01 Radiant ClassicsIn this debut release (recorded at Glenn Gould Studio), Radiant Classics (Really Records RR 2017002, really-records.com), Nina Soyfer demonstrates her innate ability to meet the stylistic demands of a remarkably varied program. This admirable skill rests on the foundation of an impressive keyboard technique and artistic insight. She performs the Bach Toccata in D Major BWV912 with freedom and sensitivity. The Fugue in particular dances beautifully under the lightness of her touch.

The disc opens with Beethoven’s 32 Variations on an Original Theme in C Minor WoO 80 and closes with his Appasionata Sonata. The Variations demand many changes in mood and the sonata depends greatly on the convincing delivery of the first movement’s heroic theme. Soyfer comes to these works with an unerring sense of who Beethoven is in all his emotional complexity, and creates an experience that is both authentic and profound.

The recording’s most interesting pieces are the two Preludes by Ukrainian composer Vasyl Barvinsky. Not many of his works survive. His late-Romantic, impressionistic style is highly crafted and somewhat reminiscent of Chopin. Soyfer brings considerable emotion and power to his music, leaving the clear impression that more of it needs to be heard.

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02 Lindsay GarritsonLindsay Garritson is no stranger to competitions, touring and live performance. Her impressive list of achievements makes this first disc, Lindsay Garritson, piano (lindsaygarritson.com), a welcome recording. It shows the intensity of her style and the eloquent expression of which she is so remarkably capable.

She begins the disc with the Liszt Rhapsodie Espagnole S.254. It’s a full-on engagement with all the power and nuance that the composer’s work requires. The major item on the CD is the Schumann Sonata No.3 in F Minor Op.14. Its four movements demand a great deal of scope from the performer, from the often deep introspection of the second and third movements to the blazing technique of the Finale. Garritson’s technical and interpretive abilities are inspiring. She has clearly lived with this piece for a long time and justifiably owns it.

Rachmaninov’s setting of the Kreisler Liebesleid completes her program in a show of capricious keyboard genius. It’s the kind of playing that brings audiences to their feet after encores. You can do it in the privacy of your living room – your secret will be safe with us.

03 Bruce LevingstonThis beautiful CD Windows (Sono Luminus DSL 92218 sonoluminus.com) is the seventh in Bruce Levingston’s discography. The main work is Schumann’s Kinderszenen Op.15. Levingston proves himself an artist whose first impulse is to find and reveal a composer’s most fragile moments. His ability to do this is quite disarming. The best example of this is Träumerei. Not since Horowitz played this as the encore in his 1986 Moscow concert near the end of his life, have I heard such playing. Words completely fail. Levingston brings this approach to the whole piece and thereby creates something quite unlike anything recorded of late.

The other works on the CD are commissions from two contemporary composers. The Shadow of the Blackbird by David Bruce is the program’s opening piece and is very much in the character of the Schumann that follows it. It’s deceptively simple yet searching and contemplative. A perfect beginning to Levingston’s program.

The CD’s title tracks Windows are James Matheson’s five-movement composition inspired by the stained glass windows of Marc Chagall and Henri Matisse. Matheson uses the piano’s colours very effectively in his writing. Levingston plays this in a way that draws an interpretive thread convincingly through the works of all three composers.

04 Liza StepanovaLiza Stepanova takes an unusual and creative approach to her new CD Tones & Colors (Concert Artists Guild CAG 120 concertartists.org). Using paintings as the inspiration for her four-part program, she blends music from Bach to Ligeti into themes depicting A Spanish Room, Nature and Impressionism, Conversations Across Time, and Wagner, Infinity and an Encore.

It’s a skillfully assembled repertoire list and beautifully played throughout. A number of tracks stand out. El pelele by Granados makes a brilliant opening, with its rich harmonies and sparkling writing. Stepanova has equal success with the three impressionist pieces in the second set. Fanny Hensel’s September: At the River is especially effective.

The third set uses four pieces in the key of E-flat minor. A Bach Prelude and Fugue BWV853, George Crumb’s Adoration of the Magi and a second fugue by Lyonel Feininger based on the subject used by Bach in his fugue. It’s quite striking to hear how the shared key draws these disparate works so tightly together.

Stepanova begins her final set with Liszt’s transcription of Wagner’s Overture to Tannhäuser. It’s magnificent playing that captures the grand scale of Wagner’s work, from the solemn chorale-like opening to its towering climax. Ligeti’s Etude No.14 Infinite Column is a devilish piece to perform and reveals Stepanova’s true power at the keyboard. A graduate of Juilliard and a seasoned performer, Stepanova is one to follow in the piano world.

05 Robert PresterRobert Prester may be better known today as an accomplished jazz pianist, but his new CD Robert Prester – Rapsodya (robertprester.com) is a reminder of his many years as a young pianist absorbing the classical repertoire. The learning of this period has shaped his playing with a light and precise touch, a keen interpretive impulse focused clearly on emotion, and a remarkable grasp of musical architecture.

This new recording contains the Beethoven Sonata No.12 in A-flat Major Op.26 performed with a fresh and energized enthusiasm – as if it were a world premiere. Debussy’s Jardins Sous la Pluie is an impressive example of Prester’s keyboard agility. The Bach Prelude and Fugue No.6 in D Minor WTC Book II is an excellent example of the musical discipline and intuition that Prester brings to all his playing.

The real gem on this disc, however, is Prester’s own composition. The Sonata in F Minor is a fusion of classical and jazz harmonies. It adheres closely to the structure of sonata form but is deeply imbued with the harmonic clusters, intervals and rhythms we associate intimately with jazz. This mix is seamless and well balanced. If anything, it’s a reminder of our enduring tendency to keep these two genres isolated in their own worlds without believing their co-mingling can produce something unique and truly beautiful.

It’s a terrific recording. Visionary, successful and altogether brilliant.

06 Nancy Zipay DesalvoNancy Zipay DeSalvo presents the work of two contemporary composers in her new recording Small Stones – Modern Piano Music (Navona Records NV 6139 navonarecords.com).

Jason Tad Howard’s Piano Sonata No.2 is not really a sonata in the formal sense. Rather, it explores eight short musical ideas that the composer calls Short Shorts, before bringing them together in a final expression amusingly described as a Not Quite So Short Short Short. Despite the light humour, the work is quite substantial and at times very technically demanding. The eight pieces are varied in style and mood, and kept to less than two minutes’ playing time. They tend slightly toward a minimalist form and finally emerge in the complexity of the last movement.

Daniel Perttu’s Sonata for Piano is inspired by a visit to Stonehenge. Perttu uses many compositional devices to evoke the ancient mystery associated with this landmark: minor modes, atmospheric writing and plenty of technical exploitation of the piano’s potential in evoking the moods he requires. This sonata is more challenging for the performer than the earlier work. DeSalvo handles it all with a confidence that speaks to her lifetime as a performer and teacher.

The two sonatas are a good selection and represent a fine example of contrasting approaches to contemporary piano writing.

07 Lynell JamesLynelle James has recorded her first solo piano CD, Lynelle James Piano (Blue Griffin Recording BGR435 bluegriffin.com). She includes the Beethoven Piano Sonata No.28 in A Major Op.101, in which the third movement emerges as a masterpiece of deeply touching melancholy. It’s a very satisfying performance that is even more thrilling for the energy that erupts in the final movement. Her command of the keyboard is inspiring, especially in the frequent restatements of the fugal subject in the bass line.

Some of James’ academic work has focused on the life and music of Russian avant-garde composer Nikolay Roslavets. It’s natural that she would use her first recording to bring this lesser-known repertoire to public attention. Roslavets’ Five Preludes reveals an ethereal and somewhat mystical language that James captures with conviction and authenticity. The music is replete with dynamic and emotional changes and moves strongly in the direction of atonality while never quite losing a tonal centre, however distant.

Her performance of the Scriabin Sonata No.4 in F Sharp Major Op.30 is extraordinary. The two movements are of such contrasting character, it’s difficult to believe they’re by the same composer. James understands the core of Scriabin’s expression and holds the work together wonderfully.

The Schumann Symphonic Etudes Op.13 concludes the CD. Structured as a theme and variations, the bulk of the piece is a series of etudes on the opening idea. As such, it quickly becomes a beautiful display of keyboard technique and varied musical devices that Schumann conceived in his own brilliant way. James plays these with flair and an expansive grasp of their symphonic scale.

08 Panayiotis DemopolisPanayiotis Demopoulos’ latest recording Brahms, Demopoulos, Mussorgsky (Diversions ddv 24166 divineartrecords.com) is his third and includes one of his own compositions, Farewells for Piano. The work is a tribute to his two principal teachers in the UK. It’s structured in four parts, each representing a farewell offered in one of the four seasons. Demopoulos writes that the work has no explicit program beyond its title. The four short pieces are very modern in their language and surprisingly abrupt in mood change.

The main work on the CD is the Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition. Demopoulos uses the 1931 edition edited by Pavel Lamm that corrected the numerous and questionable portions of the 1886 version edited by Rimsky-Korsakov. The 16 short pieces that comprise the Pictures encompass the entire expressive spectrum and call upon the pianist to be everything from sprite to superhero. It is Mussorgsky’s demand for contrast on such an enormous scale that presents performers with the daunting task of playing the piece complete in live performance. At least the recording studio offers the respite of breaks between takes.

However Demopoulos did it, it’s breathtaking. By the time he’s portrayed little chicks, the busy market place, the realm of the dead and arrives at the Great Gate of Kiev, awe is all that remains.

01 Beethoven StraussBeethoven – Septet; Strauss – Till Eulenspiegel einmal anders!
OSM Chamber Players
Analekta AN 2 8788 (analekta.com)

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Septet, Op.20 (1799) was a pivotal work. Such learned musicians as the composer’s former teacher Joseph Haydn applauded its expert deployment of four stringed and three wind instruments: violin, viola, cello, double bass, clarinet, bassoon and horn. Energy, wit and sunny moods gained it public popularity, and listeners will likely find this recording by the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal Chamber Soloists attractive. Variety in sound brings the work its distinctiveness. While artistic director Andrew Wan’s agile violin and Todd Cope’s impeccable clarinet take the lead, other instruments also have solo turns, and wonderful instrumental groupings sustained this listener’s interest. In the Adagio, instrumentalists make the most of expressive opportunities; Neal Gripp’s viola solo is particularly attractive. All players bring fine articulation to the minuet, while in the trio Cope, Stéphane Lévesque, bassoon, and John Zirbel, horn add beautiful decorative arpeggios. Cellist Brian Manker and double bassist Ali Yasdanfar contribute greatly to overall balance and tight ensemble; the finale is a tour de force.

Richard Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel (einmal anders!), abridged and arranged by Franz Hasenöhrl (1885-1970) for the above forces minus viola and cello, is a tour de force of a different kind. Premiered in 1954, it squeezes the familiar tone poem’s thematic material into less than nine minutes, including exciting virtuosity and humorous touches that in the Chamber Soloists’ capable hands remain within the bounds of taste!

02 French Flute musicNouvelle Vie – A Rediscovery of French Flute Music
Michelle Batty Stanley; Margaret McDonald
Navona Records NV5135 (navonarecords.com)

Nouvelle Vie, by flutist Michelle Batty Stanley and pianist Margaret McDonald introduces us to some lesser-known compositions and composers working during the years of the Belle Époque in Paris. It also includes three better-known works by Philippe Gaubert, who might be considered a child of the Belle Époque, since the year of his birth was 1879.

René de Boisdeffre’s Canzonetta, Op.39 No.8, provides the recording with a strong opening and is played with vivacity, precision and grace. Stanley’s articulation, something much more difficult on the flute than on most other instruments, is terrific, pretty well as good as Aurèle Nicolet – and her use of rubato at the ends of phrases and the subsequent a tempi are an inspiration!

Émile Bernard’s Romance, Op.33, which, with its long, languorously lyrical phrases, could only have been written by a French composer, was also new to me, as were Émile Pessard’s Troisième and Quatrième Pièces, every bit as interesting as his delightful and better known Andalouse.

Alphonse Catherine’s Barcarolle, with its nautical undulating 6/8 piano part (played exquisitely on this recording by McDonald), and his Sérénade Mélancolique, which begins evocatively, a bit like Taffanel’s Andante Pastoral et Scherzettino, are both charming and suggest that the golden age of the flute continued beyond the 1880s and 90s, since Catherine lived until 1927.

Victor-Alphonse Duvernoy’s Deux Morceaux and Joseph-Henri Altès’ Romanza, Op.33 No.1, also new to me, are also wonderful.

03 Saint SaensSaint-Saëns – Symphonic Poems
Lille National Orchestra; Jun Märkl
Naxos 8.573745 

There is a wonderful part in middle of the tone poem Phaéton: as the audacious but foolish young man dares to take Apollo’s chariot for a forbidden ride, with urgent, syncopated rhythms the horses swing into action, the chariot begins to rise upwards and suddenly vistas open up in heavenly radiance – all this depicted in glorious music. Phaéton gleefully revels in it, but his joy is short-lived. There is a brutal ending to his offending the god.

This and many more delights are in store for us, like Hercules’ punishment of having to spin wool dressed as a woman, in probably the finest of Saint-Saëns’ tone poems and a favourite of Sir Thomas Beecham, Le Rouet d’Omphale: here, a delightful rondo imitates the spinning of the spool, but in the midst of all this a powerful roaring melody emerges towards a shattering fortissimo climax. This is no joke anymore. This is Hercules!

Invented by Liszt and a product of Romanticism, the symphonic poem was happily brought to France by Saint-Saëns, who applied to it his considerable gifts of “melody and form” and “impeccable craftsmanship,” not to mention his vivid imagination and love of Greek mythology. All of this is coupled by Naxos’ choice of a lesser-known but excellent, dedicated orchestra and the young, imaginative and talented conductor Jun Märkl, breathing new life into these pieces.

With state-of-the-art spacious sound, the brilliant and colourful orchestral palette shines through and the disc has already become Presto’s Editor’s Choice for December 2017.

04 Suengkee Lee clarinetFull Circle
Seunghee Lee; Katrine Gislinge
Musica Solis (seunghee.com)

Full Circle is a collection of clarinet music performed by Seunghee Lee accompanied on piano by Katrine Gislinge. According to the liner notes, the collection represents the musical journey Lee has followed over the course of her recording career. She has a singing quality that suits the lyricism of all of the works, not one of which will give your ear any difficult sounds to sort through. Her earlier releases are colourful renderings of “classical” reworkings, segments of symphonies, opera arias, art song, etc. She is a player with indisputable technical strength and expressive tone, who on recordings stays away from more “difficult” repertoire. This is fine; she plays this material with grace and lovely conviction.

Included are two of the more substantial works of the Romantic era: the Fantasiestücke of Robert Schumann (Op.73) and Fantasy Pieces Op.48 of Niels Gade. Lee demonstrates the depth of expression needed to bring both to life, and if you’ve never heard the Gade, this is a great introduction. Bent Sørenson provides a somewhat syrupy confection in his Romance, premiered herein; Lucas Foss’ Three American Pieces for violin and piano, transcribed for clarinet by Richard Stoltzman and edited by Lee under the composer’s supervision, lend a somewhat more bracing counterpoint to the easy-listening character of most of the tracks. Music from a British television series, an Italian film-scoring composer, a little-known Vocalise (1935) by Olivier Messiaen and the well-worn Pièce en Forme de Habanera by Maurice Ravel round out this quirky collection. 

01 James EhnesWhat more is there to say about James Ehnes? He’s simply one of the best violinists in the world, and an artist whose performances tend to leave you scrambling for superlatives. Not surprisingly, that’s the case with his latest CD release, perhaps rather surprisingly his first recording of the Beethoven Violin Concerto in D Major Op.61, on Beethoven Violin Concerto, Romances; Schubert Rondo, with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under Andrew Manze (ONYX 4167).

It’s a quite sumptuous performance, with Ehnes’ complete technical and musical command and glorious tone fully evident throughout. In a work which mostly eschews technical fireworks and concentrates on linear writing, Ehnes makes every melodic line sing. It may be a performance somewhat less animated than some current approaches to the work, but it’s one of great beauty, silky smoothness and assurance. Manze, an early music violinist turned conductor, draws a stylistically appropriate accompaniment from the orchestra. The cadenzas for the outer movements are by Kreisler (not always used these days) and give Ehnes all the opportunity he could possibly want to display his dazzling technique.

The two Romances, No.1 in G Major Op.40 and No.2 in F Major Op.50, from around 1800, do not have the heft of the concerto, but are much more than mere lightweights. Either one may have been intended as a possible slow movement for a projected C-major violin concerto begun in the late 1790s, and they sound lovely here.

Franz Schubert’s Rondo in A Major for Violin and Orchestra D438 is one of only three works – all for violin – that he wrote for solo instrument and orchestra. Composed when he was 19, it is full of typical Schubertian melody.

02 Michel CorretteThere’s a simply outstanding new CD from the Canadian west coast duo of violinist Paul Luchkow and harpsichordist Michael Jarvis of the six Sonatas for Harpsichord & Violin Op.25 by the 18th-century French composer Michel Corrette (Marquis MAR 81475).

The works date from around 1742 and were published with the usual description for the period as Sonates pour le Clavecin avec un Accompagnement de Violon, although the violin’s role here is clearly not merely subservient. As the excellent booklet notes point out, the keyboard writing is more symphonic in scale than simply melody with accompaniment, with the violin sharing the melodic role and enhancing the harpsichord’s orchestral texture.

The violin playing is sensitive and warm, and the harpsichord playing bright, clear and beautifully articulated. There’s sensitivity in the slow movements, dazzling virtuosity in the fast outer movements and superb ensemble playing throughout. It’s thoroughly engrossing music, fascinating and inventive with never a dull moment, and recorded with lovely ambience. All in all, an absolute delight.

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03 Violin Cello HarpThere’s more fine Canadian ensemble playing on Trios for Violin, Cello and Harp, featuring violinist Antoine Bareil, cellist Stéphane Tétreault and harpist Valérie Milot in works by Jacques Ibert and Henriette Renié (Analekta AN 2 9888).

The Ibert Trio is a really lovely work dating from 1944, although it seems to inhabit an earlier French world than that of the Second World War. The equally delightful Trio by the harpist and composer Renié, an exact contemporary of Ibert, is firmly in the style of that earlier age, having been written in 1901.

A selection of shorter works fills out the CD. Renié’s Danse des lutins is a virtuosic piece for solo harp that showcases Milot’s technique. Bareil and Tétreault combine for their own fireworks in the familiar Passacaglia by Johan Halvorsen before all three players reunite for their own adaptation of Schubert’s poignant song Lob der Tränen.

Bareil and Tétreault in particular are in wonderful form here, but there’s a lovely sound quality throughout the disc, with fine ensemble playing and great balance. It’s another delightful CD.

04 PiazaollaThe Argentinian-born violinist Tomás Cotik received rave reviews for his 2013 Tango Nuevo CD of music of Astor Piazzolla with Chinese-American pianist Tao Lin (available on Naxos 8.573166), and the duo mark the 25th anniversary of the legendary Argentinian composer’s death with the release of a second outstanding tango CD, Astor Piazzolla Legacy (Naxos 8.573789).

This new disc is essentially the concert program the duo put together following the success of the first CD, and features new adaptations of some of Cotik’s favourite Piazzolla works. They are joined at times by Jeffrey Kipperman on bass and Alex Wadner and Bradley Loudis on percussion. Four of the ten titles are arrangements by Osvaldo Calo, but the other six are adaptations by Cotik himself, including the central work on the CD, the superb four-movement Las cuatro estaciones porteňas (Four Seasons of Buenos Aires).

Cotik has a beautiful clarity and depth to his playing; Lin draws a simply gorgeous tone from the piano, and the bass and percussion contributions are used to great effect. Listening to Cotik brings to mind the saying about blues music: that you don’t play the blues, you live them. Cotik doesn’t just play tango music – he lives it. It’s absolutely captivating and intoxicating stuff.

05 American RomanticsAmerican Romantics II – Premiere Recordings of Turn of the Century Works for String Orchestra is a fascinating second CD in a series created by New York conductor Reuben Blundell promoting under-represented American music from the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th (New Focus Recordings FCR 166B). Blundell conducts the Gowanus Arts Ensemble, a group of NYC freelancers assembled specifically for the project.

The short works are all world premiere recordings, and for some of the composers it’s the first time any of their music has appeared on disc. There are 15 works here by 12 different composers: those represented are the English-born Félix Borowski; George Whitefield Chadwick; Arthur Foote; the German-born Paul Theodore Miersch; Ethelbert Nevin; Edgar Stillman Kelley; the Dutch-born Martinus van Gelder and Bernardus Boekelman; the French-born Louis Lombard; Arthur Bird; and Charles Wakefield Cadman. The Danish-born Carl Busch’s arrangements of two Stephen Foster songs open and close the CD.

The music is much of its time, as you would expect, but is no less accomplished and attractive for that; Lombard’s Puccini-esque Élégie is particularly lovely. The string ensemble is only ten players, but sounds much fuller and richer in simply lovely performances.

An extremely attractive digi-pak complements an original and highly satisfying release.

06 Serebrier GranadosJosé Serebrier leads the Concerto Málaga String Orchestra on Serebrier conducts Granados, the somewhat misleading title of a new CD from the SOMM Recordings Céleste Series (SOMMCD 0171).

Only five of the 16 short tracks are by Granados; the remaining 11 are by eight different composers, mostly emphasizing a connection with Barcelona, where Granados spent his entire working life. All five Granados tracks – Andaluza, Oriental, Pequeňa Romanza, El Himno de los Muertos and Intermezzo from Goyescas – are arrangements, as are Recuerdos de la Alhambra and Gran Vals by Francisco Tárrega and the famous Tango and Mallorca by Isaac Albéniz.

Nocturno is a lovely piece by Eduard Toldrà. Joaquim Malats’ Serenata Espaňola, Ruperto Chapi’s Nocturno and Enric Morera’s brooding Desolació are followed by the two earliest compositions on the disc, Jesús de Monasterio’s beautiful Andante Religioso from 1872 and Andantino Expresivo from 1881. Ricard Lamote de Grignon’s Lento Expresivo is a nice final track.

The playing is warm and idiomatic, although there’s not really a great deal for the orchestra to get their teeth into.

07 Ramon PausThere’s music by the contemporary Spanish composer Ramón Paús on Works for Viola, featuring the Israeli violist Yuval Gotlibovich, in the Naxos Spanish Classics series (8.573602). Paús, born in 1959, has worked extensively in the film, theatre and television worlds as well as the classical field.

Gotlibovich is joined by pianist Eduardo Fernández in Madera Ocaso (Wood Sunset) (2013), an extensive single-movement rhapsodic piece with modern touches and a very strong piano part. The Catalan Chamber Orchestra under Joan Pàmies form the accompaniment for the even more rhapsodic Cobalto azul, en tránsito (Cobalt blue, in transit) (2013), and the same performers are joined by violinist Raquel Castro and the ESMUC Chamber Choir male voices in the quite beautiful Elegía primera, la deriva (First elegy, the drift) (2014), an effective and moving work focusing on extreme loss. Gotlibovich displays a warm and beautiful tone throughout the instrument’s range.

Madera Ocaso was written for these two performers and Gotlibovich also gave the first performance of the other two works, the recording sessions for the Elegia primera beginning the day after its November 2015 premiere in Barcelona.

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08 Il RitornoMusic for violin and viola by American composer Michael Alec Rose is featured on Il Ritorno, with the English duo of violinist Peter Sheppard Skærved and violist Diana Mathews (Métier MSV 28574). There are two works for violin and viola and two for solo violin here, all of which were a result of the composer’s long friendship with the two performers. Mathews commissioned the opening work, Unturned Stones: Duo for Violin and Viola (2012), a three-movement piece that takes the study of landscape as a starting point but ventures much further afield, Rose’s extensive booklet notes quoting Talmudic study and Zen philosophy.

Mornington Caprice: Duo for Violin and Viola (2015) is the second caprice Rose has written for Mathews and was inspired by Frank Auerbach’s painting Mornington Crescent – Early Morning (1991). At under four minutes it takes longer to read and understand the booklet notes than it does to listen to the music.

By far the biggest work on the CD is the title track, subtitled Perambulation for Solo Violin (2013-2015). It was inspired and shaped by the composer’s obsession with Dartmoor in Devon, England, which he first visited in 1991 and which he describes as “the reigning metaphor” of his life; he has returned 18 times since then, hence the work’s title. The four pages of intense booklet notes make it clear that this work goes well beyond the purely physical appeal of the landscape suggested by the six movement titles: Preamble; Bearings; Silence; Water; Stone; and Song. Skærved is in quite superb form in a work which is certainly not lacking a tonal feel and that uses very little in the way of extreme technique; there is some remarkable playing here, especially in Stone.

The brief Diaphany (2016) for solo violin is a strong finish to the disc. It may be something of a challenge to fully understand the philosophical approach here, but there’s no doubting the strength and quality of the music.

09 Dorothy HindmanTightly Wound: Music for Strings is a 2CD set of works by the American composer Dorothy Hindman featuring 13 varied works played by a wide range of performers (Innova 965).

Hindman’s music is described as “a blend of punk/grunge with a spectralist sensibility,” although the differing styles of the works here would seem to suggest more; this is clearly music by a highly accomplished composer.

CD2 is by far the stronger of the two, with various pieces for guitar quartet (the terrific Taut), solo guitar, string quartet, amplified cello, and both solo violin and solo cello with fixed media. The exemplary performers include guitarist Paul Bowman, cellist Craig Hultgren, violinist Karen Bentley Pollick, the Corona Guitar Kvartet and the Amernet String Quartet.

01 Claude BakerMarc-André Hamelin’s new CD partners him with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra for a world premiere recording of the Claude Baker Piano Concerto “From Noon to Starry Night” (Naxos 8.559804).

Based on a poem by Walt Whitman, Baker’s work is highly detailed with many linkages to the structure of Whitman’s poem. Baker several times quotes well-known musical material to emphasize the programmatic content of both his music and Whitman’s poem.

The five-movement concerto is complex and presents considerable technical and interpretive challenges for the pianist. Hamelin’s performance integrates beautifully into this demanding ensemble requirement. He is particularly potent where he dominates the orchestra in pianissimo passages. For all its beauty, the work is one of very high tension. Baker is a brilliant composer and has the perfect pianist to premiere this remarkable work.

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02 PersichettiThe harpsichord has, of all period instruments, made the most successful transition to contemporary music. This is largely due to the extraordinary writing of American composer Vincent Persichetti. Christopher D. Lewis demonstrates why Persichetti’s music is so powerful, in his new release Persichetti Harpsichord Sonatas (Naxos 8.559843).

Five sonatas and the Serenade No.15 Op.161 sample the early period, mid-career and final year of the composer’s life (1915-1987). The growth and development of his language for this instrument is subtle. Always leaning toward melody and strong rhythmic elements, Persichetti became, if anything, more focused and incisive in his expression. The Serenade in particular, offers a splendid example of how Lewis grasps the composer’s idiom and conveys it convincingly. He’s clearly having a great deal of fun playing this music and relishes the extent of the technical challenge as well as the lovely melodic moments that mark all of Persichetti’s harpsichord works.

Well-programmed and wonderfully played, the disc delivers far more than a first glance might suggest. It reincarnates the harpsichord as a credible modern keyboard instrument.

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03 Ralph van RaatRalph van Raat is a pianist with a very catholic taste in music. His affection for rock, jazz, atonal serial music, and everything between them is accurately reflected in his decision to record Erik Lotichius: Anaitalrax – 25 virtuosic studies (Solaire SOL 1005 2-CD). Lotichius (1929-2015) was born in the Netherlands and composed in a style that was a deep fusion of seemingly countless influences. Traditional European classical voices and numerous American ones appear consistently throughout his very tonal and rhythmically driven music. Jazz, ragtime, blues, Broadway, Bach, Bartók, Debussy and Ravel are easy to identify, but it’s the amalgams that emerge as the unique voice of this little-known composer.

Van Raat performs these 25 studies as if they were meditations, sustaining the composer’s mantra-like phrases and hypnotic rhythms to great effect. Lotichius is a master at capturing more than just your ear, he wants your emotional attention and knows how to get it. This 2CD set includes an extensive and enlightening biography of the composer as well as some engaging thoughts from both the performer and the recording’s producer.

04 SzymanowskyBarbara Karaskiewicz has compiled a fascinating program in her recording Karol Szymanowski Piano Music (Divine Art DDA 25151). It forms a survey of the composer’s work covering nearly 40 years, beginning with Nine Preludes Op.1, written in 1900. The presence of Chopin is immediately detectable along with vocabulary reminiscent of some Brahms Intermezzi. There is a familiar fluidity and nostalgic ethos that pervades the music. Karaskiewicz plays these beautifully, bringing forward the composer’s unique voice. The Four Etudes Op.4 reveal the influence of early modernism, with some careful tonal experimentation that Karaskiewicz integrates quite naturally into the character of the pieces.

Szymanowski’s output is generally considered to fall into two periods, of which the second is strongly influenced by Eastern motifs and subject matter. The exotic elements of Scheherazade from Masques Op.34 take advantage of the angular melodies and dissonant harmonies of the period’s emerging contemporary music.

Karaskiewicz’s programming arch covers a considerable distance and concludes with Two Mazurkas Op.62 that reveal the fading but ever-present influence of Chopin in Szymanowski’s music.

05 Cloak with StarsThe Cloak with the Stars – Music for organ by Carson Cooman Vol.6 (Divine Art dda 25159) is a selection of works by this American composer and organist. Erik Simmons recorded several of the earlier volumes in this series and now enjoys an established reputation for a level of expertise with Cooman’s repertoire. Simmons performs using the Hauptwerk system digital sampling technology, and data from the organ of the Abbey of Saint-Etienne, Caen, France. The instrument was built by Cavaille-Coll in 1882-85 and despite its age, is the newest of numerous organs that have been in the Abbey since its founding by William the Conqueror in 1066.

One of Cooman’s strengths as a composer is his ability to use programmatic material. He remains free enough to create highly atmospheric works that deliver more of a feel about the subject matter than a linear storyline. Three St. Francis Legends is an excellent example. The disc’s finest track, however, is Diptych for a New Life, a tribute to the life-giving imagery of the sun. Cooman’s writing is colourful and highly effective.

06 Andreas WillscherAs an organist, Carson Cooman continues to add new recordings to his growing catalogue of “virtual” pipe organ performances. Andreas Willscher Organ Symphonies 19 & 20 (Divine Art dda 25162) is the latest and once again uses the increasingly ubiquitous Hauptwerk digital sampling system. The instrument captured on this recording is the 1868 Edmund Schulze in the Church of St. Bartholomew, Armley, Leeds, England. It’s a substantial instrument of 55 stops over five divisions. Judging from the acoustic space heard in the recording, the church is large and suits the instrument perfectly. A curious piece of history recounts how the organ was originally placed in a building too small for its size and volume, lasting only a decade there before being sold and installed in its present location.

Cooman’s program for this disc focuses on the work of German composer and organist Andreas Willscher (b.1955). His compositional language for the instrument is deeply traditional yet freely incorporates catchy contemporary rhythms along with carefully applied contemporary tonalities. The 1974 work Beatitudes is a remarkable piece for a then 19-year-old composer. The major works on the recording, the Symphonies 19 and 20, are both far bolder expressions. They also reflect Willscher’s lifetime experience writing for the organ, learning to exploit its vast range of colours and dynamics.

07 Lise de la SalleLise De La Salle has recorded her ninth disc, Bach Unlimited (Naïve V5444). Two of her previous CDs have included some Bach, as does this new one. Despite its title, the only Bach work is the Italian Concerto in F Major BWV971 that opens the disc. It’s a stunning performance; driven, flawlessly controlled, and fast. Really fast. The last movement just leaves you shaking your head.

To underscore the impact Bach’s music has had on her piano career, De La Salle performs several well-known works that use a B-A-C-H motif (B-flat, A, C, B) by Liszt, Poulenc and contemporary composer Thomas Enhco. She also includes Busoni’s transcription of the Chaconne in D Minor BWV1004 and Albert Roussel’s Prélude and Fugue Op.46. Enhco has, however, written several works based on Bach’s Chaconne, the Italian Concerto and Goldberg Variations, and De La Salle includes all of these in her performance program.

It’s an eclectic approach that works well under De La Salle’s hands. She’s a powerful player, versatile and completely in command of whatever repertoire she performs.

08 Late BeethovenIshay Shaer has recorded his second CD in what should be the beginning of a very promising career. Late Beethoven (Orchid Classics ORC 10076) includes the Sonatas No.28 in A Major Op.101 and No.30 in E Major Op.109 along with the Bagatelles of Opp.126 and 119. Beethoven was never overly impressed with what he felt the Bagatelles had to offer, but we see them more charitably today and Shaer has a way of rendering them that advances our own desire to know Beethoven better.

The real impact of this disc is in the exceptional and sensitive performance that Shaer brings to the two sonatas. He plays from inside the works with profound affection. Both sonatas have a great deal of introspective opportunity and Shaer never misses the chance to explore a little deeper. He seems to have a vision of a vulnerable Beethoven we seldom see.

Shaer’s command of the powerful, explosive passages is entirely convincing. But perhaps his choice of these two sonatas, very much alike in their emotional content, says more about where this young pianist has the capability to go.

09 Belle EpochLeslie Howard and Mattia Ometto collaborate as duo pianists in Belle Epoque Reynaldo Hahn – Complete Works for two pianos and piano duet (Melba MR 301148-49). Howard steps away from his lifetime role a solo pianist to play Hahn’s repertoire for two pianos and piano four hands. His performance partner Mattia Ometto carries impeccable credentials and the pair have created a splendid two-disc set that opens with Douze Valses à deux pianos. These are pure period works just fizzing with ballroom champagne. The duo next move into more serious repertoire, some of which Hahn wrote before the turn of the century. The loveliness of Hahn’s writing makes an immediate impact, especially in Scherzo lent pour deux pianos. Disc 2 continues with ever more thoughtful writing and performance. The set includes three world premiere recordings of Hahn’s work.

As piano duos go, great value is placed on the merger of two artists into a larger entity that becomes the duo. While this is obviously true in the case of Howard and Ometto, there is, nevertheless, a wonderful element of individualism at work in this pair. It’s most evident when they’re each at their own keyboard and it breathes a fresh creative spark into their playing.

10 David CheskyDavid Chesky is a prolific composer with nearly a hundred works to his credit. He has written for every conceivable classical form and has made his reputation by doing it in studio with the aid of the latest technology, especially in his large-scale compositions. This recording, David Chesky Piano Concertos 2 & 3 - Orchestra of the 21st Century (Chesky Records JD404), is his remarkable foray into the piano concerto form. Inspired by the chaos of New York City, the concertos are extremely high-energy works written and played at an impressive level of excellence.

Composer/pianist Chesky’s style is a fusion of the many influences in his creative life. It’s all there: classical music, rock, jazz, Latin strains, traffic chaos, etc. The elements are beautifully conceived and drawn into a contemporary tapestry that incorporates many familiar threads. The result is a music that is at once recognizable yet exhilaratingly modern.

Chesky’s ability as composer, orchestrator, performer and producer are remarkable. It’s an incredible disc that makes a lasting impression.

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