Jacques Boucher

XXI-21 Productions XXI-CD 2 1718



05b_anne_robert_organMusique française pour violon et orgue

Anne Robert; Jacques Boucher

XXI-21 Productions; XXI-CD 2 1716


“Itinéraire” is really a sampler but still worth having for its wide content and overall substance. Drawn from organist Jacques Boucher’s large discography, these tracks present 11 composers whose excerpted works are heard on 11 different instruments ranging from a small chapel organ (1874 - Église-Saint André de Kamouraska) to the great giants of Quebec’s major cathedrals. Bouchard’s playing is scholarly, virtuosic and musical. His treatment of historical styles from Couperin to Dupré is fresh and exhilarating. The truly stunning track on this CD is the Dupré Placare Christe servulis from Le Tombeau de Titelouze op.38.

Collaborations between organists and solo instrumentalists are fraught with the difficulty of balance. Boucher and violinist Anne Robert avoid this pitfall by teaming up with a good recording engineer and using the natural acoustics of Église-Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal to produce a flawlessly balanced and artistically satisfying recording. Robert’s playing is intensely passionate whether nurturing the subtleties of a Guilmant Méditation or the angularities of contemporary works by Joubert, Reboulot and others. Boucher creatively selects various organ voices to weave around the violin line without detracting from it. The Bréville Prière is the best example of this and demonstrates the extent to which Boucher is a fully integrated duo partner with Robert making music on respectfully equal terms.

Anne Robert has another Duo CD with this label with pianist Sylviane Deferne (XXI-CD 2 1715), another recent release of French repertoire by Pierné, Tournemire and Franck. Here too, Robert shows her skill at knowing how to manage the dynamics of a duo performance.

06a_mahler_4_ruckertMahler - Symphony No. 4; Ruckert-Lieder

Magdalena Kožená; Lucerne Festival Orchestra; Claudio Abbado

EuroArts 2057988





06b_mahler_knabenMahler - Des Knaben Wunderhorn; Adagio from Symphony No. 10

Magdalena Kožená; Christian Gerhaher; Cleveland Orchestra; Pierre Boulez

Deutsche Grammophon 477 9060

These two exceptional performances can be counted among the crown jewels of the flood of recent discs celebrating the legacy of Gustav Mahler. The mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená, an artist of exceptional intelligence and sensitivity well known for her artfully calculated interpretations, features in both of these items. Kožená is at her best in her performance of the Rückert-Lieder with the superb Lucerne Festival Orchestra. This hand-picked ensemble of Europe’s finest musicians meets each summer under Claudio Abbado’s direction and possesses a clairvoyant ability to respond instantly to his minutest gestures. Their stunning live performance of the Fourth Symphony captured here on a EuroArts DVD is a miracle of gracefulness, though the macabre sarcasm of this most accessible of Mahler’s symphonies is equally pointed. The highlight of this disc is the beautifully paced third movement, which flows seamlessly into the bucolic vocal finale.

Ms Kožená is joined by the admirable baritone Christian Gerhaher in twelve selections from Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn song cycle on the Deutsche Grammophon label. This is a live performance with The Cleveland Orchestra and completes the cycle of Mahler’s orchestral works recorded by Pierre Boulez over the past 15 years with various orchestras. Unfortunately the rustic charms and barnyard humour of these early songs of Mahler’s do not seem particularly well suited to the über-urbane Boulez, who adapts some curiously strait-laced tempos and, with the exception of Gerhaher’s chilling account of the militant masterpiece Revelge, delivers a generally mundane though admirably dapper performance. Boulez redeems himself utterly however with his supple, near-ideal rendition of the posthumous Adagio from the incomplete Tenth Symphony. This highly chromatic, searching movement culminating in a shattering, ten-note dissonance points to the future and as such is clearly dear to his heart. The Cleveland Orchestra yet again distinguishes itself as the finest band in the land.


07_urban_variationsUrban Variations

The Junction Trio

Independent TJTCD201101 (www.myspace.com/thejunctiontrio)

In their cover photo they look gritty and hard-edged, staring expressionless into the camera, in the style of punk rockers.  A part of Jamie Thompson’s Urban Flute Project, which has a history of seeking out unusual urban performance spaces, where acoustics trump décor, this presentation of the Junction Trio seems appropriate enough. Even a cursory listening to the CD, however, reveals that art trumps the visuals, with accomplished readings of music by Bach, Borodin, Haydn and Vivaldi.

The highlights of the CD for me, however, were the two compositions by the trio’s violinist, Max Scheinin. The first of these is his arrangement of Radiohead’s song, Where I End and You Begin, which it is no mistake to refer to as a “composition.” In the tradition of so many composers, Scheinin has taken this piece from its over-amplified rock concert beginnings - contemporary “folk?” - and transformed it into an exquisite piece of chamber music, which, to my ears anyway, sounds more contemporary than the original! In his other work on the disc, Flutter, built on a repeated ostinato pattern introduced by the unaccompanied flute, he builds to a climax by adding the other instruments, including percussion, played by the ensemble’s versatile cellist, Lucas Tensen. Best of all in these two works by Scheinin, the players seem most at home and most able to find and convey the meaning behind the sounds. Kudos to the Junction Trio for bringing us something that is both classical and contemporary.

01_capucon_beethovenDespite his undisputed talents, I’ve always been a bit unsure of how I feel about the playing of the French violinist Renaud Capuçon. When I first started listening to his new 3-CD set of the Beethoven - Complete Sonatas for Violin & Piano with Frank Braley (Virgin Classics 9 64200 1) I didn’t think that was going to change, but I was wrong. True, the early Op.12 sonatas do seem to get off to a lacklustre start, but Capuçon and Braley have been working on this project for 14 years, and it soon shows. The second CD opens with a beautiful reading of the “Spring” sonata, and the quality never lags. There’s a terrific No.7 - the C minor - and a marvellous “Kreutzer”, with a particularly superb opening movement. Throughout, tempos seem perfectly judged, and there’s a wonderful range of dynamics. The balance feels a bit uneven at first, with the piano possibly a bit far back, but it actually enables the individual players to be clearly heard, and their obvious understanding to emerge. And what an understanding it is. I realized I didn’t know some of these sonatas as well as I thought; this outstanding set is a tremendous and welcome way to put that right.

02_mozart_divertimentoYou only have to listen to Mozart’s string quintets to appreciate that the string quartet does not have sole claim to the ‘perfect string family’ designation, and the same composer’s Divertimento in E flat K563, for Violin, Viola and Cello, proves conclusively that ‘one less’ can be just as satisfying as ‘one more’. Violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann only formed the Trio Zimmermann with violist Antoine Tamestit and cellist Christian Poltera in 2007, but their playing on this Super Audio CD (BIS-SACD-1817) is simply remarkable; you would think they had spent a lifetime playing together. Despite its title, this Divertimento is a large-scale string trio. A mature work from 1788, its 6-movement structure follows that of the whimsical Divertimento popular in Vienna at the time, but musically and emotionally it’s in a different world. The Mozart scholar Alfred Einstein went so far as to call this work “the most perfect and the finest that has ever manifested itself in this world.” Listening to this enthralling and beautifully recorded performance, it’s hard to disagree. Schubert’s String Trio in B flat, D471 – actually a single Allegro opening movement for a work started and abandoned in 1816 – completes a marvellous CD.

03_ehnes_mendelssohnWhen I saw that the latest CD from Canadian violin sensation James Ehnes was the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto (ONYX 4060), my first thought was “Do we really need another recording of probably the most popular - and most frequently recorded – concerto in the repertoire?” Well as it turns out, yes, we do. The Mendelssohn is also probably the most perfect of all violin concertos, and simply can’t be avoided by any player who reaches the top rank. The real challenge, of course, is not to try to find “something new to say,” but to find the best way of simply letting the music speak for itself. This CD reunites Ehnes with the Philharmonia Orchestra, partners in his 2007 recording of the Elgar concerto, but this time with Vladimir Ashkenazy conducting. The qualities most often mentioned in Ehnes reviews – his impeccable technique and sumptuous tone – are fully evident here in another top-notch performance. Ehnes joins forces with members of the Seattle Chamber Music Society for a terrific performance of the Octet Op.20, a simply astonishing work written for double string quartet when Mendelssohn was only 16. Both performances were recorded live in concert, the concerto – with an occasionally muddy orchestral sound - at the Warwick Arts Centre in the UK, and the Octet at Benaroya Hall in Seattle.

04_passion_ysayeIt’s somewhat surprising that the Ysaÿe Six Sonatas for Solo Violin Op.27 aren’t better known. Eugène Ysaÿe – a colossus of a performer, in all respects - is often referred to as the first ‘modern’ violinist, and the sonatas, written in 1923 when he was 64, not only summed up the polyphonic achievements of the preceding 200 years but also introduced new techniques that were to influence the solo works of Bartok, Hindemith and Prokofiev. Each sonata is dedicated to – and reflects the character of – a colleague of Ysaÿe’s: Joseph Szigeti; Jacques Thibaud; George Enescu; Fritz Kreisler; Mathieu Crickboom; and Manuel Quiroga. Consequently, they differ greatly in form and content, but this simply makes the startling originality and individuality of these remarkable works even more apparent. Perhaps surprisingly, given their fiendish difficulty, the sonatas have been well served on CD, albeit by few of the really elite performers. The Swiss violinist Rachel Kolly D’Alba provides all that you could possibly ask for on Passion Ysaÿe (Warner WCJ 2564 68385-5), combining a dazzling technique with a sensitivity and artistry that earned her the stamp of approval from Jacques Ysaÿe, the composer’s grandson.

01_mozart_piano_concertosMozart - Piano Concertos 12, 13 & 14

robert Blocker; Biava Quartet

Naxos 8.557881

In January 1783 there appeared an advertisement in the Wiener Zeitung from no less a composer than Mozart who was announcing the publication of three new piano concertos that could be performed “either with a large orchestra… or merely a quattro, that is, with 2 violins, 1 viola, and violoncello.” These concertos were the first Mozart wrote after his move to Vienna in 1781, and are presented here performed by the Biava Quartet with pianist Robert Blocker.


The Biava was formed at the Cleveland Institute of Music in 1998, and since then, has gone on to win top prizes including the London International Competition and the Nuremberg Chamber Music Award. The American-born Blocker has enjoyed a multifaceted career as pianist, educator (at Yale University), and music advisor for such prominent institutions as the Avery Fisher Artist Program, and the Curatorium of the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest.


What a joyful sound these musicians create – this is surely “Mozart with a smile on his face!” The Biava plays with a keen precision, providing a solid accompaniment for Blocker’s lucid and sensitive interpretation. This most sympathetic pairing between quartet and piano is clearly evident, for example, in the cheerful opening movement of concerto No.12, the languorous second movement of No.13, and the sprightly finale from the fourteenth, all duly presented in a stylish manner of which Mozart surely would have approved. Indeed, to my mind, the smaller resources found here result in a wonderful sense of intimacy, transporting the listener from the vast space of the concert-hall to a private chamber in 18th century Vienna.


02_beethoven_gryphonBeethoven - Piano Trios Op. 70 Nos.1/2; Op. 11

Gryphon Trio

Analekta AN 2 9860

It will surely come as no surprise to learn that the wonderful Gryphon Trio are in their usual superb form on this latest CD, the third and final volume in their recording of the complete Beethoven Piano Trios.


Included on this disc are the two Op.70 works from 1808 – the D major “Ghost” Trio and the E flat Trio – and the Op.11 B flat Trio from 1798, originally conceived for clarinet, cello and piano but published for clarinet or violin, apparently to increase the sales potential.


The Gryphons have been together for 17 years now, and their mutual understanding and sense of ensemble is unsurpassed. From the cascade of unison notes that opens the “Ghost”, through the lengthy and eerie slow movement that prompted the work’s sub-title, to the ebullient closing bars of the Op.11, there is never a moment when you don’t feel that this must surely be the only way to play this music.


Jamie Parker, as usual, anchors the performances with his immaculately brilliant piano playing, and violinist Annalee Patipatanakoon and cellist Roman Borys are every inch his equal. In every possible respect – tempo, phrasing, dynamics, ensemble, style – this is playing and interpretation of the highest quality, and the result is an outstanding CD that adds to the Trio’s already impressive catalogue of recordings.


Recorded in the Salle Francoys-Bernier at Domaine Forget in St. Irenee, Quebec, the sound is warm and resonant, and the balance ideal.


03_brahms_violinBrahms - Violin Sonatas 1-3

Mark Fewer; Peter Longworth

Azica ACD71259

Long-time collaborators Mark Fewer and Peter Longworth have produced a fascinating and thought-provoking CD of the three Brahms violin sonatas. This is not necessarily the sonatas the way you would expect to hear them: first impressions are that they’re possibly a little too restrained, and perhaps lacking a sense of urgency and tension at times, but this soon proves to be irrelevant.


The opening bars of the Op.78 G Major sonata – the two warm piano chords and the almost hesitant off-beat entry of the violin – always set the tone for the whole work, and Fewer and Longworth set up their stall from the outset. The tempo is perfect, with a gentle, rhythmic lilt that never falters, and a fine sense of melodic line. Fewer’s tone and vibrato are warm but never large or effusive, allowing Longworth to shine and establish a true balance and sense of partnership. No histrionics here – just subtle, reflective playing.


This mood of thoughtful interpretation continues throughout the work, and throughout the Op.100 A Major sonata as well. Finally, when the mood changes in the Op.108 D minor sonata, the duo dispel any possible doubts about their commitment with a passionate ending to a deeply satisfying CD.


The Salle Francoys-Bernier in Domaine Forget was the venue for the warm, resonant and intimate recorded sound.


These are intelligent and richly rewarding readings that offer more each time you hear them. I’ll be playing them again and again.


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