James Jolly introduces Gramophone's new digital concert series
One of the great joys of music (of whatever genre) is sharing it with others, and down the years one of the most rewarding responses from readers (or listeners) was when they wrote to say thank you for introducing them to a new pieces or a new composer. So, in that spirit, we’re launching a new playlist series, each episode is about two hours in length and is designed to be listened to complete as a programme or concert - so no excerpts until the last few items. The idea is to introduce something new, something from the back catalogue, something a bit off the beaten track and, perhaps, a composer you may not have heard of. And, by way of a coda or encore, I’ve add three pieces from recent releases (and their inclusion doesn’t necessarily preclude their appearance in full next week or the week after).
The Russian pianist and 2016 Gramophone Artist of the Year Daniil Trifonov appears on the front cover of the latest issue to coincide with a new Chopin-infused recording built around the two piano concertos. These are given in new orchestrations by the composer-pianist-conductor Mikhail Pletnev (and hardly the first person to have ideas about perking up Chopin’s orchestral writing). There are one or two surprises to be had along the way - the ‘wrong’ instrument, for example, taking up a melody and confounding preconceptions, but the biggest surprise is the choice of some of the tempi conductor and pianist adopt. I’m no more convinced by them than our reviewer Jeremy Nicholas was. What, for me, makes the recording well worth listening to, though, are the solo numbers and I’ve added a couple to my playlist - the solo-piano version of the Là ci darem la mano Variations makes a pleasant and delicious change from the orchestral version more often encountered. And I couldn’t resist putting in Chopin’s C sharp minor Fantaisie-Impromptu either.
The recording from the back-catalogue, another DG release, finds the great Amadeus Quartet – founded 70 years ago and who disbanded 30 years ago – not in one of the great masterpieces of their core Austro-Germanic repertoire, but in that one-off chamber work, and a real charmer at that: the String Quartet by Giuseppe Verdi. It’s a quartet I’ve long cherished and the Amadeus gauge it to perfection.
A recent BIS recording finds that doyen of accompanists, Bengt Forsberg (best known as Anne Sofie von Otter’s most frequent song partner), joined by the viola-player Ellen Nisbeth in a programme of English music for viola and piano. I’ve chosen the Sonata by Rebecca Clarke, a work that at last is receiving the attention it deserves - and Nisbeth and Forsberg are terrific advocates.
Something a little more unusual comes courtesy of Naxos in the form of a collection of music by Georgy Sviridov (1915-98). If he’s known at all, it’ll be for his song-cycle Russia Adrift (a powerful and haunting work included on the recording here), but I’ve opted for the cantata Snow is Falling – a delightful three-movement work for women’s and boy’s voice (so, a wonderfully luminous texture) – and the appealing, extremely accessible and utterly tonal Music for Chamber Orchestra.
As a tasty little bonne bouche, a couple of opera arias from two of today’s most distinctive singers, Jonas Kaufmann (who I spoke to recently for a Gramophone podcast) and Philippe Jaroussky, and a magical piece by Howard Skempton sung by the incomparable Ars Nova Copenhagen directed by Paul Hillier.