GRAMOPHONE AWARDS SHORTLIST 2021
concertos any time soon). This is a beautifully phrased account with a rhythmic precision and cleanness of sound that is second to none. The articulation is vital in what is one of the swiftest versions currently available, outpacing even James Ehnes’s brilliant account on Chandos. What commends Zimmermann’s performance above his rivals is his focus on the Bartók not as a daunting obstacle, requiring virtuosity for its own sake, but solely as magnificent music. His playing is less ferocious than Franziska Pietsch (who mightily impressed Rob Cowan two years ago), preferring a subtler, lighter approach – even more than Vilde Frang – which is entirely winning. Suffused with light, this is the most humane account of this work that I have encountered. Guy Rickards (January 2021) Bartók Solo Violin Sonata – selected comparisons: Frang (5/11) (EMI/WARN) 947639-2 Ehnes (1/13) (CHAN) CHAN10752 Pietsch (12/18) (AUDI) AUDITE97 758 Martin≤ Violin Concertos – selected comparisons: Matou≈ek, Czech PO, Hogwood (A/08) (HYPE) CDA67674 Irnberger, Janá∂ek PO, Förster (2/19) (GRAM) 99178
Poulenc Piano Concertoa. Concert champêtrea. Oboe Sonatab. Trio for Piano, Oboe and Bassoonc Mark Bebbington pf bcJohn Roberts ob c Jonathan Davies bn a Royal Philharmonic Orchestra / Jan Latham-Koenig Resonus F RES10256 (73’ • DDD)
The incomparable Mark Bebbington, to whom British music owes more than a tip of the hat, turns his attention to the French with a superb new CD of Francis Poulenc. Jan Latham-Koenig and the Royal Philharmonic are collaborators in two of the master’s five concertante pieces, and oboist John Roberts and bassoonist Jonathan Davies join Bebbington in striking performances of two chamber works.
Bebbington, Latham-Koenig and the RPO players are so focused on pointing up every expressive moment of these richly allusive concertos, the first and last Poulenc would write, that both emerge as strikingly vivid, despite their myriad subtleties. Amid the Piano Concerto’s pellucid textures, no occasion for dramatic tension is neglected. In the first movement, for instance, Bebbington skilfully shapes and colours the portentous solo chord progressions that elicit varied responses from the orchestra in such a way that you’re kept on the edge of your seat, eager to know what direction the musical discourse will take next. The wistfully tender Andante con moto makes its way with irresistible poise and directness. The Rondeau finale, alternating between tongue-in-cheek wit and ebullient high spirits, is all the more beguiling for its understatement.
Nigel Simeone’s elegant booklet notes indulge in some special pleading for the Concert champêtre – commissioned and premiered by the harpsichordist Wanda Landowska – by carefully documenting Poulenc’s own performances on piano. But if we’re to hear much of this intriguing piece in future, it will likely be on the piano, the steel-frame instruments that Pleyel created for Landowska’s revival of the harpsichord having become historical anomalies. In any case, Latham-Koenig and Bebbington bring keen sensitivities for sonority and balance to a performance that is a model of clarity and precision. Bebbington’s wholehearted embrace of the piece and his relish for Poulenc’s stylishness combine to make the score’s occasional archaising seem perfectly natural.
Expert ensemble on a more intimate level rounds out this superbly conceived programme. Roberts, Davies and Bebbington vividly capture the ferment and insouciance of inter-war Paris in the 1926 Trio, a work encouraged by Stravinsky and dedicated to Falla. But it is Roberts and Bebbington’s deeply felt reading of the Oboe Sonata, composed during the last summer of Poulenc’s life and dedicated to the memory of Prokofiev, that provides the capstone to a recording rich in sensual gratification and intellectual nourishment. Patrick Rucker (June 2020)
Shostakovich Violin Concertos – No 1, Op 77; No 2, Op 129 Alina Ibragimova vn State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia ‘Evgeny Svetlanov’ / Vladimir Jurowski Hyperion F CDA68313 (71’ • DDD)
If there’s one factor above all that sets these performances apart it’s the osmosis between soloist and conductor. There’s a musical and intellectual friction going on here and it has to do with the balance between head and heart. If you listen to Maxim Vengerov and Mstislav Rostropovich in the First Concerto (Teldec, 2/95) – the more ‘public’ of the two – the heart rules, passion prevails, and the outcome is more overtly ‘romantic’ than anything you’ll hear from Ibragimova and Jurowski.
First off, Ibragimova’s playing has an unvarnished truth about it. It’s the kind of playing that looks you unblinkingly in the eye and tells it like it is. She’s not afraid to ‘invade your space’ or apply pressure to the sound until its rawness is almost unbearable. But equally she (and Jurowski and his marvellous orchestra) catches the emotional remoteness at the dark heart of the first movement and especially in the moments before the chill of celesta opens up another magic casement to the composer’s inner world and the soloist ascends to create a kind of halo of sound above the deep tolling of the tam-tam.
From soloist and conductor, the bonedry Scherzo is the dance equivalent of a rictus grin – gritty, pugnacious and then some. Strings could snap under this kind of trenchancy. And then there’s that extraordinary Passacaglia which attempts to lend foundation and even a degree of nobility to perhaps the most emotive ‘aria’ Shostakovich ever penned. Ibragimova calls to mind Katerina’s suicidal oration in the closing scene of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk – and any feelings that have been held in check are then vented in the cadenza. Deliberate and remorseless at first, the intensity goes off the scale as its delirium builds.
The Second Concerto is a much more personal (indeed individual) statement and one in which the words ‘in confidence’ are repeatedly called to mind. Its three cadenzas are essentially conversations with self and even the relationship with the orchestra is different, with the soloist seeming to ‘commune’ with it collectively and individually. Her dialogue with the bassoon – Shostakovich’s instrument of choice for solitude – has the feeling of being ‘overheard’ and that’s as much to Ibragimova and Jurowski’s credit as the composer’s.
Street songs – like the nagging little ditty used in The Execution of Stepan Razin – add a layer of irony and cynicism to the mix (as in you don’t always know what the composer is really saying), but there’s one moment in this piece that I covet and it comes at the end of the slow movement when the solo horn brings an air of hopefulness into the equation. It’s Shostakovich as Schubert and it’s indelible. Edward Seckerson (July 2020)
18 GRAMOPHONE 18 GRAMOPHONE SHORTLIST 2021