handel, who went on to write some of his finest arias for him. He was so famous that Horace Walpole named a racehorse after him and he was Gluck’s first Orfeo, but it has taken surprisingly long for someone to produce an intelligently chosen and stylishly performed recital exploring his career and Iestyn Davies has done just that.
Reactions to this disc’s concept and programme – as well as the sepia soldier on the cover – can be predicted: Simon Keenlyside is more often nominated for the Awards for opera productions, but here he debuts in the Solo Vocal category – a cleverly compiled collection of war songs (predominantly British with a few American additions). “A peak achievement for both, Malcolm Martineau plays superbly and Keenlyside brings a huge dramatic range to these powerful songs by Butterworth, Finzi, Ireland, Vaughan Williams, Kurt Weill and others by pointing out that war celebrates life as well as confronting death.”
The annual Gramophone Awards, the world’s most influential classical music prizes, given this year in association with Steinway & sons and EFG International, were launched in 1977 by Gramophone magazine (founded in 1923 by Sir Compton Mackenzie). Available internationally, Gramophone publishes bespoke editions of the magazine for the United States of America, Russia and Brazil. The Gramophone Player, available at gramophone.co.uk, will feature excerpts from all of this year’s prize-winning albums. The media player - the first from a classical music magazine - features full-length recordings, podcasts, an extensive editor’s choice section and a selection of new recordings each month. Subscribers are free to stream as much music as they wish.
Gramophone has been producing a series of podcasts supporting the Awards at www.gramophone.co.uk and during the month of August nearly 50,000 were downloaded.
Gramophone has also formed retail partnerships with Amazon, iTunes and many of the UK’s specialist retailers. iTunes is offering a free sampler featuring Award-winning recordings at www.itunes.com/gramawards.
Gramophone’s Awards issue is published on Friday 28 September with full information about the Awards and Award winners.