CLASSICAL TIPPETT: PIANO SONATAS/ PIANO CONCERTO *****
FOR Scots pianist Steven Osborne, the music of Michael Tippett has been a personal Everest to climb in recent years. While performances at the Edinburgh Festival and the BBC Proms of the sonatas and the Piano Concerto represented huge artistic achievements, there were moments along the way when the sheer intensity involved in learning the sonatas took Osborne to a point where he felt the need to stand back momentarily from his usual heavy workload.
But this double-disc set from Hyperion is a monumental justification for his efforts. In all four sonatas, Osborne reveals a sense of composure that reflects his total absorption in the music. The piano was not an instrument Tippett professed a great aptitude for, but in his sonatas he gradually mastered its maximum potential, creating music that spoke as coherently and dramatically as any of his operas or orchestral works. The First Sonata, with its conscious harking back to the Romantic virtuoso spirit, is putty in Osborne's capable hands. The Second, with its more demanding references to 20th-century models, receives equally rigorous treatment in Osborne's crunching performance.
But perhaps the most exciting revelations are his illuminating accounts of the Third and Fourth Sonatas. Osborne hits the button on all levels. In terms of stature, he pours out Tippett's edifices with radiant vision. But within all that there is a galaxy of detail that hits you with intoxicating freshness and dynamism. These are hard works to digest – for the listener as much as the performer – but Osborne gives order and sense to them, which is his greatest achievement.
Yet there is more to come. The Piano Concerto, which Osborne plays here with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Martyn Brabbins, poses no problems. Once again, the pianist conquers its technical and musical challenges with consummate flair. These are award winning performances.
JAMIL SHERIFF OCTET: BACKCHAT ***
JAZZ SERVICES, 14.99
PIANIST Jamil Sheriff hails from Bolton, and leads a fine ensemble that has been playing together on a fairly regular basis since its formation in 2002. That familiarity and understanding is firmly reflected in the tightly knit but flowing music on this disc. It is the band's second release, but the first to be recorded and issued under the new Recording Support Scheme launched this year by the UK's jazz umbrella organisation, Jazz Services. Backchat provides the scheme with an auspicious start. Sheriff's writing and arranging for the instrumentation – a horn line of flugelhorn, trombone, and alto and tenor saxophones, with guitar, piano, bass and drums – is thoughtful and imaginative, and never overrides melodic development in the interests of harmonic complication. The writing is backed up with creative soloing in an accessible post-bop style from players who may not yet be familiar to Scottish audiences, but are well worth checking out.
IAN HARDIE: WESTRINGING ****
OWN LABEL, 10.99
IAN Hardie is best known as a member of Jock Tamson's Bairns, The Occasionals and The Ghillies, but this solo album features the excellent Nairn-based fiddler in a much less familiar setting. The tongue-twisting title is explained more clearly in the album's subtitle, Scotland meets Appalachia. He has chosen to explore the musical ideas inspired by performing at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington DC, in 2003, and subsequent research trips to Appalachia to study the music of the region and its historic Scots-Irish connections. It is his first entirely solo album, and he employs a range of altered tunings to splendid effect on both fiddle and viola. Other than a smattering of arrangements of traditional material, the compositions are all his own, and include a Pibroch for fiddle, The Highlands of Nairnshire, as well as a range of tunes inspired by old-time Appalachian, Scottish and Shetland fiddle styles. (See Folk, Jazz, etc, page 8.)
JORDI SAVALL WITH HESPERION XXI, LA CAPELLA REIAL DE CATALUNYA – FRANCISCO JAVIER: THE ROUTE TO THE ORIENT *****
ALIA VOX, 29.99
THAT tirelessly inventive musical boundary-crosser Jordi Savall has exceeded his own high standards with this remarkable cross-cultural experiment. After putting out records of Andalusian music with an Eastern colouring, he has now gone the whole hog with a double CD (inside a hardback book) devoted to a fusion of Eastern and Western musical styles, as might have happened at that moment in the Renaissance when the two engaged thanks to some intrepid explorers. Francisco Javier (1506-1553) was an intellectual Jesuit missionary who travelled to Japan via Cape Verde, Guinea, Mozambique, Goa and Malacca: he made a point of learning each local language, and in return boldly sang his Christian psalms as he walked from village to village. Escaping the horrible fate which befell other Jesuits in Japan when its emperor outlawed Christianity a little later, he became a local celebrity, and is thought to have melded his music with that of his hosts. These beautiful CDs trace his journey through the music he would have heard at every point, beginning with the liturgy in Navarre and folk music in Paris, before moving into the worlds of the oudh, sarod, and tabla; his arrival in Japan is marked by lovely solos on the shakuhachi flute and biwa lute. And then the two modes meld: these tracks are inevitably speculative, but at the same time very convincing – musicians then must have been as fascinated by each others' styles as they are now. The book itself is a goldmine of relevant historical information.
VANESSA PARADIS – DIVINIDYLLE ****
MEANWHILE a bonne bouche for those who like their French chansons gift-wrapped in the most unexpected manner.
Vanessa Paradis has had gushing critics in her homeland describing her variously as "pure pop heaven" and "the French love-child of Kylie Minogue and Bjrk", which is actually pretty accurate.
Irresistible, if you're in that sort of mood.