01 Beethoven GoodyearBeethoven – The Complete Piano Concertos
Stewart Goodyear; BBC National Orchestra of Wales; Andrew Constantine
Orchid Classics ORC100127 (naxosdirect.com)

Fond of storytelling, the dauntless Stewart Goodyear has long been associated with Ludwig van Beethoven, preferring a cyclic approach to the composer’s catalogue. Dubbed “The New Testament” of keyboard literature, Beethoven’s 32 sonatas have frequently been performed by Goodyear in a single day; he has also recorded the full cycle. 

Now, a recent release from Orchid Classics features yet another testament: the five piano concertos, spanning three full discs, in chronological order. In the opening essay of the liner notes, Goodyear recounts his first meeting with the concerti, at age nine: “…great theatre, great drama, great virtuosity, and most importantly, great merriment. I felt like I was hearing Beethoven the entertainer, the actor, the storyteller, the playwright.”

Goodyear’s considerable success at performing the complete cycle of sonatas has led him to this point: the concertos. He continues to probe the multifaceted nature of Beethoven’s craft – as he’s outlined in the observation above. With evolving depth of knowledge and stylistic insight, Goodyear celebrates these cornerstones of the concerto catalogue, aiming for a kind of narrative arc, from the youthful first, Op.15 to the fifth, Op.73, the “Emperor.” Choice of orchestral collaborator for this ambitious project has been apt: Andrew Constantine and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales coexist with Goodyear’s musical vision, offering an attractive kind of vigour and dedication.

Like the impressive lineage of Beethoven exponents before him, Goodyear retains a pianistic perspective that is invariably clear and pronounced. If anything, he seems galvanized by the past achievements of great artists who have recorded this repertoire – Alfred Brendel, Wilhelm Kempff and Artur Schnabel, to name but a few: mighty company indeed! 

Adding various touches of his own, Goodyear experiments with early Romantic rubato, often shaping musical lines in unusual ways. His choice of tempi can tend toward surprise, as he takes characterful liberties and rests, seldom ventured by others. He does prove master of quicksilver textural changes; at best, these sharp turns offer rushes of excitement, steering the listener headlong from one structural pillar to the next, leaping – bounding – along the way. The manner is particularly effective in cadenzas and freer passages which are delivered with the utmost control and technical tang.

Goodyear’s approach is consistently individual, finding niches to exploit for his own particular brand of music-making. Sometimes, the curious ebbs and flows of inflection betray unusual rhythmic pacing. Nevertheless, within such melodic curves, microstructures of motivic design are revealed – that very well might be Goodyear’s intention! Omnipresent is a low-fi, headlong sense of chase: a playful, almost childlike glee detected in much of the fast, rhythmic material, particularly in the early concertos, Nos.1 and 2

There are moments of tenderness and cajoling here that tug at our hearts – a side of Beethoven one should hardly forget about. As faithful soloist, Goodyear opens up to us with valiant vulnerability. As per his own claim, this “vulnerability” is a quality learned from Beethoven’s 32 sonatas and apparently, one he continues to enshrine.

Adam Sherkin

02 Mathieu Gaudet Schubert Late Inspirations COVERSchubert – Late Inspirations
Mathieu Gaudet
Analekta AN 2 9182 (analekta.com)

Mathieu Gaudet has recently embarked on a Schubert project, presenting the lion’s share of the composer’s works for keyboard. While themed Late Inspirations, the latest disc (Volume 2) opens with an early sonata, followed by two other works: the curious Ungarische Melodie, D817 and the Drei Klavierstücke, D946.

Gaudet’s artistry is quintessentially suited to Schubert: it possesses a tender, inward nature that, while personal, is never furtive; Gaudet consistently cherishes every miraculous musical turn, sharing them generously with his listener (and even ornamenting certain melodies and harmonies along the way!). The music of Schubert – clearly a lifelong vocation for Gaudet – seems the perfect platform for his aptly controlled, cultivated musicianship. When it comes to the Austrian master, sung indelibly from Gaudet’s piano, we are at once nourished and enlightened. 

The five-movement Sonata in E major is rarely played. In the hands of Gaudet, this surprising – even quirky – piece glistens and bubbles with a delightful lack of self-consciousness, justly suited to such early essays in the form. (Schubert wrote the sonata when he was 19.) Gaudet introduces this music to us like an old friend he’s been hobnobbing with for decades. One meets wondrous things: humour, juvenility and even a bit of Viennese buffoonery – a notable feat of Schubertian interpretation!

Perhaps it is worthy to note in these trying times of the COVID-19 pandemic that Gaudet is also a full-time emergency physician. We eagerly await the future instalments of his recording project once the current crisis has abated. Our world will need more Schubert like this.

Adam Sherkin

03 Wosner SchubertSchubert – Piano Sonatas D845; D894; D958; D960
Shai Wosner
Onyx ONYX 4217 (shaiwosner.com)

While Schubert succeeded in publishing only three piano sonatas during his lifetime, the depth of his world is fully revealed in this genre, especially in the late sonatas presented on this album. Shai Wosner, considered to be one of the most prominent Schubert interpreters, is so intimately connected to that world that he becomes a guide of sorts, leaving no corners of Schubert’s musical mind untouched. A beautiful essay Wosner wrote in the liner notes for this album brings these intimate explorations to the next level.

In contrast to the preceding period of songwriting, Schubert’s late piano sonatas opened up a different microcosm, putting on full display the unique ingredients of his musical mode – the uncanny combination of intimate gestures in a large setting. Four sonatas on this album show different aspects of that mode – dark, melancholy momentum in Sonata No.16 in A Minor, transparent stillness in Sonata No.18 in G Major, relentless fire in Sonata No.19 in C Minor, and yearning introspection in his last major work, Sonata No.21 in B-flat Major. All four seek to deconstruct the conventional sonata structure and do it with the vulnerability of distinct musical expressions. 

I love Wosner’s sound, the manipulation of colours and his control over the smallest of details. Equally convincing in lyrical language as he is in bold, fiery passages, Wosner brings in wholesome devotion to this remarkable music.

Ivana Popovic

04 Louise FarrencLouise Farrenc – Etudes & Variations for Solo Piano
Joanne Polk
Steinway & Sons 30133 (naxosdirect.com)

The name Louise Farrenc is practically unknown today, but during her lifetime, she was a respected composer and pedagogue at a time when the professional artistic world was very much male dominated.  Born in Paris in 1804, she was an almost exact contemporary of the novelist George Sand. Like Sand – and also Clara Schumann and Fanny Mendelssohn – she was forced to overcome societal biases of the time, but ultimately enjoyed a long and successful career. Her compositions include symphonies, overtures, chamber, choral and vocal music, and a great many pieces for solo piano. These latter are well represented on this Steinway & Sons recording featuring American pianist Joanne Polk.

The first three tracks on the disc are sets of variations; the first on a Russian song; the second on an aria from Bellini’s Norma; and the third, the Lutheran chorale Ein Feste Burg used in Meyerbeer’s successful opera Les Huguenots. The music is elegant and well crafted, with the original themes creatively varied. Throughout, Polk demonstrates a real affinity for the music, approaching it with considerable fluidity and élan.

The two sets of Etudes Op.26 making up the remainder of the disc were so highly regarded that they were ultimately adopted by the Conservatoire as required repertoire. There is much to appreciate in these musical gems – do I hear echoes of Mendelssohn and even Chopin? Many of them pose considerable technical challenges that surely only advanced pupils could have handled.

Despite its obscurity, Farrenc’s music should never be dismissed as secondary. There is evidence of fine creativity, matched here by an equally fine performance. Kudos to Joanne Polk and to Steinway & Sons for helping bring to light repertoire that might otherwise have been overlooked. Recommended.

Richard Haskell

05 Prokofiev ArgentieriRussian Piano Music Series Vol.14 – Sergei Prokofiev
Stefania Argentieri
Divine Art dda 25156 (divineartrecords.com)

Prokofiev began his career as a concert pianist; hence it comes as no surprise that piano music comprises a significant part of his output – three concertos, nine sonatas and more than 100 pieces of various types written over a 40-year period. His continual quest for freedom from typical 19th-century styles resulted in a particular eclecticism, clearly evident in this attractive program on the Divine Classics label, performed by Italian pianist Stefania Argentieri.

This disc is the second in the Russian Piano Music series devoted to Prokofiev and includes his first and sixth sonatas, Six Pieces from Cinderella Op.102, Four Etudes Op.2 and the Suggestion Diabolique.

The Piano Sonata No.1 from 1907 – but later revised – owes more than a passing reference not only to Schumann, but also to Rachmaninoff and Scriabin, the style lushly Romantic. In contrast, the sixth sonata, written in 1940, is pure pianistic gymnastics, technically beyond the capabilities of many pianists. Here, Argentieri demonstrates a true command of this daunting repertoire, meeting the challenges with apparent ease. Equally demanding are the Four Etudes, music of a confident 18-year-old pianist/composer eager to demonstrate his skills. The set was originally intended as a “slap in the face” to conservative audiences, but it also earned him a loyal following.

Cinderella is one of Prokofiev’s most popular ballets and while the set of piano transcriptions from 1944 is equally delightful, it’s the youthful Suggestion Diabolique where Argentieri once again proves her pianistic prowess. Aptly marked Prestissimo Fantastico, the piece demands extraordinary virtuosity – a true perpetuum mobile, with a surprisingly calm conclusion that brings the disc to a subdued, but most satisfying conclusion.

Richard Haskell

06 Frank HorvatA Little Dark Music 2
Frank Horvat
IAM who IAM Records (frankhorvat.com)

Toronto composer and pianist Frank Horvat’s passionate concern for social and environmental issues has long been a core theme in his music. His 2010 album, A Little Dark Music, for example, featured Earth Hour, an hour-long solo piano improvisation performed in the dark. In it, the composer-pianist passionately advocated for a sustainable approach to the environment. A decade later, Horvat’s follow-up solo grand piano release, A Little Dark Music 2, his 11th album, continues to expresses his extra-musical concerns for the health of our planet.

The title theme of the opening hour-long track Earth Hour 2 is confirmed by the explicit program notes. Horvat renders a personal commentary on the state of our global environment in this expansive solo. The liner notes suggest we take the time “to become grounded within [ourselves]” to reflect on positive change we can imagine while we listen. And the episodic and programmatic nature of this explicitly tonal work leaves plenty of time and sonic space for contemplation

The much shorter Heat Island continues the theme of man-made climate change. “The rumbly and murky start of this composition attempts to emulate the world oozing heat from pavement,” states the composer. As the piece progresses, “it gradually works its way up to the higher registers with a more calm tone.”

The album concludes with the optimistic Life for Mars, a (mostly) major key “soothing statement on the positive impact of connecting to ourselves and our surroundings.” It’s a message of hope many of us can use during this dark time.

Andrew Timar

07 Richard Valituttonocturne & lullabies
Richard Valitutto
New Focus Recordings FCR243 (newfocusrecordings.com)

Contemporary keyboard exponent Richard Valitutto has released a timely, meditative new record that features seven premiere recordings of works by six composers. (The penultimate track on the album – Linda Catlin Smith's A Nocturne – was first recorded by Eve Egoyan in 2012.) each written within the last 35 years. Valitutto claims to have been “focused on cultivating a sort of pianistic ‘anti-virtuosity’... performing music that seems simple on the surface but in actuality affords a great many challenges.” The tracks are, generally, connected to the theme of night and its various dimensions: dream-haunting nocturnes and lullabies, uncertain of – or anachronistic in - their 21st century functions.

Admirable ranges of expression are displayed here through experimental modes of resonance. The disc’s chronology is well curated, moving through dark soundscapes to brighter moments of lucidity and repose. Immediately striking is Valitutto’s intimacy with each of these works, collected and considered from a specific time and place with fortitude and explorative zeal.

Amongst the many highlights of the disc is shadow (2013) by Rebecca Saunders, a study in so-called “acoustic shadows.” Valitutto relishes this music’s intensity and sculpture, urging a keen ear when listening to every last brilliant moment of the score. 

Another intriguing track is Philip Cashian’s Nocturne (1984). Modelled on Oliver Knussen’s Sonya’s Lullaby, Cashian’s newer piece supersedes Knussen’s, grabbling its way to overcome all aches and sighs. Now morbid and jazzy, now contemporary and timeworn, this entire album grips both performer and listener alike, glimpsing a hazy yet urgent future where nocturnes and lullabies still haunt our dreams.

Adam Sherkin

Listen to 'nocturne & lullabies' Now in the Listening Room

01 LEstro dOrfeoL’Arte di diminuire
L’Estro d’Orfeo; Leonor de Lera
Challenge Classics CC72843 (lestrodorfeo.com)

The outstanding L’Estro d’Orfeo quintet was founded by violinist and artistic director Leonor de Lera in 2015 to perform a “historically-informed approach in line with the aesthetics of the time,” on period instruments. Her mission was to champion the advanced instrumental virtuosity which developed in Europe during the late Renaissance to early Baroque eras. 

L’Arte di diminuire is dedicated to musical diminution, the interpretative art of extemporary melodic variation and embellishment, an essential improvisatory aspect of musical performance practice of that time. Simply put, in this practice musicians melodically and rhythmically subdivided a received series of long notes into shorter values. In that period and region, a written composition was routinely regarded as raw material requiring musicians to embellish the score during its performance via diminutions. Such performances gave considerable scope for virtuosic display and interpretive exploration. This album explores that practice applied to 15 period motets, popular melodies and dance forms. The ensemble has chosen scores by early Baroque composers and interpreted them by applying advanced diminution procedures, in the process highlighting the individual contributions of L’Estro d’Orfeo’s 21st-century musicians.

Outstanding tracks include the madrigal Io canterei d’amor… reinterpreted via diminution by the ensemble’s viola da gamba and viola bastarda virtuoso Rodney Prada. De Lera’s four contributions are exemplars of this ensemble’s musically exciting approach to this interpretative inter-century practice. The most impressive part of the listening experience might be the freewheeling-sounding – yet always tasteful – instrumental virtuosity on display here. Prada’s mindboggling viola bastarda performances, leaping from treble to tenor to bass ranges and back with abandon, are alone worth the price of admission.

02 Flute Passion BachFlute Passion: Bach
Nadia Labrie; Luc Beauséjour; Camille Paquette-Roy
Analekta AN 2 8921 (analekta.com/en)

Only one of the compositions on this recording is actually a solo, the Partita in A Minor, which flutist Nadia Labrie plays with energy and assurance. I particularly appreciated her approach to the only slow movement, the Sarabande, as a reflective and perhaps melancholy soliloquy, which she plays with feeling but never with sentimentality.

Two of the other three sonatas on the CD are called flute sonatas but are in fact ensemble pieces. The Allegro fourth movement of the Sonata in E Minor is as much a virtuosic solo piece for the keyboard, on this modern instrument recording a piano, which Luc Beauséjour plays as the complete equal to the flute, a collaborator, not a supporting actor. This is also particularly evident in the final Presto of the Sonata in B Minor. Similarly the cello part in the Andante first movement of the same sonata can be heard as the other half of a duo with the flute, and is played that way by cellist Camille Paquette-Roy.

The G Major Sonata on the disc is a trio sonata, originally for two flutes and continuo. On this recording, however, Beauséjour plays the other “flute” part, leaving the bass line to the cello. While in a certain sense emancipating the cello, it somehow doesn’t work as well as a duo as, for example, the Allegro movement already mentioned.

Nevertheless, bravissimi to our three collaborators for a fine addition to the recorded ensemble music of Bach.

03 Beethoven TriosBeethoven – Piano Trios Vol.1
Sitkovetsky Trio
BIS BIS-2239 SACD (naxosdirect.com)

This year marks the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth date and as such it has been bringing in an assortment of new releases of the great master’s works. The Sitkovetsky Trio attracts attention with their elegant interpretations of carefully selected Beethoven piano trios and the creation of a particular sound that is very much their own. I was charmed by the lovely blend of the instrumental colours and the finely detailed and thoughtful work that went into directing and following the tides of these notable compositions.

The wisely chosen progression of the trios includes the early Op.1 No.3 in C Minor, middle period Op.70 No.2 in E-flat Major and the late Allegretto in B-flat Major Wo039. C minor could certainly have been Beethoven’s favourite key because it allowed for the storminess of emotions like no other. It is hard to believe that this work belongs to such an early opus as it brings in radical and innovative approaches to the chamber music of that time. The E-flat Major Trio and Allegretto show, in contrast, that Beethoven was just as much attuned to pastoral and peaceful settings and that he was unapologetically paving the way for the further development of the Romantic elements.

Much appreciated is the Sitkovetsky Trio’s ability to stay within the bounds of traditional chamber music-making while adding the intensity and vitality of their own understanding. A noble companion to contemplative times.

05 Gianandrea NosedaDvořák – Symphony No.9; Copland – Billy the Kid
National Symphony Orchestra; Gianandrea Noseda
National Symphony Orchestra NSO 001 (gianandreanoseda.com)

This most enjoyable disc is the debut recording of a new label, NSO Live from the Kennedy Center, with the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington DC. The group is famous for having been directed by Rostropovich at one time, but now Gianandrea Noseda is its music director. Noseda heralds “new beginnings” and judging by this issue, he certainly delivers. The recording simply throbs with life and shows Noseda’s love for America by selecting two works he says “on which American sound has continued to be built over the decades.” The two works come from vastly different backgrounds, yet the American spirit is unmistakable, and this makes this issue so exciting.

The first piece is by the venerable American composer Aaron Copland who was born in Brooklyn to a family of Russian immigrants, yet no other composer has been able to better evoke the frontier spirit of the Wild West. Billy the Kid, a ballet from 1938, is about an outlaw and gunfighter who murdered eight men by the age of 21, when he himself was killed. Copland’s score provides a vivid depiction of prairie life incorporating several cowboy tunes, Mexican dances and even a gunfight with explosions, certainly never heard before from a symphony orchestra. Noseda has a lot of fun with it and it is catching.

And now an absolutely stunning performance of Dvořák ‘s New World Symphony where the musical material is “inspired by American folk songs, African-American spirituals and North American Native songs” all intermixed with tremendous compositional skill. Dvořák introduces new themes in each movement, but these then reoccur in different guises culminating in the magnificent last movement for an astounding conclusion. Demonstration quality sound, highly recommended.

06 Hindemith KammerHindemith – Kammermusik I - II - III
Kronberg Academy Soloists; Schleswig-Holstein Festival Orchestra; Christoph Eschenbach
Ondine ODE 1341-2 (naxosdirect.com)

Over the course of his lifetime (1895-1963) Paul Hindemith, increasingly ossified by his academic obsessions, underwent a peculiar reverse metamorphosis. Born a butterfly, he eventually became a caterpillar. He was a world-famous composer, a consummate musician and an influential Ivy League savant, yet the 50th anniversary of his death in 2013 passed with little fanfare from the classical music establishment. In his early career he was considered an avant-garde miscreant, ultimately branded and banished as an “atonal noisemaker” by the Nazi regime. Noisy? Perhaps, but powerfully so. Atonal? Not in the least, though bracingly dissonant at times. 

Hindemith’s astounding orchestral mastery (he was able to play any instrument he wrote for) is amply demonstrated in the adventurous Kammermusik series composed in the 1920s, from which we have on offer here the first three suites, with future volumes presumably in the works to complete the set of seven. The first suite is composed for 12 instruments in four movements, a provocatively satirical remodelling of the Brandenburg Concertos which receives a rollicking performance under Eschenbach’s direction. The second instalment, scored for piano and ensemble, is equally enjoyable and glitteringly dispatched by soloist Christopher Park. The third, cast in the form of a concerto featuring cellist Bruno Philippe, is less convincing due to sub-optimal tempos (perhaps the soloist’s prerogative) and an over-miked solo part which obscures the inner voices. Claudio Abbado’s lively 1999 EMI recording, some two and a half minutes faster, makes a far better case for this work. An enjoyable nightcap, the beloved Kleine Kammermusik for wind quintet, rounds out the proceedings.

01 ShostViolinIvan Pochekin is the outstanding soloist on Dmitri Shostakovich Violin Concertos 1 & 2, with Valentin Uryupin conducting the Russian National Orchestra (Profil PH19073 naxosdirect.com).

The Concerto No.1 in A Minor Op.77 was written in the years following the end of the Second World War, but was withheld by the composer until 1955. The Concerto No.2 in C-sharp Minor Op.129 from 1967 was Shostakovich’s final concertante work.

Pochekin has exactly the right sound for these works – a dark-hued, rich and velvety tone with a strong vibrato and a fine grasp of linear phrase. There may be more strident and abrasive readings of the ferocious cadenzas available, but none with more passion. The Russian National Orchestra, founded by Mikhail Pletnev in 1990, provides excellent support in two immensely satisfying performances.

02 SkorykUkrainian composer Myroslav Skoryk (b.1938) wrote a cycle of nine violin concertos over a 45-year span, and the first four are presented on Myroslav Skoryk Violin Concertos 1, Nos.1-4. Andrej Bielow is the soloist with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine conducted by Volodymyr Sirenko (Naxos 8.574088 naxosdirect.com).

The four concertos here are from 1969, 1989, 2001 and 2003, and all are essentially single-movement works of similar length – from 13 to 16 minutes. No.1 is perhaps the most modern-sounding; No.2 is “infused with a lyrical mood” (the composer’s own booklet notes) with contrasting episodes that vary “from elegy to intense expressivity.” No.3 is dominated by the opening solo violin fugue, and again varies in tone “from lyrical to intensely dramatic.” No.4 is dominated by driving rhythmic patterns.

Bielow is terrific in top-notch performances of works full of strong, idiomatic writing. Volume 2 should make this set a significant addition to the contemporary violin concerto discography.

03 IncantationOn Incantation, the French violinist Virgil Boutellis-Taft explores the range of connections for the word, from simple enchantment through religious contexts to demonic spells and charms. Jac van Steen conducts the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (Aparté AP234 apartemusic.com).

There’s a fair amount of reworking of original sources here, and some tracks consequently fare better than others. Bruch’s Kol Nidrei Op.47 is quite beautiful although “remodelled” by Boutellis-Taft with the middle section omitted. The Chaconne in G Minor, attributed to Vitali, is reworked from the original violin and bass manuscript and comes across as a bit overblown. Saint-Saëns’ Danse macabre Op.40 is newly orchestrated based on the composer’s own violin and piano arrangement. Bloch’s Nigun from Baal Shem, Tchaikovsky’s Sérénade mélancolique Op.26 and Chausson’s lovely Poème Op.25 are handled beautifully. Shigeru Umebayashi’s Yumeji’s Theme, with its abrupt ending is an odd choice for the closing track.

Boutellis-Taft plays with his heart firmly on his sleeve on a CD that has some truly lovely moments.

The virtuoso violinist and composer Giuseppe Tartini left over 100 concertos for violin, as well as a large number of sonatas for various string combinations, so any single CD is only going to scratch the surface of his output.

04 TartiniTartini Violin Concertos & Sonatas features two Sonatas a Quattro in D Major together with first recordings of two unpublished Concertos for violin and strings, in A Minor and B-flat Major. Laura Marzadori is the violin soloist in the concertos, with Massimo Belli conducting the Nuova Orchestra da Camera “Ferrucio Busoni” (Brilliant Classics 957690 naxosdirect.com).

In the solo violin sections Tartini reduced the accompaniment to just orchestral first and second violins, which allows Marzadori’s sweet, pure tone to be even more effective. There’s a pleasing lightness of touch in the orchestral performances throughout a pleasant but fairly lightweight (at 47 minutes) CD of finely crafted and genteel 18th-century works.

05 FrenchThree works written relatively late in their composers’ lives are featured on French Violin Sonatas played by the Hungarian duo of violinist Kristóf Baráti and pianist Klára Würtz (Brilliant Classics 95576 naxosdirect.com).

Debussy wrote his Violin Sonata in financial straits following the third winter of the Great War, and in great pain from the cancer that would kill him the following year, all of which makes its warmth and clarity all the more remarkable. There’s a lovely dynamic range and freedom of phrasing from both performers.

Ravel’s Violin Sonata No.2 in G Major dates from 1927, its jazz-influenced Blues middle movement and Perpetuum mobile finale again drawing fine playing from the duo.

Franck’s Sonata in A Major was one of a small handful of works that finally won the composer some public acclaim in the closing years of his life. There’s big playing from both performers here, with terrific piano work from Würtz in the Allegro second movement in particular, and with Baráti drawing a huge tone and sound from his 1703 “Lady Harmsworth” Stradivarius violin.

06 BiberThe Italian violinist Liliana Bernardi is excellent in music by Johann Joseph Vilsmaÿr and Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber on Austrian Baroque for Solo Violin (Stradivarius STR 37147 naxosdirect.com).

Vilsmaÿr (1663-1722) was a member of the Archbishopric chapel in Salzburg where Biber (1644-1704) was Chapel Master. His Partitas I and VI in A Major and V in G Minor are from the Artificiosus concentus pro camera distributes in sex partes, a set of six partitas in a collection of Vilsmaÿr’s solo violin music in the British Museum. The movements are very short – 24 of the 29 are under two minutes – but their multiple-stopping and arpeggio passages, while perhaps more reminiscent of Telemann’s 12 Fantasias, clearly point towards the Bach Sonatas and Partitas. 

Biber’s influence is clear in the scordatura (retuning of the strings) in the Partita V. His own work here, preceded by an extremely short Preludio in D is the challenging Passacaglia in G Minor (The Guardian Angel), the last of his remarkable Rosary Sonatas

07 DraesekeThe Constanze Quartet makes its label debut with Felix Draeseke String Quartets Vol.1, the first volume in the complete recordings of the quartets by the German Romantic contemporary of Liszt, Wagner and Brahms (cpo 555 281-2 naxosdirect.com).

Early in his career Draeseke (1835-1913), was considered an extremist, but later in life he was repelled by what he felt was the exaggerated unnaturalness of the late 19th century, responding to the 1905 premiere of Strauss’ Salome with a pamphlet on Confusion in Music.

His three string quartets postdate those of Brahms, with no equivalent works by Liszt or Wagner to act as models. The two quartets here – No.1 in C Minor Op.27 from 1880 and No.2 in E Minor Op.35 from 1886 – are described as viewing the classical quartets of the Romantic era through a Wagnerian lens, especially in the way that long, melodic threads serve to hold the music together.

They’re certainly substantial and engrossing works, given fine performances by the Constanze ensemble.

08 Sybarite5The American string quintet Sybarite5 is back with its fourth album, Live from New York, It’s Sybarite5, recorded live at their regular performance space in Chelsea’s The Cell (Bright Shiny Things BSTC-0131 brightshiny.ninja).

Silkroad percussionist Shane Shanahan joins the group for William Brittelle’s Future Shock and John Coltrane’s Alabama. Ehsan Matoori and his santoor (Persian dulcimer) are front and centre in two of his own works: Tehran When Lonely and Naqsh-e Jahan. Mezzo-soprano Blythe Gaissert sings Michael Dellaira’s Star Globe, based on a poem by Nancy Manocharian.

Other works are Brandon Ridenour’s NuPac Kanon & Jig (Pachelbel meets Tupac Shakur!), Marc Mellits’ driving Groove Machine, Steven Snowden’sTraveler No.65 and Aleksandra Vrebalov’s My Dearest, My Rose. An unlisted bonus track is a lovely arrangement of Pete Seeger’s Where Have All the Flowers Gone.

There’s not a dull moment on an album brimming with the quintet’s trademark energy and drive.

09 BrahmsIn much the same way as his orchestral serenades preceded – and perhaps acted as preparation for – his symphonies and thus avoided direct comparison with Beethoven, Brahms wrote his two String Sextets Nos.1 in B-flat Major Op.18 and 2 in G Major Op.36 before his three string quartets. They’re available on Brahms String Sextets in performances by the WDR Chamber Players, instrumentalists drawn from the WDR Symphony Orchestra of Cologne (Pentatone PTC 5186 807 naxosdirect.com).

The string sextet was not a firmly established form at the time, but the expanded string ensemble of three pairings of violins, violas and cellos gave Brahms the opportunity to explore the orchestral possibilities of chamber music while still retaining the subtlety and intimacy of the genre.

The playing here is suitably rich and warm in exemplary performances.

10 ParkThere’s another superb recital CD in the outstanding Naxos Laureate Guitar Series, this time featuring the Korean guitarist Ji Hyung Park, winner of the 2018 Changsha International Guitar Competition (Naxos 8.574140 naxosdirect.com).

Transcriptions of three sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti and two excerpts from Iberia by Isaac Albéniz open the disc, followed by the world premiere recording of Leo Brouwer’s Las Ciclades arcaicas from 2018. Mori no naka de (In the Woods), from November 1995, was the last work Toru Takemitsu wrote before his death the following February; the second of its three pieces portrays the trees in Toronto’s Rosedale area. 

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Sonata in D Major Op.77 “Omaggio a Boccherini” was written for Segovia in 1934, and is heard here in its original manuscript form pre-dating Segovia’s editing. A simply gorgeous arrangement of Toots Thielemans’ Bluesette ends a terrific disc.

Park has everything you could want – tone, colour, warmth, technique, dynamics – in a recital that fully lives up to the extremely high standards of this series.

11 AsencioThere’s more excellent guitar playing on Asencio Complete Guitar Music featuring works by the Spanish composer Vicente Asencio (1908-79) played by the Italian guitarist Alberto Mesirca (Brilliant Classics 95806 naxosdirect.com). 

Asencio’s interest in the guitar grew from his teaching musical interpretation to the young Narciso Yepes in the 1940s, a relationship that resulted in the Suite de Homenajes of 1950, three homages to Domenico Scarlatti, Manuel de Falla and Federico Garcia Lorca.

Collectici Intim is a suite of five songs and dances written in 1965 at the request of the by-then famous Yepes. Suite Valenciana reflects the colour and light of the composer’s native Valencia. The three-movement Suite Mistica started life as a single piece, Dipsô, written for Holy Week in 1971; Segovia was sufficiently impressed to suggest that Asencio add a further two Passion-related items.

Two short pieces – Cançó d’hivern and Danza Valenciana – complete the CD.

Mesirca displays excellent, clean playing with a wide range of technical skills in a very interesting recital.

12 Italian GuitarItalian Guitar Concertos is the somewhat misleading title of a CD by the Italian guitarist Emanuele Segre with the Orchestra I Pomeriggi Musicali under the direction of composer Carlo Boccadoro (Delos DE 3546 naxosdirect.com).

 Aria for Guitar and String Orchestra is Segre’s arrangement of a contralto aria from a Vivaldi cantata, and the work by Mauro Giuliani is a guitar and string orchestra version of his Gran Quintetto Op.65. The Vivaldi Concerto in D Major is at least a true concerto, but the main interest here is the world premiere recordings of two contemporary single-movement works: The Black Owl by Giovanni Sollima (b.1962) and Dulcis Memoria II for Guitar and String Orchestra by Boccadoro (b.1962), the latter originally written for clarinet and strings in 1995. Clocking in at about 18 and 14 minutes, respectively, they’re not substantial works, but both explore a nice range of techniques and textures.

Performances throughout are fine without ever being dazzling.

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