When violinist Jacques Israelievitch joined the Faculty of Music at York University in 2008 he became a colleague of pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico, and it wasn’t long before they started performing as a duo. They also sight-read all of the Mozart sonatas for their own pleasure, and soon added some of the late works to their concert recitals.

This led to their performing all of the sonatas in a marathon concert of more than seven hours (with three short breaks), an experience which convinced them to try to recreate the excitement by recording the complete series. They were part of the way through the project when Israelievitch was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. Despite a break for hospital treatment he managed to find the strength to complete the project, recording the final six sonatas in less than four hours. He passed away on September 5, 2015.

01 IsraelievitchMozart: Sonatas and Variations for Piano and Violin Vol.1 is the initial release in the series, issued “with a heavy heart” by Fleur de Son Classics (FDS 58034). This first volume features the Sonata No.28 in E Flat K380, the Sonata No.32 in B-Flat Major K454, the Sonata No.35 in A Major K526 and the Six Variations on a French Song K360.

These works are perfectly suited to Israelievitch’s distinctive style and sound, which was always warm, gentle and sensitive. More so than in the early juvenile sonatas written before Mozart turned 11, where the violin is little more than an accompaniment to the piano, the instruments are on equal terms here, and it’s obvious that Israelievitch and Petrowska Quilico are of one mind in their performances.

I’m not sure how many volumes there will be in this series – there are 19 mature sonatas as well as the 17 juvenile works – but if this first volume is anything to go by then it will be a series to treasure, and one that will be a wonderful memorial tribute to a great and much-loved violinist.

02 Bis Leong ChiuThere seems to be a never-ending stream of emerging top-notch violinists these days, but every now and then a talent emerges that simply stops you in your tracks. One such talent is the 19-year-old Canadian violinist Kerson Leong, who makes his CD debut with Bis on the Analekta label with Canadian pianist Philip Chiu (AN 2 9160).

Leong is by no means an unknown, having won the Junior First Prize at the 2010 Menuhin Competition in Oslo, as well as numerous awards here in Canada, but from the very first bars of the opening track it’s clear that this is a very special violinist with qualities that lift him from the general crowd and place him in the stratosphere.

In a blog from the 2012 Menuhin Competition, Nancy Pellegrini called Leong “a 15-year-old with a 45-year-old’s stage presence.” The level of musical maturity on display here is simply staggering. Leong chose to make his first album a series of encore-style pieces, saying that he thought it would be the ideal way to introduce himself, and it was a wise decision: the wide range of composers and styles allows him to display his dazzling talents to the fullest.

From the rich, deep, passionate tone of the Brahms Hungarian Dances Nos.1 and 17, through Kreisler’s Liebesfreud and Liebesleid, a Gluck Melodie, the Bartók Romanian Dances, Medtner’s Fairy Tale, the three Gershwin Preludes, Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise, a simply ravishing Debussy Clair de lune and Valse, to Wagner’s Albumblatt and the final Hebrew Melody Op.33 by Joseph Achron, this is magnificent playing by a young violinist who must surely be on the cusp of a stellar international career. Chiu’s finely judged accompaniments add greatly to an outstanding CD.

03 Francesca de PasqualeThe Juilliard graduate and Itzhak Perlman protégée, Francesca dePasquale (francescadepasquale.instantencore.com), has also released a self-titled debut album, with pianist Meng-Chieh Liu. Like Leong, dePasquale has been around for quite a while – she made her debut at the age of nine touring Spain – and for her first album chose works that she feels are not only dear to her heart but that also show her wide range as an artist; also like the Leong CD, it’s a choice that works extremely well.

DePasquale has a beautiful tone and impressive technique. There’s a lovely reading of the Bach Partita No.2 in D Minor for Solo Violin, and a really strong extended melodic line in Messiaen’s Thème et Variations. Paola Prestini’s very effective Oceanic Fantasy for Solo Violin and Electronics, a 2015 commission from dePasquale, incorporates field recordings of southern Italian songs, although the work is almost entirely for violin alone, with Bach-like arpeggios and double-stopping and strong melody lines. The remaining works are the brief Schumann Intermezzo from the F.A.E. Sonata, Bartók’s Rhapsody No.1 and a simply gorgeous performance of Marietta’s Lied from Korngold’s opera Die Tote Stadt; there is a video of the recording session of the latter, along with audio samples of all the tracks on the CD, on dePasquale’s website. It’s well worth a visit.

04 Laura MetcalfThis seems to be a good month for debut albums. First Day is the solo debut CD of the American cellist Laura Metcalf, accompanied by pianist Matei Varga in another varied program of works to which both performers feel deeply connected (Sono Luminus DSL-92201).

Metcalf has extensive experience as both a chamber musician and soloist, and has a lovely tone and a fine legato. She has been friends and musical partner with Varga since 2004, and one wonders why a solo CD has been so long in coming. Still, it was certainly worth the wait.

Two works on the disc by young American composers are world premiere recordings: Caleb Buhrans’ Phantasie and Dan Visconti’s very brief but joyful Hard-Knock Stomp. There are also works by José Bragato, Bohuslav Martinů, Alberto Ginastera and Marin Marais. A student work by a young George Enescu, the single movement Sonata in F Minor, was only recently discovered and is still unpublished.

The CD’s title comes from the phrase “paths of the first day” from the Francis Poulenc song Les Chemins de l’amour, the final track on the album. Metcalf adds a vocal performance to bring an excellent CD to a simply lovely close.

05 Sarita KwokThis also seems to be a great month for violin and piano CDs. Interchange is a new release from the Australian violinist Sarita Kwok (a longtime resident in the United States) and pianist Wei-Yi Yang featuring Violin & Piano Duos of the 20th Century (Genuin GEN 16548).

Janáček’s Sonata is a late work that shows the influence of the First World War as well as the composer’s fascination with the speech patterns of his native Moravia that gave his late music such a distinctive sound. It’s a difficult, intense, passionate and constantly changing work, and Kwok captures every element perfectly.

Stravinsky’s Duo Concertante and Prokofiev’s Five Melodies are given equally sympathetic performances, and there is a stunning sense of style in Ravel’s Sonata No.2 in G Major, particularly in the Blues middle movement and the final Perpetuum mobile.

Kwok displays a gorgeous tone, a dazzling technique and a beautiful focus throughout a terrific CD, and is matched in all respects by Yang’s outstanding piano playing.

06 Rachel Barton PineThe latest issue from the outstanding American violinist Rachel Barton Pine is Testament, a 2CD set of the complete Bach Sonatas & Partitas for Solo Violin (Avie 2CD AV2360).

As I’ve noted before, comparative reviews of these sets are not only extremely difficult, given the huge number of performer choices available, but also irrelevant. Probably more than with any other works in the solo repertoire, recorded performances of the Sonatas & Partitas are about making an intimate personal statement. The sheer size and scope of the work means that there will always be countless variations – small and large – between various interpretations; all that matters is that each performer’s personal views and feelings come through, for nothing lays a violinist’s soul bare more than these astonishing pieces.

Barton Pine makes no attempt to hide the work’s spiritual significance for her, choosing to record the CD in her church, St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Chicago, the place she calls her “emotional home” for Bach’s music and where she first encountered the violin and first played Bach in a worship setting at the age of four. There’s certainly a spirituality to her playing, which is quite superb.

The recording is, she says, a testament to her lifelong relationship with one of the cornerstones of the violin repertoire and to all who have inspired and supported her. And what a testament it is.

07 Ysaye TyniecCanadian violinist Andréa Tyniec has released a simply stunning recording of the Six Sonatas for Solo Violin Op.27 by Eugène Ysaÿe (Really Records REA-CD-5898D). Tyniec raised the money to fund the recording through the online fundraising site Indiegogo and boy, was it worth it!

These astonishing sonatas, apparently mapped out within the space of 24 hours in July 1923 and published in 1924, manage to look back to Bach as well as forward to the 20th century, and are arguably the greatest solo works in the violin literature after the Bach Sonatas & Partitas. This is the sixth complete set I’ve received in the past five years and, as with the Bach works, comparative reviews are almost impossible in the space available.

Suffice it so say that Tyniec’s faultless technique, outstanding musicianship and a crystal-clear recorded sound make this marvellous set one to revisit and to treasure.

08 Ann MillerOne of the Ysaÿe sonatas – the No.4 in E Minor – is featured on Perspectives on Light & Shadow, the new CD from violinist Ann Miller (annmillerviolin.com) with pianist Sonia Long. Although a more-than-capable reading, it doesn’t quite match Tyniec’s; a rather muddy recorded sound doesn’t help. The same could be said for the Bartók Sonata No.1 for Violin and Piano, which doesn’t really come up to the Tanja Becker-Bender recording reviewed last month.

The real gem here, though, and what makes this CD so interesting, is the Sonata for Violin and Piano by the American composer Robert Beaser (b.1954). Consisting of a theme and 15 variations divided into three contrasting movements of five variations each, it was reworked for violin in 2002, having been originally written in 1981 for flute and piano, although you would never guess: it’s strong, idiomatic writing for the violin, and a striking and quite brilliant work that brings the best playing on the disc from Miller.

09 Fantasy and Romance SchumannFantasy & Romance – Schumann: Music for Cello and Piano is the latest CD from Emanuel Gruber, who has previously recorded the complete music for cello and piano by Beethoven and Mendelssohn; Keiko Sekino is the pianist this time (Delos DE 3481).

Although Schumann loved and played the cello he left only two works written specifically for the instrument: his Cello Concerto in A Minor and the Five Pieces in Folk Style Op.102, the latter included on this album. The other works here are all transcriptions or arrangements, although Schumann did suggest that two works – the Fantasiestücke Op.73 for clarinet and piano and the Adagio and Allegro Op.70 for horn and piano – could also be played on the cello.

The Drei Romanzen Op.94, arranged here by Valter Dešpalj, were originally for oboe and piano; the Märchenbilder Op.113, in a transcription by Alfred Piatti and Christian Bellisario, were originally for viola and piano. Two piano pieces – Abendlied Op.85 and the famous Träumerei Op.15, in lovely arrangements by Lothar Lechner – complete a very attractive CD.

Gruber notes that the lyrical quality of Schumann’s music makes the cello an ideal medium of expression, and regardless of the original scoring of the works here, these lovely performances certainly support that opinion.

Review

Victor Herbert was another composer who played cello, but in his case at full professional level. He was born in Ireland in 1859, but grew up in Germany, emigrating to the United States in 1886. By the late 1890s he was one of the most famous musicians in America, celebrated for his playing and conducting and for his operettas.

10 Herbert Cello CtiHis Cello Concertos Nos.1 and 2 are featured on a new Naxos CD in performances by Mark Kosower and the Ulster Orchestra under JoAnn Falletta (8.573517). Not surprisingly, both works are typical of the late German Romantic school. The Concerto No.1 in D Major Op.8 was performed by the composer in Stuttgart in 1885, and again in New York in 1887, but remained unpublished and apparently unperformed for many years; it was first recorded in 1986.

The Concerto No.2 in E Minor Op.30 is the stronger of the two works. Dvořák attended its premiere in New York in March 1894, and was so impressed with Herbert’s balancing of the large orchestra and the solo cello that it led directly to the composition of his own B-Minor Concerto within the year.

Kosower is in great form in two really lovely performances, and Falletta draws spirited playing from the orchestra for which she was principal conductor from 2011 to 2014.

Herbert’s Irish Rhapsody for Grand Orchestra completes the disc; it’s the expected mix of Irish tunes, much like the Bruch Scottish Fantasy in mood and orchestration, and with some brilliant counterpoint to round it off.

11 Dancing in Daylight Irish Piano TriosThere’s more Irish music on Dancing in Daylight – Contemporary Piano Trios from Ireland, a new CD featuring works by Seóirse Bodley (b.1933), John Buckley (b.1951), Rhona Clarke (b.1958) and Fergus Johnston (b.1959) in performances by the Fidelio Trio (métier msv 28556).

Last year the trio completed a residency in the music department of St. Patrick’s College in Drumcondra, Dublin, during which time they commissioned the works by Bodley, Buckley and Johnston. Johnston’s Piano Trio dates from 2011; Buckley’s Piano Trio from 2013; and Bodley’s Piano Trio ‘Dancing in the Daylight’ from 2014. Clarke’s Piano Trio No.2 was originally written in 2001, but revised in 2007 and 2015, when it was played during the Trio’s residency.

All four works are extremely strong, well-written, accessible and effective, with performances and recording quality of the highest level throughout a really interesting CD.

12 Matt SellickNocturne is the second CD by the Thunder Bay flamenco guitarist and composer Matt Sellick (matt.sellick@gmail.com), whose first album After Rain was very favourably reviewed in the February 2015 edition of The WholeNote.

Sellick has spent four summers studying in Spain with some of the leading flamenco guitarists, and it show. He admits that this new CD is “more clearly flamenco” than his first, but also acknowledges that there are other influences at work here as well. All 11 pieces – some solo and some accompanied by bass and percussion – are original compositions, and there is a lovely mix of different moods and tempos.

He obviously has a great feel for flamenco, an outstanding technique – clean, accurate and clearly defined – and plays with a warm rich sound and a lovely range of tone colour and shading. The recording quality and ambience are perfect.

Sellick is clearly a huge talent; this is a terrific CD, and it will be very interesting to see what he does next.

 

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01 Xiayin WangXiayin Wang has recorded nearly a dozen CDs. Tchaikovsky – Piano Concerto No.2; Khachaturian – Piano Concerto; Royal Scottish National Orchestra; Peter Oundjian (Chandos CHSA 5167) is her fifth for this label.

The Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.2 is a big play at almost 45 minutes. This recording is of the original version, not the shorter one with significant cuts by Taneyev to the second movement. Wang proves to be a very precise player with a lot of stamina for whom Tchaikovsky’s wilder passages pose no difficulty. She is also comfortable with long interpretive pauses that give better definition to the deluge of musical ideas the composer releases in the opening movement.

Very much in command of her music when pitted against the orchestra, she also plays beautifully when more exposed with only solo violin and cello, as she is in the second movement. Similarly, in the Khachaturian Piano Concerto, Wang sustains long passages of simple octaves with great discipline, always sensitive to the mystery of the work’s Asiatic atmosphere.

Toronto-born conductor Peter Oundjian leads the Royal Scottish National Orchestra of which he has been music director since 2012. The RSNO is superb and deservedly claims its reputation as one of Europe’s leading orchestras. Both concertos require a broad range of stylistic and dynamic expression which the orchestra handles beautifully. They do especially well with the often angular nature of the Khachaturian. This recording brings together a wonderful team of musicians in a pair of truly demanding works. The result is a highly energized and superb performance.

02 Christian LeottaWith all 32 Beethoven sonatas in his discography, Christian Leotta has now added Beethoven – Diabelli Variations (ATMA ACD2 2485) to his growing list of recordings.

The Diabelli Variations have a history of divided critical opinion. At worst, Anton Diabelli’s original theme is considered a trite offering containing very little that any composer can use for a credible variation. That Beethoven used the material to write an entire set of 33 variations, is then something of a miracle that speaks directly to the composer’s inventive gift. Regardless of the theme’s actual merits, or lack of them, a performer needs to understand what Beethoven is actually doing in each variation in order to perform them intelligently.

This is where Leotta proves his standing as a highly respected Beethoven interpreter. He understands that Beethoven uses as little as a single interval and often barely more than that, a pick-up note, an ornament or a rhythmic pattern, to construct his variations. He remains highly focused on this, and in doing so holds the set of variations together despite its diverse moments of comedy, tumult, melancholy and contemplation.

Leotta has discerned Beethoven’s deepest imprint and conveys it in each of these utterances. What he makes clear by the end of it all is that Beethoven’s creative genius is for him, supreme.

03 Steeves haydnTimothy Steeves, known for his six recordings with violinist Nancy Dahl as Duo Concertante, has now released his first solo disc, Haydn Sonatas (Marquis MAR 469). Steeves admits to having a lifelong admiration for Haydn’s music and his choice of the three sonatas on this disc is meant to show Haydn’s creativity and originality. While the modern ear may have difficulty in hearing this music as original, because of its similarities to baroque and Mozartian works, a quick self-reminder as to where Haydn sits historically helps place him as the significant bridge from the baroque to the classical period.

Steeves plays with great clarity, required especially in the upper voices where Haydn tends to nest his melodies. He has a touch that demonstrates impressive control of tonal colouring, so important in the slow movements of the sonatas. The Adagio of the Sonata in A-Flat Major Hob.XVI:46 is an example of how Steeves gives the middle register a lovely dark sound while it supports a brighter upper voice. And while Haydn rarely creates the complex counterpoint we associate with Bach, Steeves pulls out inner voices whenever Haydn sends them lower down the keyboard.

The Sonata in C Minor Hob.XVI:20 opening movement is a telling example of how ornamentation remained a staple of keyboard writing style from the Renaissance, through the baroque and into the classical period. Steeves is meticulous throughout the first movement where Haydn has inserted trills and grace notes liberally. The Andante is noteworthy for the freedom Steeves takes with its phrasings, slowing a select few to a near stop to heighten the impact of their final cadence.

Steeves’ affection for Haydn is obvious and makes this a recording worth having.

Review

04 Beausejour PianoIn Baroque Session on Piano (Analekta AN 2 9128) harpsichordist Luc Beauséjour takes to the piano with pieces that he argues work well on that instrument for specific reasons. Beauséjour points out that much of the harpsichord repertoire does not play well on our modern keyboard because of the piano’s inability to deliver the clarity of complex ornamentation so often required by 15th- and 16th-century repertoire. He also points out that the darker colours of the piano’s middle registers can often obscure inner contrapuntal voices. Greater resonance is yet another factor that requires pianists to change phrasing techniques when playing harpsichord repertoire.

Selecting a program that avoids the worst of these problems, Beauséjour presents an attractive mix of frequently recorded works and others less well known. A couple of familiar Scarlatti sonatas and Rameau’s Les Indes Galantes deliver wonderfully clear and fluid runs. Bach’s Concerto in D Minor BWV974 after Marcello is an example of how the piano’s touch-based colours can make the second movement even more intensely expressive.

Other works by Louis Couperin and Georg Böhm, keep much of their harpsichord character with graceful arpeggios that Beauséjour retains more for a sense of period style than necessary technique. He includes a set of four Correnti by Frescobaldi and imbues them with a strongly rhythmic bounce and keyboard touch that suggests the crisp attack of the harpsichord’s plectra.

Baroque Session on Piano is a very fine recording commendable for its intelligence and musicality.

Review

05 Sudbin ScarlattiUnapologetic about the highly pianistic approach he takes, Yevgeny Sudbin admits that playing Scarlatti on the piano is in reality a transcription for a new instrument. Consequently, Scarlatti – 18 Sonatas (BIS-2138 SACD) is fully piano, with sustain pedal wherever needed, generous dynamic expression and every other technique the modern instrument can offer. Sudbin makes no effort at historical performance practice and instead claims the freedom to do whatever the music leads him to do – on the piano.

The result of all this might be a little shocking but is, ultimately, very believable because of the quality of the musical decisions underlying these controversial choices. Scarlatti remains identifiably Scarlatti, albeit with a new voice. Sudbin’s playing is undeniably gorgeous, rich in colour and texture, and everything the piano wants it to be.

As a litmus test for open mindedness on this issue compare the familiar Sonata in C Major K159 to any other performance, especially the Beauséjour described above.

06 Vadim KholodenkoWinner of the 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, Vadym Kholodenko has released a new recording with a varied program showing his remarkable versatility. In Tchaikovsky/Balakirev/Chaplygin/Kurbatov (Melodiya MEL CD 10 02365), Kholodenko opens with Balakirev’s Sonata No.2 in B-Flat Minor Op.102, a beautiful if curious work. The first movement begins with a contrapuntal idea that could have been written by Bach, and this is exactly how Kholodenko plays it. The second and third movements become increasingly Chopinesque until the Finale leaves no doubt where Balakirev’s French stylistic influences originate.

Despite this kaleidoscope of voices, Kholodenko provides a consistent and expressive approach. His playing style feels very choreographic. His keyboard presence is graceful yet powerful but not overbearing. Videos of his performances show him to be a physically restrained pianist but highly focused on expressiveness and this is, in fact, the first and most lasting impression he makes.

Tchaikovsky’s rarely heard Six Pieces on a Single Theme, Op. 21 is the only such short cycle he wrote. It uses a 15-note series embedded in the opening bars of each piece, varied only in rhythm. Kholodenko treats each section as a distinct character piece and closes the work with an impressive and energetic Scherzo.

Little Cyprian Music (2003) by Evgeny Chaplygin is a contemporary piece that compiles a series of musical impressions of a holiday on that island. It’s richly textured and technically very demanding in some passages. Kholodenko focuses on the composer’s intent in conveying the dance-like nature and Eastern flavour of Cypriot music.

07 Jonas VitaudFrench pianist Jonas Vitaud has only a few recordings to his credit, and while he’s already in his mid-30s, his remarkable playing would suggest we should really be hearing more from him. His newest recording Tchaikovsky – Les Saisons (Mirare MIR 308) offers two starkly contrasting works.

The Seasons Op.37a is an introspective work constructed on a calendar scheme with 12 sections. The music has some programmatic content based on activities or events associated with each month of the year. It is, more significantly, marked by a constant presence of fragility that is perhaps best known in the often quoted Barcarolle representing June. Even December – Noël concludes the cycle lightly and quietly. Maintaining this emotional posture with only a few energetic releases in sections like La Chasse is a challenge that Vitaud handles beautifully. His tenderness and fragility never convey weakness but seem perfectly poised. His playing is assured, even in the most tentative of Tchaikovsky’s moments.

By contrast, the Grand Sonata in G Major Op.37 begins with huge chordal gestures of confidence. These are echoed with even greater energy in the closing movement and played at furious speed. Still, the Grand Sonata contains a remarkable moment in the second movement Andante (about a third of the way through) where Vitaud strikes a dense chord and lets it sustain with all the dampers up off the strings. The resulting resonances grow by the moment into a rich texture not achievable by any other means. It’s a stunning device that he repeats near the end of the movement with the same result. It’s brilliant and creative.

We need more recordings by this fine musician who’s definitely worth hearing.

08 Americans in ParisPiano four-hands offers a texture not quite achieved in any other keyboard configuration. The possibilities for density and polyphony have enticed composers since keyboards became commonplace. Pianists Jerome Lowenthal and Michael Brown have just released Americans in Paris (Concert Artists Guild Records VEC 116 concertartists.org) and recorded some favourites including the Ravel Ma mère l’Oye that includes short bits of introductory narration to setup the fairy-tale background of each segment.

Samuel Barber’s Souvenirs Op.28 is a compilation of dances set in New York’s Plaza Hotel about 1914 and evokes the music Barber would have heard as a boy when taken there by his mother for tea. Lowenthal and Brown make an outstanding piano duo and deliver these dances, many of which have ample humour injected into them, with impeccable precision.

Plenty of piano students have played the four-hands Dolly Suite Op.56 by Gabriel Fauré. This performance is well-paced. Messieu Aoul and Le pas espagnol are especially admirable for the coordinated energy and execution they require.

The highlight of the CD is a four-hands arrangement of George Gershwin’s An American in Paris. It’s an autobiographical work recounting Gershwin’s own time there in the mid-1920s. It features some obvious references early in the work to the set of authentic Parisian taxi horns Gershwin had purchased during his trip. Lowenthal and Brown seem most at home in this piece, really feeling the deep melancholy of the blues section, as well as the jazzy syncopations that drive so much of the music.

09 Stanislav KhristenkoErnst Krenek was one of the 20th century’s most stylistically complete composers whose vocabulary gave him creative access to both historical and contemporary expression. On Ernst Krenek – Piano Music, Volume One (Toccata Classics TOCC 0298), Ukrainian-born Stanislav Khristenko performs a well-balanced program of Krenek’s compositions.

The Piano Sonata No.4 Op.114 (1948) is a work in which Khristenko demonstrates Krenek’s ability to move seamlessly between ideas that are tonally centred and others that aren’t. Khristenko not only captures the neo-romantic essence of Krenek’s language, but also the unsettling elements of the composer’s early life that express themselves in the edgy phrasing he uses to evoke the changed world emerging from the two world wars.

Khristenko’s choice of the George Washington Variations, Op.120 (1950) is especially entertaining for its use of all of Krenek’s favourite devices. Deployed as they are, they move an opening 19th-century military march through a metamorphosis of clever changes in which Khristenko never lets go of the initial musical idea.

Krenek held a lifelong devotion to the music of Franz Schubert. He spent years coming to understand the genius of Schubert’s music, its design and balance, especially as present in his lieder. Krenek’s decision to complete Schubert’s Piano Sonata in C Major D840 is based solely on the existence of sufficient thematic material in the final two movements to make credible development possible. Naturally, it’s difficult to listen to this Schubert without also listening for some Krenek.

Khristenko is also currently working on recording the complete works of Krenek as well as a recording of Soler sonatas.

10 Szilasi ChopinIt can be understandably difficult to get terribly excited about a recording of an upright piano, especially if it’s old, really old, say 1834. So why would Alex Szilasi record Chopin Berceuse, Barcarolle & Impromptus (Hungaroton HCD32473) on an old Pleyel upright? Evidently this one is special – Chopin played it. Pleyel Company archives show that Chopin played it at the factory in Paris and selected it for the Russian ambassador. He liked this particular model so much that he ordered one for himself. Both instruments were delivered to adjacent apartments at the ambassador’s residence where Chopin was a frequent guest. While Chopin’s piano was eventually lost, the other instrument has survived fully authenticated. This is its recording debut.

Chopin favoured the Pleyel piano for its soft tone. It was double-strung in its middle and upper registers and therefore softer than later triple-strung instruments. It responds to the gentlest touch to produce nearly inaudible pianissimos. Aggressive or heavy touch tends to cause distortion on these instruments, so Chopin would have favoured them for very specific repertoire, and certainly nothing terribly bombastic, hence this CD’s program of more tender compositions.

Szilasi creates some amazing effects with the instrument. The rapid chromatic runs in the right hand through the upper octaves of the keyboard sound extremely fragile like a web of silk threads, yet they remain clear although very soft. This is best heard in the Impromptu in F-Sharp Major Op.36. The familiar Fantasie-Impromptu in C-Sharp Minor Op.72 is also a dramatic contrast to the more muscular performances commonly heard on modern pianos.

Alex Szilasi has created a thought-provoking recording that gives us a glimpse of how Chopin would have heard and played his own music 180 years ago.

 

 

Author: Alex Baran
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01 Pardessus de violePardessus de Viole
Mélisande Corriveau; Eric Milnes
ATMA ACD2 2729

The elegant music featured on this recording was written for a now largely abandoned instrument – pardessus de viole. This smallest member of the viola da gamba family originated in France at the end of the 17th century and had a brief life span of just over 100 years. While pardessus de viole exemplified French aesthetics and their sophisticated musical tastes and values, it was forsaken with the arrival of the Revolution, which did not stand for the same ideals. Featured composers – Barrière, Caix D’ Hervelois, Boismortier and Dollé – are among many prominent French composers who wrote for this instrument at the height of its popularity. However the selection of pieces on this recording is mostly unpublished and carefully chosen from the microfilm collections of the Bibliothéque nationale de France.

What grabbed me immediately was the sound of the “woman’s violin” (as it was nicknamed once upon a time) – pure, light yet robust at times, textured as a crossover between the flute and the violin. Mélisande Corriveau elicits an array of emotions out of her instrument. The virtuosic passages in Jean Barrière’s Sonata in G Major suit her very well but she is equally colourful in depicting the feelings of sorrow in Dollé’s Les Regrets. Eric Milnes is a resourceful and imaginative harpsichord player; together they offer a charming array of ornamentations, making this music a gesture of nobility from the past.


02 Abel and HasseComposed to the soul: Abel; Hasse – Concerti; Quartetti; Arie
Dorothee Mields; Hamburger Ratsmusik; Simone Eckert
CPO 777 911-2

This beautifully programmed recording offers two quartets, a concerto and an aria by the esteemed 18th-century gambist Carl Friedrich Abel, and an aria by his contemporary Johann Adolf Hasse. Not household names, perhaps, but well worth a listen. The quartets, contemporary transcriptions of two standard string quartets from 1768, make for most pleasant listening. The shift in sonic balance created by giving the first violin part to the bass viol gives a welcome depth and richness to the ensemble sound. The group’s playing is expressive and focused, and it’s also nice to hear tempos that are more laid-back than today’s breakneck norm: the humour and variety of musical gesture in the Allegro con spirito of the Quartet in B Flat, for example, isn’t trumped by the technical mastery required to play it. Michael Fürst plays the solo part of Abel’s two-movement harpsichord concerto with wit and thoughtful brilliance, and his colleagues of the Hamburger Ratsmusik are stylishly eloquent throughout. Soprano Dorothee Mields joins the group for two substantial arias, Abel’s sole surviving vocal piece, Frena le belle lagrime from Sifari (1767), and an aria from Hasse’s La Didone abbandonata (1742). As always, Mields sings with extraordinary musical grace and suppleness. The latter aria is also a contemporary transcription, giving the original obbligato flute part to the viol, which Eckert plays beautifully. Composed to the soul, indeed. I’ll be listening to this one again, and I hope you do too.


03 17531753 – Livre de Montréal
Yves-G. Préfontaine
ATMA ACD2 2717

Review

The brand-new organ in this recording is a replica of an instrument (no longer extant) built in 1753 in Paris for the Cathedral in Quebec City. It contains ten stops, all but two of which are divided, offering different timbres to the upper and lower halves of the keyboard.

The repertoire features works likely known to 18th-century Quebec players, including a six-movement Magnificat from the so-called Montreal Organ Book, the manuscript transported to New France in 1724 and discovered in the 1980s. The composers of the nearly 400 pieces in this collection are not named, but a couple of dozen are definitively attributed to Nicolas Lebègue. Appropriately, a further group by Lebègue (not from the MOB) follows, alongside representative compositions from his period by Guillaume-Gabriel Nivers, Louis Marchand and Jean Henry D’Anglebert.

There are 34 tracks; each piece lasts on average just over two minutes. Generally in classical French keyboard music one anticipates descriptive titles but there is only one, Lebègue’s “Les Cloches,” with its descending four-note scale suggesting bells. The rest are either liturgical pieces or fugues and other abstract types. The divided stops show to advantage in several pieces with prominent bass solos or based on dialogue between registers. Préfontaine demonstrates remarkable variety of approach and a good deal of freedom within the French baroque style, recalling the comment of a great figure in this music, François Couperin: “We write differently from what we play.” The performances are intelligently lifted off the page. The disc is well produced and a pleasure to hear. Listeners curious about how the Chapelle instrument looks as well as how it sounds may be disappointed however: front and back cover photos show portions of it, but the only artist photo shows Préfontaine at a much larger console, unidentified.

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01 Abbado last concertThe Last Concert: Mendelssohn – Incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Berlioz – Symphonie Fantastique
Berliner Philharmoniker; Claudio Abbado
Berliner Philharmoniker Recordings BPHR 160081

Claudio Abbado was conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra from 1990 to 2002, succeeding the iconic Herbert von Karajan who had died in 1989. On an evening in May 2013 Abbado returned to conduct his last concert with the orchestra and as such it was a rather special event. What to program on such an occasion? There is no absolute answer but after hearing and seeing the concert one must agree that the choice was a right one. This wasn’t an audition for anyone but a final get-together of equals to make some music. This isn’t wishful thinking but there was a oneness between conductor and the orchestra here that produced a solidly romantic view of the shenanigans in the Mendelssohn and solidified the passing phantasmal delusions in the Berlioz. This really was a splendid event.

To commemorate the second anniversary of Abbado’s death, his last concert with them has been issued by the Berlin Philharmonic with full documentation of the evening in a very fine cloth-covered hardcover edition, 24.5cm X 15.5cmX 2.3cm. Inside are two CDs and a Blu-ray disc containing the complete concert in HD audio plus an HD video of the event with choice of stereo or 5.1 surround sound. On the same Blu-ray disc are bonus videos including full documentaries, Claudio Abbado in Berlin – The First Year and Members of the Berlin Philharmonic Remember Claudio Abbado. There are lots of discussions, rehearsals and human interest events plus the reason Abbado had to wait eight months after assuming the post to receive a contract. A personal code to download high resolution audio files is also included.

A well-produced 56-page multilingual booklet the size of the package contains information about the two works on the program and how they are tied together. There are interesting articles with many colour photographs. Also there are the names of the personnel of the orchestra in May 2013.


01 Bach Duo ConcertanteThere’s another lovely release from Duo Concertante, the Newfoundland-based husband and wife team of violinist Nancy Dahn and pianist Timothy Steeves, this time a two-CD set of Bach’s Six Sonatas for Violin and Keyboard (Marquis MAR 81521).

In an interview with the duo in the booklet notes, Steeves admits to having no reservations about playing Bach on the piano, given the instrument’s connection with Bach’s music for over 200 years. Dahn also uses a modern instrument, but notes that although they knew they were going against a trend they found that focussing on the language, harmony and style of the sonatas still enabled them to play them in a way that was historically informed.

A German press review during their recent European tour noted the beautiful balance in the Bach slow movements – on the one hand not too romantic, on the other not too austere – as well as the ease, lightness and naturalness in the fast movements; it’s an observation more than justified by the performances here. There’s warmth, clarity, sensitivity and empathy to spare, with crystal-clear violin lines, faultless intonation throughout the most difficult passages and a thoughtful and always sensitive piano contribution.

You tend to run out of superlatives with performances like these, and there’s simply not much you can do other than sit back, listen and be carried away by the complete artistry. Suffice it to say that this is as totally satisfying an account of the sonatas as I have heard.

02 Shaham 1930sTake one of my favourite violinists – Gil Shaham; add one of the best accompanying orchestras around – the New York ensemble The Knights under Eric Jacobsen; throw in one of my favourite conductors – Stéphane Denève; and have them perform two of my favourite 20th century concertos – the Prokofiev No.2 and the Bartók No.2 – and it’s not surprising that the new CD 1930s Violin Concertos Vol.2 on Shaham’s own Canary Classics label (CC16) was the first one I took out of the box when this month’s discs arrived.

It should also be no surprise that it more than lived up to expectations. The 1930s was a simply astonishing decade for new violin concertos, with works by Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Berg, Prokofiev, Bartók, Szymanowski, Hindemith, Barber, Britten and Walton among others. Shaham started this series with a two-CD set featuring the concertos of Barber, Berg, Britten, Hartmann and Stravinsky and is clearly intrigued by the extent to which the works reflect the spirit of a turbulent era; he has been exploring this repertoire in concert performances since the 2008/2009 season.

The Knights are the support in the Prokofiev, with Denève leading the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra in the Bartók. Shaham’s trademark mixture of a warm sweet tone, faultless technical assurance and impeccable musical intelligence make for immensely satisfying interpretations of both works, and he is matched by both orchestras and conductors every step of the way.

No word yet on a Volume 3, but here’s hoping.

03 Tetzlaff StorgardChristian Tetzlaff also has a new concerto CD pairing the Dvořák Violin Concerto in A Minor Op.53 and the Romance in F Minor Op.11 with the Fantasy in G Minor Op.24 of Josef Suk on a Super Audio CD (Ondine ODE 1279-5). John Storgårds conducts the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra.

Suk, who was Dvořák’s son-in-law, was a topnotch violinist (and grandfather of the Czech violinist Josef Suk) who is probably best remembered as a composer for his early Serenade for Strings. His music is very much in the tradition of Smetana and Dvořák – indeed, despite stylistic differences his music often sounds very much like that of his father-in-law.

The Fantasy is a substantial single-movement work from 1903, and while attempts have often been made to view it as being in three-part concerto form it is essentially a rhapsodic and passionate work with numerous tempo changes, and one which makes great demands of the soloist.

The Dvořák concerto has never quite made itself at home in the top echelon of violin concertos, but it’s an absolute charmer from the early 1880s – bright, lively, typically Dvořák throughout, and with a simply lovely slow movement. The Romance pre-dates it by several years and, much like the Beethoven works with the same name, is more about linear phrasing and clarity and beauty of tone than pure virtuosity.

Tetzlaff meets all the demands, both technical and emotional, with ease and conviction, and with passion and sensitivity, throughout a really lovely CD.

04 Bruch String QuartetsIn 1852 the 14-year-old Max Bruch wrote a string quartet to apply – successfully – for the scholarship of the Mozart-Stiftung (Mozart Foundation) in Frankfurt. While musicologists researching Bruch’s music knew of its existence, the work was always considered lost – until January 2013, that is, when Ulrike Kienzle, researching a book on the history of the Mozart-Stiftung, found the manuscript in a box in the foundation’s archives.

The String Quartet in C Minor, Op. Posth., is an astonishingly self-assured and mature work, bursting with energy and full of flowing melodies and rich harmonies. It’s the opening work on a simply outstanding CD of Max Bruch Complete String Quartets performed by the Diogenes Quartet (Brilliant Classics 95051). The String Quartets No.1 in C Minor, Op.9 (which, as it turned out, incorporated a substantial amount of material from the earlier work) and No.2 in E Major Op.10, both also early works from 1859 and 1861 respectively, complete the disc.

Not unexpectedly, the influences of Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn and Schumann are plain to hear, but these are far from being mere stylistic copies, despite the composer’s youth. They also remind us not only of how wonderfully gifted a composer Bruch was, but also of how little he strayed from his German Romantic roots throughout his long life.

These are rarely heard but simply beautiful works (there’s that word “beautiful” in a Bruch review again) beautifully played and beautifully recorded. The Diogenes Quartet is apparently recording the complete Schubert string quartets for Brilliant Classics; I, for one, can hardly wait.

In November 1918, shortly after the end of the First World War, Arnold Schoenberg founded the Association for Private Musical Performances “to provide artists and art lovers with a real and precise familiarity with modern music” – in Alban Berg’s words, “from Mahler up to now.” Members frequently transcribed large orchestral works for chamber ensembles.

05 Reger Violin ConcertoMax Reger, who died in 1916, seemed to be especially favoured by the group, although his music was generally regarded by the critics as being excessively long, overly chromatic, turgid and far too complicated. In fact, it’s more a case of an overabundance of creative ideas making it difficult for the listener to discern the overall shape and form in Reger’s music.

That’s certainly true of his Violin Concerto in A Major, Op.101, completed in 1908. It’s a simply huge work (almost one hour) but melodic and accessible, and very much in the post-Brahms tradition – in fact, Reger mistakenly believed that his concerto would soon become as popular as the Brahms. The German Capriccio label has been issuing a series of recordings by the Linos Ensemble of chamber transcriptions made for the Association for Private Musical Performances, and the 1922 arrangement of the Violin Concerto by the violinist Rudolf Kolisch for flute, clarinet, horn, piano, harmonium and five strings is featured on the latest volume (C5137). Winfried Rademacher is the solo violinist.

The original full orchestral version in a performance by Tanja Becker-Bender was reviewed in this column in April 2012, and it’s clearly the more satisfying of the two, although the chamber version does clarify the texture to some degree as well as rendering the virtuosic solo part more playable. There have been various attempts over the years to apply cuts to the concerto, but it has retained its original length and structure – not to mention difficulty – and as a result has remained on the fringe of the repertoire.

Rademacher does full justice to the solo part, and the Linos Ensemble is excellent in this 2010 recording, apparently made for German radio. However, while the reduced forces may well help to reduce the complexity of the work they also make its more ponderous and meandering moments more apparent, and reduce the concerto’s overall effect.

Still, it’s an interesting alternate view of a complicated and challenging work.

06Bartok Becker BenderSpeaking of Tanja Becker-Bender, her latest release is a two-CD set of Béla Bartók: The Works for Violin and Piano with pianist Péter Nagy (SWR 19003 CD). Each performer also takes a solo turn in the spotlight, Becker-Bender with the Sonata for Solo Violin BB124 and Nagy with the Piano Sonata BB88 from 1926.

CD1 has the two Rhapsodies for Violin and Piano and the two Sonatas for Violin and Piano. CD2, in addition to the two solo works, has the early Andante in A Major (a simply beautiful piece) and the Sonata in E Minor from 1902 and 1903 respectively, as well as the Romanian Folkdances in the transcription by Zoltán Székely, to whom the Rhapsody No.2 was dedicated. The two early works are both late Romantic in style, but everything else here clearly reflects the composer’s lifelong fascination with Magyar folk music that began in 1905.

There’s terrific playing from both performers, with Becker-Bender mixing toughness with the brilliance where necessary without ever compromising the interpretation. The second movement of the Rhapsody No.2, in particular, is quite superb.

07 IngolfssonThere’s another outstanding violin and piano recital disc (Accentus Music ACC 303711), this time from violinist Judith Ingolfsson and pianist Vladimir Stoupel with works by the French composer Albéric Magnard and the German Rudi Stephan, both of whom were killed in the First World War. It’s the first in their three-CD series Concert-Centenaire that will also feature works by Gabriel Fauré and Louis Vierne.

Magnard and Stephan were both killed in somewhat bizarre circumstances, Magnard in September 1914, when his house was burned down by the advancing German army after he had shot and fatally wounded two German soldiers – Magnard’s remains were never identified – and Stephan in September 1915, when he was shot by a Russian sniper two days after his unit had moved into trenches on the Eastern Front; he was apparently the first casualty in the 900-strong unit and was only 28.

Stephan was considered to be one of Germany’s leading young composers, but it’s difficult to judge from this distance – his works were neglected in the 1920s and 1930s, and many of his unpublished manuscripts were destroyed in the Allied bombing raids in 1945. He is represented here by his Groteske for Violin and Piano from 1911, the manuscript for which was only discovered in 1979 in the Bavarian State Library; it’s a short but really effective piece that shows the influence of pre-war Impressionism.

Only 49 when he was killed, Magnard was considered one of the greatest French composers of his era; his style owed more to Vincent d’Indy and César Franck than to Debussy. The major work on the disc is his Sonata for Violin and Piano in G Major Op.13 from 1901; it really is a very impressive piece.

Ingolfsson’s playing is simply superb throughout a fascinating CD, with Stoupel providing terrific support.

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