Man of Sorrows

0 of 5 stars

Man of Sorrows
Sechs kleine Klavierstücke, Op.19
Piano Sonata, Op.1
Variations for piano, Op.27

Stephen Hough (piano)

Dallas Symphony Orchestra
Andrew Litton [Man of Sorrows]

Man of Sorrows recorded 15-18 September 2005 in Eugene McDermott Concert Hall, Morton H Meyeson Symphony Center, Dallas; Solo items recorded at St George’s, Brandon Hill, Bristol – 12 October 2005 (Berg) and 5-6 November 2006

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: July 2007
Duration: 68 minutes

Man of Sorrows is more a tone poem for piano and orchestra than a concerto, says George Tsontakis (born 1951). Even the titles of the six movements (6 being the biblical number of incompleteness) are “nicknames” and offer “only poetry and a degree of wonder”.

First heard in Dallas in September 2005 (those performances form the basis of this recording), Tsontakis’s 40-minute work takes the listener on a compelling journey in which the musical language is familiar yet unpredictable and subtly personal. This is a pictorial and revealing score, which pulsates with rhythm (and yields a description personal to the listener) and is often expressively beautiful, and is also about something both specific yet intangible. There’s plenty to listen to and make something of. Beethoven forms a foundation, too. Tsontakis admits that in pre-planning Man of Sorrows he knew that the ‘Diabelli Variations’ would “play a part”; furthermore, Tsontakis changes the answer that Beethoven gives in his final string quartet (Opus 135) to the question of ‘Muss es sein?’. Beethoven responds with ‘Es muss sein’. (Must it be? It must be!) Tsontakis’s response is the far less optimistic: ‘Es muss sein(?)’.

Andrew Litton, who conducts Man of Sorrows. ©Steve J. ShermanMan of Sorrows is an intriguing work. The most significant musical reference, though, which is not suggested in the booklet note, or in the composer’s comments, is Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie, and not just because of the piano and orchestra.

This excellent recording brings to general circulation music that should find many admirers.

The other music here is perhaps an unexpected coupling, but a powerful one, for this is the real ‘shock of the new’. The aphoristic Schoenberg pieces (from 1911), all over in five minutes, point in new directions; go with this composer or not, but Webern went further in his Variations (completed in 1936). Stephen Hough isn’t out to shock, though, for his innately musical response is at one with the composers’ exploration of musical values. In between, Berg’s Sonata seems burgeoningly ecstatic, wrapped up in Liszt (particularly) and Wagner, yet with the compass also pointing to uncharted territory.

Tsontakis’s Sarabesque ends the disc; Messiaen present again, some birdsong maybe in the faster passages, with Debussy’s capacity of evocation present too and with some luscious chords as resting places … and surely Beethoven, too, a recurring figure that seems quite close to the ‘Waldstein’ Sonata. Or is it all a dream!

Lovely piano sound from the familiar haunt of St George’s.

All in all, this is a stimulating release. (Maybe I should have added a question mark to that comment!)

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