CLASSICAL NOTES with Nick Boston

Nick Boston November 28, 2022


Johannes Pramsohler (violin) and Ensemble Diderot are back with an intriguing collection of so-called Travel Concertos – virtuoso works that may have been designed to be taken ‘on tour’ as opportunities to show off their instrumental and compositional talents. They begin with a blistering performance of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, as well as three violin concertos, two from Johann Georg Pisendel (1688-1755) and one from Johann Jakob Kress (1685-1728), allowing Pramsohler to shine as ever here.

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There is also a wonderful Concerto by Johann David Heinichen (1683-1729), with solo lines for violin, flute, oboe, theorbo and cello. Finally, there is a Concerto by Carlo Paolo Durant (1712-1769), for harpsichord, lute, cello and strings. All in all, some delightful and striking works on offer here, four out of the six being premiere recordings, and all performed with such virtuosic expertise and sensitivity, making this a joy to listen to again and again.

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Organist Tom Wilkinson has recorded the six Trio Sonatas, BWV 525-530 by J. S. Bach on the organ of the Reid Concert Hall at the University of Edinburgh. It is not unusual for there to be three ‘voices’ in organ music – the right hand, the left hand and the feet on the pedals – but the degree to which Bach made these three voices independent and used them almost as separate instruments is very different, even from the rest of his own organ compositions.

The organ used here has a beautifully soft sound, and Wilkinson selects carefully the stops used for each movement (these are all listed in the notes for organ specialists) to give variety of timbre. A very pleasing disc, and for a non-organ fan, Wilkinson’s effortless and even articulation of the complex three-part lines really brings out Bach’s daring use of the Trio Sonata form.

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The Tippett Quartet have added to the 150th celebrations of Vaughan Williams’ (1872-1958) birth with a strong recording of his two String Quartets, alongside Gustav Holst’s (1874-1934) Phantasy on British Folk Songs, Op. 36. The influence of Ravel can certainly be heard in the opening movement of Vaughan Williams’ String Quartet No. 1, and the Tippett Quartet deliver a suitably rich sound here.

The String Quartet No. 2 was was dedicated to violist Jean Stewart, and the viola features heavily throughout. Lydia Lowndes-Northcott on viola here sets the tone for an expressive reading of the work. Holst’s Phantasy begins with a viola solo too, with ethereal violins joining in pentatonic mode, before the first violin leads off with a sprightlier version over meandering accompaniment. The Tippett Quartet’s performances here are exemplary, but it is the String Quartet No. 1 that sets this recording alight with energy and variety of expression.

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In a disc of songs by two lesser known contemporaneous English composers, Eric Thiman (1900-1975) and Michael Head (1900-1976), Emily Gray (mezzo-soprano) and Nicole Johnson (piano) do a great service in bringing their songs to our attention. Gray’s command of the range required here is impressive, and her pure light tone can be contrasted with power at the extremes of the register when required.

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Moving into unashamed Christmas territory, the Celestia Singers and Celestia Brass, conducted by David Ogden, with Rebecca Taylor on piano, have recorded Christmas Tidings, an album of choral pieces by Brian Knowles (b.1946). The more contemplative works here work better for me, such as the gentle setting of I Sing Of A Maiden, and Twelfth Night. The jollier numbers move more into John Rutter territory – so it depends whether you are a fan of that Christmas style or not. The performances here cannot be faulted, and the recorded sound is clear and warm throughout.


Quatuor Arod. Credit: Marco Borggreve

The Quatuor Arod play Debussy, Mendelssohn and a work they commissioned by Benjamin Attahir (11am on Sunday, December 11 at Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, Brighton). Tickets HERE

Leia Zhu

Kareem Hassan conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra in Smetana, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, and Vaughan WilliamsThe Lark Ascending, with Leia Zhu (violin) (3pm on Sunday, December 11 at Congress Theatre, Eastbourne). Tickets HERE

Brighton Early Music Festival is back for a mini Christmas choral festival. The BREMF Consort of Voices, conducted by Deborah Roberts, sing music by Byrd, Sheppard and Tallis, including Tallis’ Christmas mass Puer natus est nobis (7.30pm on Friday, December 16 at St Martin’s Church, Brighton).

Then the BREMF Singers and BREMF Players, conducted by John Hancorn, perform a programme of French baroque music for the season, including Charpentier’s Messe de Minuit pour Noël, with soloists including Angela Hicks, Kieran White & Rory Carver (7.30pm on Saturday, December 17 at St Martin’s Church). Tickets HERE

Baroque Collective Singers

The Baroque Collective Singers perform Bach’s Singet dem Herrn, and music by Buxtehude, Praetorius, Britten and more (7.30pm on Wednesday, December 21 at St Michael’s Church, Lewes). Tickets HERE

Ailish Tynan

The Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Stephen Bell, are joined by soprano Ailish Tynan for their New Year’s Eve Viennese Gala (2.45pm on Saturday, December 31 at Brighton Dome). Tickets HERE


Full reviews can be found HERE

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