Playlists – July 2015

Gramophone Wed 15th July 2015

Pianist and former Rubinstein pupil, Janina Fialkowska celebrates a Golden Age of Chopin playing. Gramophone reviewer William Yeoman listens to the music of his homeland, Australia, and Gramophone’s Editor-in-Chief, James Jolly gathers music that explores the magical world of sleep and dreams.

Forty winks

James Jolly on music that explores the world of sleep and dreams

Sleep and dreams – such unifying and universal concepts, yet so indefinable – have long fascinated artists, and musicians, who are used to working in the abstract, have always been drawn to this strange world. Handel’s aria ‘Gentle Morpheus’, sung by Calliope in the incidental music for Alceste is one of the most ravishing invitations to sleep. Shakespeare, another great creator fascinated with the world of sleep and dreams, inspired two very different musical responses: Verdi’s intense Sleepwalking scene from Macbeth and Britten’s charming, innocent chorus ‘On the ground, sleep sound’ from the sleep-infused A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The moments before sleep are explored by Debussy as his tired little faun struggles in the heat of the afternoon and Rebecca Clarke’s miniature for viola and piano also tangles with Morpheus’s powerful magic. A divine sleep comes courtesy of Olivier Messiaen’s sensual Turangalîla-Symphonie (with its echoes of Tristan und Isolde) and in Jules Massenet’s oratorio La Vierge of which the ‘Last Sleep of the Virgin’ is the once-popular encore number. In Humperdinck’s opera Hänsel and Gretel say their prayers before slipping into sleep, and Humperdinck’s great influence Richard Wagner explores much more hot-house, enveloping ‘Dreams’ in his Wesendonck Lieder, a far cry from Schumann’s charmingly direct ‘Träume’ movement from the suite Kinderszenen.

Australian music

William Yeoman suggests works by Australian composers

In the 21st century it doesn’t always make sense to talk about a typically ‘Australian’ classical music, and the works I’ve included here should give you a fair idea of the range and diversity of my own country’s classical music – as well as its colour, evocativeness and playfulness.

Peter Sculthorpe’s portrait of Australia’s Kakadu National Park Kakadu is rich in seething onomatopoeia and sublime orchestral masses. By contrast, David Lumsdaine’s piano miniatures Six Postcard Pieces evoke the ‘resonance, wit, compassion…and irony’ of Beethoven’s bagatelles, while Liza Lim’s ‘At dawn I heard the tongue of the invisible’ opens a song cycle Tongue of the Invisible inspired by the Persian mystic Hafez’s poetry.

Graeme Koehne’s Powerhouse is a fun tribute to the cartoon music of Carl Stalling; former Berlin Philharmonic viola player Brett Dean’s Viola Concerto is a fluent masterpiece that only a virtuoso of the instrument could write. Carl Vine’s flute concerto Pipe Dreams is equally virtuoso in its conception of colour and form and makes a somewhat intellectual foil to the unashamedly melodic ‘Wooden Ships’, the second movement from Nigel Westlake’s Antarctica suite for guitar and orchestra.

Elena Kats-Chernin’s Mythic recalls the monumental qualities of Sculthorpe’s Kakadu, while Ross Edward’s vibrant violin concerto Maninyas recalls its evocations of atavistic song and dance. To end on an even lighter note, I’ve included Peggy Glanville-Hicks’ cheeky Thompsoniana, which sets texts from Virgil Thomson’s reviews in the style of the subjects of those same reviews!

Chopin legends

Pianist Janina Fialkowska on some of the great Chopin pianists of the past

In recent years the words ‘old-fashioned’ have cropped up in reviews of my Chopin discs – I regard this description as being the highest compliment, whether it was intentional or not! Chopin was a great pianist but music is an abstract art, fluid and ever-changing, and it is certainly no crime to interpret Chopin any way one desires. Some basic tenets are essential for interpretations: sentiment and not sentimentality, passion with dignity, more Classical than the prevailing, 19th-century, self-indulgent Romantic trends, well-structured and phrased, clean with no fuss – just following the score and understanding the underlying Slavic rhythms and moods. All these attributes are found in the interpretations of the pianists I have chosen – Cortot and Rosenthal actually studied with pupils of Chopin. For me the greatest Chopin interpreter was Arthur Rubinstein because he managed in all simplicity to communicate the essence of Chopin to his audiences both beautifully and powerfully.

I was lucky enough to have been taught by pupils of Cortot and a fervent disciple of Rachmaninov and Hofmann, in addition to having Rubinstein as a mentor. I hope that some of their influences have rubbed off on my playing. Please call me ‘old-fashioned’; I love it!

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