CLASSICAL NOTES: Nick Boston tunes into the best classical music

Nick Boston April 26, 2022


Following on from their two volumes of Felix Mendelssohn’s String Quartets, the Doric String Quartet are now joined by Timothy Ridout (viola) for a disc of his String Quintets. Mendelssohn wrote just two of these, going with the viola added to string quartet combination, favoured by Mozart and Brahms, as opposed to adding a cello, which Boccherini and Schubert did.

Chandos CHAN20218

Mendelssohn’s String Quintet No. 1, composed when he was 17, came hot on the heels of the successful premiere of his glorious Octet. Ever the reviser, it was another five years before he published both. Its opening movement has a leisured warmth, with only brief hints of darker moods in its development, before it gently dances to a quiet ending. The Intermezzo, with its singing melodic idea is sensitive and elegiac. Intensity builds over warm lower strings, with the rhythmic pace of the throbbing repeated figure increasing. It never feels totally settled, despite its calm ending.

We’re in A Midsummer Night’s Dream territory in the Scherzo, with skittering fairy music led off by the first viola. The players here give this precision and clarity, yet avoid it becoming too dry, and there is some dramatic scraping from the cello, not holding back from a harshly biting timbre. Yet once again, the movement disappears into nothing.

Whilst not quite reaching the heights of exuberance of the Octet, the finale is full of joyful energy, set up by its lively triplet upbeat. Alex Redington on first violin shines in the rippling runs, and sings over the rumbling lower instruments. Energy levels ramp up and up, leading to the joyous conclusion.

The String Quintet No. 2 came some 18 or so years later, with much of the same sense of energy but perhaps less of the unfettered joyfulness of his youthful works. The opening movement has an athletic first violin part over a tremolo accompaniment. The whirling triplet rhythms mean there is always a sense of movement, and these drive on, becoming more insistent, building to a full-on emphatic conclusion.

In the dancing, lilting staccato of the second movement, once again the players here avoid it becoming to picky, maintaining a sense of the melodic material and the dance in an masterclass of control. But it is the intense pathos of the slow movement – essentially a funeral march – that is most striking about this work. From a darkly pianissimo opening, cello scales rise and a slow relentless march emerges. There are drum-like battering effects, and heartfelt laments from the violins. A nostalgic A major melody provides some temporary relief, but it is short-lived, and the agitation of the march increases.

Yet Mendelssohn can’t leave us totally in the dark, as the movement suddenly turns at the end to a triumphant D major, before subsiding into a gentle, calm end. The finale, perhaps a little incongruously after the deep intensity of the previous movement, bursts forth with a jolly, energetic theme.

This theme provides most of the material here, and its contrapuntal development perhaps loses a little direction at times, but Mendelssohn eventually pulls everything to a suitably emphatic close. Throughout these fascinating and underperformed works, the Doric String Quartet and Ridout are alive to the Mendessohnian flashes of joy and energy, yet they are also alert to the finer detail. They know when to provide warmth, but also when to give edge to their sound too. Highly recommended.

First Hand Records FHR127

Arc I is the first of a series of three recordings by American pianist Orion Weiss. This first album features three works from the years 1911-1913. Weiss describes the trajectory of the series as like an inverted rainbow, and this first volume’s ‘steps here head downhill, beginning from hope and proceeding down to despair’. We’ll have to wait for the next disc to see things reach their lowest before renewal and rebirth are promised in the final volume.

So here we begin with Enrique Granados’ (1867-1916) Goyescas, Op. 11, a Romantic masterpiece of invention. From the warmly expressive, watery cascades of the opening movement Los reuiebros (Flattery), through to the macabre, stuttering dance of the final Epilogo: Serenata del espectro (Epilogue: Serenade of the Ghost), this monumental and atmospheric suite is full of Granados’ extravagantly ornamented and improvisatory virtuosity.

Weiss is commanding in the frenzied, passionate outbursts in El Amor y la Muerte – Balada (Love and death – Ballade), but equally delicate in the nightingale’s song of the fifth movement. There’s a skip in his step in the moments of courting in the opening movement, and he ends the suite with ominous tolling bells before disappearing with a final mercurial wisp.

Leoš Janáček’s (1854-1928) In the Mists follows – a shorter suite, and more introspective than the Granados. There are typical Janáček chromatic twists and turns in the melodies, and his motif of death, the falling minor third, features large. Weiss captures particularly well the claustrophobic, suppressed passion of the final movement, which breaks out with melismatic, singing outbursts and increasing intensity, before defeat in its dark sombre conclusion.

Weiss ends with Alexander Scriabin’s (1871-1915) Piano Sonata No. 9, Op. 68, Black Mass. Full of ‘satanic’ tri-tones and chromaticism, begins hopeful but descends into darkness and despair, and Weiss makes the low rumblings and persistent trilling effects feel chillingly ominous.

There is a real sense of the second, more hopeful melodic idea insistently writhing as if trying to escape, before being ultimately subsumed into a frightening march. This is an impressive display from Weiss, and sadly speaks to current anxieties and a sense of despair. Arc II promises to take us to the lowest point of grief and loss, but hopefully Arc II will bring us some hope for the future – much needed at present.


Pavel Haas Quartet (credit Marco Borggreve)

The Pavel Haas Quartet join pianist Boris Giltburg to perform Piano Quintets by Brahms and Dvořák, and Giltburg also performs Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No 2 (3pm, Sunday, May 8 at Glyndebourne).

Jeneba Kanneh-Mason

Brighton & East Sussex Youth Orchestra are joined by pianist Jeneba Kanneh-Mason and conductor Peter Davison in the Piano Concerto and Third Symphony by African–American composer Florence Price, alongside Gershwin’s An American in Paris (7.30pm, Monday, May 9 at Brighton Dome).

Contemporary instrumentalists Riot Ensemble perform music by Xenakis and Kaija Saariaho, as well as Brighton-based composers Peter Copley and Patrick Harrex, and new generation composers Outi Tarkianen and Anthony R. Green (6pm, Wednesday, May 11 at All Saints, Hove).

The Marian Consort combine the Baroque magnificence of Schütz’s Musikalische Exequien with the world premiere of specially commissioned work by contemporary Irish composer David Fennessy (8.30pm, Friday, May 13 at All Saints, Hove).

Marta Gardolińska (credit: Stephan Polzer)

As part of her UK debut, Polish-born conductor, Marta Gardolińska conducts the London Symphony Orchestra in music by Lili Boulanger, and Tchaikovsky, as well as Marc-Andre Dalbavie’s Concerto for Flute (with the LSO’s principal flautist Gareth Davies as soloist), and Ukrainian composer Valentyn Silvestrov’s Prayer for Ukraine. (8pm, Thursday, May 19 at Brighton Dome).

Iestyn Davies

La Nuova Musica join forces with countertenor Iestyn Davies, for a concert of arias and instrumental music in Handel‘s Unsung Heroes, conducted by David Bates (8pm, Friday, May 20 at Brighton Dome.)

In Damascus, a moving elegy for Syria from composer Jonathan Dove, is performed by tenor James Gilchrist and the Sacconi Quartet. Set to words by the Syrian poet Ali Safar it provides a vivid account of life in a war-torn country (6pm, Thursday, May 26 at All Saints, Hove). This is followed by a concert by oud player, Rihab Azar, of classical and contemporary Syrian and broader Middle Eastern music (8.30pm, Thursday, May 26 at All Saints, Hove.)

Ilan Volkov (Credit: Astrid Ackermann)

The Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Ilan Volkov, with soloists Gweneth-Ann Rand, Duncan Rock, and the Brighton Festival Chorus perform Kaija Saariaho’s Oltra Mar and Vaughan Williams A Sea Symphony (8pm, Sunday, May 29 at Brighton Dome).

All Saints, Hove and Brighton Dome lunchtime concerts feature countertenor Hugh Cutting (Tuesday, May 10), pianist Joe Howson (Wednesday, May 11), violinist Charlotte Saluste-Bridoux (Thursday, May 12), Ukrainian pianist Alexei Grynyuk (Thursday, May 19), Glyndebourne’s Jerwood Young Artists (Friday, May 20) and French harpsichordist Béatrice Martin (Wednesday, May 25).

For Brighton Festival tickets, CLICK HERE


Lunchtime concerts at Brighton Unitarian Church include Lyndsay Jeffery (clarinet) & Nick Andrews (piano) playing Weber and Paul Reade (12.30pm, Friday, May 6) and Simone Alessandro Tavoni (piano) playing Schubert, Mompou & Chopin (12.30pm, Friday, May 20).

Sussex Flutes perform Mozart, Piazzolla and Beeftink (5.30pm, Saturday, May 21 at St Laurence Church, Falmer).

Greenwich Trio

Concerts at the Chapel Royal, Brighton include Imogen Whitehead (trumpet) & Jennifer Walsh (piano) (1.10pm, Tuesday, May 10), the Greenwich Piano Trio playing Brahms (1.10pm, Tuesday, May 10), and the Zoffany Ensemble performing Mahler & Brahms (1.10pm, Tuesday, May 31).

The Sussex Symphony Orchestra perform Fire & Fury: Gala Concert, with music by Wagner, Shostakovich, Mussorgsky & Stravinsky (7.30pm, Saturday, May 21, All Saints, Hove).

Ivan Hovorun

And concerts at St Nicholas Church, Brighton include a recital celebrating women composers, poets and characters by Mehreen Shah (soprano & piano) (2pm, Wednesday, May 11), Ivan Hovorun (piano) playing Beethoven, Mendelssohn & Schumann (2pm, Wednesday, May 18), and Daria Robertson (soprano), Nicholas Buxton (tenor) & Zhanna Kemp (piano) in a programme of well-known arias & duets (2pm, Wednesday, May 25).

For Brighton Fringe tickets, CLICK HERE


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