Correction: In a review in our previous issue (Volume 29 No 5) the bass player on John Herberman’s album Spring Comes Early was incorrectly identified as Jim Vivian. In actuality the “sinuous, emotive bass” playing referred to was that of Paul Novotny. The WholeNote apologizes for the error. Lesley Mitchell-Clarke’s review of Novotny’s own latest album Summertime in Leith, which features duets with Robi Botos, leads off the Jazz and Improvised review section further on in these pages. 

I enjoy connections, and excuses to revisit my vinyl collection, and in this issue I found several. While editing Yoshi Maclear Wall’s review of Disaster Pony in the Jazz and Improvised Section below, I was struck by his comments about the interplay between cello and saxophone. It put me in mind of the first time I encountered saxophone in a classical context in a 1965 recording of Kabalevsky’s Cello Concerto No.2 featuring its dedicatee Daniil Shafran with the Leningrad Philharmonic. About halfway through the work there is a cello cadenza followed by a phrenetic orchestral tutti in which a saxophone takes up the cello’s theme. On first listening, it took several seconds to assimilate what I was hearing. When the cello takes back the theme a minute later, I was amazed to realize just how alike the two seemingly disparate instruments could sound. It was a revelation. So, Yoshi’s review sent me rooting around my vinyl collection to come up with the old Melodyia/Angel LP. What a joy to revisit that seminal recording. 

01 Sinta BeethovenThe next excuse for a deep dive came as a result of a CD which I didn’t at first think I would be reviewing, Sinta Quartet Plays Beethoven (Bright Shiny Things BSTC-0196 Now Sinta is a saxophone quartet, and I must say my initial skepticism was not allayed by the opening movement of Beethoven’s “Serioso” String Quartet No.11 in F Minor, Op.95. It was as if I was hearing the soundtrack of a Roadrunner cartoon, or maybe the Keystone Kops. I decided to withhold judgement, however, and skipped ahead to the centrepiece of the disc, the prayer-like third movement of String Quartet No.15 in A Minor, Op.132. From there I was drawn into the fugal opening of String Quartet No.14 in C-Sharp Minor, Op.131 and sat transfixed throughout its seven movements. I was immediately taken by the effectiveness of Dan Graser’s transcriptions, although I found the upper range of the soprano saxophone at times a bit shrill. To contrast that, the rich fullness of the baritone sax, far exceeding the depths of a cello, was captivating. I was surprised to find myself spending more time with this disc than any other in recent memory. Over the period of a month, I pulled out half a dozen versions of the string quartets, from my first vinyl recordings with the Yale String Quartet on the Vanguard Cardinal label and the Guarneri on RCA, through Orford and Italiano quartet LPs, to CDs featuring the Alban Berg, Tokyo (with Peter Oundjian) and Alcan quartets, all juxtaposed with repeated listenings to the saxophone versions. I’m not suggesting that saxophone arrangements will replace the originals in my heart, and pride of place for Op.132 still goes to the Orford Quartet’s digital recording on a Delos CD, but I’m pleased have this alternate take in my collection, much in the way that I appreciate Marion Verbruggen’s performance of Bach Cello Suites on the recorder – an interesting and enchanting new perspective.

02 Kinds of Nois coverI had no qualms whatsoever about Kinds of ~Nois, a recording of original works for saxophone quartet written by the members of the composers collective Kinds of Kings for the Chicago-based quartet ~Nois (Bright Shiny Things BSTC-0197 Presented in reverse chronology, the disc is bookended by two works by Gemma Peacocke, the recent Hazel, inspired by a poem by Pablo Neruda, and Dwalm, which represents the first collaboration between the two groups back in 2018. Shelley Washington’s Eternal Present is in two movements: I. Now and II. Always. The first features gently moving cloud-like clusters; the second is more playful and percussive, with echoes and games of tag. Maria Kaoutzani’s Count Me In is an “exploration of rhythm and drive inspired by Afro-Cuban bata traditions, made up of interlocking rhythmic patterns” which at times give way to drone-like stasis. Washington returns to narrate her poem BIG TALK and then to perform one of the two baritone sax parts in the duet of the same name, “an outcry against rape culture designed to be an endurance piece for the performers in solidarity with women forced to endure a daily barrage of physical abuse.” An “intentionally confrontational” work, BIG TALK exploits fully the range and power of the baritone instrument in a wild and varied ride lasting 11 minutes, with driving minimalist low ostinati and occasional hints of Harlem Nocturne on speed. Kaoutzani’s Shore to Shore provides respite with its quiet tribute to the sea, “with echoes of a Cypriot lullaby the composer’s grandmother used to sing to her.” Dwalm is an old Scottish word meaning both stupor or daydream and to faint or fall ill. “The composer pursues that idea by contrasting lullabies with cries of sorrow […] in the context of the same underlying darkness of oblivion,” although the density of layers and accelerated tempi keep despair at bay.  

03 Leah PlaveLeah Plave is a cellist currently based in The Netherlands who holds degrees from universities in Cincinnati, Montreal, Budapest and Den Haag. While studying at McGill she served as artistic director and cellist for the Montreal Music Collective. Tong Wang is a Canadian pianist and collaborative artist active in performance, research and community engagement. The Canada Council-funded Black Sea, Orange Tree (Leaf Music features the two in works for cello and piano by Turkish composer Fazil Say and Canadian Alice Ping Yee Ho. Each four-movement work depicts specific places in colourful aural portraits of the Republic of Türkiye and the People’s Republic of China respectively, and in each, the cello is called upon to replicate sounds of traditional instruments. Say’s Dört Şehir (Four Cities) is a journey through culturally diverse regions of Anatolia (Asia Minor) with stops at Sivas (a conservative city in Eastern Anatolia), Hopa (represented by a traditional wedding dance), Ankara (the capital city of Turkey under Atatürk in 1923), and finally Bodrum (known as the “St. Tropez of Turkey”). This last is a boisterous, jazz-inspired romp with “an abrupt and absurd conclusion in its depiction of a pub brawl as frequently experienced in this city.” Ho’s Four Impressions of China portray Hunan, Tibet, Heilongjiang and her birthplace, Hong Kong. The composer tells us that the music of Hunan takes a Chinese folk song as its point of departure. Tibet is an “imaginary train ride through the Himalayas to the city of Lhasa.” The Black Dragon River, one of China’s four great rivers, is the inspiration for Heilongjiang as the composer imagines a dance of the Black Dragon to symbolize the province’s fierce winters and dormant volcanoes. Hong Kong captures night scenes where locals “...gather at the harbour and lively night markets. Music unfolds the magical view of the Victoria Harbor glittering with city lights; there are the sounds of street performers singing and playing traditional instruments.” In these diverse portraits both performers have shown consummate command of their western instruments while adapting them admirably to create convincing Asian soundscapes.

04 David CrowellDavid Crowell is a New York-based composer and instrumentalist who is active in the fields of contemporary classical composition, improvisation, jazz and experimental rock and pop. His latest release Point / Cloud (Better Company Records features four compositions performed by Sandbox Percussion, guitarists Dan Lippel and Mak Grgić, and the duo eco|tonal. The percussion work Verses for a Liminal Space is a gentle piece full of bell sounds, vibraphone and marimba ostinati underscored by subtle drum kit beats. The title work is a response to Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint from 1987. Like that iconic work, Point / Cloud is in three movements in which the solo guitarist plays against tracks they have previously recorded. Lippel, who consulted with Reich for his own recording of Electric Counterpoint, is the guitarist here and gives a nuanced and well-balanced performance of this effective tribute, which, while acknowledging its forebear, avoids being derivative. For Pacific Coast Highway Lippel is joined by Grgić in a classical guitar duet version of a work Crowell originally composed for electric guitar and electric bass. It’s a wild ride “via dancelike passages that bend and wind after their namesake.” The most intriguing work is the final one, 2 Hours in Zadar featuring the meditative duo eco|tonal consisting of Crowell and cellist/singer/improviser Iva Casián-Lakoš. The text is drawn from a poem by Casián-Lakoš’ mother Nela Lakoš. “Subtle utterances of Casián-Lakoš speaking Croatian are blended with organ-like electronics, which are derived from manipulations of [her] voice. […] Eventually, samples of a sound unique to the city of Zadar makes its presence known: The Sea Organ. A symbiosis of human architecture and the unpredictability of nature, this ‘organ’ is a marble stair in the Croatian coastal city that contains an assortment of pipes in its steps, which are ‘played’ by the ebb and flow of waves.” The sounds are haunting and captivating, as is the entire disc. 

05 Exponential EnsembleFounded in 2011 by clarinetist Pascal Archer, Exponential Ensemble is a mixed chamber music collective (flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, violin, viola, cello and piano, supplemented with horn, trumpet and an additional violin here), whose unusual mission includes commissioning and premiering works that are inspired by math, science and literacy. Matters of Time (American Modern Recordings AMR1055 features four quite different works that approach this mandate in varying ways. Amy Brandon says “Crown of the Sun is a reflection on the physical nature of the sun’s corona contrasted with the deep emptiness of space. NASA recently sonified the radiation patterns that the sun emits, and I found a particular connection between this sound and the complex and beautiful sound of oboe multiphonics, which is why they are referenced throughout this piece, to essentially sonify the varying states of the sun’s corona in sound.” A Dark Matter by Gilead Cohen “explores the notion that our mind also sometimes circles around an […] indefinable worry, regret, or fear [that] can occupy us for a long time and color everything else in dark shades. At the core of this piece is such musical ‘dark matter.’” The Bright Exuberant Silence by Jared Miller gives us a curiously positive glimpse at the lockdowns of 2020, inspired by that “fleeting and eerie moment in modern history when the world was put on pause due to COVID-19 [and] nature began to heal. Pollution started to clear in the air as fewer people drove cars to work every day. Birdsong was audible in silent metropolises [and] you could even see the stars in the sky in the middle of Manhattan on some nights. Nature began to overtake cities quietly and holistically – and for a moment, urban dwellers learned what it was like to peacefully coexist with the natural world.” Both Miller’s and Brandon’s work were commissioned with the support of the Canada Council. The disc is completed by a surprisingly lyrical, playful and somewhat anachronistic work, to my ear reminiscent of the music of Francis Poulenc, by Robert Paterson. Relative Theory is in four movements that reference physicists and mathematicians Blaise Pascal, Emmy Noether, Albert Einstein and Pythagoras. Paterson says he was inspired by how much the Exponential Ensemble enjoy performing programs for children that relate math to music. “In a fun, yet hopefully meaningful way, the movements of my piece are designed to draw parallels between these two distinct, but interrelated worlds.” It certainly is fun, especially Einstein’s Daydream with its quotations from Bach, Beethoven and Mozart, and the rollicking finale The Hammers of Pythagoras

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06 Ryan Truesdell SynthesisI began this column writing about string quartet transcriptions for saxophones, and this latest arrival seems, in a way, to bring me full circle. Russell Truesdell Presents SYNTHESIS – The String Quartet Sessions ( is a mammoth project for which Truesdell invited 15 large ensemble jazz composers to write for the iconic classical string formation. Truesdell says the project grew out of the isolation of the pandemic. “I wanted to find a way to inspire and challenge large ensemble composers – myself included – at a time when we were feeling hopeless for the future of our artform [...] The idea for SYNTHESIS came from the knowledge that many jazz composers derive inspiration from the string quartet writing of composers like Bartok, Brahms, and Ravel, and the necessity of finding a realistic, yet inspiring way to create music together, safely, in person. [...] I wanted to hear my peers, whom I respect and whose music I love so much, create something new in this idiom.” The 3CD set has kept me enthralled throughout my first listening – it arrived as I was putting the finishing touches on this column, so I haven’t had time to properly immerse myself in it yet – and although there is simply too much material to deal with in detail, I wanted to share my enthusiasm with you. Truesdell gave the composers very few parameters in terms of length or style to guide them, and I was particularly taken with the range of approaches taken. While most of the works were composed specifically for this project, also included are a previously unrecorded work for string trio from 1990 by Bob Brookmeyer and a reworking of John Hollenbeck’s Grey Cottage, originally for solo violin, for quartet with the composer adding drums, marimba and piano. Most of the composers have chosen to stick within the traditional quartet formation of two violins, viola and cello, but several feature soloists within this context, including Christine Jensen whose lovely Tilting World features violin soloist Sara Caswell. Truesdell, who himself contributed three titles, adds Israeli-born clarinetist Anat Cohen for Suite for Clarinet and String Quartet and bassist Jay Anderson to the quartet in Heart of Gold (for Jody) which is a showcase for cellist Jody Redhage Ferber. To quote the press release: “SYNTHESIS challenges old perceptions of the traditional string quartet [...] exploring a new genre of music cultivated at the intersection of jazz, classical, world, and contemporary music.” It does so admirably. 

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01 Biber MysteriesThere’s an outstanding new recording of the quite remarkable Mystery Sonatas, or Rosary Sonatas of Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber, violinist Alan Choo the exceptional soloist with Apollo’s Fire, under the direction of Jeanette Sorrell at the harpsichord (Avie AV2656

Believed to have been written in the 1670s and never published – the sole source is the manuscript dating from around 1676 – the 15 sonatas follow events in the lives of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, known in Catholic tradition as the Mysteries of the Rosary. A monumental solo, Passacaglia in G Minor, completes the set.

What makes the work so remarkable is the unprecedented and unsurpassed use of scordatura – the re-tuning of the violin strings – with all 15 sonatas requiring different tunings and the resulting use of multiple violins, Choo using six here.

The manuscript gives no indication regarding accompaniment, with Sorrell choosing to use various combinations of continuo instruments to add colour and variety to the individual sonatas.

Excellent booklet notes, with full tuning details and reproductions of the copper engravings Biber placed at the start of each sonata in the manuscript, add to a superb release.

02 Ysaye KhachatryanThe Armenian violinist Sergey Khachatryan is simply superb on Ysaÿe VI Sonatas, the set of 6 Sonatas for solo violin Op.27 by the Belgian violinist and composer Eugene Ysaÿe (naïve V 5451

After hearing Joseph Szigeti play Bach’s Sonata No.1 in G Minor in early 1923, Ysaÿe decided to compose his own tribute to Bach, reflecting current musical language and violin technique while also incorporating elements of Szigeti’s style. By July he had written a further five, each dedicated to and depicting a different violinist: Jacques Thibaud; Georges Enescu; Fritz Kreisler; Mathieu Crickboom; and Manuel Quiroga.

What makes this release extra special, though, is the fact that it marks the first recording of the sonatas on Ysaÿe’s 1740 Guarneri del Gesù violin, on loan from the Nippon Music Foundation; its sumptuous tone in such supremely talented hands fully exploits the instrument’s wide range of tonal colour.

Listen to 'Ysaÿe VI Sonatas' Now in the Listening Room

03 Bach Karl StobbeCanadian violinist Karl Stobbe presents works for solo violin by Ysaÿe, J.S. Bach & Paganini in a digital release that is part of a six-album series based on the Bach Sonatas & Partitas (Leaf Music LM294

The Bach work here is the Partita No.1 in B Minor, BWV1002, with Ysaÿe’s Sonata in E Minor, Op.27 No.4 (dedicated to Fritz Kreisler) opening the recital and three of Paganini’s 24 Caprices Op.1 – No.9 in E Major, No.17 in E-flat Major and No.24 in A Minor – closing it. There is a hidden connection here: Kreisler apparently had a special affinity for this particular Bach Partita, and also arranged the Paganini Caprices for violin and piano.

Technical difficulties don’t seem to present any challenge for Stobbe, who handles everything with ease with his 1806 Nicolas Lupot violin and 1790 François Xavier Tourte bow.

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04 Ukrainian MastersUkrainian-American violinist Solomiya Ivakhiv continues her mission to share the music of her home country with Ukrainian Masters, a new CD featuring 20th-century sonatas by three major figures in Ukrainian classical music. Steven Beck is the pianist (Naxos 8.579146

The world-premiere recording of the1927 Violin Sonata in A Minor, Op.18 by Viktor Kosenko (1896-1938) is quite lovely, a lush, immediately accessible work beautifully played. The 1991 Violin Sonata No.2 by Myroslav Skoryk (1938-2020) with its “pointed allusions to Beethoven, Prokofiev and Gershwin” is another winner, with more fine playing.

Ivakhiv only recently discovered the music of Sergei Bortkiewicz (1877-1952), which was banned in the Soviet Union after he fled Ukraine in 1919. His Violin Sonata in G Minor, Op.26 was written in 1922 in Germany, and finds his mature musical language “at its most vivid and directly communicative.”

05 The Night Shall BreakOn The Night Shall Break violinist Hanna Hurwitz, joined by cellist Colin Stokes and pianist Daniel Pesca goes back 100 years to find neglected gems and present them alongside established works (Neuma Records 198

Florence Price’s attractive Fantasie No.1 for Violin and Piano from 1933 and Rebecca Clarke’s 1921 Piano Trio both produce top-level playing, and the standard never drops through the very brief (four movements, each less than two minutes) 1924 Sonatina for Violin and Piano by Carlos Chávez and particularly through the established works: Messiaen’s Thème et Variations pour Violon et Piano from 1932 and the terrific Duo No.1 for Violin and Cello by Bohuslav Martinů.

06 TrailblazersViolist Molly Gebrian discovered the works she plays on Trailblazers several years ago when listening to music online, YouTube’s auto-play feature kicked in to play cello sonatas by Dora Pejačević (1885-1923), Henriëtte Bosmans (1895-1952) and Ethyl Smyth (1858-1944). Gebrian knew immediately that these were sonatas she wanted to play, and her effective transcriptions for viola and piano are presented here. Danny Holt is the pianist (Acis APL54162

All three composers broke new ground by defying social expectations of their times. The Dutch Bosmans was a concert pianist as well as a composer; her Sonata in A Minor is from 1919. Dame Ethyl Smyth’s essentially Romantic Sonata in A Minor, Op.5 is from 1887, and the Croatian Pejačević’s Sonata in E Minor, Op.35 from 1913.

Gebrian is a superb player, strong and full-toned. Ably supported by Holt, she gets to the heart of these exceptional works in stellar performances.

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07 Faure Cross RavelCellist Alexander Baillie and pianist Nigel Yandell are in fine form on the new CD Fauré, Crosse and Ravel – Works for Cello & Piano (First Hand Records FHR152

The disc opens with a lovely performance of Fauré’s Cello Sonata No.1 in D Minor, Op.109 from 1917 and ends with an effective transcription of Ravel’s early Violin Sonata No.1 in A Minor, Op.posth. M.12 from 1897. The heart of the CD, both physically and musically is the 1983 Wavesongs by the English composer Gordon Crosse, who died in 2021. Written for Baillie, it’s described as a 22-minute tone poem, a single-movement work with numerous sub-sections with titles like Sea Shanty, Troubled Waves, Storm, Cruel Sea, Tempest and Lost at Sea. This recording uses a newly revised performing edition resulting from Yandell’s partnership with Baillie and is dedicated to Crosse’s memory.

It’s a striking work and a notable addition to the contemporary cello repertoire, more than justifying the description as “a modern masterpiece” in the press release.

08 Cancan MacabreThere are another two contemporary cello works on CanCan Macabre, with the American cellist Sophie Shao playing music by Couperin, Debussy, Herschel Garfein, Thomas Adès and Chopin. Adrienne Kim is the pianist in all but the Couperin and Chopin, where the pianist is Ieva Jokubaviciute (Centaur CRC4052

Couperin’s five Pièces en concert in the 1924 arrangement by Paul Bazelaire and Debussy’s 1915 Cello Sonata in D Minor open the disc, with the Largo from Chopin’s Cello Sonata in G Minor, Op.65 closing it. In between are the two contemporary works. Garfein’s The Layers, commissioned by and written for Shao, was inspired by the poem by former U.S. poet laureate Stanley Kunitz, its three sections reflecting central images in the poem.

Adès’ Lieux retrouvés was written in 2009 for Steven Isserlis, its final movement, La ville – cancan macabre providing the title for a high-quality CD. 

09 Hidden FlameHidden Flame, the new CD from cellist Yoshika Masuda and pianist HyeJin Kim features compositions by women presented simply as “masterpieces by truly great composers” (Avie AV2653

Amy Beach’s Romance Op.23 and Clara Schumann’s 3 Romanzen Op.22, both originally for violin and piano, provide a gorgeous opening with a full, rich cello sound across the entire range. The major work here is the lengthy (almost 40 minutes) 1892 Great Dramatic Sonata “Titus et Bérénice” by the French composer Rita Strohl (1865-1941), a little-known work that will repay repeated hearings.

Rena Ismail’s one word makes a world is a world-premiere recording; based on the third movement cello solo from her 2013 String Quartet, it was written for Masuda. Nadia Boulanger’s 3 Pieces for Cello and Piano are delightful, but the final track – the Sicilienne attributed to Maria Theresia Paradis – hardly qualifies as a masterpiece by a great composer; indeed, current research suggests that the composer was probably the violinist Samuel Dushkin.

No matter, for it closes a fine CD full of excellent playing.

10 Tchaikovsky KorngoldIf you want to hear some superb string ensemble playing then look no further than Tchaikovsky & Korngold: String Sextets, the new release from the Nash Ensemble (Hyperion CDA68406

Although only written some 25 years apart, the two works are from opposite ends of their composers’ lives: Tchaikovsky’s Sextet in D Minor “Souvenir de Florence” Op.70 from 1890, when he feared his creative powers were waning, and Korngold’s astonishingly mature, rich and Romantic Sextet in D Major Op.10 from 1914-16, started when he was only 17 years old.

“The Nash Ensemble brings passion and conviction to both,” says the promotional release, and indeed they do in simply outstanding performances.

11 Vivaldi PiazzollaIsabella d’Éloize Perron is the violinist on the 2CD set Vivaldi & Piazzolla The Four Seasons, with the Orchestre Filmharmonique under Francis Choinière (GFN Classics

There’s a real freshness to the Vivaldi, with a resonant recording enhancing a spirited, animated and really effective performance. The same approach works wonderfully well in Piazzolla’s Las cuatro estaciones porteñas - The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, four individual pieces written for his bandoneón quintet and not originally intended as a suite; they are heard here in the terrific 1990s adaptation by Leonid Desyatnikov for violin and string orchestra that incorporates direct quotes from the Vivaldi Seasons.

Perron draws a magnificent sound from her 1768 Guadagnini violin in riveting performances, with Choinière and the orchestra adding significantly to a superb release.

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12 Francesca DegoViolinist Francesca Dego admits that the Brahms & Busoni Violin Concertos make an unusual pairing but says that “one of the reasons I fell in love with Busoni’s concerto is that it is permeated with the spirit of the Brahms.” Dalia Stasevska conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra (Chandos CHSA 5333

Brahms and Busoni had a somewhat uneven relationship, but Busoni certainly respected the older composer’s music. His Violin Concerto in D Major, Op.35a K243 was premiered a few months after Brahms’ death in 1897, and although initially favoured by players like Kreisler and Szigeti its popularity gradually faded. It’s certainly very “Brahms” in nature, with influences of Liszt in its structure, and clearly will repay repeated listening. 

There’s a direct Busoni link to the Brahms Violin Concerto in D Major, Op.77, with Dego using Busoni’s cadenza (with timpani accompaniment) in the first movement of a thoughtful performance that perfectly displays Dego’s luminous, crystal-clear tone.

13 Leonidas Kavakos BachViolinist Leonidas Kavakos stopped playing Bach in public for quite some time so that he could examine his relationship with the music and recalibrate his baroque technique. His 2022 CD of the Sonatas & Partitas was his first Bach recording, and he has followed it with his new release Bach Violin Concertos with the ApollΩn Ensemble (Sony Classical 19658868932

The four concertos are all for solo violin – no Double Concerto here – and include two transcribed from harpsichord concertos – the Concerto in D Minor BWV1052R and the Concerto in G Minor BWV1056R – in addition to the Concerto No.1 in A Minor BWV1041 and the Concerto in E Major BWV1042.

Kavakos decided to go with the smallest possible ensemble of five string players (one per part) and harpsichord, with the result being a light, intimate and well-balanced sound in which the soloist is never placed too far forward but always seems to be an integral part of the ensemble. 

14 Seasons InterruptedCellist Trey Lee describes Seasons Interrupted as “a musical narrative that confronts our climate crisis, which every year is distorting the behavior of nature’s four seasons beyond recognition.” Georgy Tchaidze is the pianist, and Emilia Hoving conducts the English Chamber Orchestra (Sigma Classics SIGCD791

Lee’s arrangements of 4 Schubert LiederIm Frühling (Spring); Die Sommernacht (Summer Night); Herbst (Autumn); and Gefrorne Tränen (Frozen Tears, from Die Winterreise) – represent the untainted Past.

A terrific performance of Lee’s highly effective arrangement of Piazzolla’s Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas for cello and string orchestra embodies the Present and the rise of 20th-century industry, while the Future is represented by the striking Cello Concerto by Finnish composer Kirmo Lintinern (b.1967), an imaginary journey through a possible climate-changed future with no recognizable seasons.

15 Histoires de guitaresWith 16 Histoires de guitares III the Canadian guitarist David Jacques returns with yet another fascinating selection of guitars from his astonishing private collection (ATMA Classique ACD2 2868

Ten of the instruments on this disc were built by the best 19th-century luthiers; there are also three from the late 1700s and three more recent guitars from 1940, 1993 and 2017. Each instrument is illustrated in full colour, along with its history and with information on the composers of the selected works, all chosen to best illustrate the individual qualities of the instruments and which produce a wide range of tonal colours.

Those composers include Coste, Aguardo, Carulli, Giuliani and a host of lesser-known names, all wonderfully presented with faultless technique and admirable sensitivity.

16 In TimeIn Time, the new CD from the Aros Guitar Duo of Simon Wildau and Mikkel Egelund is a tribute to the city of Aarhus (Aros being the old Norse name) where the duo started (OUR Recordings 8.226919
The clock in the city hall bell tower plays In vernalis temporis, a Danish melody from around 1500. When the duo premiered Asger Buur’s I fordret (In the spring) in 2018 they asked that he use the tune in the work, and the idea for a complete concert programme was born, with five newly commissioned works added in the next three years.

All six works here incorporate the theme in some fashion. Buur’s original piece is joined by Martin Lohse’s Ver, Peter Bruun’s Dark is November, Rasmus Zwicki’s In Time, John Frandsen’s Rollercoaster and Wayne Siegel’s bluegrass-inspired Vernalis Breakdown. All are finely crafted and impressive works, given equally impressive performances by the duo.

17 Aaron Larget CaplanGuitarist Aaron Larget-Caplan is back with his 11th solo album, and second celebrating Spanish musical heritage with Spanish Gems, a collection of works from the classical and flamenco repertoire (Tiger Turn 888-11

Included are Tárrega’s Capricho Arabe and Adelita, Esteban de Sanlúcar’s Panaderos, Albeniz’ Asturias, Gaspar Sanz’ Canarios from Suite Española, Emilio Pujol’s El Abejorro and – perhaps somewhat surprisingly – the ubiquitous Spanish Romance, hardly worthy of inclusion in “a collection of masterpieces.”

Torroba’s three-movement Sonatina closes a thoroughly enjoyable – albeit brief at 35 minutes – CD full of Larget-Caplan’s customary clean and sensitive playing. 

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01 Bach B MinorBach – Mass in B Minor
Cantata Collective; Nicholas McGegan
Avie Records AV2668 (

Some people submit finely-crafted resumes, perfectly-worded cover letters and superfluously supportive references as part of a job application. Johann Sebastian Bach sent (an early version of) the Mass in B Minor. Submitted (along with a letter of appeal) to Elector Frederick Augustus II of Saxony in July 1733, Bach was seeking a position outside of Leipzig, where his work at the Thomaskirche was full of conflict, insufficient resources and, according to Bach, blatant disrespect. Despite this impressive application, there is no evidence that the work was ever performed in Dresden and Bach did not receive the title of Hofcompositeur, or Court Composer, from the Elector until late in 1736.

Now recognized as one of the greatest choral masterworks in music history, the B Minor Mass was not composed all at once, nor was it entirely spontaneous; it was, however, meticulously crafted. Cobbled together over a significant portion of Bach’s career from music that he composed previously and revised as needed, this work is considered his last major composition.

The San Francisco-based Cantata Collective, led by early music specialist Nicholas McGegan, tackles the B Minor Mass head-on in this live recording from March 2023. Measured and well-paced, this performance prioritizes contrapuntal clarity over velocity, giving fleeting movements such as the Et Resurrexit a sense of depth, and slower sections, such as the opening Kyrie, much weight and gravity.

While not as superficially thrilling as more “fast and furious” interpretations of this work, it is a challenging task to find a single note that is out of place or tune; it is, in fact, difficult to determine that this is indeed a live recording. The choir and orchestra are in fine form here, and this recording is an excellent listening opportunity both for those who are intimately familiar with this masterwork and those who are discovering it for the first time.

02 Nickel RequiemChristopher Tyler Nickel – Requiem
Catherine Redding; Northwest Sinfonia and Choir; Clyde Mitchell
Avie Records AV2659 (

Vancouverite Christopher Tyler Nickel has composed over 100 scores for theatre, film and TV, as well as symphonies, concertos, chamber works and a seven-hour-long (!) oratorio, a complete setting of The Gospel According to Mark. His Requiem (2019), lasting “only” 70 minutes, here receives an emotionally stirring performance from Canadian soprano Catherine Redding and the Northwest Sinfonia and Choir conducted by Claude Mitchell.

It’s scored for a dark-sounding chamber orchestra of oboe, English horn, two French horns and strings; “I wanted to keep a solemnity to the Requiem,” writes Nickel. The choral writing largely avoids rhythmic counterpoint, embracing instead “homorhythm” – all voices in rhythmic unison, creating a sense of granite-like solidity. The music varies in character, each of the 19 sections, says Nickel, having its own “overarching emotion.” He’s drawn from stylistic sources ranging from the austerity of Gregorian chant, in the opening Introitus and Kyrie, to the urgent expressivity of late-Romanticism.

The gently supplicating lyricism of Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem predominates in nine of the sections, while the syncopated, motoric dynamism of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana energizes the Dies Irae, Confutatis and Responsorium. Brucknerian grandeur magnifies the Tuba Mirum; the Offertorium sounds like a sentimental folk-ballad.

Nevertheless, there’s an overall unity to this beauty-filled music, thanks to Nickel’s distinctive melodic gift. As a chorister, I’ve sung in Requiems by Mozart, Cherubini, Brahms, Fauré and Duruflé; I’d love to be able to add Nickel’s to this list.

03 BreatheBreathe
Hera Hyesang Park; Orchestra del Teatro Carlo Felice; Jochen Rieder
Deutsche Grammophon 486 4627 (

Can profound fear be experienced – and expressed – with quintessence of beauty? In theory, probably not. Yet every aspect of this disc does exactly this. The prescient repertoire on Breathe paves the way. The real reason, of course, is an inspired performance by rising-star lyric soprano Hera Hyesang Park. The utter luminosity of her voice, and deep digging into songs, brings special grace to words, and extraordinary lyricism to vocalise and rhapsodising about the exposition of both the literal and metaphorical beauty of fearfulness.

The act of making breath not simply a gesture of release, but an artistic device is what we – in turn – experience throughout this extraordinary disc. Park delves into the work of a group of composers from the 19th and 20th centuries, exploring their work as part of a bleak, Impressionistic backdrop for the horrors of the global pandemic and the isolation that it inflicted on humanity. In doing so she imbues songs, and their significance, with near-spiritual fervour in the context of the pandemic.

Should familiarity of repertoire be an indicator, then the Lento e Largo movements of Górecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs is the apogee of this recording. But the Evening Prayer from Humperdinck’s Hänsel and Gretel and the Flower Duet from Delibes’ Lakmé are also sensational. 

So deeply does Park embody this material that she lives the songs rather than projecting them as outside entities of breathing. Everything about this disc declares: A minor miracle.

04 La FlambeauDavid Bontemps – La Flambeau
Suzanne Tafflot; Catherine Daniel; Paul Williamson; Brandon Coleman; Orchestre Classique de Montréal; Alain Trudel
ATMA ACD2 2880 (

La Flambeau is a chamber opera by David Bontemps. Premiered in 2023 with the Montreal Classical Orchestra and conducted by Alain Trudel, La Flambeau features Canadian mezzo-soprano Catherine Daniel, American bass-baritone Brandon Coleman, Cameroonian-born soprano Suzanne Taffot and Jamaican-Canadian tenor Paul Williamson. 

Based on the play of the same name by Haitian poet and playwright Faubert Bolivar (b.1979), the opera is sung in French with short passages in Haitian Creole. The opera begins with an overture and evolves into seven scenes scored for string orchestra and maracas. Set in Haiti, La Flambeau’s characters have no names: Monsieur who has political ambitions and is preparing a speech; Madame, his wife who speaks to deceased family members; Mademoiselle, their working-class maid abused by Monsieur; and l’Homme, a sort of judge who condemns and ultimately sentences Monsieur, turning him into a zombie in the service of his community. 

While on the surface drawing on Yoruba mythology and Haitian Vodou traditions, the composer also embeds commentary on women’s rights, deceit, prejudice and corruption. Bontemps writes unornamented melodies with Afro-Haitian elements and in the style and rhythm of spoken word. 

The recording of La Flambeau is an opportunity to hear a cast of prominent Black singers in a medium where they are historically underrepresented. The singers’ musicality and commitment to the text invites listeners on a journey inside of our humanity to show that individual struggles are of a universal nature, regardless of gender, colour or caste.

05 The ShiningPaul Moravec – The Shining
Lyric Opera of Kansas City; Gerard Schwarz
Pentatone PTC5187036 (

In an isolated mountain hotel with a blood-soaked past, ghostly voices and visions propel a troubled man’s descent into murderous madness. “Opera’s power as an art-form,” writes Buffalo-born, Pulitzer Prize-winner Paul Moravec, “springs from its essentially primordial, irrational nature. It’s ideally suited to the adaptation of Mr. King’s irresistibly compelling story.” Opera goers agree; since its 2016 Minnesota Opera premiere, The Shining has been enthusiastically received in San Francisco, Atlanta and Kansas City, where this two-CD set was recorded in 2023. 

Mark Campbell says his libretto (included in the booklet) hews closer to Stephen King’s novel than to Stanley Kubrick’s film (not having read the book nor seen the movie, I’ll take his word for it). Moravec’s score, however, is thoroughly “cinematic” – in the best sense – effectively creating an agitated, discordant atmosphere of irrationality and impending violence.

Heading the cast of 17 soloists is baritone Edward Parks, vocally powerful and dramatically convincing as the tormented Jack Torrance. Soprano Kelly Kaduce is sympathetic as his loving but fearful wife Wendy. The hotel’s cook, Dick Hallorann (baritone Aubrey Allicock) recognizes the psychic abilities – “the shining” – of the Torrances’ son Danny (treble Tristan Hallett), becoming his supportive friend.

Enhancing the opera’s theatrical impact, Torrance’s hallucinations were seen and heard by the audience; hopefully, they were immune to the phantasms’ murder-inducing influence. Immune, thankfully, the Lyric Opera of Kansas City Chorus, Kansas City Symphony and conductor Gerard Schwarz contributed greatly to this performance’s unrelenting intensity.

06 Michael Hersch PoppeaMichael Hersch – Poppaea
Ah Young Hong; Steve Davislim; Silke Gang; Ensemble Phoenix Basel; Jerg Henneberger
New Focus Recordings FCR390 (

Even if you were not aware of the details of the violence of Roman rule during the early Anno Domini era you will feel its effects in the pit of your stomach as you listen to the operatic recreation of the story of the Empress Poppaea.

On one level, Michael Hersch’s recreation of Poppaea Sabina (30AD-65AD), the second wife of the legendary imperial despot Nero, may be a simple tale of palace intrigue. However, there seems to be a much deeper motive in this shrill, masterful retelling of the tragedy. And it is this: The conniving woman who won the heart and hand of the emperor and bore him a child, appears to have created a powerful, matriarchal rule in the imperial household.

Brilliantly detailed booklet notes by Dr. Lauren Donovan-Ginsberg, Associate Professor of Classical Studies at Duke University and a specialist in Neronian culture and history, make for riveting reading. Stephanie Fleischmann’s prescient libretto recreates the bloody and devious plot. 

Poppaea – played with shrill and terrifying ingenuity by the soprano Ah Young Hong – tears Nero (an appropriately despotic tenor Steve Davislim) away from his first wife Octavia, superbly sung by the dark and smoky-voiced mezzo Silke Gäng. 

You will also find yourself harbouring high praise for the superb casting and performances, and especially for the sensitive and vigorous direction of Jürg Henneberger who brings this Neronian tragedy of Poppaea to vivid life once again.

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01 East is EastEast is East
Infusion Baroque
Leaf Music LM276 (

To 19th century literary aficionados – and many who came thereafter – Rudyard Kipling’s poem The Ballad of East and West must have sounded prescient. Indeed, many with self-serving nationalist tendencies, ever mindful of irrational social turmoil the world over might, with the wag of a rigid digit even go further and say, “Told you so.” However, the cultural topography of civilisations have been enriched immeasurably from such collisions since time immemorial. Canadian culture is an outstanding example of such amazing cultural collisions.

Although we do not need proof that humanity is brought so many degrees closer together by art – especially music and dance – the repertoire on East is East is a beautiful example of how much better we can begin to appreciate and live alongside the “otherness” of cultures. In fact, such “otherness” may often seem apocryphal. Listen with wide-eyed wonder to Infusion Baroque’s eloquent undulant variations (of) La Bergamasca. In an act of true inspiration, the ensemble has fused variations by Uccellini and Vitali, Corelli, Vivaldi and Marais into an inspired reinvention in the Phrygian mode. 

Refusing to let this inspirational music fade away thereafter, the performers soar loftily with music that interprets Indian ragas such as Sandhya Raga and Gurjari Todi, in performances led by the luminous-voiced soprano Vidita Kanniks. Santoor master, Amir Amiri also contributed several celestial compositions: Saghi Nameh, Cortege, Raghse Choobi and Aghrab are truly outstanding. Infusion Baroque anchored by Alexa Raine-Wright, Sallynee Amawat and Andrea Stewart and guests – Thibault Bertin-Maghit, Hamin Honari, Hank Knox and Shawn Mativetsky – are masterful throughout.

Listen to 'East is East' Now in the Listening Room

03 Mozart Robert LevinMozart – Piano Concertos K238 | K242 | K246
Robert Levin; Ya-Fei Chuang; Academy of Ancient Music
AAM AAM044 (

Few period music ensembles have had as long and illustrious a history as the Academy of Ancient Music.  Founded by Christopher Hogwood in 1973, it took its name from an earlier ensemble that existed between 1725 and 1806. Since then, the orchestra has maintained a reputation for its excellence in the performance of baroque and classical period music on period instruments. 

This newest recording on the AAM Classics label is the 12th and penultimate disc in a Mozart piano concerto cycle, presenting concertos numbers six, seven and eight – all from 1776 – with soloists Robert Levin and Ya-Fe Chuang under the direction of Laurence Cummings and Bojan Čičić.

This disc is a delight! Opening with the Concerto No.6, Levin delivers a fresh and robust performance on a tangent piano (a cross between a harpsichord and pianoforte) particularly suiting this youthful music. His phrasing is carefully conceived and the cadenzas, tasteful and creative. 

Levin is joined by Chuang on a fortepiano and Cummings (who also directs) on a harpsichord in the Concerto for Three Pianos K242, music written for the wealthy Lodron family of Salzburg with each of the solo parts composed to meet the ability of the original soloists. Here, the march-like opening movement, the lyrical adagio and sprightly Rondo finale are all adroitly handled by the three soloists who achieve a wonderful sense of balance while the AAM proves a sturdy and sympathetic partner.

Rounding out the recording is the Concerto K246, the “Lutzow” performed by Levin and directed by Čičić. Levin’ s approach is fluid and stylish, particularly in the courtly finale which brings the disc to a most satisfying conclusion. 

Attractive packaging and detailed notes further add to an already exemplary recording.  We can look forward to the final release in the series.

05 Buzz BrassHeritage – Bohme; Ewald; Jergensen
Buzz Brass
ATMA ACD2 2897 (

Buzz Brass (Buzz Cuivres), a Canadian but globally recognized brass quintet, has been dependably putting out strong recordings and concertizing around the world for over two decades. For an ensemble such as this – two trumpets, horn, trombone and bass trombone – the challenge, it seems, is what to play. First, the aggregation itself is relatively young in comparison to other classical music forms, dating back to 1833 with the Distin family. Secondly, although such well-known composers as Joseph Haydn were indeed known for fine chamber music contributions, the canonical repertoire for this unique instrumental setting belongs primarily to a handful of such wonderful composers as Victor Ewald, Axel Jørgensen and Oskar Böhme, who were all new to me and who Buzz Brass does a marvellous job at broadcasting more widely. 

With such titles as Brass Quintet No.1 in B-flat Minor and Brass Quintet in A-flat Major, we are clearly in the territory of so-called “absolute music,” where the music itself, fine playing and cohesive blend of beautiful brass instruments is the point, rather than some extra-musical theme or programme intended to give the pieces further meaning. And with Héritage, the group’s first recording for ATMA Classique (following two on  the Analekta label), nothing additional is needed. Like slipping into a warm bath of wonderfully resonant and round brass timbres, this 2024 recording is immersive and enveloping, capable of washing over the attuned listener with beauty, lyricism and expressiveness.

06 Ravel Complete PianoRavel – Complete Works for Solo Piano Vol.1
Vincent Larderet
Avie Records AV2623 (

On the last page of the booklet there is a beautifully captured sketch of Ravel by none other than our pianist at age 12! So we have a talented visual artist as well as a pianist and that’s just what we need for the world of Ravel. “Steinway Artist” Vincent Larderet’s playing, apart from superb technique, is beautifully lyrical and deeply inspired with “a rare melding of the intellectual and the visceral” (International Piano, UK).

Ravel has an amazing quantity of piano works and Larderet embarks here on a project to record them all in four volumes. This first contains Miroirs, Jeux d’eau, Valses nobles et sentimentales, Sonatine and Pavane pour une princesse défunte. 

One salient feature of French Impressionism is getting inspiration from the external world, in the case of Ravel from Nature, e.g. water in its many representations. This is the case for Jeu d’eau, which was also inspired by Liszt, his Fountains of the Villa d’Este. The multifaceted genius Ravel was also quite entranced with the dance form the Waltz, and here we are treated to a set of eight delightful Valses that are indeed Noble and Sentimental. One can sense here some elements germinating towards Ravel’s major orchestral composition La Valse

The final work is one of Ravel’s finest, Pavane pour une princesse défunte, a hauntingly beautiful melody that was also orchestrated by the composer. This fine collection bodes well for the future and we look forward to further volumes from this exceptional pianist.

07 Mahler Symphony No. 6Mahler – Symphony No.6
Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks; Sir Simon Rattle
BR Klassik BRK900217 (

Throughout his life, the music of Gustav Mahler has been a guiding star in Simon Rattle’s career. While a percussion student at the Royal Academy of Music he single-handedly organized and conducted a performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony by his fellow pupils. His love of Mahler continued throughout his years directing the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (1980 to 1998); their well-received recordings of contemporary and late romantic works included several Mahler symphonies. Rattle made his conducting debut with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1987 in a performance of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony; he was their chief conductor from 1999 to 2018 and chose the very same symphony for the final concert of his tenure. His subsequent leadership of the London Symphony Orchestra (2017 to 2023) also drew to a close with a Mahler symphony, the Ninth.

Alban Berg once proclaimed, “There is only one Sixth, notwithstanding the Pastoral.” Rattle once again has chosen this tragic masterpiece that encapsulates, in his words, “the whole package of a colossal life – and that includes love and optimism” for his inaugural season with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra responds magnificently to Rattle’s direction with a sensitivity that surpasses the sometimes indifferent results he encountered in Berlin. I’d go as far as to say that Sir Simon may be the finest Mahler interpreter since the late Claudio Abbado, his predecessor in Berlin. Rattle has remarked in the past that a conductor doesn’t become really good until he hits his sixties. Give this compelling disc a listen and I’m sure you’ll find that truer words were never spoken.

08 Sibelius 25Sibelius 2 & 5
Orchestre Metropolitain de Montréal; Yannick Nézet-Séguin
ATMA ACD2 2453 (

In the right hands Sibelius’ symphonic work can be extremely exciting. Yannick Nézet-Séguin can lay claim to being one of the most penetrating Sibelians in modern times. He may be less Romantic than some – Osmo Vänskä, for instance – but his understanding of the composer goes way beyond abstraction. His 2019 Symphony No.1 was amongst the most stirring ever recorded, while on this recording of Nos. 2 & 5 he brings the kind of visceral engagement that forces you to listen afresh.

Symphony No.2 (1901), one of the most popular in the cycle, marks the transition between the youthful and the more mature Sibelius. The Russian influence is replaced by something more southern in feeling: themes and textures are more open, and the general atmosphere is one of warmth. But a mood of foreboding soon emerges at the start of the second movement, with a theme inspired by Don Juan being confronted by the figure of Death. 

Symphony No.5, experienced here, certainly lives up to its reputation as one of Sibelius’ most original reworkings of the symphonic form. During its dramatic (1919) revision he merged the first and second movements with a transitional passage that miraculously glides from one into the other. So heroic is the grand finale that it is aptly described as the swinging of Thor’s hammer. 

Nézet-Séguin and Orchestre Métropolitan de Montréal traverse both symphonies with exhilarating power and energy.

Editor’s Note: One of the most lauded conductors of his generation, Canadian Yannick Nézet-Séguin received the highest designation conferred by Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music on April 17 when he was inducted as an Honorary Fellow (FRCMT) of the organization.

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09 Strauss HeldenlebenRichard Strauss – Ein Heldenleben; Mahler – Rückert Lieder
Sonya Yoncheva; Orchestre symphonique de Montréal; Rafael Payare
Pentatone PTC 5187201 (

Rafael Payare’s latest release with the OSM follows up on their highly effective Mahler Fifth Symphony recording with a disc devoted to Richard Strauss’ monumental tone poem depicting the heroic life of none other than his very self. In the course of this lengthy work Strauss mocks his critics, worships his wife, goes to war with his perceived enemies and celebrates his own weighty accomplishments. The scenario is ridiculous on the surface, but the execution is undeniably brilliant, in no small part due to Payare’s keen affinity for the genre. He’s well aware that there’s more to this sporadically bombastic music than the notes and brings to the score an idiomatic and affectionate reading; the orchestra is with him all the way, expertly negotiating the sharp curves on the Strauss autobahn. Concertmaster Andrew Wan contributes an exceptionally multi-dimensional interpretation of the extended solo violin part at the centre of the work, a musical portrait of Strauss’ wife and muse Pauline, whose notorious mood swings and oft-times hectoring tone confirm his perception that “every minute is different from what she was a minute before.” 

The inclusion of Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder as filler material is puzzling. Why not more Strauss instead? There are more than 40 orchestral songs to choose from. The Bulgarian diva-du-jour Sonya Yoncheva has made quite a name for herself recently in the operatic world, but her tentative take on Mahler’s introspective and decidedly non-operatic music left me quite unmoved. Payare and the reduced forces of the OSM do their best to not get in the way, but it’s a hopeless cause. Turn instead to the great Mahler singers of the past such as Baker, Ludwig, Ferrier or Fischer-Dieskau if you truly want to savour these songs.

11 Moments MusicauxMoments Musicaux
Petrit Çeku
Eudora Records EUD-SACD-2401 (

Guitarist Petrit Çeku was born in Prizen, Kosovo and began his musical studies at the Lorenc Antoni music school before attending the Zagreb Academy and completing his studies with Manuel Barrueco at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. Since then, he has performed recitals throughout Europe and continues to perform regularly with the Zagreb Soloists. This Eudora label recording titled Moments Musicaux is his third and affords the listener a glimpse into the world of Franz Schubert either through transcriptions or compositions with a Schubertian connection.

Joseph Mertz’s transcriptions of six lieder – four from Schwanengesang, one from Winterreise and a standalone, Lob der Tränen – are all skillfully constructed miniatures, as compelling for the guitar as they are for voice. Çeku’s warmly resonant tone helps to evoke a true sense of intimacy – from the anguished tone of Aufenthalt to the familiar Ständchen 

The Variations on a Waltz of Schubert Op.4 by Croatian composer Ivan Padovec is a charming set based on the Waltz Op.9 No.2. Beginning with the simple waltz melody, the seven variations require considerable dexterity, but Çeku easily meets the challenges with a supple technique. 

Manuel Ponce was one of the first Mexican composers to be widely recognized outside his native country and during his career he had close ties to the renowned guitarist Andrés Segovia. His four-movement Sonate Romantique “Hommage à Schubert” is written in a lyrical style of which Schubert surely would have approved. In the words of Segovia, the piece “honours the instrument “ – and so does Çeku throughout this fine recording.

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