Mark Anthony Turnage
BBT co-commission with Cosman and Keller Arts and Music Trust for
World première, Queen’s Hall Edinburgh Friday 18 August 2023 as part of Edinburgh International Festival
[Awake] was simply beautiful, inspired by the black violinist George Bridgewater, whom Beethoven admired, and characterised initially by the soulful prominence of the first violin, opening in scope in the second movement to explore a more shared independence across the ensemble. Rarely will you hear such subdued reflectiveness from Turnage.
Ken Walton, The Scotsman, 21 August 2023
The first violin is particularly prominent in the first movement, with some lovely effects in the other instruments, including harmonics and some lovely pizzicato from cellist Steffan Morris. I always find Turnage’s music engaging and approachable but was surprised to hear many parallels with Janáček in this piece, especially in the second movement, with voice-like entries and moods shifting towards melancholic, plus some glorious viola tone from Ruth Gibson. The music subsides in an elegiac mood and finishes quietly. It’s a thumbs up from me.
Donal Hurley, Edinburgh Review, 20 August 2023
Turnage’s new piece was a calm, assured, deeply reflective work in two slow movements … [and] began with an angular, thorny, Kreutzer-esque violin solo, dispatched with thorough conviction and chiselled articulation by the Castalian’s first violinist Sini Simonen. What followed, however, was far less assertive and attention-demanding, but a lot more thoughtful. Through dense, thick harmonies – sometimes quite reminiscent of Bartók, sometimes quite jazzy (complete with a distinctive funky bassline from cellist Steffan Morris) – and even the beginnings of a textbook fugue to kick off the second movement, Turnage conjured an air of quiet calm, posing plenty of questions without offering many answers. While it might not have set out to shock and provoke, there was plenty to sit back and admire in Awake’s unforced craftsmanship and its easy-going confidence.
David Kettle, Daily Telegraph, 20 August 2023
Turnage’s new string quartet – an uncharacteristically understated creation by a 63-year-old composer more associated in his younger days with musical hooliganism – was in safe hands. Inspired by the black Polish-African violinist, George Bridgetower, who famously impressed Beethoven, and to whom the latter’s Kreuzer Sonata was originally dedicated, a solo violin has first say, establishing an air of elegance and calm that is seldom seriously challenged throughout the two movements, their soft political message implicit in the titles, Bridgetower 23 and Shut Out. This performance emphasised the reflectiveness and genuine attractiveness of the music, even where a hint of a rock ostinato emerged in the cello, abating rather than dominating as the opening movement subsided to near nothing. That plaintiveness persisted in the second movement, this time a jabbing repeated motif offering the only real threat to its languid countenance. What was so surprising about this piece was also a mark of its incredibly beauty.
Ken Walton, Vox Carnyx. 19 August 2023
…this two-movement string quartet had a gorgeously soft texture that was full of beautiful melodies. … It began with a wistful violin solo against pizzicato cello, which was soaringly beautiful in itself and carried hints of Webern in the warmth of its scoring. That carried on into the second movement where even the energetic passages were carefully balanced and gentle, and all the musical interruptions seemed quiet and interrogative rather than explosive or disruptive. The ending of his quartet carried strains of the same duskiness that we would hear in the Janáček, and it ended on a beautifully inconclusive question mark. Is this a new Turnage we’re encountering? If so, I’d like to hear more of him. The Castalians played it with sensitivity and gentility, allowing its surprising warmth and gentleness to breathe on its own terms. If anything, it was their playing of Janáček’s Kreutzer Sonata Quartet that carried more urgency and drama, particularly those agitated interruptions that the composer repeatedly uses to inject urgency and drama. Under the Castalians’ bows they became more pressing and more terrifying as the quartet developed, standing in marked contrast to the muted opening, dusky yet vibrant, as well as the unconvincing resting point of its ending.
Simon Thompson, The Arts Desk, 19 August 2023
…a weekend-long anniversary celebration whose final concert line-up was stellar even by Wigmore standards. Further BBT names were in the audience, some of whom had already performed, such as Timothy Ridout, and some who had not, such as recorder player Lucie Horsch. Essentially, the music world turned out to pay homage. Quatuor Ébène opened the night with a Purcell Fantasia – warm, free, with subtle vibrato – and closed it with a spontaneous and unpredictable-feeling account of Ravel’s String Quartet. Playful sparkle, febrile shimmering and throaty ardency: this reading had it all… Add a warmly received Schubert Rondo in B minor D895 from violinist Itamar Zorman and Uchida herself, and guitarist Sean Shibe and mezzo Ema Nikolovska bringing the house down with their English duo set from Dowland to Adès, and BBT’s flag flew high.
Charlotte Gardner, The Strad, September 2023
Founded two decades ago by Franco Buitoni and his wife Ilaria in league with their good friend Mitsuko Uchida, the Borletti-Buitoni Trust never seems to put a foot wrong in its choices: the present and future are as dazzling as the last 20 years.
David Nice, The Arts Desk, 13 June 2023
Read the full review here
It [BBT] has been a hugely successful scheme; the names of those who have been recipients of the BBT’s awards over the last two decades include many now at the very forefront of their profession – from harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani to trumpeter Tine Thing Helseth, tenor Allan Clayton to cellist Sol Gabetta – while more than 50 works have been commissioned for them from leading composers.
Andrew Clements, The Guardian, 12 June 2023
Read the full review here
The Stradgrass Sessions
Tessa Lark violin
with Jon Batiste, Michael Cleveland, Sierra Hull and Edgar Meyer
First Hand Records FHR100
Lark collaborates again, this time with pianist Jon Batiste (b.1986), with their rhapsodic arrangement of Stephen Foster’s (1826-1864) My Old Kentucky Home. After a bright, high piano opening and violin harmonics, the melody emerges almost spontaneously, and the resulting exploration is conversational, with rich, evocative chords on the piano, and fragments of melody creating the sense of distant memories. Batiste gives a luxurious jazzy solo, before Lark joins again with nostalgic melodic lines. After a disc so full of energy and show, this is a bravely intimate conclusion to a fabulous showcase of Lark’s diverse talents.
Classical Notes, July 2023
* * * * *
Kentucky-born, classically trained violinist Tessa Lark’s latest album is packed with some of the finest chamber grass music human ears are likely to encounter… Concerto Duo for Violin and Bass is a masterpiece of intricate interplay between Lark and Meyer. The recording of STOMP by American composer John Corigliano spotlights Lark’s deft handling of the work’s non-standard tuning, tricky time signatures and foot-stomping blend of blues, bluegrass and jazz. The deep grace flowing through Stephen Foster’s American folk classic, My Old Kentucky Home, has perhaps never been more exquisitely expressed than in Lark and Batiste’s rendition. The Stradgrass Sessions is a rare gem.
Doug Deloach, Songlines, June 2023
In her own Chasin’ Skies, Sierra Hull duets with Lark with astonishing unanimity, and replacing one of the violins with mandolin in three of Bartók’s duets works very well, especially in the pizzicato movement, drawing out the folk tradition underlying the music. … Lark’s ability to blend with a variety of partners is at its strongest in Cleveland’s Lazy Katie, where his fiddle and her Strad combine in purpose and texture. And the final improvisation with Jon Batiste on Foster’s My Old Kentucky Home is wistful and charming.
Martin Cotton, BBC Music Magazine, June 2023
The album’s highlight is Edgar Meyer’s Concert Duo for violin and bass, for which Lark is joined in performance by the composer. It’s a remarkable sound world, full of quiet, angular funk. The duo’s rhythmic energy doesn’t reveal itself too obviously, yet every musical line is tantalisingly animated. Meyer plays with glorious nimbleness, oscillating with ease between groan and ping. Lark is capricious, ecstatic then conversational, friendly then weird. She more than holds her own across the album. Her sound is bright, with no-nonsense attack and clarity of note. Sparing vibrato, combined with a gorgeously harmonic approach towards intonation, makes for a wonderful warmth on her Maggini of c1600.
Mark Seow, Gramophone, June 2023
Mendelssohn Quartets in E flat Major
…portamento slides, the colours and textures of gut strings – it feels like being let in on a secret, a Mendelssohn masterclass given by the players of his day.
Hannah French, BBC Radio 3 Early Music Show
… enthusiastic and refined.
Nicolas Blanmont, Radio France Musiq3
Both interpretations are excellent. The momentum of the music, which is constantly floating, the accentuations that are so correct in the sense of these compositions, as well as the constant rebalancing of the music, really let Mendelssohn’s sheet music live and speak. An excellent and very precise sound recording rounds off our good impressions.
Remy Franck, Pizzicato
We must welcome this new and beautiful version [of Mendelssohn’s string quartets
Marc Vignal, Musikzen
First of all, what a sound! It seizes you, envelops you, like a finely woven cashmere stole. The warm, deeply organic, human grain of the gut string brings incredible colour, intimacy and softness to the discourse here.
Fabienne Bouvet, Classica
Carried by a sonority of perfect homogeneity and implacable rhythmic precision.
Jérôme Bastianelli, Diapason