Although you will not be reading this until April, or even May, as I write it is not yet March. While I try to keep on top of the many, many releases that have come in for consideration since our last issue, I am also having to consider a number of discs that we overlooked in the past year. While we will not know the results of the Juno Awards before we go to press, the nominations have been recently announced and although we have covered most of discs in the categories most relevant to The WholeNote, there are a few we overlooked. You’ll find a couple of these – Caity Gyorgy/Marc Limacher and Nick Maclean Quartet featuring Brownman Ali – in our Jazz and Improvised section, and two from the Classical Album of the Year (soloist) category right here. 

01 Haimowitz de HartmannMatt Haimowitz is the soloist in the digital-only release Thomas de Hartmann – Cello Concerto Op.57 (Pentatone PTC 5187159 Dennis Russell Davies conducts the MDR Leipzig RSO in the first commercial recording of this work by one of the significant Ukrainian composers of the first half of the 20th century. De Hartmann (1885-1956) was an important compositional voice during his lifetime, but since then his colourful and compelling music has been largely ignored. This recording is part of a larger undertaking aimed to remedy that situation, and Haimowitz’s stunning performance bodes well for the success of the venture ( The concerto, which reflects the anxiety of the times, was composed in 1935 and first performed three years later by Paul Tortelier and the Boston Symphony under Serge Koussevitzky. Although not himself a Jew, de Hartmann was troubled by the acute antisemitism of the rising Nazi regime in Germany and the work incorporates Jewish musical folklore and other Eastern European folk traditions. Indeed the playful third movement, with its moto-perpetuo cello line, opens with a (presumably Hungarian) theme that Bartók would use in sketches for a viola concerto a decade later. The at times cinematic, 36-minute concerto is an excellent introduction to this often-overlooked composer, and with the current horrific situation in Ukraine its rediscovery is a timely reminder of the glorious musical heritage of that nation.

02 Ehnes NielsenJames Ehnes is the soloist for Carl Nielsen – Violin Concerto with the Bergen Philharmonic under Edward Gardner (Chandos CHSA 5311 An extended slow introduction – likened by Paul Griffiths in the excellent booklet notes to a folk fiddler playing with “classical elegance,” gently fades away before an abrupt orchestral explosion into the Allegro cavallerésco, a “chivalric” episode evoking knights on horseback. The Poco Adagio begins gently with winds before morphing into a contemplative violin solo. The final movement is also gentle but quite mischievous where, in Griffiths’ words “comedy is overplayed […] making riot of its ebullience. [But] the cadenza goes another way, back to a moment of drone-accompanied melody, as if this had all been the dream of a wandering fiddler.” Nielsen began the work in Norway and Norwegian violinist Vilde Frang has said “I think every violinist should play this concerto, because you get challenged not only technically, but also structure-wise. You have to take a bird’s eye view of this concerto, you need this kind of perspective.” Ehnes seems to have had no problem attaining this vantage point. He rises to all the challenges and there are passages that shine like jewels. It’s easy to see why this performance was short-listed for a Juno. 

Gardner also leads the orchestra in a magnificent performance of Nielsen’s Symphony No.4 “The Inextinguishable” recreating the same pairing of works that Nielsen conducted in a program in London in 1923, 100 years before this recording was made. 

03 Ravel Daphnis et ChloeAnother one that slipped through the cracks last year is a fabulous new recording of Ravel – Daphnis et Chloé complete ballet (Chandos CHSA 5327 5327) featuring the Sinfonia of London Chorus and Sinfonia of London. Director John Wilson used the COVID-19 lockdown period to prepare a new performing edition of the ballet that we are more familiar with from the two suites that the composer extracted from the near-hourlong original. It was conceived in 1909, the year Serge Diaghilev brought his Ballet Russe to Paris, as a collaboration between Ravel, Diaghilev and dancer/choreographer Michel Folkine. Although there were myriad complications and disagreements along the way, the project was eventually brought to fruition culminating in, much to Ravel’s chagrin, only two performances at the end of the 1912 season. Although Diaghilev did mount three more performances at the end of the following year, he never thereafter presented it in Paris. This new recording is accompanied by extensive notes by Wilson detailing the history of the ballet’s creation and his own challenges in recreating what he feels is an authentic version of the historic ballet. There is also a detailed libretto/mis en scene by Folkine, making a very impressive booklet in three languages totaling 42 pages. The performance is stunning and the recording itself is immaculate, with a dynamic range that has to be heard to be believed. 

04 New StoriesOne more disc lost in the shuffle before we move on. New Stories features saxophonist Joseph Lulloff and pianist Yu-Lien The performing works by colleagues from Michigan State University, Canadian Dorothy Chang and Americans David Biedenbender, Stacy Garrop and Carter Pann (Blue Griffin Records BGR607 Chang’s lyrical title work is the earliest on the disc, dating from 2013. The composer says the commission “was the perfect opportunity to explore the combination of Eastern and Western influences in my music, a composition puzzle I was grappling with at the time.” Biedenbender’s one-movement Detroit Steel is an unaccompanied work intended to honour “the grit, strength and resolve of the people of the city.” Garrop’s Wrath is a follow up to her earlier Tantrum for alto sax and piano, and its three movement titles – Menace, Shock and Amok – aptly describe the moods of the piece. At 25 minutes, Pann’s Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano is the most extended and developed work on the disc, comprising six tracks of varied aspect from the opening This Black Cat to the closing Lacrimosa in memory of Joel Hastings. Throughout the disc Lulloff and The rise to every challenge and nuance pitched by the four composers, from languid and emotive melodies to brash, abrasive and sometimes jocular outbursts. 

05 ConvergenceAnd on to more recent arrivals… Another saxophone disc CONVERGENCE – Music for Saxophone and Mixed Media (Navona Records nv6608 features Heidi Radtke in works for soprano, alto and tenor saxes in a variety of settings. The eight compositions – each by a different contemporary composer – span a plethora of moods and emotions, from raucous and playful, to morose and meditative. The disc opens with a lush reimagining by Jenni Watson of Debussy’s first Arabesque in which the sax is surrounded by a gorgeous wash of pre-recorded sounds, primarily those of violin and piano. Two particularly moving works are Andy Scott’s Wind Telephone, inspired by the 2011 tsunami in Otsuki, Japan and Rahsaan Barber’s Breonna Taylor (How Many More?), a gentle lament for a Black woman killed by police in Louisville, KY in 2020. It uses field recordings from Iroquois Park close to Taylor’s home in which calls of red-winged blackbirds are prominent. British-born Canadian composer Peter Meecham’s contemplative 3 Pieces for Solo Saxophone depict “A lonely man, on the New York subway, playing his saxophone, not for money, but for himself.” The title work is a 2011 collaboration between Radtke and Sang Mi Ahn in which the solo saxophone interacts with an electronic soundtrack generated from sounds made by Radtke’s sax. I might have expected an hour’s worth of solo” saxophone to be a bit “much of a muchness,” but to the contrary, Radtke’s compelling playing, the varying compositional palettes and diverse accompaniments made for an engaging listening experience throughout.  

06 Emily Carr PortraitsThe Emily Carr String Quartet ( released its second album in January. Portraits, a digital release on Leaf Music “is inspired by the work of Emily Carr. […] It is through music, one of the most abstract of art forms, that we can connect ourselves to her. The rhythm of a piece can be likened to the movement of brush strokes. The musical notes can be described as the pigments of colour chosen to convey the deep, dark and wild nuances of B.C.’s coastal rainforest. Musical phrases can begin to suggest Emily’s connection with the land and the First Nations she was friends with.” Four Canadians – Tobin Stokes, Jocelyn Morlock, Jared Miller and Iman Habibi – have written works that reflect their feelings about or inspired by the iconic artist. Stokes’ Feathers is a nine-movement work with each brief sketch, with such titles as Nesting, Nightingale and Hummingbirds, prefaced by a short quotation from the writings of Carr. Morlock’s Big Raven evocatively reflects Carr’s desire to “bring loneliness to this canvas and haunting broodiness, quiet and powerful.” Miller was inspired by another of Carr canvas, Strangled by Growth, which juxtaposes a human construction (totem pole) with the natural world (forest). Habibi’s Beloved of the Sky pays homage to the painting of the same name in the second movement, with impressions of Carr’s depictions of Forest, her pet monkey Woo and an introspective Self Portrait completing the work. The disc concludes with Stoke’s suite Klee Wyck, interpretations of five stories from the book of the same name. Each of the composers bring their own frame of reference and personal language to the project and the ensemble successfully bridges the divides effectively and convincingly, make for a truly enjoyable disc. 

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07 DvorakThe Fine Arts Quartet was founded in Chicago in 1946 so of course there have been personnel changes over the decades. The current violinists, Ralph Evans and Efim Boico, have been members since 1982 and 1983 respectively, with violist Gil Sharon and cellist Niklas Schmidt joining in 2018. The ensemble is still going strong and has just released the tenth and final volume of the complete string quartets (plus other related works) of Antonin Dvořák, Dvořák – String Quartet No.2; Bagatelles; Rondo (Naxos 8.574513 String Quartet No.2 in B-flat Major was one of three quartets written in 1869 during a period when Dvořák was markedly influenced by Wagner. He later destroyed the scores and the quartets were thought to have been lost until sets of parts were discovered after his death. According to the website, although there had been a private performance in Prague back in 1932, the first public performance of Quartet No.2 was not until September 2021 in that same city by the Zemlinsky Quartet. This recording of the 50-minute work took place just over a year later in Marienmunster, Germany. It is hard to tell why it languished so long without acceptance, or for that matter why it was rejected by the composer. It’s a lovely and fully developed work, if, according to Paul Griffiths, a bit “prolix.” [I had to look that up.] The disc is completed by the humourous Bagatelles of 1878 for two violins, cello and harmonium (Ryoko Morooka) and the rollicking Rondo in G Minor from 1891 for cello and piano (Stepan Simonian). With Dvořák in its rear-view mirror and a discography of some 200 other works spanning the history of the string quartet genre, I look forward to seeing what the future holds for this fine (arts) quartet. 

08 Neave Trio A Room of Her Own Cover Art CHAN 20238 3000pxThe Neave Trio is back again – five reviews in these pages since 2017 – and their latest, A Room of Her Own (Chandos CHAN 20238, features four turn-of-the-20th century composers Lili Boulanger, Cécille Chaminade, Dame Ethyl Smyth and Germaine Tailleferre. It’s a bit of misnomer to designate Tailleferre as turn-of-the-century however as she lived and remained active as a composer until 1983. As a matter of fact, although her Trio originated in 1917, she reworked the version included here in 1978, replacing the middle movement and adding a fourth. These new, ebullient movements add a sunny quality to the work while still maintaining the characteristic voice she had established some six decades earlier. Boulanger completed her Deux piéces en trio in 1918, the year of her untimely death at the age of 24. The first of these is a cheerful, brief depiction of a spring morning. The second is a sombre, more extended exploration of a sad evening. The other two trios date from almost 40 years earlier, both composed in 1880. Chaminade’s Trio No.1, Op.11 in G Minor is a fetching work in four movements, with a particularly charming Presto leggiero featuring waterfall-like textures in the piano. British composer Smyth is the only non-French national included here and her formative studies took place in Leipzig, grounding her firmly in the Austro-German romantic tradition. She was born one year later than Chaminade, in 1858, and both died in 1944. Her Trio, at 31 minutes the longest offering here, like her coeval’s is also in a minor key, in this case G Minor. In spite of this there are many bright moments, especially in the scherzando section of the second movement and throughout the Scherzo. Presto con brio third. The Neave Trio in, as always, in top form and is to be commended for bringing these rarely heard gems to light is such stellar performances.   

09 Robert Priest People Like You and MePoet and author Robert Priest has been active on the Toronto scene as long as I can remember, going back to the early 80s when we were both denizens of Ye Olde Brunswick House open mic nights. I’ve often thought of him over the years, fondly remembering a line (with a tip of the hat to Allen Ginsberg) “I saw the best minds of my generation falling off streetcars” or something to that effect. [Priest tells me the phrase may have actually been “the best mimes of my generation.”] He’s obviously been active in the years since, with half a dozen albums, myriad poetry collections and novels to his credit, as well as co-writing Alannah Myles’ hit Song Instead of a Kiss. I was disappointed to miss his recent album launch at Hugh’s Room – I was asleep at the wheel I guess – but am glad to have received a copy of People Like You and Me ( It’s a combination of spoken word and song, all accompanied by some fine players from Toronto’s jazz community including Kevin Breit, Alison Young, Great Bob Scott and George Koller, who also share writing credits with Priest. The music is diverse, running a gamut of styles. Most surprising to me is the jazzy torch song You and I and Faraway co-written with Allen Booth and featuring Young’s honey-dripping sax, in which Priest turns in a convincing Brian Ferry-esque performance. Some of the clever turns of phrase I particularly enjoyed were “In my country we don’t have free speech, but the speech we do have is really, really cheap” and “I’m so prophetic I get pre-traumatic stress disorder!” from [I strive for] Outer Peace and “Love is a many gendered thing” from a tune of the same name. I wish I hadn’t missed the show! 

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Concert note: I do intend to be at Priest’s next performance at the Great Sunday Night Folk Off at the Tranzac on April 21 (5pm start). 

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01 Le temps retrouveThe three French sonatas that form the bulk of Le Temps retrouvé, the new CD from the brilliant husband-and-wife duo of violinist Elena Urioste and pianist Tom Poster, were all published during the decade 1916-26, a period of great change in the musical landscape (Chandos CHAN 20275

Despite initial parental opposition and a life of domestic upheaval Mélanie, Bonis (1858-1937) composed a huge amount of music, most of which still lies unexplored. Her Violin Sonata in F-sharp Minor Op.112 is a fascinating and profoundly musical work.

Fauré’s Violin Sonata No.2 in E Minor Op.108 from 1916-17 is from his late, forward-looking period, but those typical sweeping piano arpeggios and flowing melodies still abound.

Apart from the remarkable Veloce middle movement (literally a short ride in a fast car) Reynaldo Hahn’s lyrical and warm Violin Sonata in C Major from 1926 looks back nostalgically to a gentler time.

Lili Boulanger’s popular Nocturne, published in 1914, provides a suitably dreamy ending to a superb disc.

02 Lionel TertisOn A Lionel Tertis Celebration the violist Timothy Ridout, winner of the 2016 Lionel Tertis Competition, pays tribute to the legendary English viola player with an outstanding 2CD recital featuring compositions and arrangements by Tertis himself as well as works by his friends and students. Frank Dupree is the pianist on CD1, and James Baillieu on CD2 (harmonia mundi HMM9053767.77

Stirring performances of two major works by Tertis students bookend the recital, York Bowen’s Viola Sonata No.1 in C Minor Op.18 opening CD1 and Rebecca Clarke’s Viola Sonata closing CD2. Sunset and Hier au Soir are Tertis originals, and there are arrangements by him of short pieces by Brahms, Schumann, Fauré and Mendelssohn, as well as by John Ireland and William Wolstenholme.

Other composers represented are Frank Bridge, Eric Coates, Cecil Forsyth, Vaughan Williams, Bowen and Wolstenholme again, and W. H. “Billy” Reed of Elgar violin concerto fame, whose lovely Rhapsody opens CD2. Two Kreisler works close CD1: Ridout’s own arrangement of Liebeslied; and a stunning performance of Alan Arnold’s arrangement of the Praeludium and Allegro.

03 UpheavalThat same tumultuous period is central to Upheaval, with cellist Janne Fredens and pianist Søren Rastogi presenting compositions by four female composers active around the First World War years (OUR Recordings 6.220683

The Dutch pianist and composer Henriëtte Bosmans (1895-1952), whose career was disrupted by the Nazi occupation in the1940s and never recovered, is represented by her 1919 Cello Sonata in A Minor. The reputation of the prolific Croatian composer Dora Pejačević (1885-1923) continues to grow following the recent revival of her terrific Symphony in F-sharp Minor. Her 1913 Cello Sonata in E Minor Op.35 is a striking and substantial late-Romantic work, showing the clear influence of Brahms and Dvořák.

Two pieces by the Boulanger sisters, Lili’s Nocturne again and Nadia’s Trois pièces from 1911 complete an excellent disc full of sensitive and finely judged playing.

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04 Path to the MoonWilliam T. Horton’s fantastic image The Path to the Moon was the inspiration for the new album from cellist Laura van der Heijden and pianist Jâms Coleman, their CD Path to the Moon including music relating to the moon and the night, as well as works evoking mankind’s striving for new heights (Chandos CHAN 20274

It’s an eclectic program anchored by three 20th-century sonatas: the 1957 Cello Sonata by the American George Walker; Britten’s Sonata Op.65 and Debussy’s 1915 Cello Sonata. 

Fittingly, given the singing nature of van der Heijden’s playing, virtually all of the transcriptions are of vocal music: Korngold’s Schönste Nacht; Lili Boulanger’s Reflets; Florence Price’s Night; Britten’s Sonetto XXX; Debussy’s Beau soir; Fauré’s Clair de lune; Takemitsu’s Will Tomorrow, I Wonder, Be Cloudy or Clear?; and Nina Simone’s take on Jonathan King’s Everyone’s Gone to the Moon. Debussy’s Clair de lune ends a lovely disc.

05 Mikyung SungThe South Korean double-bassist Mikyung Sung is the remarkable soloist on The Colburn Sessions, a brilliant two-disc set where she is ably supported by pianist Jaemin Shin, the two having worked together in the Artist Diploma course at the Colburn School in Los Angeles in 2017 (Modus Vivendi Media MVM 2301

Bottesini’s Tarantella is a dazzling opening track, Sung displaying stunning facility and clarity. The same composer’s Capriccio di Bravura and the more lyrical Elegy No.1 are followed by a transcription of the Meditation from Massenet’s Thaïs. Hindemith’s Sonata for Double Bass and Piano and the impressive 1967 Sonata for Double Bass and Piano by Hungarian composer Vilmos Montag (1908-91) end disc 1.

The second CD is even more impressive, with the Andante from Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata Op.19 sandwiched between two outstanding sonatas: Mendelssohn’s Cello Sonata No.2 Op.58 with an astonishing final movement that takes your breath away, and Franck’s Violin Sonata in A Major in the composer-endorsed transcription for cello by Jules Delsart, Sung playing direct from the cello part – which she presumably also does with the Mendelssohn. 

Superb playing from both performers is beautifully captured in single continuous takes live to stereo. Complete performances of the Hindemith, Mendelssohn and Franck sonatas can be viewed on Sung’s website, 

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06 ImaginingWorldsWanchi Huang is the violinist on Imagining Worlds – Music for Solo Violin, a CD that features new music by composers described as compelling voices in contemporary American music (Navona Records NV6592

The recital comprises Adolphus Hailstork’s rather bland Suite for Solo Violin, Judith Shatin’s somewhat oppressive For the Fallen – for Amplified Violin and Electronics, Meira Warshauer’s Jewish-influenced In Memoriam and Brach (Blessing), and Jeffrey Mumford’s an expanding distance of multiple voices, the five movements totaling only 11 minutes. John Corigliano’s Red Violin Caprices completes the disc.

There’s interesting writing on display here, but only the Corigliano really leaps out and separates itself from the crowd; it certainly brings by far the best playing from Huang.

07 Almeida PradoThe music of a Brazilian composer who lived from 1943 to 2010 is explored on José Antônio de Almeida Prado Works for Violin and Cello, a new addition to The Music of Brazil series featuring violinist Emmanuele Baldini and cellist Rafael Cesario (Naxos 8.574459

Only two works – Le livre magique de Xangô from 1985 and Das Cirandas from 1999 – are duets. The 2004 Praeambulum for solo cello was commissioned as an intro to Bach’s Cello Suite No.3 in C Major BWV1009, while The Four Seasons for solo violin was written for a young performers’ national competition in 1984, each brief movement a study in various violin techniques.

The lyrical and extremely brief – under two minutes – Capriccio für Constança und Ana Luiza from 1998 and the Solo Violin Sonata from 2000, dedicated to his daughter, one of Brazil’s leading violinists and the most substantial work on the CD, end a recital of solid performances but with few real musical high points.

08 Trio Con BrioThe Trio con Brio Copenhagen, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year performs piano trios by Mieczyslaw Weinberg and Franz Schubert on The Passenger, a CD that surveys two young composers whose compositions offer poignant reflections on life, mortality and ethereal beauty (Orchid Classics ORC100282

Weinberg was a Polish Jew who fled Warsaw when the Nazis invaded. His Piano Trio Op.24 was written in Moscow in 1945 when he was 25; characterized by unrest and despair, it occupies much the same sound world as that of his friend Shostakovich. The finale features a waltz that foreshadows his opera The Passenger, where a waltz links the evil of a concentration camp to an uncertain future.

Written in 1827, just a year before his early death, Schubert’s Piano Trio No.2 in E-flat Major Op.100 grew from Schubert’s encounter with the Swedish song Se solen sjunker, which describes the sinking sun and all hope being chased away by night’s shadows. The funeral march of the second movement, based on the song, is the emotional centre of the work.

09 Trio ZimbalistThe Weinberg work is also heard on Piano Trios of Weinberg, Auerbach & Dvořák, a top-notch debut CD by Trio Zimbalist intended as “a heartfelt response to the enduring human struggle unfolding around the world” (Curtis Studio

The album is cast in the spirit of the Dumka, a Ukrainian term meaning “thought.” In music, Dumky were sung by traveling minstrels, and often expressed the laments of oppressed people. It was this form that Dvořák used as the basis for his Piano Trio No.4 in E Minor Op.90, “Dumky”, an extensive six-movement work that closes the disc. 

We have already noted the circumstances surrounding the composition of the Weinberg trio. Lera Auerbach’s quite brief but striking three-movement Piano Trio No.1 Op.28 with its impassioned middle Andante lamentoso movement and eerie and aggressive finale, was written following her defection from the Soviet Union in 1991. The Dvořák also fits in here: it is often overlooked that performances of his works were suppressed in the Czechoslovak Republic for a while after 1945.

10a Stravinsky EhnesThere are two Stravinsky Violin Concerto CDs this month, one featuring James Ehnes with the BBC Philharmonic under Sir Andrew Davis (Chandos CHSA5340 and the other with Frank Peter Zimmermann and the Bamberger Symphoniker under Jakub Hrůša (BIS-2657 – Igor-stravinsky-bartok-martin).

Written for – and premiered by – Samuel Dushkin in 1932, the concerto is a four-movement work in Stravinsky’s neo-classical style. Ehnes is his usual flawless self in a supremely confident performance, as smooth as ever and with a clear, pure tone, especially in the two middle Arias. The rest of the Chandos Stravinsky disc is orchestral music in really fine performances: the Scherzo à la Russe, a showpiece written for the Paul Whiteman band on the composer’s arrival in California in the early 1940s; the Suites Nos.1 & 2, arranged from piano duets from the 1910s; and Apollo Musagète, a ballet in two parts for strings from 1927-28 that marked a complete rejection of his previous ballets and a move to pure form.

10b Stravinsky ZimmermannThe Zimmermann disc, on the other hand, is all violin and orchestra, linking composers who put down roots in the West without abandoning their Eastern European identities. Zimmermann’s Stravinsky concerto is another outstanding performance, albeit a fair bit faster than Ehnes: the Zimmermann timings for the four movements, which only range from four to six minutes in length, are a significant 20 to 30 seconds shorter than those of Ehnes. There’s no real sense of a faster or spikier approach here though, with Ehnes and Davis possibly just more relaxed in tempo. Dushkin also premiered Bartók’s Rhapsodies Nos.1 & 2, given outstanding performances here, as well as the 1943 New York version with piano of Martinů’s Suite concertante, which has two versions. The second, heard here, was started in 1938 in Paris before Martinů left Europe, and completed in New York and orchestrated in 1945. While still in Paris Martinů apparently wrote three movements for another version of the suite, one of which – Méditation – completes a terrific CD.

11 Ysaye RevesEugène Ysaÿe: Rêves features world-premiere recordings of two newly discovered concertos by the Belgian virtuoso and composer in performances by Philippe Graffin and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under Jean-Jacques Kantorow (Avie Records AV2650

Following the recent discovery of a first movement of an early Violin Concerto in E Minor a fully orchestrated second movement and a third movement in violin and piano score both came to light, the latter being orchestrated by Ysaÿe expert Xavier Falques to complete the concerto. Composed in 1884-85 it was apparently intended to establish a new approach to instrumental technique, which Ysaÿe felt had stagnated since the works of Vieuxtemps.

It’s not clear why he abandoned the concerto, but in 1893 Ysaÿe wrote his Poème concertant, a single-movement work imbued with love for his student Irma Sèthe. Recently discovered in manuscript form, it was orchestrated by Erika Vega with advice from Falques.

Pianist Marisa Gupta joins Graffin for the 2 Mazurkas de salon Op.10 and the Rêve d’enfant Op.14 that close a fascinating CD.

12 VW RetrospectThere’s a glorious CD of Vaughan Williams music that would normally be well outside the limits of this column, but Vaughan Williams: Retrospect with the London Choral Sinfonia under Michael Waldron contains not only some simply beautiful works for voices and string orchestra but also a lovely performance of the Violin Concerto in D Minor – Concerto Accademico with the always reliable Jack Liebeck as soloist (Orchid Classics ORC100289

It’s not a substantial work – only about 16 minutes long – but the glorious middle movement, which takes up almost half of the work, is Vaughan Williams at his pastoral best and Liebeck is in his element. As an added bonus, cellist Thomas Carroll is the lovely soloist in the world-premiere recording of the composer’s arrangement of Bach’s Schmücke dich,o liebe Seele

13 AlasOn ALAS cellist Patrick Langot and violinist Alexis Cardenas and the Orchestra de Lutetia under Alejandro Sandler pay tribute to the Argentinian music so dear to their hearts by presenting world-premiere recordings of works by three contemporary Argentinian composers (Évidence Classics EVCD108 

The title track, the 2021 Alas – fantaisie for violin, cello and string orchestra by Gerardo di Giusto (b.1961) is a strong, strident work with malambo and baguala rhythms, while the atmospheric 2020 Descaminos for solo cello, string orchestra and percussion by Gabriel Sivak (b.1979) was inspired by the vast Pampas region. Both works were commissioned by the orchestra.

The fascinating 1986 Llorando silencios, six Quechua songs for solo cello by Alejandro Iglesias Rossi (b.1960) evokes ancestral sonorities, the cello sounding in turn like the traditional instruments the quena, charango and erke.

The remainder of the CD is given over to the 1953 Variaciones concertantes Op.23 by Alberto Ginastera, the cello and harp being joined by various orchestral soloists to develop the thematic material, with an explosive malambo finale.

14 ScarlattiIn a 1953 essay the Domenico Scarlatti biographer Ralph Kirkpatrick (who implemented the K. numbering system) noted the clear influence of the Spanish guitar on Scarlatti’s music, and the extent to which it permeated his keyboard works is beautifully illustrated on the digital-only release Scarlatti 12 Sonatas by the two guitarists Matteo Mela and Lorenzo Micheli (Evidence EVCD107

As Micheli’s booklet notes point out, Scarlatti’s language often echoes guitar playing, the Hispanic character stemming from timbres, techniques and stylistic traits derived from the guitar, and the light, volatile style of writing in the sonatas, most often for two voices is perfectly suited to the nature of the guitar. The 12 sonatas here are those numbered K.8, K.24, K.32, K.87, K.99, K.162, K.202, K.386, K.455, K.466, K.519 and K.531.

Superb transcriptions (uncredited, but by the performers, presumably) and simply outstanding playing, beautifully recorded, result in a truly captivating release.

01 Monteverdi returno dulisseClaudio Monteverdi – Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria
Soloists; I Gemelli; Emiliano Gonzalez Toro; Mathilde Etienne
Gemelli Factory audiobook (

There are as many ways to perform Claudio Monteverdi’s Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria as there are performances. The earliest known score contains just the vocal parts, the text and the bass line. Even the instrumental passages indicate nothing about what instruments are to play. So vital decisions about basic elements like orchestration and harmonization must be made.

Terrific recordings have appeared in recent years – those under Gardiner, Cavina and Fuget come happily to mind (not to overlook Harnoncourt’s landmark recording from 1972). But none for me has matched René Jacobs’ 1992 recording for momentum and spirit – that is, until this production from I Gemelli, led by musical director Emiliano Gonzalez Toro and artistic director Mathilde Etienne (with both performing as singers). 

A fine-tuned sense of early Baroque style and an adventurous sense of theatre have shaped this recording. The cast here is large – it includes nine tenors! That means remarkably few doublings, so characters are easily distinguishable. And every performer, whether singer or instrumentalist, projects the kind of commitment that gives their time in the spotlight, no matter how brief or extensive, dramatic impact. 

It’s unlikely Monteverdi’s instrumental ensemble for the first performance in 1640 would have been as large, or as varied. Historically authentic instruments like the gorgeous triple harp of Marie-Domitille Murez and the delightful trio of mellifluous cornetts add colour. But they never swamp the singers, since they are featured in smaller groups. Instead, they provide vivid counterparts to the resonant phrases of Giacomo Badoaro’s libretto, a skillful adaption of the final verses of Homer’s Odyssey.

Monteverdi gives the gods the most florid passages. Emőke Breath as Minerva ravishes with her lucid elegance. Philippe Jarroussky is an eloquent Fragilitá Umana (Human Fragility), Juan Sancho an impassioned Mercurio. Jérôme Varnier’s petulant, vindictive Nettuno captivates with his rich, agile basso profundo.  

Among the mortals, Gonzalez Toro’s Ulisse is deftly theatrical as he disguises himself as an old beggar, and affectingly tender as he pleads with Penelope to recognize him. Rihaieb Chaib brings highly charged urgency and a complex range of emotional states to the role of the faithful Penelope. The exciting Canadian mezzo-soprano has not been known for Baroque opera. But that is bound to change with her powerful performance here. Right from the opening phrases of her heart-rending lament, she commands our empathy. When she does recognize Ulisse – and they finally sing together – it’s all the more expressive for the contrast in their voices. The word “yes” has never sounded more sensual than in their magnificent duet, “Yes, my life, yes, my heart, yes!” 

       I love how Alix Le Saux as Ulisse’s old nurse Ericleia colours the word “languise” (languishes). Fulvio Bettini’s virtuosic Iro delights as he moves from comedy to tragedy. Zachary Wilder creates a poignant Telemaco, while Etienne brings playful charm to Melanto. Her extensive background essays are bound with the libretto – more than 200 pages in all – with three CDs in an attractive hardbound case. It’s certainly indicative of the loving care that has gone into this superb recording.

02 Penitence LamentationPenitence & Lamentation (Gombert; Byrd; Tallis; Crecquillon; Ramsey; Muhly; Carver)
Byrd Ensemble; Markdavin Obenza
Scribe Records SRCD12 (

Ten Renaissance pieces set to religious texts expressing, say the booklet notes, “guilt and grief” are movingly performed by the Seattle-based Byrd Ensemble under artistic director Markdavin Obenza. Four selections are by the a cappella group’s inspiration, William Byrd. Particularly affecting are Emendemus in Melius and Byrd’s elegy for his late friend, Thomas Tallis, Ye sacred muses. Tallis himself is represented by two pieces – Absterge Domine and In jejunio et fletu, the latter darkly solemn, sung by only one alto, two tenors and two basses.

Nicolas Gombert’s intense Lugebat David Absalon dramatically sets David’s howling lament over his rebellious son, while Robert Ramsey’s How are the mighty fallen effectively expresses David’s anguish over his beloved Jonathan. Thomas Crecquillon’s earnest Pater peccavi presents the Prodigal Son’s rueful plea to his father. Although only five to ten singers perform the forementioned works, the reverberant acoustic creates the illusion of much larger forces.

American composer Nico Muhly’s Fallings, especially commissioned for this CD, involves 12 singers. Set to verses from Isaiah describing the destruction of Solomon’s temple, the music is often tumultuous and discordant, yet not out of place among the Renaissance works. Ending the CD, 19 singers – 14 of them tenors and basses – join in the longest selection, Robert Carver’s grandiloquent, 12-minute O bone Jesu. The male-heavy sonorities add depth and richness to this cry for mercy – “O good Jesus, let not my sin destroy me.” Texts and translations are included.

03 MeistersingerWagner – Dei Meistersinger von Nurnberg
Soloists; Orchestra and Chorus of the Deutsche Oper Berlin; John Flore
Naxos DVD 2.110766-67 (

Deutsche Oper has always been famous for thought-provoking, even iconoclastic, productions so this latest incarnation of Wagner’s lengthy masterpiece comes to us certainly as very different from anything I’ve ever seen before. The scene is a Conservatory with the Masters as professors, the Apprentices as students, all in a modern setting. The school is owned by the wealthy Veit Pogner (Albert Posendorfer, bass) who intends to turn it over to the public by organizing a singing contest but stipulating that the winner must be a Master and should marry his only daughter Eva (Heidi Stober, soprano). The contest is held on Midsummer Day and there are numerous complications, but we all know the story. In this provocative staging the music and the text remain unchanged; there is constant action, and the show is entertaining throughout. But the question remains for someone who has never seen/heard this opera before should I recommend this production rather than an opulent, glorious traditional one such as I grew up with?

The directorial team has decided to “remove the deadweight of previous productions to get closer to the opera itself” which is all about music, the composition and delivery of music. This translates itself into composing a master song and it all comes together beautifully in the wonderful third act. The master song is composed by Walther von Stolzing, the tenor lead (beautifully sung by the latest German heldentenor sensation, Klaus Florian Vogt, who aspires to be a Master and is in love with Eva. The elderly Hans Sachs (Johan Reuter, baritone), a Master and the real hero of the opera, is also in love with Eva but having to give her up, realizes Walther’s song is, although different, truly beautiful. He magnanimously offers advice to improve the song according to the established rules. The master song is then baptized (on St. John’s day) by the glorious quintet Selig wie die Sonne, with all five principals, and later Walther wins the contest and Eva’s hand. A happy ending, indeed.

Deutsche Oper’s giant orchestra pit much resembles the one at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus and the large orchestra is led by John Fiore, an internationally famous American conductor from Seattle. He is much praised by the world’s opera houses as a respected leader with unusual musical sensitivity. The show was enthusiastically received. What more can we ask ?

04 Luminous VoicesFire-Flowers
Luminous Voices; Timothy Shantz
Leaf Music LM275b (

The Calgary-based choir Luminous Voices, directed by Timothy Shantz, is a diverse and prolific ensemble, performing and recording a range of repertoire with consistently excellent results. In 2023 they released Ispiciwin, with music by Indigenous composers Andrew Balfour, Sherryl Sewepagaham and Walter MacDonald White Bear, which is followed now by Fire-Flowers, featuring Johannes Brahms’ stunning Requiem.

Originally written for chorus and orchestra, this performance uses Brahms’ own alternative version of the full seven-movement work, performed with piano duet accompaniment, which gives this rich and robust composition an introverted and subdued atmosphere. It also makes the choir’s task much more challenging, as the warm (and rather more forgiving) tones of strings and woodwinds are replaced by the percussive keys and hammers of the piano. Any indiscretion in pitch or rhythm would be immediately apparent, and the lack of asynchronicity is a testament to Luminous Voices’ collective talent.

In addition to these general hazards, there are a few notably challenging moments in Brahms’ Requiem that serve as a barometer of an ensemble’s skill, including the “Herr, du bist würdig” fugue at the end of movement VI. Rather than being in peril, the choir gives a masterclass in phrasing and fugal execution, turning potential danger into five minutes of sonic bliss.

While Brahms is the centrepiece of this recording, it is bookended by two works by Zachary Wadsworth, including his dramatic Battle-Flags with text by Walt Whitman, and Fire-Flowers, based on an excerpt from Emily Pauline Johnson’s Flint and Feather. Both pieces are extraordinarily compelling reflections on life, loss and hope, and this recording is highly recommended as what will undoubtedly be one of the best choral discs of this year.

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05 Luminos EnsembleIn the Crystalline Vault of Heaven
Luminos Ensemble; Dr. Margot Rejskind
Leaf Music LM290 (

Writing about second-wave feminism in 1970, Carol Hanisch either created or popularized the phrase “the personal is political.” Since that time, the aphorism has expanded in both meaning and application to point out the shared synergies and interactions that exist between political and personal issues. In many ways, the arts, such as music, have become a lightning rod for these kinds of conversations. Music makers in 2024, whether they like it or not, are making choices often read as political simply by the repertoire they choose, venues at which they perform and the ensemble company they keep.

The Luminos Ensemble, a terrific Charlottetown-based choir of 16 East Coast voices that was formed in 2017 by artistic Director Dr. Margot Rejskind, seems acutely aware of this fact. In fact, articulated on their website is a mission statement and an expansion of values that suggests that a kind of Canadian East Coast social justice (albeit one that is married to beautiful choral voices) is their very raison d’être. Living the stated value that PEI voices “deserve to be promoted and supported,” the ensemble has released a fine new recording, In the Crystalline Vault of Heaven that features several tremendous Atlantic Canadian compositional talents deserving of wider recognition. While the title track by Nova Scotia composer Derek Charke is moving indeed, the work of Prince Edward Island composers David Buley and EKR Hammell, who contribute meaningfully to this recommended recording, was particularly captivating. 

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06 Arvo PartArvo Pärt – Odes of Repentance
Cappella Romana; Alexander Lingas
Cappella Records CR428 (

Esteemed senior Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s current idiomatic musical style is rooted in Gregorian chant and later European polyphonic liturgical music, yet his early career compositional language embraced 20th century serialism and then minimalism. In addition, his use of Christian liturgical texts triggered censure from Soviet cultural authorities in the 1960s, leading to a personal reckoning. After years of personal renunciation, Pärt emerged in the 1970s with a new compositional style he dubbed “tintinnabula.” 

In an unexpected twist of history, his often austere, meditative, faith-based music has found a wide audience in the decades since. He’s frequently ranked among the world’s most performed composers, particularly of choral music. And that’s what we hear on the Odes of Repentance album: a prayerful suite of choral works over 12 tracks. The selections were compiled by Alexander Lingas the music director of Portland Oregon’s Cappella Romana, a professional mixed choir known for its rigorous historically-informed performances of Orthodox church music. For example, Cappella Romana hired an Old Church Slavonic coach to aid in pronouncing that language for these performances.

Cappella Romana is an ideal match for Pärt’s sacred music. For example, The Woman with the Alabaster Box is a Gospel reading; there are also Orthodox hymns, heartfelt prayers and psalmody, all capped by Prayer after the Kanon. The album feels like a timeless liturgical service, the elegant leanness of its musical language kept in aesthetic tension and given additional meaning by the ritual lyrics and frequent short pauses for silent reflection.

01 Dall AbacoDall’Abaco and the Art of Variation
Elinor Frey; Accademia De’Dissonanti
Passacaille 1141 (

While the term “supergroup” is usually applied to bands like The Traveling Wilburys and Temple of the Dog, the term also suits the Accademia de’ Dissonanti, composed of members who are each gifted performers in their own right and come together to make consistently stunning recordings.

This disc features music by Giuseppe Clemente Dall’Abaco (1710-1805), and is the premiere recording of his two cello trios and three cello sonatas. If the name is unfamiliar, that is because Dall’Abaco’s compositions are relatively new to modern audiences: The musical output of this cellist-composer has only emerged in recent decades, and its craftsmanship and charm have won over both performers and listeners alike. 

Born in Brussels, Dall’Abaco spent the majority of his childhood at the Bavarian court in Munich, where his father, composer Evaristo Felice Dall’Abaco, was employed as Kapellmeister. Throughout the 1730s and 1740s, the cellist’s reputation grew as he began to travel and perform in important European cities such as London, York, Paris and Vienna, eventually becoming renowned as Europe’s most gifted cellist.

Featuring the equally gifted (and very much alive) cellists Octavie Dostaler-Lalonde, Elinor Frey and Eva Lymenstull, as well as harpsichordist Federica Bianchi and theorbist Michele Pasotti, each work on this recording is a delight to listen to. The cello trios are rich and complex, with intertwining melodic lines and timbral blends that create fascinating polyphonic effects. The cello sonatas, with variations composed by Elinor Frey, are grin-inducing in their joviality, but never superficial.

This recording is a revelatory introduction to one of history’s “newest” composers, and a welcome return to the masterful musicians that make up early music’s own supergroup, the Accademia de’ Dissonanti.

02 Igor LevitFantasia
Igor Levit
Sony 19658811642 (

Notated improvisatory style has been a facet of western music as far back as the Renaissance and this two-disc Sony recording simply titled Fantasia featuring pianist Igor Levit in an attractive exploration of piano repertoire following this principle spanning a 300-year period. The Russian-born soloist began his musical studies at the Salzburg Mozarteum and in 2005, was the winner of the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition in Tel Aviv.

An arrangement of the Air from Bach’s Orchestral Suite No.3 may seem an unusual opening for a recording of music focusing on extemporization, but Levit’s interpretation is refined and understated. In contrast is the renowned Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue BWV903, very much a bravura piece of formidable invention. Levit delivers a compelling and well-balanced performance, his phrasing always clearly articulated. Even more challenging is the Piano Sonata in B Minor by Liszt, a composition of herculean difficulties. Levit is seemingly unfazed by the technical challenges and easily fashions the ever-contrasting moods into a cohesive whole.

Disc two opens with Berg’s angular and at times unsetting Piano Sonata Op.1, a fine example of his early style. Nevertheless, the magnum opus of the disc and the set itself is Busoni’s 34-minute Fantasia Contrappuntistica. The piece is truly substantial in scope and borrows from several musical styles involving a subdued and introspective opening, a complex Bach-like fugue followed by a dramatic section with dissonant chordal progressions leading to an unexpectedly quiet conclusion. Kudos to Levit for tackling this oddity and making the most of it. 

The inclusion of shorter pieces such as Liszt’s Der Doppelganger and Busoni’s Nuit de Noel further contribute to a well-balanced program.

03 Marc PonthusBeethoven – Hammerklavier Sonata; Stockhausen – Klavierstück X
Marc Ponthus
Bridge Records 9584 (

The French pianist Marc Ponthus is a fascinating individual, devoting much of his career to the performance of the 20th century’s most demanding avant-garde music. Known for presenting monographic recitals in which only compositions by Stockhausen, Boulez or Xenakis are performed, Ponthus has carved a unique niche for himself in a pianistic world overrun by repeated presentations of Mozart, Schumann and Chopin.

Not that there’s anything wrong with canonic repertoire, of course, and Ponthus demonstrates this first-hand with his latest recording, putting Beethoven’s monolithic “Hammerklavier” Sonata on the same program as Stockhausen’s landmark Klavierstück X. Aside from the fact that both works are performed on the same instrument, these pieces – composed nearly 150 years apart – are decidedly different: one is the pinnacle of classical sonata form, while the other is a masterwork of contemporary piano literature, an eruption of ordered disorder.

Ponthus’ performance of Klavierstück X is thrilling, his control of this physically and intellectually demanding score immediately apparent. (There are so many glissandi that the pianist is required to wear gloves with the fingers cut off.) Although the first impression of this music may be of chaos, every component of this music is highly prescribed and structured, and Ponthus wrestles Stockhausen’s complex ideas into a profoundly convincing performance. 

If the “Hammerklavier” receives a shorter mention here, it is only because of its status as one of Beethoven’s most renowned and striking piano works. Ponthus approaches this music like a chameleon, and it is difficult to believe that this is the same person who was tackling Klavierstück  X only a few moments prior. The rhythmic vitality of Beethoven’s writing is brought to the forefront here, and this performance is full of vigour and bravado, while never becoming a caricature of itself.

04 Schubert ImproptusSchubert – The Complete Impromptus
Gerardo Teissonnière
Steinway & Sons 30220 (ère)

Impromptu means “improvised,” a genre popular in 19th-century salons. It seems to be easily dashed off in one sitting although it’s hard to believe this, given their melodic richness, level of invention and perfection of form. Schubert’s eight pieces are part of the curriculum for any aspiring piano student about grade eight and up and I tried my hand on at least three of them. My greatest accomplishment was Op.90 No.4 in A-flat Major, with those gorgeous cascades rippling down like water with a wonderful melody emerging in the left hand and a passionate Trio I loved playing. But I must admit that the difference between amateur and professional pianists being immeasurable (Somerset Maugham), so this new issue of The Complete Impromptus, all eight of them, under two opus numbers (90 & 142) by a pianist critics regard as an artist of “extraordinary musicianship and rare sensibility,” Puerto Rican-born American Gerardo Teissonnière, is most welcome. In fact, the pianist is having a remarkable career on two continents, recipient of many awards; this recording is his second one on the prestigious Steinway & Sons label.

Some of my favourites are the popular, very impressive No.2 Op.90 in E-flat Major, perpetuum mobile-like, light hearted and fast with an exquisite contrasting Impromptu. No.3, Op.90 in G-flat Major (with 6 flats) is relaxed and introspective with a harp-like mid-register in the right hand that reminds me of Schubert›s ever-present obsession with water and a fearsome undercurrent in the left hand bass.

I loved the most the ambitious Impromptu No.1 Op.90 in C Minor, with its notable key change into major in the Trio that›s absolute heaven, like a dreamy dialogue of questions and answers. No.3 in B-flat Major Op.142 is a set of lovely variations on a simple theme from Rosamunde where the level of invention is amazing. The final piece is No.4 Op.142 in F Minor, a wild rondo that sums up this set that gave me a lot of enjoyment in these bleak winter days.

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05 Schumann Llyr WilliamsRobert Schumann – Piano Works
Llŷr Williams
Signum Classics SIGCD756 (

The name Llŷr Williams may not be an overly familiar one, but since his graduation from the Royal Academy of music, this 48-year-old pianist has quietly carved out a name for himself as a soloist, accompanist and chamber musician. Born in North Wales in 1976, he studied music at Queen’s College, Oxford before pursuing further studies at the RAM from 2003 to 2005. His recent recordings have included the complete sonatas of Beethoven and Schubert; he now turns his attention to the music of Schumann on this 2CD set.

The first disc opens with the renowned Fantasie in C Major Op.17, long regarded as one of Schumann’s greatest works. Willliams’ approach is suitably expansive and lyrical, at no time losing control of the shifting parameters within. Papillons, from 1831 is a charming set of 12 kaleidoscopic miniatures. Based on a novel by Jean Paul Richter and intended to represent a masked ball, the successive dance movements flow by in quick succession. Williams delivers an elegant and polished performance, adroitly capturing the ever-contrasting moods. Concluding the first disc is the six-movement Humoresque Op.20 from 1839, a score that has possibly never earned the reputation it deserves.

Williams continues to demonstrate a real affinity for this archly Romantic repertoire in the famed Davidsbündlertanze Op.6 which opens the second disc. The movements here are not true dances, but character pieces aptly showcasing the dualistic nature of Schumann’s personality. The four reflective Nachtstücke Op.23 were composed during a particularly stressful time in the composer’s life owing to the imminent death of his older brother. In contrast is the jovial Faschingsschwank aus Wien Op.26, a wonderful depiction of a Viennese carnival which Williams performs with much bravado, bringing the set to a most satisfying conclusion.

06 Album LeafAlbum Leaf – Piano Works by Felix Mendelssohn
Sophia Agranovich
Centaur Records CRC 4038 (

Thanks to YouTube I feel as if I’ve seen and heard this magnificent pianist live whose new recording I am pleased to introduce. In fact I am simply mesmerized by Sophia Agranovich‘s tremendous talent, virtuosity, emotional involvement and thorough musicianship. Fanfare magazine calls her a “tigress of the keyboard” and I could listen to her for hours. Her credentials include concert pianist, recording artist, teacher, computer scientist and vice president of Merrill/ Lynch, no less. This is her 12th recording to date. 

Agranovich is no stranger to these pages – we reviewed her very impressive Liszt recital in November 2022 – and now she turns to Mendelssohn and surely doesn’t disappoint. Her virtuosity immediately becomes evident in the extremely difficult last movement Presto of the Fantasia in F-sharp Minor, a perpetuum mobile that ends the first piece. Her lightness of touch makes the piano sing at the Albumblatt in A Minor, a typical Mendelssohn Lied ohne Worte that the set is named after.

Mendelssohn was probably one of the most gifted composers who ever lived. As a child prodigy he composed a symphony for full orchestra at the age of 12! As the program continues the composer’s immense talent shines through beautiful pieces like the Caprices, a set of Variations Serieuses and the murderously difficult Etudes that rival Chopin. They are all executed in a lovely singing tone, with virtuosity and elegance.

My beloved, since childhood, Rondo Capriccioso, a favourite concert piece where I see elves dancing every time I hear it, ends the program and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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07 Chopin PhillipsChopin – Ballades and Nocturnes
Jonathan Phillips
Divine Art DDX 21111 (

What more can be said about Chopin – all too frequently referred to as the “poet of the piano?”  More than 170 years after his death, his music continues to enthrall connoisseurs and amateurs alike and this disc presenting the four Ballades and a selection of Nocturnes played by British pianist Jonathan Phillips is bound to be a welcome addition. A graduate of the Royal Northern College of Music, Phillips was winner of the National Youth Orchestra of Wales Soloist award in 1986. He has performed throughout Europe, but in 1998, began studies for a degree in philosophy, after which he was less inclined to pursue a career as a performing artist. 

Seldom is Chopin’s creativity so evident than in the four Ballades, written over a 17-year period between 1836 and 1843. Phillips’ approach is elegant and understated – his tempos are never rushed, nor does he resort to empty virtuosity, instead letting the music speak for itself. This is no more apparent than in the glorious fourth Ballade. From the calm and hesitant opening measures to the turbulent coda, Phillips is clearly in full command of this daunting repertoire, but never seeks to impress.

Of the five Nocturnes Phillps chose for this program, three – Op.9 No.2, Op.15 No.1 and Op.32 No.1 are early works, while two – Op.55 No.1 and Op.62 No.1 – were written considerably later. Phillips treats this lyrical and introspective music with a sensitive poignancy concluding the disc with a mood of true serenity. 

With his fine musicianship and impressive technique, it seems a pity that Phillips has too often forsaken the limelight, choosing instead to lead a more unassuming life with his family in the English Cotswolds. His talents most definitely deserve greater exposure.

08 Bruckner 7Bruckner – Symphony No.7
London Symphony Orchestra; Sir Simon Rattle
LSO Live LSO00887 (

It is said that Otto Kitzler, a decade younger than his student Anton Bruckner, helped inspire a momentous change in his illustrious pupil. The defining moment that enabled Bruckner to find his true musical vocation was when he heard Kitzler conduct a performance of Wagner’s Tannhäuser in Linz. 

Bruckner had spent 40 years assimilating every rule of composition. However, Kitzler’s performance of Wagner led Bruckner on a voyage of discovery of Wagner that enabled him to break the rulebook he had so assiduously assimilated. Indeed Wagner, the operatic iconoclast, enabled Bruckner to create symphonic music that mirrored Wagner’s achievements as a master of music drama. 

Nowhere is the newly discovered dramaturgy more evident than in this version of Bruckner’s most enraptured Symphony No.7. It features the long radiant phrase by the cellos and the first horn, which unfolds over tremolando strings. The portentous Adagio presages Wagner’s death with the sombre, glowing tone of four Wagner tubas. The near-demonic and extreme tension generated by the violins’ restless accompaniment in the dramatic Scherzo is evocative of Bruckner’s discovery of the devastating fire that killed 386 patrons in the Ringtheater. This is followed by the near-euphoric airy pastoral character in the climax of the finale.

Sir Simon Rattle’s shaping of Bruckner’s arching phrases, the exactness of his control of the London Symphony Orchestra and the sumptuousness of the orchestral tone majestically reinforce the idea of Bruckner as a master builder.

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