CLASSICAL NOTES: Nick Boston tunes into the best classical music

Nick Boston July 31, 2022


Baritone Roderick Williams has joined with the Coull Quartet for a wonderful new recording of works for voice and string quartet. Surprisingly, despite the centrality of the string quartet in the chamber repertoire, works that put this together with voice are relatively rare.

At the centre of this disc is one of the most significant works, Samuel Barber‘s (1910-1981) Dover Beach. Here it receives a gloriously atmospheric performance, from the mysterious opening from the strings through to its dark, almost desperate climax. Williams relishes in the word-painting, highlighting the expression on words like tremulous, slow and sadness.

Somm CD0654

Williams has then arranged two other of Barber’s songs here for string quartet accompaniment. This adds sensitive textures to Sleep Now, with a tender lullaby lilt in the strings, and disturbing interjections in the wintry central verse, with rumbles of unease remaining from the strings before the final peaceful cadence.

Sure on this Shining Night, which lends its title to the disc, is full of soft and tender wonder, with gently pulsing strings, and a delicate violin countermelody winding its way around Williams’ warm toned vocal line.

Following the Barber is Tree Carols, a set of five songs by Sally Beamish (b. 1956). The poetry (by Fiona Sampson) is full of dark imagery, colour and emotion, with dark simplicity expressing loss in The trees are troubled, and high, bright lines evoking starlight and ‘tree heaven’ in The tree is a changing sky.

Writing specifically for Williams, Beamish exploits the ease and bright tone of his higher registers, and the bloom of his high lines in The Miracle Tree which opens the set is contrasted wonderfully with the shimmering strings to create a sense of wonder.

At the start of the disc, Williams is joined by soprano Sophie Bevan and tenor James Gilchrist for a collection of songs by Peter Warlock (1894-1930). Warlock is probably best known for his Capriol Suite, The Curlew song cycle, or perhaps some of his boisterous drinking songs, but he wrote over 120 songs, as well as numerous choral pieces and works for voice and chamber ensembles.

There are a couple of duets here. Corpus Christisees a soft-toned Williams paired with mellow warmth from Bevan, against darkly sliding harmonies from the Coull Quartet, and in Sorrow’s Lullaby, Bevan is joined by Gilchrist, the two voices weaving with a violin line, strings muted throughout.

Elsewhere, Gilchrist brings a light bounce to Chopcherry and The Fairest May, and he floats lightly above the dancing strings in My lady is a pretty one. Bevan shows clarity and impressive control in the melodic leaps to high notes in A Sad Song, and sweet simplicity in My little sweet darling.

Williams is gently lyrical in Mourn no moe and suitably plaintive in Take, O take those lips away.

The disc ends with three more arrangements from Williams, this time of songs by Frederick Delius (1862-1934). In I-Brasil, the mystery of the mythical island is captured in the falling snap rhythmic figure, and Williams is suitably wistful in the sorrowful calls.

The open fifths at the start of Twilight Fanciess it particularly well with the strings here, sounding almost like horn calls, and Williams is atmospherically expressive above the rich string textures.

The accompaniment for the final song,Young Venevil, is playful and imaginative with bird-like violins, and Williams places the melody delicately above, with some effortlessly light top Gs. This is a fascinating disc, offering some delightful repertoire with top notch performance from singers and players alike.

Convivium Records CR074

In this short disc, Italian pianist Alberto Nones performs the three works by Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) with Fantaisie in the title. Nones’ approach here is to somewhat strip away the virtuosic fireworks to reveal the precise detail that sometimes gets lost in more overtly showy performances. This is very evident in the fluid Fantasie-Impromptu, Op. 66.

The outer sections certainly flow here, apart from occasional halts in the momentum, and there is no compromise of tempo. The central section, however, could flow more, as there is extensive pulling about of the tempo here. But every detail can be heard, and the final section, whilst not as fiery as some other performances, is certainly impressive.

In Fantasie, Op. 49, Nones’ approach is perhaps more successful, with its gentle opening to the drama that unfolds in a somewhat matter of fact way. Nones gives weight where needed, but the chorale like sections have a gentle simplicity. Nones gives the Polonaise-Fantaisie, Op. 61, a more stately, expectant opening, bridging well the transition from the recit-like statements into the flowing dance that finally gets going.

There is a lightness here that allows the dancing melody to sing out, and the build to the virtuosic conclusion is not rushed or obscured by excessive weight.

So whilst these might not be definitive recordings of these work, there is much to be savoured here in Nones’ refreshingly unfussy playing, revealing fresh insights into familiar works.

Convivium Records CR066

Somewhat slightly different territory for me now – another pianist recording with Convivium, but this time the Italian jazz pianist Matteo Bisbano Memmo.

Clearly a highly virtuosic pianist, he demonstrates this with some astonishing playing in the first half of the disc, a selection of standards, with a number of arrangements from the extraordinary Art Tatum. Here, Bisbano shows no fear, with rippling fluidity and startling virtuosity in Charlie MingusDuke Ellington’s Sound of Love, and the wild, fiendishly racing Tiger Rag.

There is some lightness of touch in Alfonsina Y El Mar, and softness in the rich chords of Yesterdays, but mostly the requirements of the extreme virtuosity does lead to a somewhat harshly percussive sound in places.

However, in the second half of the disc, Bisbano moves to a selection of his own compositions, and the mood is completely different. The virtuosity is still evident, in the driving energy of the extended composition, Metalknife, for example, but there is also more dynamic variety in the lively, urban Smokey Stogie, and enigmatic, more lyrical writing in Rose, for example.

He uses the open piano strings effectively at the mysterious start of Metalknife, and the atmospheric, slow-moving harmonies in Stardust Light are highly effective.

And what to finish with? Well, a cover of Metallica’s Master of Puppets, of course. He captures the relentless drive and percussive hammering here, once again with highly virtuosic playing, but there are also moments of sudden delicacy in the brief lyrical interludes.

Overall, this is an impressive display of virtuosic talent, but for me, it is in his more expressively varied own compositions that Bisbano’s pianistic voice shines.


For more reviews, comment and events, CLICK HERE  

Twitter @nickb86uk

Email –