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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA67564
Recording details: September 2005
Eugene McDermott Concert Hall, Morton H Meyerson Symphony Center, Dallas, USA
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Andrés Villalta
Release date: July 2007
Total duration: 38 minutes 23 seconds

'A five-star performance and recording' (Gramophone)

Man of Sorrows Brilliantly written for the keyboard and scintillatingly orchestrated … The piece is superly played and recorded, patently sincere and easily assimilable' (BBC Music Magazine)

'This is a serious work of substance and integrity, challenging and rewarding, provocative in the best possible sense. It is performed here with the utmost care and devotion' (American Record Guide)

'George Tsontakis's piano concerto, Man of Sorrows, first performed by pianist Stephen Hough, conductor Andrew Litton and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and played on this new release with great conviction and concentration by the same forces, is a post-Messiaen composition. All the trademarks of the great French maitre permeate Tsontakis's concerto: the angular melodies, sumptuous harmonies, glittering, bell-like piano writing, and a mood of contemplation. To call it eclectic is not a criticism, just an observation of a work that is hypnotic and profound. Hough's superlative performances of piano music by Schoenberg, Berg and Webern also deserve maximum exposure' (The Herald)

'This excellent disc from pianist Stephen Hough and Hyperion showcases the piano works of American composer George Tsontakis in combination with works from the Second Viennese School … Tsontakis was recently awarded the Grawemeyer Award from the University of Louisville; it’s one of compositions’ richest and most prestigious prizes, and Tsontakis’ star is definitely on the rise … Man of Sorrows is a musical meditation on an image of a crucifix, and although there are religious undertones, there’s no overt program to connect the six movements. The music is sometimes startling and chaotic, but it has a seriously melodic current that runs throughout. Stephen Hough’s playing is magnificent, and Andrew Litton and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra provide superb accompaniment. The solo piano pieces that complete the disc offer a compelling link between the music of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. As usual for Hyperion, the sound quality is nothing short of superb. Man of Sorrows was recorded live, and the recording team did an excellent job of balancing Stephen Hough’s piano with the orchestra. On the solo pieces, the piano occupies a firm position in the soundstage and offers reference quality sound. Highly recommended' (Audiophile Audition, USA)

'This new recording of works by the American George Tsontakis, Schoenberg, Alban Berg and Anton Webern, is well worth buying. Tsontakis might draw on mathematics in shaping his music, but you'd hardly notice that amid the powerful, well-orchestrated emotions of his work' (Scotland on Sunday)

'Man of Sorrows is an expansive 40 minutes, a tone poem for piano and orchestra with, in the composer's words, a religious dynamic and complexity. There is colossal assurance in the way Tsontakis measures out his material. He is not afraid of the sumptuous and Hough is allowed to glitter, which he does with élan … inevitably, one hears the world of Messiaen, particularly in Hough's incisive playing while, in the background, the orchestra counters with imposing and resolutely orthodox tonality. This builds up to a heart-stopping climax … the estimable Dallas Symphony Orchestra with conductor Andrew Litton, who squired Hough in his 2004 set of Rachmaninov Concertos, make it a memorable, full-blooded occasion' (The New Zealand Herald)

'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' (ClassicalSource.com)

'A masterfully conceived and performed disc of piano music that, while it will never be in the concert hall mainstream, will never, in great performance, exhibit less than searing power' (The Buffalo News, USA)

'Man of Sorrows is a fascinating, prismatic work that has an iridescent orchestral texture combined with writing that gives the impression of being atonal and impressionistic but never really wanders too far from a clear narrative line. The blunted but shining music brings to mind those qualities in Olivier Messiaen. Also like the devout late French master, Tsontakis found inspiration for the piece in an icon. The fine recording on Hyperion is by pianist Stephen Hough, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and conductor Andrew Litton. Rounding out the disc are piano works of Berg, Webern and Schoenberg, which only underscores that Tsontakis isn't all that removed from the Second Viennese School' (Times Union, USA)

'Progressing from innocence through crisis, optimism, somber resignation and finally arriving at a renewal of the questioning innocence of the opening, the work is a effective and emotionally engaging piece, readily accessible and approachable' (RecordsInternational.com, USA)

'Hough and the Dallas orchestra sound like a composer's dream team. There are many great recordings of Berg's post-Romantic thriller, but Hough's account has poetry of its own' (New Jersey Star Ledger)

'The stations of this Cross contain many moments that are very simply beautiful; the tinkling bells in ‘Shards' for example, which turn into a peal at the apprehension of resurrection within the crucifixion. However disparate the influences, Tsontakis succeeds in welding together a work of real spirituality, which will surely move every listener. Litton and the Detroit players are extremely sensitive, flexible interpreters. This is also a fine artist portrait of the CD's protagonist, Stephen Hough. Hough is a fine intellect who composes and champions much new music. The first Schoenberg piece, 'leicht, zart' and played by Hough with the utmost delicacy, might serve as a touchstone for this CD and for Hough's art … These pieces, and the Weberns, are magnum in parvo in Hough's fingers and worth the price of the disc on their own … an absolutely outstandingly realised project; two entirely complementary halves; deeply impressive playing and compositions of absolute integrity' (MusicalPointers.co.uk)

'Man of Sorrows is this essential American composer's first piano concerto. The music glistens and drips, like dewdrops—or sweet myrrh from an icon. Tinged by Messiaen (that sense of refracted light), it also conveys a rugged, ecstatic heart-song that feels related to Eastern Orthodoxy. It's exceptionally beautiful and commandingly performed on this disc' (San Jose Mercury News, USA)

'Bewitching, otherworldly and playful music … If ever a composer wanted to share a sheer joy in sound, it's Tsontakis … The Dallas Symphony Orchestra plays like a dream and Stephen Hough brings an Apollonian sense of beauty and control to the proceedings' (Metro)

'L'oeuvre se présente comme un long enchainement évoquant différent états de la fragilité humaine, à la fois très accessible et très codé … avec des orientations émotionelles remarquablement limpides. De même que la gracieuse Sarabesque (2004), Man of Sorrows fait au piano les honneurs d'une écriture fraîche' (Diapason, France)

Man of Sorrows
composer
2005; for Stephen Hough

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Ecce homo  [2'11]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Wonder and awe describe the opening of Man of Sorrows. Tsontakis refers to the feeling of awakening and discovery in Ecce homo as a ‘form of innocence’. Any specifically biblical connotation of the title makes way for a philosophical meditation. The same quiet will return at the conclusion of the piece, but transformed into a mature and universal serenity—a simplicity that can only be achieved through struggle.

Es muss sein(?) borrows its opening emphatic three-note phrase from the last movement of Beethoven’s final string quartet in F, Op 135. Beethoven entitles the movement ‘Der schwergefasste Entschluss’ (the difficult or sober decision), then assigns three notes each to the plaintive question ‘Muss es sein?’ (Must it be?) and the affirmative response ‘Es muss sein! Es muss sein!’ (It must be!). We can’t be certain of Beethoven’s motivations, but his music suggests jubilation. Tsontakis’s Es muss sein(?) is dire—a challenge to the first movement—the exclamation point abandoned, the question mark appropriated. Labyrinthus leads into the confusion and meandering which ensues.

Lacrymosa (Stabat Mater) is a brief respite before the central crisis of Gethsemane: Shards, as martial threats play against the pianist’s glissandi. While the composer’s instruction is to play ‘like crystalline shards of glass’, this is also when we most clearly hear Tsontakis’s ‘breathing’ chords from Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations. The inhaling and exhaling gesture recurs throughout the work.

Perhaps borrowing from Beethoven’s ‘Es muss sein!’, Jesu Joy — Crucifixus opens optimistically, but the affirmations seem to echo into an unyielding sombreness. How permanent can the ecstasy be? Vir dolorum, ‘man of sorrows’, by returning to the piece’s opening innocence not as a beginning but as a resolution, seems to suggest that there are no certainties, no answers. ‘Es muss sein?’ It must be? Understanding that some questions have no answers is not the same thing as knowing that some questions require no answers.

from notes by Grant Hiroshima © 2007

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