Monthly Archives: April 2016

CD review: Tonu Korvits’s Mirror

First published in the Guardian on 7 April, 2016

Korvits: Mirror
Tallinn Chamber Orchestra/ Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir/Kaljuste (ECM)

ECM gravitates north: to Norway for jazz, to Estonia for classical music. The label’s New Series was defined by Arvo Part’s sparse minimalism back in the 1980s and Tonu Korvits is the latest Estonian composer to join the fold, with photos of wintry Tallinn and cold-looking lakes lining the CD booklet as if to ensure the association. The music is likewise chilly and stark but not substantial enough to clinch the slow splendour it aims at. Conductor Tonu Kaljuste and his Tallinn players are well versed in evoking picturesque, moody expanses and in Labyrinths the pale strings circle and shift in and out of focus, all very icy and at times quite pretty. The misty chant of Plainland Song and the whispering choir of Seven Dreams of Seven Birds are less easy to stomach; the best thing about this album is Anja Lechner’s deft cello playing in the brief and tender final piece, Laul.

CD review: Paul Lewis plays Brahms

First published in the Guardian on 7 April, 2016

Brahms: Piano Concerto No 1; Ballades Op 10
Paul Lewis/ Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra/ Daniel Harding (Harmonia Mundi)

Brahms planned his First Piano Concerto as a sonata for two pianos but the stormy grandeur of the music soon needed bigger forces. He dreamed of composing a symphony but the shadow of Beethoven still loomed too large, so in the end the concerto plays out a massive wrangle: intense and self-questioning young artist meets corpulent orchestral sound of Brahms’s symphonies to come. Some pianists go one way or the other in interpretation; Paul Lewis masterfully spans both. His account has clarity, muscle and steely pride but also intimacy and vulnerability and volatility, and the combination is magnetic. Conductor Daniel Harding goes for full-out symphonic bulk from the start and his Swedish orchestra sounds hearty and brooding — fuzzier-edged than Lewis’s metallic attack, but generally the partnership works. As a bonus we get Lewis playing Brahms’s four Ballades Opus 10, quiet and urgent and full of singing lines.

Women in improv & Aby Vulliamy’s Motherese

First published in The Herald on 30 March, 2016

Improvisation, according to the Scottish vocalist Maggie Nicols, “reaches out, breaks down barriers, challenges frontiers. Music is about liberation,” she rallied — yet she knew only too well that the social scene around experimental music wasn’t always quite as liberated as the art itself. In the late 1970s, Nicols co-founded what became known as the Feminist Improvising Group (FIG). Its members were all women and its performances roamed from freewheeling improv sets to comedy sketches parodying notions of domestic femininity. Brooms, hoovers and egg slicers were deployed as props. Some fellow musicians loved it, others were appalled.

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