CLASSICAL NOTES: Nick Boston tunes into the best classical music

Nick Boston January 21, 2022


Johannes Pramsohler and Ensemble Diderot: The Beginnings Of The Violin Concerto In France (Audax ADX13782)

Violinist Johannes Pramsohler has done it again with another collection exploring yet more fascinating early repertoire. This time his focus is on the beginnings of the violin concerto in France, and he’s joined by Ensemble Diderot. He explores how France was essentially late to the party, resisting the prevailing Italian style of virtuosic violin concertos of Vivaldi and Corelli and others. Jacques Aubert (1689-1753) eventually found a way to marry the styles, and in the two Concertos from his Op. 26 set recorded here, he concludes both with longer movements drawing on typical French forms (a Chaconne in No. 3 and a ringing Carillon in No. 4).

High ornamentation in the solo violin part of No. 3 certainly lifts its relative conventionality, and the gently dancing second movement has a watery solo line too. But it is in the Ciaconna that Pramsohler takes flight, impressive as ever in the virtuosic demands of the solo part’s string-crossing arpeggios and high lines ringing out above the running bass part.

Similarly in No. 4, in the Carillon, the Ensemble Diderot ring out, with a rattling violin part from Pramsohler swirling around the bells, leading to an unexpectedly quiet conclusion. Jean-Marie-Leclair’s (1697-1764) contribution here, in a world premiere recording of his Concerto in E flat major, certainly matches the virtuosic solo part with some real delicacy of expression in the slow movement. The challenging virtuosity of the Presto occasionally breaks up the flow of the rhythm, but the payoff is an exciting show of technique, with a shuddering accompaniment from the ensemble.

Johannes Pramsohler by Paul Foster Williams

Jean-Baptiste-Quentin’s (c.1690-c.1742) Concerto Op. 12 No. 1 has an older stylistic feel in its opening Largo. It has more spring in its step in its two faster movements, but there is also a delightful arioso third movement, with Pramsohler singing out over a sparse accompaniment.

In another world premiere recording, the players present André-Joseph Exaudet’s (1710-1762) Concerto à cinq instruments, with its high, winding melodic solo lines, strange harmonic turns and dramatic cadenza passages. Pramsohler gives the finale his all – there is rattling, scraping, and rocking arpeggios in the borderline violent tarantella-like virtuosity on display here.

Calm is perhaps restored in the final work here, Michel Corrette’s (1707-1795) Concerto comique No. 25. The strings are joined by a flute, and the feeling is definitely French, with Corrette arranging two famous melodies, separated by a delicate flute and harp rendition of another well-known melody, accompanied by gentle pizzicato strings. Another fascinating exploration from Pramsohler and the Ensemble Diderot, performed as always with commitment, energy and great virtuosity.

Jamie W Hall & Paul Plummer: Franz Schubert: Die Schöne Müllerin (Convivium CR063)

Baritone Jamie W. Hall has an established career as concert soloist, ensemble singer, and member of the BBC Singers, the only full-time professional British choir.

Like many performers, the pandemic has had a dramatic effect on his performing life, and in the early lockdown periods, he shared a regular series of solo performances, at home at his piano, in his dressing gown (#BathrobeRecitals on Twitter).

He also, along with fellow singers, streamed some wonderful song recitals on YouTube (Proud Songsters), with Hall performing a range of repertoire. But it was his performance, with pianist Paul Plummer, of Schubert’s (1797-1828) Die Schöne Müllerin that stood out for me.

Hall has clearly grasped the enforced restrictions on his musical life and turned them into an opportunity to explore the music in depth, developing his approach to the work to the extent that he then decided to record his interpretation, launching a Crowdfunding campaign (which I supported on the back of that online performance).

Jamie W Hall

At over an hour in duration, Schubert’s Die Schöne Müllerin is an ambitious undertaking. It tells the tale of a travelling young man who falls in love with a miller’s daughter, only to be usurped by a huntsman, and the tale doesn’t end well, with our travelling man in despair drowning himself in the brook. The brook features large throughout the cycle, with watery, rippling piano accompaniments.

Schubert shifts the moods both harmonically and lyrically, and the singer must demonstrate a great range of emotions, from simple delight in nature early on, to tenderness, longing, full on passion, through to jealousy, even anger and ultimately desperation. Hall captures this wonderfully, and draws us into the tale from the outset, with a tender lightness of touch in the opening song, Das Wandern.

Hall gives us that sense of surprise and wonder in Halt! in the melody’s lilting swing, over the piano’s clatter of the turning mill wheels. Then as he falls in love with the miller’s daughter, Hall injects a sense of urgency and impatience in Ungeduld, as Plummer’s piano accompaniment stutters anxiously.

Paul Plummer. Photo Mike Cooter

Passion builds in the turbulent Mein!, with an edge added to Hall’s warm tone, and the burbling brook has returned in the piano part. Later, Hall delivers the rapid text of Der Jäger with an air of breathlessness as the traveller see the threat of his rival, and this turns to jealousy, anger, fear and ultimately desperation in Eifersucht und Stolz (Jealousy and Pride).

But in the end, there is a tired resignation in Der Müller und der Bach, as he takes comfort in the brook, before the disturbingly calm final lullaby, Des Baches Wiegenlied.

Hall captures this range of emotions well, and tells the tragic tale with remarkable clarity as a result. The combination of Hall’s delivery and Schubert’s exquisite mood-painting is so transparently communicative throughout. I look forward to his Winterreise soon!


Junyan Chen

The Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra’s Conductor Laureate Barry Wordsworth returns to conduct the European Connection, with music by Mendelssohn, Fauré and Ravel, with Junyan Chen on the piano (2.45pm, Sunday, February 13 at Brighton Dome). TICKETS

Joanna MacGregor

Joanna MacGregor (piano) joins the Brighton Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble for music by Gershwin, Amy Beach and Schumann (11am, Sunday, February 20 at ACCA in Brighton). TICKETS

Benjamin Ealovega

The London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Jonathan Bloxham, perform Mussorgsky, Borodin, and Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 2, with Sheku Kanneh-Mason (cello) (3pm, Sunday, February 20 at Congress Theatre in Eastbourne). TICKETS