sounds of america
S K E E T
I G E L
p h o t o g r a p h y
Charismatic presence: Christoph Bull
Ohioan Scott Michal’s Encomiums takes three great masters of counterpoint down unexpected roads, each with its own selfreferential cadenza. ‘Hindemith’, especially when listened to immediately after the last bars of the Sackman, strikes a biblical note and uses the short but brilliant cadenza as a trigger leading to music of epic technicolour glee, complete with heroic horn calls and comforting blankets of low brass. Curiously, it is like many things that are not Hindemith, and yet the composer’s method, ‘modifying and morphing my own material and style while introducing stylistic aspects of each composer’s style of counterpoint’, lies in the shadow of the music’s own originality. ‘Bach’ is even more resplendent and unabashed in its romanticism. The energetic spiky ‘Prokofiev’ is the closest in style to what we might think conventionally of the associated composer, but even that ends up exploring unexpected emotional feelings, before returning to the concerto’s main function as a display piece. The performances in both this and the Sackman are bold and brilliant.
As I wrote in Gramophone in 2004, when the recording was first released, William Thomas McKinley’s large and rangy Concert Variations wear a tonal coat of many orchestral colours (including brass and percussion) and devices. Structured as a lamento theme with eight variations and finale, it provides an outstanding opportunity for the solo instruments to shine, pitting them against the full orchestra. The achingly beautiful theme itself, which coincidentally echoes with its opening interval the opening of Prokofiev’s G minor Violin Concerto, could not provide a more haunting setting for the intense adventures to come. New York Philharmonic concertmaster Dicterow and Dreyfus (his wife) inhabit the music with a personal sense of intimacy that, from time to time, is blazingly tempered in the heat of death-defying virtuosity. Carl St Clair and the Warsaw Philharmonic are perfect collaborators, giving them room to work with and some brilliant first-chair solos. The heavy-duty sound has lost none of its HDCD power and fluency. Laurence Vittes
‘First & Grand’ Anonymous/Bull Retrové JS Bach Prelude and Fugue, BWV543 Bull Beethoven-Improvisation. Récit de cornet (after Couperin). A Minor Trance Böttcher/Bull Winnetou-Melodie Bruhns ‘Little’ Prelude in E minor Barber Adagio (trans Strickland) Lennon/McCartney A Day in the Life (arr Bull) Washington/Harline When you wish upon a star (arr Bull) Christoph Bull org C Bull Run Music F CD00706 (67’ • DDD) Played on the organ of Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles
First recording of the Disney Concert Hall’s playful organ Since arriving in Los Angeles (he has been university organist and organ professor at UCLA since 2002), Christoph Bull has made his presence felt as a charismatic musician well versed in jazz, film, pop and classical styles. He has enjoyed an intimate relationship with the Walt Disney Concert Hall organ from before its inception and makes an ideal choice to be at the console for the premiere recording of the magnificent instrument with a classy, immediately iconic title that includes the hall’s name.
The diverse programme is entirely made up of free adaptations of existing material presented in a seamless, hypnotic flow, the gaps between tracks varying as they would in an actual recital. Bull engages with each of the musical selections with blends of purpose and poetry, heart and soul. He indiscriminately takes gently discursive liberties with the musical sources, whether a Couperin Récit de cornet or a Walt Disney standard. He even finds attitude in unassuming Nicolaus Bruhns, whom Bull refers to in his entertaining booklet-notes as an ‘exemplary early Baroque rocker’.
The organ, a heroic collaboration between builders in Switzerland and LA and visionary architect Frank Gehry, has always been considered the perfect complement to the LA Philharmonic; its technicolour assortment of bells and whistles and ability to hold orchestral fortissimos in its limitless low bass are matched only by the stunning sculpted beauty of its visible pipes. With mastering legend Bernie Grundman as part of a fine recording team, the sound is reserved at moderate volumes, underlining the poetry of Bull’s playing. Turning up the volume provides a treat for audiophiles, unleashing tremendous swells of sound that Leopold Stokowski would have appreciated.
Perhaps ‘First & Grand’ could trigger the rebirth of a once-proud LA classical music recording industry. As they say in the movies, and on this recording: ‘When you wish upon a star…’. Laurence Vittes
‘Stile moderno’ Castello Sonata decima. Sonata undecima. Sonata undecima. Sonata decimaterza. Sonata decimaquarta Fontana Sonata ottava. Sonata decimaquarta Cima Sonata a tre Merula Ballo detto Pollicio. Ballo detto Eccardo Bertali Sonata No 3 Marini L’aguzzona Neri Sonata quinta a 4 Quicksilver Acis F APL72546 (74’ • DDD)
‘New music’ of the 17th century on Quicksilver’s debut CD Like tourists visiting a city for the first time, casual listeners used to approach Venice, listen to Vivaldi, then move on to the next stop. If Quicksilver, a young periodinstrument ensemble of veteran early-music players in the US, show us anything, it’s that audiences for pre-Classical repertoire have grown more comfortable not just hovering around the main square but also venturing into the back alleys.
To their credit, the musicians of Quicksilver do make the journey pretty easy to take. ‘Stile moderno’, the ensemble’s first recorded collection, is a smoothly curated programme that includes Venetian music by Dario Castello, Giovani Battista Fontana, Biagio Marini and Massimiliano Neri, all lesser-known figures spanning three decades of musical history (1610-41) when the emerging style began transcending the surface limitations of the Renaissance and gaining musical depth.
Transporting a listener today to a historical time is an ambitious – perhaps impossible – goal for any ensemble, no matter how gifted. But Quicksilver gets us there most of the way, the ensemble’s surface sound conveying much timbral nuance and the essential freshness that the new musical style must have conveyed. If the playing lacks some of the inner rhythmic propulsion between the notes that would truly elevate this music off the page, it does at least find a comfortable balance in the programme between dances and more heavily structured trio sonatas, reflecting the musical thinking of an era when the distinction between the two was not yet so pronounced. Ken Smith gramophone.co.uk
GRAMOPHONE FEBRUARY 2012 XIII