01 Houghs Dream AlbumPianist Stephen Hough’s Dream Album (Hyperion CDA68176 hyperion-records.co.uk) is an artful program of works by Liszt, Sibelius, Elgar and other familiar composers. The pieces are chosen for what Hough calls their “lyrical” or “hallucinatory” quality. Hough’s playing is utterly captivating and intensely intimate. He’s a magician, a tease, and a brilliant performer who creates an intoxicating dream world of pianistic expression.

The familiar repertoire items are exquisite and completely engaging – each one a gem. But the real impact of this recording is Hough’s own creative gift. Of the 27 tracks, around half are either his transcriptions or compositions. The scale of his ability to write in the language of the piano is astonishing. His fluency and enormous vocabulary give his compositions a rare potency. There are no extra notes, no empty, wasted phrases. Every element Hough creates is carefully and economically placed by his unerring musical judgment. This is the genius of his gift.

Listen to his arrangement of the traditional melody Blow the wind southerly and Strauss’ Radetzky March, and marvel at his musical commentary on the main thematic material. Moscow Nights gets the same treatment and undergoes a remarkable rebirth.

Niccolo’s Waltz is a witty nod to a Paganini Caprice, and Matilda’s Rhumba is a clever allusion to the famous Australian ode to the waltz, in march time! But my favourite is Hough’s Osmanthus Romp. Syncopated, highly energized and brimming with optimism, the composition captures the essence of Hough’s artistic soul.

This fabulous CD is going to get a lot of play.

02 Lewis Haydn SonatasPaul Lewis has added another recording to his growing discography, Joseph Haydn Piano Sonatas Nos. 32, 40, 49, 50 (Harmonia Mundi HMM 902371 harmoniamundi.com). These four sonatas from Hob. XVI span nearly 20 years of Haydn’s career and provide a good example of how his writing evolved over that time. Lewis spends most of his effort in getting to the exploratory nature of Haydn’s style. He recognizes the relatively brief nature of the musical ideas and is mindful not to belabour them, favouring instead the timely pursuit of the next thought. While Lewis is careful never to miss an opportunity for a pause, tempo change or gentle landing, his intention is always focused on how Haydn is assembling his ideas architecturally, and how a disciplined rhythmic approach makes that happen effectively.

The Sonata in C Major No.50 is a fine example of how an opening movement strongly dependent on very specific rhythmic patterns can yield to a second movement seemingly free from those elements, before launching into a closing movement that restores the pulse of the work, rich with ornaments and arpeggios. Lewis’ complete command of keyboard technique makes the Haydn sonatas a joy to hear. His playing is as beautifully planned and organized as the composer’s ideas. His technique is clean and articulate, and his ability to find delightful moments of emotion would make Haydn blush.

03 Liszt Vol48Franz Liszt Hungarian Rhapsodies Nos. 12-17 (Naxos 8.573784 naxos.com) is the latest addition to an enormous recording project of the complete piano works of Liszt. This disc, Volume 48, features Carlo Grante performing the Rhapsodies that Liszt wrote in the 1840s plus another from around 1871. Grante has nearly 50 recordings to his credit, covering all the major historical composers in addition to a number of contemporary ones.

Grante’s approach to the Hungarian Rhapsodies reflects careful thought of what Liszt was trying to express. These are not pianistic lava flows erupting from volcanic fantasies; rather, they are reflections on the phenomenon of “gypsy” influence in Hungarian music. Opinions of what this influence actually was have changed since Liszt’s time, but the elements Liszt’s music considers are easy to identify. Grante picks these out and interprets them convincingly. Folk dance rhythms, imitations of gypsy instruments like the cimbalom, and characteristic ornaments and phrasings all contribute to the atmosphere of Liszt’s 19th-century Hungarian national ethos.

The final track on the disc is Puszta Wehmut (Longing for the Steppes). While some consider it a miniature Hungarian Rhapsody, its real impact is as a work with a strong contemporary feel of the 20th century, still several decades hence.

Grante’s contribution to this Naxos series is very fine indeed. An additional noteworthy feature is that he performs on Bösendorfer’s newly engineered concert grand, the 280 VC. It has a consistently mellow tone throughout its range and an impressive ability to be mysteriously subtle.

04 Misha Dacic ScriabinAt 18, Misha Dacić was the youngest competitor at the 1996 Liszt Competition in Budapest, where he came to the attention of Lazar Berman who made him his student for the next six years. Dacić’s new recording Scriabin (Piano Classics PCL10136 piano-classics.com) is impressive evidence of this young pianist’s talent and creative intellect.

The decision to choose Scriabin for an early career recording is as courageous as it is risky – even more so when the repertoire spans most of the composer’s lifetime. But therein lies Dacić’s plan. Something about Scriabin’s artistic evolution appeals to him deeply enough that he wants to portray it in his program choices. The first six tracks are early works, etudes and mazurkas mostly, and are consistent with the technical challenges and forward-looking language of composers at the turn of the 19th century. The remaining ones cover the rest of Scriabin’s life up to his death in 1915. This is where the turbulence, only hinted at subtly in the early works, emerges more forcefully.

Scriabin uses every compositional technique to portray his growing personal turmoil. The music becomes denser, planned structure gives way more frequently to freer forms, and key relationships become more distant. Dacić embraces this journey of dramatic change with a startling command of the keyboard and a musical maturity beyond his years.

It’s a thoroughly captivating disc that should add Dacić to the list of Scriabin’s finest interpreters.

05 Eric Simmons Cooman 7Organist Erik Simmons’ new release Owl Night – Music for Organ by Carson Cooman (Divine Art dda 25163 divineartrecords.com) is the seventh volume in this series. All the recordings use the digital modelling technology of the Hauptwerk system, enabling the recording to be made off-site. In this case, the Cavaillé-Coll pipe organ of 1882-85 in the Abbey of Saint-Étienne, Caen, France is the instrument featured on the disc.

Cooman is an American composer and organist whose output volume is astonishing. This recording presents recent compositions from 2016 and 2017. As a performer, Simmons has an affinity for contemporary organ music, and his exposure to Cooman’s work is extensive. The music takes full advantage, especially under Simmons’ hands, of the imaginative and emotionally evocative colouring of which the Abbey organ is capable. The title track Owl Night is an excellent example of this. Simmons uses a mellow flute rank to portray the extended hooting theme that recurs throughout the piece. Preludio Staccato is another example of the remarkable orchestral effects available on this instrument. Here, the mutation ranks create a lovely bell-like shimmer to the upper lines.

The repertoire is well chosen and makes for very satisfying listening as a digital concert. The Toccata, Aria and Finale that concludes the program is suitably grand, and even on a mid-range sound system there’s no doubt about the power and grandeur of this magnificent pipe organ.

06 Sara Feigin Benjamin GoodmanBenjamin Goodman is an Israeli pianist whose latest recording Piano Works by Sara Feigin (Navona NV6147 navonarecords.com) introduces a relatively unknown composer. Sara Feigin (1928-2011) was born in Latvia but fled with her family during WWII. Her musical gift was already obvious as a child. She developed this further while away from Latvia and continued it at the Riga Conservatory upon her return after the war. In the 1970s she settled in Israel, where she continued to compose and teach.

Goodman is technically superb and meets the challenges Feigin poses in her music. Written with the evident influence of French and Russian composers, Feigin’s language is predominantly harmonic but not without occasional challenges to traditional tonality. Goodman captures the poignant emotion in Feigin’s writing whether expressed dynamically or harmonically. It’s all music of great contrast with the points of tension and release set very far apart.

The Sonata is the work with the most formidable content. Four movements build gradually to an extremely intense and powerful conclusion. More than any of her other works, it reflects her experience of the tragedies visited on so many people in the middle of the last century. Goodman understands Feigin at a level deep enough to portray her experience in a convincing and appropriately troubling way.

07 Alexander GadjievWhen Alexander Gadjiev won the Ninth Hamamatsu International Piano Competition in 2015, one of his admirers credited him with the “ability to hypnotize the public.” His new recording Literary Fantasies – Piano Works, Liszt & Schumann (Acousence Classics 13117 acousence.de) is ample proof that this young pianist (b. 1994) is indeed enchanting. Gadjiev has assembled a program of works inspired by literature. Liszt’s Three Petrarch Sonatas begin the disc and immediately convey the impression that Gadjiev plays from some meditative place deep within. The feeling of introspection is unmistakable, particularly in the final sonata. The other Liszt literary-based fantasy is Après une lecture du Dante. Here Gadjiev is at full force, as Liszt needs him to be, for much of the work. But a brief tranquil section near the end offers a contrast that he exploits superbly, giving the finish the final impact it properly requires.

Two items by Robert Schumann also appear on the disc. The Op.16 Kreisleriana, full of opportunities for great expressive contrast, is highly effective, largely due to the extent that Gadjiev is able to withdraw into remarkably controlled pianissimos. Schumann’s Fantasy Pieces, Op.111, No.2 concludes the CD. The closing restatement of the opening musical material is so tenderly played that, if experienced as a live performance, an audience might never applaud for fear of disturbing the beauty of the final, lingering moment.

08 Jablonski ChopinKrzysztof Jabłoński has a long list of achievements that reach back to his laureate designation at the 1985 Chopin Competition in Warsaw. His new recording Chopin Etiudy Op.10, 25 (The Fryderyk Chopin Institute NIFCCD 215 nifc.pl) is a rare example of astonishing keyboard technique, still fully capable of all that Chopin could ever demand.

While blinding speed is an impressive feature of any performance, Jabłoński demonstrates something else that leaves an indelible impression. There’s an unarguable correctness about all his tempos. Whether the dreamy Etude No.3 in E-Flat Op.10 or the meteoric descent of the arpeggios in Etude No.12 in E Minor Op.10, the tempo is always perfect for the piece. The secret, as Jabłoński has discovered, lies in simply knowing – feeling – what is right for the piece. In every instance he chooses a speed that causes no lost notes and no sense of rushing through tender moments, but that always connects to the deeper current of the music, conveying the notion that it’s going somewhere, that there’s a destination.

The Op.25 dozen etudes are as consistently perfect as the Op.10. Two that stand out are No.9 in G-Flat Major for its playfully light staccato touch, and No.24 in C Minor for the way Jabłoński brings out the inner melody while a torrent of arpeggios swirls around it.

02 Tribute to TelemannA Tribute to Telemann
La Spagna; Alejandro Marias
Lukos Records 5451CRE80843 (laspagna.es)

Describing Georg Philipp Telemann’s achievements as prolific is a gross understatement: his compositions numbered over 3,000. La Spagna selects five from this enormous output, aiming to restore Telemann to the highest ranks of composers.

The first Ouverture-Suite for viola da gamba, strings and continuo is quintessentially French, comprising several traditional French Baroque movements. Telemann had access to pieces by the French composer Lully, as well as a great love for the viola da gamba (for which he composed frequently). The enthusiasm of the solo violinists who play on period, if anonymous, violins is key to this opening piece, especially the Gigue.

The Concerto for recorder, viola da gamba, strings and continuo which follows is inspired by Telemann’s scoring for recorder, in this case copying an instrument by the renowned Thomas Stanesby. Listen in particular to the Dolce and Allegro as interpreted by Alvaro Marías. Though the recorder was under pressure as an instrument from the transverse flute at the time, Telemann continued to believe in its rich, sonorous sound.

In the essentially Italian Concerto grosso, La Spagna takes the liberty of writing an additional part for the second tutti (non-solo) violins. Here once again the demands of two literally lively (Vivace) movements are met cheerfully – the two solo violins absolutely sparkle.

And so to the Ouverture-Suite Burlesque de Quixotte. Telemann composes a day of events inspired by Cervantes’ masterpiece, from Quixote’s waking, his assault on the windmills, his advances on Princess Dulcinea and retiring for the night. The assault comprises a vigorous twirling of violins personifying Quixote’s bravado; the advance’s somewhat languid string-playing indicates another failure for Quixote. You begin to feel sorry for him – but invigorated by La Spagna’s tribute to Telemann.

03 Beethoven 5 7 NYPhilBeethoven – Symphonies 5 & 7
New York Philharmonic; Jaap van Zweden
Decca Gold B0027956-02 (deccagold.com)

What better way of celebrating a new partnership between a record label and a renowned American orchestra than music by Beethoven? The label in question – Decca Gold, Universal’s new classical music label – recently joined forces with the esteemed New York Philharmonic to present a series of live recordings under the direction of Jaap van Zweden, who assumes the official role of music director in September 2018. This recording is the first in the projected series and features Beethoven’s Symphonies Five and Seven, recorded in 2014 and 2015.

The two symphonies were indeed excellent choices for this premiere recording. As clichéd as the opening measure of the Fifth Symphony has become (“fate knocking at the door”), the work’s theme of tragedy to triumph still has the power to move the most impartial listener, and the NYP delivers a polished and compelling performance. Tempos – particularly in the first movement and the finale – are brisk (perhaps brisker than we’re accustomed to), but the third movement is all lyricism before the exuberant finale.

Wagner once described the Symphony No.7 as “the apotheosis of the dance” and under van Zweden’s baton, this performance is a joyful dance indeed. The warmth of the NYP strings is particularly evident in the second-movement Allegretto while the finale – a true tour de force – is treated with great bravado.

While both these symphonies have long been considered standard repertoire, van Zweden and the NYP breathe new life into them, approaching each with a particular freshness and vitality. These performances easily hold their place alongside more established recordings and if they are any indication, the soon-to-be pairing of van Zweden and the NYP will be a formidable one indeed. Highly recommended.

04 Schubert FluteFlute Passion: Schubert
Nadia Labrie; Mathieu Gaudet
Analekta AN 2 8787 (analekta.com)

Flutist Nadia Labrie and pianist Mathieu Gaudet’s all-Schubert CD begins with a transcription of the intensely and ominously dramatic Arpeggione Sonata. The quiet simplicity and dignity of Gaudet’s solo opening of the first movement is carried forward by Labrie’s velvet sound, exquisite phrasing and moments of rubato, which convey a brooding feeling of inevitably encroaching doom. She plays the hymn-like second movement with a simplicity and directness which is both heartrending and deeply satisfying.

The second part of the program consists of lieder transcriptions, mostly from Die Schöne Müllerin. There are some wonderful moments in these eight miniature masterpieces, most notably the meshing of the artists’ vision in the counterpoint of Ständchen (from Schwanengesang). However, there is also the unfortunate intrusion at times of that “flutistic” mannerism of changing tone colour in the middle of a note for no good reason and the missed opportunity to use contrasting colours for the two characters in Der Müller und der Bach.

The third and final component is the Introduction and Variations on Trockne Blumen, composed for flute and piano by Schubert himself. While both artists are brilliant here, the poignant darkness of the song (“...the flowers...she gave me...shall be laid with me in the grave.”) could have been more effectively brought to life by greater contrast in tempo and a less dance-like interpretation of the melody. Nevertheless, this CD has a lot going for it. Gaudet and Labrie are both virtuosos who work well together. I’m sure we will hear more from them.

05 Brahms 2Brahms – Symphony No.2
Stavanger Symphony Orchestra; Thomas Zehetmair
SSO Recordings 3816-2 (www.sso.no)

This disc arrived in a simple but elegant package, but without any program notes or promo blurb, save basic info and credits. Listening to it, however, with an open mind and ear, it made me fall in love with the piece all over again and made me wonder how this very familiar work could have been played to death in concerts so much that once a friend said to me at intermission:” Janos, do you really expect me to sit through another Brahms Second?!” and left.

Sometimes dubbed the Pastoral, in sunny D Major, this most congenial of Brahms’ four symphonies is found here in the hands of Thomas Zehetmair. A noted Austrian concert-violinist-turned-conductor, Zehetmair’s background becomes immediately apparent in the delicately handled, caressing string tone right at the beginning of the symphony when the main theme first insinuates itself, and in how lovingly and expressively he handles the strings throughout the symphony. But he is also a gifted conductor with great musical insight, imagination and intuition, plus an ability to get into the composer’s mind, making sure that everything written down is heard. I was discovering passages I haven’t heard before or hearing them differently, like the flute playing merrily over the famous string tune second subject in the first movement. We rediscover Brahms’ masterly skill at counterpoint that came from his years of studying Bach. And experience the thrill of that magisterial fourth movement as it simply explodes from mysterious, whispering strings and is driven joyfully to a triumphant ending.

The Stavenger Symphony of Norway is a dedicated group of superb instrumentalists who have an intuitive chemistry with their conductor. Previously they recorded on the Swedish BIS label famous for its demonstration quality sound, but with this stellar CD they launched their own SSO Recordings and we wish them continued success.

07 Prokofiev Romeo JulietProkofiev – Romeo and Juliet
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra; Marin Alsop
Naxos 8.573534-35 (naxos.com)

The Soviet composer Sergei Prokofiev’s ambitious and beautiful ballet Romeo and Juliet continues to be loved by audiences the world over, not only for its musical beauty and scope of ambition, but for the universality of its original narrative theme, taken from William Shakespeare’s play of the same name. Love – unrequited, tragic, desired, mutual, romantic – is a topic that clearly has not been exhausted by the creative commentators among us, and audiences seem to have an unquenchable thirst for works that tackle this subject.

Naxos Records is a Hong Kong-based company that, while championing digital distribution, continues to release high quality classical music in physical form, somehow managing to stave off the demise of physical product that has so impacted most other record labels. And good for us. This 2018 CD release of an October 2015 performance in the acoustically rich Meyerhoff Hall captures the very fine Baltimore Symphony under the direction and leadership of conductor Marin Alsop. Having led the Symphony since 2007, and recently given a contract extension until 2021, Alsop is a dynamic conductor whose intentional and forceful style once again brings out an exhilarating and striking performance from this ensemble.

The highlights from Prokofiev’s original ballet are many and the world most certainly has enough piecemeal assemblages of these greatest hits. With this recording, however, we have another fine complete capture of this most beautiful work that successfully balances the effervescent and playful bounce of dance with the drama, passion and ultimately Act IV darkness of Shakespeare’s original text. Recommended.

There are two Beethoven string quartet issues this month, featuring works from both ends of the canon.

01 Miro BeethovenThe Miró Quartet, now in its 24th year and with two original members still playing, gives an excellent performance of the remarkable String Quartet No.14 in C-sharp Minor, Op.131, part of its ongoing series of the complete cycle (Miró Quartet Media MQM 2909 2 miroquartet.com). It’s a deeply satisfying recording, but in an extremely competitive field not necessarily one which challenges your perceptions of the music or forces you to re-evaluate them.

02 Eybler BeethovenThat, however, is exactly what Toronto’s Eybler Quartet does with its simply stunning CD of Beethoven’s first efforts in the genre, the String Quartets Op.18 Nos.1-3, on instruments appropriate to the period (Coro Connections COR16164 eyblerquartet.com).

In his perceptive booklet essay violist Patrick Jordan notes that the Eybler’s emphasis on pre-Beethoven repertoire meant that they approached the early Beethoven quartets as “new music,” with the aim of re-learning how to play them to Beethoven’s exact specifications. This entailed not only sorting out issues with the various sources but also – and most importantly – deciding to adhere to Beethoven’s tempo markings, which at times are excessively fast or slow and have long been the subject of animated discussion, though rarely followed.

The results, particularly with the faster movements, are quite astonishing, from the brisk opening of the F Major Op.18 No.1 through to the dazzling Presto finale of the D Major Op.18 No.3. Technical virtuosity doesn’t begin to do justice to the playing here – there’s jaw-dropping agility, clarity and accuracy in the playing, allied with terrific dynamics and nuance, outstanding ensemble work, a lovely warm tone with a judicial use of vibrato and an unerring sense of period style.

I doubt if you’ve heard these works sound like this before – it’s absolutely essential listening. Volume 2 with Op.18 Nos.4-6 is apparently in preparation. I can hardly wait!

Listen to 'Beethoven String Quartets Op.18 Nos.1-3' Now in the Listening Room

03 New Orford QuartetFast forward 210 years or so and there’s Canadian string quartet music from the 21st century on Par quatre chemins, the latest CD from the New Orford String Quartet (ATMA Classique ACD2 2740 atmaclassique.com).

The CD takes its title from the five-movement work by François Dompierre that opens the disc. It’s a really attractive and strongly tonal work with decided dance influences. Commissioned by the Orford Arts Centre, it was premiered by these performers in 2015.

The other two works on the CD were both commissioned by the New Orford quartet. Airat Ichmouratov wrote his String Quartet No.4 Op.35, “Time and Fate” in 2012, following the sudden death of his close friend Eleanor Turovsky, the first violinist of I Musici de Montréal. Again, it’s an extremely attractive four-movement work with a particularly lovely third movement.

Tim Brady’s Journal (String Quartet No.2) was written in 2013, 33 years after Brady’s previous work in the genre. Inspired simply by “the opportunity to write music for such amazing players,” it has seven sections played without pause, the composer likening this to turning pages in a diary or journal. It’s a tougher work than the other two, with a cinematic feel to the music at times, but is another very strong and extremely well-written composition.

The NOSQ’s playing throughout is exemplary in what can be viewed as definitive performances.

04 Danielpour quartetsThere’s also American string quartet music from the current century on Richard Danielpour String Quartets Nos.5-7, performed by the Delray String Quartet in the Naxos American Classics Series (8.559845 naxos.com). The second violinist in the group is Tomás Costik, whose Piazzolla and Mozart solo CDs were recently reviewed here.

String Quartet No.5, “In Search of La vita nuova” (2004) deals with the composer’s longstanding relationship with Italy. String Quartet No.6, “Addio” (2009) deals with the string quartet as a metaphor for family, and how families are eventually broken apart through distance, time and loss. Both works were written in Northern Italy, and are about what Danielpour calls “letting go.”

String Quartet No.7, “Psalms of Solace” (2014) is about a “search for the Divine.” The last movement features a soprano part written specifically for Hila Plitman, the excellent soloist here.

All three works are very much in a late-20th-century style, strongly tonal and very accessible, and with some truly beautiful writing and lovely textures.

05 Sybarite5The American string quintet Sybarite5 was formed in 2006, since when it has commissioned, premiered and promoted over 60 new works. Its new CD Outliers (Bright Shiny Things BSTC-0121 sybarite5.org) debuted at No.1 in the Billboard Traditional Classical Album charts in February.

There was no booklet with the digi-pak we received and no information on any of the composers or the 13 works, virtually all from the period 2012 to 2015 and all quite short; the brief information on the cover says that “each track has been carefully selected to demonstrate a decade of musical growth and the relationships developed between Sybarite5 and these accomplished American composers.”

Those represented here are: Jessica Meyer; Shawn Conley; Eric Byers; Dan Visconti; Andy Akiho; Mohammed Fairouz; Kenji Bunch; Daniel Bernard Roumain; Michi Wiancko; and Lev “Ljova” Zhurbin. It’s a fascinating selection of solid and appealing compositions with nothing too challenging aurally.

06 Francesca DegoThe Italian violinist Francesca Dego signed with Deutsche Grammophon in 2012, and following her debut albums of the Paganini Caprices and the complete Beethoven Violin Sonatas the label has released her first orchestral CD, Paganini/Wolf-Ferrari Violin Concertos with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Dego’s husband Daniele Rustioni (DG 4816381). It’s quite outstanding.

If you’re going to play Paganini’s Concerto No.1 in D Major Op.6 then you need not only impeccable technique so that the sheer difficulty is never the focus of the performance but also musical sensitivity and intelligence to make any criticisms about empty virtuosity redundant. Dego has all these qualities in abundance and is clearly well aware of the operatic vocal nature of the music; Paganini was a close friend of Rossini, and his concertos make much more sense when heard with the contemporary Italian opera style in mind.

The Violin Concerto in D Major Op.26 of Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari is little known and seldom performed. It’s a late work, completed in 1944 a few years before the composer’s death and written for the American violinist Guila Bustabo, who revised a subsequent edition after the original copies were destroyed in an Allied bombing raid. Dego correctly likens it to “an Italian opera for violin” – albeit opera from an earlier period than Wolf-Ferrari’s – in which respect it shares much with the Paganini. A long but very attractive four-movement work, it has much to recommend it.

Dego is absolutely superb in both works, but particularly in the lengthy first movement of the Paganini; Rustioni draws excellent support from the CBSO. The Wolf-Ferrari was recorded live in Birmingham in March 2017 at its UK premiere, the lengthy applause well deserved.

Contemporary American composers are featured on two new CDs.

07 Into the SilenceThe husband-and-wife team of violinist Nicholas DiEugenio and pianist Mimi Solomon are the performers on Into the Silence, a tribute to the late Steven Stucky (who taught at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY from 1980 to 2014) and the three generations of composers associated with Cornell (New Focus Recordings FCR 188 newfocusrecordings.com).

Stucky’s 2013 Sonata for Violin and Piano is surrounded by works by two of his students: 2013’s . . . in dulcet tones, by Jesse Jones; and 2014’s Plush Earth in Four Pieces by Tonia Ko. Stucky himself studied at Cornell with Robert Palmer, who founded the doctoral composition program and taught there from 1943 until 1980. Palmer’s excellent Sonata for Violin and Piano from 1956 closes the CD.

The Ithaca “sound” is described as “a blend of east coast modernism with neo-romantic and neo-classical sensibilities, with a rich sense of colour,” an accurate description of these premiere recordings.

DiEugenio and Solomon were Ithaca neighbours of Stucky, who introduced them to Palmer’s music and supported this project prior to his death in 2016.

08 Peter DaytonNotes to Loved Ones features music for strings and piano by Peter Dayton (Navona Records NV6143 navonarecords.com).

The brief but lovely Fantasy for Viola and Piano is followed by Morceaux des Noces for String Quartet, another work with a quite beautiful sound.

The Sonata “Los Dedicatorias” for Violin and Piano reflects Dayton’s relationship with the art and family of Peruvian painter Fernando de Szyszlo. Variations for String Quartet, a tougher and darker work, resulted from an exchange program with the Royal Academy of Music in London, the virtuosic violin cadenza inspired by the program leader, violinist Peter Sheppard-Skærved.

An abrasive and edgy two-movement Sonata for Violoncello and Piano (the second movement marked “Stark, Percussive”) ends an interesting and promising Navona debut CD.

Yang Guo (viola), Sarah Jane Thomas (violin), Lavena Johanson (cello) and Michael Sheppard (piano) are the soloists.

Listen to 'Notes to Loved Ones' Now in the Listening Room

09a Monteiro SchulhoffFor some reason, three CDs received this month are way past their initial release date. Two of them are from the Brilliant Classics label (brilliantclassics.com), both Complete Works for Violin and Piano – one by the Polish composer Karol Szymanowski (2 CDs 94979) and the other by his contemporary, the Czech composer Erwin Schulhoff, who died in a concentration camp in 1942 at the age of 48 (95324). The performers on both are the Portuguese duo of violinist Bruno Monteiro and pianist João Paulo Santos.

Critical opinion of Monteiro’s playing was mixed when the Schulhoff CD was released in 2016, with opinions ranging from praising his golden tone and interpretations to Gramophone magazine’s noting his “effortful and sometimes insecure” playing. Personal taste probably played a large part: Monteiro’s often slow and wide vibrato does tend to make the intonation sound suspect at times, and his tone in the highest register can sometimes sound tight and thin. There are moments in the Sonata for Solo Violin when his playing seems a bit tentative. Still, there is much to enjoy here. In particular, the piano playing in the Suite and the Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2 is outstanding, with a rich, resonant sound and an excellent balance with the violin.

09b Monteiro SzymanowskiThe Szymanowski set fares much better, especially CD2 with Mythes Op.30 opening the disc and the Nocturne and Tarantella Op.28 providing a strong finish. The Sonata in D Minor Op.9, the Romance in D Major, the Three Capriccios of Paganini Op.40 and the lullaby La Berceuse Op.52 are the other original works in the set, with the remaining five tracks either transcriptions by the composer’s compatriot, the violinist Pawel Kochanski, or – in two cases – joint compositions by them.

10 ForestareThe third latecomer is Forestare Baroque, a program of works by Bach, Vivaldi and Jean Baptiste Lully arranged for guitar ensemble and performed by the Montreal group Forestare with their 12 guitars, two contrabasses and – in the Lully – percussion (2xHDFO1043 forestare.com).

The works are Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No.3 and Fantasia on Komm, heiliger Geist, Vivaldi’s Sonata Op.1 No.12, “La Folia” and the Concerto for Two Violins and Cello Op.3 No.2, and Lully’s suite Le Bourgeois gentilhomme. The Vivaldi concerto was arranged by the Swiss guitarist Jürg Kindle, the other works by Forestare’s music director Dave Pilon and guitarist David Ratelle.

Recorded in l’Église St-Augustin in Mirabel, the sound is full and warm throughout a thoroughly enjoyable disc.

Back to top