mon 20/05/2024

Classical CDs Weekly: Kemel Belevi, Schoenberg, Ondřej Vrabec | reviews, news & interviews

Classical CDs Weekly: Kemel Belevi, Schoenberg, Ondřej Vrabec

Classical CDs Weekly: Kemel Belevi, Schoenberg, Ondřej Vrabec

Exuberant guitar duos, queasy late-romanticism and new music for solo horn

Horn player Ondřej Vrabec


Belevi Guitar DuosKemal Belevi: Guitar Duos Duo Tandem (Naxos)

I might have responded to Kemal Belevi’s music differently had I not encountered him straight after a few hours spent with Schoenberg (see below). These pieces for two guitars don’t do anything earth-shattering, but they’re irresistible, the composer’s Cypriot heritage roots permeating every bar. Belevi’s themes sound like folk melodies and what he does with them is invariably delightful. Dive in and explore his three-movement Suite Chypre if you’re curious. Originally written for cello and guitar, it finishes with a little 2/4 Turkish dance, or çiftetelli, Necati Emirzade and Mark Anderson taking it in turns to play the tango-like ostinato figure. That little switch to E minor, a little over two minutes in, is so simple but incredibly effective.

The first and third movements of Belevi’s tiny Turkish Suite make effective use of a traditional Turkish mode, and if you think he’s just churning out folky noodlings, the Three Fragments combine traditional elements with more astringent harmonies. The four Cyprian Rhapsodies were originally orchestral pieces but sound perfect rescored for guitar duo. A pair of waltzes and a schmaltzy but sweet Romance complete the disc. It’s all enormously enjoyable, the players’ audible delight in the music adding to the fun.

Schoenberg Pelleas BergenSchoenberg: Pelleas und Melisande, Erwartung Sara Jakubiak (soprano), Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Edward Gardner (Chandos)

Maeterlinck’s symbolist drama Pelléas and Mélisande proved to be a potent source of inspiration for Debussy, Fauré and Sibelius. And Schoenberg too, whose extravagant, Straussian tone poem was premiered in 1905. This richly-scored work really should be better known; it’s one of the composer’s early, tonal scores and it’s packed full of decent tunes. Passages of brooding foggy angst coexist with moments where Schoenberg lets the sun shine in. The emotional extremes can make Pelleas und Melisande a gruelling listening experience though, and a decent performance can, or should, leave you feeling drained. Edward Gardner’s Bergen Philharmonic version is very good: it’s handsomely played and beautifully recorded, exuding a heady intensity that borders on claustrophobia. And while Mélisande’s ‘awakening love’ is mirrored in music of innocence and charm, descend into the castle vaults and things turn very black indeed, Schoenberg’s flutter-tonguing winds and screechy chords really hitting home. You’re scared, but you daren’t switch off. Mélisande’s death is extraordinary, with shrill flutes piercing diaphanous clouds of string tone.

Schoenberg’s Erwartung makes for an apt coupling. Paul Griffiths’ sleeve note refers to the “definite indefiniteness” of the music, and it’s a surprise to learn that this disconcerting work was written in just 17 days. Though less so, given how free-flowing the work is, Erwartung often sounding as if it’s been composed on the hoof. Gardner enjoys highlighting the wackier orchestral details, and the moments where there’s a fleeting sense of normality, as if we’re about to resolve onto a recognisable chord. Soprano Sara Jakubiak is an alluring and rich-toned protagonist, crucially never making the music seem too easy, too comfortable. Don’t listen if you’re alone in the house, or if it’s dark outside. Chandos don’t provide an English translation, but you’ll readily find one online.

Peter Seaborne MusicBritish Works for Horn - Music by Robin Holloway and Peter Seabourne Ondřej Vrabec (Sheva Contemporary)

This disc is as much a portrait of a relationship between pupil and teacher as it is a collection of contemporary horn music. Peter Seabourne studied with Robin Holloway in the early 1980s, his expressive, largely lyrical style reflecting that of his mentor. Holloway and Seabourne share a knack for writing broadly tonal music which never descends into vapid pastiche. Holloway’s two Partitas for solo horn are sequences of short movements modelled on Bach’s cello suites. He writes so idiomatically for the horn, the first Partita’s little “Prelude” opening with a gesture which recalls Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel. Holloway wrote the work for Barry Tuckwell, and the Czech virtuoso Ondřej Vrabec brilliantly impersonates Tuckwell’s huge, bold sound when it’s called for. There’s another nod to Strauss at the close of No. 1’s “Gigue”, and you can also hear his ghost in the Partita no. 2. The central “Sarabande” is the work’s eloquent heart, before Holloway rounds things up with two fiendish, extrovert dances.

Seabourne’s fiendish Black Pegasus was written for Vrabec. Inspired by an Odilon Redon painting, it’s an effective showcase for different facets of the horn’s character. Vrabec sings, whispers and weeps, before he and pianist Mio Sakamoto drag us on a wild ride into the abyss. Less terrifying is the little Mille Fiori which opens the disc, a joyous four-horn fanfare. Its optimism is offset by Holloway’s affecting Lament, again for horn quartet, Vrabec joined by three younger Czech players. One of them, the Czech Philharmonic’s Hana Sapáková, also crops up in Encounters, five effective character pieces for two horns, each containing a reference to Holloway’s music. Seabourne’s marking for the tiny “Romanza” reads “tenderly, but troubled,” Vrabec’s vocalise undercut by Sapáková scurrying underneath. Julie Dances is a set of seven solo horn miniatures, based on nursery rhymes and inspired by the photo of Vrabec’s daughter reproduced on the CD sleeve. Witty, spiky and lyrical, Vrabec makes light of the technical challenges. Playing, engineering and documentation are consistently impressive, and it’s good to be reminded that Czech horn playing is as good as it ever was.


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