06 Chantal ChamberlandTemptation
Chantal Chamberland
EvoSound EVSA719M (chantalc.com)

Renowned French-Canadian jazz vocalist and guitarist Chantal Chamberland’s recent release is a wonderful testament to her musical talent and unique style. Her trademark soulful and sultry voice shines throughout out the record, often accompanied by her melodious and flowing guitar melodies. Chamberland can almost be compared to the late, great Leonard Cohen based on some similarities in vocal styling and smooth genre-crossing ability, albeit she brings a distinct jazz and soul touch to the songs. The album is comprised of well-known pop, soul and blues songs which she has transformed and pleasantly enhanced through beautiful, mellow guitar and vocal stylings into a relaxing and all-encompassing musical journey. 

Tracks Temptation and Beautiful Life start the listener off on a path that meanders softly through a sultry musical soundscape in which it is easy to get immersed completely, lulled and guided along by Chamberland’s melodious voice. Chasing Cars is a stellar string arrangement by Paul Intson that pulls you right into a magical dream world. A toned down, piano and acoustic bass version of Whitney Houston’s hit I Wanna Dance With Somebody is a pleasant and very pleasing surprise in the latter half of the album. Backed by talented musicians Dan Lockwood on drums, Intson on acoustic bass and Eric Boucher on piano results in a perfectly balanced sound. This record is a worthy addition to any jazz or pop aficionado’s collection. 

07 Ted QuinlanAbsolutely Dreaming
Ted Quinlan w/Brian Dickinson; Kieran Overs; Ted Warren
Independent TQ-2019 (tedquinlan.com)

With the release of his new recording, guitarist and composer Ted Quinlan has again established himself as one of the most gifted, imaginative and technically skilled jazz guitarists around. For this very contemporary project, Quinlan has joined forces with three additional noted players – Brian Dickinson on piano; Kieran Overs on bass and Ted Warren on drums. Produced by Quinlan, the CD was also perfectly and authentically recorded by Steve Bellamy.

All nine tunes here were written and arranged by Quinlan, and seldom is one blessed to experience a jazz project of such luminosity. Things kick off with Cheticamp, which begins with a sense of urgent musical anticipation, tinged with sinuous guitar lines. These are perfectly complemented by the penultimate rhythm section work featuring an exquisite and percussive piano solo by Dickinson and inspired work by Overs and Warren. Of note is Not What it Seems – where sensual, languid guitar lines intertwine seamlessly with Overs’ warm, fat bass sound. The group is like a single-celled organism – mutating, dancing and swinging through the unknown inclusive universe in total symmetry.

Also a delight is Building 8 – a jaunty, bop-ish track, with an almost 1950s West Coast jazz feel, and yet completely fresh – featuring a stunner of a bass solo from Overs as well as Quinlan’s masterful playing throughout. Quinlan never overplays and every note has gravitas and meaning. X Marks the Spot is a true dynamic standout, displaying Quinlan’s diverse sensibilities and Warren’s exciting and combustive drumming. I imagine the reserved face of the late jazz guitar legend, Jim Hall, listening to this CD and smiling with his characteristic understated grin of approval and joy.

08 Griffin Davis OwOw! Live at the Penthouse
Johnny Griffin; Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis
Reel to Real RTR-CD-003 (cellarlive.com)

Perhaps inspired by legendary cutting contests between Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins, quintets featuring two tenor saxophones became a familiar jazz format in the 1950s. The most prominent paired Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt, another Al Cohn and Sonny Stitt. Johnny Griffin, a veteran of the Thelonious Monk and Art Blakey groups, and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, a star of the Count Basie band, were relatively late to the genre, pairing up in 1960, but they represented the format’s peak. 

Accompanied by their New York rhythm section in these 1962 performances from Seattle’s Penthouse, the Griffin/Davis combination combines individual brilliance with furious swing and shouting enthusiasm, a celebratory energy that sometimes testifies to their shared roots in rhythm and blues. Griffin was famous for the sheer speed of his lines, playing incandescent strings of precisely articulated arpeggios, while Davis had a vocalic genius, adding a different spin, emphasis or articulation to every note he played, sometimes sounding like he was swallowing notes. 

The band adopts material from varied sources to their purposes, whether it’s rooted in bop, swing or Kansas City blues. The title track, a Dizzy Gillespie composition taken at a medium swing tempo, highlights Davis and Griffin’s contrasting approaches, while Lester Young’s Tickle Toe is capped by the exuberant, high-speed inventiveness of their exchanges. Griffin’s rich balladry on Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Lady may slow things down, but there’s a special vitality heard throughout.

09 Remy Le BoeufAssembly of Shadows
Remy Le Boeuf
Soundspore Records SS 201901 (remyleboeuf.bandcamp.com)

My introduction to Remy Le Boeuf was an amazing Le Boeuf Brothers concert in 2017 at the Jazz Room in Waterloo. Remy (saxophone), and his brother Pascal (piano), have recorded several albums which push the boundaries of jazz composition and improvisation including 2016’s Imagist, a collaboration with the JACK quartet.

Assembly of Shadows, contains the five-part title suite and two stand-alone pieces, Strata and Honeymooners (the latter, an elaborate development of an Ornette Coleman tune). Le Boeuf is writing for a 20-plus-member band and his works are complex and layered; they contain innovative orchestration and leave room for individual performers to shine with improvisatory sections. (Anna Webber’s flute playing on Strata and Alex Goodman’s quietly elegant guitar work on the second movement of the suite are noteworthy.) I recommend searching for Strata on YouTube and watching the highly engaging live performance.

The Assembly of Shadows suite tells the story of a child who becomes lost in a forest, falls asleep, then wakes to dance with the trees and is eventually guided home. All five movements contain exciting and nuanced material and the final A Light Through the Leaves ends with a beautiful and elegant section with full horn tones with an inner moving line leading to a delicate flute and piano duet (which ends with the child going to sleep safe in her own room). Assembly of Shadows is modern, complex and highly recommended.

10 LaoDanCD006Live At Willimantic Records
Lao Dan; Paul Flaherty; Randall Colbourne; Damon Smith
Family Vineyard FV 109
(family-vineyard.com)

They’re involved in every other form of music, so why shouldn’t Chinese musicians play improvised music? Isolation and lack of venue are drawbacks, explains Mainlander Lao Dan who is featured on this CD. Luckily Dan, who plays alto saxophone, suona and bamboo flute, was able to connect with Americans, tenor saxophonist Paul Flaherty, percussionist Randall Colbourne and bassist Damon Smith to produce this US-recorded 77-minute slab of Free Jazz.

Playing saxophone on tracks such as Noise & Light, Dan creates call-and-response patterns encompassing snarling, triple-tongued smears and altissimo trills, and even supersedes the veteran saxophonist’s output with bloodcurdling shrieks and frog-like croaks. Oriental exoticism isn’t a factor with his other instruments, but the aural Long Shadows he casts on that track reveal more relaxed flute pitches mixed with a spiccato tang from Smith. Meanwhile the suona’s irregular trills and pinched multiphonics on Winter Dawn feature irregular surges that complement Flaherty’s sonorous saxophone split tones and eventually create a guileless theme before diminishing into atom-sized peeps.

With both horn players sometimes circular breathing and invariably shooting notes past tonal limitations, Smith’s deep woody strokes and obbligato throbs, plus Colbourne’s rumbling affirmations and fluid pops, function both as backing chorus and provocation, urging the others to create even more frantic blowing. Still, at one point Dan completes a ferocious, split-tone solo by vocally screaming. Whether this is the result of excitement or joy at finding simpatico partners is open to conjecture.

11 MetropolisCD001Metropolis Paradis
Mareike Wiening
Greenleaf Music GRE CD- 1073 (greenleafmusic.com)

Surprising as it may seem, drummers are often accomplished composers and Nuremberg-native Mareike Wiening confirms this truism on her debut CD. Her eight tunes are interpreted by a selection of New York’s top contemporary players, which besides Americans, pianist Dan Tepfer and tenor saxophonist Rich Perry, include fellow German, bassist Johannes Felscher, and ex-Torontonian, guitarist Alex Goodman.

Basically Wiening’s strategy is to create subtle sprightly lines, centred on harmonies from Goodman’s fluid fretting and Tepfer’s stacked triads and smooth key changes. Once established, Perry’s sometimes biting and always-flowing solos buoy the melody atop rhythm section swinging. Besides leaving space for frequent single-string guitar extensions and even a bass solo, Wiening’s brush and stick work is also notable for its taste. 

Tunes range from charming or moody to ones such as the title tune and 2 in 1 which give scope to saxophone slurs, and rolling chords that ricochet from the guitarist to the pianist. The challenging Misconception is the foot-tapping standout, however, as Tepfer digs in with harder accents, Goodman hammers out the exposition while drum rolls and rattles characterize the stop-time finale.

If the CD has a drawback, it reflects Wiening’s confidence, or lack of same, as a composer. She has demonstrated that she can write subtle melodies that are lightly rhythmic while retaining sophistication. But as Misconception demonstrates by moving outwards from this lyrical comfort zone she can also create sounds that animate as well as they assuage.

01 Okan SombrasSombras
OKAN
Lulaworld Records LWR010
(okanmusica.com)

The two creators of OKAN are Elizabeth Rodriguez on vocals and violin and Magdelys Savigne on vocals, congas, cajon, bata drums and small percussion. Both artists are also the primary composers of the material on their exquisite new recording, Sombras, which translates as “shades”… and that’s exactly what this talented duo has given us – hues, intensities and variegations. Sombras was produced by uber-talented bassist Roberto Riveron (who also performs on the CD). The inspired lineup of players also includes Anthony Szczachor and Frank Martinez on drums; Bill King, Danae Olano, Jeremy Ledbetter and Miguel de Armas on piano and keyboards; Reimundo Sosa on quinto guitar; Pablosky Rosales on tres guitar; Alexis Baro on trumpet and Mari Palhares on pandeiro and surdo. 

The title track opens with the intoning of a sacred blessing – perhaps for Mother Africa herself, by way of Cuba – followed by a pulse-racing Latin explosion featuring sumptuous, dynamic vocals, a stirring and volatile piano solo from de Armas and the entire face-melting ensemble. Certainly one of the most moving tracks on the project, Laberinto seamlessly segues from a folk-song-like interlude into a very contemporary number, steeped in pure, powerful Cubanismo. 

Other delights include Desnudando El Alma (Stripping the Soul), which is a heartrending and muy romantico ballad, made all the more melancholic by the moving string arrangements and the always gorgeous piano work of King, as well as a technically thrilling bass solo from Riveron. With the charming closer, Luz (Light), we are again transported to a magical place of ancient sights, smells and emotions – Cuba puro – OKAN si! 

02 Stick BowResonance
Stick & Bow
Leaf Music LM231 (leaf-music.ca)

Adventurous duo Stick & Bow is comprised of Canadian marimba player Krystina Marcoux and Argentinian cellist Juan Sebastian Delgado. With the release of their new recording, the two Montreal-based musicians have been succinctly described as “rediscovering the classics through a continuous musical search…” 

The CD includes 13 diverse pieces, including unique, contemporary interpretations of works by familiar and obscure composers, including Bach, Bartók, Piazzolla, Nina Simone, Paco De Lucia and Radiohead. Opening the program are Bach’s Adagio and Prelude. This is a luxurious interpretation, filled with exotic flavours and unusual nuances, as well as a seamless segue into a bebop-centric idyll of pizzicato and percussion, defined by razor sharp time and profound dynamics – and yes, a Marimba can be played with dynamics!

Fandango, by Luigi Boccherini, is rendered here with a youthful joy and percussive tango motifs, and Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances are tinged with a lithe, soulful, loving and mystical impression of the ancient Roma people. With Nina Simone’s Love Me or Leave Me, the finger-snapping duo lends a cfilm noir quality to this anthem of 1950s relationship dysfunction, and also deconstructs the tune in a totally delightful way that belies the depressing lyric.

A standout of the project is the iconic Astor Piazzolla’s Invierno porteňo. The emotions and attack of the two players – moving together as one organism – are both raw and incandescent, and the duo’s impassioned interpretation of the late Stéphane Grappelli’s Tzigane is nothing short of masterful. The quirky closing track, Paranoid Android (from Radiohead) conjures a stark, staccato cello attack, all supported by Ruth Underwood-like underpinnings – just brilliant.

Listen to 'Resonance' Now in the Listening Room

03 Calum GrahamThread of Creation
Calum Graham
Independent (calumgraham.com)

Like all of us – including some great guitarists – Calum Graham boasts eight fingers and two thumbs on two hands. But it is his singular musical brain that governs it all. And when everything aligns cosmically the result is extraordinary. In fact it is quite magical, because when you put a guitar in his hands (he plays several kinds – acoustic, baritone and harp) the instrument sometimes becomes a chamber ensemble.

On Thread of Creation, his sixth album, Graham takes us right into the heart of his magical world that included the iconic Tabula Rasa. With Graham’s hands, the guitar reveals its huge vocabulary of sounds, which with minimalist electronic effects combine to make it sound as big as an ensemble. Graham brings his unique musical insight and musicianship to deploy all of the instrument’s capabilities effectively.

From using harmonics and pizzicato to exotica such as “nut-side,” “nail-sizzle” and “bi-tone tapping,” to combining each with a battery of percussion. (Does his guitar have a drum-set attached, you would wonder.) Graham turns a simple one-to-five-minute song into a poetic miniature. His music is inspired, original and daring, and there are several examples of this on Thread of Creation – such as The Nomad and Ma Lumière – to name but two. Bassist Michael Manring makes In Lak’Ech truly atmospheric; Antoine Dufour does likewise on Absolution. Meanwhile Graham emerges as the pre-eminent artist-technician.

04 Hockey SweaterThe Hockey Sweater/Le Chandail de hockey
Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra; Gemma New; Roch Carrier
Centrediscs CMCCD 26619
(cmccanada.org)

Who would we Canadians be without our favourite winter sport, hockey? And how about those Team Canada Juniors! …Countless intense discussions have taken place about the rivalry between the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs. No wonder Roch Carrier’s popular 1979 short story The Hockey Sweater is such a hit. Set in 1946 Saint-Justine Quebec, life revolves around school, church and most importantly boys playing hockey, each wearing the Montreal Canadiens Maurice Richard Number 9 hockey sweater. But the story’s young hero needs a new one so his mother orders it from the Mr. Eaton, who sends him a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey instead. Aargh, intrigue…

Commissioned by the Toronto Symphony, National Arts Centre and Calgary Philharmonic orchestras, composer Abigail Richardson-Schulte worked for a year composing The Hockey Sweater before its 2012 premiere. Her musical storytelling is immaculate and supports, yet never overpowers, the spoken story, here dramatically and clearly narrated by Carrier himself in separate English and French tracks. 

Many musical styles surface throughout, from the opening quasi-traditional Québécois fiddle tune to the use of organ in the church, school and, of course, hockey rink fanfare! Dramatic writing emphasizes story moments, like string slides with the hair glue story (the boys would use “glue, lots of glue” to emulate their idol Richard’s hair style), softer sadder music with the Leafs sweater arrival, horn and string interludes, and a final string reel with closing horn note and percussion hit. Intermittent audience cheering (and booing) throughout adds to the musical imagery. 

Richardson-Schulte is currently composer-in-residence with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra, and serves as artistic director of the HPO’s What Next Festival. Under the direction of Gemma New, the HPO come together in a well-balanced and joyous team effort in what has become an annual highlight of the orchestra’s winter season. The Hockey Sweater shoots and scores!!

Often called an orchestra on its own, the pianoforte has been an accepted vessel for solo performances almost from the time it was invented around 1700. Through the centuries its refinement and development has allowed for memorable presentations in jazz, so-called classical and less-refined popular music. Depending on the player and the program, the piano can be both a percussive and a melodic instrument so that its versatility can be emphasized by committed improvisers as well. 

01 MeasuredCD002Jacques Demierre is one pianist with experience on both sides of the notated/improvised divide. He takes solo keyboard playing one step further on The Well-Measured Piano (Creative Works CW 1064 creativeworks.ch) by stretching three selections with selective overdubbing and editing. Unlike those who use these tools as gimmicks, Demierre’s conclusions about the acoustic properties and architectural construction of his instrument allow him to add more logical textures to his creations. While some of his variations can seem to be as stiff-necked and conventional as if he was interpreting a Romantic sonata, his basic strategy is to balance key patterning and string strumming so that low and high pitches are both highlighted. Additionally his pacing is such that he can be as energetic as necessary without losing forward motion. A track such as Wind Motet, for instance, begins with a tsunami-like eruption of internal string sweeps that are built up with keyboard clips and slathers. As the discordant waves-against-shoreline timbres intensify into swelling cacophony, a melodic line remains on top. Meanwhile, the stop-time exposition that is To Thank the Morning Rain is distinguished by elevated key scratches alongside a near-processional mid-range theme that encompasses sly rhythms and echoes, as the narrative gets busier and more concentrated. Climaxing with a pressurized, almost claustrophobic overlay, the track ends with tones ringing downwards into the soundboard. If preparations weren’t noted, the multiple textures might be attributed to prodigious skill rather than mechanical extensions.

02 JacksonCD003One pianist who doesn’t use post-production and overdubbing is Canadian D.D. Jackson, whose Live at Freedom of Sound (ddjackson.com) is exactly as advertised. It features the Ottawa native improvising on his own compositions plus one by his mentor, the late Don Pullen. Jackson’s tunes include ones like Tunnel Vision, which marry a waterfall of glissandi to a bluesy backbeat. Becoming both soulful and sophisticated, it surges ahead while leaving room for strident plinking detours. Or the pieces can be lyrical and soothing, as the Pullen-memorial For Don, which makes its points through squirming amoeba-like jabs that culminate in an implicit feeling of melancholy. Some motifs sound instantly familiar, but are sweet without being cloying. Even jaunty, demonstrative D.D.’s Bounce/Better Angels, with its foot-patting exposition at the finale, includes a middle section where pressurized single-note emphasis leaves no doubt about cerebral toughness. But perhaps the most telling track is Richard’s Tune, which Pullen composed in honour of another influential pianist, Muhal Richard Abrams. A solid synthesis of almost pre-modern chording and melodic suggestions, the waltz-time tune maintains a contemporary feel by sliding low-pitched percussive jumps in the midst of its gently rhythmic storytelling. At the same time, Jackson’s high-quality and unique interpretation confirms his place in the jazz lineage that includes Pullen and Abrams.

03 LafyetteCD005Jackson’s initial stateside notice came when he spent time as pianist in saxophonist David Murray’s group. For the past decade and a half, Baltimore’s Lafayette Gilchrist has filled that chair and Dark Matter (CDcds 005 lafayettegilchristmusic.com) is an 11-track live showcase of his playing and compositional skills. Although Gilchrist apprenticed playing a Washington, D.C, hip-hop variant called go-go, what this did was strengthened his vernacular soloing. For example, For the Go-Go, which opens this set, is an out-and-out swinger with downward key splatters and single-note variables. But the showy rhythms expressed owe as much to stride strategies as the go-go beat. Likewise And You Know This, which supposedly merges Jamaican ska with New Orleans funk, ingeniously highlights both genres’ blues roots with the common Spanish tinge by intensifying the backbeat through left-handed pressure, key fanning and theme variations. While some tracks may be showy, the keyboard sleight of hands is never gratuitous and his playing is buttery and affectionate as well as tough and steely. Gilchrist also creates quiet themes that wouldn’t be out of place on an Errol Garner date and logically interpolates song fragments into his sequences. Could that be It Ain’t Necessarily So within Dark Matter? He’s also capable of updating a traditional blues, as on Blues for Our Marches to End by adding a Black Lives Matter-suggestive title to the tune’s expected walking-bass line, which is more broadly amplified by the end. Meantime, Spontaneous Combustion showcases shifting time signatures and pitches with detours into ragtime-like flourishes and built-up hip-hop allusions. High-frequency rollicking, splintered tones and dissected patterns connect by the finale.

04 RisserCD004If the one criticism levelled at Dark Matter is that it needs more of an edge, that sentiment couldn’t be applied to the next disc. Using a prepared upright piano, France’s Eve Risser explores all the crannies and parameters of her composition Après un rêve (Clean Feed CF 524 CD cleanfeedrecords.com) during its nearly 25-minute duration. Stopping and exciting the internal strings so that they vibrate guitar-like and create a clanking percussive continuum, she adds keyboard patterning to devise a distinctive quasi-impressionistic exposition. After the narrative picks up Latin inflections, the occasional single note fill that sneaks out is examined every which way before returning to the assemblage. Echoes and variables connect so well that by the three-quarter mark two-handed manoeuvres create an intense performance that is sometimes so percussive it could be the sounds of a keyboardist and a drummer. After adding top-side chording and internal rumbles, swift glissandi finally mark a descending individual key-plinking ending.

05 TilburyCD009 bCreating an equally atonal program at more than twice the length as Risser’s is British pianist John Tilbury, who on The Tiger’s Mind (Cubus Records CR 372 cubus-records.ch), presents an improvisation based on parts of Cornelius Cardew’s notated score. A longtime Cardew associate and his biographer, Tilbury’s familiarity with the material allows him to add snatches of clamour and cries from pre-recorded fire, water and bird sounds to the performance, as well as utilize the spatial properties of the cathedral in which he recorded. Initially using the pedals to emphasize the piano’s stentorian tones, Tilbury’s aleatory variations soon move to higher pitches. These include singular string plucks and pauses, as well as patterns which subtly incorporate bell-pealing and aviary caws. As the interpretation strengthens, lapping water suggestions and sea lion-like yelps briefly disrupt the cascading narrative. After a strident whistle signals the midway point, the narrative continues to unroll fluidly with thematic material sharing space with wood echoes from the piano’s bottom board and sides, plus vibrations along tightly wound strings. Just when it seems as if the piece will evaporate into silence, a final sequence unleashes jangling metallic string preparations that presage horizontal passages that establish a defining finale.

Combining inspiration with their own skills, each pianist shows how impressively and distinctively the multi-keyed mini-orchestra can be used to create a memorable program. 

Ludwig van Beethoven advanced music from the salon to the concert hall, from castle to cottage and made it the most democratic thing in the aesthetic world.” This year we celebrate the 250th anniversary of his birth in Bonn on December 16, 1770. Many recording companies have assembled extensive collections of performances including previously unrecorded items to create complete editions. Inevitably, the contents of some collections are more “complete” than others. The all-encompassing Beethoven site, The Unheard Beethoven, published their overview. They found that the Naxos edition has an astonishing 89 items not found on any other label, many times the highest number of unique-to-them compositions of any of the other complete editions. 

01 BeethovenThe Beethoven Complete Edition (Naxos 8.500250 naxos.com) contains 90 CDs derived from their own archives, new recordings and more. Each disc is in a fine cardboard sleeve with colour-coded border to match the category; red is orchestral, orange for concertos, yellow for keyboard, green for chamber (the largest collection), blue for stage, purple for choral and pink for songs and lieder. The collection comes, together with booklet, in a box that occupies the shelf space of 21 regular CDs.

In the Orchestral section, the symphonies are played by the Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia, a chamber orchestra formed in 1992 in Budapest with personnel from the Hungarian Symphony Orchestra. Their purpose was to make recordings using an ensemble comparable in size to the groups known to Beethoven. Their maestro, Béla Drahos is a Hungarian conductor and flutist. The group plays modern instruments but the balances and recording quality result in natural, effortless transparency, esteemed upon their first release. Without any spotlighting, all the instruments’ voices are heard, appearing in clear perspective across the sound stage. The recordings date from 1995, and 1996 for the Ninth. In addition to the symphonies, there are the overtures, Coriolan, Leonora 1 & 3, et.al. Also, in this section are Dances… Dances, German Dances, Viennese Dances, Contradances and Minuets, plus Wellington’s Victory, etc. conducted by Oliver Dohnányi, Leif Segerstam, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, Stephen Gunzenhauser and Drahós. The Dances are all charming and not for one moment tedious. 

The Concertos, violin, piano and triple, and some shorter fragments are on six discs. The five piano concertos are played by Stefan Vladar in astonishing performances conducted by Barry Wordsworth plus the E-flat Concerto Wo04 conducted by Dragos. Takako Nishizaki, who may be the most recorded violinist of the digital era, plays the Concerto and the two Romances. On that same disc Jakub Junek plays a fragment of the Violin Concerto in C Major Wo05. Soloists in the Triple Concerto from Budapest, conducted by Drahos, are Dong-Suk Kang (violin), Maria Kliegel (cello) and Jenö Jandó (piano). 

The 20-CD Piano category contains every note of all you’ve ever and never heard written by Beethoven for one and two pianos. Except for the 32nd, performed by Boris Giltburg, the 32 Sonatas are played by Jandó, a Hungarian pianist and professor of the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest. All the other repertoire pieces are here, four CDs of Dances and Bagatelles, four discs of Variations plus a feast of music new to our ears, in addition to his transcriptions for piano of his various major works. Artists include Jandó, Carl Petersson, Sergio Gallo, Konstantin Scherbakov and many others. 

Listening to Beethoven speak through his chamber music is, for me, a most gratifying and valuable part of this set. There are 30 CDs containing, of course, the 16 String Quartets together with another 95 other chamber works for diverse instruments, from duets to septets. Many of us know the Septet Op.20 in E-flat Major for clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, cello and double bass but few, if any, would recognize or be aware of the Wind Quintet Wo0208 in the same key for oboe, bassoon and three horns. Fortunately, the String Quartets are played by the distinguished Kodály Quartet, three of whom also play the string trios. The quartet was founded in 1966 by graduate students of the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest; they play with the sound and innate musicality that distinguishes the finest Hungarian musicians, so many of whom are featured in this collection. Some exceptions though. The Fine Arts Quartet are prominent. The Violin Sonatas are played by Nishizaki accompanied by the ubiquitous Jandó. Also, the three Piano Quartets Wo036 are played by the New Zealand Piano Quartet. The Xyrion Trio from Germany plays the seven Piano Trios and their cellist Maria Kliegel and pianist Nina Tichman play the Cello Sonatas and three sets of popular variations. There are a host of other musicians playing a miscellany of great chamber works to discover. 

There are seven discs in the Stage section featuring the 1805 version of the opera Leonore and the eventual Fidelio of 1814. The Leonore is from Leipzig conducted by Herbert Blomstedt with Edda Moser in the title role. Fidelio is conducted by Michael Halász with Inga Nielsen as Leonore. The Creatures of Prometheus Overture and Incidental Music, also scores for King Stephen, Egmont and the premiere recording of the complete The Ruins of Athens were recorded in Turku, Finland directed by Leif Segerstam. They are also responsible for Leonore Prohaska and other surprises. 

The five Choral discs contain a somewhat esoteric entry, The Glorious Moment, Op.136 and also the familiar Choral Fantasy. The Missa Solemnis enjoys an outstanding performance from Nashville conducted by Kenneth Schermerhorn. The Mass in C Major, Christ on the Mount of Olives, two versions of Opferlied and the rest are directed by Segerstam in Finland. 

Few would have imagined that Vocal would require 13 CDs. Songs of the British Isles occupy more than five CDs and Miscellaneous Folk Songs another one. There are four CDs of Lieder and another for voice and orchestra. Wrapping up this complete edition is the 90th CD of Canons and Musical Jokes.

Considering the quality of the performances throughout, the extent of the unique repertoire and the reality of the recorded sound, the Naxos box of Beethoven has it all. 

02 Trio a CordesDOREMI has embarked on a survey of the many recordings of the Trio à cordes Français, one of the prominent chamber groups active internationally in the second half of the 20th century. The trio was formed in 1959 by violinist Gérard Jarry, violist Serge Collot and cellist Michel Tournus, each of whom was a highly respected musician. Their repertoire ranged from classical to contemporary. In addition to their recordings as a trio, they were also heard performing and recording with luminaries such as Jean-Pierre Rampal, Maurice Bourgue, Michel Debost, Pierre Pierlot and others. Volume One (DHR-8091-4, 4cds) is dedicated to the music of Mozart and comprises their complete Mozart recordings. It includes a wonderful rendition of the Divertimento for String Trio, K563, one of Mozart’s greatest masterpieces as well as the two duets for violin and viola and the beautiful quartets with flute, oboe and piano. The set includes a curiosity… an unfinished movement for string trio, K562e. The captivating performances throughout these four stereo CDs were recorded between 1966 and 1977.

These musicians were active as soloists and this set includes a very fine, crisp performance of the Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola, K364, accompanied by the Toulouse Chamber Orchestra conducted by Louis Auriacombe. 

During Mozart’s lifetime, J.S. Bach was almost forgotten, only to be resurrected by Felix Mendelssohn decades later. It is therefore very interesting that Mozart took Bach works and arranged them for string trio and even composed his own preludes to the Bach fugues for contemporary performance. All these Bach/Mozart arrangements for string trio are included in this important set. 

Having retired from my day job at New Music Concerts and recently undergone knee replacement surgery which involves an extended recovery, I have found myself lately with a luxury of leisure time. This has given me the opportunity to listen in more depth to the discs I select for my own column. It has also enabled me to select a bumper crop to write about, without however, providing any extra space in which to do so. With apologies to the artists, I will try to keep my assessments brief.

01 Veress and BartokIn my formative years, while immersing myself in the music of the 20th century, I set out to collect recordings of all the works of Arnold Schoenberg and Béla Bartók. Schoenberg proved to be the greater challenge, because in those days there was not yet a definitive collection of his oeuvre, so I had to gather the recordings wherever I could. The quest for Bartók was simplified by a comprehensive Complete Edition Bartók Béla issued in 33 volumes by the Hungaroton label. It was there that I first encountered the quintet for string quartet and piano dating from 1904, an unpublished student work that although well received at its first performance, was later withdrawn by the composer. I was pleased to receive a new recording of the youthful work on Veress – String Trio; Bartók – Piano Quintet featuring violinists Vilde Frang and Barnabás Kelemen, violists Lawrence Power and Katalin Kokas, cellist Nicolas Altstaedt and pianist Alexander Lonquich (ALPHA 458 alpha-classics.com). Frankly, the disappointment I had felt on my initial encounter some decades ago was confirmed upon re-listening to the quintet. Although I’m sure purists would not agree, to my ear the accomplished and virtuosic work would be more at home in Brahms’ catalogue than in Bartók’s. It shows a masterful control of late-Romantic-period nuances and exuberant bombast, especially in the czardas of the final movement, but none of the subtlety of the night music, nor the harmonic and rhythmic complexity of later Bartók. I was pleased to find that the music of Sándor Veress (1907-1992), who was a piano student of Bartók and later his assistant at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, fits better into my idea of what modern Hungarian music should sound like. The trio dates from 1954 and incorporates Schoenberg’s 12-tone method of composition, thus providing a convincing hybrid of the styles of two of my favourite composers. Veress’ music was a welcome discovery for me, and I look forward to hearing more of this under-sung composer.

02 Tchaikovsky BabajanianTchaikovsky & Babajanian features violinist Vadim Gluzman, pianist Yevgeny Sudbin and Canadian-born cellist Johannes Moser (BIS-2372 SACD bis.se). The bread and butter of this disc is the Tchaikovsky Piano Trio in A Minor, Op.50 which receives a stellar performance, amply illustrating the points addressed in the comprehensive liner notes by Horst A. Scholz. But of more interest is the Piano Trio from 1952 by Armenian composer Arno Babajanian (1921-1983) who was previously unknown to me. The work is both rooted in the Romantic world of Rachmaninoff and imbued with folkloristic flourishes from Babajanian’s native land. The notes point out that it was written under the constraints of the Stalin regime and go on to say that after Stalin’s death in 1953, Babajanian’s style opened up to embrace atonality, aleatoric music and microtonality, among other modern techniques. It makes me wish we were presented with a later example of his work, but my preferences notwithstanding, this is a solid composition that holds its own in a crowded field of late-Romantic chamber music, and once again the performance is committed and convincing. The “encore” piece on this CD is Sudbin’s trio arrangement of the Tango from Alfred Schnittke’s Concerto Grosso No.1 for two violins, harpsichord and strings from 1976, which draws this eclectic disc to a somewhat tongue-in-cheek conclusion.

03 Kira BraunThis year saw the passing of numerous cultural icons, but two in particular are brought together on Kira Braun’s new disc Mosaic (Centaur Records CRC 3779 centaurrecords.com), Glenn Gould Prize-winner André Previn and Nobel Prize Laureate Toni Morrison. Previn first set the poetry of Morrison in the cycle Honey and Rue in 1992 for soprano Kathleen Battle, jazz trio and symphony orchestra. Two years later he went to the well once more, to set Four Songs for the more modest forces of soprano, cello and piano. On this disc Braun is joined by cellist Kirk Starkey and pianist Linda Ippolito in performances recorded February 23, 2019 just three days before Previn’s death at the age of 89. Morrison died just six months later making this an apt memorial tribute, although that was not the intention of the recording. Braun’s voice is well suited to the dark opening poem Mercy, the wistful Shelter and the concluding poem The Lacemaker, but I wish there was a little more edge to the brash and boastful Stones. Starkey’s cello is warm and lyrical throughout and Ippolito’s accompaniment balanced and tasteful. Although Braun’s diction is clear, I wish the texts had been included, along with some information about the composer and poet, their fame notwithstanding. The disc concludes with Previn’s Vocalise written for, and first recorded by, Sylvia McNair and Yo-Yo Ma with the composer at the piano in 1995. It makes a beautiful conclusion to this all-too-brief, 22-minute tribute.

04 Mirrored SpacesOne disc I’ll certainly not be able to do justice in this limited space is guitarist Daniel Lippel’s double CD Mirrored Spaces (FCR239 NewFocusRecordings.com). I would normally be daunted by the prospect of two and a half hours of solo guitar music, but to my delight Lippel has produced such a diverse program that I didn’t notice the time passing. First and foremost, let me state that although he is a truly accomplished classical guitarist, from the dozen composers represented here, there are very few offerings that would be at home on a traditional Spanish guitar recital. Even in pieces such as Lippel’s own Reflected with its quasi-Renaissance feel, our equilibrium is thrown off-kilter by rapid microtonal passages. A number of the pieces involve electronics, live or otherwise. One that particularly struck me was Christopher Bailey’s Arc of Infinity in which I found myself wondering “What if?” the subtle electronic part was transcribed for live cimbalom – how different would that piece be? At any rate, it is extremely effective. While most of the recital is played on a traditional nylon string acoustic guitar, a number of tracks employ an electric instrument, from the gentle harmonics of Sidney Corbett’s Detroit Rain Song Graffiti, to the distortion, feedback and note bending of Lippel’s concluding Scaffold (live). Interspersed throughout the two discs are the nine movements of Kyle Bartlett’s Aphorisms, all using a traditional Spanish guitar, but utilizing a number of extended techniques. If you think you already know what a guitar sounds like, or think that a double CD would be a bit “much of a muchness,” I urge you to check out this remarkable disc.

Listen to 'Mirrored Spaces' Now in the Listening Room

05 Her VoiceLast month I wrote about Rebecca Clarke’s Viola Sonata, and the controversy it caused at the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge-sponsored competition where the judges considered that such a beautiful piece “could not have been written” by a woman. This month Clarke has reappeared on my desk with another work that also was a runner-up in that Berkshire Festival of Chamber Music Competition, the Trio from 1921. Her Voice features the Neave Trio playing works by Clarke, Amy Marcy Cheney Beach (1867-1944) and Louise Farrenc (1804-1875) (Chandos CHAN 20139 naxosdirect.com/). Although Clarke (1886-1979) was a generation younger than Beach, her trio was written 17 years before that of her older colleague. Beach’s Trio, Op.150 was a mature work, written in late-Romantic style while showing the influence of French Impressionism. French composer Farrenc on the other hand, whose Trio No.1 Op.33 dates from 1843, writes in a much more Germanic fashion, honouring the genre’s origins with Haydn, and more specifically the music of Beethoven. As a matter of fact, as an amateur who has enjoying playing Beethoven trios, I feel that Farrenc’s is a welcome contribution to the repertoire and I’m glad that it has come to light. Kudos to the Neave Trio for continuing to bring lesser-known works to life in sparkling fashion.

Listen to 'Her Voice' Now in the Listening Room

06 Bright and GippsTwo more composers previously unknown to me appear on the next disc, Piano Concertos by Dora Bright and Ruth Gipps (Somm Recordings SOMMCD 273 somm-recordings.com/). Both English, Bright lived from 1862-1951 and Gipps from 1921-1999. Bright was an accomplished and celebrated pianist of whom Liszt said “Mademoiselle, vous jouez a merveille!” and who was described by George Bernard Shaw as “a thorough musician.” In 1888 she became that first woman awarded the Lucas Medal for Composition, and, after leaving the Academy of Music in London, established herself as a double threat, performing her own Concerto in A Minor at the Crystal Palace in 1891. That impressive work is featured in its first recording on this disc with Samantha Ward as soloist.

Gipps was also a stellar pianist, celebrated as a child prodigy both as performer and composer. A hand injury thwarted her performing career, but she then focused on composition and added conducting to her portfolio, becoming the first notable British woman in the field and founding several orchestras. She went on to produce five symphonies and several significant concerted works. Her Piano Concerto in G Minor dates from immediately after the Second World War and Ambarvalia, Op.70 is from 1988. Both are performed with conviction by Murray McLachlan. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra’s nuanced performances on this important disc are directed by Charles Peebles. 

07 KorngoldErich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957) was another child prodigy. Born in Vienna, his ballet Der Schneemann (The Snowman) caused a sensation when he was just 11, and his Second Piano Sonata, written at 13, was played throughout Europe by Artur Schnabel. At 21 his opera Der Tote Stadt (The Dead City) was produced in Hamburg and Cologne. Korngold composed a wealth of concert music and six operas, but is best known for the Hollywood film scores he wrote following an invitation to America from director Max Reinhardt in 1934. He stayed in Hollywood for the duration of WWII, and never returned to his homeland. Although his film scores were a huge success, revolutionizing the field along with Max Steiner and Alfred Newman, his later concert music was dismissed by the critics and cognoscenti of the time who were by then focused on the post-war avant-garde doctrines of Boulez and Stockhausen. The Symphony Op.40, was begun in 1947 while on vacation in Canada and completed in 1952. With its lush orchestration, rich melodic content and cinematic scope, the symphony was rejected by the cultural powers that were, and was not revived until the 1970s when Korngold’s star began to rise again. Korngold: Symphony in F Sharp; Theme and Variations; Straussiana is a new recording on the Chandos label featuring Sinfonia of London under John Wilson (CHSA 5220 naxosdirect.com/). It is a stunning realization of the symphony, but unfortunately I find the companion pieces – one written for school orchestra and the other a pastiche – to be just too much fluff. But the symphony is well worth the price of admission. 

08 Daisy DeboltThe final disc is a little strange in that it no longer exists as such. Daisy DeBolt – Ride Into the Sunset was a limited edition archival collection produced by George Koller for a memorial tribute to DeBolt at Hugh’s Room back in 2011. Although perhaps best known as half of the iconic Canadian acid-folk duo Fraser & DeBolt, active in the late 1960s and early 1970s, DeBolt’s career continued as a solo artist active on the concert stage, composing for the National Film Board and participating in various theatrical productions throughout her lifetime. The recordings included in this compilation date from as early as 1971 – a track with Allan Fraser, presumably an outtake from their first album – right up to four tracks from 2008 co-written with Koller. There’s a 1975 DeBolt composition which she later choreographed for Ballet Ys, and eight tracks from the 1989 cassette-only release Dreams Cost Money. This latter features a number of familiar names including Robert David (woodwinds), David Woodhead (bass), Brent Titcomb (vocal and percussion), Chris Whitely (trumpet), Zeke Mazurek (violin) and Scott Irvine (tuba) to name but a few. Fraser & DeBolt were a formative influence on me and it is a great pleasure to discover this trove of material as a reminder of just how innovative DeBolt was. Last month DeBolt’s estate decided to reissue Ride Into the Sunset digitally. It is available on all the major platforms, including iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora and CD Baby. 

We invite submissions. CDs, DVDs and comments should be sent to: DISCoveries, WholeNote Media Inc., The Centre for Social Innovation, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4.

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor
discoveries@thewholenote.com

01 Time EternitySpace restrictions make it difficult to fully describe Time & Eternity, the remarkable new CD from the brilliant and visionary violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja with Camerata Bern (Alpha Classics ALPHA 545 naxosdirect.com). This is the fifth in a series of “staged concerts,” a concept that Kopatchinskaja has been developing since 2016, and her second with this ensemble, of which she has been artistic director since autumn 2018.

Described as “music made out of the blood and tears of tortured souls,” the core works are the Concerto funèbre by Karl Amadeus Hartmann, written in 1939 in response to the Nazi outrages, and Frank Martin’s violin concerto Polyptyque, inspired by six 14th-century altar panels of the Passion of Christ.

That barely scratches the surface of a continuous performance that often feels like a religious service: there’s John Zorn’s solemn and moving Kol Nidre; contributions by cantors and Polish and Russian Orthodox priests; song; and, around and between the six Polyptyque movements, the Kyrie from Machaut’s Messe de Nostre Dame, transcriptions of five Bach chorales and – in place of the Crucifixion panel that Martin omitted – Luboš Fišer’s pain-laden Crux for violin, timpani and bells.

It’s an enthralling and emotional journey from the opening spoken Kol Nidre to the fading tolling bell of the final track, with faultless performances from all involved.

02 BoismortierThe Canadian violinist Olivier Brault is Professor of Baroque Violin at McGill University and has been active in the Baroque music world for over 30 years. In 2007 he completed a doctorate on French music for violin and figured bass, so it’s no surprise to find that his new CD, Boismortier Sonates pour Violon Op.20, beautifully performed here by Sonate 1704, the ensemble Brault formed in 2003 with Dorothéa Ventura on harpsichord and Mélisande Corriveau on bass viol, is an absolute gem (Analekta AN 2 8769 analekta.com/en).

The six sonatas by the French composer Joseph Bodin de Boismortier were published in Paris in 1727, and while they show the increasing influence of Italian violin playing, the French style is still much in evidence, especially in the use of dance movements, with Giga, Corrente, Gavotta, Allemande and Sarabanda accounting for more than half of the movements.

Warm, sparkling playing of richly inventive works makes for an immensely satisfying CD.

03 Tetzlaff Beethoven SibeliusYou can always count on violinist Christian Tetzlaff for something insightful and challenging, and so it proves to be again in Beethoven and Sibelius Violin Concertos, his new CD with Robin Ticciati and the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin (Ondine ODE 1334-2 naxos.com/).

Tetzlaff has recorded both concertos before, but clearly feels he has more to say – or to add, perhaps – this time around. Quite striking, given our being accustomed to the Auer, Joachim and Kreisler cadenzas, is the use of the first movement cadenza with added timpani that Beethoven wrote for his transcription for piano and orchestra, as well as cadenzas and ornamentation by Beethoven in the other two movements (again presumably back-sourced from the piano version, as there were none in the original violin score), although Tetzlaff says in the booklet conversation that he has never done it differently.

Insightful comments on both the Beethoven and Sibelius help to illuminate his approach to their performance and both the physical and intellectual demands. The performers are clearly of one mind in engrossing, intelligent and deeply satisfying performances.

04 Bacewicz Complete ViolinAnnabelle Berthomé-Reynolds is the soloist on Bacewicz Complete Violin Sonatas, with pianist Ivan Donchev joining her in a 2-CD recital of works by the Polish composer Grażyna Bacewicz (muso mu-032 muso.mu).

Bacewicz was an outstanding violinist as well as a more than capable pianist, and numbered seven violin concertos, seven string quartets and concertos for piano, viola and cello in her output. The five numbered sonatas for violin and piano span the period 1945-1951, with the Partita for Violin and Piano following in 1955. All display a high level of both structural assurance and familiarity with the technical and expressive potential of the instruments.

There are also two powerful Sonatas for Solo Violin – the clearly Bach-inspired No.1 from 1941, written in Nazi-occupied Warsaw, and the quite progressive No.2 from 1958, with its haunting Adagio and brief but dazzlingly virtuosic final Prelude, described in the excellent booklet notes as a “breathtaking frenzy of double-note glissandi spiccato.”

Engrossing performances make for an exceptional set. 

05 Weinberg Complete Solo Viola SonatasAnother exceptional 2-CD set of complete works is Miecysław Weinberg Complete Sonatas for Solo Viola in quite superb performances by Viacheslav Dinerchtein (Solo Musica SM 310 naxosdirect.com).

The four numbered sonatas were composed between 1971 and 1983, and are issued here in a centenary edition in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth.

Weinberg’s music continues to be reassessed and promoted, and outstanding releases like this one will clearly help to cement his standing in 20th-century music.

06 Tessa LarkThe American violinist Tessa Lark makes a stunning solo CD debut with Fantasy, a selection of fantasies and rhapsodies from four centuries (First hand Records FHR86 firsthandrecords.com).

Three of Telemann’s 12 Fantasias for Solo ViolinNo.1 in B-flat, No.4 in D and No.5 in A – are spread throughout the disc, with Lark’s own Appalachian Fantasy providing a breathtaking display of virtuosic fiddling in her native Kentucky tradition, reworking the Schubert song that opens his Fantasie in C Major and melding it with tunes from Appalachia. Pianist Amy Yang joins Lark for an outstanding performance of the Schubert Fantasie, as well as for Fritz Kreisler’s Viennese Rhapsodic Fantasietta – Lark producing ravishing tone and perfect style – and a simply dazzling and passionate performance of Ravel’s Tzigane – Rhapsodie de concert.

It’s a recital of the highest calibre.

07 Yorick Alexander AbelCellist Yorick-Alexander Abel is outstanding in Hommage à Pablo Casals, a program honouring the legendary Catalan cellist (Naxos 8.551418 naxos.com).

Two of Abel’s own improvisations – Prélude “Lampes de Sagesse” (Lamps of Wisdom) from 2000 and Prélude “Sagesse Amérindienne” (Native American Wisdom) from 2010 – frame a fine performance of Bach’s Suite in G Major BWV1007.

The Suite Per Violoncel Sol “A Pau Casals” is a striking work in remembrance of his older brother written by Casals’ violinist/composer younger brother in 1973, the year of Pablo’s death. Arthur Honegger’s brief Paduana from 1945 and Pablo Casals’ own Cant dels Ocells (Song of the Birds), based on a Catalan Christmas song, round out a memorable CD.

There are two excellent string quartet CDs from Alpha Classics this month, both featuring Mozart’s String Quartet No.15 in D Minor K421 and with little to choose between them.

08 Quatuor Voce Mozart SchubertQuatuor Voce is the ensemble on Mozart Schubert Quartets Nos.15, the Mozart paired with Schubert’s String Quartet No.15 in G Major D887 in recordings made with a mix of live concert and studio sessions – not that you can tell (ALPHA 559 outhere-music.com/en). There’s a warm, measured opening to the Mozart, a work often played with a stress on the inner turmoil of this significant key for Mozart – the key of Don Giovanni, the Piano Concerto No.20 K466 and the Requiem. There’s passion here though, albeit implied rather than explicit, with the hint of despair always restrained.

The same sensitivity and depth is equally evident in the monumental Schubert quartet.

09 Quatuor van Kuijk MozartOn the Quatuor Van Kuijk’s MOZART the K421 quartet is paired with the String Quartet No.14 in G Major K387 and the Divertimento in F Major K138, the latter in its original form for four solo strings (ALPHA 551 outhere-music.com/en).

The D-minor quartet leans more towards the dramatic here than in the Quatuor Voce performance, with less vibrato, more articulation and dynamic contrast and more overt anguish – in the final chords, for instance. There’s never a shortage of warmth, however, and the same qualities are evident in a vibrant performance of the K387 G-major work.

10 Eisler Ravel WidmannViolinist Ilya Gringolts and cellist Dmitry Kouzov are the performers on Eisler Ravel Widman Duos, a CD that features two 20th-century works and one from the 21st (Delos DE 3556 delosmusic.com).

Hans Eisler studied with Arnold Schoenberg, and the latter’s influence can be heard in the brief two-movement Duo for Violin and Cello Op.7 from 1924, albeit with the 12-tone approach given a softer and more audience-friendly treatment.

The central work on the disc is the two-volume 24 Duos for Violin and Cello from 2008 by the German composer Jörg Widmann. Nine of the pieces are under one minute in length and the longest only just over three minutes, but the double stopping and special effects present technical difficulties that bring brilliant playing from Gringolts and Kouzov in music that is challenging but always interesting. With Widmann himself saying “Sensational!!! You understand every fibre of my music” about the performances, these world-premiere recordings can be considered definitive.

A fine reading of Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello from 1922 completes a fine CD.

11 Margaret BatjerThe Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and their concertmaster Margaret Batjer perform concertante works for violin from across three centuries on Jalbert & Bach Violin Concertos, with Jeffrey Kahane conducting (BIS-2309 bis.se).

The 2017 two-movement Violin Concerto by the American composer Pierre Jalbert was co-commissioned by the LACO and is heard here in a world-premiere recording. The violin’s lyrical qualities are fully exploited from the quiet and ethereal opening through the rhythmic contrasts of the energy-filled second movement.

Bach’s Violin Concerto In A Minor BWV1041 follows in a solid performance, and the disc closes with two 20th-century works by Baltic composers: Arvo Pärt’s Fratres, written in 1977 and heard here in the composer’s own 1992 arrangement for violin, string orchestra and percussion; and Pēteris Vasks’ quite beautiful Lonely Angel, a 2006 re-working of the final movement from his 1999 Fourth String Quartet. Batjer shows gorgeous tone and control in a solo line written mostly in the highest register.

12 Ries Complete Cello 2The excellent cellist Martin Rummel is back with Volume 2 of Ferdinand Ries Complete Works for Cello with pianist Stefan Stroissnig (Naxos 8.573851 naxos.com). Volume 1 is available on Naxos 8.57726.

Ries left a sizeable œuvre of over 200 compositions on his death in 1838, few of which are remembered. Included here are: the Cello Sonata in C Minor WoO2 from 1799, one of the earliest of its genre and written when Ries was only 15; the Trois Aires Russes Variés Op.72 from 1812; the Introduction and a Russian Dance Op.113 No.1 and the Cello Sonata in F Major Op.34, both from 1823. Eric Lamb is the flutist in the 1815 Trio for Flute, Cello and Piano in E-flat Major Op.63.

13 Miguez VelasquezViolinist Emmanuele Baldini and pianist Karin Fernandes perform sonatas by two leading figures in Brazilian classical music at the turn of the last century on Miguez and Velásquez Sonatas in the Naxos Music of Brazil series (8.574118 naxos.com/).

The Sonata No.1 for Violin and Piano, “Delirio” from 1909 and the Sonata No.2 for Violin and Piano from 1911 by Glauco Velásquez, who was only 30 when he died in 1914, are really attractive works with a warm Latin feel. The Sonata for Violin and Piano Op.14 by Leopoldo Miguez (1850-1902) is from 1885, and while it feels structurally stronger than the Velásquez works and more in the standard 19th-century sonata mode, it also has less of a Latin feel.

Baldini’s playing is radiant and idiomatic, with Fernandes particularly brilliant in the demanding piano writing in the Miguez sonata.

Scarlatti – 52 Sonatas
Lucas Debargue
Sony Classical 19075944462 (lucasdebargue.com)

01 Debarque ScarlattiWhen the jury at the 2015 International Tchaikovsky Competition placed French pianist Lucas Debargue fourth (which was actually sixth, since the second and third prizes were each shared by two contestants), the outrage was predictable. For it was Debargue who had won over the audience – and the critics – with his dazzling mix of brilliant technique and poetic sensibility.

In any case, Debargue’s career has flourished. In January he’ll make his third appearance at Koerner Hall in Toronto. And Sony has just released his fifth recording, a four-disc set of sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, the innovative Italian Baroque composer who was born in 1685 – the very same year as Bach and Handel – and spent his later, most productive, years at the royal courts in Portugal and Spain.

These short works are fundamental to the repertoire of harpsichordists. Though heard less often in piano recitals, they have been championed by pianists from Vladimir Horowitz and Alicia de Laroccha to András Schiff, Glenn Gould and Angela Hewitt. Many last just three or four minutes, even with Scarlatti’s repeats. But they have the impact of much grander works. Debargue’s selection of 52 sonatas represents less than a tenth of the 555 that Scarlatti wrote. But that’s four hours of some of the most glorious keyboard music ever written.

Scarlatti, a virtuoso harpsichordist, wrote these sonatas to play on his own instrument. So Debargue, ever mindful of the perils of playing them on a piano, makes minimal use of one of the piano’s most valued assets, the sustaining pedal. As a result, he is able to weave textures of delectable lightness and harpsichord-like clarity. But right from the first – and longest – work here, K206, Debargue makes full use of other resources offered by the piano to create an orchestra-scale range of colours and a variety of textures not possible on the earlier instrument. In K115 he highlights Scarlatti’s alluring harmonic shifts by shaping the broken chords and chromatic scales with dramatic crescendos and diminuendos. He does rush the tempo at times, though there are definite payoffs. K25, which is marked allegro, becomes more dramatic at his presto tempo, with the exquisite melodic lines emerging magically. I especially enjoy his bold use of rubato throughout. His ornaments are gorgeous, especially in episodic works like K268, though they can disrupt the pulse and prevent the Iberian rhythms from dancing.

The way Debargue combines the clarity of the harpsichord with the expressive power of the piano is fresh, imaginative and invariably enjoyable – a thoroughly modern approach to these exquisite works.

Pamela Margles

Bach – The Well-Tempered Clavier I & II
Heidrun Holtmann
Musicaphon M56922 (cantate-musicaphon.de)

02 Holtmann Well TemperedThe Well-Tempered Clavier compositions have always represented a sanctuary of sorts for me; a sonic space for contemplation and stillness, unaffected by the fast pace of modern living, and a doorway to a singular notion of the reciprocity between the laws of music and the cosmos. A collection of two sets of preludes and fugues in 24 major and minor keys for solo keyboard, it is also a wonderfully useful treatise on the forms and style of Baroque times.

The Well-Tempered Clavier is structurally complex and creatively abundant, yet orderly and conceived with a teaching purpose in mind. And that is precisely what Heidrun Holtmann connects to in her interpretation – the magnificent architecture that varies from one key to another comes alive vibrantly on this album. She clearly outlines the relationships between preludes and fugues and subtly indicates the different characters of each key (not an easy task in a well-tempered tuning). Although the term clavier applied to a number of keyboard instruments in Bach’s time (hammerklavier, clavichord, spinet, harpsichord and organ) and it is clear that some of the pieces are better suited to a specific kind of keyboard, Holtmann succeeds easily in displaying how the richness and diversity of the piano supports and enriches the colours in the preludes and the virtuosity in the fugues.

Compositional masterpiece, insightful performance – perfect for solitary late autumn musings.

Ivana Popovich

Haydn – Early and Late Sonatas
Denis Levaillant
DLM Editions DLM 3018 (denislevaillant.net)

03 Haydn LevaillantThe keyboard sonatas of Franz Joseph Haydn represent a great feat of an opus, broad in range, dating from the composer’s youthful period to his final decades. The early 1790s – about 15 years before his death – saw Haydn in London, where he encountered new-fangled Broadwood pianos, outfitted with damper pedal and an extended range. Three irresistibly inventive London Sonatas were spawned. Today, so often are these late Beethovenian sonatas performed and celebrated that a listener rarely hears Haydn’s early essays for the keyboard, even in our contemporary age of rediscovery, mining the catalogues of infamous composers for their un-famous works.

French composer, writer and pianist, Denis Levaillant, celebrates Haydn’s early works – as foil to later ones – in his new disc featuring Sonatas No.13 in E, No.14 in D, No.41 in B-flat, No.48 in C, No.49 in E-flat and No.51 in D, all recorded on a modern (Yamaha) grand. As is stipulated in the artist’s eloquent afterword to the liner notes, Levaillant has chosen to access the interpretive world of Haydn’s early sonatas through the stylistic lens of the later ones. He imagines (and supplements) “missing” indications from the composer and offers touches of pedal, pauses and anachronistic colours.

The results are satisfying, for the most part. A correlative access point for Levaillant’s readings is the functionality of early keyboard instruments: the harpsichord and clavichord. Sonatas Nos.13 and 14 most surely would have been realized on such instruments and Levaillant approaches the music with a certitude of form and fortitude of style that permeate the disc’s 15 tracks. The slightly rough and tumble edges – the rustic origins – of Franz Joseph Haydn’s art are brought into relief through Levaillant’s rendering.

Adam Sherkin

Mozart Piano Sonatas
David Fung
Steinway & Sons 30107 (steinway.com/music-and-artists/label)

04 Mozart FungSteinway artist David Fung offers four lesser-known piano sonatas on his new album: the Piano Sonatas No.2 in F Major, K280, No.4 in E-flat, K282, No.5 in G Major, K283 and No.17 in B-flat, K570. Upon first hearing, Fung’s vision of Mozart’s keyboard music is immediately apparent. The (scant) liner notes make much of Fung’s musical upbringing and exposure to the opera – the Mozartian operatic stage in particular – but these references seem status quo and rather obvious in analogy; the comparisons do not quite do justice to Fung’s interpretive approach.

His is a unique and bold reading. Often, contemporaneous interpreters attempt to subdue their own (romantic) leanings, fearing to obscure the ideals of neoclassicalism as manifested in the music of W.A. Mozart. Fung, however, has no such qualms. He portrays a pianistic tableau of striking contrasts, unusual voicings and wanton manipulation of the dimension of time.

Employing a declamatory style, Fung directs the musical action from his keyboard with a strong command of phrasing and rhythmic impetus. He goes far beyond the customary approach to pulsation and accompaniment figures, in search of an inner energy of syncopated beats and subtle ostinati.

Upon repetition of A and B sections, Fung offers fresh takes on voicings that surprise the listener, challenging established conceptions of such material. By far his boldest strokes come in the form of timescale bending: the stretching out of rests, fermati and cadences, as he pushes values to the limit of neoclassical good taste. The resultant effect is generally pleasurable but does, on occasion, turn to parody. Notwithstanding, variety is the spice of life and let’s applaud Fung’s triumph in delivering his singular vision.

Adam Sherkin

Listen to 'Mozart Piano Sonatas' Now in the Listening Room

Mozart Piano Concertos Vol.1
Anne-Marie McDermott; Odense Symfoniorkester; Scott Yoo
Bridge Records 9518 (bridgerecords.com)

Mozart – Piano Concertos Nos.17 & 24
Orli Shaham; St. Louis Symphony Orchestra; David Robertson
Canary Classics CC18 (canaryclassics.com)

05a Mozart Concerti Vol.1Charm, grace and cordiality are fading qualities in today’s hard-hitting, ego-driven age. Attributes from an older world and its refined modes of human interaction continue to recede from us, seemingly destined for near extinction. Every now and then, however, a specialized, sensitive artist will draw us back, time-capsule-like, to a continental European past where art and music existed to elevate, illuminate and beguile.

Ushering the listener toward this very world of period sensibility, Anne-Marie McDermott’s most recent Mozart disc features two lesser-known piano concerti, the Concerto in C, K415/387a and an earlier work of the same genre, in B-flat, K238. McDermott’s exceedingly good taste and technical prowess make for an ideal blend of musical pleasantries, delighting the listener with her innate ability to shape Mozartian lines, equal in parts lyrical, harmonic and rhythmic. This is an 18th-century pianism of poise and courtliness, neoclassical elegance and Viennese affability. 

05b Mozart ShahamAnother such record of Mozart keyboard concerti hails from a collaboration between pianist Orli Shaham and the St. Louis Symphony, under the direction of David Robertson. Here, two later concertos are presented: the airy No.17 in G Major, K453 and the brooding No.24 in C Minor, K491. Soundworlds apart, these pieces juxtapose handsomely on disc, showcasing the dazzling musicianship of pianist, conductor and orchestra with the personal relationship between Shaham and Robertson clearly audible.

This fruitful partnership gleans splendour and lucidity from every note; the conversational exchange between soloist and orchestra is delectable – hefty at times – but largely cajoling in nature. Robertson encourages his players to take their rightful place in crafting the beauty of line and sculpting of colour that behooves the performance of any Mozart concerto. Like McDermott, Shaham enlivens each phrase with a graciousness and purpose, nearly anachronistic with its old-fashioned aplomb.

Shaham’s readings of Mozartian slow movements are of particular note. Her keen ear for colouristic novelty and lucid intonation rewards the listener again and again. Both Shaham and Robertson divine such a spirit of warmth – such love – from the heart of Mozart’s art that even the most probing pundit or cantankerous curmudgeon couldn’t help but be disarmed. What a thrill to hear Mozart’s music expressed with such timeless insight and overarching reverence for those inventive masterstrokes, born of another time and place.

McDermott and Shaham, in league with conductors Scott Yoo and David Robertson, are integral, generous artists who have conceived these four concerti in a manner both simple and satisfying. In today’s discographic landscape awash with record upon record of Mozart’s piano music, here we meet an old school oasis of felicity and joy, on par with the sublime Mozart interpretations that celebrated pianist Emanuel Ax is so well known for. Such recordings highlight, for the contemporary listener, the true nature and benefit of classical masterpieces, penned by the hand of that perennial favourite of involuntary geniuses: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Adam Sherkin

Schubert – The First Romantic
Mathieu Gaudet
Analekta AN 2 9181 (analekta.com/en/)

06 Schubert Mathieu GaudetIn view of his broad-based career Mathieu Gaudet should not be typecast, but this CD certainly adds to his credentials as a Schubert pianist. Consistency and long-range projection of moods, whether meditative, passionate or joyful, are required of the artist. Consider what Gaudet writes of the G Major Sonata (D894; 1826) finale: “The coda strives for transcendence, giving the impression of rising all the way to heaven.” I didn’t quite get that far — but his recording I find very moving. In the opening movement, with its sustained chords paced and balanced perfectly, this listener became meditative. The contrasting dotted-rhythm episodes and huge, anguished development section climax unfolded naturally; the long (19-minute) movement that I dread hearing in superficial readings achieved unforced inevitability here. Skipping the middle movements, I’ll just mention the rustic Austrian charm in Gaudet’s playing of the finale, with its festive character and bagpipe drones.

The early Schubert Sonata in F-sharp Minor (1817; its tangled history is too complex for this review) begins like a lied with the melody in plain octaves and the accompaniment figure’s rhythm repeated — excessively. Some interesting harmonic twists hint at what was to come from the prodigious composer. Gaudet convinces in the attractive middle movements: a sweet Romance and folk-like Scherzo and Trio. This disc is especially significant in view of plans for Gaudet’s 12-disc box-set comprising Schubert’s complete sonatas plus other major works, on the highly regarded Analekta label.

Roger Knox

First and Last Words
Yerin Kim
Sheva SH 217 (yerinkim.com)

07 Schumann Schnittke KimYerin Kim’s new solo disc features early and (very) late piano music by Robert Schumann, plus two novel cycles by Alfred Schnittke. Schumann’s “Abegg” Variations, Op.1, opens the album: an earnest curatorial choice and one that sets a high standard of interpretive credibility to impress the listener thereafter. Kim’s playing is supple and clear with a sincere directness of expression. Following Schumann’s first opus, we greet the sturdy Allegro, Op.8 with similar pianistic appreciation. Onwards to the last of Schumann’s pieces: the Geistervariationen, (“Ghost Variations”) WoO 24 of 1854 were eerily written during the time leading up to the composer’s admission into a mental asylum, ostensibly the darkest period of his life. Kim’s own program notes identify the “angels and demons” that pervaded Schumann’s mind and pen during those haunted late years.

True standouts come next: the Five Preludes and a Fugue (1953-54) and Aphorisms (1990) by Alfred Schnittke. Kim evidently has a knack for this unusual repertoire in which her virtuosity – of both the technical and intellectual variety – can be aptly demonstrated. This is highly focused music with a taut contrapuntal sense and localized formal design – an appropriate complement to Schumann’s first and last piano works.

The final cycle on this disc, Five Aphorisms, represents a late stage in Schnittke’s output, less accessible in its abstracted lyricism and esoteric brevity. Suddenly, the listener is thrust into a contemporary soundscape of jarring gesture: the sonic by-products of an age where man has made, met and managed machines. Here are the very real angels and demons of our own brave new world. And Kim governs them all, with just as much assurance as she does the last, ghostly “words” of Robert Schumann.

Adam Sherkin

01 Dowland Heavenly TouchDowland – Whose Heavenly Touch
Mariana Flores; Hopkinson Smith
Naïve E 8941 (naxosdirect.com)

Perhaps the most renowned composer of music for lute and voice in the history of the genre, John Dowland’s songs continue to captivate modern performers and audiences with their esoteric melancholy and expressivity. Far from being a downer, Dowland’s seemingly depressing themes were as much a practical choice as an artistic one, reflecting the melancholia that was so fashionable in music at that time. In fact, Dowland wrote a consort piece with the punning title Semper Dowland, semper dolens (always Dowland, always doleful), reflecting his tongue-in-cheek self-awareness.

Whose Heavenly Touch presents selections from Dowland’s First and Second Book of Songs, published in 1597 and 1600 respectively, and begins with the striking and enduringly popular Flow, my tears. This recording features Argentinian soprano Mariana Flores and American lutenist Hopkinson Smith, who has received numerous accolades for his work in a wide range of early music, from Dowland to lute arrangements of Bach’s sonatas and partitas. From the beginning of this first song through to the disc’s end, Smith’s mastery of the lute is apparent in his clarity and control, arpeggiations and scalic interpolations providing rhythmic motion through tasteful and virtuosic interpretation.

Perhaps the most conspicuously atypical aspect of this recording is Flores’ distinct Spanish accent, a rather disorienting imposition on this Tudor music which can occasionally mask textual subtleties through excessively rolled “R”s and unexpectedly modified vowels and diphthongs. While her tone and interpretations are delightful, it occasionally takes attentive listening to discern the words that Flores considers worthy of such thoughtful expression.

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