Tuesday 14 February 2023

Pianist Clélia Iruzun is the focus of this new disc of music by Nimrod Borenstein featuring his Concerto written for her

Nimrod Borenstein: Concerto for piano and orchestra, Light and Darkness, Shirim; Clélia Iruzun, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Nimrod Borenstein, I Musicanti; SOMM
Nimrod Borenstein: Concerto for piano and orchestra, Light and Darkness, Shirim; Clélia Iruzun, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Nimrod Borenstein, I Musicanti; SOMM
Reviewed 13 February 2023 (★★★)

Brazilian pianist Clélia Iruzun in devastating form in a new piano concerto written for her by Nimrod Borenstein along with two of the composer's other recent works featuring the piano

This new disc from SOMM features three works in different genres by the composer Nimrod Borenstein, all there linked by the pianist Clélia Iruzun. Iruzun joins the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by the composer, for his Concerto for piano and orchestra, Op. 91, then Iruzun and I Musicanti play Borenstein's piano quintet, Light and Darkness, Op.80, and finally, Iruzun plays the solo piano work, Shirim, Op. 94.

The son of the French-Israeli painter Alex Borenstein, Nimrod Borenstein won the Cziffra Foundation competition in 1984, and moved to London in 1986 to pursue his studies as a violinist with Itzhak Rashkovsky at the Royal College of Music. He was then awareded a Leverhulme Trust scholarship to study composition at the Royal Academy of Music. Vladimir Ashkenazy took an early interest in Borenstein's music and conducted the Philharmonia Orchestra for a performance of The Big Bang and Creation of the Universe, Op 52 followed by a Philharmonia premiere, again with Ashkenazy, If you will it, it is no dream, Op 58.

Borenstein describes himself as fascinated by the concerto form and he has written several. The Piano Concerto was written for Iruzun in 2021 and premiered by her in Brazil at the Sala São Paulo in 2022. In three movements, the fast first movement starts with an elaborate web of sound created by the piano and orchestra, with the piano providing a complex sort of decoration over the orchestra. The sound world is rather different, but elements remind me of the opening of the Tippett Piano Concerto. There is a density to the writing at times, but always a sense of flow and an interweaving of lines. The slow movement starts in a rather romantic form with interweaving string lines. An orchestral build-up leads to an intimate piano solo where Borenstein's fondness for multiple lines of different rhythms creates a decorative feel. For all the movement's climaxes, we always return to those intimate piano moments. The final movement is fast and exciting, the toccata-like orchestra contributions alternating swiftly with the piano in the manner of John Adams. The solo piano feels relentless in the sheer quantity of notes, but Iruzun gives no hint of this and remains elegant and exciting. 

Whilst there is dialogue in the concert, the soloist and the orchestra never seem to be in conflict, and though the musical style is different elements of the work's structure and the relationship between solo and tutti rather reminded me of Romantic concertos like the Schumann. The result is an elegant work where the complex filigree writing for piano stays in the memory.

Borenstein's piano quintet, Light and Darkness, takes its title from one of the last phrases of Stefan Zweig’s book, The World of Yesterday, "Only the person who has experienced light and darkness, war and peace, rise and fall, only that person has truly experienced life." Commissioned by the International Kamermuziekfestival Schiermonnikoog in the Netherlands, Light and Darkness was premiered at the Festival in 2018, and Borenstein chose the scoring, piano, violin, viola, cello, double bass, in emulation of Schubert's Trout Quintet.

We begin with delicate piano over pizzicato, decorative lines interweaving. There is a serenade-like feel to the work, and throughout Borenstein is imaginative and fascinating when it comes to the textures of the writing for piano and strings. This is a lovely single movement, and it seems a shame that Borenstein did not expand it to three contrasting movements.

The final work is Shirim, a set of 18 miniatures. The title of the work comes from the Hebrew word ‘Shirim’, which can be translated both as ‘poems’ and ‘songs’, and each movement is very different to the others. All are short, and the result has a kaleidoscopic feel as textures shift and change. Throughout, there is a sense of Borenstein's interest in keeping the writing transparent, multiple delicate lines often combine into facinating textures. Again, the result feels highly decorative and filigree, though always expressive. The work was commissioned by a couple as a present for their children, and there is something slightly Children's Corner-ish about the movements, especially as Borenstein has given each one a slightly enigmatic title - 'Lune et nuages', 'Un hérisson perdu', 'Souvenirs de Mendelssohn' etc.

Performances are uniformly excellent, and Iruzun seems an ideal interpreter of Borenstein's music, she never tires and always manages to conjure transparent, pellucid piano textures. Borenstein describes the movements as being able to be played together or as a selection. Frankly, I am not certain that hearing the whole 33 minutes in one go was ideal, and it might have been better to have split the movements up.

The linking feature between all these is pianist Clélia Iruzun, and she does sterling work creating a programme that moves from the large-scale to the intimate. Borenstein's music is always elegant and he is adept at creating seductive textures, but there was still the hint that the disc consists of three works he wanted to record rather than a natural born programme. That said, there is much to enjoy here

Nimrod Borenstein (born 1969) - Piano Concerto, Op 91 [27:19]
Nimrod Borenstein - Light and Darkness, Op 80 [10:03]
Nimrod Borenstein - Shirim, Op. 94 [33:36]
Clelia Iruzun (piano)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Nimrod Borenstein (conductor)
Musicanti (Tamás András violin, Robert Smissen viola, Ursula Smith cello, Leon Bosch double bass)
Recorded at Henry Wood Hall, London on May 9-10, 2022 (Concerto); The Menuhin Hall, Stoke d’Abernon, June 26-27, 2022
SOMM SOMMCD281 1CD [70:58]

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