02 Florence PriceFlorence Beatrice Price – Symphonies
Fort Smith Symphony Orchestra; John Jeter
Naxos 8.559827 (naxosdirect.com)

Florence Beatrice Price (née Smith) was an African-American composer born in Little Rock Arkansas in 1887. Her father was a dentist and her mother a music teacher. She received her solid musical education from her mother because the city’s best-known tutors, uniformly and unapologetically white, refused to teach a person of colour. Her mother taught her well. So well that she gave her first piano performance when she was eight and aged 11 had her first published work.

Her mother wanted her to further her studies after graduating as valedictorian from high school, and as this was next to impossible in the South, she was enrolled in the New England Conservatory. There she was tutored in all the musical disciplines under the care of a faculty that included George Whitefield Chadwick. During that time her compositions included a string trio and a symphony. In 1906 she graduated with a diploma in organ and a teaching certificate.

She returned to Little Rock and began teaching in segregated academies in Arkansas and Georgia. She married attorney Thomas Jewell Price and moved back to Little Rock. Following a lynching in 1927 and amid general unease, the family moved to Chicago where Florence was to flourish and become a recognized member of the musical community. In 1932, her Symphony in E Minor won the first prize of $500 in the Rodman Wanamaker Competition sponsored by the National Federation of Music Clubs. The work attracted the interest of conductor Frederick Stock who led his Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the premiere public performance, the first time a major American orchestra had ever performed any piece written by an African-American woman.

Her symphonies are in the usual four movements. Symphony No.1 dates from 1932 and calls to mind the symphonic music of the era, most evoked being Dvořák, Edward MacDowell, Horatio Parker and George Whitefield Chadwick whose music I continue to enjoy. The first movement is a mighty statement running over 16 minutes. The grand second is an attractive largo of 12 minutes duration. In the third movement where one might normally expect to hear a scherzo, we are treated to a Juba Dance, based on the antebellum slave style, complex body percussion (foot stomping and chest patting) and syncopated melodies. The boisterous fourth movement is an appropriate closing.

The Fourth Symphony is similarly constructed with an Andante cantabile second movement à la Dvořák. The third movement is again a Juba Dance and the final movement, a mighty Scherzo. I am very interested in hearing more of Florence Price.

03 RespeghiRespighi – Roman Trilogy
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra; JoAnn Falletta
Naxos 8.574013 (naxos.com)

I have never forgotten as a child first hearing The Fountains of Rome at a concert conducted by a short, wiry and agile Italian, Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, who made me fall in love with the piece instantly. Over the years I found that the Fountains is by far the best of the trilogy, Pines a close second and Festivals a distant third, but generally recordings tended to establish a certain routine interpretation and sound that became an expected norm.

However, this brilliant new recording by JoAnn Falletta, who now emerges as a star conductor and favourite of Naxos, will surprise you. She is American, original and unorthodox, and picks Festivals to play first (!), turning it into a monumental sound spectacle and making the most of Respighi’s adventurous harmonies and orchestration. Just listen to Circenses where the music is so graphic as it describes vividly ferocious lions devouring Christian martyrs and Ottobrata with its sweet mandolin solo and far away horn calls evoking my beloved countryside around Rome.

The disc gives us surprise after delightful surprise as Falletta, revelling in the rich score, brings out voices I have never heard before. Like a gorgeous sound painting of night on the Gianicolo Hill with the noble silhouettes of pines and a nightingale singing. She is so totally engrossed that the music simply doesn’t want to end. But where she really strikes home is Pines of the Via Appia, a tremendous tour de force depicting an ancient Roman army emerging from distant haze marching towards us, and the music just builds and builds. A gradual crescendo exploding in glorious fortississimo without ever becoming bombastic or overpowering. Brava!

01 PEMIPAULL CDOn Musicum Umbrarum, his debut solo album, the Canadian violist Pemi Paull presents five solo works that he feels show the interplay between past and present – “how the past speaks to the present and how the present responds.” (Metis Islands Records MI-008; metis-islands.com).

George Enescu’s Menetrier is actually the opening movement of his Impressions d’enfance for violin and piano; adapted here by Paull, it provides a great start to the CD. The Two Wölfli SketchesHorror Vacui and Musicum Umbrarum, from 2011 by the Canadian composer Scott Godin (b.1970), take their inspiration from works by the early 20th-century Swiss painter Adolf Wölfli, who spent much of his later years in psychiatric care and therapy. The brief Obrecht Motetten III, from 1980 by the English composer Michael Finnissy (b.1946), looks anew at the polyphony of the Flemish Renaissance composer Jacob Obrecht.

The central work on the CD is the towering Sonata for Viola Solo by György Ligeti. A relatively late work from 1991-94 it has a fascinating and original construction: a first movement played entirely on the low C string; a second of frantic double stops; a third movement of torment and struggle; a muted perpetual motion fourth; a fifth mostly in parallel seconds and sevenths; and a Chaconne chromatique to finish. Paull meets every challenge with ease and authority.

The final track is one that makes you look twice at the track listings to make sure you read it correctly – the Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, written as a love song to his then-new wife Alma. It’s an intriguing possibility, but the reality is even more intriguing, the piece being played entirely pizzicato as performed (and notated for Paull) by Ljova, the Russian violist Lev Zhurbin. It’s really quite beautiful, and a lovely ending to an outstanding debut CD.

Listen to 'Musicum Umbrarum' Now in the Listening Room

02 Pogossian coverLinks between past and present are central to another solo recital, as violinist Movses Pogossian follows up his 2017 release of the Bach Solo Sonatas and Partitas with Inspired by Bach (New Focus Recordings FCR206 newfocusrecordings.com/catalogue/movses-pogossian-inspired-by-bach), a CD that features three new works that he feels “follow in the inescapable shadow of Bach’s music for unaccompanied violin… connecting the listener with Bach and extending the legacy of the unaccompanied string works.” The connection with Bach may be a bit tenuous at times, but they certainly do fulfill the latter aim.

Kaija Saariaho’s four-movement Frises starts with the final D of the Bach D-Minor Chaconne, and each of the movements is focused on one historical ostinato-variation form – passacaglia or chaconne, for instance. In a concert setting, prepared sound materials are triggered by the soloist during the performance, together with real-time processing of the violin sound. Not here, though: Pogossian recorded the violin part alone, with Jean-Baptiste Barrière adding the electronics afterwards. It’s a tough listen at times, but always engrossing.

The American composer and pianist Gabriela Lena Frank’s Suite Mestiza was inspired by South American Andean culture, in particular sights and sounds remembered from trips to Peru with her mother. Described as programmatic and colourful, the seven movements depict scenes and characters from the Andes region. It’s imaginative and wide-ranging writing that draws quite remarkable playing from Pogossian. You can watch his performance on YouTube.

The American composer and violinist Andrew McIntosh says that his seven-movement work was partly inspired by the idea of juxtaposing different, clearly defined but unconnected shapes and colours. Certainly his Shasta starts that way, a fast and bustling opening that recalls the bariolage passages in the Bach works, followed by a still, long-held single note. An unexpected addition is the scoring for eight wine glasses bowed by four performers; they make their most noticeable contribution in the final movement, giving the work a peaceful ending that sounds like gentle breathing

Whatever the technical or musical challenges, nothing seems to create problems for Pogossian, who is quite superb throughout a terrific CD.

Listen to 'Inspired by Bach' Now in the Listening Room

03 Crozman CavatineCavatine is the really impressive debut CD from Canadian cellist Cameron Crozman, ably accompanied by pianist Philip Chiu (ATMA Classique ACD2 2787; atmaclassique.com/En/Albums/AlbumInfo.aspx?AlbumID=1619). Having studied at the Paris Conservatoire for six years Crozman says it was inevitable that his first album would be filled with French music, and the multi-faceted program here includes Debussy’s Cello Sonata from 1915 and works that the soloist feels emerged from the new wave that Debussy created.

The delightful Cello Sonata by Francis Poulenc really deserves to be heard more often; completed in 1948, its four movements are full of the lyrical charm so typical of the composer.

In the early 1930s Charles Koechlin set 20 Breton folksongs for cello and piano, the first two of the three sets being published in 1934 as Chansons bretonnes sur des thèmes de l’ancien Folklore Op.115; four short pieces from the first collection and two from the second are heard here.

Jean Françaix’s Variations de concert date from 1950, the ten brief variations displaying a wide range of mood, style and tempo, and ending with a dazzling final variation.

The Louange à l’éternité de jésus, the fifth movement from Olivier Messiaen’s astonishing Quatuor pour le fin du Temps completes the disc. A calm, soaring and meditative cello melodic line over quiet piano chords, it perhaps loses some of its effectiveness outside of the context of the complete work, but nevertheless is a beautiful ending to a highly commendable CD.

Listen to 'Cavatine' Now in the Listening Room

04 Haydn CelloThere’s more outstanding cello playing on Haydn Cello Concertos Nos. 1 & 2 with the American cellist Robert deMaine and the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra under Joel Eric Suben on Nova Scotia’s Leaf Music label (LM 222; leaf-music.ca/product/lm222).

The soloist, an original member of the Ehnes Quartet, is principal cello of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, having held the same position with the Detroit Symphony for over a decade, as well as a stint as guest principal cellist for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. His playing in both concertos – No.1 in C Major and No.2 in D Major – is strong and vibrant, with great agility and touch, especially in the long and often virtuosic first movement of the D-Major work.

Both works were written for cellists in the Esterhazy court orchestra, the C Major in the early 1760s (although not known to us until the discovery of a copy of the score in 1961) and the D Major some 20 years later for the cellist Antonín Kraft, a player noted for his beautiful singing tone, expressive phrasing and an explosive technique, especially in the cello’s upper register. Qualities, indeed, displayed here by deMaine. The excellent and idiomatic cadenzas are by the soloist.

I’m not sure whether or not this is a re-issue: the recordings were made in the Czech Republic in September 2009, but are listed on deMaine’s website as a projected release on the Sono Luminus label with a release date that is earlier than the recording dates. There’s no mention of this current Leaf Music issue.

Listen to 'Haydn Cello Concertos Nos. 1 & 2' Now in the Listening Room

05 duportThis is certainly a good month for cellists. The French cellist Raphaël Pidoux is the stellar soloist on Jean-Louis Duport Concertos pour Violoncelle, with the Stradivaria – Ensemble Baroque de Nantes under Daniel Cuiller (Mirare MIR394; mirare.fr).

The Duport brothers – Jean-Louis (1749-1819) and Jean-Pierre (1741-1818) – were both brilliant cello virtuosi in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Jean-Pierre eventually pursued a career in the Prussian court, leaving Jean-Louis to take over his position in Paris where he eventually became more celebrated than his older brother. Sensing the dangers of the coming French Revolution in 1789, Jean-Louis followed his brother to Prussia, returning to Paris in 1806 where, despite being well-received and teaching at the Conservatoire, he never fully re-established himself. He remains little-known as a composer, although his Essay on the fingering of the violoncello and on the conduct of the bow, completed in 1806, was a seminal treatise on cello technique.

Duport’s were the first French cello concertos; six are extant, of which three are presented here: No.1 in A Major; No.4 in E Minor; and No.5 in D Major. The first concerto predates 1789; the other two were apparently written while he was in Prussia. They are played here “according to the composer’s wishes” with a string orchestra, horns and oboes being added for Nos. 4 and 5. All follow the same pattern, with a substantial and well-developed opening movement, a short slow movement and a virtuosic rondo finale.

These are really attractive works that bridge the gap between the late classical and early Romantic periods, their fast scales and arpeggios in thirds, sixths and octaves from the lowest to highest registers offering proof that the cello was already in a highly developed state as a solo instrument.

Pidoux plays a 1680 Gioffredo Cappa cello with a William Dodd bow from 1790/95, handling the technical challenges with grace and ease and always displaying a warm, bright tone. The idiomatic support from the Stradivaria ensemble is of the highest quality on an extremely satisfying CD.

06 Mind and MatterThe American composer Paul Lombardi describes the five duets for strings on the CD Pieces of Mind & Matter – String Duets as chronicling a 13-year-long refinement of his compositional voice (Ravello RR8804; ravellorecords.com/catalog/rr8804). Presented in chronological order, they are: Holocene (2004) for violin and viola; Acquiesce (2006) for violin and cello; Persiguiéndose (2007) for two cellos; Phosphorescent (2008) for cello and double bass; and Fracture (2017) for two violins.

The performers – who vary from track to track – are Megan Holland, Roberta Arruda and David Felberg (violins); Kimberley Fredenburgh (viola); Joel Becktell, Lisa Collins and David Schepps (cellos); and Mark Tatum (bass).

The works are difficult to describe, although not difficult to listen to; Lombardi says that he likes to explore self-similar and recursive patterns. They’re modernistic with some strong melodic lines, taut rhythms, dissonance, motivic structure and some interesting textures and harmonies. Overall they’re strongly individual pieces, well-written and extremely well-played. 

07 Spanish MiniaturesIt’s been five years since we saw a CD from the Canadian guitarist Warren Nicholson (his Latin American Guitar Favourites issued in September 2013) but he’s back with Spanish Miniatures, a selection mostly of works by Fernando Sor, Francisco Tárrega and Isaac Albéniz (Independent WAN Records WANCD60918; warrennicholsonguitarist.com).

Federico Moreno Torroba’s Madroňos opens the disc, followed by four Studies and two Lessons selected from Fernando Sor’s Opp.6, 35, 44 and 60 works. Tárrega is represented by six works: his Preludes Nos.1 and 2; Lagrima; Maria; Adelita; and the famous Recuerdos de la Alhambra with its constant right hand tremolo.

Mallorca, Asturias and the Tango from Espaňa are the Albéniz selections, and the CD ends with two items from more recent but lesser-known composers: Waltz No.1 by Bartolomé Calatayud (1882-1973); and Cancion y Danza No.1 by Antonio Ruiz-Pipó (1934-1997).

The playing is again technically accomplished, clean and thoughtful. The only reservation I have – and one I had about his previous release as well – is that there is a tendency for the playing to come across as a bit too measured and carefully considered at times, with the result (in the Recuerdos in particular) that it can sound a bit pedestrian and fail to fully engage the listener.

Still, there’s fine playing overall and much to admire here in a well-produced and nicely-presented CD. 

01 Jan Lisiecki Cover PhotoCanadian pianist Jan Lisiecki’s recording career continues with his latest issue of Mendelssohn (Deutsche Grammophon DG 4836471; deutschegrammophon.com/en/artist/lisiecki), the sixth time his name appears on this prestigious label. Lisiecki plays the Concerto No.1 in G Minor Op.25 and No.2 in D Minor Op.40 along with the Variations sérieuses, Op.54 and a couple of shorter pieces. His earlier recordings set expectations very high and he has no difficulty in exceeding them. At age 23, his towering technical ability and the blazing speed and accuracy of his playing promise to propel him for a good many years toward some still distant pinnacle. It would all be something of a meteoric flash were it not for his maturity.

The willingness and ability to forgo the energized brilliance of a youthful performance is the early mark of a musician with something to say, something worth hearing. Lisiecki’s fast playing is so impressive it’s a wonder the piano is mechanically capable of keeping up. But the middle movements of both concertos along with the more pensive sections of the Variations are the places where the artist becomes subsumed in the art. In the moments of pause and suspense, where so little seems to happen, so much is conveyed. Lisiecki shows how completely he is able to surrender to this music, to lift away from it and let it speak. It’s a beautiful recording that promises as much and more for what Lisiecki will still do.

02 Levinston CitizenBruce Levingston’s new CD Citizen (Sono Luminus DSL 92228; sonoluminus.com/m-175-bruce-levingston.aspx) finds its inspiration in his invitation to perform at the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. Being his home state, it occasioned considerable reflection for him on the deep questions at the core of his community’s history and conscience. Two of the works are world premiere recordings from composers commissioned to write music for the same opening. They, along with the four others represented on the disc, speak with a remarkably similar voice. Levingston has programmed his recording to be this way – a reflection of the higher ideals the Civil Rights Museum enshrines.

The opening track is Nolan Gasser’s An American Citizen. It’s inspired by one of Marie Atkinson Hull’s portraits of Mississippi tenant farmers and sharecroppers. Gasser uses many recognizably American idioms to build a highly complex work that nevertheless offers immediate and sustained emotional access. A more contemplative work is David T. Little’s Accumulation of Purpose inspired by the Freedom Riders, the civil rights activists who rode buses across the South in 1961. The final tracks go to Price Walden whose Sacred Spaces is a profoundly moving remembrance of the countless churches where African-Americans gathered and contributed to their sense of community. His arrangement of Amazing Grace closes the recording. It’s a straightforward structure that uses some extraordinary harmonic transitions to make this iconic hymn even more meaningful in the context of the disc.

This recording by Bruce Levingston is far more than a simple CD. It’s a meditation on one of the central issues of our time and can only benefit from being heard and experienced in that way.

03 Liszt TiberghienCédric Tiberghien focuses on the closing years of one of the 19th century’s greatest musical figures in his latest recording Liszt – Années de pèlerinage, troisième année & other late works (Hyperion CDA68202; hyperion-records.co.uk). It begins with a handful of shorter works from the last five years of Liszt’s life. Tiberghien’s posture in these works is hard to describe but a valiant effort might yield something like “micro-playing.” The understated pianissimos seem to come from a distant instrument in another place. It’s a remarkable technique that can extract so small a whisper from such a powerful instrument. But Liszt is contemplating another world and Tiberghien transcendentally plays from there. The voice he creates at the keyboard speaks a language free to be atonal and arrhythmic as Liszt so daringly intends in the Bagatelle sans tonalité and the Fourth Mephisto Waltz. Contemplation of what lies beyond the threshold of mortality is nearly, but not entirely, without hope. The simple beauty of Wiegenlied and En rêve are sparingly applied to the dark certainties of La lugubre gondola II and Schlaflos! Frage und Antwort. Tiberghien’s playing in these late works may be the most beautiful you have ever heard.

The Années predate this period and are freer of the later works’ darker contemplations. There is much grand-scale writing and brilliant pianistic conception in these pages and Tiberghien dominates with power and dexterity. His Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este is a breathtaking portrayal of Liszt’s fountains. And his interpretations of Angelus! and Sursum Corda are convincing evocations of their spiritual and liturgical roots.

04 Melisande McNabneyMélisande McNabney’s new release Inspirations (Atma Classique ACD2 2780; atmaclassique.com/En/Albums/AlbumInfo.aspx?AlbumID=1620) offers an intriguing twist on expectations of harpsichord repertoire. These works are transcriptions of music originally for lute. As such, they lack the conventional form that keyboard works devised for two hands would ordinarily display. Instead, these reveal a kind of hybrid piece, principally adapted for keyboard but still revealing much of the lute’s character in the way brief solo thematic ideas alternate with great strum-like keyboard arpeggios. Even the lutenist’s finger plucking is recreated as clustered staccato patterns by the harpsichordist. It takes some careful listening but the ear begins to hear what the music might have sounded like as a lute piece. It sounds terribly difficult at times with endless cascades of keyboard notes that would have been easier on the lute. Still, 17th-century demands for repertoire for the popular emerging keyboard instrument made transcription a necessary composer’s skill. McNabney herself transcribed two works by Rameau, Tendre amour and Air de la Folie. On this recording, she performs on a 1981 instrument built by Keith Hill after an original by the builder Blanchet.

Listen to 'Inspirations' Now in the Listening Room

05 Messing AroundHakan Toker’s latest recording is aptly titled Messing Around (Navona Records NV 6202; navonarecords.com/catalog/nv6202). Yes, this is one of those lists of familiar tunes jazzed up by a talented and creative player. But wait, this inventive and, frankly, brilliant pianist takes the practice to a new level. Imagine Henry Mancini’s Moon River being reconceived as a Bach invention or a Satie Gnossienne as a Czardas; or how about Beethoven’s Für Elise as Elise’s Got The Blues! This is beyond simply clever, it’s genius. The Bach Toccata and Fugue in Blue, like the other tracks, shows Toker’s understanding of the original forms and his fluency with the modern ones that enables his fusion (or maybe it’s fission?) of ragtime, blues, jazz and seemingly any other musical style. It’s a little comic at first but very quickly becomes stunningly impressive. The disc includes Paul Desmond’s Take Five and Mozart’s Rondo alla turka rethought in the most entertaining ways

Toker is the master of everything he plays, regardless of style or technical difficulty.

06 Deschenes OvalleAndree-Ann Deschenes is a California-based French-Canadian pianist. Her new 2CD set The Ovalle Project (aadpiano.com/the-ovalle-project) celebrates the music of Jayme Ovalle, a Brazilian composer of the first half of the 20th century. Ovalle wrote a modest body of works that include some songs, instrumental pieces and 24 compositions for piano. They are varied in style and length but generally conform to classical Western forms and tend toward character pieces and dances but also include several virtuosic works. Deschenes’ website describes her attraction to the music and its harmonic richness, density and chromaticism. She has spent some time searching for scores and assembling the manuscripts to be able to record the 24 piano pieces.

The most substantial items in the set are the three Legenda Opp.19, 22 and 23. These are conceived on a larger scale than most of the other material. Massive chords and a wider dynamic make these stand out quite impressively. By contrast Album de Isolda Op.27 is simple and at times seems to have been written in the spirit of a Baroque exercise.

Ovalle’s writing takes a few risks with tonality but only rarely. Rhythm is his principle tool and Deschenes uses this masterfully. She has a natural affinity for the Latin spirit of this music and Ovalle’s harmonic language. There’s a surprising amount of very satisfying variety in this program, aided significantly by Deschenes’ obviously passionate interest in Ovalle’s work.

Listen to 'The Ovalle Project' Now in the Listening Room

07 David WittenThe Eclectic Piano Music of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (Albany Records Troy 1732; albanyrecords.com) is David Witten’s new recording treating listeners to an exotic and luscious program of music not often heard. Despite the familiarity of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s name, his piano music is infrequently performed or recorded. Witten’s selection of works highlights the modal nature of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s writing and demonstrates his impressive ability for caricature and programmatic writing.

The Seasons Op.33 is a wonderful example of how Witten works the subtle emotional elements used to portray the feel of each season. Similarly, Sonatina Zoologica Op.187 carries titles like Dragonflies, The Snail, Little Lizard and Ants that match the musical portraits the composer paints of the garden creatures. Witten plays the Sonatina beautifully, seizing every opportunity to exploit the composer’s picturesque devices. Witten’s liner notes offer an instructive reminder of the composer’s successful career as a Hollywood film composer and suddenly it all makes sense. This is music for the imagination as much as the ear.

On a higher level, however, Castelnuovo-Tedesco writes Greeting Cards Op.170 in which he devised his own coding system to convert the alphabet into musical notes in order to compose tributes to musicians he admired. Three such pieces on this disc pay homage to Walter Gieseking, André Previn and Nicolas Slonimsky. Witten’s playing throughout this disc is consistently superb. He exhibits an abiding curiosity that drives him to explore the reaches of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s language, and a musical intelligence that guarantees the highest fidelity to the composer’s intention.

08 Prokofiev KholodenkoVadym Kholodenko has more than a half dozen recordings to his credit and now adds his new release Sergei Prokofiev Concertos No.1, 3 & 4 (Harmonia Mundi HMM907632; harmoniamundi.com). Having recorded Piano Concertos 2 and 5 on a previous disc, he completes the cycle with the remaining three. These three come from very different circumstances in Prokofiev’s life. The well-known story of Concerto No.1 in D-flat Major, Op.10 has Prokofiev as a 21-year-old pianist winning the Rubinstein Piano Competition performing it. It’s a short work played through without movement breaks. Kholodenko immediately captures the boldness and youthful optimism of this work with his opening statements of the main idea, and drives through the rest of the work with undiminished energy.

Concerto No.3 in C Major, Op.26 comes from nearly a decade later, after Prokofiev had left the Soviet Union. Kholodenko plays this in a way that reflects the more confident modernity the composer found in a new environment that encouraged some careful flirtation with atonality. Kholodenko maintains the sense of rhythmic drive that underscores the strong dance impulse of this music.

Concerto No.4 for the left hand in B Flat Major, Op.53 was written in 1931 for Paul Wittgenstein who disliked it and refused to play it. He was kinder to Ravel who also wrote him a similar work. It’s a very difficult piece that Kholodenko plays flawlessly.

01 Gryphon TrioImmortal and Beloved
Gryphon Trio
Analekta AN 2 9522 (analekta.com/en) 

Shortly after Beethoven’s death, three letters to “meine unsterbliche Geliebte” (my immortal beloved), dated July 6/7 (1812), were discovered among his effects. Speculation about her identity has since abounded, with numerous suggested candidates. A 1994 British movie, Immortal Beloved, even portrayed her, absurdly, as his sister-in-law! Recent attention has focused on Countess Josephine von Brunswick, the secret dedicatee of Beethoven’s piano piece Andante favori.

Carleton University professor James Wright (b.1959) has rearranged excerpts from the letters to compose a moving, memorable 15-minute cycle of three songs, Briefe an die unsterbliche Geliebte (Letters to the Immortal Beloved) (2012), quoting the opening of the Andante favori near the end of the third song. Canadian baritone David John Pike, accompanied by the Gryphon Trio, effectively expresses the hyper-emotional words of Beethoven’s desperate longing. These beautiful, heartfelt songs should be welcomed into the lieder repertoire, perhaps in a version for voice and piano alone.

Pike, accompanied by Gryphon pianist Jamie Parker, also contributes a sensitive performance of Beethoven’s song-cycle An die ferne Geliebte (To the Distant Beloved), another outpouring of longing for an absent lover.

Filling 40 of this CD’s 70 minutes is the Gryphon Trio’s exuberant 2008 recording of Beethoven’s Archduke Trio, needlessly reissued while still available on Analekta AN 2 9858. Surely, music not yet in the discographies of Wright, Pike or the Gryphon Trio would have been preferable.

Nonetheless, Wright’s fervent song cycle definitely deserves repeated hearings. Texts and translations are included.

02 Schubert BRockSchubert – Symphonies 1 & 6
B’Rock Orchestra; René Jacobs
Pentatone PCT 5185 707 (naxosdirect.com) 

This new recording of Schubert’s First and Sixth Symphonies is René Jacobs’ first foray into the music of this composer and it certainly promises to be an exciting new adventure. Thus far I have been acquainted with the Belgian maestro as a distinguished interpreter of Baroque repertoire, but as is usually the case with extraordinary musical minds, they soon branch into the classics or even the Romantics.

Schubert was the first love of my life and I grew up with the lush and graceful interpretations of German conductors, beautifully rendered with modern instrument orchestras. Little did I know that Schubert’s original scores were augmented by Brahms, so Jacobs’ principal aim is to restore authenticity with the original, leaner orchestrations with period instruments using the B’Rock Orchestra, a group of young enthusiastic and energetic players famous for their original approach to the classics.

Notwithstanding some critics’ complaints about harsh sounds, extreme dynamics and sonorities of period instruments, we are amply compensated with how even the First Symphony, written by a mere teenager, dashes forth with such verve, fire, joie de vivre, brilliance and humour at the hands of these young players. The fourth movement especially, is a delight.

The Sixth, my favourite from the early period, referred to as the Little C Major (as opposed to the Great C Major) is definitely a masterpiece and comes off even better. Everything makes sense, the extremely fast tempo at the ritornello of the Scherzo and its heavenly Trio, that marvellous second movement with its sudden outbursts of sadness and anger, the delightful fourth that dances along like a ballet with its interesting modulations, and that surprising sudden visionary reference to the great Ninth at the very end. A vigorous, original and highly inspired performance!

Complete set to be completed by 2021, can’t wait!

03 Brahms DvorakBrahms – Symphony No.4; Dvořák - Symphony No.9
Bamberger Symphoniker; Jakub Hrůša
Tudor Recording AGSACD 1744 (naxosdirect.com) 

As I learned from the informative liner notes contained within this highly enjoyable and beautifully captured double CD – containing, what is no doubt, some of the finest and certainly best loved music of Johannes Brahms and Antonin Dvořák – both men, at different junctures in their lives, performed the role of torchbearer for one another. Dvořák, literally, was torchbearer at the funeral of the more senior Brahms, who had famously encouraged, mentored and recommended to publishers the compositions of Dvořák, who was then living and composing in Prague, anxious to be heard and appreciated on a more international level. Brahms, more famously, was stylistic torchbearer for a future generation of composers that include Dvořák, all whom found inspiration in the late German composer’s broad Romantic themes and melodic beauty.

The relationship between the two men is programmed here, with two of their most famous symphonies (Brahms’s Symphony No.4 and Dvořák’s Symphony No.9), presented under the masterful direction of Czech conductor Jakub Hrůša, working with the dynamic German Bamberg Symphony Orchestra. In addition to the shared appreciation that the composers had for one another, these two symphonies share key, aesthetic beauty and a grandness of gesture that Hrůša and orchestra develop fully, while simultaneously teasing out the subtle differences and exploring the individual intricacies of these two masterworks, which represent the last symphonies of the two composers.

The CD is bold in its programming and beautiful in its presentation of these popular symphonic works, offering another important telling and capture of these compositions for lovers of bold Western art music.

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