sat 15/06/2024

Classical CDs Weekly: Bach, Christophersen, Mr McFall's Chamber | reviews, news & interviews

Classical CDs Weekly: Bach, Christophersen, Mr McFall's Chamber

Classical CDs Weekly: Bach, Christophersen, Mr McFall's Chamber

Baroque keyboard suites and Norwegian brass virtuosi. Plus penguins and a musical saw.

Unassuming but excellent: pianist Nils Anders Mortensen at workEspen Mortensen


Nils Anders BachBach: Keyboard Music Nils Anders Mortensen (piano) (Lawo Classics)

There's so much to love about this Bach keyboard disc: namely attractive artwork, glowing sound and an intelligent programme clearly chosen by the artist. And there's the pianist himself, Nils Anders Mortensen, who I'd only previously registered as a skilled, sensitive accompanist. It's rare to find an artist with such a peripheral presence on social media. Mortensen doesn’t have a website, and the sole photo in Lawo’s booklet shows an appealingly dishevelled figure distantly clambering over some rocks. Mortensen’s Bach is very, very good. He opens this solo disc with the Overture in the French Style, written a decade after the better known French Suites. The opening flourish is like a call to arms, the ensuing faster section thrilling in terms of how Mortensen cranks up the tension. You daren’t breathe until he hits the final B major chord. Mortensen shrewdly gauges the mood of each subsequent dance movement, the Gavotte and Passepied both toe tappers here. And the little Echo movement which closes the work is brilliantly done, the dynamic contrasts ear-tickling.

Bach’s Sarabande con partite is a theme with 11 variations, the Sarabande dispatched with grace and the faster variations exhilarating. We're on more familiar ground with the last of the six English Suites. Mortensen’s Sarabande is heart-stopping. Especially when compared with the energy he injects into the faster movements, the final Gigue’s twists and turns brilliantly negotiated. There's no shortage of pianists who can play Bach convincingly, but Mortensen deserves a place among the best of them.

Woven BrassWoven Brass – Music by Bjørn Morten Christophersen Oslo Philharmonic Brass (2L)

Bjørn Morten Christophersen understands how streaming has affected music consumption: “some zap and shuffle music online,” while oldsters like me still enjoy listening to an album from beginning to end. Woven Brass is a disc to suit all listening habits, a collection of brass pieces ranging from 33 seconds to 14 minutes in length. They can be enjoyed in isolation. Or, heard in sequence, they form an extended multi-movement work. Christophersen’s little Sentimental Pebbles was the starting point, a melting hymn for trumpet and organ here rescored for brass quintet. Here it's a mellow centrepiece. We get pieces for quintet, trio, and an arresting opener for three trumpets. The writing is so, so idiomatic, and Christophersen’s direct musical language is readily accessible. Trombone glissandi in the little Sliding March sound like distant sirens, and Circo Dodecafonico’s twelve-tone hijinks are witty and lyrical.

Trumpeter Jonas Haltia is outstanding in an extended solo Chaconne, and the disc’s disparate threads are knitted together in the final quintet piece, Woven Brass. Quite exceptional, and one of the best and most arresting brass discs I've ever heard. The playing, each musician drawn from the Oslo Philharmonic, is stellar. Production values are very high too; 2L’s fiendishly advanced recording process is outlined in the booklet, and there’s a bonus Blu-ray Audio disc. Which wouldn't matter if the results weren't intensely musical too. Listen with closed eyes and you can visualise exactly where the players are sitting.

Born in dirt an dinMr McFall’s Chamber: Born in Dirt an’ Din (Delphian)

This disc's superb sleeve art is deceptive, and those hoping for an entire album of craggy industrial music will be disappointed. Though the title track was inspired by a 1961 poem describing shipyards on the Clyde, where “a ship is born in dirt an’ din,” but the “lumps o’ girder-cradled steel” are as beautiful as they are imposing. Paul Harrison’s music blends electronics and percussion to pleasing effect, an engaging depiction of busy, dirty industry. Mr McFall’s Chamber is at heart a string quartet, and this anthology adds a jazz trio, horn and clarinet in performances of pieces commissioned by the group. Clarinettist Maximiliano Martín is superb in several numbers, whooping and shrieking with incredible control, and there's a melancholy solo from hornist Alec Frank-Gemmill in Martin Kershaw’s Far Vistas. I also enjoyed Tim Garland’s four movement ExtraPollination, its sections evoking Spain, a Scottish lighthouse and a North London tube journey.

Best of all are four short arrangements of pieces by the great Raymond Scott, a legendary bandleader, inventor and composer whose music was used in Looney Tunes cartoon shorts. The Penguin really waddles, and Tobacco Auctioneer sounds, well, just like a fast-talking auctioneer. Portofino is a gorgeous bossa nova, replete with a nifty musical saw solo from cellist Su-a Lee. Great fun, and handsomely engineered to boot.



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