05 MoszkowskiMoritz Moszkowski – Complete Music for Solo Piano Volume One
Ian Hobson
Toccata Classics TOCC 0572 (toccataclassics.com)

Moritz Moszkowski composed in all genres, but he’s remembered today, if at all, for his 250-plus piano pieces, still occasionally sourced for recital encores. This CD, the first in a projected comprehensive compilation, presents Moszkowski’s earliest piano works, all dating from 1874-1877, when the composer was in his early 20s.

The playful opening Conservatoristen-Polka, humorously labelled “Op.½,” and identified as composed by “Anton Notenquetscher” (Note-Squeezer), references a much-reprinted satiric poem by Moszkowski’s older brother Alexander.

Among the disc’s other 13 pieces, three are fairly substantial, at over nine minutes each. Fantaisie (Hommage à Schumann), Op.5, successfully echoes Schumann’s style and its extremes of assertiveness and tenderness, with lyricism prevailing. In Fantaisie-Impromptu, Op.6, warm, gently rippling melodies slowly build to a fortissimo climax, marked grandioso. Humoreske, Op.14, is a buoyantly cheerful, virtuosic essay in dotted rhythms and rapid runs.

Of the shorter pieces, I particularly enjoyed the reflective, Schumannesque Albumblatt, Op.2, the sentiment-laden Melodie (the first of the Skizzen, Vier kleine Stücke, Op.10) and, most of all, Con moto (the second of Trois Moments Musicaux, Op.7), in which episodes of urgent plaintiveness are offset by beautiful, serene, hymn-like reassurances.

Ian Hobson’s many recordings include all of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas and Chopin’s complete piano works. He also conducted Moszkowski’s orchestral music on the fine CD I reviewed in the December 2020/January 2021 edition of The WholeNote. In Hobson’s very capable hands, future Moszkowski CDs promise many more hours of enjoyable discoveries.

06 Ravel Saint SaensRavel & Saint-Saëns – Piano Trios
Sitkovetsky Trio
Bis BIS-2219 SACD (bis.se)

The subtle colours and evanescent textures of Ravel’s piano music are often compared to those of his older contemporary Debussy, but, in fact, Ravel got there first. Like in Jeux d’eau from 1902, his Piano Trio in A Minor (1914) which features rippling liquid arpeggiated figurations derived from Liszt, is imbued with a singular new delicacy. The four wistful movements of the trio seek to convey an increasingly wide range of vivid sensations, aural and visual to create what is, in effect, a miniature tone poem. 

In one of their best recordings, the Sitkovetsky Trio interpret this piece with idiosyncratic brilliance. The variety of touch and the extraordinary control of dynamics that violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky, cellist Isang Enders and pianist Wu Qian bring to this performance balance limpid tonal clarity and questing energy.  

The other work on this scintillating album is Camille Saint-Saëns’ Piano Trio No.2 in E Minor Op.92. A child prodigy with Mozartian potential, the composer remarked that he lived in music “like a fish in water.” That is eminently clear from this Piano Trio, which, like his concertos, is pleasant on the ear but murder on the fingers. Like their Ravel, the Sitkovetsky Trio’s Saint-Saëns sounds startlingly fresh. Qian’s enthusiastic pianism displays great technical assurance and a sense of tremendous forward momentum. Sitkovetsky’s and Enders’ playing is sinewy and dramatic. Together the trio also give this work a spirited reading.

08 Sibelius LuonnotarSibelius – Luonnotar; Tapiola; Spring Song
Lise Davidsen; Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra; Edward Gardner
Chandos CHSA 5217 (naxosdirect.com/search/chsa5217)

Jean Sibelius – together with Grieg and Dvořák – was largely responsible for the late-19th-century upsurge of musical nationalism. Sibelius’ greatest achievements were to reassert the Finnish ethos as something distinct from both Russia and Sweden – something that made him a cultural figurehead in Finland. This could be attributed to his splendid compositional technique, and a special skill that enabled him to unite the heroic imagery of the Finnish epic Kalevela and the sounds that characterized Scandinavia with the influences of the greater European tradition. 

Though Sibelius’ output is dominated by his seven symphonies, by the time he had written the first of these he had already honed his craft with a series of orchestral pieces on national themes written during the 1890s. This album includes two of these: Rakastava (The Lover) Op.14 and the tone poem Vårsång (Spring Song) Op.16. It also includes two other tone poems, Luonnotar Op, 70 and, arguably Sibelius’ greatest tone poem – Tapiola Op.112, Finlandia notwithstanding. 

The Bergen Philharmonic and Edward Gardner’s account of these works has a truly magisterial authority; Gardner’s control of the imagery of the works – in fine gradations of mood and colour – is utterly convincing. Lise Davidsen’s luminous soprano is heard on Luonnotar and the album’s longest work Pelléas och Mélisande – incidental music for Maurice Maeterlinck’s play. Orchestra and soprano have rarely sounded so beautiful and profoundly absorbed as in these stellar works. An album to die for.

07 Brian Wendelthis is home
Brian Wendel
Independent (brianwendelmusic.com)

For Brian Wendel, principal trombonist of the Vancouver Symphony and a faculty member at the University of British Columbia, the concept of “home” is as much spatial and geographic (now residing on Canada’s West Coast after having grown up in Massachusetts and having lived in New York City as a Juilliard student) as it is metaphoric (identifying repertoire so familiar and comfortable to be thought of as a musical home in which one is capable of expression, creativity and a mature statement of identity). For Wendel, This is Home, is just that; a thoughtful collection of music that includes J.S. Bach, Prokofiev, Enrique Crespo’s Improvisation and Scriabin. 

United not by era, theme or even tunefulness, the pieces chosen instead put forth a compelling statement of where Wendel draws inspiration and gives voice. Often presented in duo format with pianist Carter Johnson, Wendel also plays solo on the Bach and Crespo selections, a format that I do not associate with “classical” music (instead, the albums by George Lewis and Albert Mangelsdorff come to mind here), but would be intrigued to hear more of from this extremely capable and fine musician.  

Although a thorny and difficult instrument, in the right hands (such as Wendel’s) the trombone ranks among the most expressive instruments in music, underscoring and highlighting sublime passages of music heard many times before (such as Bach’s Cello Suites) while giving a unique voice and perspective to both the new and the less familiar.

09 Parker Quartet KashkashianKurtág – Six moments musicaux; Officium breve; Dvořák – String Quintet No.3
Parker Quartet; Kim Kashkashian
ECM New Series 2649 (ecmrecords.com/shop)

In a program of contrasts, the musically sensitive Boston-based Parker Quartet plays the music of György Kurtág with virtuoso panache, and are joined by their mentor, violist Kim Kashkashian, in an Antonín Dvořák work in their ECM New Series debut. Czech composer Dvořák’s easygoing late American period String Quintet No.3 is bookended by two of Kurtág’s tightly wound quartets. The latter’s Six moments musicaux (2005) and the Officium breve in memoriam Andreae Szervánszky (1988/89) glitter jewel-like in their neo-expressionistic refinement.

Composed in three days in Spillville, Iowa in 1893, Dvořák’s lyrical work differs from his other quintets in his use of two violas and also in its formal straightforwardness: there’s little development of thematic material and extensive repetition. The Parker Quartet’s feeling for instrumental colour, texture and attention to detailed ensemble work is evident from the first measure.

The same can be said about the quartet’s performance insights into Kurtág’s scores, developed through extensive work with the senior Hungarian composer. I was particularly moved by the Parker’s riveting rendering of Kurtág’s brilliantly intense 15-section Officium Breve in Memoriam… Even as they mirror the concision of each miniature movement, paradoxically the music becomes even more static, timeless – and elegiac. 

A perceptive reviewer once wrote that his music was “like opening a trapdoor in your floor and dropping for a moment into the infinity of the cosmos.” Kurtág’s notes often seem unmoored from conventional function, freed to resonate in a much larger musical and emotional space.

01 Marie BéginThe new CD Debussy-Franck-Szymanowski finds the Canadian duo of violinist Marie Bégin and pianist Samuel Blanchette-Gagnon in quite superb form (ATMA Classique ACD2 2850 atmaclassique.com/en).

Bégin’s Carlo Bergonzi violin from 1710-1715 produces a glorious sound, and there’s a lovely range of tone colour from both players in the Debussy Sonata in G Minor and in the shimmering, atmospheric performance of the three Szymanowski Mythes Op.30. The heart of the disc is a wonderfully expansive and insightful reading of the Franck Sonata in A Major, with a slow build-up through the opening Allegretto, a brooding and passionate Allegro second movement, a heartfelt Recitativo: Fantasia and a final canon of depth and strength.

Two short transcriptions – Fauré’s Après un rêve and Debussy’s Beau soir, the latter in the Heifetz arrangement – complete a superlative CD.

02 Randall Goosby RootsRoots, the debut CD from the young American violinist Randall Goosby has been attracting a lot of interest, and with good reason. Described as “an exploration of the music written by Black composers and inspired by Black American culture” it’s a strong recital that features fine playing from Goosby and pianist Zhu Wang (Decca Classics 4851664 store.deccaclassics.com/*/CD-Classics/Roots/6Z5A16YW000).

Xavier Dubois Foley’s Shelter Island for violin and string bass (with the composer on bass) is a world-premiere recording, as are the three pieces by Florence Price: Adoration and the two Fantasies, No.1 in G Minor and No.2 in F-sharp Minor. Also here are Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson’s Blue/s Forms for Solo Violin, four songs from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess in the Heifetz transcriptions, William Grant Still’s Suite for Violin and Piano (with its gorgeous second movement), Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Deep River (in an arrangement by violinist Maud Powell) and Dvořák’s three-movement Sonatina in G Major.

Goosby draws a full, warm tone from the 1735 “Sennhauser” Guarneri del Gesù violin, and has a lovely feel for line and phrase. Wang provides excellent support on an impressive debut disc.

03 Wernig Viennese ViolaFrom the opening bars of The Viennese Viola: Emma Wernig, the debut CD from the winner of the 2017 Cecil Aronowitz competition with Albert Cano Smit at the piano, it’s clear that we’re in very good hands. Wernig’s warm, assured playing is supported by Cano Smit’s perfectly matched accompaniment in a beautifully balanced recording of Austrian rarities for viola and piano (Champs Hill Records CHRCD163 emmawernig.com).

Hans Gál wrote his Viola Sonata in A Major Op.101 in Edinburgh in late 1942, having fled Austria in 1938. It’s a lovely work, lyrical and passionate but with moments of melancholy and gloomy introspection.

Two fine works by Robert Fuchs are at the centre of the recital: his Sechs Phantasiestücke Op.117 from 1927 and his Viola Sonata in D Minor Op.86 from 1899. Brahms greatly admired Fuchs, and his influence – as well as that of Schubert – is keenly felt.

Four Schubert songs – Am See, Frühlingstraum, An die Musik and Litanei auf das Fest Aller Seelen – chosen and arranged by the two performers, complete an outstanding CD.

04 Elegy Toby HughesA third – and equally accomplished – debut CD is Elegy: Toby Hughes, featuring the young English bassist accompanied by pianist Benjamin Powell in a recital that Hughes feels offers an insight into the instrument’s versatility (Champs Hill Records CHRCD162 tobyhughesdoublebass.com)

Hughes’ bass is built for solo playing, custom made for him, and what a sound it has – the warmth and agility of a cello, but with heft.

The Aria et Rondo from 1952 by the French composer Alfred Desenclos opens the disc, followed by Reinhold Glière’s Four Pieces – the Prelude and Scherzo Op.32 Nos.1 & 2 and the Intermezzo and Tarantella Op.9 Nos.1 & 2 – the Tarantella drawing dazzling virtuosity from Hughes. The brief Ekskize No.1, in a transcription by its composer Richard Dubugnon, was originally for voice and piano. 

The other major work on the CD is the four-movement Sonata No.2 in E Minor Op.6 from 1911 by Czech composer Adolf Mišek; it’s a passionate work with shades of Brahms and Dvořák. Bottesini’s lovely Elegia No.1, which takes Hughes to the instrument’s highest register, brings an impressive debut CD to a close. 

05 Fullana BachOn the outstanding Bach’s Long Shadow, his first solo album, the Spanish-American violinist Francisco Fullana builds a program of interlinked yet contrasting works around the Bach Partita No.3 in E Major BWV1006 (Orchid Classics ORC100165 orchidclassics.com).

Ysaÿe’s Solo Sonata Op.27 No.2 directly quotes the Bach Partita. Kreisler’s Recitativo & Scherzo Op.6 was dedicated to Ysaÿe, and Fullana is playing Kreisler’s first Guarneri violin, the 1735 “Mary Portman” Guarneri del Gesù which, for the Bach, is set up with gut strings, Fullana using a Baroque bow and historically informed ornamentation for that performance.

Striking transcriptions of Albéniz’ Asturias and Tárrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra, the latter particularly difficult and effective, end a dazzling solo recital, Fullana being joined in an “encore” by Stella Chen, the most recent winner of the Queen Elisabeth Competition, in the first movement of Ysaÿe’s Sonata for Two Violins.

06 Brieuc VourchOn Richard Strauss/César Franck the French duo of violinist Brieuc Vourch and pianist Guillaume Vincent present the Strauss Sonata in E-flat Major Op.18 together with yet another recording of the Franck Sonata in A Major (FARAO Classics B 108112 farao-classics.de).

There’s a strong, bright tone to Vourch’s 1690 Francesco Ruggeri violin in a suitably passionate performance of the Strauss.

Interestingly, the performers’ booklet notes for this and the Bégin/Blanchette-Gagnon disc both mention the tough challenge of trying to find an authentic personal voice in the much-recorded Franck sonata, but the resulting performances could hardly be more different. Vourch and Vincent push the tempo throughout, especially in the Allegro and in a final canon faster than any of the four other Franck CDs I’ve received recently, but at times it simply feels rushed and lacking in subtlety – certainly not as thoughtful or satisfying as the Bégin disc.

07 Diffusion Verona QuartetDiffusion, the outstanding debut CD from the Verona Quartet is described as exploring a mosaic of folk cultures through the lens of three quartets from the early 20th century (Azica Records ACDF-71339 veronaquartet.com).

As musicians hailing from across the world, the quartet wanted their first album to reflect the essence of the cultural migration that is such a big part of their identity. The performances of the three works – Janáček’s String Quartet No.2 “Intimate Letters”, Szymanowski’s String Quartet No.2 Op.56 and Ravel’s String Quartet in F Major – are quite superb in all respects.

The intensely personal intimacy and passion of the Janáček, written near the end of his life and inspired by his unfulfilled love for a much younger married woman, are beautifully captured in a performance that penetrates to the heart of the work. The Szymanowski, similar in style and tone, is equally striking, and a shimmering performance of the Ravel completes an extremely impressive disc full of breathtaking interpretations and playing.

08a Daniel Lippel BachThe two guitarists who form the contemporary FretXDuo, Daniel Lippel and Mak Grgic have both issued solo CDs of music by Johann Sebastian Bach played on the well-tempered guitar. The guitar is by the German luthier Walter Vogt, using his invention The Fine-Tunable Precision Fretboard, in which each fret is split into six individual moveable frets, placed according to the Well-Tempered III tuning designed by Johann Kirnberger, a composer who studied with Bach. This not only enables the music to be heard in its original keys but also retains the specific Baroque character of each key that is lost with today’s equal temperament, where the subtly varying interval sizes are smoothed out.

The Lautenwerk was a Baroque keyboard instrument, essentially a lute-harpsichord with gut strings that could be plucked with different quill materials at different points along their length. On aufs Lautenwerk, Lippel performs two works for the instrument – the Suite in E Minor BWV996 and the Sonata in C Minor BWV997 – along with the Prelude, Fuga & Allegro in E-flat Major BWV998, written for lute or harpsichord (New Focus Recordings FCR920/MicroFest Records MF 18 microfestrecords.com).

Listen to 'aufs Lautenwerk' Now in the Listening Room

08b MAK BACHOn MAK/Bach Grgic presents a simply beautiful recital of solo masterworks and chorales: the Flute Partita in A Minor BWV1013; the Solo Violin Sonata in G Minor BWV1001; and the Cello Suite in D Major BWV1012. Four brief chorales fill out the disc (MicroFest Records MF19 microfestrecords.com).

To be honest, it will probably take a very good ear to fully distinguish the nuances in the tuning here, but there’s no denying the beauty of the sound or the beauty of the playing, with both performers displaying faultless technique – no easy task given the variations in individual fret placements – and an unerring feel for the period style. The Grgic CD, especially his own transcriptions of the Violin Sonata and the Cello Suite is perhaps the more satisfying program of the two, but with music and playing of this remarkable quality there’s no need to choose between them.

09 Roncalli HofstotterThe guitar works of Ludovico Roncalli have long been popular in modern transcriptions, but on Roncalli Complete Guitar Music they are performed by Bernhard Hofstötter on a Baroque guitar attributed to Matteo Sellas of Venice, c.1640 (Brilliant Classics 2CD 95856 brilliantclassics.com).

The five-course Baroque guitar had five pairs of gut strings (the first course often single-strung, as here) with the fourth and fifth sometimes octave-strung (here with a low octave on the fourth course only).

Roncalli’s 1692 Capricci armonici sopra la chitarra spagnola consists of nine sonate (suites), with eight paired in major and relative minor keys, an opening Preludio and Alemanda being followed by various dance forms. Movements are really short – mostly under two minutes. There’s no indication of pitch or tuning, but the actual pitch heard is down a minor third from the listed keys.

Monica Hall’s excellent booklet essay notes that Roncalli’s “exquisite melodic lines and elegant counterpoint are seamlessly combined with the strummed five-part chords which were still a defining feature of guitar music at the time.”

Hofstötter’s masterful playing is an absolute delight throughout.

10 David JacquesThe addition of a sixth string (the low E) in the 1790s established the guitar form that would flourish throughout the 19th century. In his second volume of Histoires de guitares Quebec guitarist David Jacques features 15 historical guitars from his astonishing private collection, all but one from the period 1800-1880, and each one illustrated in colour in the excellent booklet (ATMA Classique ACD2 2821 atmaclassique.com/en).

The 28 short, charming pieces by Giuliani, Sor, Carulli, Paganini and 13 lesser-known composers were chosen specifically to showcase each instrument’s individual qualities and character, and they include some real gems – the three pieces by the English composer Ernest Shand, for instance.

They’re all beautifully played too, with clean technique, sensitivity and a nice range of tonal colour.

11 Lullaby 3 DriftingDrifting, Volume 3 of the New Lullaby Project is the latest CD from guitarist Aaron Larget-Caplan in his excellent series of specially commissioned guitar solos which began in 2007 (Six String Sound 888-03 stonerecords.co.uk).

The 15 short pieces here were written between 2010 and 2020 by 15 different composers, and while they’re not intended to help children get to sleep there’s nothing strident or challenging to the ears. “The compositional language leans tonal and the tuning remains mostly standard,” says Larget-Caplan, “but don’t worry, harmonics still abound.” Indeed they do, in another captivating addition to a significant series that continues to add miniature gems to the contemporary guitar repertoire.

You can find my review of Nights Transfigured – Volume 2 of the New Lullaby Project in the May/June 2021 edition of Strings Attached.

Listen to 'Drifting, Volume 3 of the New Lullaby Project' Now in the Listening Room

01 J G GraunG. Graun – Chamber Music from the Court of Frederick the Great
Augusta McKay Lodge; Georgina McKay Lodge; Eva Lymenstull; David Schulenberg
Brilliant Classics BRI96289 (naxosdirect.com/search/bri96289)

Frederick the Great’s patronage of classical musicians is well known; Frederick was himself an accomplished player and composer. Surprisingly, several of these composers did not perform before the King and are therefore less well known than they should be. This CD seeks reversal of the situation.

A comment is made in the CD notes that the pieces bridge a gap between Baroque and mainstream classical music. This is borne out in Janitsch’s Allegretto which possesses a liveliness worthy of Mozart or Haydn. When it comes to Johann Gottlieb, the slightly older Graun brother, we are treated to a highly spirited Allegro scherzando from violinist Augusta McKay Lodge, echoed literally by David Schulenberg’s harpsichord playing before all instruments proceed to a real virtuoso performance of which J. S. Bach would have been proud.

It is Bach’s oldest son Wilhelm Friedemann who tutored one of the stars of this CD, Franz Benda. Benda’s Sonata for viola brings out the best of Georgina McKay Lodge’s playing. Listen, for example, to her stately and measured approach to the Adagio. Benda, in fact, moved in exalted circles, being a pupil of Wilhelm Friedemann but also having as patron one Sarah Levy, great-aunt of Felix Mendelssohn. And yet it is the Grauns who dominate the CD. Johann Gottlieb’s Trio sonata in A showcases the string playing of both McKay Lodges. All in all, this well-chosen collection demonstrates the tremendous array of talented composers Frederick the Great attracted – which paved the way for Haydn and Mozart.

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