Friedrich Gulda ● Sergei Prokofiev ● Francis Poulenc
On this CD, the Giraud Ensemble Chamber Orchestra and the pianist duo Mischa Cheung and Yulia Miloslavskaya, under the direction of Sergey Simakov, committed themselves to the works of composers that all share an extraordinary and intelligent musical humor: the “classical revolutionary” Friedrich Gulda, the sophisticated ironist Sergei Prokofiev, and the cosmopolitan French Neo-Classicist Francis Poulenc.
Friedrich Gulda hated nothing more than being reduced to specific roles. In his Concerto for Myself, the bizarre alternations between musical genres – serious and popular music, Viennese Classic, Baroque, Jazz – at times prompt the listener to laugh out loud. So much collides here which usually remains neatly separated in the well-ordered musical categories of the bourgeoisie. In one moment, a solid sonata-allegro form typical for the Viennese Classic drives the piece forward; next, percussion and electric bass guitar reminiscent of a rock band chime in vociferously. Out of these crossover references, Gulda webs a sprawling, yet artfully structured net. Finally, the solo cadenza returns to the function prescribed to it by Mozart: a field for free, improvisatory elaboration, in this case for soloist Mischa Cheung.
Sergei Prokofiev’s musical humor, as is well known, was born out of necessity. Under the repressive Soviet cultural policies, it was vital to cleverly “hide” aesthetic adventures. Prokofiev’s First Symphony, also called Symphonie Classique, does not clearly show any rebellion, however. Its essence, which the sharp-eared Giraud Ensemble Chamber Orchestra brings to the surface on this CD, is first and foremost a love letter to the esprit of the 18th century, in which its creator, coming from the 20th century, includes a deeply personal diction. The new recording by the young Swiss Ensemble invites us to familiarize ourselves with the whole richness of Prokofiev’s First Symphony.
In the first half of the 20th century, bitter, aesthetic trench warfare was fought, but Francis Poulenc held to the belief that history is nothing we overcome, but rather something that presents a fertile ground for the new. It is hard to find a kaleidoscope of compositional, harmonic, and rhythmic finesse more light-footed than in his Concert for two Pianos. And the wide world resounds contemporaneously in the form of the Balinese Gamelan Ensemble.
Pianist Mischa Cheung brings plenty of open-mindedness to the theme of this CD. He is a member of the Gershwin Piano Quartet, which regularly tours the concert stages with a full four grand pianos at once. Cheung studied with Konstantin Scherbakov at the Zurich University of the Arts, has played with the London Symphony Orchestra, the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2016, he developed the music for a dance performance by choreographer Alexandra Bachzetsis on behalf of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. He teaches at the Zurich University of the Arts and is assistant to Scherbakov’s Master Class. In 2019, the Swiss Canton of Basel-Land awarded him the Cultural Price for Music.
In Francis Poulenc’s double concerto, Yulia Miloslavskaya plays the first piano part. She studied at the Moscow Conservatory, then in Zurich, also with Scherbakov. Since then, she has been enriching the classical concert scene with her refreshing individuality. She is also a dedicated chamber musician, and collaborates frequently with Thomas Grossenbacher (violoncello), Martin Grubinger and Rainer Seegers (percussion), Ilya Gringolts, and Andreas Janke (violin).
The Giraud Ensemble Chamber Orchestra was founded in Zurich in 2015 and impresses with its flexibility: depending on the occasion, the musicians play in different formations, from a quintet to a fourty-piece chamber orchestra. The young ensemble members are talented in a versatile repertoire from Baroque to modern music. And especially when it comes to lesser known musical works, a lot of individualism pervades the ensemble.
The director of this highly motivated ensemble, Sergey Simakov, has had an early start to his career. He was awarded the First Price at the International Conducting Competition Jeunesses Musicales Bucharest, has assisted with the Young German Philharmonics, and has worked as assistant to the chief conductor Daniel Raiskin at the Rhein Philharmonic Koblenz. In 2016, he took over the direction of the festival “Oper Oder-Spree”. In 2019, Sergey Simakov was guest conductor for the production of Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisier d’amore at the State Theater Cottbus. His work has also led him to the conductor’s stand of the Stuttgart Philharmonics, the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, the North Netherlands Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestra Philharmonique de Strasbourg, and the Komische Oper Leipzig. Since 2012, Sergey Simakov has been a scholarship holder of the Deutsches Dirigentenforum (German Forum of Conductors).
October 22, 2019