From the Sleevenotes: Chamber Music Volume 1 – Richard Pantcheff

Sleevenotes from PFCD225 Chamber Music – Volume 1 by Richard Pantcheff

Musicians

John Turner Narrator
Benedict Holland Violin
Lauren Scott Harp
Duncan Honeybourne Piano
Lydia Lowndes-Northcott Viola
Rachel Smith Flute


Programme

1. New England Elegy (Narrator and Violin)
2-4. Sonata for Viola and Pianoforte
Introduction and Allegretto
Lento
Moto Perpetuo
5-8. Evocations (Piano solo)
Barcarolle
Rondo
Elegia Contrapunctus
9. Nocturnus II (Violin and Harp)
10-13. Suite on South African Folk Tunes (Flute, Viola & Piano)
The road to freedom
Georgia blues
An age-old song
Roundelay


Credits

Recorded and produced by Steve Plews
Edited and mastered by Phil Hardman (Tracks 1 & 5-9)
& Simon Crosby Buttle (Tracks 2-4 & 10-13)


Publication Details

Tracks 1-4, 9-13 Composers Edition
Tracks 5-8 Universal Edition A.G.


Programme Notes

With the exception of two notable works composed directly after graduating from Christ Church, Oxford (the Sonata for Violoncello and Piano; and the one-movement String Quartet), Richard Pantcheff’s chamber music tends to have been written in more recent years. This has rather less to do with any lack of desire on the part of the composer to write chamber works per se, and rather more to do with his being in much greater demand to compose choral and organ works throughout this period.

However, his musical life in South Africa brought him into contact with many of the country’s top instrumentalists and chamber groups, and this proved to be the source of a significant number of major new works. Since returning to live in the UK in 2019, this trend has not abated. This disc (the first of two) provides examples of works from directly before, during, and after the South African period of the composer’s life.

The New England Elegy (Opus 109) was written in response to a request from Carl and Claudia Shuster, residents of Western Massachusetts and friends of the composer. The intention was to create a work for Narrator and Solo Violin that would have specific New England reference points.

The literary works of Hermann Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne (for which the composer has always had the highest regard) thus provide the source material: a short extract from Mosses from an Old Manse by Hawthorne. The almost humdrum and unremarkable opening of the tale gives way to unexpected sudden drama, and then characteristic soul-searching by the author.

The text speaks not only of New England events, but does so in characteristic language for the time and place. The music, too, is honed to early American music style and language in parts.

The work was premiered by Benjamin Luxon (Narrator) and Yevgeny Kutik (Violin) in the First Congregational Church at Stockbridge, Massachusetts, on 14th May 2022. The premiere had been delayed by the covid restrictions, the work itself having been completed in March 2020.

The Sonata for Viola and Piano (Opus 65) stems from the period in which the composer returned to writing instrumental music after a long gap. Composition on the work started in March 2005. It is drawn from sketches originally made for a possible Sonata for Double Bass and Piano. The work bears the sub-title ‘Chorale Sonata’ as the theme of the Chorale ‘O Jesulein süss’ is woven into the fabric of the music (especially in the second movement).

The Sonata also appeared at a time when the composer was most interested in the way in which Shostakovitch had allowed his Cello Sonata to be transcribed so successfully for Viola and Piano. Richard Pantcheff was seeking to do something similar with his own Viola Sonata (except in reverse, as it were), and so it was that the premiere of this work was in the version for Violoncello and Piano, performed by Susan Mouton (Violoncello) and Annalien Ball (Piano) at the Rand Club Chamber Music Series in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 21st July 2013.

It was in that same year that Richard Pantcheff collaborated with pianist Duncan Honeybourne for the first time, on the composer’s new Sonata for Violin and Organ. This proved to be a most successful work, for composer and performer alike, and since then the composer has written a number of works for Piano Solo specifically for Duncan Honeybourne to play and record. Duncan’s outstanding technique and musicianship have led to enormous success, especially in the area of contemporary British music.

It was therefore no surprise when Richard Pantcheff’s new and brilliant Sonata for Piano was premiered by Duncan Honeybourne in London in November 2019. Subsequent works were added to the list of collaborations between composer and pianist, of which Evocations is by far the largest and most significant after the Sonata.

Other than the fact that each of the four movements of Evocations can, if desired, be performed on its own, the work in many other ways resembles a sonata for piano. However, the moods are clearly denoted by the titles of the movements: the slightly eerie, lilting, motion of Barcarolle gives way to the extreme elevation and quiet of Elegia; the Rondo picks up the pace as a third movement scherzo; and the work ends with a Contrapunctus.

The work’s sketches are headed up by three quotations from the Austrian poet, Reiner Maria Rilke, and these perhaps give us some idea of the composer’s intentions with this work: “…the future is entering into us in order to transform itself within us long before it happens…”; “…nothing alien shall befall us, but only that which has long been part of us…”; and “…so we shall continue to deceive ourselves about that which is to come…”. (The composer returned to the poetry of Rilke for one of his most recent works: Temples of Orpheus.)

Similar to the Sonata for Viola and Piano (above), all six of the short pieces grouped under the title Nocturnus (Opus 90) were composed in South Africa. They were written for a variety of different soloists and ensembles, Nocturnus II being composed for Solo Violin and Harp. The work was commissioned and premiered by Miro Chakaryan (Violin) and Ventura Rosenthal (Harp), at the Rand Club Chamber Music Series concert on 6th April 2014, to wide acclaim.

In common with all the Nocturnus pieces, this one was inspired by a particular aspect of the South African natural world: here it is the extraordinary starlit nights which are visible in the South African plains.

The Suite on South African Folk Tunes was composed in 2010, and was originally scored for Trumpet and Organ. It was premiered in this version by Jevon O’Donovan (Trumpet) and Jane Parker-Smith (Organ) in the ‘Irene’ Dutch Reformed Church in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 24th September 2011. The combination worked so successfully that the composer shortly afterwards wrote the first of the Nocturnus pieces for the same combination of instruments (see above).

The work deliberately draws on, and combines, folk and popular tunes in the most interesting and diverse ways. Many of the themes are instantly recognizable, but others are combined or juxtaposed with each other, showing that folk themes, from whatever tradition, can be harmoniously combined, despite their differences (something of a metaphor, perhaps, for the ‘Rainbow Nation’ itself).

Subsequent to the first performances in the original version, the composer made an arrangement of the work for Flute, Viola, and Piano (at the request of Lizzie Rennie, the outstanding South African viola-player). She, and her ensemble, have performed the work many times, the first of which was at Oude Libertas, Stellenbosch, South Africa, on 20th December 2013.
Neville Davies


Richard Pantcheff

Richard Pantcheff is internationally renowned as one of the finest contemporary British composers of choral, organ, chamber and instrumental music. He studied music at Christ Church, Oxford, under Simon Preston and Francis Grier, and was mentored in composition by Benjamin Britten in the last years of Britten’s life.

Since then he has been commissioned to write new works for many leading performers, including Benjamin Luxon, Stephen Layton, Grayston Ives, David Hill, Jane Parker-Smith, Stephen Darlington, Clive Driskill-Smith, the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra, and the London Choral Sinfonia amongst many others.

His substantial output of compositions has been commissioned, performed, recorded, and broadcast all over the world. This includes at least thirteen of the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge universities in the UK, as well as in many cathedrals and churches in Britain, major concert venues and radio/TV broadcasts in the USA, Germany, Italy, France, Switzerland, Austria, across Eastern Europe, the Caribbean, and South Africa.

Highlights include King Henry VIII’s Apologia, a festival anthem commissioned by Christ Church, Oxford, in honour of the 450th anniversary of its foundation, (which was also performed in London as part of the 80th birthday celebrations of the late Sir Peter Maxwell Davies in 2014).

All of his music has been published, by Composers Edition in the UK, and Universal Edition in Vienna. It has featured regularly in major international music festivals, including the Tanglewood Festival (USA); the London Festival of Contemporary Church Music (UK); the Cape Festival of Voices (South Africa); the National Arts Festival (South Africa); Britten 100; and the English Music Festival.

There are currently twenty-one commercially-released CDs and EPs in the catalogue featuring his music, many containing only his work, receiving excellent reviews. Upon its release on the Orchid Classics label in October 2021, his most recent CD with the London Choral Sinfonia (The Music of Richard Pantcheff, Volume 2) went straight to number five in the Gramophone Magazine’s Classical Charts, and received a 5-star rating from Choir and Organ magazine. Several new CDs are in preparation. His compositions have received wide acclaim from performers, critics, and audiences for their originality and technical brilliance, combined with intellectual and emotional depth. More information can be found on his website: www.richardpantcheff.com

John Turner – Narrator

Born in Stockport, he was Senior Scholar in Law at Fitzwilliam College Cambridge before pursuing a legal career, acting for many distinguished musicians and musical organisations (including the Halle Orchestra, the Royal Northern College of Music and the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain), alongside his many musical activities. These included numerous appearances and recordings with David Munrow’s Early Music Consort of London, the Academy of Ancient Music, the English Chamber Orchestra, the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields and the English Baroque Soloists.

He now devotes his time to playing, writing, reviewing, publishing, composing and generally energising. He has played as recorder soloist with the Halle Orchestra, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, the Manchester Camerata, and many other leading orchestras and ensembles.

Benedict Holland – Violin

Benedict Holland studied at the Royal Academy of Music with Manoug Parikian and was subsequently a prize winner at the Royal Northern College of Music, where he studied with Yossi Zivoni.

As a chamber musician, he was a founder member of the Matisse Piano Quartet and the Music Group of Manchester, and is currently a member of the virtuoso chamber ensemble I Musicanti and together with friends David Greed, Heather Wallington and Jen Langridge, of the Victoria Quartet.

As an experienced orchestral leader, he has guest-led many of the UK’s major orchestras, including the Hallé, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Northern Sinfonia, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Scottish Ensemble, Orchestra of Opera North and BBC Philharmonic and until 2023, he was the violinist and occasional violist with the contemporary ensemble Psappha.

Ben has always put teaching at the heart of his work, at the RNCM where he was awarded a professorship in 2016. He also teaches a class of talented young violinists at the Junior RNCM and gives consultative classes in orchestral and contemporary techniques at Trinity Laban Conservatoire where he is a visiting artist.

Ben’s violin is a rare Rogeri, c. 1710.

Lauren Scott – Harp

Lauren fell in love with the harp aged four after seeing a historic lever harp in a museum in Australia. After two years of pestering her parents she began harp lessons aged six when her family moved back to England. Lauren studied harp at Trinity College of Music and has a busy portfolio musical career. As an established and in demand freelance player, she plays guest principal harp with many of the UK’s leading orchestras and chamber groups as well as pursuing her own projects. Her harp playing has led her to performing in venues across the UK from the Royal Albert Hall to West End shows to commercial recordings to live broadcasts on radio and TV.

Over the last 30 years Lauren has worked as guest principal harp with Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Hallé Orchestra, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, BBC Concert Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Manchester Camerata, Royal Northern Sinfonia, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Ensemble Cymru, Psappha Ensemble, Northern Chamber Orchestra and she is the regular harpist with Carrot Productions who are the world’s leading performers of The Snowman film with live orchestra. www.lauren-scott-harp.co.uk

Duncan Honeybourne – Piano

Duncan enjoys a diverse profile as a pianist and in music education. Following his concerto debuts at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall and Town Hall, and at the National Concert Hall, Dublin, he made recital debuts in London, Paris, and at international festivals in Belgium and Switzerland. Commended for his “gripping performances” (The Times), “glittering performances” (International Piano) and “great technical facility and unfailing imagination” (Musical Opinion), Duncan has toured extensively as soloist and chamber musician, broadcasting frequently on BBC Radio 3 and radio networks worldwide. His many recordings reflect his long association with 20th and 21st century British piano music and he has premiered more than 70 new piano works written for him by composers including John Joubert, John Casken and Cecilia McDowall. He has also revived many forgotten scores by composers of earlier generations and was invited by the BBC to give the world premiere of two rediscovered piano preludes by English romantic Susan Spain-Dunk in a recital broadcast live from Cardiff on Radio 3 in 2021. Duncan teaches at the Royal Academy of Music Junior Academy, the University of Southampton and Sherborne School, and is Founder/Artistic Director of the Weymouth Lunchtime Chamber Concerts near his home in Dorset. www.duncanhoneybourne.com

Lydia Lowndes-Northcott – Viola

New Zealand born Lydia Lowndes-Northcott began playing at the age of 7, her family emigrated to England where she was home educated with her siblings at a farm in Somerset before winning a scholarship to Wells Cathedral School, and later an unconditional scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music. During her time at the RAM she won many prizes, including a special award for the highest mark in her year for her outstanding final recital.

Lydia enjoys a busy and varied career dividing her time between orchestras, chamber music and studio work. She is regularly invited as guest principal for the London Mozart Players, the Aurora Orchestra, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, and is a member of John Wilson’s Sinfonia of London as well as co principal in the English Chamber Orchestra. Her studio work has given exciting opportunities to work closely with Hollywood’s film composers and directors, Lydia appears on the scores of many of the latest blockbuster movies as well as tv, pop and radio.

Lydia has worked in major concert venues across the world with artists such as Joshua Bell, Pinkas Zukerman, Maxim Vengerov, Martha Argerich and most recently has enjoyed chamber music with Guy Johnston who has links to Dorset where Lydia lives with her children and horses.

She has been a member of the critically acclaimed Tippett Quartet since the summer of 2012.

Lydia plays on a 1682 Grancino viola.

Rachel Smith – Flute

Rachel studied at Royal Holloway, University of London and the Royal Northern College of Music, and in 2013 graduated as a Doctor of Musical Arts from the University of Salford, Manchester. Concerto, chamber music and freelance work have taken her across the UK and around the world. She has also played in the West End Theatre and contemporary music ensembles, and tours regularly with London Festival Opera.

Her playing has inspired new works from several British composers, some of which feature on her first CD Summer was in August. She is currently principal flute of the Band of the Coldstream Guards with whom she has toured worldwide on concert tours including numerous solo performances across Europe and Japan, and was a featured soloist at the Royal Albert Hall Gubbay Christmas Classics Concerts in December 2017. She is also a regular guest artist on cruise ships, and works regularly as part of a flute and piano duo and the Hilser Flute Cello Piano Trio. Rachel teaches flute and gives masterclasses and workshops across the UK.