‘Nocturnes and Visions’ – Huw Warren

Nocturnes_300dpi

THE PIANISTIC VOICE of Huw Warren has, over the years, been a source of joy. His discography alone points to an exploratory spirit whose expertise in coalescing jazz, classical and world music has illuminated so many projects – from Perfect Houseplants and Quercus to his own solo outings and ensembles, and as a major contributor to albums by June Tabor, Maria Pia de Vito and Christine Tobin. So when this particularly intimate and personal recording was first mooted, many months ago, its ‘wait in the wings’ was monitored with keen anticipation. 

Recorded in the Cardiff University Concert Hall, most of this album’s twelve pieces are Warren’s own compositions and, as such, might easily portray the mercurial beauty of his beloved North West Wales environs – steep, harshly angular slate panoramas of quarries contrasting with sparkling lynns which quietly nestle between soaring green valleys. Yet, typically, there are also infusions of South American vivacity, as well as English pastorale/salon music, flashes of prog rock and a reverence for J S Bach, with the feeling that it’ll take some, very enjoyable time to delve into all of their fine details.

In fact, it’s finesse which is the hallmark of Warren’s varied musical expressions, whatever the tempo. Hermeto Pascoal’s O Farol Que Nos Guia is lavished with both a grandeur and a lyricism which flows like a mountain stream, whilst Brazilian dance is celebrated in his own Against the Odds, full of memorable, ornamented melodies and leaping cacuriá-style rhythms. The pianist’s intriguing titles ( à la ‘Hundreds of Things a Boy Can Make’) continue with The Book of Strange New Things, a lush, mystical interlude leading to EE whose light-hearted elegance suggests Sir Edward Elgar’s cycling jaunts across the Malvern Hills – somehow Huw Warren’s chromatic melodies capture the essence of the composer’s genteel miniatures, but with a nod to his great symphonic works. And a six-minute interpretation of Bach’s Prelude No. 8 in E flat minor (BWV 853) (also recalling the Modern Jazz Quartet’s impression of the same) finds Warren romantically colouring each twilight line whilst teasing out those spine-tingling falling-bass phrases.

Brief, scree-sliding adventure Onwards and Sideways is reminiscent of both Ginastera and Keith Emerson; Dinorwig Dreams references the huge former quarry in Warren’s locale with bright, bustling activity and then quieter reflections of its past; and impressively darting tango, The Bulgarian Stretch, is a stand-out maelstrom of whirling high lines and Bachian glints. Rolling Fernhill feels like a jazz piano classic from a distant memory, its beautiful dancing tune complemented by lush, sunlit chords. There are two tender tributes – Up There (for much-missed pianist John Taylor) and Pure (dedicated to Warren’s brother-in-law), whilst, across eight minutes, the emotional rubato of Noturna (by Brazilian guitarist/composer, Guinga) is exquisitely felt – and received.

The title Nocturnes and Visions is spot on. Interpret these 53 minutes as a private piano performance to savour, to take to your heart… to imagine your own, individual landscapes. And I absolutely recommend the view.

Released on CD on 26 March 2018, as well as a digital download, and available from Bandcamp.

 

Huw Warren piano

huwwarren.co.uk

Maizeh Music – MM1805 (2018)

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‘Händel Goes Wild’ – L’Arpeggiata

THEORBIST and director Christina Pluhar’s visionary 2014 recording with her period ensemble L’Arpeggiata – Music for a While – captured the imagination with its contemporary arrangements of and improvisations upon the 17th Century music of England’s renowned Mr Henry Purcell. 

Now turning their attention to German composer, and naturalised ‘Brit’, George Frideric Handel (1685-1759), L’Arpegiatta and guests interpret an array of works in Händel Goes Wild – most especially the operatic arias, here eloquently conveyed by countertenor Valer Sabadus and soprano Nuria Rial. The album title references the composer’s reputed, fiery personality more than this alternative musical approach which is sophisticated, invigorating, yet respectful. But that said, Pluhar boldly infuses both the familiar and less well-known with an ingenious mix of jazz, folk, pop and Indian flavours – all part of the attraction, discovering where in the world GFH will be taken next; though, undoubtedly and intentionally, it’s also the recognisable genius of the baroque master that shines out.

This lavish, 76-minute production is heralded by Gianluigi Trovesi’s bluesy, rubato clarinet and Francesco Turrisi’s jazz-inflected piano improv – a sign that the Sinfonia from Act 3 of Alcina has found a distinctly different direction, its classical strings ultimately augmented by frenetic, accelerando, Russian dance rhythms. From the same opera, the luscious countertenor, clarinet and cornetto strains of Verdi prati are a balm to the soul, as is Mi lusinga il dolce affetto (one of a number of readings which, for balance, don’t automatically seek an alternative path); and Brazilian percussion encircles glorious Venti, turbine (from Rinaldo). Popular Where’er You Walk (from Semele) pleasantly wrong-foots as Nuria Rial’s clear annunciation is accompanied by a bright, childlike clarinet motif with Latinesque piano triplets; and its operatic partner O sleep, why dost they leave me becomes a gentle, musical-box lullaby.

An impressive and ebullient improvisation, Canario, dances to rhythmic baroque guitar, inviting splendid individual instrumental soloing (including ’60s Hammond organ) and a wonderfully vitalising konnakol and percussion episode, whilst aria Pena tiranna (from Amidigi di Gaula) demonstrates still further how effectively Handel can be interpreted through limpid piano with subtle bass-and-cymbal momentum. Unexpectedly, the spirited jazz abandon of Arrival of the Queen of Sheba (from Solomon) can seem a little disjointed – perhaps too obvious a candidate for this project. Nevertheless, the vast majority of these fifteen selections gel superbly – and, as always with such considered and well-executed projects, it’s not impossible to imagine George Frideric enthusiastically experimenting with these textures and genres, had they been available to him. Indeed, how I wish he might have experienced these sublime theorbo and piano improvisations on Lascia ch’io pianga.

Released on 1 September 2017, Händel Goes Wild is available in physical and digital formats from Erato/Warner Music through a variety of outlets.

 

Valer Sabadus countertenor
Nuria Rial soprano

L’Arpeggiata:
Doron David Sherwin cornetto
Judith Steenbrink baroque violin
Leila Schayegh baroque violin
Catherine Aglibut baroque violin
Veronika Skuplik baroque violin
Dáša Valentová baroque viola
Rodney Prada viola da gamba
Felix Knecht baroque cello
Josep María Martí Duran theorbo, baroque guitar
Eero Palviainen archlute, baroque guitar
Haru Kitamika harpsichord, organ
Gianluigi Trovesi clarinet

Francesco Turrisi piano, organ
Boris Schmidt double bass
David Mayoral percussion
Sergey Saprichev percussion

Christina Pluhar theorbo, direction

arpeggiata.com

Erato/Warner Music (2017)

‘Music for a While’ – L’Arpeggiata

LArpeggiata

JUST AS A LOVER of a much-treasured novel approaches a big screen adaptation with a combination of nervousness and excitement, so it was for me with this fascinating new release of Henry Purcell interpretations and improvisations. For many years, it has intrigued me how the works of a celebrated English composer active some three hundred years ago can, today, maintain their resonance and their power to move – and this is exactly the approach taken here in this new release, Music for a While, by Christina Pluhar’s L’Arpeggiata.

As a keen ‘Purcellian’, then – owning many fine recordings by such consummate performers as The King’s Consort with James Bowman, Susan Gritton et al (Hyperion), and William Christie’s Les Arts Florissants (Erato) – I was keen to discover these cross-genre re-imaginings of familiar classical pieces… and what a revelation!

Amongst Mr Purcell’s many compositional techniques was the ‘ground bass’ – a repeating bass structure over which he magically wove the most beautiful and varied melodies (often requiring detailed examination to believe that the same, recurring bass line is employed throughout). For instance (although not from this collection), the countertenor solo of Be welcome then, great Sir (from Purcell’s welcome song for Charles II, Fly, bold rebellion) is later elaborated, at length, over the same three-bar ground bass with the most ravishing orchestral ritornello. It would therefore, I suggest, be perfectly possible that this composer of great choral and theatrical masterpieces (as well as secular and even bawdy drinking songs) might be enthusiastically open to such improvisation and invention. So, with theorbo, archlute and cornet à bouquet, amongst many others, and a fine ensemble of players and choral soloists (whose styles range from period to contemporary), L’Arpeggiata set out to interpret Purcell with inflections of jazz, world and even pop, but with remarkable integrity.

A perfect example of the success of this project is Strike the viol (from the Birthday Ode for Queen Mary, Come ye sons of art away). The already melodious and dance-like brilliance of Purcell’s original, illustrating the soprano’s words ‘Strike the viol, touch the lute, wake the harp, inspire the flute’, are given the most glorious rhythmic guitar and percussion treatment, along with the excitement of trumpet, electric guitar, wailing clarinet and ’60s ‘light my fire’ organ! The transcendent Evening hymn is inventively transformed into a soft ballad with limpid piano over homely guitar and shimmering percussion – and whilst the crescendoing instrumental doesn’t quite hold the simple sacred reverence that Purcell intended, the bluesy piano and guitar here pleasingly demonstrate the improvisatory possibilities of these 17th/18th Century gems. ‘Twas within a furlong takes on a folksy, bluegrass feel, the animated words illuminated by shuffling percussion and mellow-but-lithe electric guitar; and the rhythmic vocal of Wondrous machine (from Hail! bright Cecilia) sounds positively contemporary alongside pulsating tom-toms and jazz-infused bass, guitar, trumpet and clarinet.

The sublime and perhaps more well-known character of Purcell’s output is sensitively portrayed in delicate, yet modern readings of Music for a while (a beautifully constructed jazz clarinet-led version with walking bass) and When I am laid in earth, which maintains its irrefutable and poignant beauty via weightless percussion, piano and guitar supporting a beauteous soprano voice (I recall Sir Michael Tippett being so affected with Purcell’s musical longing of “ReMEMber me”). And so the album continues, with attractive and often surprising reworkings of these great compositions.

Bonus track, Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, seems a little incongruous (unless it’s because I have never connected with this much-covered song, or don’t understand its relevance here). Perhaps I anticipated a ‘reversal’, with a very tight Purcellian treatment of this familiar late 20th Century hit – however, it is executed with the same attention to detail as the other sixteen tracks, and it could never detract from the overall ingenuity of this release.

It is difficult to second-guess the audience for Christina Pluhar’s visionary project – but, as a confirmed ‘Purcell purist’, I am suitably impressed, finding myself listening over and over to its intelligent, compelling beauty. ‘Music for a while’ is released on 10 March 2014, available from Erato (Warner Classics) and all good jazz and classical specialists. A UK performance at London’s Wigmore Hall is scheduled for 10 July. Catch the preview video excitement here.


Philippe Jaroussky
countertenor
Raquel Andueza soprano
Vincenzo Capezzuto alto
Dominique Visse countertenor

L’ARPEGGIATA
Christina Pluhar theorbo
Doron Sherwin cornet à bouquet
Veronika Skuplik baroque violin
Julien Martin, Marine Sablonnière recorder
Eero Palviainen archlute, baroque guitar
Marcello Vitale baroque guitar, chitarra battente
Sarah Ridy baroque harp
David Mayoral, Sergey Saprichev, Michèle Claude percussion
Boris Schmidt double bass
Haru Kitamika harpsichord, organ
Francesco Turrisi piano, harpsichord, organ, melodica

Special guests
Gianluigi Trovesi clarinet
Wolfgang Muthspiel acoustic guitar and electric guitar

Christina Pluhar director

Erato (Warner Classics) – 08256 463375 0 7 (2014)