01 Martha MastersHow I’ve managed to miss the playing of guitarist Martha Masters is beyond me; she won the 2000 International Competition of the Guitar Foundation of America (of which she is currently president) and has issued five CDs. Her latest, Baroque Mindset (marthamasters.com) is an absolutely faultless and quite stunning recital of transcriptions of original violin and lute solo compositions by four exact contemporaries of the Baroque era: Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767); J. S. Bach (1685-1750); David Kellner (1670-1748); and Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1687-1750).

Telemann is represented by Fantasias I & III from his 12 Fantasias for solo violin; Bach by the Sonata No.3 in C Major BWV1005 for solo violin; Kellner by three pieces selected by Masters; and Weiss by the Fantasia and Passacaglia for lute. Everything here, from both a technical and artistic viewpoint is of the highest level – clarity, articulation, tonal warmth and colour, phrasing, dynamics and sense of line; are all superb.

It’s a simply outstanding CD.

Concert Note: October 19 the Guitar Society of Toronto presents Martha Masters at St. Andrew's Church, 73 Simcoe St., Toronto.

02 DanceThe guitar is just one of five instruments on Dance, a CD of chamber music featuring guitarist Jason Vieaux with the Escher Quartet (Azica ACD-71328 azica.com).

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Guitar Quintet Op.143 from 1951 was a result of his long collaboration with Andrés Segovia. It’s a gloriously warm work that enthralls you from the opening bars and never lets go. It would be worth the price of the CD on its own, but the other two works here are anything but fillers.

100 Greatest Dance Hits from 1993, with its sounds of the 1970s, certainly shows the lighter side of Aaron Jay Kernis. Its percussive first movement is a bit jarring after the Castelnuovo-Tedesco, but the work soon establishes a delightful mood.

Boccherini’s Guitar Quintet No.4 in D Major, with the famous Fandango finale ends a terrific CD. Vieaux and the Escher Quartet have been playing these works together for the best part of ten years, and their delight and sheer enjoyment in recording three of their favourite quintets is clear for all to hear.

Listen to 'Dance' Now in the Listening Room

03 LeshnoffJason Vieaux is also the soloist on a CD of works by American composer Jonathan Leshnoff (b.1973), this time the Guitar Concerto with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra under Giancarlo Guerrero (Naxos 8.559809 naxos.com). It’s a really strong and attractive work, idiomatic and much in the style of the great Spanish concertos.

The concerto is the centrepiece on a CD of world premiere recordings, the two-part Symphony No.4 “Heichalos” from 2017 opening the disc and the dazzling orchestral tour-de-force Starburst from 2010 closing it, both works strongly tonal and with more than a hint of Samuel Barber in their sound.

Really top-notch performances and recording quality make for a compelling CD.

04 ZalkindThe American cellist Matthew Zalkind makes an outstanding solo CD debut with Music for Solo Cello (Avie AV2406 naxosdirect.com), featuring Bach’s Suite No.6 in D Major BWV1012, the Suite for Solo Cello by New York composer Michael Brown (born 1987) and the monumental Sonata for Solo Cello Op.8 by Zoltán Kodály.

The Bach Suite is believed to have been written for a five-string piccolo cello, but Zalkind uses a conventional modern four-string instrument and set-up. The awkward challenges this presents never impact on Zalkind’s warmth and fine sense of dance rhythm.

The Brown Suite is relatively short and, having apparently been influenced by both other works, makes a fitting bridge to a stunning performance of Kodály’s magnificent Sonata. 

05 Gruebler scanSwiss cellist Cécile Grüebler’s first CD – one on which she wanted to tell a story and not simply play pieces – sprang from a chance meeting in New York in 2017 with the Manhattan-based American composer Walter Skolnik (born 1934). When the two played music together, Grüebler learned that Skolnik’s principal teacher, the German-American Bernhard Heiden (1910-2000) had in turn studied with Hindemith. The result is Hindemith. Heiden. Skolnik, an intriguing CD of works by all three composers, with Grüebler accompanied by her longtime duo partner, pianist Tamara Chitadze (Cybele SACD 361804 cybele.de).

The Hindemith works are Drei Stücke Op.8 (1917) and A frog he went a-courting – Variations on an old English Nursery Song (1941). Heiden, who was born in Frankfurt and immigrated to the United States in 1938 is represented by his Cello Sonata (1958) and the short Siena (1961), while the works by Skolnik, who studied with Heiden at Indiana University, are the Cello Sonata (2004) and Four Bagatelles (1998). Grüebler’s commitment to the project results in excellent performances of some little-known works.

06 Bion TsangBion Tsang is the excellent soloist in the interesting pairing of Dvořák & Enescu Cello Concertos with Scott Yoo conducting the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (Sony Classical S80459C biontsang.com).

There’s no booklet and a complete lack of bio or program notes, but the infrequently heard two-movement Symphonie Concertante Op.8 by Georges Enescu is an appropriate partner for the more famous Dvořák Concerto in B Minor Op.104 – it’s in the same key and was written in 1901, a mere six years after the Dvořák, when Enescu was just 20. Both works are given lovely performances.

Listen to 'Dvořák & Enescu Cello Concertos' Now in the Listening Room

07 Vieuxtemps Saint SaensSouth-African cellist Peter Martens is the soloist in Vieuxtemps & Saint-Saëns Cello Concertos, with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra under Bernhard Gueller (Cello Classics CC1033 celloclassics.com).

Connections abound in this recording project. Both concertos are No.1 in A Minor – Op.46 for Vieuxtemps and Op.33 for Saint-Saëns; both composers also wrote a second, less successful cello concerto. The Saint-Saëns was the first concerto Martens played with an orchestra – the Cape Town Philharmonic in its previous incarnation as the Cape Town Symphony. Conductor Gueller was a front-desk cellist in the celebrated recording of the Vieuxtemps concertos by Heinrich Schiff, with whom Martens had a masterclass while a student in Salzburg.

Marten’s decision to pair the concertos instead of recording two by Vieuxtemps feels absolutely right, as does his choice of the three fillers on the disc: two by Saint-Saëns – his Allegro appassionato Op.43 and, in Paul Vidal’s arrangement, The Swan; and Fauré’s Elégie Op.24 in the composer’s own orchestration.

Martens is terrific in the two extremely virtuosic and difficult concertos, handling the technical challenges with deceptive ease and displaying a fine sense of line and phrase.

08 Strauss Muller SchottRichard Strauss left only three works for cello, and two of them are performed by the German cellist Daniel Müller-Schott on Richard Strauss Don Quixote (Orfeo C 968 191 naxos.com). Herbert Schuch is the pianist in the early Cello Sonata in F major Op.6 and in two songs transcribed by Müller-Schott specifically for this recording – Zueignung Op.10 No.1 and Ich trage meine Minne Op.32 No.1.

The sonata elicits some truly lovely playing, but the main interest here is the quasi-tone poem Don Quixote – Fantastic variations on a Knightly Theme Op.35 from 1897 when Strauss was 33 and leading the way from Romanticism to the modern era. Inspired by the Cervantes novel and recorded in live performance with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra under Sir Andrew Davis in June 2017, it’s a richly textured work lasting over 40 minutes, drawing great playing from all concerned.

09 Popper scanDavid Popper was one of the 18th century’s most important cellists and a more than merely competent composer, as well as virtuoso and teacher. His four seldom-heard Cello Concertos are performed by Austrian cellist Martin Rummel with the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice under Tecwyn Evans (Naxos 8.573930 naxos.com). Mari Kato is the accompanist in the Cello Concerto No.4 in B Minor Op.72, heard here in the version for cello and piano.

The three concertos No.1 in D Minor Op.8, No.2 in E Minor Op.24 and the single-movement No.3 in G major Op.59 are all delightful works, stylistically exactly what you would expect from a Romantic composer who was primarily a great cellist and pedagogue. Rummel provides really lovely playing, with a singing tone and a smoothness that belies the undoubted technical difficulties.

10 Reinecke scanMartin Rummel is also the soloist, this time with pianist Roland Krüger, on another excellent Naxos disc, the Complete Works for Cello and Piano by Popper’s exact contemporary, the German Carl Reinecke (Naxos 8.573727 naxos.com).

Rummel brings the same idiomatic Romantic styling to the three Cello Sonatas – No.1 in A Minor Op.42 (1855), No.2 in D Major Op.89 (1866) and No.3 in G major Op.238 (1897) and the Three Pieces Op.146 from 1893. Tully Potter’s booklet essay notes the “technical skill and easy flow of melody” in Reinecke’s cello music, with the cello and piano clearly on an equal footing.

Outstanding playing coupled with the usual top-notch Naxos production standards make for a terrific CD.

11 Mario scanAnother Naxos CD explores Works for Cello and Piano by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco with the Italian duo of cellist Enrico Dindo and pianist Alessandro Marangoni (Naxos 8.573881 naxos.com).

The selected pieces cover the period 1927-1946, the main works being the Cello Sonata Op.50 (1928), I nottmbuli (Variazioni fantastiche) Op.47 (1927), the Toccata Op.83 (1935) and, in a world-premiere recording, the Sonatina Op.130 from 1946. Four short pieces, including the unpublished Kol Nidre “Meditation” (1941) complete the CD.

There’s fine playing throughout a beautifully recorded disc, with the virtuoso piano part reflecting the composer’s own pianistic skills.

12 Schumann ThorntonCleveland Orchestra cellist Brian Thornton is the cellist and Spencer Myer the pianist on Robert Schumann Works for Cello & Piano on the Steinway & Sons label which was founded in 2010 (Steinway 30117 steinway.com).

Thornton has a deep, warm and velvety tone in the Adagio and Allegro Op.70, the Fünf Stücke im Volkston Op.102 and the Fantasiestücke Op.73, ably partnered by Myer.

Schubert’s Ave Maria D839 is a simply lovely, if somewhat unexpected, closing track.

13 Schumann Murail YthierThere’s more Schumann cello on Une rencontre, a CD of works by Robert Schumann and the French composer Tristan Murail (born 1947), who explains his encounters with both Schumann and cellist Marie Ythier in the extensive booklet notes (Métier msv 28590 divineartrecords.com). There’s a lighter and cleaner balance between Ythier and pianist Marie Vermeulin in the Fünf Stücke im Volkston Op.102 and the Fantasiestücke Op.73 than on the Steinway disc, with perhaps a touch more tonal nuance.

Attracteurs étranges (1992) and C’est un jardin secret, ma sœur, ma fiancée, une fontaine close, une source scellée from 1976 are both solo cello works by Murail; flutist Samuel Bricault joins Ythier in Murail’s Une letter de Vincent (2018).

The final encounter is Murail’s recent instrumental re-interpretation of Schumann’s piano work Scènes d’enfants (Kinderszenen) Op.15, subtitled Une Relecture pour violoncelle, flûte et piano, Murail using a range of instrumental techniques to make the orchestration sound larger than a trio.

Listen to 'Une rencontre' Now in the Listening Room

14 Mozart Cello DuetsThe sheet music publishing company Opus Cello was formed by Boston Symphony Orchestra principal cellist Blaise Déjardin in 2013 with the aim of bringing new, quality additions to the cello ensemble repertoire. Three works arranged by Déjardin are on Mozart New Cello Duos, the first CD release from Opus Cello (opuscello.com) and featuring Blaise Déjardin and the Parker String Quartet’s cellist Kee-Hyun Kim.

The 12 Variations on “Ah, vous dirai-je Maman” K265/300e provide plenty of virtuosic fireworks as an introduction to the two Duos for Violin and Viola in G Major K423 and B-flat Major K424. There’s a lovely feel to the duo transcriptions, although the lower voicings make for a slightly thicker texture at times. Still, there’s really fine playing on a nicely recorded and highly enjoyable disc.

01 Jane CoopThree Keyboard Masters – Bach; Beethoven; Rachmaninoff
Jane Coop
Skylark Music Sky1901 (skylark-music.com)

Veteran pianist Jane Coop brings three composers into focus on her new fall release: Beethoven, Rachmaninoff and Bach. While the aggregate of the music on disc is indeed a favourable one, the record as a whole tends to play more as a recital program than as an album. Coop’s musical conviction and integrity merits discussion of each component, singly: 

Her choice to record the seven jejune Bagatelles Op.33 of Beethoven is a fruitful one. Coop brings a childlike exuberance to this music, augmented by just the right dash of buffoonery. She achieves an essentially scherzando quality, from which the personal side of Beethoven’s art can gleam. Coop has a zeal for these pieces, expert in the Canadian tradition of Beethoven pianism inherited from her teacher, the great Anton Kuerti.

In drastic juxtaposition, a set by Sergei Rachmaninoff plunges in next. Despite the extreme textural disparity between Rachmaninoff’s preludes and Beethoven’s bagatelles, Coop seems easily at home in the vaulting halls of Russian Romanticism. One hears an icy, almost Gouldian austerity. Punctuating the preludes are lesser-known transcriptions by Rachmaninoff, penned late in the composer’s life and intended for his own concert tours.

Finally, Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue brings a sense of homecoming. One has the suspicion that each of these pieces has been well-worn and well-loved by Coop; this is music she’s held dear for a long time. How generous of her then, to share it with us.

Adam Sherkin

Listen to 'Three Keyboard Masters – Bach; Beethoven; Rachmaninoff' Now in the Listening Room

02 Mozart VogtMozart – Piano Sonatas Nos.2, 3, 8 & 13
Lars Vogt
Ondine ODE 1318-2 (naxos.com)

The newest disc from the 40-something pianist, conductor and educator, Lars Vogt, delivers refined and compelling readings of four Mozart piano sonatas. The range of curation here is admirable, as is the enticing (and thoroughly considered) nature of Vogt’s interpretation. We meet an accomplished and intellectually curious artist at the height of mid-career prowess.

To open such an album with Mozart’s early Sonata in F major, K280 is an unusual choice, yet a convincing one. Where Vogt overrides status quo classical sensibilities with modern expressive concepts (cf. the A minor Sonata, K310), he manages to steer us aptly to the brink and then back again with just enough mastery to re-charm us under his pianistic spell. It takes some level of courage to play Mozart like this. Notwithstanding, it seems more acceptable today for a performer to stretch such boundaries and take small yet consequential risks, finding novel paths through well-trodden music.

Among the disc’s notable attributes are its polish and poise. Vogt renders Mozart’s familiar notes with both a wide-eyed curiosity, (as if hearing it all for the first time) and a learned interpretive command that is exceedingly well informed (the second movement of the Sonata in B-flat Major, K333, Andante cantabile, is one such example.)

If anything is amiss, it is a reluctance to take these convictions and whims even further: to pilot the listener beyond the brink, as it were, to the very heart of Mozartian spontaneity.

Adam Sherkin

03 Schumann DownesClara and Robert Schumann – For the Love of You
Lara Downes; San Francisco Ballet Orchesra; Martin West
Flipside Music (laradownes.com)

American pianist Lara Downes offers a new release honouring the 200th anniversary of Clara Wieck Schumann’s birth on September 13, 2019. For the occasion, Downes allies with the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, opening the disc with Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op.54.  The proceeding tracks feature pieces for solo piano – Op.11 by Clara and Op.12 by Robert, dating from “the last three tumultuous and decisive years of courtship, before their marriage.”

Known for her lush and generous playing, Downes brings her customary warmth to bear as concerto soloist. Equally rivalling the orchestra’s might, she appears to revel in the quintessentially Romantic currents, inspired as they ebb and flow through the only concerto Schumann ever finished for the instrument. At times, Downes’ tonal command borders on a pianistic muscularity – an attractive commingling of classical training with a popularized understanding of music’s communicative shtick in the 21st century. She urges the listener to feel at ease: to embrace the brand of hospitality issued from her keyboard.

Aside from the utterly standard repertoire selections (Schumann’s Opp.54 and 12), the Three Romances, Op.11 by Clara bring a fresh and personal stamp to the record. It sounds as if Downes is just getting started with Clara’s catalogue. Surely, in 2019, this music can now stand alone, apart from Robert, and declare itself? Many accomplished proponents of Clara’s Wieck Schumann’s music are active today; Downes should consider joining this consortium, full time!

Adam Sherkin

04 Ivan Ilic 1Haydn Symphonies transcribed by Carl David Stegmann
Ivan Ilić
Chandos 2020142 (chandos.net)

Here we are in for a treat. Noted Serbian-American pianist Ivan Ilić, who has already made a reputation for adventurous repertoire and has never shied away from detective work, is now unearthing century-old music found in a dusty box in someone’s attic in Cologne, Germany: actually the discovery of three Haydn symphonies transcribed for the piano dating back to 1811 by Carl David Stegmann, a musician and contemporary of Beethoven. These things can happen: after all, Schubert’s Great C Major Symphony was also found in an attic by a certain Felix Mendelssohn!

Well, Ilić immediately tried them out and they sounded terrific on the piano, so he subsequently recorded them. First and foremost is the famous Oxford Symphony No.92, one of the late ones written just prior to the London Symphonies and it is a wonderful mature work. Right at the outset we are struck by the pianist’s enthusiastic and joyful approach, a feeling of discovery, grasping the essence of Haydn and his sense of humour. With immaculate, highly precise pianism he emphasizes the clear melodic line and delves fearlessly with his strong left hand into the complex architecture of the contrapuntal middle part. By this time the piano literally sings, and how charming that little closing subject sounds!

I was also delighted by the horn imitation in the trio part of the third movement Menuetto and the terrific freewheeling bravura of the complex yet irresistibly melodic last movement. Symphony No.75 is notable for its second movement’s interesting set of variations showing Italian influences while Symphony No.44 (Mourning) has an astounding last movement Presto, a hot-headed and determinedly monothematic score” Ilić even features in a video on YouTube.

Janos Gardonyi

05 Beethoven Guembes BuchananLate Beethoven
Luisa Guembes-Buchanan
Del Aguila Records DA 55313(luisagbuchanan.com)

Late Beethoven such as the Bagatelles, Op.119 and the Diabelli Variations Op.120 appear to have arrived in music’s world not in a dimming of the light that comes at the end of life, but like an immeasurable future; an unimaginable time beyond time. Certainly the immortal Variations, all 33 of them, coming as they did on the heels of the great Goldberg Variations of J.S. Bach, heralded a Beethoven whose creative urge seemed to have swelled like a kind of historical floodwater, bearing Anton Diabelli’s prosaic waltz upon its crest.

Luisa Guembes-Buchanan’s recording of the Diabelli is a classic, as free flowing as Beethoven’s approach to the variation form. Her playing is muscular, yet supple, accentuating the integrity of each variation without sacrificing the sense of overall structure. That all-important final chord is like a goal reached at the end of a long, long journey.

The pianist’s approach to the Bagatelles – among the best-known of Beethoven’s shorter pieces – is a refreshingly matter-of-fact manner, bringing out the vigour and the fluidity of the pieces but not at the expense of their poetry. Her Fifth Bagatelle is pointedly unsentimental, but most exquisitely and artfully shaped.

Theodor Adorno saw late Beethoven works as profound meditations – partly conscious, perhaps – on death. But he admits that “death is imposed only on created beings, not on works of art…” which might explain the immortal nature of these late works, living fragments of life’s beauty.

Raul da Gama

06 Julia SigovaRussian Piano Music
Julia Sigova
Classica Dalvivo CDL-0518 (juliasigova.com)

As surprising as it may seem, collections of Russian solo piano music on CD are not all that common and when they do appear, they are likely to feature the works of only one or two composers with a similar compositional style. As a result, this recording by pianist Julia Sigova on the Classica Dalvivo label is a welcome addition to the catalogue. Not only did this Minsk-born artist choose four different composers, but ones spanning an 80-year time period – from the Romanticism of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff to the more austere modernism of Prokofiev and Shchedrin.

Today, Tchaikovsky is scarcely remembered for his contribution to the piano repertoire, but his keyboard compositions are still not without their charm as evidenced in the opening track Dumka Op.59 from the set titled Scenes from a Russian Village written in 1886. Sigova’s approach is elegant and self-assured, with just the right touch of melancholia that characterizes much of Tchaikovsky’s music.

Rachmaninov’s first set of Études-Tableaux Op.33 were supposedly written as “musical evocations of external stimuli” although he never really divulged their true inspiration. These are a remarkable study in contrasts – from the pensive seriousness of the Second to the bombastic fervour of the Seventh. In all, they require a formidable technique, and Sigova rises to the demands with much bravado.

Compared to the lush romanticism of Rachmaninoff, the Sarcasmes Op.17 of Sergei Prokofiev and two pieces – Humoresque and A la Albeniz – by Rodion Shchedrin are very much products of the later 20th century. Here, Prokofiev almost seemed to be thumbing his nose at the more conservative musical conventions of the time while the two miniatures by Shchedrin – with their jaunty rhythms and progressive harmonies – round out an eclectic and very satisfying program.

Richard Haskell

02 Clarinet ClassicsClarinet Classics at Riversdale
Robert DiLutis; Mellifera Quartet
Delos DE 3561 (delosmusic.com)

What’s not to love about Carl Maria von Weber? If you’re a clarinet player, only that by the time you’re an undergrad, you’ve been trying to play his various pieces for too long and with too little success. On Clarinet Classics at Riversdale, Robert DiLutis opens with Weber’s Quintet in B-flat Major Op.34. Accompanied by the very fine Mellifera Quartet, DiLutis gives a very able rendition. The piece gets dusted off much less often than the Mozart or Brahms works for the grouping, possibly because in the Weber the clarinet is more protagonist than chamber partner: it’s never easy convincing a quartet to work with one; then tell them it’s Weber and watch the reaction. BUT, Weber is really terrific, and in spite of the odd string writing (the attempted fugue in the finale is… valiant) the work merits a listen. DiLutis can bring the full arsenal of technical tools to the piece. His tone is more on the bright side here than in other tracks, which doesn’t please all ears, including this pair.

More sonically pleasing are the following cuts, and I appreciate his inclusion of three lesser-known unaccompanied works (“Classics” is an aspirational title for this collection). Monologue 3 by Erland von Koch should be required reading for clarinet students everywhere, as the Willson Osborne Rhapsody (originally for bassoon) is for my students. I feel the disc has no need of the inclusion of the bit of treacle by Heinrich Baermann, his Adagio for Clarinet and Strings.

03 Bela BartokBéla Bartók – The Wooden Prince; The Miraculous Mandarin Suite
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra; Susanna Mälkki
Bis BIS-2328 SACD (bis.se)

Who knows how Bartók would have fared had his ballet music been introduced in Paris around the time Stravinsky’s star was rising? This disc brings together his two most notable works in the category: The Wooden Prince dating from 1917, and more celebrated, The Miraculous Mandarin from1924 (revised final version 1927). One can’t help thinking sadly of how different the two men’s lives were following the end of the WWII, and how a penniless genius like Bartók deserved better.

The earlier work follows the plot of a fairy tale of love triumphing over various obstructive enchantments. Its music alternates between melodrama, ferocity and cheeky sprightliness. By contrast, the second work on the disc is anything but a fairy tale. It is a story of seduction and violence, and a supernatural character who is impervious to the latter as long as he resists the former. Where the music of the earlier work is folk-infused and tuneful, the latter is a glimpse of the modernist Bartók. As a suite, The Miraculous Mandarin clocks in at barely 20 minutes. The Wooden Prince is presented in its entirety, lasting just under an hour.

The wonderful Helsinki Philharmonic under Susanna Mälkki explores the score with flair and finesse. For my money, the more interesting piece is the darker later work, and not only because of the iconic clarinet duets that depict the three seduction scenes, although these are brilliantly performed. For those unsure they can bear the mysteries of Bartók, the first offering is an excellent warmup.

04 Havergal BrianHavergal Brian – Symphonies 7 and 16
New Russia State Symphony Orchestra; Alexander Walker
Naxos 8.573959 (naxosdirect.com)

This CD, part of Naxos’s ongoing traversal of Havergal Brian’s 32 symphonies, begins with the brightly coloured, perky overture, The Tinker’s Wedding, based on the comedy of that name by John Millington Synge. The upbeat mood continues with the fanfare for trumpets and percussion that opens Brian’s 38-minute, four-movement Symphony No.7, also from 1948.

The first movement’s jaunty character, with processional echoes of Brian’s much-admired Elgar, is sustained into the second movement, during which raucous dissonances mark the shift in the symphony’s emotional trajectory from light to dark. In the third and longest movement, an adagio filled with skittish, elusive melodies and sonorities brackets an angry, violent scherzo. The final Epilogue, a grim, almost relentless march, resolves harmoniously, but only after two savage climaxes.

The Seventh was the last of Brian’s large-scale symphonies. The remaining 25, all composed during the final two decades of Brian’s long life (1876-1972), are far more concise. The single movement of the Symphony No.16 (1960) by the 84-year-old Brian lasts only 15 minutes, but its orchestration is anything but miniaturized: quadruple woodwinds, six horns, ten (!) percussionists. Brian wrote that while composing it, he was reading about the Battle of Thermopylae, and the music is martially explosive, prevented from disintegrating by continuous, forward-marching pulsations, even during brief lulls in the mayhem. Brian could create beauty within discord, and a startling sequence of blaring, dissonant chords brings this symphony to a beautiful conclusion.

05 New York ConcertThe New York Concert
Evgeny Kissin; Emerson String Quartet
Deutsche Grammophon 483 6574 (deutschegrammophon.com)

The coming together of the inimitable Evgeny Kissin with the Emerson String Quartet represents the high watermark of the 2018 edition of Carnegie Hall’s annual programming, reminiscent of the great performances by Martha Argerich with cellist Mischa Maisky, and her chamber-work performances with percussionists Peter Sadlo and Edgar Guggeis, and with pianists Nelson Freire or Nicolas Economou, all documented on Deutsche Grammophon.

Kissin’s virtuosity and powerful key touch is without parallel. His dazzling skills are well matched by the electrifying Emerson String Quartet. And the musicians play here with palpable vigour and depth of emotion. Kissin appears to be an outstanding Mozartian, his commanding technique making for the spritely energy of his attack and the radiant manner in the Piano Quartet in G Minor K478. Meanwhile, the Emerson Quartet plays with zeal and focused sensitivity.

Both Kissin and the Emerson also respond warmly and with imagination to Fauré’s Piano Quartet No.1 in C Minor, Op.15. The composer invested much in this music which is evident from the harmonic adventurousness and unexpected modulations. Kissin and the Emerson create an appropriate restlessness reflecting the elusive quality of this music.

Dvořák’s Piano Quintet No.2 in A Minor, Op.81 is arguably his greatest chamber piece – which Kissin and the quartet play with virtuoso drive and urgency. Dimitri Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in G Minor, Op.57 ends this double disc. It is approached with interpretive intelligence, and features gorgeous tone and expressive power.

06 Winged CreaturesWinged Creatures and other works for Flute, Clarinet and Orchestra
Demarre & Anthony McGill; Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra; Allen Tinkham
Cedille CDR 90000 187 (cedillerecords.org)

Throughout the classical music world there are the superstars and those aspiring to become one. The latter group often find themselves playing together in youth orchestras, where the synergy of working with others at the top of their game is a fantastic way to accelerate one’s progress towards that goal. Winged Creatures brings successful alumni Demarre (flute) and Anthony (clarinet) McGill together with the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra. As one would expect, the standard of playing in a city with such a strong musical tradition is excellent; the brothers share a beautiful limpid tone quality to match their technical mastery.

The title track, by Michael Abels, makes terrific use of the orchestral forces while highlighting the soloists’ strengths: phrasing of one mind, clear pitch and virtuostic ease. Behind them, the orchestra is led by Allen Tinkham, who might have had some help with the balance from the booth, but nevertheless manages the ensemble with utter aplomb. This is a professional band by another name, never mind the “youth” designation.

For those who feel the late 18th century is still interesting there is a Sinfonia Concertante by Franz Danzi, a charming 20 minutes where the orchestra ably demonstrates proper period style; a much more fun Tarantelle from a young Camille Saint-Saëns follows with sassy vigour. Closing the disc is Concerto Duo, by Joel Puckett. Like the music of the title track, this piece was commissioned by the brothers McGill. It’s a slice of bold beautiful Americana. Excellent liner notes come with the disc.

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