02 Voices in the WildernessVoices in the Wilderness – Music from the Ephrata Cloister
Elizabeth Bates; Clifton Massey; Nils Neubert; Steven Hrycelak; Christopher Dylan Herbert
Bright Shiny Things BSTC-0141 (brightshiny.ninja/voices-in-the-wilderness)

This technically thrilling and historically significant recording is the brainchild of noted musical director/producer, Christopher Dylan Herbert, and boasts the prestigious vocal talents of soprano Elizabeth Bates, alto Clifton Massey, tenor Nils Neubert and bass Steven Hrycelak. The entire project is composed of a cappella hymns, written just under 300 years ago by the residents of the Ephrata Cloister – an 18th-century celibate community in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, established in 1732. Nearly all of the music here was written by the solitary sisters of Ephrata – the earliest known female composers in North America.* These challenging pieces have never before been performed by a professional ensemble, and in keeping with the authenticity of the CD, the recording itself was done in the very room for which the material was originally composed.

With the opening, Rose-Lillie-Blume Sequence, the voices introduce themselves and come together in perfect symmetry, rendering this rich composition in all of its original majesty. The acoustics of the Ephrata Cloister provide the sonic platform for this stirring piece – rendered in perfect classical, High German. On Herzog Unsrer Seligkeiten, dynamics as well as precise rhythmic motifs are utilized, and of special mention is Wann Gott sein Zion Losen Wird, where the satisfying arrangement explores curiously modern chordal motifs, foreshadowing chorale works yet to come, and the eventual emergence of 12-tone composition.  

The final track, Formier, Mein Topffer, is both emotional and direct. Written by Sister Föbin (Christianna Lassle) the chord voicings are placed in the exact sweet spot for each register, creating a shining jewel of vocal music, and a celebration of early female composers/vocalists, as well as their creative vision, which is more than timely.

Editor’s note: Some might dispute this claim, and suggest that an Order of Ursuline nuns in Montreal were more likely the first female composers on the continent. I checked with noted Canadian music specialist John Beckwith who told me that, in an essay on Canada’s earliest music-theory treatise (1718), Erich Schwandt (formerly with the music department, U. of Victoria), claimed that the Ursulines wrote original music. The order was established in 1639 and was noted for its attention to culture and the arts, especially music, suggesting that these sisters were composing nearly a century before those of the Ephrata Cloisture.

03 Beethoven Christ Mount OlivesBeethoven – Christ on the Mount of Olives
Elsa Dreisig; Pavol Breslik; David Soar; London Symphony Chorus; LSO; Sir Simon Rattle
LSO Live LSO0826D (lsolive.lso.co.uk)

In the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke capture Jesus’ last moments as a free man. Aware of his impending arrest and execution – having been betrayed by Judas Iscariot – Jesus uses his final night to reflect and pray at a familiar location, the Garden of Gethsemane, located on the Mount of Olives. To this day, the location remains a site of Christian pilgrimage and, in 1803, afforded rich artistic fodder to Beethoven, who used its physical beauty and importance as a site within Christian theology to pen his compelling, rarely performed, and only Passion oratorio, Christ on the Mount of Olives

Although not theologically Christian, but rather an Enlightenment-era deist, Beethoven was most certainly drawing a parallel between this Gospel narrative of Jesus at his most fallible and his own looming existential crisis of encroaching deafness and isolation. Written while living at Vienna’s Theater an der Wien and understood, at the time, within the context of other 18th-century oratorios that focus on religious themes, subjects and iconography, Christ on the Mount of Olives deserves to occupy a more central place within Beethoven’s already bountiful canon. Good thing then, that it is performed and recorded so beautifully here on this 2020 LSO Live release by the London Symphony Orchestra with Sir Simon Rattle at the helm. 

Fleshed out with an enormous chorus of nearly 150 under the direction of Simon Halsey and released in honour of the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, this must-have recording packages together a compelling religious narrative with the majestic backing of the LSO and inspired soloists Elsa Dreisig, Pavol Breslik and David Soar performing a variety of biblical figures from Franz Xaver Huber’s libretto. With the religious importance for some of the upcoming Christmas season, this recording could not have come at a better time.

05 ElgarElgar – Sea Pictures; Falstaff
Elīna Garanča; Staatskapelle Berlin; Daniel Barenboim
Decca Records 00028948509683 (deccaclassics.com/en/catalogue)

A new and sumptuous live recording from Decca features two important works by Sir Edward Elgar: the five Sea Pictures, Op 37 (1899) and the seldom-heard “symphonic study,” Falstaff, Op.68 (1913).

Elgar was both proud and fond of his Falstaff. While it was well received at its premiere in 1913, it hasn’t quite found its footing in the standard repertoire to date (at least outside of England). Conversely, the Sea Pictures have long captured the imaginations of singers and audiences alike. The sea itself is central to British identity and, while many other cultures could claim the same, an Englishman’s love for his island’s coastal waters is of a particular brand; Elgar epitomizes this relationship in his cycle. They are unique for their dark and rich soundscapes, initially scored for contralto. (Canada’s own Maureen Forrester sang them – almost as trademark – throughout her career.) The five Pictures set words from different poets, including the composer’s wife: In Haven (Capri).

Daniel Barenboim is no stranger to interpreting Elgar. What an experience it is, to hear him steer this record’s course. Barenboim’s seasoned Elgar is luminous and emotive, ever balanced and rational. One might argue that he brings just a hint of German cerebralism to such overtly English Romantic music. Mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča contributes her own impressive artistry here, embracing this ravishing repertoire with all that she’s got. Her voice soars above the Staatskapelle Berlin, buoyed and serene, “to rolling worlds of wave and shell.”

06 Egon WelleszEgon Wellesz – Die Opferung des Gefangenen
Hwang; Cerha; Dewey; Koch; Vienna Concert Choir; Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien; Robert Brooks
Capriccio C5423 (naxosdirect.com/search/845221054230)

Austrian-British composer Egon Wellesz (1885-1974), of Hungarian Jewish origin, was a prolific composer. Extensively performed and decorated during his lifetime, he achieved success early, being the first of Arnold Schoenberg’s students to receive a publishing contract from Universal Edition, before Berg or Webern. Generally neglected in the decades since his death, this world premiere recording, by the Vienna Concert Choir and the Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien of Wellesz’s 1924-25 opera-ballet Die Opferung des Gefangenen (The Sacrifice of the Prisoner), is part of a wider revival of interest in his music. 

The opera’s story is based on a scenario by Eduard Stucken after the ancient Mayan play Rabinal Achi, performed annually in Rabinal, Guatemala. Subtitled “a cultural drama for dance, solo singers and choir,” Wellesz’s work is about an imprisoned prince who is waiting for his execution after a battle. It’s not a huge stretch however to see the story reflecting many of the post WWI anxieties around the consequences of the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. 

Replete with dramatic vocal and choral scenes and massive orchestral passages with Mahlerian and Schoenbergian echoes, Die Opferung is a prime example of Wellesz’s mature Viennese musical style. His signature colourful orchestration is underscored by forte brass choir and bold percussion statements.  This theatrical work, parts of which would not be out of place on a later blockbuster movie soundtrack, reads surprisingly well on audio CD, even without the visual and dance elements of a stage production. 

07 English SongsEnglish Songs à la Française
Tyler Duncan; Erika Switzer
Bridge Records 9537 (bridgerecords.com/products/9537)

British Columbia-born/New York-based baritone, Tyler Duncan, and his wife, pianist Erika Switzer, are internationally renowned performers as a duo, and individually. The clever idea of performing French composers’ settings of original English texts started when French baritone François Le Roux handed them Camille Saint-Saëns’ Cherry-Tree Farm score, set to Horace Lennard’s poetry. More of these Romantic/20th century songs were compiled, which, after their recital in Tours, led to this, their remarkable first duo album.

A literal who’s who of French composers successfully set the original English texts. Reynaldo Hahn’s Five Little Songs (1914), set to Robert Louis Stevenson’s words, are short children’s songs with tonal word painting like the florid piano lines behind lyrical vocals in The Swing, and colourful low vocal pitches with piano tremolo night sky effects in The Stars. Darius Milhaud’s settings of five Rabindranath Tagore Child Poems (1916) are operatic, such as the fully orchestrated piano part supporting lyrical emotional singing in the closing, The Gift. Love Maurice Ravel’s Chanson écossaise (1910) setting of Robert Burns’ text. Ravel emulates a Scottish quasi-bagpipe folk song without ever creating a parody. Jules Massenet’s setting of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Come into the Garden, Maud (1880) foreshadows future musical theatre sounds. Poulenc, Roussel and Gounod works complete the recording. 

Duncan and Switzer deserve a “bilingual” standing ovation for their tight duo musicianship and colourful interpretations of these one-of-a kind art songs.

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08 Saman ShahiSaman Shahi – Breathing in the Shadows
Maureen Batt; Fabián Arciniegas; Tiffany Hanus; Various Instrumentalists
Leaf Music LM237 (samanshahimusic.com)

The debut album by Iranian-Canadian composer and pianist Saman Shahi, Breathing in the Shadows, feels like a gentle journey through the kaleidoscope of meaningful images, each captured in a subjective and probing way. The three song cycles included on this album are worlds unto their own – powerful and empowering, existential blocks of unique and diverse musical language combining minimalism, dodecaphony, hints of Iranian traditional music and rock. The poetry is beautiful and impactful, but it is the music that propels it beyond its scope. Shahi’s music lets the poetic images breathe and blossom and underlines the themes of inner and outer struggles, yearnings, rebelliousness and death (symbolic and physical). The rhythmic drive and atonal segments create an immediacy that is enlivening. 

The titular song cycle, Breathing in the Shadows, is based on poems by five poetesses from around the world and features a wonderfully talented duo – soprano Maureen Batt and pianist Tara Scott. Each song is a statement of independence and defiance in the face of oppression, longing or, simply, love. 

The second cycle, Orbit, builds on sharp imagery conceived by Serbian-Canadian singer-songwriter Jelena Ćirić. The waves of colours Shahi creates in the piano lines are just gorgeous and tenor Fabián Arciniegas’ phrasing underscores the words with subtle urgency.

The concluding cycle, Song of a Wandering Soul, merges several musical forms that Shahi considers a part of his musical identity. Written for a larger ensemble, using improvisation and electronics to create varied textures and riding on the perfectly suited timbre of Tiffany Hanus’ voice, this cycle is pure rock ’n roll in a classical setting. 

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09 Elora SingersReena Esmail – This Love Between Us: Prayers for Unity; Barbara Croall – Giishkaapkag
Elora Singers; Mark Vuorinen
Independent TESR-001 (elorasingers.ca/hear/recordings)

The professional Elora Singers have established a reputation as one of the finest chamber choirs in Canada, particularly known for their commitment to Canadian repertoire. This admirable new release on their own imprint features two contrasting large-scale choral works by Canadian composer Barbara Croall and American composer Reena Esmail.

The subtitle, Prayers for Unity, of Esmail’s This Love Between Us (2016) tips listeners off to the composer’s intent. The work’s seven movements are titled after the major religious traditions of India: Buddhism, Sikhism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Jainism and Islam. Esmail has selected representative texts in the original seven languages from each, evoking unity, universal brotherhood and kindness. A signature element of the work is the inspired and effective incorporation of a Hindustani sitarist, vocal soloist and tabla player into the orchestral and choral texture, underscoring the fusion of North Indian and Western classical musical elements, both traditions Esmail is at home in.

Odawa First Nation composer and musician Barbara Croall’s 2019 Giishkaapkag (Where the Rock is Cut Through) is scored for choir, percussion and the pipigwan (Anishinaabe cedar flute) eloquently played by the composer. The vocals are underscored by a powerful, elegiac text condemning the violence to the feminine in creation. “Due to colonization,” writes Croall, “many women and girls likewise have suffered (and continue to suffer) … due to the many past and continuing violations of Shkakmigkwe (Mother Earth).” Referencing the present tragedy of murdered and missing Indigenous women, Croall reminds us that “the rocks bear witness and speak to us of this” – a message also heard clearly through her powerful music.

10 Rosa MysticaRosa Mystica – Musical Portraits of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir; Paul Spicer
Somm Recordings SOMMCD 0617 (naxosdirect.com/search/748871061729)

Among the stated objectives of this record label, one stands out and it is this: “to uncover new [music] … from the unique to the extraordinary…” This disc, Rosa Mystica, not only fits that objective, but it does so with a great deal of reverential eloquence. 

The centerpiece – halfway through the album – is Benjamin Britten’s ardent setting of Gerald Manley Hopkins’ poem Rosa Mystica (Mystical Rose), an invocation in the 16th-century Litany of Loreto, which actually dates back to the Tanakh and Song of Songs (2:1), and which, when translated, reads: “I am the Rose of Sharon.” Paul Spicer and the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Choir interpret the work with shimmering passion. 

It is Siva Oke, the recording producer, who makes sure that your edification begins from track one, with the inimitable John Tavener’s Mother of God, here I stand. Remarkably, each track thereafter is instrumentally and lyrically fresh despite the underlying theme of all the music being the same: that is, dedication to the praise and worship of the Blessed Virgin Mary. 

The producer has also reflected a keen sense of history and openness for new material in the selection of these Musical Portraits of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Nicholas Ludford (1485-1557) offering, Ave cujus conceptio, is the oldest. Meanwhile, from the contemporary era, Carl Rutti’s Ave Maria, Judith Bingham’s Ave virgo sanctissima and Cecilia McDowall’s Of a Rose make their debuts on this impressive recording.

11 Lieberson SongsPeter Lieberson – Songs of Love and Sorrow; The Six Realms
Gerald Finley; Anssi Karttunen;Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra; Hannu Lintu
Ondine ODE 1356-2 (naxosdirect.com/search/0761195135624)

American composer Peter Lieberson (1946–2011) had a fascinating, bicultural career. A composition student of rigorous American modernists Milton Babbitt and Charles Wuorinen, at an early age he imbibed the classical music of earlier eras, as well as mid-century jazz and musical theatre in the NYC home of his prominent record-executive father Goddard Lieberson and ballerina mother Vera Zorina. 

Starting in the 1970s he embraced the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism which profoundly influenced his compositional approach. Lieberson’s mature works successfully fuse those seemingly disparate influences into a cohesive idiosyncratic chromatic style threaded with an appealing lyricism and anchored by inventive orchestration.

Lieberson composed The Six Realms (2000), a dramatic concerto for amplified cello and orchestra, at the request of Yo-Yo Ma. The work’s backstory outlines a key Buddhist teaching: differing states of mind shape human experience. Thus each of the concerto’s six continuous sections illustrates a different realm in Buddhist cosmology and aspect of human emotion. The work receives a powerfully emotional rendering on the album by contemporary music specialist, cellist Anssi Karttunen, a close Lieberson friend.

The record’s other work features an outstanding performance by Canadian bass-baritone Gerald Finley as soloist in Lieberson’s orchestral song cycle Songs of Love and Sorrow (2010), among his last works. Set to five sonnets from Cien sonetos de amor by Pablo Neruda, the Songs are imbued with love for – but also a sense of quiet farewell to – the composer’s late wife, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, ending with a haunting repeated “adios.”

12 Venables RequiemIan Venables – Requiem
Choir of Gloucester Cathedral; Adrian Partington
Somm Recordings SOMMCD 0618 (naxosdirect.com/search/sommcd+0618)

The requiem Mass is one of the most frequently set texts in all of music, with many of history’s greatest composers turning their pens to this ancient burial rite. Traditional settings date from the medieval era to the present and range from the contemplative (Fauré and Duruflé) to the bombastic (Berlioz and Verdi), while a number of 20th- and 21st-century settings incorporate additional texts, such as Britten’s War Requiem and Howard Goodall’s Eternal Light.

One of the most recent contributions to the requiem genre is Ian Venables’ 2018 Requiem, Op.48, which presents a selection of the traditional requiem Mass texts in a contemporary setting. Scored for chorus and organ, Venables composed this work with liturgical performance in mind; although this might seem to be a restrictive limitation when compared to the immense orchestrations of the great musical requiems, Venables uses the timbres and textures of both the organ and choir to produce a range of effects that reflect the drama, terror and peacefulness present in the text. This attentive and effective synthesis of words and music should come as no surprise, as Venables is a respected and highly experienced art song composer who has also written a range of instrumental and choral works.

Venables’ Requiem is characterized by a mixture of textures, woven together throughout the duration of the work to produce varying results. One such distinguishing feature is the use of modality, which often erupts into bright, open quartal chords that produce a luminescence not otherwise attainable in the major/minor system. While tuning is always of paramount importance for any performing group, it becomes even more so when non-traditional harmonies are used, and the Gloucester Cathedral Choir executes every such passage with precision and accuracy, breathing life into this mass for the dead. 

13 Voices of the PearlVoices of the Pearl Volume 3
Anne Harley; Stacey Fraser; James Hayden; Various artists
Voices of the Pearl (voicesofthepearl.org/albums)

The ambitious Voices of the Pearl project commissions, performs and records works by international living composers, who set texts by and about females from diverse traditions throughout history, illuminating their lives, struggles and beliefs. Volume Three features five works based on Buddhist, Chinese and other Asian texts, performed by Canadian/California-based sopranos Anne Harley (who is also artistic director) and Stacey Fraser, with American instrumentalists and singers.

Canadian composer Emilie Cecilia LeBel’s You Moving Stars (2017) is based on early Therīgāthā (Verses of the Elder Nuns) poetry collection by and about female disciples of the historical Buddha from about the fifth century BCE. Performed by Harley and electric guitarist Steve Thachuk, it is sparsely orchestrated yet attention-grabbing, from the opening long-held guitar drone, sudden high soprano entry, wide-interval-pitched melody, and brief almost unison vocal and guitar sections. The two performers create a sacred, thought provoking sound.  

Chinary Ung’s Still Life After Death (1995) follows a living Soul, sung by Fraser, on her ritualistic end-of-life journey. Scored for full ensemble and performed by the terrific Brightwork newmusic, the repeated detached notes, loud crashes and almost contrapuntal flute, violin and clarinet backdrops support the soprano’s emotional wide-ranging part until the deep-calming, short-Buddhist-phrase-chanting, bass-baritone, James Hayden, relaxes the Soul to echo him until her final fearless ending.

Works by Karola Obermüller, Yii Kah Hoe, and a second Chinary Ung composition complete this amazing recording, illuminating female artists throughout history.

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14 AnchoressThe Anchoress
Hyunah Yu; Mimi Stillman; PRISM (Saxophone) Quartet; Piffaro, The Renaissance Band
XAS Records XAS 110 (prismquartet.com/recordings)

The Anchoress is a song cycle in eight movements composed by David Serkin Ludwig with text by Katie Ford. Written for soprano, saxophone quartet, and a Renaissance band, The Anchoress explores the medieval mystic tradition of anchorism. As part of a devotional practice to Christian life, an anchoress withdrew from secular society in order to live in extreme deprivation in a bricked-up cell attached to a church (an anchorhold). From her “squint” (a tiny window) to the outside world, Ford imagines a narrative from the most inner thoughts of a medieval anchoress. From that tiny window we are privy to slices of conversations, with herself and others, where the anchoress experiences intense and extreme emotions that range from contemplation and doubt to terror and religious ecstasy.

Ludwig’s striking choice of orchestration in the mixing of ancient and modern instruments moves the listener efficiently through the various narratives by creating sonorities that are both unusual and unique. The solo recorder is particularly efficient as it converses and interrupts the voice, mirroring the meandering mind of the anchoress.

The Anchoress is an expansive monologue in which soprano Hyunah Yu makes use of several vocal techniques such as vocalises and Sprechstimme. She is expertly supported by Piffaro, the acclaimed Renaissance wind band and the PRISM Quartet. The Anchoress received its world premiere in October 2018 by the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. The disc also features three instrumental settings, Three Anchoress Songs, featuring flutist Mimi Stillman and tenor saxophonist Matthew Levy.

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01 Corellis BandCorelli’s Band – Violin Sonatas
Augusta McKay Lodge; Various Artists
Naxos 8.574239 (naxosdirect.com/search/747313423972)

The accomplished young Baroque violinist Augusta McKay Lodge brings her considerable musical elegance and strong personality to bear in this fascinating program of early 18th-century sonatas for violin and continuo. We hear three sonatas by Giovanni Mossi and two by Giovanni Stefano Carbonelli. Both Mossi and Carbonelli were students and/or followers of Arcangelo Corelli and indeed their works owe much to the great master, both in content and structure. The lone Corelli work on the disc is one of his greatest, the Sonata Op.5, No.3 in C Major, and the performance is sensational, a great combination of fire, precision and risk-taking. This is playing of great clarity that brings out the harmonic tension, melodic beauty and rhythmic interest in Corelli’s music.

Of the three Mossi sonatas, the two from his early Op.1 collection from 1716 are a real revelation. They’re technically challenging with a refreshing originality. The later 1733 sonata of his which opens the disc is somewhat more square and uninteresting. While obviously talented, Carbonelli seemed to have dabbled in music, possibly studying with Corelli and having known Vivaldi, who named one of his sonatas – Il Carbonelli – after him. His only published music – before he took up work as a supplier of wine to the English court – was a set of sonatas published in 1729. The two represented here are full of interest and great poignancy. 

 The continuo band is a powerhouse and provides strong support to Lodge, who is clearly emerging as one of the most eloquent and interesting Baroque violinists around.

04 Classical Piano Concerto Cramer webJohann Baptist Cramer – Piano Concertos 1, 3 & 6
Howard Shelley; London Mozart Players
Hyperion CDA68302 (hyperion-records.co.uk)

Apart from his piano Etudes Op.84 – for many years a staple in piano pedagogy – the name Johann Baptist Cramer is not all that well known today. A year after his birth in Mannheim in 1771, his father – himself a renowned violinist and conductor – moved the family to London to take advantage of the thriving musical life there. The move was clearly a fortuitous one, for over the course of his long lifetime, Cramer earned a reputation as a virtuoso soloist, composer and pedagogue. In light of his sizable output, he is definitely a composer worth re-exploring and who better to do it than the London Mozart Players with Howard Shelley both directing and performing three piano concertos on this Hyperion recording, the sixth in the Classical Piano series.

The Concertos No.1 and 3 in in E-flat and D Major respectively, were completed in the 1790s and stylistically straddle the classical and Romantic periods. While both were perhaps written with an eye to demonstrating Cramer’s technical prowess, the musical style is gracious and spirited, further enhanced by Shelley’s technically flawless performance and the LMP’s solid accompaniment.

The Concerto No.6 dates from around 1813. By that time, Beethoven had completed his seventh symphony and Wellington’s Victory. Yet any traces of the new Romantic spirit in this concerto are marginal – clearly Cramer wasn’t about to abandon a means of expression that had successfully served his purpose. Once again, Shelley and the LMP comprise a convivial pairing, particularly in the buoyant Rondo finale which brings the concerto and the disc to a satisfying conclusion.

So a hearty bravo to Howard Shelley and the LMP for once again shedding light on some fine music that might otherwise have been overlooked. As always, we can look forward to further additions to the series.

05 Brahms Widman SchiffJohannes Brahms – Clarinet Sonatas
András Schiff; Jörg Widmann
ECM New Series ECM 2621 (emcrecords.com)

Few people play the clarinet so well, compose so well and exemplify the title “musician” so well as Jörg Widman. Substitute “piano” for “clarinet,” and leaving aside composition, the same applies to András Schiff. What a fantastic collaboration this recording of Brahms’ Sonatas for Piano and Clarinet Op.120 turns out to be. The subtitle is accurate: the piano is an equal partner, and often the more dominant. Schiff’s articulation and phrasing leave me nodding in wonder and delight. Widman’s mastery throughout is unparalleled. The two have collaborated often enough that it’s like listening in on a conversation between brilliant friends. Brahms couldn’t have asked for a more united and insightful reading. 

They open with Sonata No.2 in E-flat Major, which makes sense if, like me, you prefer Sonata No.1 in F Minor. As wonderful as the performance is, there is nothing that can convince me the second sonata carries as much water as the first, which is more in the composer’s Sturm und Drang manner. They focus, in the first movement of the F Minor, not so much on angst as resigned sadness. The same mood runs into the second movement adagio, taken at the bottom of the range of possible tempi at the outset, nudged gently forward in the middle section, and relaxed back in Schiff’s brief cadenza. 

Widman dedicated his Five Intermezzi to Schiff: solo pieces whose title and content hearken back to Brahms’ late piano pieces. Interposed between the sonatas here, they serve as (mostly) brief enigmas to tease the listener. Think of a clouded mirror. Think of the grumpy ghost of Brahms, still pining, revisiting melancholy.

06 Moszkowski webMoritz Moszkowski – Orchestral Music Volume Two
Sinfonia Varsovia; Ian Hobson
Toccata Classics TOCC 0557 (naxosdirect.com/search/5060113445575)

Fate was surely unkind to the once-celebrated composer and conductor, Moritz Moszkowski (1854-1925): his marriage ended, his teenaged daughter died, avant-garde movements rendered his compositions “old-fashioned” and his considerable fortune disappeared when World War I obliterated his investments. After years of failing health, he died an impoverished recluse in Paris.

Until the recent revival of interest in lesser-known Romantic-era repertoire, all that survived in performance from Moszkowski’s large output were a few short piano pieces that occasionally appeared as recital encores. Nevertheless, it’s hard to believe that his Deuxième Suite d’Orchestre, Op.47 (1890) is only now receiving its first-ever recording – it’s far too good to have been ignored for so long!

The 41-minute, six-movement work begins with the solemnly beautiful Preludio, in which extended chromatic lyricism builds to a near-Wagnerian climax. The urgent, increasingly furious Fuga and syncopated, rocking Scherzo suggest Mendelssohn on steroids. The long lines of the lovely Larghetto are warmly Romantic, gradually blossoming from tranquil to passionate. The cheerful, graceful Intermezzo leads to the Marcia, a surging blend of Wagner and Elgar that ends the Suite in a proverbial blaze of glory.

Moszkowski’s Troisième Suite d’Orchestre, Op.79 (1908), in four movements lasting 27 minutes, is much lighter and brighter, almost semi-classical in its sunny charm. The robust playing of Sinfonia Varsovia under conductor Ian Hobson adds to this CD’s many pleasures. Here’s winning proof that there’s lots of “good-old-fashioned” music still waiting to be rediscovered and enjoyed!

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