Review

01 George CrumbLast month a CD of late works by Elliott Carter gave me occasion to muse about the brushes with greatness I have been privileged with, thanks to my relationship with New Music Concerts. A new CD – Complete George Crumb Edition Volume 18 (BRIDGE 9476 bridgerecords.com) – gives me that opportunity once again. Although it seems more recent, I realize it has been more than a dozen years since George Crumb was last in Toronto as the guest of NMC. For several decades after NMC’s founding in 1971, a tradition developed that Crumb’s new works would receive their second performances in Toronto; in the case of the celebrated Idyll for the Misbegotten for amplified flute and three percussionists, dedicated to Robert Aitken, this city was the location of its world premiere. That tradition continued in 2003 when the composer’s daughter Ann Crumb sang the Canadian premiere of the recently composed …Unto the Hills, Songs of Sadness, Yearning and Innocence, with the New Music Concerts ensemble.

On that occasion it was my great pleasure to spend several days in the company of the 74-year-old composer and his family. In the intervening years Crumb has not slowed down much, as this disc attests, with a new work from 2012 – The Yellow Moon of Andalusia, Spanish Songbook III for Mezzo-Soprano and Amplified Piano – and recently revised versions of 1979’s Celestial Mechanics, Cosmic Dances for Amplified Piano, Four Hands and Yesteryear, A Vocalise for Mezzo-Soprano, Amplified Piano and Percussion originally written in 2005. Central to the disc is a 2001 composition, Eine Kleine Mitternachtmusik, A Little Midnight Music, Ruminations on ‘Round Midnight by Thelonious Monk for Amplified Piano, a nine-movement tribute to both Monk and Mozart performed by Marcantonio Barone. Amplification is one of the key elements of Crumb’s music, not to make it louder per se, but to make audible some of the subtle effects that the performers are called upon to execute, be it whistle tones on a flute or plucked notes or pedalled washes of harmonics inside the piano. This is very much a part of the Mitternachtmusik, along with other Crumb signature sounds and techniques, from dramatic knocks on the piano’s frame to shimmering glissandi on the strings, gentle melodies juxtaposed with brash interjections – veritable explosions of sound – and vocalizations from the pianist. Crumb’s characteristically descriptive movement titles include Cobweb and Peaseblossom; Incantation; Golliwog Revisited (with a nod to Debussy) and Cadenza with Tolling Bells.

There is another personal connection for me on this recording. The soprano in the two vocal works is Tony Arnold, who performed a stunning rendition of György Kurtág’s Kafka Fragments with violinist Movses Pogossian for New Music Concerts at Gallery 345 last season. Arnold is no stranger to Crumb’s music – she received a Grammy nomination for her performance of Ancient Voices of Children – and is in fact the dedicatee of Yesteryear. That title was inspired by a line from François Villon, “Mais où sont les neiges d’antan,” rendered most famously into English by Dante Gabriel Rosetti as “But where are the snows of yesteryear?,” a line declaimed and later whispered in the original archaic French toward the end of the 11-minute work. As the composer’s preface tells us, “the singer is vainly searching for her lost youth and beauty and laments their inevitable erosion by the relentless passage of time.” There is some ritual involved in the performance, as is often the case in Crumb’s music. In this instance, over the duration of the piece the singer moves between nine stations – spread around the concert hall in the original version but restricted to the stage in the 2013 revision.

Both Yesteryear and The Yellow Moon of Andalusia are first recordings. In the latter, Crumb returns to the poetry of Federico García Lorca, which has been the inspiration for many of his works since the 1960s, including the above-mentioned Ancient Voices of Children. While the earlier works used the original Spanish, here Crumb sets English translations of the poems. The comprehensive booklet includes both the originals and the translations. We have to thank Bridge Records for their thoroughness, not only in the preparation of this recording, which also includes the piano duo Quattro Mani and percussionists David Nelson and William Kerrigan, but for undertaking such an exhaustive catalogue of works by one of the unique voices of our time.

 

Review

02 Jordan PalI am pleased to note that this month we have reviews of four Analekta discs, and that they all feature contemporary (or at least 20th-century in the case of André Mathieu) composers. I point this out because although this Quebec label is highly respected for its releases, for the most part they stick to more conventionally classical repertoire, even though some of their artists are renowned for their commitment to contemporary music. The Gryphon Trio has been a major “exception to this rule.” The Gryphon’s 19-title discography includes half a dozen Analekta releases of contemporary music, so kudos to them. The most recent of these is Into the Wonder (AN 2 9521 analekta.com), on which they join the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Arthur Post to perform the music of Jordan Pal. Described by Ludwig van Toronto as “the country’s current it-boy composer,” at 34, Pal is currently the RBC affiliate composer of the Toronto Symphony and his music has been performed by every significant orchestra across Canada.

Starling – Triple concerto for violin, cello, piano and orchestra was commissioned by the Gryphon Trio and the Thunder Bay Symphony in 2013. It is a scintillating work in three movements, opening with an orchestral flourish that develops into a 15-minute flight, a “murmuration” with only brief moments of respite, mostly in the form of lyrical cadenzas from the solo trio. It is exhilarating how Pal sustains the momentum throughout. The Largo second movement begins in dark brass timbres that once again give way to gorgeously lyrical passages from the soloists, especially in the cello lines. But one word of caution, or at least a cautionary tale for me. Many years ago I discovered how close the sound of a cello can be to that of a saxophone when I first heard Kabalevsky’s Cello Concerto No.2. About midway through, the solo cello gives way to an alto saxophone cadenza so seamlessly that it takes several seconds for the ear to recognize what has just gone on. I had a similar experience when I first listened to Starling, which I did on small computer speakers. I was convinced I was hearing saxophone at several points in the recording and emailed Pal to ask if this was the case because I did not see any saxophonists credited in the list of orchestra members. He assured me that he had not included saxophone in the instrumentation and subsequent listening on proper speakers has confirmed this. That’s why I make a point of listening on my stereo system before passing judgement on discs – basic computer systems simply don’t provide accurate sound. The finale, Presto – Electric and Wild is simply that, a moto perpetuo once again reminiscent of a thousand starlings soaring and swirling together in the sky.

I think I will let the composer speak for himself about the title piece, also commissioned by the TBSO, which at half an hour comprises just under half of the disc. “Into the Wonder celebrates the creative will of our universe. Evoking birth and death, creation and destruction, universal interconnectedness and the rapture of love, this piece seeks to capture the mystery, awe and wonder of life. Nature’s own great works of art are reminders that we are a part of this magnificent range of possibilities, that we are part of something much greater. This symphony celebrates all that is beautiful.” Is this simply the naïve vision of a young man couched in slick orchestral finery? This is certainly not “new music” in the sense of Carter or Crumb, but it is genuinely attractive, well-crafted and brilliantly executed. Does it succeed in its aspirations? I welcome you to judge for yourselves.

 

03 Margaret MariaI’m not normally drawn to so-called new age music, and I think that’s the category cellist Margaret Maria’s Carried by an Angel would most naturally fall into, yet I find myself drawn to it. In 2011 Margaret Maria Tobolowska left the position she held with the National Arts Centre Orchestra for a dozen years to pursue a solo career as cellist and chamber musician, composer and producer. I must confess that I was a little off-put by the statement on the cover of the promotional copy of the disc I received: “The beauty of the Archangel Raffaele, the bringer of healing, comfort and compassion has been brought to me. The music is full of energy that heals, sings, dances on the edge of winged spirits and brings such indescribable beauty in colours that shimmer and are full of love.” I am not a believer in angels, nor spiritual healing and at first did not think I should be the one to comment on the disc. But as a cellist, and lover of many diverse sorts of music, I gave it a try, and then another. It is ostensibly a solo cello disc, but more accurately, a solo cellist disc. There are many layerings of lines that together produce dense and lush melodic textures, a lovely wash of sound that is warm and immersive. The overall effect is orchestral, but in a unique way since all of the sounds are made by cello, with some computer processing, so there is a welcoming homophony. To me it is reminiscent of the music of Arvo Pärt if you imagine a piece like Spiegel im Spiegel on an orchestral scale. If you are curious, you can check our Margaret Maria’s website (enchanten.com) and her Enchanten channel on YouTube.

04 George LiAnd a quick final note. 2015 Silver Medalist in the International Tchaikovsky Competition George Li has just released his inaugural CD, Live at the Mariinsky (Warner Classics 0190295812942). It was recorded in St. Petersburg one year ago and it features exactly the same repertoire the young superstar performed in Vancouver in October and will perform again in Toronto in February: piano sonatas by Haydn (Hob.XVI:32) and Chopin (Op.35), Rachmaninov’s Variations on a theme of Corelli, and Liszt’s Consolation No.3 and Hungarian Rhapsody No.2. I am a little surprised that the CD booklet, which includes an extended article about the repertoire by Jed Distler in three languages, contains not a word about this fabulous young performer. There is lots of information available on his own website however – georgelipianist.com – including such tidbits as he made his first public performance at the age of ten (2005) at Boston’s Steinway Hall, and in 2011 performed for president Obama at the White House in an evening honouring Chancellor Angela Merkel. If the disc is any indication, the concert will be a barnburner not to be missed by the cognoscenti. Now, if he could just find time to learn some new repertoire!

We welcome your feedback and invite submissions. CDs and comments should be sent to: DISCoveries, WholeNote Media Inc., The Centre for Social Innovation, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4. We also encourage you to visit our website thewholenote.com where you can find enhanced reviews in the Listening Room with audio samples, upcoming performance details and direct links to performers, composers and record labels.

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor
discoveries@thewholenote.com

01 George CrumbGeorge Crumb Edition Volume 18
George Crumb
BRIDGE 9476 bridgerecords.com

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Editor's Corner (December 2017/January 2018) which can be read in its entirety here.

Last month a CD of late works by Elliott Carter gave me occasion to muse about the brushes with greatness I have been privileged with, thanks to my relationship with New Music Concerts. A new CD – Complete George Crumb Edition Volume 18 (BRIDGE 9476 bridgerecords.com) – gives me that opportunity once again. Although it seems more recent, I realize it has been more than a dozen years since George Crumb was last in Toronto as the guest of NMC. For several decades after NMC’s founding in 1971, a tradition developed that Crumb’s new works would receive their second performances in Toronto; in the case of the celebrated Idyll for the Misbegotten for amplified flute and three percussionists, dedicated to Robert Aitken, this city was the location of its world premiere. That tradition continued in 2003 when the composer’s daughter Ann Crumb sang the Canadian premiere of the recently composed …Unto the Hills, Songs of Sadness, Yearning and Innocence, with the New Music Concerts ensemble.

On that occasion it was my great pleasure to spend several days in the company of the 74-year-old composer and his family. In the intervening years Crumb has not slowed down much, as this disc attests, with a new work from 2012 – The Yellow Moon of Andalusia, Spanish Songbook III for Mezzo-Soprano and Amplified Piano – and recently revised versions of 1979’s Celestial Mechanics, Cosmic Dances for Amplified Piano, Four Hands and Yesteryear, A Vocalise for Mezzo-Soprano, Amplified Piano and Percussion originally written in 2005. Central to the disc is a 2001 composition, Eine Kleine Mitternachtmusik, A Little Midnight Music, Ruminations on ‘Round Midnight by Thelonious Monk for Amplified Piano, a nine-movement tribute to both Monk and Mozart performed by Marcantonio Barone. Amplification is one of the key elements of Crumb’s music, not to make it louder per se, but to make audible some of the subtle effects that the performers are called upon to execute, be it whistle tones on a flute or plucked notes or pedalled washes of harmonics inside the piano. This is very much a part of the Mitternachtmusik, along with other Crumb signature sounds and techniques, from dramatic knocks on the piano’s frame to shimmering glissandi on the strings, gentle melodies juxtaposed with brash interjections – veritable explosions of sound – and vocalizations from the pianist. Crumb’s characteristically descriptive movement titles include Cobweb and Peaseblossom; Incantation; Golliwog Revisited (with a nod to Debussy) and Cadenza with Tolling Bells.

There is another personal connection for me on this recording. The soprano in the two vocal works is Tony Arnold, who performed a stunning rendition of György Kurtág’s Kafka Fragments with violinist Movses Pogossian for New Music Concerts at Gallery 345 last season. Arnold is no stranger to Crumb’s music – she received a Grammy nomination for her performance of Ancient Voices of Children – and is in fact the dedicatee of Yesteryear. That title was inspired by a line from François Villon, “Mais où sont les neiges d’antan,” rendered most famously into English by Dante Gabriel Rosetti as “But where are the snows of yesteryear?,” a line declaimed and later whispered in the original archaic French toward the end of the 11-minute work. As the composer’s preface tells us, “the singer is vainly searching for her lost youth and beauty and laments their inevitable erosion by the relentless passage of time.” There is some ritual involved in the performance, as is often the case in Crumb’s music. In this instance, over the duration of the piece the singer moves between nine stations – spread around the concert hall in the original version but restricted to the stage in the 2013 revision.

Both Yesteryear and The Yellow Moon of Andalusia are first recordings. In the latter, Crumb returns to the poetry of Federico García Lorca, which has been the inspiration for many of his works since the 1960s, including the above-mentioned Ancient Voices of Children. While the earlier works used the original Spanish, here Crumb sets English translations of the poems. The comprehensive booklet includes both the originals and the translations. We have to thank Bridge Records for their thoroughness, not only in the preparation of this recording, which also includes the piano duo Quattro Mani and percussionists David Nelson and William Kerrigan, but for undertaking such an exhaustive catalogue of works by one of the unique voices of our time.

02 Jordan PalInto the Wonder
Jordan Pal, Gryphon Trio, Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra, Arthur Post
AN 2 9521 analekta.com

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Editor's Corner (December 2017/January 2018) which can be read in its entirety here.

I am pleased to note that this month we have reviews of four Analekta discs, and that they all feature contemporary (or at least 20th-century in the case of André Mathieu) composers. I point this out because although this Quebec label is highly respected for its releases, for the most part they stick to more conventionally classical repertoire, even though some of their artists are renowned for their commitment to contemporary music. The Gryphon Trio has been a major “exception to this rule.” The Gryphon’s 19-title discography includes half a dozen Analekta releases of contemporary music, so kudos to them. The most recent of these is Into the Wonder (AN 2 9521 analekta.com), on which they join the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Arthur Post to perform the music of Jordan Pal. Described by Ludwig van Toronto as “the country’s current it-boy composer,” at 34, Pal is currently the RBC affiliate composer of the Toronto Symphony and his music has been performed by every significant orchestra across Canada.

Starling – Triple concerto for violin, cello, piano and orchestra was commissioned by the Gryphon Trio and the Thunder Bay Symphony in 2013. It is a scintillating work in three movements, opening with an orchestral flourish that develops into a 15-minute flight, a “murmuration” with only brief moments of respite, mostly in the form of lyrical cadenzas from the solo trio. It is exhilarating how Pal sustains the momentum throughout. The Largo second movement begins in dark brass timbres that once again give way to gorgeously lyrical passages from the soloists, especially in the cello lines. But one word of caution, or at least a cautionary tale for me. Many years ago I discovered how close the sound of a cello can be to that of a saxophone when I first heard Kabalevsky’s Cello Concerto No.2. About midway through, the solo cello gives way to an alto saxophone cadenza so seamlessly that it takes several seconds for the ear to recognize what has just gone on. I had a similar experience when I first listened to Starling, which I did on small computer speakers. I was convinced I was hearing saxophone at several points in the recording and emailed Pal to ask if this was the case because I did not see any saxophonists credited in the list of orchestra members. He assured me that he had not included saxophone in the instrumentation and subsequent listening on proper speakers has confirmed this. That’s why I make a point of listening on my stereo system before passing judgement on discs – basic computer systems simply don’t provide accurate sound. The finale, Presto – Electric and Wild is simply that, a moto perpetuo once again reminiscent of a thousand starlings soaring and swirling together in the sky.

I think I will let the composer speak for himself about the title piece, also commissioned by the TBSO, which at half an hour comprises just under half of the disc. “Into the Wonder celebrates the creative will of our universe. Evoking birth and death, creation and destruction, universal interconnectedness and the rapture of love, this piece seeks to capture the mystery, awe and wonder of life. Nature’s own great works of art are reminders that we are a part of this magnificent range of possibilities, that we are part of something much greater. This symphony celebrates all that is beautiful.” Is this simply the naïve vision of a young man couched in slick orchestral finery? This is certainly not “new music” in the sense of Carter or Crumb, but it is genuinely attractive, well-crafted and brilliantly executed. Does it succeed in its aspirations? I welcome you to judge for yourselves.

01 Sylvie ProulxLes Tendres Plaintes: Works by Jean-Philippe Rameau (Centaur CRC 3603) is the second solo CD from Canadian guitarist Sylvie Proulx; it’s a collection of transcriptions, mostly of dance movements, from harpsichord suites by the leading French Baroque composer.

Three of the transcriptions, including the title track, are by Proulx, with the remaining 12 being by other guitarists including John Duarte and Andrés Segovia. Given the inherent difficulties in transcribing harpsichord music for guitar – the reduced range, the unavoidability of playing fewer notes, and in particular the handling of ornamentation – everything here works extremely well, helped no doubt by the guitar’s greater capabilities for expressive playing.

Proulx’s performances are clean and clearly defined, with a complete absence of extraneous noise and a lovely range of colour, tone and contrast. It’s terrific playing.

02 Campion GuitarThere’s more excellent – and fascinating – guitar playing on François Campion Music for Baroque Guitar (Brilliant Classics 95276), with Bernhard Hofstötter playing a Baroque guitar attributed to Matteo Sellas of Venice, from about 1640.

The colour booklet photos show an astonishingly beautiful instrument. It’s a five-course guitar, tuned the same as the top five strings of the modern guitar, with the top E a single string and the other four doubled, either in unison (A, G and B strings) or at the lower octave (D string).

In 1705 Campion published one of the last five-course guitar books, and continued to add handwritten pieces to his own personal copy throughout his life. These manuscript pieces often exceeded the published works in size and difficulty, and form the basis of this recital.

In the excellent booklet Hofstötter remarks on the instrument’s “…full-bodied and velvety dark sound which radically differs from comparable modern instruments” and is “round, fully resonating and at the same time subtle and fragile.” It’s exactly that. Hofstötter is a lutenist, and it shows; the sound here seems like a bridge between the lute and the classical guitar. It’s meticulously clean playing of some very intricate and technically demanding music – the Bach-like fugues and dance forms in particular – and a simply fascinating CD.

03 Haimovitz TroikaWhenever you see a 2CD box set from the wonderful cello and piano duo of Matt Haimovitz and Christopher O’Riley you know you’re in for something special, and so it proves with Troika, their latest release of Russian music by Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff on the Pentatone Oxingale Series label (PTC 5186 608).

CD1 is devoted to Shostakovich and Prokofiev, with the former’s Waltz No.2 and Cello Sonata in D Minor Op.40 and the latter’s Troika from Lieutenant Kijé and Cello Sonata in C Major Op.119.

CD2 has Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata in G Minor Op.19 and his famous Vocalise before the duo takes a customary left turn into contemporary Russian music with two of their own arrangements: Kukushka, by the singer-songwriter Victor Tsoi; and Pussy Riot’s Punk Prayer – Virgin Mary, Put Putin Away, complete with Haimovitz’s use of a glass slide on the strings and a crushed Styrofoam cup behind the bridge to achieve some grunge punk bass distortion!

The duo’s arrangement of Lennon & McCartney’s Back in the U.S.S.R. completes a terrific set.

Review

04 Dubeau RichterAngèle Dubeau and La Pietà are back with another CD in their Portrait series, this time featuring music by Max Richter, who has been particularly active in film, theatre and television (Analekta AN 2 8745).

Previous Portrait CDs featured Philip Glass, Arvo Pärt, John Adams and Ludovico Einaudi, and Dubeau says that the more she listens to composers gravitating around the minimalist movement the more she wants to interpret their music: “I enjoy the moments of introspection that these works bring.”

Those moments are possibly the result of the lack of any real development: each of the 16 short pieces here (15 are less than five minutes) essentially sets a mood and keeps it, with little opportunity for anything other than “Here’s an idea…”

Apart from the really lovely Mercy for solo violin and piano, and Winter II, recomposed by Richter from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, all tracks are arrangements by François Vallières and Dubeau of pieces from Richter’s solo albums Memoryhouse, The Blue Notebooks – Disconnect, Songs From Before and From Sleep, the films Waltz with Bashir and Perfect Sense, and the television scores for The Leftovers and Black Mirror-Nosedive.

As always, playing and recording standards are absolutely top-notch. It’s essentially easy, pleasant – and, yes, introspective – listening that will be warmly welcomed by Dubeau’s many regular admirers.

Review

05 Nune MelikViolinist Nuné Melik makes an impressive recording debut with the CD Hidden Treasure: Rediscovered Music from Armenia with pianist Michel-Alexandres Broekaert (DOM Forlane FOR 16886 domdisques.com).

Born in Siberia of Armenian/Georgian/Jewish heritage, Melik moved to Montreal in 2009 and began to explore the music of composers from her upbringing; this recital program grew out of the resulting Hidden Treasure project. Judging by her playing here, it’s clearly been an emotional and rewarding journey.

The central work on the disc is the Violin Sonata in B-flat Minor by Arno Babadjanian, written in Russia in 1959 and criticized as “formalist” by the Soviet authorities. Babadjanian’s close friend Dmitri Shostakovich thought highly of it, and his influence is clearly felt; there are hints of Prokofiev in the slow movement, too.

Lovely short pieces by Komitas Vardapet, Aram Khachaturian and Alexander Spendiarian complete the disc. There’s passionate, rhapsodic playing from Melik and sympathetic support from Broekaert, who also has a short solo.

 

Review

06 Fewer KnoxJ.S. Bach: Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord BWV 1014-1019 with violinist Mark Fewer and Hank Knox (Leaf Music LM 216) is the third set of these works I’ve received in recent years, following the outstanding releases from Catherine Manson and Ton Koopman (harpsichord) and the Duo Concertante pairing of Nancy Dahn and Timothy Steeves (piano).

Although there is accomplished playing here the harpsichord is prominent and rather heavy, and its lack of dynamic range tends to give the performances a somewhat mechanical feel, with the violin sounding more like a separate voice than an integrated partner. Koopman’s sound is much softer and much more attuned to Manson’s playing.

There are occasional significant differences in interpretation too, notably in the Adagio of the F minor sonata, where Fewer – unlike Manson and Dahn – opts to separate and shorten the eighth note double-stops.

As always, it comes down to personal taste. If you prefer these works strong and bright and with harpsichord there is much here you will enjoy, although Manson and Koopman and Duo Concertante both offer more sensitive readings.

 

07 Akiko MeyersFantasia is the 35th studio album from violin superstar Anne Akiko Meyers, this time with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Kristjan Järvi (Avie Records AV2385). The title track is by the Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, written in 2015 at the request of Meyers, who worked on it with the composer in Helsinki only months before his death in July 2016. Meyers describes it as “transcendent” and having “the feeling of an elegy with a very personal reflective mood.” It’s a lovely work that clearly has great emotional significance for her.

The Violin Concerto No.1 Op.35 by Karol Szymanowski dates from 1916, and was one of the first works to reflect the life-changing influence of his 1914 trips to North Africa and to Paris, where he met Debussy and Ravel. It’s a simply glorious single-movement work full of sensuous and exotic melody and lush orchestration, and with an extremely demanding solo part that rarely leaves the stratosphere.

Ravel’s dazzling Tzigane, in the orchestral version, completes a simply outstanding CD.

08 Kinga AugustynIn the old LP days the Bruch and Mendelssohn Violin Concertos were frequent companions, and the tradition continues on a new CD from the Polish-born violinist Kinga Augustyn, with the Janáček Philharmonia Orchestra under Jakub Klecker (Centaur CRC 3585).

The Bruch Concerto No.1 in G Minor has a lovely opening, with Augustyn displaying a big, bright tone. Tempos are never rushed, and there is beautiful orchestral support.

The performance of the Mendelssohn Concerto in E Minor follows the same pattern, with unhurried tempos, accuracy in the details and some lovely orchestral moments. There’s sweetness and warmth in the playing, but never a hint of superficiality: these are thoughtful performances that bring delightful playing from all concerned.

Massenet’s Meditation from Thaïs is the final track, and again it’s a performance that leans toward the understated – a sensitive, simple reading with great depth that makes for a very effective ending to an impressive CD.

09 Saint Saens CelloThe outstanding German cellist Gabriel Schwabe is the soloist in the complete Saint-Saëns Works for Cello and Orchestra with the Malmö Symphony Orchestra under Marc Soustrot (Naxos 8.573737).

The two Cello Concertos – No.1 in A Minor, Op.33 and No.2 in D Minor, Op.119 – are the major works here, although the lesser-known five-movement Suite in D Minor, Op.16bis from 1919 has much to recommend it. It was written for cello and piano and later orchestrated by the composer, as were the two other short works here: the Romance in F Major, Op.36 and the Allegro appassionato in B Minor, Op.43. Paul Vidal’s orchestration of The Swan from Carnival of the Animals completes the CD.

With his great tone and terrific technique Schwabe easily negotiates the difficult challenges of the second concerto, with some particularly lovely playing in the simply beautiful central Andante sostenuto. There is fine orchestral support from Soustrot and the Malmö orchestra. All in all, an outstanding disc.

10 Ashley WaltersThere’s cello playing at the complete opposite end of the spectrum on Sweet Anxiety, the first solo CD from the American cellist Ashley Walters featuring new works for cello from 2002-2013 (populist records PR014 populistrecords.com). Walters says that she seeks “to challenge your perception of what the cello… is capable of,” and she certainly succeeds.

Nicholas Deyoe provides two tracks: For Stephanie (on our wedding day) and the title track another anxiety, the latter drawing some astonishing playing from Walters. Luciano Berio’s Sequenza XIV is predominantly percussive; it’s heard here in a performing edition created by Walters.

Wolfgang von Schweinitz’s Plainsound-Litany is a hypnotic sequence of precisely tuned double stops; Wadada Leo Smith’s Sweet Bay Magnolia with Berry Clusters includes improvisational sequences. Andrew McIntosh’s Another Secular Calvinist Creed provides a serene, contemplative end to the recital.

Walters is simply brilliant throughout the disc, and the short printed examples of the scores (other than the Berio) give some idea of the challenges she faced.

Review

11 Madeleine MitchellOn Violin Muse the British violinist Madeleine Mitchell presents a program of world premiere recordings of works by British composers (Divine Art dda 25160).

The major work here is the two-movement Violin Concerto “Soft Stillness” by Welsh composer Guto Pryderi Puw, commissioned by Mitchell and heard in a live BBC Radio recording from 2016. It’s an effective piece, with Mitchell accompanied by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Edwin Outwater.

Mitchell is joined by Cerys Jones in Judith Weir’s delightful Atlantic Drift – Three pieces for two violins, based on Gaelic folk tunes.

Pianist Nigel Clayton is the accompanist in the remaining works: Geoffrey Poole’s Rhapsody; David Matthews’ Romanza Op.119a; Sadie Harrison’s lovely Aurea Luce; Michael Berkeley’s Veilleuse; and Michael Nyman’s Taking it as Read.

There’s excellent playing throughout by all concerned.

 

 

04 Dubeau RichterPortrait: Max Richter
Angèle Dubeau and La Pietà
Analekta AN 2 8745

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Strings Attached (December 2017/January 2018) which can be read in its entirety here.

Angèle Dubeau and La Pietà are back with another CD in their Portrait series, this time featuring music by Max Richter, who has been particularly active in film, theatre and television (Analekta AN 2 8745).

Previous Portrait CDs featured Philip Glass, Arvo Pärt, John Adams and Ludovico Einaudi, and Dubeau says that the more she listens to composers gravitating around the minimalist movement the more she wants to interpret their music: “I enjoy the moments of introspection that these works bring.”

Those moments are possibly the result of the lack of any real development: each of the 16 short pieces here (15 are less than five minutes) essentially sets a mood and keeps it, with little opportunity for anything other than “Here’s an idea…”

Apart from the really lovely Mercy for solo violin and piano, and Winter II, recomposed by Richter from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, all tracks are arrangements by François Vallières and Dubeau of pieces from Richter’s solo albums Memoryhouse, The Blue Notebooks – Disconnect, Songs From Before and From Sleep, the films Waltz with Bashir and Perfect Sense, and the television scores for The Leftovers and Black Mirror-Nosedive.

As always, playing and recording standards are absolutely top-notch. It’s essentially easy, pleasant – and, yes, introspective – listening that will be warmly welcomed by Dubeau’s many regular admirers.

05 Nune MelikHidden Treasure: Rediscovered Music from Armenia
Nuné Melik, Michel-Alexandres Broekaert
DOM Forlane FOR 16886 domdisques.com

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Strings Attached (December 2017/January 2018) which can be read in its entirety here.

Violinist Nuné Melik makes an impressive recording debut with the CD Hidden Treasure: Rediscovered Music from Armenia with pianist Michel-Alexandres Broekaert (DOM Forlane FOR 16886 domdisques.com).

Born in Siberia of Armenian/Georgian/Jewish heritage, Melik moved to Montreal in 2009 and began to explore the music of composers from her upbringing; this recital program grew out of the resulting Hidden Treasure project. Judging by her playing here, it’s clearly been an emotional and rewarding journey.

The central work on the disc is the Violin Sonata in B-flat Minor by Arno Babadjanian, written in Russia in 1959 and criticized as “formalist” by the Soviet authorities. Babadjanian’s close friend Dmitri Shostakovich thought highly of it, and his influence is clearly felt; there are hints of Prokofiev in the slow movement, too.

Lovely short pieces by Komitas Vardapet, Aram Khachaturian and Alexander Spendiarian complete the disc. There’s passionate, rhapsodic playing from Melik and sympathetic support from Broekaert, who also has a short solo.

06 Fewer KnoxJ.S. Bach: Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord BWV 1014-1019
Mark Fewer, Hank Knox
Leaf Music LM 216

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Strings Attached (December 2017/January 2018) which can be read in its entirety here.

J.S. Bach: Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord BWV 1014-1019 with violinist Mark Fewer and Hank Knox (Leaf Music LM 216) is the third set of these works I’ve received in recent years, following the outstanding releases from Catherine Manson and Ton Koopman (harpsichord) and the Duo Concertante pairing of Nancy Dahn and Timothy Steeves (piano).

Although there is accomplished playing here the harpsichord is prominent and rather heavy, and its lack of dynamic range tends to give the performances a somewhat mechanical feel, with the violin sounding more like a separate voice than an integrated partner. Koopman’s sound is much softer and much more attuned to Manson’s playing.

There are occasional significant differences in interpretation too, notably in the Adagio of the F minor sonata, where Fewer – unlike Manson and Dahn – opts to separate and shorten the eighth note double-stops.

As always, it comes down to personal taste. If you prefer these works strong and bright and with harpsichord there is much here you will enjoy, although Manson and Koopman and Duo Concertante both offer more sensitive readings.

11 Madeleine MitchellViolin Muse
Madeleine Mitchell
Divine Art dda 25160

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Strings Attached (December 2017/January 2018) which can be read in its entirety here.

On Violin Muse the British violinist Madeleine Mitchell presents a program of world premiere recordings of works by British composers (Divine Art dda 25160).

The major work here is the two-movement Violin Concerto “Soft Stillness” by Welsh composer Guto Pryderi Puw, commissioned by Mitchell and heard in a live BBC Radio recording from 2016. It’s an effective piece, with Mitchell accompanied by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Edwin Outwater.

Mitchell is joined by Cerys Jones in Judith Weir’s delightful Atlantic Drift – Three pieces for two violins, based on Gaelic folk tunes.

Pianist Nigel Clayton is the accompanist in the remaining works: Geoffrey Poole’s Rhapsody; David Matthews’ Romanza Op.119a; Sadie Harrison’s lovely Aurea Luce; Michael Berkeley’s Veilleuse; and Michael Nyman’s Taking it as Read.

There’s excellent playing throughout by all concerned.

Review

01 David JalbertDavid Jalbert already has five recordings in the ATMA catalogue. His newest is Stravinski – Prokofiev Pétrouchka, L’oiseau de feu, Roméo et Juliette – Transcriptions pour piano (ATMA Classique ACD2 2684). It shows why he’s considered one of the younger generation’s finest pianists. His performance of Danse russe from Pétrouchka explodes into being with astonishing speed and alacrity. Jalbert possesses a sweeping technique that exudes ease and persuasive conviction.

The three extracts from L’Oiseau de feu require, and Jalbert obviously has it, complete command of the keyboard for the Danse that begins the set. Equally demanding is the introspection necessary for the following Berceuse. The Finale builds to a colossal orchestral finish that loses nothing in this transcription for piano.

According to the disc’s informative liner notes, the ten pieces from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet Op.75 are from Prokofiev’s original piano score, and owing to the composer’s facility with the instrument, are highly idiomatic. One of the set’s most engaging pieces is The Montagues and the Capulets, driven rhythmically by its relentless bassline. Jalbert has a complete understanding of these three stage works and the contemporary language their composers used to tell their stories.

Review

02 MathieuAlain Lefèvre has recorded an intriguing work with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra under Joann Falletta: André Mathieu – Concerto No.3 (Analekta AN 2 9299). Written at age 13 while marooned with his family in North America by the outbreak of WWII, unable to return to France where he had been studying on a scholarship from the Quebec government, the work was intended to launch Mathieu’s career with the influential decision makers of the New York music scene. Unfortunately, not much came of it until 1946, when a newly created Quebec production company approached Mathieu for the rights to use his Concerto No.3 in a film (La Forteresse/Whispering City) to be shot entirely in Quebec. As things turned out, only major portions of the second movement were used in the film score. Until recently, this had been the only record of the work. Mathieu himself recorded it in 1947, and this same version, revised by Marc Bélanger, was recorded by Philippe Entremont in 1977 and made famous by Alain Lefèvre in 2003. Eventually renamed the Concerto de Québec, the recording by Jean-Philippe Sylvestre with the Orchestre Métropolitain and conductor Alain Trudel was reviewed here in October.

In 2008 the original autograph score for two pianos was discovered in Ottawa. Since then, composer and conductor Jacques Marchand has prepared a critical edition that is faithful to the original manuscript. This is its first full recording. It has all the sweeping gestures of its period and a devilishly difficult piano part. Lefèvre’s performance at the keyboard is masterful. He and the BPO perform the work with astonishing authenticity, restoring a fascinating chapter to Canadian music history of that period.

 

03 David Glen HatchAmerican pianist David Glen Hatch exploits his pianistic link to Brahms in Brahms & Rubinstein (Centaur CRC 3565/3566). Brahms’ student Carl Friedberg taught at Juilliard in the late 1940s; Hatch’s own teacher Joanne Baker won an audition to study there with Friedberg. Hatch recalls numerous instructions from Baker, handed down by Friedberg from Brahms, about his intentions for various passages in the Piano Concerto No.1 in D Minor Op.15. It’s fascinating to consider the extent to which Hatch’s performance is connected to the composer in this way. Hatch’s approach overall is quite deliberate in his slightly slower tempi. The second movement in particular reveals numerous opportunities to dwell on phrases and Brahms’ characteristic harmonic shifts.

As substantial as the Brahms concerto is, the Rubinstein Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No.4 in D Minor Op.70 seems an even grander conception. It may have to do with Rubenstein’s orchestrations, but somehow Hatch seems truly in his element with the composer’s great pianistic gestures. The concertos are an excellent pairing for this two-disc recording.

Review

04 Piano a deuxRobert and Linda Ang Stoodley style themselves as Piano à Deux. Their new disc, France Revisited – Music by Onslow, Debussy and Poulenc (Divine Art dda 25132) is an example of piano four hands performance at its very best. One of the disc’s many treats is the appearance of music by George Onslow. Because his oeuvre is largely for chamber strings, his very few piano works tend to be overlooked. The unique voice of this 19th-century composer is deeply intriguing as heard in the Sonata for Piano Four Hands No.1 in E Minor Op.7. It’s surprisingly forward looking despite its early catalogue entry.

Petite Suite delivers all the rich impressionistic orchestrations with which we associate Claude Debussy, and Piano à Deux are consistently excellent in how they portray the composer’s lightly programmatic intent.

The duo has also transcribed the Poulenc Chansons de l’amour et de la guerre, and done so with a gifted ear that preserves the wistful nostalgia that Poulenc infused into each song.

05 Jose MenorJosé Menor is an extraordinary pianist with a fearsome technique and unrivalled fluidity of touch. His new recording Goyescas – Enrique Granados (IBS Classical IBS-82017) demonstrates how he brings these gifts to his exploration of this major composition of Spanish piano music. Menor goes to considerable effort in his liner notes to explain how this music captured his imagination and compelled him to study it from a composer’s perspective rather than just a pianist’s. His study of the original manuscripts recommended by the Granados family helped him profoundly in discerning the composer’s intent in writing the suite, which deals with the course of love and death.

Menor admits being attracted by the work’s many, deep contrasts and its expressive intensity. This is most powerfully evident in El amor y la muerte. It’s astonishing to imagine that this century-old work contains such modern tone clusters and rhythmic freedom. Under the hands of Menor it becomes a revealing expression, ahead of its time, and potently magical. The suite is slightly abridged for lack of recording space but the disc does include a rare performance of a single short manuscript, Crepúsculo, that may have been Granados’ first draft of some of the suite.

Review

06 MathiesonHarpsichordist Gilbert Rowland has completed a substantial project with his recording Johann Mattheson 12 Suites for Harpsichord (Athene ath 23301.1 divineartrecords.com). The three-disc set is a valuable document shedding some light on the music of a hitherto obscure composer. Mattheson was a contemporary of Handel and came to know him well as a friend and colleague. He is said to have written numerous operas, oratorios, sacred works and music for organ. Most of these manuscripts were kept in Hamburg, where Mattheson lived and worked for much of his life. Allied bombing of the city during WWII destroyed most of the Mattheson documents, leaving little for modern scholars to study. Fortunately, the 12 Suites for Harpsichord, dating from 1714, have survived. They are well-conceived mature works written in the French dance suite style. Rowland plays a 2005 copy of a French instrument from 1750 by Goermans.

 

Review

07 Operatic PianistAndrew Wright has recorded a second disc in his series of operatic transcriptions, The Operatic Pianist II (Divine Art dda 25153 divineartrecords.com). Opera transcriptions were, in their day, the equivalent of pop song covers. They also provided travelling pianists with ample popular repertoire for performance. Liszt may be the best-known contributor to the form, although a great many composers dabbled in the genre. Wright clearly has a wonderful working grasp of this repertoire and knows how to bring forward the vocal line as well as how to portray the orchestral colour that any given emotional moment requires. His playing is consistently fabulous, whether he’s pounding out Liszt’s Rienzi Fantasy or Saint-Saëns’ Concert Paraphrase on Thaïs. It’s easy to understand how these transcriptions achieved “hit” status in the time before the gramophone and digital access to opera performances.

Review

08 Janacek BachMisuzu Tanaka has, at first blush, twinned a pair of unlikely composers in her new release, Janáček, Bach - In concert (Concertant Classics CD PR201601 concertantclassics.com). She admits, however, that in the process of the recording she discovered that both were having the same effect on her. Tanaka’s performance of the Bach Partita No.6 in E Minor BWV 830 reveals her strict adherence to the perfection of Bach’s structure. It also uncovers the emotional richness of the minor key. This last consideration is where she makes the link to Janáček. His Moravian heritage and his links to Czech folk music are reflected in the emotional content of On an Overgrown Path, Books 1 and 2. Minor keys are prevalent. Melancholy is pervasive. In its own way, this shared feature is, for Tanaka, the point of connection.

Tanaka approaches Janáček with an intent to uncover the inspired simplicity of his music. She moves through the numerous parts of Books 1 and 2 with thoughtful deliberation, capturing the essence of the composer’s evocative titles: Words Fail, Unutterable Anguish, In Tears, for example. Her playing is as perfect for Janáček as it is for Bach. What a wonderfully unlikely pair.

 

09 WeisgallMartin Perry’s third recording Martin Perry Piano – Hugo Weisgall, Piano Sonata & Paul Hindemith, Ludus Tonalis (Bridge 9467) continues his artistic focus on contemporary piano music, and specifically on substantial forms. The disc opens with a three-movement Sonata for Piano by Hugo Weisgall, a Moravian immigrant to the US in 1920 whose serious pursuit of music study at Peabody and Curtis, and privately with composers like Roger Sessions, helped form the rigorous approach he developed in his own writing. His language tends towards a 12-tone, relaxed serialism where the musical ideas are rather long. There’s a good deal of highly contrasted emotional content that Perry handles beautifully, giving the sonata what the liner notes call an “operatic” quality.

In the same vein, the Hindemith Ludus Tonalis has an illuminating subtitle: Studies in Counterpoint, Tonal Organization and Piano Playing. Hindemith writes a fugue in each of the 12 major keys, joined by interludes that help establish the new key. The opening Praeludium is played inverted and in reverse as the Postludium. It’s all rather cerebral, but Perry uses the distinct character of each fugue and interlude to colour the work in the most creative way. It’s a very engaging performance.

10 Villa LobosAndree-Ann Deschenes describes herself as a “French-Canadian pianist specializing in the passionate music of Latin and South America.” Currently doing doctoral work at California State University in LA, her latest recording Villa-Lobos / Castro (191061746096 aadpiano.com) is a rich program revealing the skill and artistic mastery of this very gifted pianist. Opening with the Villa-Lobos four-part Ciclo Brasileiro W374, Deschenes establishes her credentials as a serious student of these Latin composers. With an unerring sense of rhythm for every turn of phrase and ornament, she navigates through the Villa-Lobos and the five Tangos para Piano by Juan José Castro, finishing with a brilliant performance of Festiva by José Maria Vitler. It’s a terrific recording with a tremendous amount of energy, humour and astonishing talent.

11 Norman KriegerNorman Krieger puts two wonderful standard repertoire items on his newest CD: Beethoven Piano Concertos No.3 Op.37 & No.5 Op.73 (Decca DD41154 / 4815583). The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra under Joann Falletta performs beautifully with Krieger. They appear to have an agreement that the Concerto No.3 will not be overly furious and that the “Emperor” will similarly not be too imperiously grand. The outer movements of the concertos are sufficiently strong and emphatic where they need be, and the middle, slow movements are given ample space to breathe. The Concerto No.5 is especially effective in this way. The playing throughout is excellent. To top things off, the recordings are live concert performances that bring their own unique energy to the music. It’s a successful collaboration that shows promise.

01 David JalbertStravinski – Prokofiev Pétrouchka, L’oiseau de feu, Roméo et Juliette – Transcriptions pour piano
David Jalbert
ATMA Classique ACD2 2684

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Keyed In (December 2017/January 2018) which can be read in its entirety here.

David Jalbert already has five recordings in the ATMA catalogue. His newest is Stravinski – Prokofiev Pétrouchka, L’oiseau de feu, Roméo et Juliette – Transcriptions pour piano (ATMA Classique ACD2 2684). It shows why he’s considered one of the younger generation’s finest pianists. His performance of Danse russe from Pétrouchka explodes into being with astonishing speed and alacrity. Jalbert possesses a sweeping technique that exudes ease and persuasive conviction.

The three extracts from L’Oiseau de feu require, and Jalbert obviously has it, complete command of the keyboard for the Danse that begins the set. Equally demanding is the introspection necessary for the following Berceuse. The Finale builds to a colossal orchestral finish that loses nothing in this transcription for piano.

According to the disc’s informative liner notes, the ten pieces from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet Op.75 are from Prokofiev’s original piano score, and owing to the composer’s facility with the instrument, are highly idiomatic. One of the set’s most engaging pieces is The Montagues and the Capulets, driven rhythmically by its relentless bassline. Jalbert has a complete understanding of these three stage works and the contemporary language their composers used to tell their stories.

02 MathieuAndré Mathieu – Concerto No.3
Alain Lefèvre, JoAnn Falletta, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
Analekta AN 2 9299

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Keyed In (December 2017/January 2018) which can be read in its entirety here.

Alain Lefèvre has recorded an intriguing work with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra under Joann Falletta: André Mathieu – Concerto No.3 (Analekta AN 2 9299). Written at age 13 while marooned with his family in North America by the outbreak of WWII, unable to return to France where he had been studying on a scholarship from the Quebec government, the work was intended to launch Mathieu’s career with the influential decision makers of the New York music scene. Unfortunately, not much came of it until 1946, when a newly created Quebec production company approached Mathieu for the rights to use his Concerto No.3 in a film (La Forteresse/Whispering City) to be shot entirely in Quebec. As things turned out, only major portions of the second movement were used in the film score. Until recently, this had been the only record of the work. Mathieu himself recorded it in 1947, and this same version, revised by Marc Bélanger, was recorded by Philippe Entremont in 1977 and made famous by Alain Lefèvre in 2003. Eventually renamed the Concerto de Québec, the recording by Jean-Philippe Sylvestre with the Orchestre Métropolitain and conductor Alain Trudel was reviewed here in October.

In 2008 the original autograph score for two pianos was discovered in Ottawa. Since then, composer and conductor Jacques Marchand has prepared a critical edition that is faithful to the original manuscript. This is its first full recording. It has all the sweeping gestures of its period and a devilishly difficult piano part. Lefèvre’s performance at the keyboard is masterful. He and the BPO perform the work with astonishing authenticity, restoring a fascinating chapter to Canadian music history of that period.

04 Piano a deuxFrance Revisited: Music by Onslow, Debussy and Poulenc
Piano à Deux
Divine Art dda 25132

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Keyed In (December 2017/January 2018) which can be read in its entirety here.

Robert and Linda Ang Stoodley style themselves as Piano à Deux. Their new disc, France Revisited – Music by Onslow, Debussy and Poulenc (Divine Art dda 25132) is an example of piano four hands performance at its very best. One of the disc’s many treats is the appearance of music by George Onslow. Because his oeuvre is largely for chamber strings, his very few piano works tend to be overlooked. The unique voice of this 19th-century composer is deeply intriguing as heard in the Sonata for Piano Four Hands No.1 in E Minor Op.7. It’s surprisingly forward looking despite its early catalogue entry.

Petite Suite delivers all the rich impressionistic orchestrations with which we associate Claude Debussy, and Piano à Deux are consistently excellent in how they portray the composer’s lightly programmatic intent.

The duo has also transcribed the Poulenc Chansons de l’amour et de la guerre, and done so with a gifted ear that preserves the wistful nostalgia that Poulenc infused into each song.

06 MathiesonJohann Mattheson 12 Suites for Harpsichord
Gilbert Rowland
Athene ath 23301.1 divineartrecords.com

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Keyed In (December 2017/January 2018) which can be read in its entirety here.

Harpsichordist Gilbert Rowland has completed a substantial project with his recording Johann Mattheson 12 Suites for Harpsichord (Athene ath 23301.1 divineartrecords.com). The three-disc set is a valuable document shedding some light on the music of a hitherto obscure composer. Mattheson was a contemporary of Handel and came to know him well as a friend and colleague. He is said to have written numerous operas, oratorios, sacred works and music for organ. Most of these manuscripts were kept in Hamburg, where Mattheson lived and worked for much of his life. Allied bombing of the city during WWII destroyed most of the Mattheson documents, leaving little for modern scholars to study. Fortunately, the 12 Suites for Harpsichord, dating from 1714, have survived. They are well-conceived mature works written in the French dance suite style. Rowland plays a 2005 copy of a French instrument from 1750 by Goermans.

07 Operatic PianistThe Operatic Pianist II
Andrew Wright
Divine Art dda 25153 divineartrecords.com

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Keyed In (December 2017/January 2018) which can be read in its entirety here.

Andrew Wright has recorded a second disc in his series of operatic transcriptions, The Operatic Pianist II (Divine Art dda 25153 divineartrecords.com). Opera transcriptions were, in their day, the equivalent of pop song covers. They also provided travelling pianists with ample popular repertoire for performance. Liszt may be the best-known contributor to the form, although a great many composers dabbled in the genre. Wright clearly has a wonderful working grasp of this repertoire and knows how to bring forward the vocal line as well as how to portray the orchestral colour that any given emotional moment requires. His playing is consistently fabulous, whether he’s pounding out Liszt’s Rienzi Fantasy or Saint-Saëns’ Concert Paraphrase on Thaïs. It’s easy to understand how these transcriptions achieved “hit” status in the time before the gramophone and digital access to opera performances.

08 Janacek BachJanáček, Bach - In concert
Misuzu Tanaka
Concertant Classics CD PR201601 concertantclassics.com

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Keyed In (December 2017/January 2018) which can be read in its entirety here.

Misuzu Tanaka has, at first blush, twinned a pair of unlikely composers in her new release, Janáček, Bach - In concert (Concertant Classics CD PR201601 concertantclassics.com). She admits, however, that in the process of the recording she discovered that both were having the same effect on her. Tanaka’s performance of the Bach Partita No.6 in E Minor BWV 830 reveals her strict adherence to the perfection of Bach’s structure. It also uncovers the emotional richness of the minor key. This last consideration is where she makes the link to Janáček. His Moravian heritage and his links to Czech folk music are reflected in the emotional content of On an Overgrown Path, Books 1 and 2. Minor keys are prevalent. Melancholy is pervasive. In its own way, this shared feature is, for Tanaka, the point of connection.

Tanaka approaches Janáček with an intent to uncover the inspired simplicity of his music. She moves through the numerous parts of Books 1 and 2 with thoughtful deliberation, capturing the essence of the composer’s evocative titles: Words Fail, Unutterable Anguish, In Tears, for example. Her playing is as perfect for Janáček as it is for Bach. What a wonderfully unlikely pair.

01 Boccherini ConcertoLuigi Boccherini - Arie da Concerto
Amaryllis Dieltiens; Capriola di Gioia; Bart Naessens
Evil Penguin Records Classic EPRC 0023 (eprclassic.eu)

This is an ensemble on a mission – what it calls rehabilitating Boccherini. Overshadowed by Mozart and Haydn and receiving mixed comments in Grove’s Dictionary, Boccherini’s few vocal compositions – few because Boccherini’s patrons overwhelmingly demanded instrumental music – convey, according to Capriola di Gioia, a rare insight into the potential of the human voice. And so to the seven pieces selected by the Capriola di Gioia. Caro padre, a me non dei is a worthy introductory piece with an almost jaunty interpretation by Dieltiens – an approach repeated in Se non ti moro allato.

And yet, the heart of this CD is its intense concentration on classical themes. As perhaps might be expected from a piece with an inspiration of this nature, Caro luci, che regnate begins with a more stately character, a tone taken up by Dieltiens as she sings of Jason’s predicament in Issipile. Misera, dove soni is a worthy combination of a classical theme with a text and instrumental scoring for strings which could have been written by any of the great Baroque composers who preceded Boccherini.

Capriola di Gioia’s varied choice of Boccherini’s Arie da concerto allows the listener to make up his or her mind as to whether the composer has actually been rehabilitated. This CD from Dieltiens and Naessens means Boccherini does deserve to be listened to. Indeed, the final track Se d’un amor tiranno with its sprightly string playing, deep continuo and pleading voice encapsulates all the reasons for doing just that.

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