02_beethoven_fliterBeethoven - Piano Sonatas 8; 17; 23

Ingrid Fliter

EMI 0 94573 2

Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas, with his symphonies and string quartets are among the supreme achievements of civilization in the same sphere as the work of Shakespeare, Dante and Michelangelo. The best pianists have recorded them, like Schnabel, Backhaus, Gieseking, Kempff, Rubinstein, Horowitz and Richter to name only a few. Now a new challenger by the name of Ingrid Fliter has arrived to add to the roster.

Born in Buenos Aires and studied in Europe, she has already won prizes at numerous international competitions and received the prestigious Gilmore Award. This is her 3rd issue with EMI after two very successful Chopin recordings. Here she selected works that probably best suit her temperament, three of the Master’s most turbulent and passionate sonatas, all with a nickname: Pathétique, Tempest and Appassionata.

She plays with great fervour, almost reckless passion, abandon, phenomenal technique, precision and imagination rarely found in other pianists. Nowhere does this come out better than in the performance of Op. 57, the “Appassionata”, where the nearly deaf Beethoven with violent outbursts is virtually shaking his fist to the heavens. Interestingly, it is somewhat related to the 5th Symphony. Notice the four note motive in the bass - D flat, D flat, D flat, C - very similar to the Fate motive that permeates the 1st movement of the 5th. The whirlwind, turbulent last movement where the speed and excitement just builds and builds to the breaking point, ending with an even faster frantic gypsy dance coda is guaranteed to lift you out of your seat, that is if you are not already standing.

03_dupontGabriel Dupont - Les heures dolentes; La maison dans les dunes

Stéphane Lemelin

ATMA ACD2 2544

In this terrific 2-CD release, pianist Stéphane Lemelin makes a strong case for the remarkable piano music of French composer Gabriel Dupont (1878-1914). These works amalgamate late romantic and impressionist elements into a personal voice that meaningfully conveys the composer’s struggle with tuberculosis. Dupont was known in his day for operas; here too melody pours out and harmony is intriguing. The 14-piece set Les heures dolentes (Doleful Hours) is a diary from the composer’s sickbed at a spa. Particularly touching is the charming “A Friend has Come with Some Flowers” at the work’s midpoint. The last four pieces suggest confrontation and resolution: “Death Grinds,” “Some Children Play in the Garden,” the truly great “White Night - Hallucinations” with its terrifying bass figurations and dissonant harmony, and finally “Calm.”

The ten pieces of La maison dans les dunes (The House in the Dunes) reflect nature, especially the sea. Water has life-giving status in both the playful “The Sun Plays in the Waves” and the dissonant, surging menace in “Sea Swells at Night” where Lemelin delivers a tour de force of “maritime pianism.” The penultimate “Star Light” I found to be the most spiritual piece of all, on the level of the “In Paradisum” from Fauré’s Requiem. Whether the pianistic challenge is handling soft, rapid filigree around a singing melody, pedalling dense passages without getting waterlogged, or achieving transcendent calm, Lemelin can do it. Highly recommended.

04_elgar_quintet-quartetElgar - Piano Quintet; String Quartet

Piers Lane; Goldner String Quartet

Hyperion CDA67857

Elgar has always been more famous for his large-scale orchestral and choral works than for his chamber music, but included among his output are a fine string quartet and a piano quintet. Both pieces were written over a two year period between 1918 and 1919 when the aging composer was residing in a cottage in West Sussex – and both are presented here on this Hyperion recording by the Australian-based Goldner String Quartet with pianist Piers Lane.

The quartet is an appealing anachronism. After all, only six years before, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring had caused a scandal in Paris, while in Vienna, the Second Viennese School was making strides with serialism. Elgar himself admitted, “It is full of golden sounds… but you must not expect anything violently chromatic or cubist.” Nonetheless, this is elegant music, elegantly played, and the Goldners handle the intricate string writing with its subtle harmonic shifts with great precision and warmth.

The more expansive piano quintet is equally conservative, but is marked by a considerably more serious tone. Piers Lane and the quartet are perfectly matched, treating the tempestuous opening movement with bold assurance. Similarly, the middle movement adagio is given the pathos and anguish it deserves, while the finale, with its mood of buoyant optimism, brings the disc to a satisfying conclusion.

Between the two chamber works are four hitherto unrecorded solo piano pieces, two dating from the early 1930s, and all of them, charming examples of Elgar’s keyboard style. In all, this is an exemplary recording of music written by a composer who was nearing the final chapter of his creative life - there’s hope for us all!

05_glenn_gould_liveGlenn Gould in Concert 1951-1960

Glenn Gould

West Hill Radio Archives WHRA-6038

The tragedy of Glenn Gould as concert pianist is seldom discussed. He faced crippling performance anxieties he could not overcome, and abandoned his flourishing career in his early thirties. He then commenced to become even more famous in his subsequent life as a combination recording artist, CBC arts producer, music journalist, and general Toronto eccentric.

Here we have the Glenn Gould most of us never knew, the concert artist, in some five hours of previously unreleased recordings. All of this material is unedited, taken from radio broadcasts or private recordings: it is raw Gould, so to say, with the occasional smudges and wrong notes of all pianists, from an artist who in later life insisted on zealous control of his work, in his bid for edited perfection. The performances are from Canada, the USA, Russia, Austria, and Sweden. Gould biographer Kevin Bazzana has supplied lengthy biographical notes, in extremely small print. The release itself is Canadian/German and cryptic, except for a clear warning label: “Not available in the USA.”

A 1958 Vancouver Festival performance of - guess what? - Bach’s Goldberg Variations opens this boxed set. The Aria dances with tremendous musicality and contrapuntal verve. It feels more elastic and personal than the famous Columbia debut release of 1955. Variations 29 and 30 are electric and wild, and played interwoven as one.

There’s a wonderful performance of the Beethoven Second Piano Concerto with Paul Paray and the Detroit Symphony, with an aching slow movement. We tend to put Gould in a cerebral, clinical camp of pianism: not here. With the same conductor and orchestra - on the same night, no less! - Gould then teamed up with the DSO’s concertmaster Mischa Mischakoff and principal flutist Albert Tipton for a splendid, warm performance of the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto. Gould’s long solo cadenza, written by Bach, is muscular and songful.

Other treasures abound, including a gentle reading of Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 109 from a Vienna recital, Schoenberg’s intimate, spiky Piano Concerto with the Cleveland Orchestra, and some gorgeous Beethoven chamber music from the Stratford Festival.

There’s an oddly dreary Gould performance of the Brahms First Concerto - with a fine Winnipeg SO led by Victor Feldbrill - that then roars to life for our hero in the finale.

Swedish mezzo-soprano Kerstin Meyer joined him for Schoenberg’s song cycle Book of the Hanging Gardens at the 1960 Vancouver Festival. She tells us in the notes that Gould was a superb and deferential accompanist, who followed her “like a shadow.”

Sound quality throughout these CDs is so-so, yet very present and alive. Engineer Albert Frantz did the digital restorations: you know right away these are dated performances, but you also feel like a time-traveller, sitting in a good seat at each concert venue.

It is sad to recall that this brilliant young Toronto pianist of the 1950s could still be concertizing today, had he lived, and had he continued a normal path. Gould would turn 80 next year. He was a contemporary of Paul Badura-Skoda, Alfred Brendel and Martha Argerich. But something went wrong, and Gould’s retreat into the recording studio brought a more mannered musical trajectory that still confounds many.

Strongly recommended! Order online from www.canadacd.ca ($52.99).

01_schumann_violin-orchestraThroughout his life, Robert Schumann tended to concentrate on one particular form of composition at a time, and in 1853 he produced his only three works for violin and orchestra, although only one – the Fantasy in C minor – was premiered before his death 3 years later. BIS has released an outstanding SACD of the Complete Works for Violin and Orchestra (BIS-SACD-1775) featuring Ulf Wallin with the Robert-Schumann-Philharmonie under Frank Beermann. The Concerto in A minor is Schumann’s own transcription of his 1850 Cello Concerto, and it works remarkably well, given the two instruments’ differences in pitch and tone. It was premiered as recently as 1987 after a copy was found in the papers of the violinist Joseph Joachim, to whom both the Fantasy and the Violin Concerto in D minor were dedicated. The Fantasy, an attractive work with a striking cadenza, fell out of favour after Schumann’s death, and the D minor concerto fared no better, with several projected premieres being cancelled before Clara Schumann and Joachim lost faith in it and decided against publishing it. Joachim’s resistance was probably due to the concerto’s technical and musical challenges: it’s a large work with a beautiful slow movement, but has never really established itself in the repertoire since finally being published and premiered in 1937. If anything can change that, it’s this recording. Ulf Wallin (who also wrote the outstanding booklet notes) uses Schumann’s original solo part, wisely choosing to ignore the later unauthorized “corrections and alterations” apparently made by Joachim. The result is a definitive performance, full of strength and beauty, and perfectly displaying the mix of Classical and Romantic styles that typify the music of this still often misunderstood composer.

02_bacewicz_violin_concertosCHANDOS has issued Volume 2 of the Violin Concertos of the Polish violinist and composer Grazyna Bacewicz (CHAN 10673), and it’s quite stunning. Bacewicz (1909-69) was that 20th century rarity – a world-class violin virtuoso with compositional skills to match. Volume 1 featured Concertos 1, 3 and 7, and this new CD completes the set with Nos. 2 (1945), 4 (1951) and 5 (1954) (No.6 exists only in manuscript, and has never been performed). The three works here range from the somewhat Prokofiev-like No.2, with its mix of melodic and strongly rhythmic material, to the much tougher, terser world of No.5, as Polish music began moving away from the “formalist” Communist days. All three demonstrate Bacewicz’s innate understanding of the instrument, and her assured grasp of form and orchestration. The Polish-born violinist Joanna Kurkowicz, now resident in the United States, is wonderful throughout, and given terrific support by the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra under Lukasz Borowicz. An absolutely essential addition to the 20th century violin concerto record catalogue.

03_cello_concertosBohuslav Martinu, Arthur Honegger and Paul Hindemith lived almost exactly contemporaneous lives, being born within 5 years of each other in the early 1890s and all dying in their 60s between 1955 and 1963. As cellist Johannes Moser perceptively notes in the booklet for his latest CD, Cello Concertos (Hänssler CLASSIC CD 93.276) they had one other thing in common: they all consciously avoided the path of serialism and consistently developed their own very individual styles. Moser’s idea of bringing their cello concertos together in one programme is a real winner, and results in a terrific CD. All three works are in the traditional three-movement form and are immediately accessible, while clearly imbued with each composer’s individual voice. The Martinu, from 1930, has its roots firmly in the Czech tradition, with a soulfulness very reminiscent of Janáček at times. The Honegger is a short (15 minutes) but very effective work from the same year. The Hindemith, from 1940, is classic Hindemith: a strong, rhythmic opening; an immediate melodic entry for the soloist; an instantly identifiable and highly personal use of tonality; stunning orchestration. It’s a wonderful partner for the Violin Concerto from the previous year. I’m completely at a loss to understand why Hindemith is still regarded in some circles as a dry, theoretical musician – it’s a view completely at odds with his mature orchestral works, and one completely destroyed by performances like this. Moser is outstanding throughout the disc. The recorded sound is warm and resonant, and the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie and conductor Christoph Poppen are ideal partners.

04_yossif_ivanovTwo late 20th century violin concertos are featured on a Harmonia Mundi CD (AP007) of works by Henri Dutilleux and Rafael D’Haene, with the Belgian violinist Yossif Ivanov and the Orchestre de l’Opera national de Lyon under Kazushi Ono. Dutilleux was born in 1916, and is still with us at 95! His violin concerto L’arbre des songes (Tree of Dreams), finished in 1985, took a while to write: it was commissioned by Radio France in 1979 for Isaac Stern’s 60th birthday the following year. It’s an intriguing work, consisting of four main sections joined by three orchestral interludes, and shows a tremendous range of orchestral colour and timbre. The Belgian composer Rafael D’Haene was born in 1943, and was a pupil and consequently a close friend of Dutilleux. His violin concerto (1990) is a two-movement work which has as its theme the myth of Orpheus, with which the composer has always been fascinated. It’s maybe less immediately accessible than the Dutilleux, but is no less striking a work for that. Dutilleux's Nocturne for Violin and Orchestra, sur le meme accord, completes the CD; it's a short but brilliant piece built on a 6-note chord, composed in 2002 and dedicated to Anne-Sophie Mutter. Ivanov and the orchestra are in top form throughout a disc that has to be listened to – no simple background music here – but that amply rewards the effort.

05_rontgenThree more 20th century violin concertos – although you would never guess to listen to them – comprise the programme on a CD of music by the Leipzig-born composer Julius Rontgen (1855-1932), who spent most of his life in the Netherlands, but remained firmly rooted in the German tradition of Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms. The German label CPO has issued an interesting and thought-provoking CD of his Violin Concertos (777 437-2) featuring the Concertos in A minor from 1902 and F sharp minor from 1931, together with the Ballad from 1918. Although I know the name, I can’t recall ever hearing any of Rontgen’s music, and listening to this CD it’s perhaps easy to understand why: despite all three works dating from the 1900s you’re constantly reminded of 19th century composers – Sarasate, Dvořák, and particularly Bruch and Brahms – and while it’s all very competent and makes for pleasant listening there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of substance or individuality. It always seems to fall just short of memorable. Brahms, himself a friend of Rontgen’s, was among those - both critics and colleagues - who commented that Rontgen’s musical voice was simply not original enough. That’s not to say that his voice was without talent, however. Rontgen may have been stylistically stuck in 19th century Germany, but he clearly knew his craft. These works display skill and taste, together with a real melodic gift and a fine grasp of orchestration; what he apparently lacked was that true spark of genius that would have infused his music with a strong personal identity. Dutch violinist Liza Ferschtman makes the most of the material here, with fully committed playing that presents the music in the best possible light. The Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz under David Porcelijn provides excellent support. It might be easy to see why this music has remained in a backwater instead of drifting into the mainstream, but don’t be misled: there are many really lovely moments throughout this CD.

06_mozart_divertimentoThere’s another recording of the wonderful Mozart Divertimento K563 - the String Trio in E flat – one of Mozart’s most glorious keys. I raved about the Trio Zimmermann’s recording of this work earlier this year, and now Naxos has issued an excellent performance by violinist Henning Kraggerud, violist Lars Anders Tomter and cellist Christoph Richter (8.572258). Again, don’t be fooled by the designation Divertimento: although this normally signified light entertainment music where the composer was free to choose a mixture of movements and forms, this six-movement work is, as Ingrid Anderson’s booklet notes so rightly point out, “far from pure entertainment.” She echoes the Alfred Einstein quote from my previous review when she calls the first two movements “…among the most sonorous and masterful examples of chamber music ever written.” And they are. This performance may be slightly less intense than the Zimmermann at times, but it’s a warm, rich reading that is beautifully recorded. At the bargain Naxos price it’s a great way to obtain a superb work that is quite simply Mozart at his best.

01_daniel_taylorShakespeare - Come again sweet love

Daniel Taylor; Theatre of Early Music

RCA Red Seal 88697727222

As founder and artistic director of the Montreal-based Theatre of Early Music (TEM) and a singer of international renown with over 60 recordings to his credit, Canadian countertenor Daniel Taylor is now at a point in his career where, on the Sony label, he headlines a recording that counts among its vocal performers Dame Emma Kirkby, Michael Chance and Charles Daniels as well as Carol Sampson and Neal Davies. Drawing on repertoire inspired by, referred to or performed in the plays of Shakespeare, this is a delightful and varied collection of solos, duets and madrigals complemented by adept instrumentalists from two different ensembles: TEM’s Elizabeth Kenny and Jacob Heringman on lute and Fretwork’s Richard Boothby and Richard Campbell on viola da gamba. A most wonderful confluence occurs in the various combinations of voices as in Orlando Gibbons’ The Silver Swan and particularly when countertenors Taylor and Chance duet in Robert Jones’ Sweet Kate and Thomas Morley’s Sweet nymph, come to thy lover. Purcell’s By Beauteous softness and If music be the food of love as well as Johnson’s Full Fathom Five are interpreted with tender affect by Taylor, Sampson and Davies respectively. Charles Daniels is given the title track and Emma Kirby adds a light-hearted flavour to Now what is love? This collection, recorded in London, is highly recommended as a feast of love for a mid-summer’s night.

01_sacred_bridgeThe Sacred Bridge - Jews and Christians in Medieval Europe

Boston Camerata; Joel Cohen

Apex 2564 69895-6

Early music for many spans over 600 years to the mid-eighteenth century. This single CD takes in music from precisely those six centuries. They were an exhilarating time although this recording also displays deep and sometimes sad contrasts. Some of the music was composed and performed in Jewish ghettoes, some emanated from the Jews’ contemporary Christian persecutors - and yet both communities were inter-dependent.

This interdependence was traced by Joel Cohen 22 years ago in the original “Sacred Bridge” now available on the Apex budget label. At its most intricate Latin and Hebrew versions of Psalm 114 are interwoven line by line, declaimed by tenor, baritone and counter-tenor. As if that is not complex enough, Joel Cohen turns to Jewish minstrels at Christian Courts. One wonders whether Matthew le Juif was actually this composer’s name at court. For all that, John Fleagle (tenor) does him justice, as Michael Collver’s counter-tenor does Suesskint von Trimberg’s Wa heb’uf.

In fact, Cohen’s selections are not all as complicated in their context. Jewish Folklore of the Eastern Mediterranean takes one through Jews in Provence and among Jews exiled from Spain. Again, the counter-tenor makes his presence felt as does Anne Azéma’s soprano in Morena me llaman and Cansoun d’Esther.

And finally, a large number of tracks interpret the songs of Spain before the exile of 1492. King Alfonso the Wise attracts Cohen’s attention; Collver’s impassioned Madre de Deus, ora por nos explains why this monarch is so respected among early music enthusiasts.

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