REVIEWS

BBC Music Magazine - Judith Weir: Airs from another Planet

“this exquisite collection of chamber works offers a bold and beautiful journey of imagination … Beautifully performed throughout, this is a disc resplendent with imagination and refreshingly alive to the power of music to tell stories” ****

Gramophone Magazine - Judith Weir: Airs from another Planet

“Ailish Tynan, the singer at the premiere, and flute, cello and piano from Hebrides Ensemble have been rewarded with one of the most enjoyable song-cycles of recent years … all pieces on this disc are vintage Weir, so economical in their acuity, and sparklingly performed”

 

The Telegraph - Judith Weir: Airs from another Planet

“Weir's sounds themselves are often guilelessly bright and simple, though with a dark undertow that seems to issue from some ancient folk tap-root … the performances by Irish soprano Ailish Tynan and Hebrides Ensemble have exactly the right razor-sharp purity and knowing innocence. Thanks to them, the music’s subtle power to move, hidden at first under a dancing surface, gradually reveals itself”

The Herald - Debussy Etudes, concert 1 of Debussy complete cycle of solo piano music

These works, also from 1915, are indeed technical “studies”, which not only require astonishing articulation in the hands, and communication between them, but also huge variation in dynamics and tempo. Exercises in fourths and sixths undoubtedly influenced great jazz piano players, numbers 6 and 7 are each one lightning fast run, while 9 - “les notes repetees” - is relentlessly rhythmic. It is very modern-sounding, as are the arpeggios of number 11, anticipating synthesiser sequencing.

This sequence of recitals by Willshire is an unmissable opportunity to hear these demanding pieces live; the next, with both sets of Images, is on May 2. ****

The Herald - Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition

Admittedly, this was a very fine opening to the new programme. James Willshire is possibly best known in Scotland for his Delphian recordings of the piano music of Rory Boyle and Ronald Stevenson, but here he gave a dynamic performance of the original version of Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition, taken at a very impressive lick, if perhaps slightly breathless in parts. The context he gave that performance was also impressive. If the Russian composer could never be described as impressionist, preceding the work with Claude Debussy’s Estampes – which could hardly be more so – set the tone for works inspired by a perambulation among artworks. The precipitation during Jardins sous la pluie was muscular and torrential, serving notice of the powerful playing to come during Pictures. ****

Gramophone - Rory Boyle: Music for Clarinet

Langton’s technique is sure, his musicianship all-encompassing and his head balanced with his heart. James Willshire is just as uncompromising on keys.

The Clarinet - Rory Boyle: Music for Clarinet

Performances are uniformly excellent. Langton, who is principal E-flat and assistant principal clarinet with the BBC Philharmonic, displays admirable control throughout a huge dynamic and pitch range. His technique is impressive, and his phrasing is always emotionally compelling. Pianist James Willshire is an ideal collaborator: alert, rhythmically incisive, and technically adroit.

 

MusicWeb International - Rory Boyle: Music for Clarinet

Composed in 2012 for Langton and Willshire, each movement depicts specific character types, with the first – “Rogue” – described by the composer as “brash and persuasive”. This gloriously energetic performance perfectly captures those two qualities. The second movement – “Shadow” – is “a ghostly image” which is here evoked by some immaculately-paced and spacious playing from both players. The third movement – “Fool” – reveals, according to Boyle, “clownish and idiotic qualities”, but with “an element of pathos”. Again these concepts are compellingly conveyed by these two players.

International Record Review - Ronald Stevenson: Passacaglia on DSCH

Willshire's new recording is a major achievement in its own right: his account of the Passacaglia has an evangelizing urgency, and his bouquet of first recordings means that this release will be a mandatory purchase even for those with all the previous Passacaglie on their shelves. Very strongly recommended. IRR Outstanding

 

BBC Music Magazine - Ronald Stevenson: Passacaglia on DSCH

Stevenson's 86-minute Passacaglia on DSCH is one of the knottiest landmarks in the history of pianism, and to hear it played with James Willshire's brilliance - plus premiere recordings of many other works by the 85-year old composer - permits the first survey of his pianistic oeuvre. It's hard to imagine this music better played: Willshire deserves a medal. ****

Classical Music Magazine - Ronald Stevenson: Passacaglia on DSCH

As much a test of stamina as of technique, the Passacaglia presents any interpreter with immense challenges of virtuosity and concentration. That Willshire makes light of these challenges is a tribute to a dedicated and talented young artist. The couplings are more than just makeweights, a fascinating sequence of works including homages to Bax, Field and Pizzetti. A hugely successful and rewarding endeavour. *****

Gramophone - Ronald Stevenson: Passacaglia on DSCH

James Willshire's pianism often evokes Stevenson's own incisively sprung rhythms and sharp dynamic contrasts, along with the natural ebb and flow of his rubato.

 

The Scotsman - Ronald Stevenson: Passacaglia on DSCH

How wonderful, then, to witness this refreshing version from Willshire, who finds imaginative ways of opening up colours and nuances so often trapped under the unbending formality of Stevenson's obsessive structure. He does this through the clarity and sensitivity of his touch, teasing out multi-layered hierarchies of tone with bell-like precision, and through intelligent pacing that gives natural ebb and flow to the music. Willshire does Stevenson, as well as his own emerging reputation as a solo pianist, immense credit.

 

The Guardian - Ronald Stevenson: Passacaglia on DSCH

The magnificently quirky ambition and scale of the work are vividly conveyed, and its formidable technical hurdles effortlessly negotiated. ****

 

Sinfini Music - Ronald Stevenson: Passacaglia on DSCH

In a good performance, such as this one, you get swept up in the work's own scale and sense of time; James Willshire also makes the most of the pools of aural stillness that punctuate the frenetic activity... Willshire is compelling in the mercurial Pizzetti Variations. Altogether, a notable achievement by any standards, but particularly for a pianist not yet 30. *****

 

The Sunday Times - Ronald Stevenson: Passacaglia on DSCH

Willshire rises brilliantly to the abundant technical challenges in writing of Busoni-like density and sometimes Prokofiev-like brutality.

 

MusicWeb International - Ronald Stevenson: Passacaglia on DSCH

All the works on this disc are stunningly played: the technical difficulties are overcome with boundless skill. Willshire is a tremendous advocate for Stevenson's music.

 

The Arts Desk - Ronald Stevenson: Passacaglia on DSCH

James Willshire's performance is magisterial, especially so in the severe, Baroque stylings of the third section. He is also fabulous at sustaining the tension in the long final Adagissimo barocco.

 

© 2020 by James Willshire

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