thu 25/07/2024

Classical CDs Weekly: Brahms, Elgar, Tobias Hume | reviews, news & interviews

Classical CDs Weekly: Brahms, Elgar, Tobias Hume

Classical CDs Weekly: Brahms, Elgar, Tobias Hume

Violin sonatas, an epic symphony and music from a Scottish soldier

Corey Cerovsek and Paavali Jumppanen Jean-Baptiste Millot


Brahms: The Violin Sonatas Corey Cerovsek (violin), Paavali Jumppanen (piano) (Milanollo)

Listening to Brahms's chamber music in hefty doses is good for the soul. The symphonies and concertos are weighty, rich creations – magnificent in their own way, but easily rendered cumbersome and indigestible when performed badly. Whereas it's hard to think of a single Brahms chamber work that doesn't tick all the boxes. Listening to the three mature violin sonatas should be an inspiring, enjoyable experience. And so it is on this disc. Corey Cerovsek's warm sound suits this music to perfection, never becoming too sweet and saccharine. The gutsiness with which he launches into the Third Sonata's finale is refreshing. Though in a minor key, this is richly enjoyable music, and unmistakeably Brahms. The piano writing is virtuosic, and it's immaculately dispatched here by Paavali Jumppanen. As is the solo part, though with these sonatas there's never any sense of playing to the gallery, and the technical demands are always subsidiary to the musical ones. This music couldn't be by any other composer – the sequence of piano chords at the start are a giveaway. Cerovsek and Jumppanen's D minor glowering is offset by a thrilling sense of purpose and energy; the mood is dark, but never depressing.

The two earlier sonatas are breezier, sunnier pieces. No 1's opening is a charmer here. Cerovsek's lilting first subject steals in imperceptibly, and you release that you're hooked, unable to move for the next 25 minutes or so. Brahms's payoff is gorgeous, the music fading out as slyly as it began. No 2 is equally enjoyable. This is a  tauter, more concise work, though offering similar pleasures to its predecessor. The middle movement's fast episodes are seamlessly woven into the whole. This is a quietly impressive, rather profound disc, and very well engineered – it's rare that you hear violin and piano so well balanced.

Elgar: Symphony no 2 Staatskapelle Berlin/Daniel Barenboim (Decca)

This symphony starts so winningly that you're inclined to forgive its less convincing corners. Daniel Barenboim's Staatskapelle Berlin are glorious in Elgar's kaleidoscopic first movement, the whole growing from a rich tutti Eb. That single note is magnificently coloured here, and the swaggering 12/8 theme has rarely sounded more like Strauss, striding ahead over rock-solid cellos and basses. This music can collapse if it's not kept under tight control, and the flowing speeds are well chosen. Barenboim the conductor excels in late-romantic Austro-German music, and he seems to be placing Elgar within the same tradition. The sinister interludes at the movement's heart feature some sublime divisi string playing, from an orchestra presumably unfamiliar with this score. There are only a few tiny miscalculations – an excessive winding down before the coda is one. But it seems mean-spirited to complain – so much here sounds so, so right. The Larghetto's processional moves inexorably forward. Again, it's the lower strings that make the journey a compelling one.

The Rondo's more capricious moments have an enticing breeziness thanks to perky woodwind playing, but the movement's dark climax doesn't overwhelm, the recorded sound congested and oppressive. Elgar's peculiar, equivocal finale fares much better, thanks to the high-class playing and Barenboim's sense of purpose. The movement's central section is fabulous, with refreshingly extrovert horns. The slow, poignant coda is beautifully done. This is a more than decent performance, though not as distinctive as Sakari Oramo's BIS account. A pity too that there's no coupling.

Captain Tobias Hume: A Scottish Soldier Concerto Caledonia (Delphian)

Tobias Hume? He was a Scottish composer, the exact details of whose life are still uncertain. He composed an “Invention for Two to Play upone one Viole", an instrumental piece for one viol and two bows, where one player has to sit in the lap of the other. The mind boggles. Apparently it is playable, though it's sadly not included here. Hume was a soldier, confessing that “the only effeminate part of me, hath beene Musicke.” It's thought that his military career took him to Sweden, Denmark, Russia and Poland. His favourite instrument was the viol, which annoyed lutenist and fellow composer John Dowland – who also probably disliked him for stealing some of his musical ideas. Hume died in 1645, ending his days living on charitable handouts and gathering snails for sustenance. All of which is fascinating, but wouldn't be worthy of attention if his music wasn't any good. As presented on this supremely entertaining Delphian disc (complete with cover art referencing Hume's glorious ode in praise of tobacco), it's engaging stuff.

This disc collects numbers from two collections which Hume published in 1605 and 1607. The viol timbre lends the instrumentals a harmonium-like warmth. The more elaborate pieces are sensitively, idiomatically realised by Concerto Caledonia. A Souldiers Galiard is pure joy, Chris Norman's Renaissance flute bouncing around on top. Tickell, Tickell's spare textures and flattened sevenths sound disconcertingly modern, and ultimately lead into a witty short number called Tickle me quickly, with a pair of viols seemingly conversing with each other. The handful of vocal items are sung by tenor Thomas Walker, always alert to Hume's sense of humour. “I sing the praise of honor'd wars/the glory of wel gotten skars” runs The Souldiers Song, and Walker's trumpet calls are magnificent. Hume's response to any criticism or challenge was typically blunt: “if thou doest dislike my Fancies, let me see thine.” A delectable anthology – smartly-performed, beautifully recorded and well-annotated.

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