sun 21/07/2024

Classical CDs Weekly: Alnæs, Granados, Kelly, Mompou | reviews, news & interviews

Classical CDs Weekly: Alnæs, Granados, Kelly, Mompou

Classical CDs Weekly: Alnæs, Granados, Kelly, Mompou

Rediscoveries from Norway and Australia, plus a pair of poetic Spaniards

Pianist Tamara-Anna Cislowska plays Frederick Septimus Kelly

Eyvind Alnæs: Piano Concerto & SymphonyEyvind Alnæs: Piano Concerto & Symphony Håvard Gimse (piano), Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra/Eivind Aadland (Lawo Classics)

Eyvind Alnæs’s C Minor Symphony, written in 1897 after his return to Norway from studying in Leipzig, hints at great things, a contemporary Norwegian critic writing that “one must hope that the composer may live under such conditions that he may reap the rewards of his talent, rather than having to bury it into everyday toil and trouble.” You suspect that this handsomely crafted large-scale work appeared just a decade or so late, unable to compete with the sonic thrills provided by the likes of Sibelius, Strauss and Mahler. Alnæs later achieved fame as an organist and choir director, with little of his subsequent music written for orchestra. The first movement's moody main theme and lolloping 6/8 rhythms recall mature Tchaikovsky, with a smidgeon of Dvořák thrown in. It is a real grower; Alnæs's tunes are engaging and the orchestral writing accomplished. The sombre chorale which opens the Adagio is haunting, and there’s a hugely entertaining scherzo before a last movement wraps up proceedings in a mood of unbuttoned exuberance. I’d happily pay to hear this live, though presumably that would involve a return flight to Norway. Eivind Aadland’s Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra play with plenty of warmth and rhythmic bite, and they’re beautifully recorded.

The coupling is Alnæs's Piano Concerto, premiered in 1914. Big-hearted but anachronistic, most of the incidental thrills come from the orchestral writing, with which the pianist often struggles to complete. There are some lovely moments: again, it's the slow movement’s introduction which makes a big impression, the tuba superbly caught. Håvard Gimse gives a heroic account of the solo part, especially impressive in the goofy waltz finale. Poor Alnæs's concerto limped into obscurity, defeated by a combination of continental war and changing musical tastes, and was rarely performed afterwards. It doesn’t deserve to be forgotten, but the Symphony makes a far more compelling case for Alnæs's talents. Recommended.

Javier Negrín: Traces – Music by Granados and MompouJavier Negrín: Traces – Music by Granados and Mompou (Odradek)

Like "Pictures from an Exhibition", Enrique Granados’s Goyescas is a significant piano work inspired by visual art: Granados, having collected Goya’s artworks for several years, completed this cycle of six pieces between 1909 and 1912. He aimed to suggest moods rather than offer literal musical depictions, so a crepuscular number like El fandango de candil reflects Goya’s striking use of light and shade, and the trills in Quejas o la maja y el ruiseñor depict the artist’s favourite nightingale. Pianist Javier Negrín has the music’s measure, compelling even when the music becomes daringly spare: there's a palpable chill in the air at the close of El amor y la muerte and the sequence’s throwaway closing gesture is wonderfully handled. Granados wrote of Goyescas as containing three great emotions: “intense sorrow, amorous longing and final tragedy”, and it's chilling to read an account the composer's tragic end in 1916, drowning whilst attempting to save his wife after his ship had been torpedoed in the English Channel.

Negrin couples the Granados with some Mompou, another neglected figure whose music really should be better known. His set of Variations sur un thème de Chopin is a readily accessible treat, Chopin’s A major Prelude prompting 12 short variations. Which, despite their Chopinesque contours, all sound utterly Mompouvian. This is defiantly unshowy music, and Negrin understands the need for understatement, for restraint. The eighth variation may induce tears, so beautifully does Negrin handle it. Time stands still at the close of the Epilogo. It’s glorious, another ideal entry point into the music of this addictive composer.

A Race Against Time: The Music of Frederick Septimus KellyA Race Against Time: The Music of Frederick Septimus Kelly (ABC Classics)

Described herein as “Australia’s greatest cultural loss of the First World War”, Frederick Septimus Kelly was an improbably talented figure: an outstanding pianist and gifted composer who moonlighted as an amateur rower, even winning a gold medal at the 1908 Olympics in London. Born in Sydney, his studies took him to Eton, Oxford and Frankfurt. He enlisted while in London in 1914 and served alongside one Rupert Brooke, who became a close friend. He was wounded at Gallipoli, and was killed at the Somme in November 1916. Kelly continued to compose whilst on active service and there’s an extraordinary facsimile of one of his handwritten scores in the CD booklet; notated in the trenches, it's absolutely pristine, Kelly apparently able to polish his music in his head before committing it to paper. Christopher Latham’s fascinating essay compares his talent that of Vaughan Williams, and he's right to wonder why Kelly remains a hidden figure.

Turn to the one orchestral work included here, Kelly’s Elegy – In memoriam Rupert Brooke, composed and orchestrated in the aftermath of Brooke’s death, and be astonished that such an expressive, heartfelt work isn't a concert staple. For the record, it's the most affecting orchestral piece I've encountered in years, its nine minutes alone justifying the purchase of this two-disc set. Which is very smartly organised, the pre-WW1 works on the first disc and a selection of the later ones on the second. Kelly’s early songs and piano pieces are charmers, the sequence of striking Monographs for solo piano the most memorable. No. 22 is otherworldly stuff, a woozy impressionistic study with a delicious fade. Highlights on the second disc include an affirmative Gallipoli Sonata for violin and piano, oozing confidence and positivity, and a similarly upbeat vocal arrangement of Green Grow the Rushes. Darker are the Somme Lament and an absorbing, unfinished Piano Sonata in F minor whose last movement abruptly screeches to halt after barely a minute. It’s heartbreaking. Performances, from a range of artists, are of uniformly high quality, Tamara-Anna Cislowska’s playing of the Monographs especially impressive. This set feels like a labour of love. And as a reminder of a life lived to the full, it’s a mandatory purchase.

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