Gluck – Orfeo ed Euridice
Iestyn Davies; Sophie Bevan; Rebecca Bottone; La Nuova Musica; David Bates
Pentatone PCT 5186 805
(pentatonemusic.com)

Gluck – Orphée et Euridice
Marianne Crebassa; Hélène Guilmette; Lea Desandre; Ensemble Pygmalion; Raphaël Pichon
Naxos 2.110638 (naxos.com)

03a Orfeo ed EuridiceGluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice is a landmark work in the operatic canon, as famous for its restoration of the ideals of Greek art in opera seria as it is for its musical and dramatic content. As well as being aesthetically progressive through its deliberate conservativism, Orfeo merges French and Italian styles into a synthetic whole, combining the Italianate style utilized by Handel and Vivaldi with the influence of Lully and Rameau. First premiered in Vienna in 1762, Gluck later re-adapted the opera to suit the tastes of a Parisian audience at the Académie Royale de Musique and several alterations were made in vocal casting and orchestration to suit French tastes.

Between 1784 and 1859 the concert pitch in Paris rose so significantly that the French government passed a law which set the A above middle C at 435 Hz. To combat the effects of this inflation in pitch, Hector Berlioz prepared a version of Gluck’s opera (Orphée et Eurydice) in which he adapted the title role for a female alto using the key scheme of the 1762 Vienna score, and incorporating much of the additional music of the 1774 Paris edition. Although Berlioz’s version is one of many which combine the Italian and French scores, it is the most influential and well regarded and has since been revised and reissued in numerous editions.

03b Orphee et EuridiceIt is Berlioz’s 1859 version of Gluck’s opera which the Opéra Comique presents in their DVD Orphée et Eurydice, a wonderful representation of Gluck’s artistry and reflection of Berlioz’s craft as adapter. The style and performance practice are decidedly classical, rooted in the 18th-century tradition, and Berlioz’s personal influence is appropriately indiscernible. There are, however, some notable modifications to Gluck’s original score: the overture has been replaced with another of Gluck’s orchestral overtures; and the harpsichord is nowhere to be found, a decision that is open to interpreters, as the instrument was removed from the Parisian orchestral pit around the time of Orphée’s premiere. This is an overall weightier approach to Gluck, with a larger orchestra playing with full sound and prominently voiced soloists, suggesting a 19th-century approach commensurate with the sound Berlioz likely had in mind.

In contrast with the Opéra Comique’s presentation, Pentatone has issued a new recording of the 1762 Orfeo which includes both harpsichord and the original overture, as well as a countertenor Orfeo. This version is, although very similar to the Berlioz edition, considerably leaner in its orchestral timbre and more fluid with its Italian text, further emphasized through an interpretation that is deliberately direct and essentially Baroque, rather than bold and Romantic. In both instances the singers, choruses and orchestras are magnificent, presenting Gluck’s music in equally superb and successful ways.

05 Flying DutchmanWagner – Der Fliegende Holländer
Samuel Yuon; Lars Woldt; Ingela Brimberg; Bernard Richter; Les Musiciens du Louvre; Marc Minkowski
Naxos 2.110637 (naxos.com)

Richard Wagner’s opus, Der Fliegende Holländer was completed in 1840, and then revised three times during the next 20 years. Arguably the opera in which Wagner found his voice, it was inspired by the story of a Dutchman whose blasphemy led to his being condemned to sail the seas for eternity unless he could be redeemed by a faithful woman.

The action begins in a Norwegian fjord where a sailor named Daland is sheltering his vessel from a storm. A ghostly ship pulls alongside and its captain – the Dutchman – offers Daland vast wealth in exchange for a single night’s hospitality. Daland’s daughter, Senta, who is obsessed by the tales she has heard about the Dutchman’s fate, vows to be his salvation. Forsaking her lover, Erik, she joins the Dutchman and proves her fidelity to him unto the end, when she throws herself into the sea after him. In the climax that follows, the lovers are seen transfigured, rising above the waves.

Der Fliegende Holländer is set in three acts but is often performed as a continuous two-and-a-half-hour whole. Highlights are Die Frist ist um and Johohoe! Johohoe! Marc Minkowski’s conducting is triumphant. Olivier Py’s direction – amid a bleak set – brilliantly captures Wagner’s opera with cohesion and fluency. Samuel Youn’s full-voiced, bass-baritone Dutchman has anguish and desperation, Ingela Brimberg’s Senta is sweet and effortless and Lars Woldt’s Daland is resonant and noble. Orchestra and chorus are in glowing form too.

06 Boris GodunovMussorgsky – Boris Godunov
Tsymbalyuk; Paster; Kares; Skorokhodov; Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra; Kent Nagano
BIS BIS-2320 SACD (bis.se)

Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov with its grandeur, epic sweep and forward-looking music is possibly the greatest Russian opera, but it had a difficult time. The original “dark and raw” 1869 score had to be revised drastically to be acceptable for the Imperial Theatre in St. Petersburg; later Rimsky-Korsakov (and Shostakovich) changed the orchestration to suit Western ears. It was Rimsky-Korsakov’s version that became successful outside of Russia. Now there is a trend towards authenticity so Kent Nagano, music director of the Bavarian State Opera, chose the original score for the opera’s visionary avant-garde and very successful revival in 2013, in Munich. He later performed it in Stockholm in concert form which is the basis of this recording.

The original version is brutal, concise and dark-hued and concentrates mainly on the Tsar Boris – who came to the throne by murdering the legitimate heir – his ascent, his struggle with a guilty conscience and a final decline into madness.

Nagano’s selection of Alexander Tsymbalyuk, relatively young and a voice more lyrical than that of the legendary Chaliapin (who owned the role for decades), was ideal for the vulnerable and tormented Boris. Of the other bass voices, young Finnish basso Mika Kares (Pimen) and Alexey Tikhomirov (Varlaam) with his iconic song Once upon a time in the city of Kazan, stand out. The tenor Grigory, the false pretender who causes Boris’ downfall but curiously disappears from the plot after a short appearance, is Sergei Skorokhodov. Another protagonist, the Chorus, “the voice of Russia” ,has tremendous power, but the real star is Nagano who is by now one the greatest conductors of our time. His superb control and total immersion into the score remind me of Abbado a generation before him.

07 Bartok BluebeardBartók – Bluebeard’s Castle
John Relyea; Michelle DeYoung; Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra; Edward Gardner
Chandos CHSA 5237 (naxosdirect.com)

There are many fine recordings of Bartók’s gothic, two-character psychodrama; this one is special because both singers have made this opera their own, performing it around the world. As a tandem, American mezzo Michelle DeYoung and Toronto native, bass John Relyea, have sung these signature roles on many stages from Carnegie Hall to the Sydney Opera House.

It’s essential that Judith and Bluebeard be, as here, evenly matched vocally and dramatically, in their life-or-death battle of wills. (I’ve attended performances featuring very unequal pairings.) DeYoung’s impassioned singing convinces us of Judith’s love for Bluebeard and her determination to bring light into his gloomy abode, demanding to see what lies behind his castle’s seven locked doors. Relyea’s firm, resonant bass, plumbing the emotional depths of Bluebeard’s ghastly secrets, makes him today’s definitive Bluebeard.

Conductor Edward Gardner relishes the phantasmagoric colours and textures of the largest orchestra Bartók ever used, creating vivid sonic imagery of the grim, blood-soaked scenes behind the opened doors. The fortissimo tutti when the fifth door opens to reveal the magnificence of Bluebeard’s realm and Judith’s ecstatic, sustained high-C reaction, is truly one of the most thrilling moments in all opera.

The Hungarian-sung text is included along with an English translation. Librettist Béla Balázs’ two-minute spoken Prologue, not always performed, is also heard here, asking (in Hungarian) “Where did this happen? Outside or within? Ancient fable, what does it mean…? Observe carefully.”

Listen to this CD carefully, too.

08 Mahler Orchestral Songs organMahler – Orchestral Songs: The Organ Transcriptions
David John Pike; David Briggs
Analekta AN 2 9180 (analekta.com/en)

The English organist David Briggs, a student of the renowned Jean Langlais, is no stranger to these parts, having served as artist-in-residence at the Cathedral Church of St. James in Toronto from 2012 to 2017 before moving on to his current post at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City. Briggs is also a composer, a stalwart transcriber of the improvisations of the legendary Pierre Cochereau, and an arranger with a particular interest in the symphonies of Mahler, five of which he has refashioned for the organ. He is joined on this recording by the excellent young Canadian baritone David John Pike (now based in Luxembourg) in commanding performances of Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Kindertotenlieder and Rückert-Lieder orchestral song cycles.

One might think it a bit of a stretch to re-imagine these works in this unusual context, but in truth Mahler rarely ventures beyond three-part writing even at his most gargantuan moments and these works are routinely performed in the composer’s own piano versions. Briggs’ thoughtful choice of timbres reflect Mahler’s own instrumentations quite convincingly. The recording venue is quite an interesting one: The Basilica of Constantine (Konstantin-Basilika) at Trier, Germany dates from the beginning of the fourth century. Burned in an air raid in 1944, subsequent repairs exposed the original inner brick walls; at the back of this spartan edifice hangs a newly built organ from 2014 designed by the firm of Hermann Eule. Though Eule normally specializes in neo-Baroque Silbermann-era designs, this particular installation is symphonically arranged with 87 stops (over 6000 pipes) on four manual works and pedal, making it the largest organ in Trier and offering a vast palette of exceptionally beautiful tones to choose from.

09 Magdalena KozenaSoirée
Magdalena Kozena & Friends
Pentatone PTC 5186 671 (pentatonemusic.com)

How nice it is that a singer would take some time out of her crazy, busy life, sit down with friends and a few drinks and sing her favourite songs. And that’s exactly what by-now-world-famous-Czech mezzo, award-winning recitalist, recording artist and opera star, Magdalena Kožená, does here. This is her debut issue on the Pentatone label. The “friends” include a string quartet, a clarinet, a flute and a piano, the latter played by her husband, Sir Simon Rattle. Each combination of these instruments creates different tonal effects and colouring for an idiomatic and unique accompaniment.

Her choice of program gives a cross section of lieder literature from the late Romantics (Chausson, Dvořák, Brahms and R. Strauss) through French Impressionism (Ravel) and some Moderns (Stravinsky and Janáček). In fact we can follow the development of the art song with a fascinating variety and style where the golden thread of Kožená’s imagination, wonderfully expressive voice, beautiful intonation and some lovely inflections are evident throughout. Just listen to her inflection on “Vögelein” in Gestillte Sehnsucht, by Brahms!

Naturally she is strongest in her native Czech and Moravian idiom. She sings with youthful freshness and confidence. Especially impressive and unique are the Nursery Rhymes by Janáček; some are outrageously funny. And I am happy she included one of my all-time favourite songs by Dvořák, When my mother taught me.

A lovely, relaxed musical evening you will cherish.

10 RencontreRencontre – Debussy; Delage; Poulenc; Ravel
Raquel Camarinha; Yoan Héreau
Naïve V 5454 (naxosdirect.com)

Despite competition in this repertoire from other discs, I think that readers partial to the mélodie (art song) will find much to appreciate in this first recording by the young French duo of Raquel Camarinha, soprano, and Yoan Héreau, piano. Already these artists have busy European careers as recitalists, chamber musicians and opera professionals.

On this disc Camarinha’s tone stays rich and consistent through the top register, while Héreau rises to the works’ colouristic challenges whether playing rapid figuration or subtle sonorities. In Ravel’s three-song Schéhérazade, Asia’s imagined voyage receives evocative treatment. The Enchanted Flute, a favourite of mine, is concise and flowing. Turning to well-known Debussy settings of two groups of symbolist Paul Verlaine’s poems, the combination of langour and sadness in Ariettes oubliées is conveyed effectively; the wonderful Fairground Horses breaks those moods with brio and virtuosic pianism from Héreau. In Fêtes galantes I was struck by soft floating high tones from Camarinha at the close of Clair de lune (incidentally, this music is completely different from Debussy’s identically titled piano piece).

Quatre poèmes hindous by Maurice Delage (1879-1961) adds the influence of Eastern scales and melody to idioms of Debussy and Ravel. Lahore is especially worth hearing for Camarinha’s vocal flexibility and sensitivity in a gorgeous extended vocalise. Finally, a generous selection of songs with exquisite syllabic text settings by Poulenc demonstrates her wonderfully clear diction – including the adept execution of the rapid tongue-twisters Fêtes galantes and He steals!

11 Canadian Chamber ChoirSeasons of Life and Landscape
Canadian Chamber Choir
Independent CCCCD003 (canadianchamberchoir.ca)

A truly national ensemble, the Canadian Chamber Choir draws its membership from across the country, gathering for seven to ten-day projects in different regions in order to actualize a mandate to bring Canadian choral music to every corner of the land. This particular project is meant to guide the listener, as if walking through an art exhibit that draws on different media but is built around a common theme; in this case, the ever-changing seasons.

At the beginning of the recording, a gorgeous Intro featuring Jeff Reilly on bass clarinet, Keith Hamm, viola, and Beverley Johnston, vibraphone, sets a high bar for the rest of the program. The forces of nature and its effect on the human spirit are then conjured through pieces like Laura Hawley’s undulating Le Rideau and effervescent Singing Summer’s Praises while mystic elements shine forth in Imant Raminsh’s In the Night We Shall Go In and Cree composer Andrew Balfour’s Vision Chant, as well as Antiphon by Peter Togni and Jeff Reilly. Reminiscences shape shift like clouds in Levasseur-Ouimet’s Parlez-moi and composer-in-residence Jeff Enns’ Le pont Mirabeau. Throughout these offerings, members of the choir execute a myriad of styles soulfully, meticulously and with remarkable quality of tone. They also do a fine job with arrangements of Joni Mitchell’s River and Gordon Lightfoot’s Song for a Winter’s Night.

Listen to 'Seasons of Life and Landscape' Now in the Listening Room

01 PaladinPaladin
Alex McCartney
Veterum Musica Vm022 (alexmccartney.co.uk)

This serene disc is an exploration of the under-represented lute composer Jean Paul Paladin (c1500-1565), who was known as Giovanni Paulo Paladino before his move to France around 1516. Among the monarchs he entertained was Mary Queen of Scots, of interest to the performer Alex McCartney who lives in Scotland.

The disc comes with a single fold insert that gives McCartney space to give us detail about the composer’s life and style. His notes finish with a philosophical discussion about his choice of cover art, a gorgeous French-Gothic illumination from a late-medieval book of hours: Paladin’s fantasies for him contain a sense of the “multi-layered ritual and meditation” that the book of hours would have also provided.

Indeed, the disc comes across as very contemplative. The playing is smooth, poised, and well balanced, if a little static at times. McCartney explains that Paladin’s ten fantasias in particular attracted him to the composer, and he includes nine of the ten here. The other tracks offer two madrigal intabulations and four anonymous preludes, all of which are polyphonic in nature. This means that the whole disc is restricted to contrapuntal genres in slow duple meter – so if you’re hoping for something you can tap your foot to, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Paladin did publish a bit of dance music, but McCartney is not trying to give us a complete picture of the composer’s output. His disc offers instead a meditative escape using Paladin’s soothing and exquisite counterpoint.

02 Fantasia BellissimaFantasia Bellissima
Bernhard Hofstotter
TYXart TXA 18115 (tyxart.de; bernhardhofstotter.org)

As if you hadn’t heard enough about Ukraine in the news lately, this superb disc features premiere recordings from the so-called Lviv Lute Tablature, named for its current location. The booklet includes excellent notes on this interesting source by Dr. Kateryna Schöning -- though I believe she may be mistaken when she states that “besides two lost sources… the manuscript is the only lute tablature from the Polish-Lithuanian region.” Canada’s own Magdalena Tomsinska of Waterloo edited the Gdansk Lute Tablature MS 4022 and recorded selections in 2014.

Beyond just music, the source’s 124 folios also contain Latin aphorisms, graphic patterns and other visual ornaments, as well as some Polish poetry. The manuscript’s music comes from a variety of different nations, composers, and time periods. On the disc you’ll find pieces from the early 16th century, such as Joan Ambrosio Dalza’s Pavana alla Ferrarese, yet also two fantasias by John Dowland which were composed towards the end of the century. This makes for a nice variety.

Bernhard Hofstötter’s lute playing is superb, as is the sound of his Renatus Lechner seven-course lute in the acoustic of the Landesmusikakademie Sachsen in Colditz Castle. The dance rhythms have articulation and buoyancy, the counterpoint clarity and grace. Chanson intabulations by Sermisy, Sandrin, and Jannequin are high points. However, purists should be prepared for what I assume is an off-book strum-fest in the anonymous Tarzeto which opens and closes the disc.

03 Morel violleMorel – Premier Livre de Pièces de Violle
Alejandro Marias; La Spagna
Brilliant Classics 95962 (naxosdirect.com)

French composer and viola da gamba player Jacques Morel (c.1690 - c.1740)’s biography is so obscure that even the dates and places of his birth and death are unknown. Sadly, he doesn’t even have a wiki page. We do know he was a pupil of Marin Marais, the composer and foremost viola da gambist of his day, to whom Morel dedicated this Premier Livre de Pièces de Violle (c.1709), his major legacy and the subject of this CD.

There hasn’t been a complete recording of these suites, prompting virtuoso gambist Alejandro Marias to spearhead this project to record several of them for the first time. At the core of the album are Marias’ stylish and musically secure performances of four suites from the Premier Livre for the seven-string bass viola da gamba in differing keys. The continuo parts are provided by members of the award-winning Spanish period music group La Spagna.

Morel’s music is attractively varied in the best high-French Baroque tradition. Seven or eight characteristic period dance movements typically follow the emotive rubato opening prelude in each suite. Judging from this album, Morel’s attractive oeuvre is imbued with his idiosyncratic voice, even though the influence of his teacher Marais’ style is also present. My album picks: Suite in A minor’s Sarabande l’Agréable, the Gigue à l’anglaise and the Échos de Fontainebleau in the Suite in D.

Even though long neglected, this music is full of delightful discoveries and should be better known.

04 Bach OuverturesJohann Sebastian Bernard Ludwig Bach – Ouvertures for Orchestra
Concerto Italiano; Rinaldo Alessandrini
Naïve OP 30578 (naxosdirect.com)

How pleasant to explore music by relatives of Johann Sebastian Bach other than his sons. Johann Ludwig was a third cousin of Bach, Johann Bernhard a second cousin. On this CD, they each contribute an Ouverture to accompany the four by the Bach.

So is Concerto Italiano’s choice justified? The works by the two cousins are substantially shorter than the great man’s. Yet listening to them shows how highly enjoyable they are: listen to the Rigaudons and Gavotte en Rondeaux in Johann Bernhard’s Ouverture-Suite in E Minor.

Then there is Johann Ludwig’s contribution to the CD, namely, his Ouverture in G Major. This is even shorter than Johann Bernhard’s work but much more spritely. The movements all ask to be danced to, whether or not they actually were at the time. Indeed the Ouverture by Johann Ludwig could even be played as background music at any event, no matter how formal.

And so to the four Orchestral Suites by Johann Sebastian. From the movement which opens the CDs (the Ouverture to the Orchestral Suite No.3) there is a complexity to Bach’s composition which marks him out for the composer he was. Real demands are made on the string-players, an aspect repeated throughout the four Suites. It is quite clear that by Bach’s time the movements named after French country dances were well advanced from their original rural simplicity.

Although his own writing shines through on these CDs, the sleeve-notes state how much Johann Sebastian respected his two cousins. The beautiful pieces selected by Concerto Italiano and their sheer vivaciousness demonstrate why.

05 GiordaniTommaso Giordani – Sonatas Op.30; Antonin Kammell – Sonata in D Major
Luchkow-Stadlen-Jarvis Trio
Marquis Classics MAR 81495 (marquisclassics.com)

The viola da gamba’s persistence in late-18th-century England owed something to the aristocracy. It appears that Lady Lavinia Spencer (1762-1831) was the gamba-playing dedicatee of this CD’s Giordani sonatas, and yes, she is a direct ancestor of the late Princess Diana Spencer and sons William and Harry! From a musical standpoint gamba players could by then hold an equal role in sonatas for violin, viola da gamba and fortepiano, such as the Three Sonatas, Op. 30 (published c.1782) by Naples-born, later Ireland-based, Tommasso Giordani (c.1738-1806). The textures Giordani achieves through familiarity with the gamba’s high register liberated the instrument from bass-playing, allowing imitation and echoing between instruments and octave doubling of melody in the violin and gamba, for example in the opening movement of Sonata No.2 in D Major. I find this to be the best of the sonatas, with a particularly fine slow movement; Giordani was a natural melodist whose use of contrasting minor keys and quiet fortepiano solos is notable. His active gamba part in the finale illustrates the instrument’s development towards virtuosity.

The Canadian Luchkow-Stadlen-Jarvis Trio is convincing, with clean solo and ensemble playing free of affectation, with attractive tone and balance, and expressive inflections in the slow movements. And although the Sonata in C Major, Op.1, No.1 by Czech composer Antonin Kammell (1730-1785) that ends this disc has other requirements – ornamentation, accentuation and hairpin crescendos – they meet those demands equally well.

07 Paul MerkeloThe Enlightened Trumpet
Paul Merkelo (principal trumpet OSM); Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra; Marios Papadopoulos
Sony Classical S80463C (paulmerkelotrumpet.com)

With repertoire spanning the Baroque through the classical eras; Telemann through Haydn, Leopold Mozart and Hummel, The Enlightened Trumpet showcases the bona fide genius of Paul Merkelo, principal trumpet of the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal. After his epic confrontations with Baroque Transcriptions and French Trumpet Concertos, Merkelo deftly combines trumpet and strings in the incisiveness of Haydn’s Concerto in E-flat Major (Hob.Vlle.1) with its famously breathtaking Allegro finale, the not inconsiderable demands of which he takes in his stride.

Merkelo then nimbly navigates his way between the rhetoric and energy of Telemann’s Concerto in D Major (TWV 51:D7) and Leopold Mozart’s Concerto in D Major for trumpet, two horns and strings with appealing melodiousness and – in the second instance – robust interplay with the other horns. The performance of the Hummel Concerto in E Major (S.49) sees its melodic ingenuity projected with due vitality, as well as a stunning degree of spontaneity and expressive poise redolent of Maurice André, Merkelo’s legendary predecessor to whom he has been likened. Not without good reason, as this disc attests.

The crowning moments come during the Rondo finale of the Hummel, the cadenza of which has been credited to Timofei Dokshizer. By then, of course, Merkelo has already made his mark, through a bracing workout across three other famous trumpet concertos, with heartfelt eloquence worthy of the reputation he has gained among his trumpet-playing orchestral peers across the globe.

08 Old SoulsOld Souls
Gili Schwarzman; Guy Braunstein; Susanna Yoko Henkel; Amihai Grosz; Alisa Weilerstein
Pentatone PTC 5186 815 (naxosdirect.com)

This recording of four works, transcriptions of two solo violin pieces and of two string quartets, in which flutist Gili Schwarzman plays the solo part in the solo pieces and the first violin part in the quartets, presents the reviewer with the double challenge of considering both the arrangements and the performances.

The arranger is Guy Braunstein, a former concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, and now a soloist, conductor and arranger. He is also Schwarzman’s husband. His skill as an arranger, deeply informed by his knowledge of the violin, is formidable. The first composition on the disc, Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No.4, is a masterful orchestration for flute and string quartet. Braunstein did not merely assign the notes of the piano part, according to their pitch, to the corresponding instruments, but rewrote it for string quartet. One could be forgiven for assuming that it was an original composition by Beethoven himself.

The performances are energetic and nuanced, models of musical artistry. My favourite moment in the entire CD is the second movement of Dvořák’s String Quartet Op.96, which sounds absolutely natural played on the flute. The long, languorous melodic line, as played by Schwarzman, is never rushed and at the same time, never loses energy.

So it is great having this recorded new take on some well-known chamber music. Now let us hope that Braunstein’s arrangements will be published.

09 Alexander String Quartet DvorakAntonin Dvořák – Locale
Alexander String Quartet; Joyce Yang
Foghorn Classics FCL 2020 (foghornclassics.com)

If I was asked to describe Dvořák’s chamber music, I would say it has the characteristics of an abundant ball of energy, the one that brings joy no matter what and is enriched by the occasional touch of Slavic melancholy. The Alexander Quartet and Joyce Yang seem to be particularly attuned to that joy – here is a recording of exuberant energy and vitality that never crosses the line of being too much.

The “American” quartet is probably one of the most beloved pieces in the chamber music repertoire and it shares a number of similar elements with the Piano Quintet Op.81, thus making it a perfect pairing for this album. Although they were written some years apart and on different continents, both pieces are wonderful creations of a showcase of rhythms, dramatic gestures and, above all, memorable melodies, all of which are tastefully presented by the artists on this album. What I find the most pleasurable is the intricate tapestry of textures created by the Alexander Quartet. Their playing brings forth the elegance and lavishness of 19th-century Europe yet it does have a slight contemporary edge in terms of expression. Joyce Yang is on fire here – she displays a perfect interpretational balance between virtuosic agility and grandiose statements so typical for piano music of the Romantic period. Together they make this recording unapologetically exciting.

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