01 Paris 1804Paris 1804 – Music for Horn & Strings
Alessandro Denabian; Quartetto Delfico
Passacaille 1032 (denabian.com)

Despite the political, economic and social turmoil that plagued France during the years following the revolution, musical activities carried on as best they could. Paris remained the centre of European culture and while concert societies were now a thing of the past, the period saw the establishment of the Conservatoire in 1795. Such is the background for this attractively packaged disc of music for natural horn and string quartet by Cherubini, Dauprat and Reicha titled Paris 1804 and featuring Alessandro Denabian with the Quartetto Delfico.

Cherubini arrived in the French capital in 1786 and ultimately enjoyed a long association with the Conservatoire. His two short sonatas for horn are lyrical pieces closer in style to études. The first has a slow introduction followed by a jovial second movement while the second sonata is a single-movement Larghetto.

More ambitious are the Quintet Op.6 No.3 by Louis François Dauprat and the Grand Quintet Op.106 by Anton Reicha. Although hardly a household name today, Dauprat was renowned as a horn player, composer and music professor at the Conservatoire. The quintet is one of innumerable works he wrote for horn, the three contrasting movements providing the soloist ample opportunity to demonstrate the instrument’s capabilities. What strikes the listener here and throughout the disc is the wonderful sense of intimacy achieved, the transparency of the strings blending perfectly with the solo horn. Denabian proves himself to be a true virtuoso, handling the technical demands of a natural horn with apparent ease.

Reicha’s more familiar Grand Quintet is a true tour de force, a model of classical symphonic writing with a rollicking finale that brings the piece – and the CD – to a fitting conclusion.

02 Bach SevastianJ.S.Bach – Famous Works
Alexander Sevastian
Analekta AN 2 9136 (analekta.com)

Well known and loved by his Quartetto Gelato audiences and fans, accordionist Alexander Sevastian performs a number of solo transcriptions of J.S. Bach’s most loved repertoire with clarity, virtuosity, spirit and respect for Baroque style. Today most serious accordionists will have played Bach since his music, regardless of original instrumentation, translates extremely well to the instrument. Unlike the Stradella left-hand chord system, Sevastian plays a free bass bayan accordion where the left-hand buttons are arranged in single-tone patterns thus allowing a wide range of melodic and chordal possibilities in both hands. Registers (much like organ stops) increase the pitch range and colour possibilities.

Bach lovers are guaranteed to respect and admire Sevastian’s performances. The Prelude and Fugue in A Minor features solid but not overpowering left-hand held notes against rapid right-hand lines in the Prelude. There is a clear differentiation of voices in the Fugue, especially in the low-voice entry thanks to Sevastian’s understanding of reed response. In contrast, the emotionally sensitive melodic performance of Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ showcases touching musicality grounded by solid rhythmic direction and cadence resolutions, attributes of a great accordion master. Sevastian’s detailed understanding of bellow-sound production drives with precision the fast lines and full harmonies in the Toccata from Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.

There are two musical wonders sounding simultaneously here – Bach’s compositions and Sevastian’s accordion musicianship. Both are remarkable.

03 Vincent LauzerSonates pour Flûte à Bec et Basson
Vincent Lauzer; Mathieu Lussier
ATMA ACD2 2753 (atmaclassique.com)

The alto recorder gained its greatest popularity with professional players, as well as with amateurs, round about 1730. The most popular form was the sonata for solo recorder and basso continuo, but sonatas for two recorders and continuo also became popular. This CD examines another variant: the trio sonata for treble recorder and bassoon with basso continuo. A CD devoted to these instruments could easily become repetitive but some variations are built in; while many of the works recorded show the interplay between the treble and the bass instruments, the first work on the CD (Vivaldi’s Sonata in A Minor) contains a slow movement which is really a recorder solo with the bassoon being part of the accompaniment. Moreover, further variety is provided by two works (by Chédeville and Telemann) being for recorder alone and two others (by Telemann and Fasch) for solo bassoon.

There are a number of first-rate recorder players in Montreal and Vincent Lauzer is among the very best. He excels both in sweetness of tone as well as the virtuosity which these sonatas require. He is ably partnered by the bassoon player, Mathieu Lussier. Anyone who thinks of the bassoon as just a useful bass accompaniment will be struck by the singing tone Lussier achieves.

Listen to 'Sonates pour Flûte à Bec et Basson' Now in the Listening Room

04 Bach Family ViolaViola Music of the Bach Family
Roger Myers; Céline Frisch
Notos NOTOS001 (rogmyers@austin.utexas.edu)

Music on this album brings up fragments of Baroque and Rococo worlds in the form of elegant phrases and courtly dances, lovely nuances and surprising virtuosity. As I was listening to this recording on a quiet, snowy day, I realized there was quite a resemblance between colours and textures of the Baroque viola sound and the feel of the winter day – both dark, somewhat restrained, but so rich in understated expression and depth.

In this fine selection of 18th-century viola repertoire there are sonatas by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Wilhelm Friedmann Bach and Johann Joachim Quantz, a movement from a concerto by Johann Cristoph Friedrich Bach and an aria from a cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. Other than the obvious family connection between J.S.Bach and his sons, there is another one – the Court of Frederick the Great in Prussia. A big supporter of art and music, Frederick had assembled one of the finest orchestras of that time and employed many exceptional musicians, C.P.E. Bach and J.J. Quantz among them.

Roger Myers executes delightful and sensitive performances of these pieces and offers greatly detailed liner notes. His masterful tonal aesthetics and his virtuosity are most evident in the sonata by W.F.Bach; this composition showcases the viola’s darker sonorities while bringing forward the speed and brilliance of the virtuosic capabilities of the instrument, something that had not been heard before in the viola repertoire of the time. The chemistry between the performers is refreshing – Céline Frisch is every bit as poetic in her interpretation as she is virtuosic in her technique.

05 Pallade MusicaSchieferlein; Telemann and C.P.E. Bach – Sonates en trio
Pallade Musica
ATMA ACD2 2744 (atmaclassique.com)

The importance of this disc by Pallade Musica cannot be overstated, for without the compelling performance of three sonatas Otto Schieferlein might have remained the historically curious academic that he has been for almost 300 years. Although each of his three sonatas does not deviate far from the dictates of the Baroque era, with its contrapuntally driven form fashionable after J. S. Bach, there is a unique, languid elegance in the manner in which each of the sonatas flows.

Moreover, Sonata No. 2 in F Major is extended by a slender, statuesque French Menuet, a gorgeous five-minute depiction of the vivid spectacle that often filled 17th-century ballrooms. The sonatas demonstrate Schieferlein’s skill at plumbing the depths of feeling. In sweeping movements Sonata No.1 in E Minor evokes dark and light, the solemn and the sparkling through interweaving lines of unflinching passion. The writing here as well as in Sonata No.3 in A Major is at once fierce, haunting and mystical.

Georg Telemann’s Trio Sonata, and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s Fantasia in D Major and Sonata in G Major for flute, violin and continuo, are not mere musical appendages. Each has individual character. The willowy sinews of Telemann’s sonata break through the balletic Siciliana movement to the spikey energy of the final Allegro assai. And the Fantasia and Sonata by C.P.E. Bach are quiet personal evidence of an inspired artistic genius.

Listen to 'Schieferlein; Telemann and C.P.E. Bach – Sonates en trio' Now in the Listening Room

06 Ai GoldsmithLes exquises Allégories
Ai Goldsmith; Miles Graber
Titanic Ti-281 (flutistai.com)

California-based flutist Ai Goldsmith and pianist Miles Graber’s CD, Les exquises Allégories, gives us the opportunity to get to know four major works, each 15 to 20 minutes long, by little-known 20th-century composers, plus a lovely transcription of an early Schubert lied.

First on the program is Carl Frühling’s Fantasie, Op.55, a bravura, late-Romantic one-movement emotional rollercoaster ride. Goldsmith’s direct approach to playing the flute is perfect for the big, expansive opening, reminiscent of the opening moments of Chaminade’s Concertino and Eldin Burton’s Sonatina. This directness, which I might characterize as letting the music speak for itself, also works particularly well in the opening movement of the Sonatine by Walter Gieseking, whose work as a composer is as worthy of recognition as his career as a concert pianist. (He also composed Variations on a Theme by Grieg, also on this CD.)

Where it is perhaps most effective is in Schubert’s Litany for All Souls’ Day, which Goldsmith dedicated to her mother, who died in 2012, and which she plays with respectful simplicity, allowing the beauty and the sadness of the music to resonate and touch us.

There are also many moments of stunning virtuosity, which Goldsmith and Graber play with control and authority. Graber’s reading of the dauntingly difficult piano part in Grigory Smirnov’s Fantasia is quite breathtaking; but he is equally convincing in the tender solo piano interlude toward the end of the same piece.

07 Mormon MahlerMahler – Symphony No.8
Utah Symphony; Mormon Tabernacle Choir; Thierry Fischer
Reference Recordings FR-725 SACD (referencerecordings.com)

In 1963 the Utah Symphony was the first American orchestra to release a pioneering stereo studio recording of Mahler’s monumental Eighth Symphony, followed by performances of all of Mahler’s formerly under-appreciated symphonies. Under the 32-year nurturing leadership of the venerable Maurice Abravanel, the ambitious Utah ensemble rose to national prominence, with over 100 recordings on various labels released during his tenure.

Happily for this orchestra it seems that history is destined to repeat itself. The Swiss conductor Thierry Fischer arrived in Utah in 2009 and holds a contract there until 2022. After a long silence the orchestra is again releasing recordings under Fischer’s direction on the audiophile Reference Recordings label. The present recording of the Eighth was preceded by a well-received disc of Mahler’s First Symphony; both of these constitute the beginnings of this orchestra’s 75th Anniversary Mahler Cycle project. The results are impressive to say the least.

The Eighth Symphony is Mahler’s most gargantuan and atypically affirmative symphony, ofttimes hyped as the “Symphony of a Thousand,” though in the present case the forces involved number closer to 500 performers. The legendary Mormon Tabernacle Choir, along with the Madeleine Choir School Choristers, form the nucleus of the mighty choral forces; both are exceptionally well prepared and project an admirable diction. The cast of eight superbly matched vocal soloists includes sopranos Orla Boylan, Celena Shafer, Amy Owens and Charlotte Helekant, mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford, tenor Barry Banks, baritone Markus Werba and bass Jordan Bisch. The tenor soloist Banks in particular is outstanding, able to project without straining in the extremely demanding heldentenor part which has proved a stumbling block in many a performance of this work.

The production team from sound/mirror has worked miracles in this live performance from the acoustically quirky Salt Lake Tabernacle, utilizing a minimalist core of five microphones. I can only imagine the impact the SACD layer of this double CD recording might have. Fischer’s interpretation is flexible and affectionate, a winning formula in a work that can easily feel bombastic in the wrong hands. This is an outstanding performance that deserves pride of place in the discography of this work.

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