01 James Ehnes KernisWhat is there left to say about James Ehnes? Canada’s superstar violinist is back with another outstanding CD, this time featuring live concert performances of two recent violin concertos written for him. Ludovic Morlot leads the Seattle Symphony in a March 2017 performance of the Aaron Jay Kernis concerto, while Cristian Măcelaru is the conductor with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in the May 2017 performance of James Newton Howard’s work (Onyx 4189 onyxclassics.com).

Both concertos essentially follow the traditional form of extended first movement (in the Kernis it’s a Chaconne), contemplative slow movement (for Howard “the centrepiece” of his concerto) and a fast, dazzlingly virtuosic finale.

These are accessible, strongly tonal and highly effective works. Ehnes, naturally, is superb throughout, with terrific orchestral support. His regular recital partner Andrew Armstrong joins Ehnes for Bramwell Tovey’s Stream of Limelight, written for the violinist’s 40th birthday.

02 Sei Solo Thomas BowesEnglish violinist Thomas Bowes adds another outstanding set to the list of Bach’s Six Sonatas & Partitas with Sei Solo (Navona NV6159 navonarecords.com).

The recordings grew from a series of church concerts of the works that Bowes undertook across England in 2013. His insightful notes show how deeply he has thought about this music, but his performances make it even clearer. Tempos are predominantly relaxed and spacious but never drag, although even allowing for observation of all repeats the total time – 3CDs and 160 minutes – is by far the longest of my 12 sets.

Bowes uses gut G, D and A strings on his 1659 Amati and says that his approach to style and historical context “has been to acknowledge them but to move away from them when they felt limiting or too fixed. I feel that this music transcends limitations of epoch and style.”

Recorded on six single days between November 2013 and February 2016 in Abbey Road Studios, these are warm, contemplative and deeply rewarding performances.

03 Mystery Sonatas Christina Day MartinsonBoston Baroque’s concertmaster Christina Day Martinson is the outstanding soloist on a new set of Biber The Mystery Sonatas with Martin Pearlman, Michael Unterman and Michael Leopold the excellent continuo (Linn CKD 501 linnrecords.com).

This truly extraordinary work from the 1670s sets unique challenges for the violinist, with all but the first of the 15 sonatas employing scordatura; no two sonatas having the four violin strings tuned to the same set of notes. A final solo passacaglia returns to the original standard tuning.

The open strings are played here before each sonata, excellent booklet notes explaining the resulting issues and effects. Martinson’s faultless and sensitive playing shows just how powerful and emotional these astonishing works can be.

04 British Music for Viola and OrchestraHelen Callus is the outstanding soloist in British Music for Viola and Orchestra, a welcome reissue of recordings originally released in 2006 on the ASV label. Marc Taddei conducts the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (Naxos 8.573876 naxos.com).

All four works are associated with Lionel Tertis, the player most responsible for the viola’s emergence as a solo instrument. The Vaughan Williams Suite for viola and small orchestra and York Bowen’s Viola Concerto in C Minor Op.25 were written for and premiered by him; he premiered Herbert Howell’s Elegy for viola, string quartet and string orchestra and was the dedicatee of the Walton Viola Concerto in A Minor, played here in the 1961 revised version.

Extremely attractive works, a lovely solo sound, fine orchestral playing and excellent sound quality make for a delightful CD.

05 Pierre Rode Violin ConcertosNaxos ends its five-volume series of the Violin Concertos of the French violinist/composer Pierre Rode with world premiere recordings of Concertos No.11 in D Major Op.23 and No.12 in E Major Op.27, with Friedemann Eichhorn and the Jena Philharmonic Orchestra under Nicolás Pasquet (8.573474). Two Airs variés complete the disc.

A pupil of Viotti, Rode eschewed mere virtuosic writing for a more idiomatic style, Eichhorn noting that for Rode virtuosity meant ease and sovereign control, his manner “honest and always musical; what he is aiming for is verve and brilliance.”

Those are just about perfect descriptions of Eichhorn’s exceptional playing here. 

06 Joshua Bell BruchHis father’s Scottish heritage adds to the strong personal connections Joshua Bell feels for the two Max Bruch works on his new CD Bruch Scottish Fantasy with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields (Sony Classical 19075 84200 2
sonymusicmasterworks.com).

The other work here, the Violin Concerto No.1 in G Minor Op.26, was the first major concerto the 11-year-old Bell learned; moreover, he first recorded the work over 30 years ago with this same Academy and its founder Sir Neville Marriner. In 2011 Bell was named music director of the ensemble, the only person to hold this post since Marriner founded the group in 1958.

It’s clearly a perfect match if this superb CD is anything to go by; there’s glorious sound throughout from soloist and orchestra, and a lovely recorded resonance.

07 Bartok concertosThe Austrian violinist Benjamin Schmid is the soloist in Béla Bartók Die Violinkonzerte with Hungary’s Pannon Philharmonic Orchestra under Tibor Bogányi (Gramola 99138 gramola.at).

The first of Bartók’s two concertos was written in 1907-08 and inspired by the composer’s feelings for the young violinist Stefi Geyer, to whom he gave the manuscript; it remained unplayed and virtually unknown until a few years after her death in 1956, although the first of the two movements was published – slightly altered – in 1912 as the first of Two Portraits Op.5. It’s a lovely work with a rhapsodic first movement and a second that shows the early influence of Bartók’s folk music studies.

The Violin Concerto No.2 was written for Zoltán Székely in Hungary in 1937-8, prior to Bartók’s 1940 move to the United States. The middle movement in particular has a wistful introspection that seems redolent of a beloved but changing country, soon to be left behind forever.

There’s suitably rapturous playing throughout from all involved.

08 Minetti quartetTwo works closely associated with death are featured on Mendelssohn Bartholdy/Schubert, a new CD from the Viennese Minetti Quartett (Hänssler Classic HC18021).

Mendelssohn wrote his String Quartet No.6 in F Minor Op.80 while in the depths of despair after the sudden death of his beloved sister Fanny. All the customary grace and brilliance is there, but with an ever-present sense of brooding and darkness, and a heart-wrenching Adagio third movement.

Schubert’s String Quartet in D Minor D810 “Death and the Maiden” may have been completed in 1826 when Schubert was in a healthier frame of mind, but the first two lengthy movements were written in 1824 when the composer was facing the prognosis of an early death.

From the nervous, unsettled opening of the Mendelssohn through to the final scampering Presto of the Schubert this is wonderfully nuanced, sensitive and passionate playing on a simply outstanding CD.

09 Mendelssohn concertosThere’s more Mendelssohn on Mendelssohn Bartholdy Double Concerto, with violinist Lena Neudauer and pianist Matthias Kirschnereit performing the Concerto in D Minor for Violin, Piano and String Orchestra and Neudauer taking the solo role in the Concerto in D Minor for Violin and String Orchestra (cpo 555 197-2 naxos.com). The Südwestdeutsches Kammerorchester Pforzheim under Timo Handschuh provides the excellent orchestral support.

The Double Concerto is an astonishing work from 1823, when Mendelssohn was only 14. It has a simply gorgeous slow movement and a dazzling Allegro molto finale.

His D Minor Concerto from the previous year lay unknown for 130 years until Yehudi Menuhin discovered and promoted it in 1952. The manuscript contains only sketches for the finale and the version recorded here is a later revision by Mendelssohn, making it difficult to know exactly how much of the original childhood work remains.

Neudauer’s playing is outstanding, with technical assurance and fluency matched with a warm, sensitive tone. Kirschnereit is an excellent partner in the Double Concerto.

10 HenzeFew violinists have greater experience in the contemporary field than Peter Sheppard Skærved, whose new CD Henze Violin and Viola Works features compositions spanning 53 years in the career of the German composer Hans Werner Henze (Naxos 8.573886).

The 1946 Violin Sonata is a lovely piece with a particularly attractive Nocturne second movement. Roderick Chadwick is the pianist for this and two works from 1979, the Pollicino: Violin Sonatina and the quite challenging Viola Sonata which Skærved describes as having an “emotionally shattering quality.”

Skærved worked with Henze on the latter’s Solo Violin Sonata, including the revised version in his 1999 recording of Henze’s unaccompanied works. Here, however, he reverts to the 1977 original, “rough, more violent” version of the work, which he admits to preferring.

Two short unaccompanied pieces for solo violin, both written as memorials to friends, complete the disc: Für Manfred (1989) and Peter Doll zum Abschied (1999).

11 Double Concertos Jan Vogler Mira WangThree concertos for violin and cello are featured on the excellent Double Concertos Brahms/Rihm/Harbison, with violinist Mira Wang and cellist Jan Vogler supported by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra with conductor Peter Oundjian (Sony Classical 19075836752 sonyclassical.de).

Wolfgang Rihm’s single-movement Duo Concerto was written for Wang and Vogler in 2015, its strongly tonal opening setting the scene for a dialogue between the soloists that Rihm describes as a single voice singing to its heart’s content.

John Harbison’s Double Concerto was written for the duo in 2010 and has three movements of quite dissimilar musical language that work from “misunderstandings” to a final close accord.

The Brahms Double Concerto in A Minor Op.102 is the central work on the CD. It’s given a performance that is solid and thoroughly enjoyable.

12 Montenegran duo Bach English SuitesThere’s some superb guitar playing on J. S. Bach English Suites Nos.4-6 Arranged for Two Guitars by the Montenegrin Guitar Duo of Goran Krívokapić and Danijel Cerović (Naxos 8.573676).

The excellent transcriptions are an absolute delight; the playing is warm and bright, with accuracy, agility, articulation, definition and clarity, all beautifully captured by the top-level Naxos team of Norbert Kraft and Bonnie Silver at the St. John Chrysostom Church in Newmarket.

Volume 1 of this outstanding two-CD set is available on Naxos (8.573473).

13 Alan RidoutThe complete 6 String Quartets of the English composer Alan Ridout are available on a new CD from the Coull Quartet (Omnibus Classics CC5014).

Ridout was only 61 when he died in 1996. His quartets, from the last decade of his life, are well-crafted, attractive works with hints of the influence of Shostakovich, Bartók, Tippett and Britten, and more than support the description of Ridout’s music as “always playable, clear to listen to, beautifully fashioned and idiomatically written.”

The Coull Quartet, formed at London’s Royal Academy of Music in 1974 and with two original members still present, gives beautiful performances on a CD which is a significant addition to the 20th-century English string quartet discography.

14 Sarasate 1 4Finally, Naxos has issued the four outstanding volumes of the Sarasate Complete Works for Violin and Piano, featuring the remarkable violinist Tianwa Yang and pianist Markus Hadulla, as a box set (8.504054). The individual CDs were originally released in 2006, 2007, 2012 and 2014, the latter two reviewed in this column in May 2012 and March 2014 respectively.

With a retail price of around $32, this is an excellent and welcome opportunity to acquire a simply terrific series. Hopefully Naxos will do the same with Yang’s equally outstanding four CDs of the Sarasate Complete Music for Violin and Orchestra. 

01 Rea BeaumontCanadian pianist Réa Beaumont’s recording Timeless (Shrinking Planet Productions SP0093 reabeaumont.com) includes works by Philip Glass, John Adams, Srul Irving Glick and others, as well a couple of her own compositions. Beaumont’s program is designed to show how “music changes our perception of time.” John Adams’ China Gates, for example, is composed without a time signature and is one of several whose flow supports the recording’s “Timeless” title.

Toronto Symphony Orchestra affiliate composer Jordan Pal’s Study in White is the longest work on the program. Beaumont brings an impressive sustained energy to the gradually building intensity of this piece before ending it in the blaze of pianistic colour the composer intended. The six Glick Preludes are short. Beaumont plays them with great attention to the inner melodic material that Glick uses against his rhythmic elements. There’s some shared musical language between Glick and Beaumont that becomes evident on comparative listening. It makes her particularly adept at interpreting his music.

Listen to 'Timeless' Now in the Listening Room

02 Brian Finley Preludes to CanadaBrian Finley spent nearly two decades patiently composing the 13 pianistic impressions that comprise his new recording Preludes to Canada (Booth Street Records BSR0002 brianfinley.ca). Experiencing the country from sunrise on the Atlantic coast to sunset on the Pacific, the pieces offer poetic and emotional portrayals of very specific places. Sometimes as localized as A Park Bench in Joliette and Victoria Harbour, the works focus intently on Finley’s personal experiences in these places. Even the more broadly conceived ones like North of 60 and Red River Dreams contain Finley’s unique language formed during many years as a pianist, composer and artistic director of the Westben Arts Festival. He writes with the simple yet mysterious introspection of Satie but is equally capable of enormously powerful orchestral gestures reminiscent of Rachmaninov and Stravinsky. Finley’s music can’t escape the reality that his Canadian experience has been principally shaped by the land. And he aptly opens his notes with words from Emily Carr that describe Canada as “something sublime that you were born into.”

03 Anderson Roe MotherAnderson & Roe are no garden variety piano duo. Their new recording Mother - a musical tribute (SWR Music SWR19058CD swrmusic.de) is ample evidence of their stunning ability to arrange and reinvent well-known tunes in ways that leave you breathless. Covering an established song or piano work always runs the risk of leaving the listener wishing you hadn’t tried in the first place. Anderson & Roe, however, possess the highest form of originality combined with a gob-smacking keyboard technique that reimagines Lennon/McCartney, Paul Simon, Louis Armstrong and Freddie Mercury with both skill and panache.
Their advanced understanding of structure and form in everything imaginable from fugues to gospel blues reveals their deep respect for the material as well as a womb of pure genius in which their arrangements are conceived. Grieg, Dvořák, Schubert and Brahms fare equally well in this duo’s creative hands. You should be running out to get this disc, right about now.

04 LeslieHoward LisztLeslie Howard’s 99-CD set of Liszt’s piano music released in 2011 to mark Liszt’s bicentenary included a three-volume “New Discoveries” series. Continuing scholarly research since then has turned up more manuscripts and other early editions, compelling Howard back into the studio to record a fourth volume for the series, Liszt: New Discoveries Vol. 4 (Hyperion CDA68247 hyperion-records.co.uk).

The disc’s program includes familiar titles appearing as early versions and sketches. Also, there are some tantalizing fragments listed simply as Album-Leaf that offer clues to the origins of some of Liszt’s later thematic ideas.

Leslie Howard writes superb notes for this series and explains why the very substantial opening track is, by far, the most important discovery in this set. Hungarian Rhapsody No.23 S242/23 appears to have been erroneously divided into two halves long ago, because of a formatting difference in the manuscript. Howard presents it in its original extended form.

Scheduled for release in late September, Volume 4 promises to be in high demand for serious Liszt collectors.

05 PavelKolesnikov BeethovenWith a mere handful of recordings in his discography, Pavel Kolesnikov’s regularly glowing reviews make his newest release, Beethoven (Hyperion CDA68237) a highly anticipated event.

Kolesnikov plays the Sonata in C Sharp Minor “Moonlight” Op.27 No.2 with a seductive intimacy that makes you strain to hear every note. Tempi and phrasings may be conventional, but the overall approach is rarely so subdued – it’s very effective. The second movement is quite relaxed before he bursts into blazing speed for the third. It’s an entertaining performance of contrast and high drama.
In the Seven Bagatelles Op.33, Kolesnikov exploits Beethoven’s whimsical technical devices by playing with exceptional lightness, separation and the sharpest staccato. He has a distinctive touch that lends a freshness to familiar repertoire. The program also includes the Piano Sonata in G Major Op.14 No.2, 32 Variations on an original theme in C Minor WoO80 and four unpublished works that will intrigue the curious.

06 HowardShelleyUlsterOrchestra DussekHoward Shelley appears as pianist and conductor with the Ulster Orchestra in his latest recording The Classical Piano Concerto Vol.5 (Hyperion CDA68211). The series is a companion to Hyperion’s earlier one, The Romantic Piano Concerto. You can expect to find all the usual works in this series but it’s interesting to find Jan Ladislav Dussek among the first recordings. As odd as it may sound, hearing music of the period that isn’t either Haydn or Mozart is actually refreshing, if not downright exciting. It sets aside the habitual assumption that those two composers had said it all. Dussek wrote with a natural clarity and showed a refined elegance in his orchestral scoring that comes across as a lightness of character lacking nothing in harmonic richness.

Shelley is a demonstrated master at this genre, having recorded most of his 150 discs with small ensembles and chamber orchestras. His performance of Dussek’s Concerto in G Minor Op.49 is utterly beautiful. The second movement, for example, is wonderfully conceived and emotionally planned, and Shelley’s unerring judgement makes it hard to describe the powerful, moving effect he creates with the ensemble. 

07 Steven OsborneSteven Osborne has a long relationship with Hyperion. After nearly two decades and 27 releases, his most recent, Sergei Rachmaninov Études-tableaux Opp.33 & 39 (Hyperion CDA68188), broadens his discography still further. The Études-tableaux are small compositions over which Rachmaninov admitted spending far more time and effort than his larger-scale works. The composer claimed that such concise expression required a higher degree of economy and precision. And although he discreetly admitted to having general programs in mind for these pieces, he deliberately never revealed them, leaving the music to be heard absolutely.

In this disciplined context, Osborne performs impressively. He’s a very direct player, moving straight to the emotional heart of any given phrase or thematic idea. Moreover, Rachmaninov packs his Études-tableaux with emotion, requiring dramatic changes in expression that Osborne manages masterfully.

08 Jonathan Plowright SukJonathan Plowright’s latest CD Suk: Piano Music (Hyperion CDA68198) features works from a ten-year period bridging the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Josef Suk may be a lesser-known composer, but Plowright shows his music to be of surprising substance. As a pupil (and eventual son-in-law) of Dvořák, Suk’s musical pedigree was superb, though somewhat overshadowed by the critical reception of contemporaries like Janáček.

Plowright understands Suk’s language, capturing his moods and characterizations in an articulate and playful way. Spring Op.22a and Summer Impressions Op.22b are an unfinished attempt at a “Seasons” set, yet reveal the composer’s remarkable gift for portraying time and place in music. Similarly, Plowright performs Piano Pieces Op.7 and Moods Op.10 beautifully, leaving the strong impression that there is an expressive kinship between Suk and his older contemporary Edvard Grieg.

09 Nicolas Horvath Satie 3Among the numerous ways Nicolas Horvath has distinguished himself is with his commitment to the music of Erik Satie. His latest installment in this series, Satie – Complete Piano Works Vol.3 (Grand Piano GP763 grandpianorecords.com) continues his 2014 project using the new Salabert edition. This edition corrects many errors by earlier publishers as well as others arising from Satie’s sometimes lax proofreading. Nearly half the disc includes world premiere recordings of the Salabert edition. Airs á faire fuir No.2, in particular, stands out as the first recording of Satie’s more chromatic revision of an earlier effort. Horvath plays Cosima Wagner’s 1881 Érard with its antique aural charm. In spite of the subtle technical compromises he is forced to make on this instrument, he nevertheless creates a sublimely haunting singing quality with his touch.

10 Alessio Bax Beethoven 5Alessio Bax’s latest recording Beethoven Piano Concerto No.5; Southbank Sinfonia; Simon Oliver (Signum Classics SIGCD525 signumrecords.com) proves how beautiful small can be. The Southbank Sinfonia is a small ensemble of 32 emerging young professionals whose performance with Bax turns the monumental Emperor Concerto into a private and intimate experience. Bax scales back his playing accordingly and brings out the hidden charm sometimes lost in recordings by larger orchestras. The collaboration is more a pas de deux than a traditional contest of strength. It’s an altogether beautiful interpretation.

The disc includes Beethoven’s Contredanses WoO 14, of which the seventh reveals a thematic source for the origin of the Eroica symphony. Bax also plays an early teenage composition (WoO55) deeply reflective of Beethoven’s admiration for Bach, as well as a delightfully crisp Polonaise Op.89.

11 Byron JanisHailed by music writer Harold Schonberg at the peak of his career as “one of the best pianists around today,” American pianist Byron Janis last year celebrated the 70th anniversary of his first recording for RCA at age 19 with the release of Byron Janis Live On Tour (byronjanislive.com). This disc is the first of three planned releases and covers American and European tours from the years 1978 to 1999. Most of the program is Chopin but it also includes some Liszt and Haydn – as well as a piano duo recording with Cy Coleman of Paganini Variations, which begin with the familiar theme but quickly evolve into a jazz and blues style that has the partygoers audibly excited by their originality and brilliance. Disc 2 of the series “Live from Leningrad” will cover the early 60s when Janis was a US Cultural Ambassador helping to start the thaw of the cold war.

12 Liszt 49 Goran FilipecGoran Filipec wears an impressive chestful of medals representing his pianistic achievements. Competitions, concert tours and recordings occupy much of his time and the laudatory reviews that follow him everywhere he performs explain why he appears as one of the distinguished pianists in the Naxos Complete Music of Liszt series. The new addition to this colossal project is Volume 49, Franz Liszt Dances (Naxos 8.53705 naxos.com).

The disc’s program offers an array of dances: valses, csárdás, a mazurka and more. Filipec’s playing is, of course, brilliant. He captures, early on, the mood that Liszt wants to establish for each dance. This is sometimes modal, sometimes purely technical but most often introduces itself as a lyrical idea. Filipec identifies and artfully exploits each access point to the spirit of these dances. His touch is generally light, somehow floating above the keys. But he convincingly delivers bravura and power whenever Liszt requires it.

01 LachrimaeLachrimae John Dowland
Nigel North; Les Voix humaines
ATMA ACD2 2761 (atmaclassique.com)

Nigel North. To whom else would you turn to play the lead lute part in a Renaissance consort? Fifty years of playing and teaching, whether or not for solo lute, continue to enhance his reputation. And so it is that ATMA Classique has engaged North to perform alongside Les Voix humaines, themselves a group of exceptional viol players. 

This CD interleaves Dowland’s seven passionate pavans, those prefaced Lachrimae, with some popular pieces, e.g., Captaine Piper his Galiard. The latter features skillful treble viol playing, belying the idea that this piece can only be played by the Elizabethan consort of six instruments. However, this collection is centred around the pavans. The players’ interpretation of the “usual” Lachrimae incorporates every possible nuance that Dowland could have introduced, North’s lute playing adding to the treble line’s existing intricacies. The introspective Lachrimae is followed by the sprightly Earle of Essex Galiard, giving our minds time to refresh before hearing the next pavan; this model is repeated throughout the CD.

Of course, which pavan is the most meaningful must be in the listener’s mind. Lachrimae Gementes does indeed have a tortuous, drawn-out quality, as does Lachrimae Tristes. Perhaps these two pavans are even more thoughtful than the aforementioned usual Lachrimae. Finally, bear in mind that two of the viols in this recording were created by Henry Jaye in the early-17th and by Barak Norman in the late-17th century. We are in exalted company, not to mention local, as the Jaye treble viol was loaned from Hart House, University of Toronto.

02 Bach baroque flute harpsichordJ.S. Bach – Sonatas for Flute and Harpsichord
Stephen Schultz; Jory Vinikour
Music & Arts CD-1295 (musicandarts.com)

Of the four sonatas on this disc, two are almost certainly by Bach: the B Minor and the A Major. The other two are given as “attributed to Bach.” The case of the E-flat Major is particularly interesting. It used to be attributed to Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel but it has since been established that the work is based on a trio sonata by Quantz. The B Minor sonata is the finest work on this disc with its long-breathed melodies and its large intervals. Schultz and Vinikour are fine players and in the B Minor sonata they are at their best.

03 Beethoven TripleBeethoven – Triple Concerto; Trio Op.11
Anne Gastinel; Nicholas Angelich; Gil Shaham; Andreas Ottensamer; Frankfurt Radio Symphony; Paavo Järvi
Naïve V 5418

Like a stepchild, Beethoven’s Triple Concerto in C Major from his middle period (Op.56) is much underrated and seldom played – but it is in fact the most difficult and challenging of all Beethoven’s concertos. One of the reasons is that there are three soloists working almost independently and it is very difficult to find a balanced sound, yet they are still very much a team, like soldiers in a battle. My perennial favourite has been the Karajan on EMI (Oistrakh, Rostropovich, Richter), one of the great recordings of the last century, but this new issue with a stellar team of soloists and up-to-date sound on the French Naïve label is a worthy successor.

In the long and arduous first movement the cello is the real hero. French cellist Anne Gastinel leads all the charges, introducing all the new themes that are always different and very beautiful. Gil Shaham is one the world’s best violinists today and he is the star in the heavenly Largo. The Finale, in Tempo alla Polacca, is delightful and intensely rhythmical in 3/4 time, where conductor Paavo Järvi is full of good humour and jollity (a bit unlike his world-famous but rather austere father Neeme Järvi). The piano part here serves as a connective tissue rather than a leader, but blends in gracefully as played by Nicholas Angelich, the third soloist.

Rounding out the CD, a delicious early Clarinet Trio (Op.11) interestingly includes Andreas Ottensamer, principal clarinet of the Berlin Philharmonic, and that’s no mean credit.

04 Schubert SymNovScoSchubert – Symphony No.3; Orchestral Songs
Andrea Ludwig; Symphony Nova Scotia; Bernhard Gueller
Symphony Nova Scotia SNSM001 (symphonyns.ca)

Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 3 (1815) initially struck me as too slight to be the main work on this Symphony Nova Scotia disc. But an early Romantic sensibility already animated the 18-year-old composer, and I have changed my mind. The light themes of the opening movement undergo minor-key twists in the development, and the Allegretto also contains interesting key digressions. The last movement’s perpetual motion for me anticipates the tremendous energy of Schubert’s finale to the Symphony No. 9 in C Major (featured in William Forsythe’s wonderful ballet The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude). Here, Symphony Nova Scotia conductor Bernhard Gueller brings out comparable energies, including confident, incisive playing from the excellent Symphony Nova Scotia strings. And congratulations to the solo winds for sensitive phrasing in the lyrical middle movements.

Orchestral song came to the fore later in the 19th century. Its early proponent Hector Berlioz’s tremendous orchestration of Schubert’s Der Erlkönig appears here, along with Max Reger’s more subdued version. In all the songs, mezzo-soprano Andrea Ludwig conveys text and mood movingly and unfailingly – just listen to the Anton Webern-orchestrated Du bist die Ruh! Canadian composers Brian Current (Im Abendrot/At Dusk) and Kati Agócs (Ständchen/Serenade) fulfilled orchestration commissions successfully for this disc. Current’s use of string tremolo harmonics gives an intriguing otherworldly effect to Im Abedrot, while Agócs deploys piquant winds and an orchestral buildup in her moving Ständchen. The disc is a triumph for all involved.

05 Vaughan Williams TSOVaughan Williams – Piano Concerto; Oboe Concerto; Serenade to Music; Flos Campi
Louis Lortie; Sarah Jeffrey; Teng Li; Toronto Symphony Orchestra; Peter Oundjian
Chandos CHSA 5201 (chandos.net)

I was present at the TSO concert in which these works were played. At that time a CD release was promised and here it is. It does not disappoint. There are four works on the disc: the Serenade to Music for four singers (performed here by Carla Huhtanen, Emily D’Angelo, Lawrence Wiliford and Tyler Duncan), chorus and orchestra; a concerto for oboe and strings; Flos Campi, a suite for solo viola (beautifully played by Teng Li, the TSO’s principal violist), small choir and small orchestra (based on the Latin translation of the Song of Songs); and a concerto for piano and orchestra. All of these had originally been dedicated to musicians admired by Vaughan Williams: the Serenade to Music to the conductor Sir Henry Wood, the oboe concerto to Leon Goossens, Flos Campi to the violist Lionel Tertis and the piano concerto to Harriet Cohen. That gives these works a semi-private quality.

Of the works on the disc I liked the piano concerto least. It struck me as loud and strident, an impression which even the virtuosity of the pianist (Louis Lortie) could not efface. On the other hand, I loved the oboe concerto. It needs a first class soloist to do it justice and we have such an outstanding player in Sarah Jeffrey, the TSO’s principal oboist.

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