The Southbank Centre's Varese weekend

Edgard Varèse (1883-1965): the very name is a modernist shibboleth. No composer is more readily identifiable with the abolition of the syntax and vocabulary of past music; none more plausibly linked to the stereotype of “modern music” as noisy, unbridled, percussive dissonance, music as “organised sound” rather than melody and harmony. As if to emblematise his rupture with trad ition, he suffered (some say even contrived) the loss in a Berlin warehouse fire of nearly all his pre-1919 scores — music that is thought to relate (unsurprisingly enough) to that of the leading figures of the day, Debussy, for instance. Having by now left France to settle in New York, he was able to build on this tabula rasa an oeuvre that, though small, is like a monument to the uninhibitedness and pioneering spirit of the new world, to the human potential symbolised by both Americas.

Read the full review in The Times here.

London Symphony Orchestra / John Adams, Barbican Hall, London

The intimations of both Ravel and Stravinsky in Colin Matthews’ opulent orchestrations of Debussy’s gusty Preludes “The Wind in the Plain” and “What the West Wind Saw” made for a quite incestuous feel to this the second of John Adams’ cunningly devised concerts with the London Symphony Orchestra. All five composers cross-fertilised in interesting ways.

Matthews’ take on the Debussy Preludes was governed by a desire to make them as orchestral in texture and as far removed from the piano as was conceivably possible. It’s what the best orchestral transcriptions always do and why Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition at times feels as though the plainer piano original came after and not before. Flickers of “Gnomus” and “Baba Yaga” breezed through the Matthews, the headiness of Ravelian rather than Debussian colours making for an exotic palette.

Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales then generated their own turbulence, the sort produced by sensuous swirling bodies. The problem was, though, that Adams, the conductor, slightly short-changed us on the swoon and salivation of these hedonistic morsels, failing to exploit through phrasing and rubato the full variety of pleasure that they offer. In short, they were rather stiffly, uniformly, despatched.

Read the full review in The Independent here and a review in The Telegraph here.

Martha Argerich and Friends: Live from the Lugano Festival 2006

No other pianist in the musical world nurtures and promotes emerging talent with the same level of personal commitment and belief as Martha Argerich. The results of the chamber music partnerships displayed on this release demonstrate the magic which is made when these professional friends get together. Not to be missed.

This 3CD set welcomes back many familiar names from the three previous Live from the Lugano Festival releases including EMI Classics-signed pianists Gabriela Montero and Sergio Tiempo and Virgin Classics’ inimitable violin- and cello-soloist brothers, Renaud and Gautier Capuçon.

The high quality of the performances on offer on these collections is clear. For the last two years Argerich’s “Live from the Lugano Festival“ collections have been nominated for Grammy Awards – most recently for Best Classical Album and Best Chamber Music Performance in the 2007 awards.

The musical landscape is broad in this year’s collection. Alongside works by classic miniaturists Mendelssohn and Schumann sit nocturnes by the 20th-century master of the mood Debussy, in arrangements for two pianos, and works by contrasting Russian composers Sergei Taneyev (1856-1915) and Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998).

Martha Argerich and Friends return once more to Lugano this June for the sixth Martha Argerich Project at the Lugano Festival.

Clarinet Gets Acrobatic Workout

In his brilliant Clarinet Concerto, Magnus Lindberg exploits myriad facets of what the instrument can do, from playing soaring melodic lines to making almost rude-sounding noises. He composed the work in 2002 for the remarkable clarinetist Kari Kriikku, who performed its United States premiere with the New York Philharmonic, led by Alan Gilbert, on Saturday evening at Carnegie Hall.

Mr. Kriikku, a physically flamboyant player of Olympian virtuosity, tackled with aplomb the athletic demands of this rewarding and rigorously constructed single-movement work, whose five sections have allusions to Brahms, Debussy and jazz. Making his debut with the Philharmonic on Saturday, Mr. Kriikku played with a glowing tone and sensual spontaneity in the rhapsodic interludes. He offered a breathtaking cadenza, performing acrobatic feats in the instrument’s highest range.

While some contemporary composers view the symphony orchestra as archaic, Mr. Lindberg (the Philharmonic’s current composer in residence) has called it “his favorite instrument” and “the perfect typewriter where you have all the keys.” In this concerto he gives the orchestra a workout that results in dense, shimmering soundscapes, whose kaleidoscopic colors were aptly illuminated by Mr. Gilbert.

Read the full review in The New York Times here.

Music review: Brooklyn Rider rocks around Debussy

An address of distinction for young artists these days, Brooklyn is, especially for musicians, a neighborly borough where formal barriers barely exist anymore.

Brooklyn Rider, for instance, made its Orange County debut at Irvine Barclay Theatre Wednesday night but might just as well have performed in a club. It played Debussy and Philip Glass and joined forces with a player of the ancient Japanese flute, the shakuhachi. The quartet could just as well have been on the bill the same night at Walt Disney Concert Hall, where the Iranian kamancheh star, Kayhan Kalhor, happened to be appearing at the same time 45 miles away on his spike fiddle. In fact, it is a good question why Brooklyn Rider and Kalhor weren’t together. Two years ago, they joined forces for a CD, “Silent City,” and it is a knockout.

The dazzling fingers-in-every-pie versatility that Brooklyn Rider exhibits is one of the wonders of contemporary music. All four players are also members of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble. Violinist Johnny Gandelsman has entrepreneurial talent: He started a New York new music series and the Riders’ record label, In a Circle.

Read the full article in Los Angeles Times.