Monday, 28 January 2013

Roger Woodward Info Reviews provided by Angela Boyd

Roger Woodward


Roger Woodward completed his studies at the University of Sydney Conservatorium of Music with Alexander Sverjensky and at the Fryderyk Chopin National Academy in Warsaw with Zbigniew Drzewiecki before rising to international prominence in performances of works by Mozart, Beethoven, Cage, Morton Feldman, Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Hans Otte, Toru Takemitsu and Arvo Pärt that were recorded extensively by the world’s major recording houses and radio and television Chopin, Brahms and Debussy. Collaborations followed with Olivier Messiaen, Iannis Xenakis, John networks.

Woodward has worked with a wide range of orchestras and musicians including the New York, Los Angeles, Israel and Warsaw Philharmonic orchestras, the Cleveland orchestra, the five London orchestras, the Leipzig Gewandhaus, l’orchestre de Paris with such distinguished conductors as Claudio Abbado, Zubin Mehta, Lorin Maazel, Kurt Masur, Georg Tintner, Charles Dutoit and Witold Rowicki. He has also worked with Frank Zappa, Ivry Gitlis and the Alexander, Arditti, Tokyo and Jack string quartets.

He has performed at hundreds of international festivals ranging from Le festival d’automne a Paris, Sviatoslav Richter’s festival at La grange de Meslay in Tours, the Venice Biennale, Wien Modern, Warsaw Autumn, the Music Today festival in Tokyo, to festivals in Edinburgh, Guadalajara in Mexico and in July, 2011, Les XXII flâneries musicales de Reims. He also founded and directed four festivals himself: the London Music Digest, the Kötschach-Mauthen Musiktage, Austria, Joie et Lumière at Le chateau de Bagnols, la Bourgogne and the Sydney Spring at the Sydney Opera House. On numerous occasions he performed the complete works of Chopin around the world. He is also a conductor who has directed throughout Australia and Western Europe.

Woodward is a Chevalier dans l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres, a recipient of the Polish Order of Merit and Polish Solidarity award, the Order of the British Empire and a Companion of the Order of Australia. In November 2011 he will be awarded Poland’s highest “Medal for Merit to Culture Gloria Artis” by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic for his distinguished contributions to the development of Polish culture. In November he plays twelve concerts in Australia and in January tours Germany.

Among nearly two hundred recordings his performance of the C minor and E minor Bach Partitas was awarded the prestigious German critics’ award: Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik. He was also awarded the Goethe prize, Diapason d’or and reviewing his recent release of J. S. Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier” the chief music critic and arts editor of Munich’s Süddeutsche Zeitung, Reinhard J. Brembeck, described his performance as ” four-and-a-half stellar hours of the Bach discography…. Never before did Johann Sebastian have such a future ahead of him.”

Roger Woodward – Debussy Preludes

Debussy Preludes Books 1&2

I find myself in difficulties when writing about recordings which are so very good, it is hard to find a balance which describes a believeable truth as I hear it, without making a text which just ends up turning into sycophantic hyperbole. Looking on the Celestial Harmonies website, at least I am supported by the artist himself, who “considers [this] possibly the best recording of his career”. Even on only a first hearing, taking the music and performance in by osmosis while engaged in another little sideline of translating Dutch into English, the magic of this recording soon established itself. Having heard many of these pieces live and at times being rehearsed frequently, and having examined and worked with them in detail while making arrangements, I do feel a close affinity with this music, even though it will always be way beyond my meagre abilities at the keyboard.

Roger Woodward’s first complete recording of both books of the Préludes by Claude Debussy was made after a highly successful concert at the Chamber Music Hall of Radio Bremen. He clearly felt at home in the location, and one with the Bösendorfer piano used, the instrument having been restored by a factory technician, and tuned and engineered to perfection. The recording brings out the warmth and sustaining power in the piano, which has a notably different sonority to the more bright and brilliant shine of a Steinway. Just listen to the low final notes of the opening Danseuses de Delphes and you will hear where the foundation of the sound sits in the soundboard, the strings encouraging an almost endless field of colour for Debussy’s harmonies.

My own reference in terms of recordings has for a long time been that of Cécile Ousset on her 1986 EMI two disc set 7 47608 8 which is now long out of print, though she does have a recording available on Berlin Classics label. I also lived with Claudio Arrau on Philips for a long time, which is another beautiful set. I found it made me depressed for some reason, in the same way as rainy afternoons when there are no CDs to review. Roger Woodward does not make me feel in any way sad and soulful though his playing – on the contrary, his performances are life affirming, a spiritual journey indeed and one which at times may move you to tears, but one which ultimately lifts one beyond the clouds. Even his Des pas sur la neige have a ‘Scotch snap’ feel to that rhythmic feature of the main theme, something given a certain broad expressive licence by many pianists. In this case it might illustrate someone picking their way over thin ice rather than leaving a trail in deep snow. The massive tumult of the following piece, Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest, is a remarkably powerful statement in Woodward’s hands, and one can hear where Messiaen would have picked up on such a wild image of nature in music.

Contrast, rich imagery and drama are all composed into these Préludes, but Roger Woodward breathes life into the notes at every turn. The sonorities of the Bösendorfer suits La cathédral engloutie particularly well. Just listen to the notes from about 00:40 in: the most evocative distant bells I think I’ve ever heard in a recording. The build-up to the great bass chime at 2:38 is a truly cathartic moment, and the whole experience is a remarkable monument to Debussy’s pictorial imagination and modernist thinking. Woodward takes 7:22 here compared to Ousset’s 5:46 but the difference is no indulgence, the sustaining power of the Bösendorfer strings making a lengthier exploration of this music all the more powerful. Woodward’s timings are by no means excessive in general, and he frequently comes in under Ousset’s durations in the lighter pieces. What Woodward is prepared to do is allow Debussy’s curtains of sound full expression with his pedalling in something like Brouillards which begins Book II of the Préludes. His clarity is faultless to my mind, but washes of sound are allowed to grow and swirl like the spread of watercolours over damp paper. The mysterious dance rhythms which grow out of the music here and there are also particularly piquant in these performances. The Habanera of La puerta del viño works on us like an echo from a lost and distant past, a sound to which ghosts may dance, but which mortals may only witness through sidelong glimpses around the corners of the Alhambra Palace, and a deeply felt awareness of its past peoples. This seriousness of purpose does carry through to the cakewalk of Général Lavine – eccentric, whose asymmetrical gait carries a ruminating frown despite plenty of bounce in the rhythms, and whose quasi-pomposity raises a wry grin rather than a belly laugh. The humour of Pickwick is also pretty much subsumed in marvellous and colourful pianism, though the spirit of fun in this music has perhaps always had a Gallic way of escaping me.

Without wanting to gloss over the marvels to be found in all of these Préludes, I’ll just mention the fireworks of Feux d’Artifice. I hope Roger Woodward’s fingernails didn’t suffer any painful damage, but you can hear them rattle hard against the keys on the downward glissando at 00:25. This performance has everything: those washes of colour, and the sharp contrast of clarity in those notes which rise and sparkle through those improbably rich textures, those harmonic progressions pushed strongly by that chunky Bösendorfer resonance. A favourite of my mate and accompanist Johan the piano, I’ve heard this piece on innumerable different instruments and in more than one hemisphere, but I’ve never heard it in as spectacularly a breathtaking performance as this.

One of an increasing number of recordings of the complete Préludes on a single CD, this disc is not only terrific value in terms of its timing, but also the best performance I have ever heard. There is competition of course. Pascal Rogé on the Onyx label is a single-disc release and has to be a contender, and Steven Osborne on Hyperion also provides good value. Krystian Zimerman comes in at an even more improbable 84:00 on his single Deutsche Grammophon CD. I’m happy to stick with Roger Woodward though. This recording has been something of a revelation for me, crammed full with new discoveries in the potential of these pieces and of the piano as an implement for pure musical expression. I’m left lacking superlatives, and can only urge you to try this recording for yourself. DOMINY CLEMENTS

Album Review: Roger Woodward, Debussy: Preludes,
Books 1&2 (Celestial Harmonies) (Rated 5/ 5 )

reviewed by Andy Gill The Independent 26 March 2010

In this masterful series of Debussy's Preludes, pianist Roger Woodward perfectly evokes the composer's intuitive musical spirit, and his inimitable sense of quiet, measured exploration.

His interpretation of "Voiles", for instance, embodies the Satie-esque poise and mystery which got Debussy compared to the Impressionists. Woodward's greatest asset here is his restraint: even the direction animé, as for "Le Vent Dans La Plaine", produces just enough of a breeze to ripple one's interest, rather than the gusts of less sensitive hands; imagine the profondément calme with which he realises "La Cathédrale Engloutie". A matchless recording.
From International Piano 2011

Roger Woodward is, in many ways, ideally suited to this music; he has the flair, the musical wit and of course the technical ability and, and of course, range to offer strong and fresh interpretations. From Book One, there is a wonderful freedom and fantasy in Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air du soir, a nervous power and abandon towards the climax in Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest and a tremendously haunting and expansive opening of La cathedrale engloutie. Des pas sur la neige too has a wonderful stillness. There is a sense of a live performance here with plenty of risk taking and evident enjoyment in surprising the listener with, for example, unexpected use of pedalling or startling voicing of chords. Such playing is intriguing and I would very much look forward to hearing Woodward play the Preludes live in a concert hall to get more of a sense of overall development and direction of the cycle.

…… For the notoriously fiendish Feux d’artifice Roger Woodward clearly steps up another gear and brings the whole cycle to a really enthralling close. This is a very interesting and illuminating recording which promises an even more compelling live performance. GRAHAM CASKIE

XXII Reims International Festival Review
- Debussy/Bach Recital June 2011
Roger Woodward, Perfection at his Fingertips

A critic must always question whether a concert is worthy of being showered with praise. This evening, it was a joy to answer this question. Even before the pianist emerged, the programme impressed: three ‘Estampes’ and 12 pieces comprising book 2 of the Debussy Preludes, followed by the six suites of the 6th Partita in E minor BWV830 by Bach. Suffice to say, the audience was expecting to be wowed!

The first part of the concert in Debussy’s honour was remarkable, insofar as Roger Woodward’s playing attained perfection. Remaining imperturbable throughout, he seemed to let the pieces follow with childlike ease. The notes flowed, imbuing the music with an image of harmonic mistiness, which was illustrated by the simple melodic lines he created with consummate ease. More than a contrasting rendering, the artist gave each note a precise intensity, letting us glimpse the contours and perspective the composer wanted to give to his Preludes. Although Roger Woodward is an Australian, this evening he seemed to be French music’s worthy heir.

His dazzling, transcendant touch appeared again in Bach’s work. His mastery of this music enabled him to offer it to us nakedly and deprived of artifice. His impartial playing allowed gusts of emotion to be released, particularly when the fugue themes began: each time the subject appeared, it found its identity throughout the entire Partita. This is the extraordinary talent of the artist: to give life and careful attention to each musical segment so that we’re kept in suspense for two whole hours!

If this concert was unified by the precious gem that epitomises his playing in the service of absolute art, the artist’s talent was his masterly handling of two periods in time, totally distinct one from the other. The small audience can rejoice at having finally been a privileged elite this evening. Their ovation and enthusiasm prompted an encore and, by overwhelming us with Debussy’s ‘La Cathedrale engloutie’, here again, and perhaps most symbolically, Roger Woodward proved he knew what constitutes a complete concert. JADE GODART


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