01_holland_octetPathways
Dave Holland Octet
Dare 2 Records DR2-004

For some years I’ve labelled groups led by the great British-born, American-based composing bassist David Holland as the world’s best jazz band. There’s no need to alter this judgment after hearing his newest album, his first employing an octet.

Recorded at New York’s Birdland club, it’s vintage Holland - fierce soloing, crisply-clean ensembles crammed with multi-layered ideas and irresistible momentum on seven long tracks, five penned by the leader.

To his stellar regular quintet (imaginative tenor Chris Potter, pioneering trombonist Robin Eubanks, delicate vibraphonist Steve Nelson and relentless drummer Nate Smith) he’s added more saxes - alto Antonio Hart, baritone Gary Smulyan - and trumpeter Alex Sipiagin. The result is a combo that demonstrates exceptional playing skill and can sound like a roaring big band or an intimate small unit.

The excitement level is established early, with Smulyan’s deep sounds careering through the opening title piece before the leader takes a bounding, tension-filled solo and the mood’s maintained as an older Holland tune, How’s Never, is tackled. Some relief from the up-tempo charge comes on the Holland song Blue Jean with Smulyan and Sipiagin prominent. All the bandsmen solo, though Nelson’s vibes are unfortunately only remotely present except on the wonderful Holland oldie Shadow Dance, but overall the sidemen are never at a loss for stimulating notions.

Holland’s been around, playing with Miles Davis in Bitches Brew days, but soon leading his own teams and trying out solo albums of acoustic bass and cello. He has the knack of generating arresting, thought-provoking music with emotional impact and remains unfailingly interesting. Let’s hope Canadian jazz festivals snatch him up this summer.

05_adesThomas Adès – Tevot; Violin Concerto
Berliner Philharmoniker; Sir Simon Rattle; Anthony Marwood; Chamber Orchestra of Europe; Thomas Adès
EMI Classics 4 57813 2


This tremendous CD of recent orchestral works by the English composer Thomas Adès offers convincing proof that, while contemporary composers may have difficulty gate-crashing the standard repertoire, their efforts deserve - and reward - our fullest attention.

Born in 1971, Adès is clearly a composer with ‘something to say’. There isn’t a weak or unconvincing track here, and the orchestration is outstanding. Tevot, written for Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic in 2007, is a live recording from a Berlin concert the same year. The haunting Violin Concerto, Concentric Paths, written in 2005 for Anthony Marwood and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, is a live 2007 performance by them at London’s Barbican Hall, with Adès conducting. The same concert included the UK premiere of Three Studies from Couperin (2006), fascinating re-workings of Couperin keyboard pieces that retain the same number of bars as the originals as well as the same rhythms and harmonies. Finally, the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain under Paul Daniel gives us the richly decadent Overture, Waltz and Finale, the suite that Adès made in 2007 from his first opera, Powder Her Face, although this time using full orchestra instead of the original 15 instruments.

It’s tempting to play the ‘sounds like…’ game – here’s Britten (Adès was artistic director of the Aldeburgh Festival from 1999 to 2008); there’s Janacek; that’s Ravel – but there is no doubting that this is an original and accomplished individual voice.

04_lindbergMagnus Lindberg – Graffiti;
Seht die Sonne
Helsinki Chamber Choir; Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra; Sakari Oramo
Ondine ODE 1157-2

Magnus Lindberg is on a roll these days, carving out a solid position as the leading Finnish composer of his generation. Graffiti is Lindberg’s first major choral work, and it’s a winner. Its text, derived from first century Latin texts preserved on the walls of the doomed city of Pompeii, would certainly have appealed to Carl Orff, and while it is true that there are archaic harmonies to be heard from the thirty throaty voices of the admirable Helsinki Chamber Choir, Lindberg’s bracing sonorities and teeming orchestral textures are far more daring than anything Orff could possibly have imagined.

The title of the companion work, Seht die Sonne (Behold the Sun), is derived from the conclusion of Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder, that composer’s lavish vocal farewell to Romanticism. Lindberg’s work, originally commissioned by Simon Rattle for the Berlin Philharmonic, received its Canadian premiere by the Toronto Symphony during Lindberg’s memorable visit to Toronto in 2008. It is a broad work on the scale of a Sibelius tone poem, flamboyantly rhapsodic and emotional. Though the abrupt and often unaccountable changes of mood make this a more challenging item than the immediately accessible Graffiti, Oramo and his Finnish radio orchestra prove themselves up to the challenge. Though texts and translations are provided and Kimmo Korhohen provides pithy program notes, it’s a pity that neither the soloist for the prominent piano part in Graffiti nor the solo cellist in the subsequent work are identified.

03_schlagartigSchlagArtig – Percussion Solo
Markus Hauke
New Classical Adventure 60171

Percussion can be an alien world. It speaks, however, with a language strangely familiar to some deeper part of us that doesn’t need a “tune” to recognize music. Those who write for it and those who play it understand its architecture and philosophical constructs well, but even audiences can be drawn quickly and seductively into this world of sounds.

The interpretive role of the performer as guide on any such journey is critical. Deciphering the “code” of notation into a meaningful aural experience is no less daunting when a composer leaves much to the imagination of the player. German-born Markus Hauke is brilliant in his ability to illuminate the manuscripts of composers like John Cage, Iannis Xenakis, Bryan Wolf and Maki Ishii on this disc. His own composition, based on rhythmic themes from Wagner’s “Ring” is also testimony to his ability to speak the language convincingly.

While the array of percussion instruments on this recording seems like something capable of delivering an artillery salvo, Hauke nevertheless brings a great subtlety and sense of nuance to his playing along with the highly complex rhythms that we expect of a professional percussionist.

Most unusual on this CD is the piece by American composer Bryan Wolf. Dedicated to Hauke, the piece uses only metal instruments along with some electronic sounds. The distinctive ringing quality of the work suitably echoes its place in the Triptych “Trails of Glass”.

Surprisingly, this CD will sound as satisfying on your modest computer speakers as on your principal home sound system.

02_castelnuovo-tedescoCastelnuovo-Tedesco; Respighi; Guastavino – Violin Concertos
Jose Miguel Cueto; St. Petersburg Symphony Orchestra; Vladimir Lande
Marquis 81407

José Miguel Cueto has often performed rarely heard music. Here he assembles a recital that combines not just little-known compositions but also the intricacies one would expect of a piece by Castelnuovo-Tedesco commissioned and premiered by Heifetz. In fact, all the pieces he selects are virtuosic and technically demanding.

The Castelnuovo-Tedesco Concerto looks to religious inspiration; Jewish melodies grace what the composer described as a biblical concerto. Those looking for the solemnity of synagogue liturgy, however, must wait for the second movement - the first introduces more popular, folkloric arrangements. For all that, this music remains virtuosic throughout - Cueto’s playing in the third movement underlines his reputation.

Concerto gregoriano was not well received, which disappointed Respighi. This adverse criticism is hard to understand. In the second movement one may listen to Cueto’s sensitive interpretation of the andante espressivo; in the third, masterful playing of music deeply influenced by Gregorian Chant awaits.

And so to Guastavino - a chemical engineering graduate, no less, before flourishing as a composer. Despite first impressions, Guastavino avoided direct inspiration from folk-music. And yet these last four minutes, evocative of Guastavino’s Argentine background and transcribed by Cueto himself, is a wonderful way to celebrate José Miguel Cueto’s choice of pieces, whether influenced by religion or folklore.

01_poulenc_trioPoulenc Plays Poulenc
Poulenc Trio
Marquis 81403

Named for French composer Francis Poulenc (1899-1963), the Poulenc Trio is a world-class chamber ensemble. Oboist Vladimir Lande, bassoonist Bryan Young, and pianist Irina Kaplan Lande all have busy orchestral and solo careers in the Baltimore/Washington DC area as well as worldwide, but find the time to come together to explore some of the most exquisite music written for their trio of instruments. To my knowledge this is their first CD, and hopefully there will be more to come. The recording opens with Russian composer Mikhail Glinka’s Trio Pathétique in D minor, which hails from the composer’s time spent in Italy. Operatic lyricism is carried in the oboe and bassoon lines, and the piece ends in an effortless-sounding blaze of technical virtuosity. Next is the well-loved and much performed trio by the group’s namesake. Poulenc was a member of “Les Six”, French composers who eschewed pretentiousness in music in favour of simplicity and sometimes satire.

Best known for his chamber music, Poulenc’s Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano expresses a wide palette of sentiment, from dark and brooding, to wildly playful, to suave sensuality, the three instruments playing off each other as equal participants in an engaging conversation. Following this is the light-hearted, single-movement Fantasie Concertante on Themes from Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri, by 19th century arrangers, oboist and bassoonist Charles Triébert and Eugène Jancourt. The most interesting work to me however, is the last, and perhaps least known, the 1995 Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano by American composer, conductor and Glenn Gould Prize laureate André Previn. Its three movements, named Lively, Slow and Jaunty, reflect a 20th century aesthetic, while still tonal, and incorporate elements of jazz, and mixed meter writing.

The playing on this recording is both technically superb and musically sensitive, and the CD is well engineered in terms of balance and sound quality. The trio has also commissioned a number of new works, which is part of their mandate of expanding the repertoire for this combination of instruments. I look forward to their future recordings!

05_saint-saensSaint-Saëns – Piano Transcriptions
Lucille Chung
XXI XXI-CD2 1682

The late Arthur Fiedler once said: “there are only two kinds of music: The good and the boring kind.” Well, Saint Saëns may not be the greatest composer or even one of the greatest, but he certainly never wrote boring music. And he couldn’t have picked a better performer of his piano music than the young, immensely talented Montreal-born virtuoso, Lucille Chung. Since 1989, when only 10 years old, she has built an impressive career with the world’s leading orchestras and performed in over 30 countries. Her playing has self assured attack, virtuosity, romantic abandon and a sense of youthful exuberance, but there is still room for more subtlety.

She hasn’t recorded much as yet and this unorthodox disc proves that she is not afraid of taking chances. My first approach was sceptical. What would the 2nd Piano Concerto sound like on solo piano? One of the most impressive openings in the piano concerto literature is the impassioned solo cadenza that develops into a breathtaking crescendo leading up to the ff entry of the orchestra, a big moment indeed, which cannot be duplicated by piano solo, but this problem notwithstanding the 1st movement takes shape almost like the original. As she proceeds, the Mendelssohnian scherzo is fluttering like a butterfly over a field of flowers and the rumba-like middle section seductively swings with no effort at all. She has the time of her life, totally relaxed and happy.

The works that follow, except for the ubiquitous Bacchanale, are mostly piano/orchestra pieces transcribed for piano solo by the composer, who was a tremendous pianist in his own right. An interesting curiosity is Africa with its exotic and oriental atmosphere, ending with the Tunisian national anthem carried off triumphantly by our pianist.

04_tchaikovsky

Tchaikovsky – Romeo and Juliet; String Serenade; Francesca da Rimini; Victor Ewald – Brass Quintets
Philadelphia Orchestra; Christoph Eschenbach
Ondine ODE 1150-2D

 

The Philadelphia Orchestra became famous, both live and, since 1926, through recordings, for the opulence of its sound. One has only to experience Ormandy conducting the Rachmaninov Second Symphony on the EuroArts DVD (EA 2072258) to hear exactly what I mean. Christoph Eschenbach was one of the recipients of this legacy, serving as the orchestra’s Music Director from 2003 to 2008.

Francesca da Rimini has been a favourite of mine since time began. I enjoyed it as a rather lurid piece, with swirling strings and winds, much percussion and tormented passages from the whole orchestra (I was very young). Eschenbach has a broader, romantic view of the work, perhaps prosaic, focusing more on the emotions of the condemned Francesca than on her surroundings in a sensational performance that is more expressive than ever. As he does in his Houston recording for Virgin, Eschenbach broadens out the final ten chords to make them a statement of finality. Romeo and Juliet, too, is unhurried with meticulous attention to detail, conveying the poignant tragedy of this oft told tale. Similarly, the Serenade for Strings may be the best you’ll ever hear.

Victor Ewald (1860-1935) was a contemporary of Tchaikovsky… at least for a while, and his compositions for brass are highly regarded… at least by the members of the orchestra who perform them here. These Quintets present no problems to the listener and are, in fact, rather pleasant to hear.

The sound throughout is clear, spacious, and well suited to the repertoire.

03_argerichLive from the Lugano Festival 2009
Martha Argerich and Friends
EMI Classics 6 07367 2

For your next trip you travelers, why don’t you try Lugano, capital of the Italian speaking canton Ticino near the sun drenched southern slopes of the Swiss Alps. Preferably in June when Martha Argerich’s annual festival takes place. Since 2002, BSI Bank has sponsored this event, focused on the once raven haired (now completely grey) Argentinean beauty and pianiste extraordinaire, along with a coterie of young musicians to rehearse and perform concerts of the highest caliber and inspiration.

The 3 discs are nicely subdivided into the chamber music of 1) Schumann, Mendelssohn and Chopin, 2) the Hungarians and Russians, and 3) the Spanish and French.

Already on CD 1 there is a stunning piano duet version of the Midsummer Nights Dream Overture where the shimmering pp strings are transcribed into translucent, lightning fast and wonderfully controlled virtuoso piano playing of Argerich and Cristina Marton. Chopin’s early work from his years in Poland, Introduction and Polonaise Brillante, is guaranteed to raise everyone’s blood pressure played with extraordinary flair and abandon by Martha Argerich and Gautier Capuçon (cello).

More unusual pieces follow on CD 2. First the inimitable young violinist Renaud Capuçon plays Bartok’s 2nd Violin Sonata, a “multilayered study in sonority, predominantly discordant harmony and structure yet still traceable to Hungarian folk tradition.” From the Russians we encounter Glinka and Rachmaninov, from the latter a curious rarity, a Waltz for 6 hands at a single piano(!). I would have liked to see this as I’d imagine there could be some logistical problems here.

The third disc features larger scale works and here my favorite was Ravel’s Rapsodie Espagnole transcribed for two pianos by the composer and played atmospherically and with imagination by Sergio Tiempo and Karin Lechner. A set to treasure. State of the art recordings.

02_beethoven_9Beethoven – Symphony No.9
Christine Oelze; Petra Lang; Klaus Florian Vogt; Matthias Goerne; Deutscher Kammerchor; Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen;
Paavo Järvi
Sony 88697576062

The Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Orchestra was founded in 1980 by a group of exceptional young students and went on to become one of the most sought-after chamber orchestras, appearing at the UN in 1983. They were invited to play at Gidon Kremer’s Lockenhaus Festival where their 1986 performance of Gubaidulina’s Seven Words was issued by Philips. Since 1992 they have been based in Bremen and are self governing, owned by the players. Paavo Järvi has been their conductor since 2004 and in August of that year they began recording a new Beethoven cycle using the Barenreiter Urtext Edition, starting with the Eighth.

The reduced strings contribute to the creation of new textures that are in no way less satisfying for the audience. The winds and brass are more present without losing perspective. Listeners will have a new appreciation of the genius and beauty of Beethoven’s scores.

Järvi has a clear stamp on these performances wherein he refreshes the scores with his own phrasing and accents, with tempi that adhere to Beethoven’s metronome markings. Diehard fans of the traditional school are likely to find Järvi too acerbic and will not easily accept his approach. Even though I was very familiar with Järvi’s performances of all the others, this Ninth came as a quite a shock. It is as if Järvi has finally taken the wraps off, stepped aside and let Beethoven speak for himself, unencumbered by generations of well meaning interpreters. It works well for me and I find Järvi’s non-routine, clear headed interpretations throughout the nine fully justify their existence among a plethora of sets, new and re-issued, which are mostly indistinguishable from each other.

The state-of-the-art hybrid SACD/CDs, whether heard in stereo or surround, are of audiophile quality accurately delineating the instruments exactly as the conductor intended. The executive producers of these recordings are the orchestra itself and Maestro Järvi, which just may account for their excellence.

01_beethoven_9symphonies_liveBeethoven – Live Symphonies
Orchestra de la Francophonie; Jean-Philippe Tremblay
Analekta AN 2 9975-9

If I’m not mistaken, a particular musicologist once said, “French orchestras are incapable of playing German music.” Whoever it was who made this claim would surely have second thoughts upon hearing this fine five-disc Analekta recording of the complete Beethoven symphonies featuring l’Orchestre de la Francophonie under the direction of Jean-Philippe Tremblay. Founded in 2001 for the fourth Jeux de la Francophonie in Ottawa-Hull, this ensemble has earned a reputation as one of the country’s finest youth orchestras, having given more than 200 concerts across Canada, and undertaking a successful tour of China in 2007.

There is certainly no dearth of Beethoven complete symphonies sets, so do we really need one more? Having said that, I can assure you that this one, recorded live at Québec City’s Palais Montcalm in July of 2009, can easily hold its own against the older more established recordings. From the opening hesitant measures of the Symphony No. 1, the listener is immediately struck by the youthful freshness of OF’s approach. The playing is noble and elegant, and when dramatic intensity is called for, it is achieved without the heavy-handed bombast that has sometimes characterized Beethoven recordings from the past.

Admittedly, one of my favourite symphonies of all time is Beethoven’s No.7. I’m pleased to report that the interpretation here is splendid, particularly in the first and final movements, where the strings seemingly shimmer in joyful exuberance. The second movement, mysterious and somewhat cryptic, is treated in a deservingly subtle manner, while the boisterous finale, at one time compared to the merry-making of peasants, brings the symphony to a rousing conclusion. Wagner, who also happened to love this work, (once referring to it as “the very apotheosis of the dance”), would be pleased indeed!

The climax of the set comes with the powerful Symphony No. 9, a true world unto itself. Soloists Marie-Josée Lord, Geneviève Couillard Després, Guy Bélanger, and Ētienne Dupuis together with the Choeur de la Francophonie maintain a wonderful vocal cohesion, admirably blending with the orchestra to form a unified whole.

Despite this being a live recording, extraneous noises are minimal, and the burst of enthusiastic applause at the end of each symphony seems particularly fitting in light of the superb performances. My only quibble concerns the flimsy packaging – it may have been a cost-cutting measure, but a fine recording such as this deserves better. Kudos to l’Orchestre de la Francophonie, to the soloists, the chorus, and to Jean-Philippe Tremblay for breathing some overdue fresh air into this well-trodden repertoire.

03_berliozBerlioz: Symphonie Fantastique op.14;
Le Carnaval Romain
Anima Eterna Brugge; Jos van Immerseel
ZIG-ZAG CD ZZT100101

• I am always leery about ‘period instrument groups’ tackling post 1800 repertoire. Although I am not about to change my prejudice, right from the first bars this recording impressed me as something very special. The uniqueness of this performance is not so just because of the period instruments; conductor van Immerseel brings a fresh approach in colour, tempo, balance, articulation, phrasing and dynamics.

For rabid fans of this symphony (myself included) the experience of first hearing this performance is startling. The presentation is so transparent that details of the scoring, invariably obscured in modern performances, are revealed, particularly from the winds, affirming that Berlioz was a peerless innovative genius.

And what about the ‘period instrument’ component? The Anima Eterna Orchestra, particularly the winds, are superb, playing with joie de vivre, gorgeous sound and beautiful tone colours. As a group they create an irresistible, luminous texture throughout the work. Listeners will be surprised to hear, not the usual bell sounds in the Witches Sabbath but the sustained piano chords as specified in the Berlioz manuscript. The piano strings blend with the orchestra to solemn effect adding a new sense of gravitas with a sobering subterranean effect, quite different from the mood of the tolling bells.

Without any doubt, Van Immerseel and his group daringly demonstrate the originality and genius of the composer. The recording, captured in faultless sound, was made in the sonically impressive Concertgebouw in Bruges to which this group is very well attuned. For me, this has been an unexpected and rewarding discovery.

02_biberBiber – Mensa Sonora; Battalia
Baroque Band; Garry Clarke
Cedille CDR 90000 116

Pity the poor composer who needs must provide music meant to be ignored! Such is the case for Biber’s collection of genteel pieces for dining, the six suites for strings entitled Mensa Sonora (Sonorous Table) served up in 1680 for the gustatory delectation of his then employer, the Archbishop of Salzburg. Not initially expecting anything special, I was pleasantly surprised at the cunning of Biber’s art. He manages by dint of the off-kilter asymmetries of his melodic craft to project a sub-text of sophistication completely over the head of his patron. Biber marvellously subverts the conventions of the genre, concluding the whole enterprise with a disjointed denouement worthy of Haydn. He proves himself a visionary as well with the celebrated, outlandish Battalia in 10 parts of 1673 in which one finds innovations not to be exploited again until centuries later: the snap-pizzicato of Bartok; playing with the wood of the bow à la Berlioz; and, in the loopy inebriation of a scene depicting drunken soldiers, the polytonality and collage technique of Charles Ives. As director and concertmaster Gerry Clarke mentions in his liner notes, Biber (1644-1704), the Bohemian-Austrian violin virtuoso and composer, was regarded by Paul Hindemith to be “the most important Baroque composer before Bach”, yet it is only in recent decades that his music has seen a significant revival. The Chicago-based Baroque Band, formed in 2007, plays this music to perfection with a highly effective blend of subtlety and precision. Truly delicious!

01_viola_damoreViola D’Amore
Hélène Plouffe
Analekta AN 2 9959

The viola d’amore was demanding. It has the complication of resonating strings, is crafted as if it were a viol but is played like a violin, and is the size of the already-existing viola. And yet it survived throughout the Baroque and has even inspired modern composers.

Hélène Plouffe’s selection shows how sensuous this instrument is, notably in von Biber’s Partia VII, with its soothing praeludium, allamande and aria. The skill it requires is demonstrated in the concluding arietta variata.

If the viola d’amore is rare in North America, try finding a bass chalumeau - the link between recorder and clarinet. Hélène Plouffe did so and Graupner’s Trio in F major is the result, the allegro and vivace above all expressing both instruments’ qualities.

Bach’s St. John Passion allows us to see the viola d’amore supporting the human voice but those wishing to hear the instrument at its plainest will enjoy Ah que l’amour, an extract from Milandre’s Méthode facile pour la viole d’amour. This exercise proves that the instrument does indeed have an individual sound.

And so to Petzold’s Partita in F major, a collection of early baroque dances. As with the Milandre piece, the music for solo viola d’amore played here best shows off what the instrument can bring to its audience, particularly with Hélène Plouffe’s interpretations.

05_norgard_wolfliPer Nørgård – Der gottliche Tivoli
Stadttheater Bern; Dorian Keilhack
Dacapo 6.220572-73

Composer Per Nørgård wrote in February 2007 how his visit to an exhibition with works of Adolf Wölfli marked a turning point in his own compositional sensibilities “...I experienced the encounter of Wölfli’s chaotic art as a mental dive into a different, dark world – eerie, unpredictable, but fascinating and above all highly specific”. The opera Der gottliche Tivoli (The Divine Circus) is best described in this same manner – the operatic rendition of Wölfli’s life is mind-boggling in its musicality.

This is not easy listening – there are no clear cut operatic arias where the singers can showcase their virtuosity. In fact, the real operatic diva here is the percussion-heavy orchestration. The opening prelude (performed brilliantly by Hans-Kristian Kjos Sørensen) is identical to the fourth movement of Nørgård’s solo percussion work, “I Ching”. Throughout the opera, the six percussionists in the orchestral ensemble are key players. There are atonal melodies to support Nørgård’s libretto (which is based on Wölfli’s own writings) but the rhythms best describe Wölfli’s schizophrenic descent and the calmer artistic periods of his life. Touching is Nørgård’s choral arrangement of Wölfli’s own folksong melody at the end of opera.

The vocal soloists, under the direction of conductor Dorian Keilhack, are superb in this high quality live 2008 performance from Stadttheater Bern. Der gottliche Tivoli is a difficult yet intriguing adventure in the life of a troubled artist and the curious composer who was moved by his artistry.

04_Keenlyside_schubertLive at Wigmore Hall – Songs by Schubert, Wolf, Fauré and Ravel Simon Keenlyside; Malcolm Martineau;

Wigmore Hall WHLive 0031

The operatic baritone, as a rule, gets upstaged. It is the voice of villains, fathers, and older brothers. The tenor usually ends up in the spotlight and even in operas where the baritone is the central character, it is as an anti-hero (Hamlet, Robert Oppenheimer in “Dr. Atomic”). We are fortunate to live in times when there are several world-class baritones around who, aside from making appearances on stages around the planet also record their voices for our enjoyment. I have shared with the readers my feelings about the brilliant Thomas Quasthoff and Gerald Finley, so it’s time to wholeheartedly recommend Simon Keenlyside.

During recent performances of Ambroise Thomas’ Hamlet at the MET, Keenlyside in the title role overcame the insipid set and not fully cooked production and with the power of his voice transformed the opera into an intimate recital. Here, on record from Wigmore Hall, he offers the Keenlyside treatment to a sampling of lieder. His voice, aside from power and projection, possesses the agreeable timbre that’s impossible to describe, yet instantly recognizable. The singing is effortless, as if it were to him the most natural thing, like breathing. Keenlyside works very well with accompaniment, be it a piano or a full orchestra. Here, Malcolm Martineau deserves a special mention of his own. And to think, that at one time this gifted singer was considering a career in zoology, which he studied at Cambridge – the animals’ loss is most definitely our gain!


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