03 Lux AeternaLux Aeterna – Choral works by György Ligeti and Zoltán Kodály
Danish National Vocal Ensemble; Marcus Creed
Our Recordings 6.220676 (naxosdirect.com/search/6220676)

At first glance, the pairing of Kodály and Ligeti might seem strange, given the disparate nature of their musical works. While Kodály composed in a largely conventional yet extended tonal idiom, Ligeti is a renowned master of the avant-garde, famous for his introduction of micropolyphony and the use of his atmospheric music in the films of Stanley Kubrick. Despite this musical disconnect, both composers share close personal connections, including their Hungarian nationality. Four decades older than Ligeti, Kodály appointed his younger countryman as a teacher of theory and counterpoint at the Liszt Academy in Budapest before Soviet troops entered Hungary in 1956 and Ligeti fled to Vienna.

One of the fundamental elements underpinning this disc is the importance of folk music in Hungarian musical traditions, which was the basis of their institutional training methodologies. Indeed, it was Kodály’s study and use of folksong in his compositions, which formed a new basis for musical life in Hungary. It is no surprise, then, to find that much of the material on Lux Aeterna is arrangements and adaptations of folk songs.

While Ligeti’s music is often synonymous with the avant-garde, many of his folk songs are surprisingly conventional, particularly the 1955 collections written while he was still in Hungary. These songs pair exceedingly well with Kodály’s more traditional fare, while the inclusion of Lux Aeterna consists of the 1982 Drei Phantasien nach Friedrich Hölderlin give listeners seeking the modernistic Ligeti repertoire something to look forward to.

The Danish National Vocal Ensemble is in fine form on this disc, embracing and showcasing the extraordinary complexity of Ligeti’s modern works, the brilliant word-painting of his earlier folk songs and the late-Romantic sumptuousness of Kodály’s musical settings.

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04 Martins VilumsMartins Vilums
Latvian Radio Choir; Kaspars Putnins
LMIC SKANI 131 (skani.lv)

The musical heritage of the Baltic countries is rich and unique, offering a wide range of composers and works which are unlike those of any other tradition. This disc features the music of Martins Vilums (b.1974), a Latvian composer and accordionist whose material is characterized by fascinating titles and rich textures, all expertly performed by the Latvian Radio Choir and their director Kaspar Putnins.

Perhaps the most traditional piece on this disc is Vilums’ Lux Aeterna, inspired by the traditional requiem text and portrayed through a wide range of timbres and layers. The use of melodies resembling Gregorian chant and Eastern Orthodox psalmodic declamation which emerge through luminescent choral textures make this work immediately appealing, especially for those familiar with Ligeti’s setting of the same text.

Other works range greatly in instrumentation and theme, from the Zoroastrian cosmological text On the conflict waged with the primeval ox which features extended vocal techniques including overtones and micro-intervals, to the expansive Aalomgon for percussion, trombone, horn and 12 voices. This latter piece is perhaps the most fascinating, a mini-oratorio over 30 minutes in length and comprised of a “libretto” of syllables, arranged in a particular system by the composer, intended to resemble words of demonic conjuring and godly cursing. Aalomgon is a dense yet utterly fascinating experience, and a unique sonic expression of deeply spiritual themes.

If there is one word to best describe this disc, it may well be “abstract.” While Vilums’ music can certainly be experienced without guidance, the composer’s words and insights are vital to achieving complete comprehension of many of these pieces. From the systemically syllabic Aalomgon to the overarching spirituality of Lux Aeterna and On the conflict waged with the primeval ox, there is much on this disc worthy of appreciation, not least of which is the monumental effort put forth by the Latvian Radio Choir.

05 Heidi BreyerHeidi Breyer – Amor Aeternus: A Requiem for the Common Man
Various Artists
Winterhall Records WRC006 (heidibreyer.com)

Composer/pianist Heidi Breyer composed this ten-movement contemporary Requiem for chorus, vocal soloists, piano, strings, harp and horn over almost a decade. As Breyer writes, “Amor is a musical anthology of our times…” It is another musical pandemic project for the listener, this one recorded during the first year of COVID lockdowns.  

Sung in Latin, Breyer composes with moving vocal and instrumental combinations. Introit opens with low-pitched strings, followed by slow choir entry. Love its haunting dark strings under the high female voices and accessible contrapuntal tonality. Breyer’s virtuosic piano solo opening in Kyrie Eleison leads to a solo baritone and then full choir sorrowful lament. Another piano introduction starts Domine Jesu Christe with emotional full choral singing and colourful strings, which also are featured in the slightly faster Sanctus. Lacrimosa is especially unique with a dramatic piano part now in the forefront throughout from the opening solo introduction, orchestral lower pitch support entry, sudden faster tempo with vocals, and return to slower closing with higher vocals supporting the piano. Calming, reflective and beautiful Lux Aeterna, with its angelic vocal legato melody, piano ostinato sections and mellow instrumentals, could stand as a fully independent top-ten piece all on its own! The closing faster movement, In Paradisum, has a jubilant vocal chorus creating a hopeful closing to the entire work.

This masterpiece is surprisingly Breyers’ first large-scale choral work. It is powerful, musical and brilliantly composed, performed and produced.

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06 Johannsson Drone MassJóhann Jóhannsson – Drone Mass
ACME; Theatre of Voices; Paul Hillier
Deutsche Grammophon (johannjohannsson.com)

Jóhann Gunnar Jóhannsson (1969-2018) was an Icelandic composer who wrote music for a wide array of media including theatre, dance, television and films. His music blends traditional instruments and orchestrations with contemporary and electronic components, resulting in a unique and characteristic soundscape. 

At once meditative, mystifying and minimalistic, there are clear similarities between the Drone Mass and the music of 20th-century Eastern European spiritualists such as Pärt and Gorecki, but with notable deviations such as the integration of electronic techniques and the use of texts taken from the “Coptic Gospel of the Egyptians,” part of the Nag Hammadi library discovered in 1945. 

For those expecting a Catholic-based Mass in the style of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, the incorporation of a hymn described by Jóhannsson himself as “a seemingly meaningless series of vowels” will mark a radical deviation from the norm, and yet the characterization of this work as a “Mass” is nonetheless fitting, as there is an interconnectedness and weaving of meaning between movements which provide structure and form to Jóhannsson’s large-scale work.

This world-premiere recording of the Drone Mass by the American Contemporary Music Ensemble, Theatre of Voices and conductor Paul Hillier is a revelatory look into the musical mind of Jóhannsson as represented in his art music, rather than his film scores, and is an extraordinary musical achievement. The demanding score is executed flawlessly and both singers and instrumentalists deserve commendation for their impeccable intonation. 

Jóhannsson’s Drone Mass is highly recommended, not only to those fond of Pärt, Gorecki and Tavener, but to all who enjoy contemporary music performed at the highest levels of excellence.

07 Holliger LuneaHeinz Holliger – Lunea
Christian Gerhaher; Juliane Banse; Ivan Ludlow; Sarah Maria Sun; Annette Schönmüller; Philharmonic Zürich; Basler Madrigalisten; Heinz Holliger
ECM New Series ECM 2622/23 (ecmrecords.com/shop)

Swiss virtuoso oboist, composer and conductor Heinz Holliger is among the most prominent oboists of his generation. Also a prominent modernist composer, his work includes the 1998 opera Schneewittchen. Fascinated by artists living on the edge, his music often interrogates their lives and the texts they left. His opera Lunea (2017) is no exception.

Unfolding in 23 scenes Lunea is built on as many aphoristic visions, based on the biography and work of the celebrated Biedermeier poet Nikolaus Lenau (1802-1850). Suffering a suspected midlife stroke and exhibiting unmistakable signs of mental illness, Lenau was confined to a mental institution for the rest of his life. Art imitating life, Lunea protagonists distort and rearrange words just as Lenau did after his stroke. The score employs a compositional procedure in which material is stated in reverse order, paralleling the narrative’s shuttle back and forth in time.

Händl Klaus’ spare libretto reflects the outlines of the poet’s biography, retaining the flavour of Lenau’s near-Dadaist statements such as, “Man is a sandpiper by the sea of eternity.” Holliger’s music reflects the poet’s turmoil, despair and insights with surprising, effective sounds. For example, his skillful, prominent use of the cimbalom is perhaps a sly reference to Lenau’s birthplace in the Kingdom of Hungary and early career in Budapest. 

Reflecting the concentrated emotion characteristic of the Romantic period, Holliger’s brilliant orchestration underscores the disjointed libretto with impressively expressive instrumental and vocal writing. Juliane Banse’s achingly soaring soprano aria in Scene 12, and the violin solos sprinkled throughout, are memorable for their atonal yet emotional lyricism.

08 Henze Das VerrateneHans Werner Henze – Das Verratene Meer
Vera Lotte Boecker; Bo Skovhus; Josh Lovell; Van Heyningen; Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper; Simone Young
Capriccio C5460 (naxosdirect.com/search/845221054605) 

The work of prolific and influential German composer Hans Werner Henze (1926-2012) is extremely varied in style, showing influences of atonality, serialism, Arabic music, neoclassicism, jazz and more. He wrote over 30 operas and theatre scores throughout his long creative life, and they received numerous international performances. Henze was also well known for his Marxist politics; he produced compositions honouring Ho Chi Minh and Che Guevara. The latter’s Hamburg premiere in 1968 sparked a riot and arrests.

Henze’s 1990 Das verratene Meer (The Betrayed Sea), an opera in two parts and 14 scenes, is based on Yukio Mishima’s 1963 novel The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea. The choice of Mishima, a Japanese fascist, by the committed leftist revolutionary Henze seems unexpected on the surface, yet there are parallels in their biographies: both were traumatized by World War II, both were openly gay and abhorred bourgeois life. Unlike Henze’s overtly political theatre works however, Das verratene Meer is rather a menacing meditation on the sea, seasons, sex and jealousy. The straightforward plot follows a widow who falls in love with a sailor. Her jealous teenage son traps the sailor with the help of his gang, and they sadistically murder him. 

This two-CD Capriccio set is based on Vienna State Opera’s latest production of the work featuring brilliant dramatic coloratura soprano Vera-Lotte Boecker as the young widow Fusako. The strong Danish baritone Bo Skovhus portrays the sailor she falls for, while the convincingly young Canadian lyric tenor, Josh Lovell, is the widow’s son.

Henze’s musical evocation of Mishima’s narrative is couched in an expressionistic Second Viennese School aesthetic. I distinctly felt the ghost of Alban Berg at several moments. Considerable angst is generated by ostinato instrumental textures and drama from the inclusion of unusual percussion instruments, including Japanese drums and clapper that hint at the world of the Japan characters.

The opera opens in the summer, the second section is set in the winter; a series of lush, sophisticated orchestral interludes evokes the seasons and the three primary characters’ inner feelings. Simone Young masterfully conducts the complex score; the Vienna Staatsoper orchestra, augmented for the occasion to vast late-Romantic proportions, is undoubtedly yet another star in this satisfying production.

01 Shining ShoreShining Shore
Three Notch’d Road – The Virginia Baroque Ensemble
Independent (tnrbaroque.org)

Early music in North America, and not in Italy, England or France? Surely not? And yet the Virginia Baroque Ensemble Three-Notch’d Road has recorded 17 pieces ranging from a broadside ballad through hymn arrangements to the dizzy heights of Handel and Purcell arrangements.

There is a haunting quality to many tracks: listen to bass Peter Walker as he solemnly declaims the anonymous but highly emotive Liberty tree, a setting of Thomas Paine’s support for the American revolutionaries. After the rigours of the War of Independence, it is little wonder that Oliver Shaw composed the invigorating Jefferson’s March. Here, Dominic Giardino breathes his enthusiasm for military music and early instruments into one of the very first forms of the clarinet. 

Then there are pieces with a deep spiritual content. The singers on the CD lend a very human quality to Jeremiah Ingalls’ Farewell Hymn with its subject of death. It is followed by a slow, stately and traditional Appalachian interpretation of I Wonder as I Wander sung by Peter Walker.

The instrumental pieces are also worthy of note. To Drive the Cold Winter Away was a great favourite in English collections; its simplicity may well have led to an aural transmission across the Atlantic – ready for Giardino’s clarinet skills. 

We hear far too little early music from the New World. This CD must surely be the start of the fightback.

03 David Hyun su KimDavid Hyun-su Kim plays Schumann
David Hyun-su Kim
Centaur Records CRC 3877 (challengerecords.com)

While early 19th-century pianos may lack the rich and sonorous tone of a modern concert grand, they can offer a greater sense of intimacy and as such, have an appeal all their own. Korean-American pianist David Hyun-su Kim has made a specialty of historically accurate performance practice, and in this recording he presents music by Robert Schumann performed on a replica of a pianoforte from the 1830s. A true Renaissance man, Kim graduated from Cornell as a Presidential Research and National Merit Scholar in chemistry. Yet a chance encounter with Beethoven piano sonatas convinced him to change direction, and following studies in the U.S. and Germany – with an acclaimed debut in Vienna – he’s now regarded as among the finest young American pianists of his generation.

Papillons, from 1831 is a charming set of 12 kaleidoscopic miniatures. Based on a novel by Jean Paul Richter and intended to represent a masked ball, the movements flow by in quick succession. Kim delivers an elegant and polished performance, adroitly capturing the ever-contrasting moods.

The bulk of the recording comprises one of Schumann’s most renowned compositions Carnaval from 1835. Again, Kim demonstrates a true affinity for this much-loved repertoire. Movements such as Pierrot and Florestan are suitably whimsical, Chopin and Aveu, posed and introspective, while the rousing Marche des Davidsbündler is performed with great bravado.

The disc concludes with the gracious Arabesque Op.18, a fitting ending to a most satisfying recording. Kim proves without a doubt that Romantic period repertoire can sound as compelling on a pianoforte (or a replica) as it does on a modern instrument. Here’s hoping we’ll hear from this gifted young artist again in the near future.

04 Chopin Piano Concertos chamberChopin – Piano Concertos, Chamber Versions
Emmanuel Despax; Chineke! Chamber Ensemble
Signum SIGCD700 (emmanueldespax.com/recordings-1)

Even a hundred years ago there were no radios and TVs. The phonograph had just been invented and orchestral works and concertos could only be heard at a concert hall. In order to make it accessible to the common man these had to be arranged in chamber versions or piano transcriptions to be performed at private salons or soirees where Chopin himself was often invited to play the piano part.

Following this train of thought, a brilliant young French pianist, Emmanuel Despax, already well known in Europe and according to Gramophone magazine, “A formidable talent, fleet of finger, elegant of phrase and a true keyboard colourist,” decided to do just that: he collected five string players (the Cheneke! Chamber Ensemble) to perform Chopin’s two piano concertos with the orchestra reduced to a string quintet, so what we have here is effectively a piano sextet. 

Chopin’s orchestration has been much criticized over the last centuries. Berlioz thought it rigid and superfluous, but since the piano plays almost continuously, this version with smaller forces is quite enjoyable. One nevertheless misses the power and instrumental colour of the orchestra, especially at one thrilling moment in the second movement of the Second Concerto when suddenly the mood changes. There is hushed intensity, everything quiets down into a pianissimo string tremolo with a heartbeat-like timpani and the piano enters with a dramatic melody that hasn’t been heard before. I also miss the clarion call on the horn near the end, when the prevailing F Minor key suddenly changes to major as if the radiant sun suddenly comes out and turns everything bright and beautiful.

05 PogorelichPogorelich Chopin
Ivo Pogorelich
Sony Classical 19439912052 (naxosdirect.com/search/19439912052)

The performance on this disc is altogether exceptional. Pianist Ivo Pogorelich takes nothing for granted in music. Nor should we in listening to him. If you know how Chopin “goes” then this almost certainly isn’t for you. Not that Pogorelich does anything wildly idiosyncratic, let alone provocatively iconoclastic, à la Glenn Gould. Rather, Pogorelich plainly understands that every interpretation is but one possibility, and he offers us a very enticing opportunity to open our minds, especially in these familiar works most burdened by tradition. 

Everywhere revelations abound, beginning with the spacious opening of  the Nocturne in C Minor Op 48/1. Pogorelich’s Nocturnes are altogether dreamy and lyrical. And in the Fantasy in F Minor Op.49 he takes us unexpectedly into another world. It’s full of glinting lights, mysterious depths, expectations, doubts and hopes like the shattered shadows of a rapturous quasi-Mendelssohn scherzo, glimpsed by moonlight in a forest. 

In sheer colour and variety, in the depth of characterization and in the exceptional range and refinement of pianism, Pogorelich imparts a power and majestic stature to Chopin’s Piano Sonata No.3 in B Minor Op.58. In its component parts the pianist displays urbanity and lyricism that is truly seductive and persuasive, which in itself is an object lesson in the very essence of style. The Scherzo is played with buoyant, aristocratic grace, psychological ambiguity and insolent virtuosity; Chopin as few pianists could even hope to try.

06 Chopin Alan HobbinsThe Art of Chopin
Alan Hobbins
Maestro Music Company MMCD05 (alanhobbins.com)

Canada seems to produce many first-rate pianists one after another: Hewitt, Lisiecki and Fialkowska, not to mention the immortal Glenn Gould! Into this august circle now endeavors to step Alan Hobbins. A pianist of Jamaican descent, Hobbins graduated from The Royal Conservatory and later studied at Juilliard. His teachers included the late great Leon Fleisher and Chopin specialist Marek Jablonski. Since then he has given many concerts in Toronto and New York to great critical acclaim. I met him several times in the 80s (he being my daughters’ piano teacher) and was invited to his debut concert. I was particularly impressed with his special affinity to the music of his homeland and American jazz.

Chopin is definitely his favourite composer and this is Hobbins’ third recording devoted entirely to his work. It’s a wonderful collection skilfully selected to give a good cross section of Chopin’s most beloved and immensely difficult pieces. He masters all the challenges with superb technical skill. Above all he brings “a subtlety of expression to every phrase, single chord or a note” raves one newspaper.

From the program of Scherzos, Nocturnes and Impromptus, some of my favorites are the majestic Nocturne in D-flat Major with its grand melody. This is followed later by a masterly performance of the Scherzo No.2 in B-flat Minor that opens with those powerful chords from which a beautiful, emotionally charged melody emerges followed by that peaceful meditative mid-section and the magnificent super bravura coda. 

And dare I mention the explosive, tremendously passionate, heroic Nocturne in C Minor that makes me shiver every time I hear it?  This is truly grand-scale pianism with the ebb and flow of emotion superbly controlled.

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07 Tchaikovsky JarviTchaikovsky Symphonies
Tonhalle-Orchester Zurich; Paavo Järvi
ALPHA 778 (naxosdirect.com/search/alpha778) 

I have been a longtime admirer of the conductor Paavo Järvi since the release of his live Beethoven cycle with the Kammerphilharmonie, Bremen of September 2009. At that time, I was very impressed by his ability to beautifully balance the orchestra.

Now we have a box set of Tchaikovsky symphonies together with various orchestral works and here it is again, the orchestra balanced so well that every instrument is clearly audible, still in its natural balance without being spot lit. This five-CD set from Alpha Classics has been so well recorded that you can map out the entire orchestra, the Tonhalle-Orchester Zurich, of which Järvi is music director. His presentation of these works is more thoughtful and sensitive than some other recorded versions from the likes of Karajan, Mravinsky et al, but no less powerful

Symphony No.1 “Winter Daydreams” is eloquently gentle and Symphony No.2 “The Little Russian, positively optimistic, patriotic and joyful. We move through the power and cumulative intensity of the Third “Polish” to the power of the Fourth and unbounded exuberance and positive optimism of the Fifth to the overwhelming sadness and ultimate resignation of the final movement of the Sixth Symphony, “Pathétique”.

The six orchestral works accompanying the symphonies include Francesca Da Rimini, Capriccio Italien, two pieces from Eugene Onegin, the Waltz and the Polonaise, as well as Romeo and Juliet and the Festival Coronation March. All enjoy the same meticulous attention to detail that we now expect from Järvi.

After a lifetime of listening to these works conducted by so many others, this recording may very well be my preferred version. Here the music unfolds as a narrative. It flows. These are well-considered new readings that may have you rethinking certain passages and perhaps reappreciating others. The five discs are also available separately.

08 Mahler 4Mahler – Symphony No.4
Chen Reiss; Czech Philharmonic; Semyon Bychkov
PentaTone PTC5186972 (naxosdirect.com/search/ptc5186972)

Four decades have passed since the Czech Philharmonic completed their first edition of the complete Mahler symphonies under Václav Neumann in 1982. Mahler was born in Bohemia and raised in Moravia (born in 1860 during the Hapsburg era, he considered himself an Austrian and spoke mainly German) so this first instalment of a new cycle can be considered a festive homecoming for a favourite son. Mahler’s Fourth Symphony is relatively compact in comparison to its gargantuan predecessors in the so-called “Wunderhorn” cycle of symphonies inspired by the 19th-century collection of folk-song texts known as The Youth’s Magic Horn, portions of which Mahler had previously set to music. Despite this economy of means, the symphony’s mischievous antics, ironic stance and complex structure confounded the critics of his time. Today it is regarded as one of his most accessible works.
Mahler himself once observed, “The real art of conducting consists in transitions.” Mahler’s own constantly shape-shifting music teems with kaleidoscopic tempo fluctuations which not every conductor can interpret convincingly. Bychkov’s mastery in this regard marks him as a genuine Mahlerian. The finale of the symphony features Israeli soprano Chen Reiss in an ingenuous rendition of the song Das himmlische Leben from which this work was spawned. 

The distinctive sound of the Czech Philharmonic is gorgeously captured in this Pentatone production; the strings are lustrous, the winds and brass incisive and the dynamic range is vast. Recorded in August 2020 from the confines of a shuttered Dvořák Hall in Prague, this is a very auspicious start to what promises to be an exceptional Mahler cycle.

09 EbenbildEbenbild
Juri Vallentin; Trio d’Iroise; Bernward Lohr; Caroline Junghanns
PASCHEN Records PR 220072 (paschenrecords.de/katalog/pr220072/)

Only to be described as unique and colourfully unconventional, the newly released album Ebenbild, featuring oboist Juri Vallentin and the Trio d’Iroise, is a blend of recited song text, choruses by J.S. Bach, as well as five pieces from various eras and styles all married together with one common theme: J.S Bach’s O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden (O Sacred Head, Sore Wounded). 

Originally derived from the madrigal Mein Gmüth ist mir verwirret (My mind’s confused within me) by Hans Leo Hassler (1564-1612), this theme was repeatedly used by Bach throughout his life in many works, including the St. Matthew Passion and the Christmas Oratorio. Arranged for oboe quartet, the album begins with the original madrigal and then is followed by the recited text of the first stanza, a chorus using the theme from one of Bach’s works and then the Sonata da camera in G minor O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden by Johann Gottlieb Janitsch. The album continues in this format with four other recited stanzas, four choruses and four works: Frederick Kelly’s Romance from the String Trio in B Minor, Charles Bochsa’s middle movements from two of his oboe quartets, Four Preludes to Infinity by Theo Verbey and the unfinished final fugue written by J.S. Bach shortly before his death.

The performances by Vallentin and Trio d’Iroise are virtuosic and thoughtful, showing a range of musical knowledge and sensitivity. A polished gem, this album is truly a heightened experience.

10 Dinnerstein UndersongUndersong
Simone Dinnerstein
Orange Mountain Music OMM 0156 (orangemountainmusic.com) 

A lyrical rubato-laden, eminently shapely Les Barricades Mystérieuses by Couperin opens Simone Dinnerstein’s solo piano recital Undersong, brilliantly captured in the warmth of this recording by Orange Mountain Music. But arch-Romantic Robert Schumann’s Arabesque, Op.18, with its rippling arpeggios and translucent glissandi that follows will likely take your breath away. 

The pianism is impressively nuanced throughout the program. Dinnerstein displays her strong rhythmic backbone with the bubbling lilt of Philip Glass’ Mad Rush but it is, to my mind, at any rate, Schumann’s Kreisleriana Op.16 that is the apogee of this recording. Rarely has the restless romance of this work been captured with greater imagination. Its heavenly, mercurial luminescence is tempered by the pianist’s intellectual rigour through its eight dazzling vignettes. 

Dinnerstein has long been one of the most articulate pianists in the world, remaining technically sound and musically eloquent no matter what the repertoire. Her Satie and Glass is a case in point. On the latter’s Mad Rush she tames the composer’s abrupt changes in tempo and performs the piece with a strong sense of dance braving its knuckle-busting challenges with a kick in her step. 

Her interpretation of Satie’s Gnossienne No.3 is eloquent and direct, quite without impediment or undue idiosyncrasy, yet musical to the core. Meanwhile, she approaches Couperin and Schumann with uncommon refinement of colour and texture. All of this makes for a disc to die for.

01 Night LightNight Light
Lara Deutsch; Phil Chiu
Leaf Music LM249 (leaf-music.ca)

Kudos to Leaf Music of Halifax for its confidence in these young musicians, flutist Lara Deutsch and pianist Philip Chiu. The program is built around the theme of dreams, which opens such possibilities, for example, including a work by Franz Schubert – Introduction and Variations on Trockne Blumen – in a program of music by contemporary composers. 

The disc opens with Takashi Yoshimatsu’s Digital Bird Suite, Op.15, the opening movement of which, Bird-phobia, described by Deutsch as “fiendishly challenging,” is at the nightmare end of the dream spectrum, but shows both consummate command of her instrument and her partner’s uncanny ability, despite the formidable challenges of his own part, always to be in sync with her. In the contrasting lyrical second movement, A Bird in the Twilight, their exquisite phrasing and consistent sensitivity to each other lift the notes off the page.

The dreamlike atmosphere is perhaps most eloquently expressed in the first movement of Jocelyn Morlock’s I Conversed with You in a Dream, which traverses the gamut from lyrical reverie to reality-defying pyrotechnics.

In the Schubert, Chiu reveals himself as a lieder collaborative pianist of stature, convincingly telling the story and revealing the atmosphere of the music. For example, his playing of the repeated quarter and two eighth note motif at the very beginning is full of eerie foreboding; you know at once that this is not going to end well!

Individually and as a duo Deutsch and Chiu are consummate interpreters, who move with the music, so to speak, and reveal the meaning behind the notes.

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