01 Bach Trio Sonata ProjectJohann Sebastian Bach – The Trio Sonata Project
Tripla Concordia
Arcana A114 (naxosdirect.com)

What would Bach think? It’s the question with which the recorder virtuoso Walter van Hauwe began his proverbial quest to re-imagine Bach’s sonatas and a partita as if they were written for his instrument. Van Hauwe also takes comfort from the fact that Bach’s contemporary, the composer and writer, Johann Mattheson deemed “the elaboration of an idea” by another composer “does not harm the original inventor” and, one must assume, his original inventions as well.

It is with this in mind that one must approach this wonderfully irreverent music, which is still Bach, but with an iconic twist in articulation and dynamics. While the keyboard remains ubiquitous throughout this repertoire, the viola da gamba has been replaced by a violoncello and both have been embellished by recorders. Most notably, Bach’s basso continuo is replaced, quite ingeniously, by the contrapuntal lines of the bass recorder.

As if by magic, Bach’s original trio sonatas – the C Minor BWV1029, G Major BWV1039 (1027), F Major BWV1028, D Minor BWV527 and the Partita in D Minor BWV997 – are reborn in subtle shifts in colour as the music moves from one key to another. It is a refreshingly forthright and decidedly wide-awake performance on bright-sounding instruments by Tripla Concordia. Tempi tend to be wonderfully brisk and bright changes in the dynamics let the leading recorders do the work with verve, in crisp and buoyant style and vivid articulation.

02 PlattiPlatti – Flute Sonatas, Op.3
Alexa Raine-Wright
Leaf Music LM224 (leaf-music.ca)

There are five outstanding musicians whose contributions to this wonderful recording all deserve recognition. First and foremost, of course, is the Baroque/rococo composer, Giovanni Benedetto Platti (1697-1763), whose six Opus 3 flute sonatas have not, until recently at least, been part of the standard flute repertoire, unlike those by some of his better-known contemporaries. The obscurity of these works, as this recording demonstrates, is due not to any defects but rather to the unavailability of the printed music. The fecundity of Platti’s musical imagination, from joie de vivre to pathos to artfully crafted lyricism is evident throughout the CD.

Then there is, of course, the soloist, Baroque flutist Alexa Raine-Wright, whose playing is full of vivacity, exquisite phrasing, breathtaking virtuosity, definite and confident articulation and all-round sensitivity to the voice of the composer. You know from the first seconds of track one that her first priorities are to be musical, that is, to play the phrases, the musical sentences, so that their meaning can be heard, and to be more than just a soloist but also part of the ensemble.

Her team (Camille Paquette-Roy, Baroque cello, Rona Nadler, harpsichord, Sylvain Bergeron, archlute and Baroque guitar) are worthy collaborators, who, while always keeping a rock-solid steady tempo, seem also able to allow space for rhapsodic freedom to the flute. Worth mentioning too are the several truly exquisite duo moments for flute and cello, as in the first movement of Sonata 4 and the second movement of Sonata 5.

Bravissimi to our musical colleagues in Montreal.

Listen to 'Platti: Flute Sonatas, Op.3' Now in the Listening Room

03 Mozart Last 3 SymphoniesMozart – The Three Last Symphonies
Ensemble Appassionato; Mathieu Herzog
Naïve V 5457 (naxosdirect.com)

A contemporary pace of living, especially in the metropolis, must include small pleasures in the form of art. Mozart’s music might be one of those necessary delights in the lives of many. Although there are countless recordings of his works, it is exciting to discover new aspects of Mozart’s music and this recording undoubtedly brings some new thoughts and sounds. I loved the spirited energy and the clear sound on this recording as well as the candour of the interpretations. Playfulness is interwoven with drama and expressed through resonant simplicity of sound – a perfect formula for bringing out the essence of Mozart’s music.

What attracted French conductor Mathieu Herzog to this triptych is the fact that there is a certain mystery surrounding these symphonies – all three were written in the summer of 1788, when things were not looking too bright in Mozart’s life. There is no evidence to suggest any of them were ever performed during the composer’s lifetime and Mozart never again returned to this genre. No.39 and No.41 are warm, expansive and buoyant and No.40 is unusually dark and melancholic. There is a common thread though – all three are powerful masterpieces.

Ensemble Appassionato, founded by Herzog and comprised of leading French musicians, is on fire here – both bows and sparks are flying and the joy of the performance is thrilling. This recording is worth hearing, not because it might be perfect but because it just might surprise you.

04 Berlioz TSOBerlioz – Symphonie fantastique; Tempest Fantasy
Toronto Symphony Orchestra; Sir Andrew Davis
Chandos CHSA 5239 (tso.ca/watch-listen)

Do we really need another Symphony fantastique? Not an unreasonable question. Many more than a few decades ago when the question was asked by a neophyte record producer, “How do you know what to record?,” the experienced answer was “Look through the Schwann Record Catalog, find the most recorded work and make another one.” That proved to be sage advice then.

There are countless recordings of the Symphonie fantastique available now, some outstanding performances and some sonic spectaculars. As far as performance is concerned, this new one is high in the outstanding category. The entire string section is splendid, “singing” immaculately together. The winds are a joy, from serene to bustling. The brass is burnished and the percussion can have fearful presence and power.

Davis’ beat is steady, without being carried away emotionally, and ever true to the score, observing every nuance. I enjoyed it cerebrally as well as viscerally. Sonically, this is what audiophiles dream of. From piccolos to the lowest notes in the basses and thumping bass drum, to articulate strings and winds this is nirvana.

Equally impressing is the Tempest Fantasy with the orchestra and the Mendelssohn Choir in this Berlioz 14-minute showpiece in four parts: Prologue, The Tempest, Action and Dénouement. Those who know their Berlioz will recognize quotations from Lelio: the return to life, the sequel to the Symphonie fantastique.

If one were buying a Fantastique this could very well be it. It stands up to repeated hearings for, as I listened for some passages to critique, there were plenty of positives but no negatives that I heard.

This disc creates a gorgeous reality in an acoustic better than any seat in Roy Thomson Hall where these recordings were made on September 20-22, 2018.

05 DvorakAntonin Dvořák – Piano Quartets Nos.1 & 2
Dvořák Piano Quartet
Supraphon SU 4257-2 (naxosdirect.com)

Czech composer Antonín Dvořák’s music, presented here in a piano quartet form, is beautifully brought to life in this capture on Supraphon Records. Featuring the somewhat unusual instrumentation of piano, violin, viola and cello (inspired by both the public’s interest in his work at the time and by Dvořák’s hero Brahms’ employment of the same musical aggregation), the Dvořák Piano Quartet, a current ensemble based in the Czech Republic, performs this music in a thoughtful, and at times playful manner, bringing out, as great classical music and performance will do, the range of human emotion and expression.

A violinist and violist himself, Dvořák’s writing here places a premium on string virtuosity and the accomplished string performers, Štěpán Pražák, Petr Verner and Jan Žďánský, are more than up for the masterful task. While Dvořák is certainly known for his dramatic scope and the power of his fulsome symphonic works, the intimacy of the chamber group context heard here brings out the range of his grand musicianship and empowers listeners towards a quiet reflection of his beautiful musical ideas. This is easy, lyrical music best listened to intently, that combines the beauty of the Western art music tradition in which Dvořák worked so well, with the native folk music influences that the composer so skillfully researched and incorporated into his music. Captured with beautiful clarity and fidelity, this 2018 recording would be a welcome addition to the collections of both Dvořák and chamber music fans alike.

06 Tchaikovsky SixthTchaikovsky – Symphony No.6 “Pathétique”
Berliner Philharmoniker; Kirill Petrenko
Berliner Philharmoniker Recordings BPHR 190261 (berliner-philharmoniker-recordings.com)

Honestly, from the first bar of this performance I really felt aware of hearing the notes of this familiar symphony for the first time. After decades of hearing so many fine enhanced performances interpreted by a parade of esteemed conductors, I know the work well. None ever like this one. The essence of this performance comes from within the score and not from a conductor’s opinion as to what should be added or left out to enhance the composer’s wishes. What we hear here is a performance reflecting and respecting Tchaikovsky’s printed score as it opens out. The interesting aspect of this version with Kirill Petrenko recorded on March 22-23, 2017, one of the first two published recordings from those sessions with his new orchestra, is that, until it is heard, one doesn’t know what such a performance as this evokes. The saying that “you don’t know what you’re missing” is so true here.

No fiddling with the printed page, no shattering fortes nor wrung out tensions imposed by a creative, well-meaning interpreter to improve this perfect score. Petrenko displays a total empathy with the composer, making this debut an excellent choice for both conductor and orchestra.

Credit for this perfect CD/SACD/DSD recording must go to the regular Berlin Philharmonic team, recording producer and editor Christoph Franke and sound engineer René Möller. One could not imagine better sound in whichever mode you are listening. We know exactly who was playing and quite where they sat. Particularly telling are the textures of the just audible opening bassoon and the closing plucked basses. All with no spotlighting or enhancement. Repeated dedicated listening over the last few weeks confirms the first impressions.

07 Rachmaninoff TriosRachmaninoff
Hermitage Piano Trio
Reference Recordings RR-1475ACD (referencerecordings.com)

The Hermitage Piano trio is comprised of three exceptionally talented chamber musicians: violinist Misha Keylin, cellist Sergey Antonov and pianist Ilya Kazantsev. All have enjoyed celebrated solo careers before finding common ground in their shared nationality and uniting to explore and re-present the great Russian musical traditions on the world concert stages of today. Now based out of the United States, the ensemble has just released their debut CD for Reference Recordings, a beautifully performed and recorded capture at Mechanics Hall in Worcester, Massachusetts of some of the most intricate and dynamic works of the celebrated late Romantic-era Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943).

A conductor, composer and pianist of virtuosic reputation, Rachmaninoff’s music is notoriously difficult to perform, and those musicians who take on his repertoire require a requisite amount of expressive dynamism, musical sophistication and their own instrumental virtuosity. And, like the finest Western art musicians of today, the trio here handles all of this (and more) with ease, expressively and flawlessly traversing the multiple arcs of this timeless and grand music. The iconic Romantic gestures and the endless melodies present within multiple compositional strains and parts (for which Rachmaninoff was celebrated), capture the early 20th-century Russian experience and bring forward an expressive range of both sorrow and joy that demonstrates to listeners what truly great performances of wonderful music are capable of conveying.

Bruckner – Symphony No.6
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin; Robin Ticciati
Linn Records CKD 620 (naxosdirect.com)

Bruckner – Symphonies Nos.6 & 9
Gewandhausorchester; Andris Nelsons
Deutsche Grammophon 483 6859 (deutschegrammophon.com)

08a Bruckner 6Throughout much of the century following his death, Anton Bruckner’s name was routinely paired with that of Gustav Mahler. After all, the external similarities seemed obvious: both were Austrian, both wrote vast symphonies and both needed many years of proselytizing from dedicated interpreters before their music was truly appreciated. Bruckner found his true musical calling when he heard his teacher Otto Kitzler conduct Wagner’s Tannhäuser in Linz. The revelation marked the character of Bruckner’s symphonies, taking a cue from everything Wagner did to break virtually every theoretical rule and create a new music drama.

Bruckner’s epiphany resulted in a series of truly original scores, including the Symphony in D Minor (1963-64), which he later designated No.0, three masses between 1864 and 1868 and his acknowledged Symphonies of considerable density from No. 1 (1865-66) to No. 5 (1875-76).

The Symphony No. 6 in A Major performed by the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin conducted here by Robin Ticciati proves to be a lighter, more congenial work than its predecessors – especially No. 5, say the equivalent of Beethoven’s Eighth or Brahms’ Second. Still, far from being flippant, the majestic and deeply profound slow movement, for example, has a depth and eloquence that almost demands an attitude of reverence. Ticciati handles the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester with serene confidence, and both orchestra and conductor revel in the symphony’s joyous climaxes. And there are plenty of moments in the slow movement that afford real poetry. 

08b Bruckner 6 9Andris Nelsons posits – and rightly so – that you could not have Bruckner without Wagner. His December 2018, live recording complements the Bruckner Symphonies 6 and 9 with Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll – a work of flawless delicacy – and the deeply reflective Parsifal Prelude Act I. The shorter Wagner pieces that preface each of the two discs appear to have been astutely selected for their lyricism and profound beauty and serve to put one in a meditative space in which prepares one for the respective Bruckner symphonies.

Nelsons’ brilliant performance of the Sixth with the Gewandhausorchester ends in the pure splendour of praise and – especially in the sombre Adagio and the mercurial Scherzo – is a benchmark performance of the symphony; the devotional, awestruck intensity of the work is effectively captured by the recording.

Symphony No.9 is the musical summation of Bruckner’s life, with all of its struggles. It is a monumental work despite being incomplete, and is sometimes said to have a mystical quality, like that of Beethoven’s Ninth. Nelsons’ depth of insight makes for a deeply moving and humbling experience in this incomparable live recording. It is a gaunt, craggy, unforgiving affair, doubtless much as Bruckner intended it should be; a magnificent, chastening and ultimately uplifting musical event.

09 FallaManuel de Falla – El amor brujo; El retablo de Maese Pedro
Fernández; Zetlan; Garza; Garcia; Perspectives Ensemble; Sato Moughalian; Angel Gil-Ordóňez

Naxos 8.573890 (naxosdirect.com)

An interesting new issue presents two of de Falla’s stage works as noted above. I have a sentimental attachment to El amor brujo (Love the Magician). It was the very first thing I ever saw in an opera house at age nine, but it was the ballet version. De Falla adapted the score a few times; the ballet from 1929 is the most often played. This performance however is the original 1915 version, the most complete and original conception performed by a small dedicated group of instrumentalists well suited for a work of this nature.

El amor brujo is actually a one-act zarzuela telling the story of a Roma woman who is haunted by the ghost of her former faithless lover, her struggle to exorcise it and finally be able to love again. It’s a journey from darkness to light, from a night of sorcery and terror to the splendour of a new dawn, with de Falla’s atmospheric, colourful score imbued in Andalusian folk idiom with dances that express the mood of each segment. The vocal lines are either spoken or sung authoritatively by the cantaora, a full-throated flamenco singer, Esperenza Fernandez. Most famous of the dances is the Ritual Fire Dance but all the others, especially the gentle, rollicking Dance of True Love are equally impressive; and the final apotheosis with all bells ringing is simply glorious.

The second work, El retablo de Maese Pedro (Master Peter’s Puppet Show) is somewhat less characteristic. It is a mini-opera based on a chapter of Cervantes’ novel, Don Quixote, and inspired by the age of Charlemagne. The music with “incisive Spanish rhythms and acerbic harmonies” is all skillfully fused with the French impressionism of Debussy and Ravel, de Falla’s main influences. The performances are intense and very authentic.

11 New York ConcertBruch – Double Concerto for Clarinet, Viola and Orchestra
Giovanni Punzi; Eva Katrine Dalsgaard; Tanja Zapolski; Copenhagen Phil; Vincenzo Milletari
Brilliant Classics 95673 (naxosdirect.com)

Like Brahms, and Mozart before him, Max Bruch reserved some of his finest writing for the clarinet, “discovering” the instrument late in his life, and writing with a particular player in mind. As Stadler for Mozart, and Muhlfeld for Brahms, Bruch’s son Max Felix gave premieres of both the pieces on this release, Eight Pieces for Clarinet, Viola and Piano, Op.83, and the Double Concerto for Clarinet, Viola and Orchestra, Op.88.

Giovanni Punzi on clarinet and Eva Katrine Dalsgaard on viola are joined by pianist Tanja Zapolski in the eight pieces, and are backed by the Copenhagen Philharmonic led by Vincenzo Milletari in the concerto. The chamber work was never intended to be performed as a unified piece. Although the individual pieces are delightful, and the performers bring them off with suitable melancholy Romanticism, it’s best to take them in smaller doses. Though Bruch idolized Brahms, these works owe more to Schumann in scope and mood. Punzi is perhaps the most restrained of the performers, setting an unadorned tone versus the intensity of Dalsgaard and Zapolski. Pitch is never an issue, and phrasing certainly not. There is a certain muddiness to the lower octaves, as if the hall chosen for the recording offered the benefit of reverb in quantities perhaps slightly more than needed.

The more substantial work is Bruch at his blue best. Seldom programmed for the live stage (a pity; so many fine violists and clarinetists would love to be given the opportunity), it follows an unusual movement format: Andante con moto, Allegro moderato, and Allegro molto. Perhaps the overarching melancholy is the deterrent. Shouldn’t be, audiences can handle a little weltschmerz.

01 Andre Mathieu chamberAndré Mathieu – Musique de chambre
Marc Djokic; Andréa Tyniec; Elvira Misbakhova; Chloé Dominguez; Jean-Philippe Sylvestre
ATMA ACD2 2784 (atmaclassique.com)

The turbulent life of the pianist and composer André Mathieu (1929–68) began in triumph and ended in tragedy. This son of professional musicians was hailed as “the Mozart of Québec” at his Parisian debut in 1936 but ultimately faded into in a haze of alcoholism and obscurity, succumbing to a heart attack at the age of 39. It is perhaps not surprising that Mathieu’s resolutely post-Romantic style, heavily influenced by Scriabin and Debussy and profoundly melodic and episodic by nature, was disdained in the new music circles of the 1960s. It is largely due to the advocacy of the Québécois pianist-composer Alain Lefèvre, a champion of Mathieu’s piano concertos, that his reputation has been restored in our post-modern era.

The album features Mathieu’s eight chamber works from the middle of the 20th century, the era of his finest compositions. It includes a selection of compact duets for violin and piano featuring pianist Jean-Philippe Sylvestre with violinists Mark Djokic and Andréa Tyniec alternating as soloists. Tyniec (who dazzled Toronto recently performing Ana Sokolović’s violin concerto for New Music Concerts) lays claim to the enjoyable though discursive Violin Sonata. Of particular interest are the Quintette for piano and string quartet and the Trio for violin, cello and piano, two substantial works in which Mathieu exceeds himself in the mastery of large-scale forms. The performances are uniformly excellent and production values are top notch.

Listen to 'André Mathieu: Musique de chambre' Now in the Listening Room

02 Canadian AmberCanadian Amber – Music by Latvian-Canadian Composers
Laura Zarina; Arthur Ozolins; Beverley Johnston; Canadian Opera Company Orchestra; Ninth Latvian Song Festival Orchestra; Alfred Strombergs; Maris Simais
Centrediscs CMCCD 26519 (musiccentre.ca)

Back in July 2019 I attended a concert which highlighted “significant contributions made by émigrés from Latvia to the music and culture of Canada.” Part of the Toronto XV Latvian Song and Dance Festival, it focused naturally on Latvia’s famous choral tradition, yet I was curious also to hear orchestral works by Latvian-Canadian composers including Tālivaldis Ķeniņš (1919-2008) and Imant Raminsh (b.1943). It is perhaps not surprising to hear works by the same composers on the CD Canadian Amber – dedicated to the same theme – with the addition of the slightly older Jānis Kalniņš (1904-2000). All three Latvian composers made Canada their home after World War II.

Kalniņš’ three-movement Violin Concerto (1945), firmly anchored in late-Romantic style, offers attractive lyrical passages for the soloist and orchestra, though overall the work sounds some 50 years past the style’s prime era. Raminsh is best known for his choral works. True to form, his Aria for Violin and Piano (1987) is imbued with arching, expressive melodies, framed by easygoing tonal settings with modal implications on the piano.

On the other hand Ķeniņš’ Concerto for Piano, Percussion, and String Orchestra (1990) reflects a very different sound world. The title, instrumentation, shear energy and terse, shifting dramatic moods evoke Béla Bartók’s expressionistic, modernist, chromatic musical language, though the instrumentation also brings to mind aspects of some Alban Berg works. Despite these surface homages, Ķeniņš’ idiosyncratic compositional voice emerges clearly, emotionally gripping us with effective writing for the piano soloist as well as for the strings and percussion. Here’s a work that begs for programming on both Canadian and Latvian stages.

03 Music in the BarnsBolton; Godin; Oesterle
Music in the Barns
New Focus Recordings FCR226 DDD (newfocusrecordings.com)

Classical traditions seldom come together so gloriously with the unpredictability of the avant-garde than on this disc titled after its contributing Canadian composers Rose Bolton, Scott Godin and Michael Oesterle. When that happens, it somehow seems fortuitous that Toronto’s Music in the Barns – a quintet where violinist Lance Ouellette and violists Carol Gimbel and Pemi Paull sometimes play musical chairs – should be tasked to play their repertoire.

Bolton’s The Coming of Sobs is a particularly intense work. But even here the musicians make the black dots literally fly off the page intensifying the experience that the composer has written into the work. After a relatively quiet opening the music develops – through a series of pulses and crescendos to a shattering fortissimo that emphasizes its darkly dramatic and veritably vocal human cry as brilliantly expressed by the string ensemble.

Godin’s work, all that is solid melts into the air,is more ephemeral and calls for a more nuanced performance, one which Music in the Barns delivers in spades. Breathing their way into the composition that spans over 150 years of humanity, the ensemble traverses a work bookended by the visceral world of Charles Baudelaire and the beguiling symbolism of master-builder Robert Moses with transcendent splendour.

The disc comes to an end with Oesterle’s Daydream Mechanics. The quintet brings a near-rhapsodic reverie inspired by the spare lyricism of Nicole Brossard’s poetry into a sensuous awakening on a disc to die for.

Listen to 'Music in the Barns: Bolton, Godin, Oesterle' Now in the Listening Room

04 Messiaen SmithOlivier Messiaen; Linda Catlin Smith
Apartment House
Another Timbre at143 (anothertimbre.com)

Toronto-based composer Linda Catlin Smith has been well represented in Another Timbre’s ten-volume release of contemporary Canadian composers, including the eight varied pieces of The Wanderer and the two-CD set, The Drifter. Here she shares a disc with that work of concentration-camp genius, Messiaen’s, Quatuor pour la fin du temps. They’re performed by the English ensemble Apartment House, and share the instrumentation of violin, cello, clarinet and piano.

This is the second recording of Smith’s Among the Tarnished Stars (1998), following the Toronto ensemble The Burdocks. Apartment House stretches the piece to 28 minutes, making the most of Smith’s subtle sonic exploration, from the opening’s ascending arpeggios through an almost accordion-like blend of clarinet and strings to some wonderfully resonant ensemble clusters that ring out into the emptiness of space.

The resonance and harmony make Among an ideal companion for Quatuor, a piece that transcends the grim circumstances of its composition and initial performance. Apartment House doesn’t do anything to contort the work into a post-modern aesthetic, but they do give its gestural elements new life in a rendering that never struggles to add overt emotional content to Messiaen’s materials. Clarinetist Heather Roche, however, does succeed in finding a sonority of rare resonance in the brief Intermède.

Perhaps what’s most interesting about the CD is the way in which the two works live side by side, the proximity emphasizing the celestial spirit that informs Smith’s work.    

06 Spring ForwardSpring Forward: Music for Clarinet and String Quartet
David Shifrin; Miró; Dover; Jasper String Quartets
Delos DE 3528 (delosmusic.com)

Since 1981, David Shifrin, former principal clarinet of the Cleveland Orchestra, has served as artistic director of Chamber Music Northwest, the Oregon organization that commissioned these works by three well-established American composers.

In Spring Forward (2014) by Peter Schickele (aka P.D.Q. Bach), Shifrin performs with the Miró Quartet. The 22-minute, five-movement piece, typical of Schickele’s gently rocking, listener-friendly charm, evokes warm memories of springs past, including A Perfect Picnic (the last movement), fondly recalled by Schickele as one he shared with his wife at sunset by the Hudson River.

Richard Danielpour’s 18-minute Clarinet Quintet (2015) is subtitled The Last Jew in Hamadan. Danielpour’s father was born in Hamadan, the Iranian city traditionally known as the burial place of the biblical Queen Esther. Danielpour writes that the first movement, Agitato, con energia, with its bouncy mix of klezmer and the Middle East, derives from vivid childhood memories of visiting Iran with his parents. The following Adagietto e triste is a meditative lament for Iran’s mostly vanished Jewish community under the ayatollahs. Shifrin is joined by the Dover Quartet, recent performers at Toronto Summer Music.

Finally, Shifrin and the Jasper Quartet perform the 18-minute Perpetual Chaconne (2012) by Aaron Jay Kernis. Kernis writes that the piece “maps an emotional journey from mournful lyricism to increasingly abstract, harsh gestures and back.” It’s all rather bleak, lacking Kernis’ usual tendency to sentimentality. A bit of sentiment would have helped, much as it enhanced the pieces by Schickele and Danielpour.

07 Danny GranadosA Tribute to Danny Granados
Fidelis String Quartet and Friends; Danny Granados
Delos DE 3562 (delosmusic.com)

Member and subsequent CFO of the Houston Symphony Orchestra, Danny Granados (1964-2018) was a brilliant clarinetist. As he writes in the liner notes, three works were recorded by him with the Fidelis String Quartet and three other musicians in 2011 after a conversation about Brahms’ beginnings, and all artists’ struggles and setbacks. After his death from cancer, the other players’ released the recording in 2019.

The Fidelis String Quartet is a tight ensemble with great musicality. Granados fits in so well that his unique colourful clarinet playing never overwhelms the quartet as it blends with the strings. Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet in B Minor, Op.115 is a challenging work to play. Of note is the opening Allegro movement as Granados plays the moving clarinet melodies with luscious tones, subtle colour changes and slight rubato touches as it converses with the string lines. More clear string and poignant low-pitched clarinet conversations in the second Adagio movement.

Osvaldo Golijov’s Lullaby and Doina, from the 2001 film The Man Who Cried, offers a welcome abrupt change with its plucked strings opening, quasi klezmer intense clarinet doina, higher pitched strings, flute and bass, and a fast toe-tapping closing. Piazzolla fans should enjoy the four tango selections. Highlight is pianist Pablo Zinger’s arrangement of Libertango. A piano start leads to a breathtaking legato clarinet cadenza based on its familiar tune developing into a fast instrumental rendition

Timeless performances make this a moving musical memorial tribute to Danny Granados.

Back to top