CLASSICAL NOTES: Nick Boston tunes into the best classical music

Nick Boston March 28, 2022


Philippe Grisvard: Carl Friedrich Christian Fasch: Works for Keyboard (Audax ADX13725)

Carl Friedrich Christian Fasch (1736-1800) shared the position of harpsichordist to Frederick II with CPE Bach, and was also responsible for establishing the Singakademie in Berlin, which was chiefly responsible for the rediscovery of JS Bach’s music which by then had fallen into obscurity.

Philippe Grisvard has recorded a selection of Fasch’s keyboard works, performing them on a gloriously ringing fortepiano from around 1790. The disc includes three of Fasch’s Sonatas, and several short ‘character’ pieces, ending with a wonderful Ariette with Fourteen Variations.

The B flat minor Sonata has a dramatically rippling opening, and continues with almost perpetual motion, with falling arpeggios dropping to a sombre trill at the bass of the keyboard. In its slow movement, the rich lower tones of Grisvard’s instrument are warmly echoey, and the trumpet-like repeated notes ring out almost like an organ stop.

Whilst conventional in structure, its finale has drama too in its fantasia-like explosion before the return of the opening material. The C major Sonata is full of Viennese gentility, despite its challenging hand crossing, and an expressive central movement is followed by a fiery yet playful finale, with its stop-start rhythms.

Grisvard creates such a variety of tones here, from the sound of a music box in the quieter sections to a guitar-like sound at the light, hiccupping finish. Of the character pieces, L’Antoine perhaps stands out, with Grisvard again bringing out its mournful expressiveness with the muted tone of the instrument. La Cecchina is delightful, with its sudden runs and pleasing melodic material. But it is the Ariette and its variations that prove to be the real demonstration of Fasch’s inventiveness, taking the graceful and delicate theme through a gentle dance (3), perpetual spinning wheel motion (4), dramatic statements (7) and rich repeated chords (13) to mention just a few.

Grisvard is on a roll here, and shifts effortlessly from variation to variation, shifting from a gently rocking lilt to rapid top to bottom scales with effortless smoothness.

Fasch ends with a rattling motion, and Grisvard’s clattering chords bring this to a suitably striking conclusion. The combination of some delightfully inventive keyboard music, the surprisingly versatile and sonorous fortepiano, and Grisvard’s virtuosity combined with delicacy and lightness of touch make this recording a resounding hit.

Simon Callaghan, BBC NOW, Martyn Brabbins: British Piano Concertos (Lyrita SRCD407)

Pianist Simon Callaghan joins the BBC National Orchestra of Wales (BBC NOW), conducted by Martyn Brabbins, for a great selection of obscure British Piano Concertos. John Addison’s (1920-1998) Wellington Suite kicks things off, and this is a great, playful romp. Scored for two horns, piano, percussion and strings, the horns actually take centre stage with some really challenging and rapid exchanges, deftly handled here by Tim Thorpe and Meilyr Hughes.

Written in 1959, we can hear the film music that Addison was best known for (eg. Reach for the Sky, A Taste of Honey). He relocated to Los Angeles in 1975 – receiving an Emmy for his signature tune for Murder, She Wrote. There are cartoon capers in the opening movement, with sliding piano lines and bright horns. The horns are slinkier in the more reflective second movement, with delicate piano pecks over gentle strings, before concluding with a lumbering march. Delicate pizzicato strings, played with great control by the BBC NOW build towards an almost Shostakovich-like comic second section. A light, halting waltz ends with vaudeville piano tremolos, before a playfully jaunty ride lead by the horns, with quickening pace in the piano and strings exchanges to finish.

Australian born Arthur Benjamin (1893-1960) studied and later taught at the Royal College of Music (RCM), where Britten was one of his pupils. His Concertino for Piano and Orchestra (1927) was influenced by the popularity of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, and its single movement has its bluesy movements courtesy of the addition of an alto saxophone. Callaghan delivers the racing light piano ripples and the wandering cadenza towards the end with elegant panache.

Arthur Benjamin

Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994) was another RCM alumnus, and was an important figure in the world of new music composition, becoming the first woman chair of the Composers’ Guild of Great Britain in 1959, and the president of the Society for the Promotion of New Music in 1976, succeeding Britten. Her Concertino for Piano and String Orchestra (1949) is dramatic and virtuosic for the piano, with angular strings and intense, insistent rhythms throughout. The middle movement has more lyricism, but here still the jagged rhythmic knocks are unsettling. Insistence continues in the final movement, with rapid motion passed between piano and orchestra, and repetition of ideas hammering home its darkly infectious spirit.

Edmund Rubbra’s (1901-1986) Nature’s Song, a tone poem for orchestra, piano and organ (1920) is perhaps the most immediately engaging work here, with its filmic, rich scoring and expressive melodic lines. The sea’s ‘rich roar’ surges in the strings, and Callaghan is particularly expressive in the solo section towards the end, before the flute and oboe rise up to the sky over quiet strings to finish.

Geoffrey Bush’s (1920-1998) A Little Concerto on themes of Thomas Arne (1939) is definitely of its time, yet his delicate arrangement of music taken several of Arne’s Harpsichord Sonatas and the Keyboard Concerto No. 3 is surprisingly delicate and refined. He keeps the textures relatively light, and here Callaghan weaves the piano part, often running in octaves, around the bare string textures. Overall, this is a fascinating collection. With a range of styles on offer, the Rubbra and Maconchy stand out for their overall depth, but the Addison is a comic gem.


Jess Gillam (credit: Robin Clewley)

The London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) perform Mussorgsky, Ravel, and Glazunov’s Concerto for Saxophone, with Jess Gillam (saxophone), conducted by Finnegan Downie-Dear (7.30pm on Saturday, April 23 at Brighton Dome). For tickets, CLICK HERE.

Daniel Pioro (credit: David James Grinly)

The LPO then hop over to Eastbourne to play Coleridge-Taylor, Vaughan Williams and Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1, with Daniel Pioro (violin), this time conducted by Tom Gauterin (3pm on Sunday, April 24 at Congress Theatre, Eastbourne. For tickets, CLICK HERE

Cristian Grajner de Sa

The Worthing Symphony Orchestra perform Romantic Classics, including Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1, with Cristian Grajner de Sa (violin), conducted by guest conductor, Hilary Davan Wetton (2.45pm on Sunday, April 24 at Assembly Hall, Worthing). For tickets, CLICK HERE

John Hancorn

The Baroque Collective Singers perform Music for Passiontide, with Scarlatti’s Stabat Mater and music by Byrd, Gibbons and Tallis, conducted by John Hancorn (5pm on Sunday, April 3 at St Peter’s Church in Firle, and 5pm on Sunday, April 10 at St Michael’s Church in Lewes). For tickets, CLICK HERE


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