03 RossiniThe Rossini Project Volume 1 – The Young Rossini
Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana; Markus Poschner
Concerto Classics CD 2112 (naxosdirect.com)

Rossini was a wunderkind who came on the musical scene like a comet and music just poured out of him, much like Mozart. His creative genius never diminished and his greatest works came near the end of his long life. Last year was the 150th anniversary of his death and this ongoing ambitious project, which includes some first recordings, has been created with the Lugano-based Swiss orchestra to explore and record much of his lesser-known and hitherto unedited works. It certainly starts off splendidly with a wonderfully pointed, sparkling rendition of the Overture to L’Italiana in Algeri. Though not at all unknown, it immediately demonstrates the gifted young German conductor Markus Poschner’s obvious affinity to Rossini. The overtures that follow are youthful attempts but already showing the lion’s teeth of the master emerging, as in the alternate version of L’equivoco stravagante (1811) with its beautiful horn solo and subsequent brilliant use of woodwinds, and the first manifestations of the Rossini crescendo in Tancredi Overture.

The period covered (1808-14) is mostly from Venice, young Rossini’s first major stop, just up the Adriatic coast from his birthplace Pesaro where he ran away as a teenager to become the toast of the town in a few years. The Venetian sojourn produced a dozen operas, two of them masterpieces: L’Italiana in Algeri and Tancredi , the latter duly represented here by excerpts and sung by virtuoso, strong Russian tenor Dmitry Korchak, who proves to be very much at home in Rossini’s murderous tessituras.

Highly recommended – a most enjoyable inaugural release in a series worthy of Rossini.

04 Rachmaninov Symph. 1Rachmaninoff – The Isle of the Dead; Symphony No.1
London Philharmonic Orchestra. Vladimir Jurowsky-cond.
LPO Live LPO 0111 (lpo.org.uk/recordings-and-gifts)

Rachmaninoff’s First Symphony hasn’t had an easy time. Conductor Glazunov was drunk and made it a dismal failure at its premiere in 1897 and the discouraged young composer locked the score away vowing never to perform it again. The original score was never found, but miraculously the orchestral parts were discovered in 1944 and it was performed once more in 1945 in Moscow.

This new performance comes from a recent concert in London conducted by Vladimir Jurowsky and what a concert it must have been! The audience went wild and the critics were raving and I imagine Rachmaninoff must have been very pleased and the symphony vindicated. Royal Philharmonic Society 2018 award winner Jurowsky’s name may not be too familiar, but he is one of the most sought after conductors and has a tremendous worldwide reputation that’s well proven here.

None of this music will come to you easily, in fact it requires several hearings and total concentration to appreciate Jurowsky’s “hypnotic drive,” especially in The Isle of the Dead’s sinister 5/8 ostinato undulating motion representing Charon the oarsman rowing a boat towards the other shore. It brought an “eerie chill” to the Festival Hall, one critic remarked.

The Symphony itself was a triumph. Rachmaninoff is the connecting tissue in Russian music between Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich and here you can see why. It has youthful excitement, intense passion and a tremendous emotional depth Jurowsky brings out to the utmost. The last movement Allegro con fuoco is where it all comes together; it’s both “frightening and triumphant” and one could feel the intensity and frisson of the live performance.

05 Symphonic DancesSymphonic Dances – Copland; Ravel; Stravinsky
Park Avenue Chamber Symphony; David Bernard
Recursive Classics (naxosdirect.com)

Pity the ballet orchestra musician; so much great music gets borne away from their pit by the changing tides of dance fashion. The 20th century is littered with scores from the early moderns that were introduced as dance accompaniment and became, instead, great works for the symphony stage. Hardly anyone stages Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring anymore, and almost all of Ravel’s works are similarly banished from the standard ballet repertoire.

The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony, under conductor David Bernard, has recorded three modern masterworks: Aaron Copland’s Appalachain Spring Suite, Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe Suite No.2, and Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. With time and space, one could discuss the ways ballet scenarios changed from the mythic to the mundane as reflected in the selected works, but better to leave that to dance critics. These are, above all, wondrous works that orchestral players love to sink their chops into, and symphonic audience members love them as much.

All three are now period pieces of early- to mid-20th-century French and American music. Don’t tell me Stravinsky was neither; he wrote for the tastes of his audience, and The Firebird often sounds a lot like Ravel. And of course, Copland was deeply influenced by Nadia Boulanger.

The recordings took place in three different locations, the orchestra may well have had a few interchangeable players, and the 1919 Kalmus version of the Firebird score was edited, possibly to suit the size of the orchestra. The playing is uneven, especially as regards intonation, and microphone placement brings the wind soloists uncomfortably close, but the performances are careful and loving; in fact it’s just nice to hear a scrappy, not-quite-perfect recording of any of this material, which might make it more period-authentic than anything else.

06 AntheilGeorge Antheil – Symphonies 3 & 6
BBC Philharmonic; John Storgårds
Chandos CHAN 10982 (naxosdirect.com)

The 1940s was an especially busy decade for the prolific American composer, pianist, author and inventor George Antheil (1900-1959). With the spectre of WWII looming in the USA, in 1941 he and the actress Hedy Lamarr set out to develop a code-based radio guidance system for torpedoes. He also continued to turn out scores for Hollywood features (his catalogue lists 30), while his 1945 autobiography Bad Boy of Music – referring to the international avant-garde reputation he attracted in the 1920s – became a best-seller. As well, Antheil continued to compose for the concert stage, completing several symphonies, a violin concerto and other works in the 1940s.

This second Chandos album of his symphonic output by the BBC Philharmonic and its chief guest conductor, John Storgårds, delights listeners with outstanding performances of two of those symphonies plus three shorter orchestral works. Symphony No.3 “American” (completed 1946) is cinematic in its conservative harmonic language and highly episodic block treatment of themes. In parts, an Aaron Copland-esque American populism is jump-cut with syncopated jazzy sections and a marked stylistic eclecticism: Antheil leans strongly on the musical legacies of Sibelius, Mahler and Prokofiev. The work concludes with a triumphalist finale.

Symphony No.6 (completed 1949-50) is overall a more sombre and artistically ambitious work. The influences of Shostakovich, and in parts Ives, permeate Antheil’s patriotic portrait of American life in music in a manner both touching in its heart-on-sleeve Romantic lyricism, and evocative of the vernacular regionalisms and dynamism of post-war USA.

01 Matthew LipmanAscent is the first solo album by the 26-year-old American violist Matthew Lipman, and also marks his debut on the Cedille Records label (CDR 90000 184 cedillerecords.org). He is accompanied by his regular duo partner, American pianist Henry Kramer. The creative process behind the CD started when Lipman asked American composer Clarice Assad to write a fantasy piece for viola and piano in memory of his mother. Lipman chose the Ascent title to describe the album’s music and “the upward movement that happens throughout life and after.”

The opening track is the Phantasy for Viola and Piano Op.54 from 1914 by the English composer York Bowen. It’s a simply gorgeous work which perfectly showcases the warmth, lightness and agility of Lipman’s playing as well as the top-notch contribution from Kramer. The standard never drops throughout the world premiere recording of Assad’s two-part Metamorfose or Robert Schumann’s four Märchenbilder Op.113.

Fuga libre by the Irish violist and composer Garth Knox is the only solo viola work on the CD. Written in 2008 for the Tokyo International Viola Competition, it uses some really interesting effects, including quite fascinating harmonic glissandi.

Shostakovich’s very brief (at 1:56) Impromptu for Viola and Piano Op.33, written in 1931 but not discovered until 2017, is another world premiere recording, Lipman having managed to obtain a pre-publication transcript of the score from the DSCH Publishing House. A viola arrangement of Franz Waxman’s virtuosic Carmen Fantasie brings an outstanding CD to a close, Lipman’s flawless technique, beautiful tone and consummate musicianship making for viola playing as fine as any you will hear. 

02 Vierne FranckIt’s difficult to think of a more exciting duo than violinist Alina Ibragimova and her long-time pianist partner Cédric Tiberghien. Their 3-CD live recital set of the complete Beethoven violin sonatas contained some electrifying performances, and they bring the same level of playing to their latest CD, Vierne & Franck: Violin Sonatas, a recital of works that pay homage in their own ways to 19th-century musical thinking, their fairly dense textures and serious nature being qualities that would be rejected in post-WWI Paris (Hyperion CDA68204 hyperion-records.co.uk).

The Poème élégiaque Op.12 by Eugène Ysaÿe opens the CD – and what an opening it is! Published in the piano version in 1893 and the first of Ysaÿe’s nine Poèmes for string instruments and orchestra, it was inspired by the death and funeral scenes from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and employs scordatura tuning for darker colour, the low G string being tuned down to F. It’s a rhapsodic, passionate work that perfectly showcases this duo’s strengths: tone, nuance, intelligence, passion, commitment, and flawless technical assurance.

César Franck’s Violin Sonata in A Major was written in 1886 as a wedding present for Ysaÿe; it’s been popular for so long that hearing it again is like revisiting an old and treasured friend, and the visit here is a truly lovely one. The connections between the works on the disc continue with Louis Vierne’s outstanding Violin Sonata in G Minor Op.23. Vierne was a pupil of Franck, and this sonata was written at Ysaÿe’s request and premiered by him in 1908. It’s a sweeping work much in the style of the Franck, and deserves to be much better known.

The brief Nocturne from 1911 by the 18-year-old Lili Boulanger, Nadia’s younger sister, acts as a light dessert after the richness that has preceded it, and ends a CD of music-making of the highest order.

03 ShostKab CDWhenever there’s another CD from the always wonderful Steven Isserlis in the new releases, you just know you’re in for something special, and so it proves yet again with Shostakovich & Kabalevsky Cello Sonatas, Isserlis being joined by his recital partner of over 30 years, pianist Olli Mustonen (Hyperion CDA68239 hyperion-records.co.uk).

The Shostakovich Sonata in D Minor Op.40, written in 1934 when the composer was in his late 20s, sets the tone for the whole CD, Isserlis displaying his usual full-blooded and passionate, yet always sensitive and musically intelligent playing, especially in the opening movement and the fiendish and demonic second. Mustonen is his equal in every respect.

Prokofiev’s Ballade in C Major Op.15 is an early work from 1912 when the composer was only 21; it is essentially in two halves, Prokofiev referring to it as “similar in form to a sonata in two movements.”

There’s no doubting the strength and quality of Kabalevsky’s Sonata in B-flat major Op.71, written for Rostropovich in 1962. Isserlis notes that this is a work that should really be heard more often, and his performance here makes an even stronger case.

Three short works round out the CD. Shostakovich’s brief (at 2:31) Moderato was only published in 1986 after being discovered in a Moscow archive alongside the manuscript of the Cello Sonata. It’s believed to be from the same period, but its real provenance remains unknown. Prokofiev’s Adagio – Cinderella and the Prince is a 1944 arrangement of a section from his ballet Cinderella. Kabalevsky’s Rondo in memory of Prokofiev Op.79 was the third of three test-piece Rondos he wrote for the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow – one for piano in 1958, one for violin in 1962 and this one in 1965. It’s quite substantial, with more than a hint of Prokofiev’s music, especially the wispy “wind-in-the-graveyard” effect from the first violin sonata.

In his usual outstanding booklet notes Isserlis includes his customary exact timing references to salient points in the works, adding an extra touch of class to a simply outstanding CD.

04 Gerhardt Bach CDIn his introductory booklet notes to Bach: The Cello Suites (Hyperion CDA68261 hyperion-records.co.uk) the German cellist Alban Gerhardt reveals that, like so many others, he was reluctant to even try recording these challenging works before turning 50 – which he does this coming May. He is also aware that any recording can never be a final word.

For some time Gerhardt studied Baroque performance practice, but felt his attempts to assimilate historically informed techniques didn’t work for him, his playing sounding “neither authentic nor musically very interesting. I came to realize that just turning off the vibrato and using a sound which barely touched the surface of the string actually had very little to do with historical performance and didn’t sit well with me as a musician.”

He consequently uses vibrato “with great care and control” and aims for “a seemingly effortless articulation with as much depth to the sound as possible.” Add Gerhardt’s 1710 Matteo Gofriller cello and the results are simply beautiful. It’s a set that easily holds its own in a very competitive field.

05 Tan DunWith the BIS Super Audio CD Tan Dun: Fire Ritual – Violin Concertos we enter the distinctive sound world of the Chinese composer Tan Dun, now in his early 60s. The Norwegian violinist Eldbjørg Hemsing has been collaborating with the composer since 2010, a relationship which resulted in the creation of both of the works on the CD: the violin concertos Rhapsody and Fantasia and Fire Ritual. Tan Dun conducts the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra (BIS-2406 bis.se).

An early version of the Rhapsody and Fantasia was originally written over a decade ago, but the work is heard here in the 2018 revision for Hemsing. The two movements, each of three parts, have their roots in ancient Peking opera melody, Tan Dun having been a conductor of a travelling Peking Opera troupe in his teens.

Fire Ritual was written for Hemsing and premiered by her in Oslo in September 2018. Subtitled A music ritual for the Victims of War, it unfolds from – and stays centred on – the single note D, using its status as “Re” on the solfège scale as a prefix meaning “again,” as in the Renewal, Resurrection, Return and Rebirth of souls who were lost in wars.

Both concertos have a similar sound, with little Western melodic (or harmonic, for that matter) material, prominent percussion sections (four players with at least 20 mainly Chinese percussion instruments) and a distinctly Chinese flavour to the solo violin writing. Hemsing is outstanding in what must be considered definitive performances.

06 Hungary TaiwanFormed in 2002 for a concert tour of Taiwan, the Formosa Quartet celebrates its members’ Taiwanese heritage on From Hungary to Taiwan, a project that pairs treatments of folk music from the two countries and explores their similarities (Bridge Records 9519 bridgerecords.com).

Dana Wilson’s Hungarian Folk Songs was commissioned by the quartet as “a sort of entrée” into Béla Bartók’s quartets. Wilson says that he tried to capture key aspects of the traditional music itself and not just write his own music inspired by it, and he certainly succeeded. The Formosa Quartet perfectly captures his remarkable folk music effects and nuances.

In Song Recollections, another work written for the group, Chinese composer Lei Liang studies Taiwan’s art, songs and people. His settings of five songs from four native tribes are mostly quiet and atmospheric, with a distinctly Chinese feel.

Béla Bartók’s String Quartet No.4 from 1928, constructed as a five-movement symmetrical arch with the Night Music slow movement at its heart, is the major work on the CD.

Another Formosa Quartet commission, Wei-Chieh Lin’s Four Taiwanese Folk Songs from 2017 ends the disc. These clearly popular and much-loved melodies, two of them written in the 1930s, are given lush, Romantic treatment, and draw rich, warm and evocative playing from the quartet.

A bonus track, Spring Breeze, is available only through an online link; it turns out to be the first of Five – not FourTaiwanese Folk Songs, so its omission from the CD is a bit odd. Still, it’s a gorgeous piece, and you can watch the quartet performing the complete set on YouTube. It’s well worth watching, and well worth a listen.

07 Juilliard QuartetThe Juilliard String Quartet has been around since 1946, and although founding first violinist Robert Mann lasted for an astonishing 51 years and two subsequent members for over 40 years each, the ensemble has had a total of 17 members during its existence. The 2017 lineup (first violin Joseph Lin left in 2018) is featured on Juilliard String Quartet: Beethoven, Davidovsky, Bartók, a CD recorded as part of the group’s 70th anniversary celebrations (Sony Classical 19075 88454 2 sonymusicmasterworks.com).

The quartet’s longstanding commitment to both the classic repertoire and new contemporary works is fully evident here. A suitably tense and energetic performance of Beethoven’s String Quartet in F Minor Op.95 “Serioso” opens the disc, and the centrepiece is Mario Davidovsky’s Fragments, String Quartet No.6 from 2016, written on a commission for the Juilliard. Davidovsky explains that the title refers to broken and scattered parts that, “moved and processed by some creative force, can aggregate to become something.” It certainly gives you a good idea of what the quite brief work sounds like as it moves from a fairly abrasive start to a more integrated ending.

A passionate and powerful performance of Bartók’s String Quartet No.1 ends the CD. It’s a work with a distinct post-Romantic feel, and no hint of the Night Music of the later quartets – more an indication of where the composer has come from than where he is going.

The playing throughout is of the exceptionally high standard we have come to expect from this ensemble. 

01 Chopin Piano Concertos COVERCharles Richard-Hamelin’s recent recording Chopin: Concertos Nos. 1 & 2 (Analekta, AN 2 9146, analekta.com/en) is an exhilarating encounter with these two items of standard repertoire. There is a freshness in this performance that owes everything to its collaborators. Kent Nagano and the OSM are deeply aware of how much Chopin has vested in the piano’s role. Their ability to morph into something purely ethereal for the slow movement of Concerto No.2 is magical. The balance and unity across the ensemble, in this and similar passages, support the piano exquisitely. So much of the piano part in this movement is in simple octaves, albeit often very ornamented and fast. Richard-Hamelin performs it with absolute fluidity, as if it were an extended keyboard recitative. The time signature seems to dissolve, leaving only a hint of anything resembling a beat as the soloist and orchestra flow toward some distant ending.

The essence of dance that is inherent in Chopin’s writing saves the pianist from a conflictual role with the orchestra. The two are instead a pair of dancers elevating the solo instrument above the ensemble. While historical criticism of these works has focused on Chopin’s weak orchestral writing, Hamelin and Nagano have delivered such a transcendent experience that the criticism seems somehow lost if not irrelevant in the overwhelming beauty of this performance.

02 Pires VogtMaria João Pires appears in a new collaboration with the London Symphony Orchestra under Bernard Haitink, Beethoven Piano Concerto No.2, Triple Concerto (LSO www.lsolive.lso.co.uk). Despite the numbering, the piano concerto is actually Beethoven’s first and much of it recalls Mozart, especially in the opening movement. But the young Beethoven is unmistakably present in the piano writing where his unique keyboard figurations are now recognized as familiar vocabulary. It’s a careful and measured performance that reveals the caution with which Beethoven wrote it. No angry rebel here, just an explorer testing the waters for the journey to come.

All this presents a considerable challenge to the performers because listeners tend to have an expectation of what Beethoven should sound like and aren’t usually prepared to hear something so Mozartean and Haydnesque. Haitink keeps the orchestra firmly in classical territory, helped by reduced instrumentation. Pires follows suit technically and stylistically but exploits every opportunity to remind us of the voice she is interpreting. The slow movement, despite its delicacy, carries an intensity that can only be Beethoven, even if it’s the young version. The final movement, however, leaves nothing to doubt. Pires plays with the lightness, clarity and impeccable phrasing that have made her career.

While the Triple Concerto offers more substance, here in a reissue featuring Gordan Nikolitch (violin), Tim Hugh (cello) and Lars Vogt (piano), the piano part was written for Beethoven’s patron and pupil, the Archduke Rudolph, and so doesn’t have quite the virtuosity of its string partners. Still, Vogt shapes every keyboard utterance into a masterful line. The recording is, in every way, a classic.

03 Ed Martin JourneysJeri-Mae G. Astolfi is a Canadian pianist working principally in the US as a performer and teacher. Her new CD, Ed Martin – Journeys (Ravello Records, RR7995, www.ravellorecords.com) demonstrates her interest and commitment to contemporary piano music. She plays three works by one of her contemporaries, American composer Ed Martin who wrote two of them specifically for her.

The major piece on the recording is the title work Journey. Laid out in 11 sections, it charts the progress of life through a range of experiences that Martin uses as his program. Astolfi’s performance of Journey makes its impact through the startling contrasts between agitated movements with titles like Vexed, Obsession and Manic and the more serene sections with names like Soul, Lament and Transcend. One of the intriguing characteristics of Martin’s music is that he doesn’t shy away from long fermatas or extended rests. Silence and decay are an effective part of his vocabulary. Astolfi surrenders completely to this language producing a performance so intense that it seems more like channelling than playing. Her entanglement with the essence of this music is absolute.

Two other works, Swirling Sky and Three Pieces for Piano, while shorter, are equally effective programmatic expressions. Martin is a composer who sees and feels things tangibly in his music and Astolfi is a ready interpreter with an undeniable affinity for his writing.

04 GlinkaInga Fiolia’s new disc Glinka – Complete Piano Works Vol.2, Dances (Grand Piano, GP 782 www.grandpianorecords.com) follows her first volume that focused on Glinka’s variations compositions. The 23 tracks are predictably brief though some are arranged in longer sets of quadrilles and contredanses.

Glinka’s place in Russian music history acknowledges his contribution to a national style that began to set Russian composers free from their cultural debt to the French, German and Italian influences of the 18th and 19th centuries. This contribution is not particularly obvious in this music, designed as it was to accompany light-hearted times in the parlours and salons of Russian society.

Fiolia is a natural performer for this genre. Something about the dance form, regardless of its origin or style, seems to draw from her a fluid response that sways with the music. Her keyboard technique makes an instant impression. She has a touch that in rapid repeats throws the hammer against the strings in a way that must challenge the double escapement action that makes it possible. She relies less on pedalling than many pianists and the result is a highly articulated clarity that respects the inner harmonies of Glinka’s writing.

05 Garlands for Steven StuckyPianist Gloria Cheng played a major role in the creation of Garlands for Steven Stucky, (Bridge, Bridge 9509, www.bridgerecords.com). She led the call for invitations to write short works of tribute in memory of the American composer who died in 2016. Over his lifetime, he wrote well over a hundred works in nearly every form and won dozens of awards. Cheng included some of Stucky’s piano music on a Grammy Award-winning 2008 recording.

The 32 compositions Cheng compiled for this tribute are very personal musical statements from Stucky’s colleagues, friends and composition students. They’re each accompanied by brief anecdotes and dedications to Stucky’s memory. What emerges from these tributes is the picture of a person who was not only a gifted and skilled composer but even more, someone remembered for his kindness and humanity. Stucky’s ability to build close rapport with anyone he met opened countless opportunities for creative collaboration, instruction and deep personal friendships. In his work with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and other orchestras, Stucky made a point of getting to know each musician personally. This direct openness accounts for much of the affection the LA Philharmonic and Essa-Pekka Salonen had for Stucky and his music. It seems fitting that Salonen’s tribute Iscrizione is the disc’s opening track.

This recording is a remarkable collection of utterances by composers old and young; ultimately, it will bring Stucky’s work to a wider audience.

06 Katarzina MusialKatarzyna Musiał’s new recording My Spanish Heart (Dux, Dux 1448, www.dux.pl) is beautifully planned with repertoire that leaves no doubt about where her cultural affections lie. “A Canadian pianist with Polish roots,” as her agent describes her, Musiał is undeniably at home with this repertoire. Whether playing Albéniz, Granados, Turina, Mompou or de Falla, she takes to the idiomatic rhythms like a flamenco dancer, delivering characteristic Spanish melodic snaps as if her keyboard had castanets.

The Danzas gitanas Op.55 by Turina are especially impressive for the atmosphere of seductive mystery in which Musiał wraps them. But the tracks of Manuel de Falla’s own piano transcriptions of his ballet music, The Three-Cornered Hat and Love the Magician are the most impressively played. In these, Musiał combines the piano’s best percussive and legato qualities to deliver a full range of orchestral effects. The entire CD is an energized performance of music for which she has a fiery passion.

07 Cliff EidelmanMichael McHale and Tom Poster appear as the two pianists in Cliff Eidelman – Symphony for Orchestra & Two Pianos and A Night in the Gallery, (EN001, www.cliffeidelman.com). Eidelman is an American composer and conductor with a lengthy and impressive career, most of it writing for film. His relatively few ventures into the world of large-scale orchestral forms include a symphonic tone poem, ballet music and similar works.

McHale and Poster perform neither as soloists nor as players fully integrated into the ensemble. Eidelman has, unusually, created a flexible role for the two pianists that lies somewhere between the concerto form and a fantasia featuring the keyboards, perhaps akin to Saint-Saëns Carnival of the Animals. The two pianists do appear convincingly as full-scale soloists in the second movement’s cadenza. For the balance of the work, however, they emerge from and retreat back into, the ensemble at the composer’s will.

As a highly skilled orchestrator, Eidelman’s mastery of colour and subtle shading is superb. He describes finding the inspiration for the Symphony in the reflection of water and writes in a way that uses the pianos to enhance the emotional image of its various characters, whether still, flowing or turbulent. It’s easy to hear why his film scores like Star Trek VI and Christopher Columbus have been so successful.

The disc’s second work is Eidelman’s Night in the Gallery for orchestra and piano. Here pianist Michael McHale becomes part of the composer’s palette for recreating the impressions he experienced on viewing specific paintings by acknowledged masters.

08 ShpachenkoNadia Shpachenko’s latest release The Poetry of Places (Reference Recordings, FR 730, www.referencerecordings.com) is a collection of original and highly imaginative works for piano, assorted instruments and effects. The concept for the recording project is an exploration of the relationship between music and its space. Shpachenko writes briefly about her experiences of space on performance, including the performers and the audience. Her curiosity has led to commissions from eight composers to write specifically about their impressions of spaces and places as represented by architecture.

The variety of this repertoire is remarkable. Shpachenko performs a veritable tour of structures ancient and modern, producing extraordinary colours and textures from her Steinway D. Her composers sometimes add a second piano, voice, a toy piano, percussion and electronics to build their works. The subjects include Ireland’s 5,000-year-old Newgrange, Aaron Copland’s home in upstate New York, Bangladesh’s National Assembly, a small cottage on an island in rural New York state, the American Visionary Art Museum and a couple of architectural projects by Frank Gehry.

Each composer provides a few notes on the subject of the commission and it’s immediately striking how much common ground they share with Shpachenko on this abstract challenge. The strong affinity between the principal performer and the composers has produced a thoroughly engaging disc. 

01 NepomucenoAlberto Nepomuceno – Symphony in G Minor
Minas Gerais Philharmonic Orchestra; Fabio Mechetti
Naxos 8.574067 (naxosdirect.com)

As the music of the entire recording including, of course, Symphony in G Minor suggests, Alberto Nepomuceno’s map of Brazil was his glorious harmony book. The 1893 symphony predates (but only by a few years) what came to be a movement for creating an authentically Brazilian music, with less influence of European culture. In this sense, the folklore of the colourful northeastern Brazil from where Nepomuceno came was the major font of inspiration for his music.

This is not always obvious in the program at hand as we can hear in the music a struggle for Nepomuceno to pull away from his European training before drawing deeply from his northeastern Brazilian roots. His mind, newly opened to the sounds of his childhood in Recife, triggered perhaps by the influence of the French impressionists, becomes evident first in Série Brasileira (1891). It is a colourful, mysterious work and by the time we get to the fourth movement Batuque the full effect of northeastern Brazil is heard in the lyrically rhythmic infusion produced by the strings of the Minas Gerais Philharmonic Orchestra.

The mysterious splendour of O Garatuja – Prelude (1904) reverberates with the mesmeric swirling of African slave dances that Nepomuceno incorporated into his music. The full grandeur of the composer’s work is uncovered in the celebrated Symphony in G Minor where maestro Fabio Mechetti draws from the Minas Gerais Philharmonic Orchestra its fullest, winning combination of expressive power and voluptuousness yet.

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