Monthly Archives: February 2017

CD review: Momo Kodama plays Debussy & Hosokawa etudes

First published in the Guardian on 3 February, 2017

Debussy/Hosokawa: Etudes
Momo Kodama (ECM)

Debussy looked east for inspiration, enthralled by Javanese gamelans and Japanese woodcuts. Toshio Hosokawa, born in Hiroshima in 1955, writes wispy music rooted in the Western tradition. Pianist Momo Kodama grew up in Osaka and studied in Paris; her first ECM album paired Takemitsu with Ravel and Messiaen. You can guess where this is going: a programme that alternates piano studies by Debussy and Hosokawa, intended to illuminate the cross-cultural influences of music written a hundred years apart. The album is called Point and Line after one of the Hosokawa studies, but that name also hints at the cool definition of Kodama’s playing. Her touch is immaculate and diligent, neatly flamboyant in the Debussy and reassuringly robust in the Hosokawa. She writes that both composers are “between meditation and virtuoso development, between light and shade, between large gestures and minimalist refinement” — and it’s those places in between that make her interpretations interesting.

CD review: Natalie Clein plays Bloch, Dallapiccola & Ligeti

First published in the Guardian on 3 February, 2017

Bloch/ Dallapiccola/ Ligeti: Cello Suites
Natalie Clein (Hyperion)

The lone cello has played gateway to many a composer’s soul. Bach and Britten, most famously. Ernest Bloch wrote his three solo cello suites in the 1950s, near the end of his life, and they are fleeting and strange. Performed by Natalie Clein, their small scale is poignant — melancholy little vignettes, intimate and tender, as though she’s playing on her own while flitting through troubled memories in her mind. She builds a programme with two other thrawn and candid post-war pieces: Dallapiccola’s Ciaccona, Intermezzo e Adagio (1945) — muscular, disturbed — and Ligeti’s two-movement Sonata (1948-53), which contains one of the most unguardedly beautiful melodies he ever wrote. Clein is full of conviction in all of it, with fearless attack and haunting quiet passages.

CD review: Olav Anton Thommessen’s The Hermaphrodite

First published in the Guardian on 3 February, 2017

Thommessen: The Hermaphrodite
Oslo Sinfonietta/Eggen (Aurora)

Olav Anton Thommessen (b. 1946) is something of an elder statesman of Norwegian contemporary music, with a prolific back catalogue and august institutional connections. He also has a pedigree in early experimentalism — fellow composer Nigel Osborne remembers how “Olav played the cello and something that looked like a meat cleaver, which he would beat the floor with like an angry troll.” Thommessen’s ballet-opera The Hermaphrodite dates from the 1970s and uses texts by DH Lawrence, Isidore Ducasse and early Christian gnostic gospels. It deals in matters of love, lust and sexuality and all feels wonderfully of its time — intense swooping vocals, strung-out instrumentals, ritualistic percussion, a mash-up of baroque opera, expressionist melodrama and heavily stylised Japanese Noh theatre. As a period piece it’s great fun, and this performance from the Oslo Sinfonietta under Christian Eggen is impressive — committed and energetic, with ultra-focused playing, vivid drama in the pacing and spacing (the recording sounds in 3D), elastic singing and some virtuosic heavy breathing from soprano Eir Inderhaug and the rest of the cast.