01 SopraSopra La Spagna
La Spagna; Alejandro Marías
Lukos Records 5451CRE201665 (laspagna.es)

Ambitious is perhaps the best word to describe this CD. The mass Agnus Dei was set to many tunes. One of them was the already very well-known Basse Danse La Spagna which subsequently became a setting for Agnus Dei throughout Europe. The ensemble on this CD has even taken La Spagna as its own name. In addition, it has sought to record here as many versions of La Spagna as it can find.

Sometimes the settings are complex. It needs a composer of the calibre of Francesco Canova da Milano to write a complex lute variant, and yet sometimes there is a lively – very lively – simplicity, as in Francisco de la Torre’s version. In the latter all but one of La Spagna’s seven musicians perform, accompanied not least by the pronounced percussion-playing of Daniel Garay.

This contrast between the intense and the spirited is borne out in the suite of six Recercadas sobre la Spagna by Diego Ortiz. Alejandro Marías digs deep into his command of the viola da gamba to interpret these demanding settings. 

La Spagna have been painstaking in their research. They have even uncovered A Spanish Humour, set by Tobias Hume. Hume must have been highly skillful in his talents; he had to be in one of them as he served as a mercenary! Which might account for the explosive introductory bars of his variation... 

It is very difficult to decide which setting of La Spagna is the most thoughtful or the most uplifting. If I had to choose, it would be that by de la Torre, with its loyalty to the intense quality of this sacred composition.

Listen to 'Sopra La Spagna' Now in the Listening Room

02 Handel Francesco Corti Handel – Winged Hands, The Eight Great Suites and Overtures
Francesco Corti
Arcana A499 (naxosdirect.com/search/a499) 

Interpretations of Handel’s Eight Great Suites have long been popular – and frequently recorded on either piano or harpsichord. The choice of instrument was made for Francesco Corti as his whole career has been with the latter. And it is his virtuoso playing which is showcased on this CD.

Note from the beginning of the Gigue in the first Great Suite; a gigue may be written off as a whimsical moment casually tacked onto a supposedly more serious set of movements but in this case Corti breathes dedication and meaning into his performance.  

There are 39 movements to the Great Suites. Selecting those that most bring out Corti’s mastery of the harpsichord is difficult. I thoroughly enjoyed his interpretation of No 6. There is a real dignity to his Presto, contrasted by the concluding Gigue

Corti’s demonstrated mastery is not confined to the suites however. The Ouverture [largo] to Rodelinda commences – and ends – with his imparting a glissando flourish which bookends Handel’s Presto and Adagio, themselves played with real spirit. 

Finally, Babell’s First Set in F Major gives an all-too-tantalizing glimpse into those all-too-many composers who flourished in Handel’s time but were overshadowed by him.

This is the third recording of the Great Suites I have reviewed for The WholeNote. Conti’s interpretation exemplifies why I will never tire of this Handel masterpiece.

03 CPE BachCPE Bach – Sonatas & Rondos
Marc-Andre Hamelin
Hyperion Records CDA68381 (hyperion-records.co.uk/dw.asp?dc=W22447_68381)

“He is the father and we are the children. Anybody who knows anything at all learned it from him.” Lofty words of praise indeed coming from no less a figure than Mozart in reference – not to JS Bach as we might assume – but to his second surviving son Carl Philipp Emanuel. Born in Weimar in 1714, CPE Bach was an accomplished composer and performer. His extensive keyboard output included 400 solo sonatas, fantasias and other works, all of it demonstrating considerable innovation and impeccable craftsmanship exemplified here in this two-disc Hyperion recording of sonatas and rondos performed by Marc-André Hamelin. 

The 56 tracks – a true choice of riches – follow Bach’s compositional career from 1725 to 1787 and what is particularly striking is the diversity in musical style these pieces contain, all within a classical framework. Some of them, such as the Sonata in E Minor Wq59/1 and the Rondo in E Major Wq58/3 show tendencies towards the north German “expressive style” with sudden changes in tempo and key signature while others like the Arioso with Seven Variations in C Major Wq118/10 are pure galanterie.

Throughout, Hamelin performs with a polished assurance, his playing at all times thoughtfully nuanced. His flawless technique particularly comes to the fore in such works as the presto finale of the Fantasia in C Major Wq61/6.

This recording is an exemplary addition to the catalogue. Not only does it shine light on music that deserves greater recognition, but it proves – if proof is needed – that despite Hamelin’s usual focus on virtuosic 19th-century repertoire, he is a master at anything he decides to approach. Excellent notes and attractive packaging are further bonuses.

04 Cristina Gómez Mozart BarenboimMozart; Strauss – Oboe Concertos
Cristina Gómez Godoy; West-Eastern Divan Orchestra; Daniel Barenboim
Warner Classics (warnerclassics.com/release/mozart-strauss-oboe-concertos) 

Oboist Cristina Gómez Godoy enchants listeners on Mozart & Strauss Oboe Concertos. Directed by Daniel Barenboim, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra skillfully manoeuvres both works with chamber music-like sensitivity. Although these two pieces are an unusual pairing for an album, they are the staple of every oboist’s musical library. Gómez Godoy chose to record these two concertos because they are what made her fall in love with the instrument.

The Mozart Oboe Concerto is played in a buoyant and elegant style, mixing in many passages from the near-identical Flute Concerto in D Major. Gómez Godoy has a beautiful, ringing tone and shows a sophisticated yet charming sense of musical style and phrasing.  

Written in 1945, Strauss’ Oboe Concerto was one of his last works. Often a feat of endurance for the soloist, this concerto combines long, soaring musical lines with intimate conversations with solo woodwinds. The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, where Gómez Godoy is principal oboe, shows a great understanding of supportive and chamber roles. In this beautiful rendition of she shows great control and musical maturity.

05 Mozart BeausejourMozart – Famous Sonatas and Fantasia for Fortepiano
Luc Beauséjour
Analekta AN 2 8931 (analekta.com/en)

Chasing mastery in classical music performance is, undoubtedly, a lifelong endeavour. Once you add in the level of required specificity of technique, musical gesture, understanding of repertoire and the historically mediated instrumental touch demanded by an adherence to period piece performance, you end up with an important, but small collection of musicians whose dedication as both curators and custodians of the music of the past, as well individuals who contribute to a slowly, but ever growing, corpus of interpretations, variations and understandings of these canonical works, are worthy of praise, support and attention. 

Quebec’s Luc Beauséjour, who both administratively as the artistic director of the ensemble Clavecin en Concert, and performatively, as evidenced by his most recent Analekta release of Mozart’s Sonatas and Fantasia for Fortepiano, numbers among this committed group. His efforts to demonstrate the continued meaningfulness and relevance of the harpsichord, organ, and here, the Italian fortepiano – Mozart’s favourite – we learn in François Filiatrault’s informative liner notes, are showcased in this soulful and terrific release. 

Beautifully captured in Mirabel, Quebec’s Saint Augustine Church, this recording is bound to be appreciated in equal parts for Beauséjour’s supreme talent, the haunting clarity of this instrument – invented in the early 18th century but effervescent and alive in Beauséjour’s 2022 handling of Mozart’s frozen improvisations – as well as the beautiful recorded ambiance of a simple neighbourhood cathedral that acts as an additional performer and contributes mightily to the success of this disc.

06 Beethoven Rachel PodgerBeethoven – Violin Sonatas Opp.12/1; 24; 96
Rachel Podger; Christopher Glynn
Channel Classics CCSSA44222 (channelclassics.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/44222.pdf) 

Recorded in May, 2021 on the “Maurin” Stradivari (1718) and an Érard fortepiano, this new recording of familiar repertoire from Rachel Podger and Christopher Glynn is full of fanciful joy, assured playing and great intelligence. Unlike Beethoven’s string quartet output, which stretches across all the periods of his remarkable career, his ten sonatas for piano and violin were written in a shorter span of time – between 1797 and 1812. The three on this disc include the first, the last and the most popular, all in major keys and all given beautifully imaginative performances. Opus 24 in F Major “Spring” is particularly thoughtful, with exciting tempi and full of conversational, intimate ensemble playing.
In a recent feature in The Strad magazine, Podger and Glynn spoke about this recording project with insight, Podger commenting that “I find it fascinating to play Beethoven after having pretty much only lived with and around earlier music. What I’ve enjoyed so much is finding the places where he’s being an 18th- and early-19th-century artist, and where and how he breaks free of those shackles.” 

Indeed, both players bring a fresh approach and wide array of colours and improvisatory spirit to the performances. A recent all-Beethoven Wigmore Hall recital by Podger and Glynn is still available on YouTube and well worth experiencing.

07 Jan Lisiecki Night MusicNight Music
Jan Lisiecki
Deutsche Grammophon (deutschegrammophon.com/en/catalogue/products/night-music-jan-lisiecki-12595) 

Jan Lisiecki, the Calgary-born, RCM Glenn Gould School graduate and former Gramophone Young Artist of the Year, leans into his impressive touch, interpretative creativity and familiarity with the canon of elegant and imminently listenable piano music on this acoustically beautiful and well-executed capture of Mozart, Ravel, Schumann and Paderewski. Unlike Vladimir Horowitz, who preferred to perform recitals on Sundays at 4:00 in the afternoon, Lisiecki has programmed here a celebration of “night music,” most obviously Mozart’s 12 Variations in C Major on “Ah, vous dirai-je Maman,” but bookending the album with the lesser-known Miscellanea, Op.16: No.4, Nocturne in B-Flat Major by Paderewski for a satisfying and sonically excellent album of an idealized and relaxed twilight listening experience. 

Undoubtedly I am not the first observer to marvel at Lisiecki’s obvious talent, depth of pianistic understanding and musical maturity while pointing to his young age (27!). That said, Night Music, a 2022 release on Deutsche Grammophon, does offer another welcome glimpse into an already exceptionally developed talent on today’s classical concertizing stage who continues to play with the theme of night for ongoing listener delight (this release follows his two-CD set of Chopin’s Complete Nocturnes). While the standout moments on this disc are many, it was Lisiecki’s dynamic touch in the piano’s lower register and fulsome exploration of the entire keyboard on Maurice Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit Scarbo – (all within a single nine-minute performance) that, for me, was simultaneously the tenderest, most stentorian and impressive.

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