02 Four London MyriadJoy & Desolation
Alexander Fiterstein; Tesla Quartet
Orchid Classics ORC100106 (orchidclassics.com)

Get ready, the youth are marching, and they hear the beat of a drummer we should all listen for. Clarinetist Alexander Fiterstein and the Tesla String Quartet have released a sharp-looking package of chamber works for that particular and popular grouping, the clarinet quintet. 

After paying homage to the founder of the movement, Mozart, in his Quintet K581, they embark on a path through the 20th century: Gerald Finzi’s Five Bagatelles (arranged by Christian Alexander) and a late-millennial work by a pre-boomer, Soliloquy by John Corigliano. Lastly comes a brief and fairly recent work by Argentine composer Carolina Heredia: Ius in Bello (Laws of War) (2014).

I appreciate the care and skill the group employs in recreating Mozart’s beloved chamber work; it will certainly not disappoint. The colour of Fiterstein’s clarinet brightens the rich sound of the quartet, whose lead voice (in this instance, violinist Michelle Lee, although she alternates on the disc with Ross Snyder), offers a gorgeous counterpoint to the woodwind. They score points as a group for not attempting to reinvent the work; instead they bring a clear sensibility about the use of nuance (tactful and restrained) and attention to prevent vibrato from creeping into the colour. Kudos.

My skepticism about the value of the Bagatelles melted on hearing it improved by the piano part being replaced by the individual string voices. Here the (subtle) vibrato in all the voices turns what is a somewhat pedestrian duo into a touching choral ensemble work. Corigliano provides the “desolation” referred to in the disc’s title with a haunting elegy to the composer’s late father. Heredia’s short and edgy work is a refraction of the conflict-filled world of today.

04 Brahms HagenBrahms – String Quartet Op.67; Piano Quintet Op.34
Kiril Gerstein; Hagen Quartett
Myrios Classics MYR021 (naxosdirect.com)

Brahms was happiest at the piano and reluctant to venture into the unknown territory of chamber music involving instruments with which he was not entirely familiar. Many such forays into the unknown were cautiously undertaken. Moreover Brahms had a habit of destroying pieces he did not approve. Considering all of this it is remarkable that his mature chamber work is among the greatest of the 19th century.

The String Quartet No.3 in B-flat Major is one of three quartets which give credence to his view that (for Brahms) the quartet remained a proving ground for experiments of striking originality. It harks back to the world of Mozart and Haydn. Yet throughout, the cycle of nostalgia is muted and it serves only to allow Brahms’ interplays and musical tensions to be resolved with greater impact. Schumann once described Brahms’ chamber music as “symphonies in disguise” and the Piano Quintet in F Minor is typical of this. It combines the resonances of orchestral music with the differentiated textures of chamber music and is a masterpiece of Brahms’ maturity.

Kirill Gerstein offers a legendary interpretation of the Piano Quintet. With high drama, impulsive accelerations, ominous pauses which shrink to a whisper, and moments of deliberation, the work explodes to life. The Hagen Quartett play with such a high level of empathy that at times it’s possible to imagine these works were written almost exclusively for them.

05 Saint Saens UtahSaint-Saëns – Symphony No.1; Symphony in A Major; The Carnival of the Animals
Utah Symphony; Thierry Fischer
Hyperion CDA68223
(hyperion-records.co.uk)

The output of Camille Saint-Saëns was an impressive one, yet for some reason, a great many of his pieces lie in relative obscurity today. Among these are two symphonies – both early works – and both overshadowed by the lavish “Organ” symphony of 1886. Critics tend to dismiss them as derivative, but they remain fine examples of a young composer’s first forays into symphonic writing as evidenced here on this splendid Hyperion recording featuring the Utah Symphony conducted by Thierry Fischer.

From the majestic opening measures of the Symphony in E flat from 1853, it’s clear that the orchestra is in full command of this buoyant and optimistic music. The martial mood of the first movement is continued in the second movement Scherzo, followed by a lyrical Adagio. The Finale: Allegro Maestoso is exactly that – majestic and ceremonious music, where the Utah’s formidable brass section is given ample opportunity to demonstrate its prowess, and the triumphant conclusion performed with great panache.

The Symphony in A Major is an even earlier work, composed c.1850 when the composer was all of 15. There are echoes of Beethoven and Mendelssohn here, particularly in the sunny third movement Scherzo and the jubilant Allegro molto finale. Again, the orchestra delivers a stylish and convincing performance under Fischer’s sensitive baton.

Interspersed between the two symphonies is the popular Carnival of the Animals. The musical menagerie with its braying, squawking and clucking is proof indeed that the dignified 53-year-old composer – forever sporting a beard and a frock coat – had a keen sense of humour after all.

Bien fait! This is a wonderful recording showcasing two of Saint-Saëns’ less well-known orchestral works along with one of his most familiar – a welcome addition to the catalogue.

06 Second WindSecond Wind
Dave Camwell
Navona Records nv6253
(navonarecords.com)

The saxophone was patented by Adophe Sax in 1846, after a great deal of music had already been written. And it was not until the mid- to end- of the 20th century that its repertoire diversified. Dave Camwell’s Second Wind contains an exciting variety of works written for the saxophone but also includes several pieces by Bach, Vivaldi and Handel which have been arranged for the instrument. Music history contains many examples of re-orchestration: Bach performed many of his works with different instrumentation and Robert Schumann added piano accompaniment to Bach sonatas. Camwell has further revised Schumann’s arrangements by adding two saxophones (the other played by Susan Fancher) to Partita No.3, BMV1006 and Sonata No.3 BMV1005. The players’ bright sound and clean articulation show how well-suited the saxophone is for Baroque music.

Camwell shows his mastery of many forms with the other pieces, including Robert Muczynski’s Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano, Op.29. Throughout the two movements, Andante Maestoso and Allegro Energico, he combines a muscular technique with a light and effervescent sound through the entire range of the instrument, including altissimo passages. Three larger works round out the album, one with wind ensemble, another with chorale and the final work, Russell Peterson’s Concerto for Flute, Alto Saxophone and Symphonic Band. The variety of music from different centuries, and with such diverse instrumentation, makes this album a real saxophone tour de force!

14 Hommage to Women ComposersHommage to Women Composers
The Piano Duo of Iris Graffman Wenglin & Ruth Lomon
Navona Records nv6254
(navonarecords.com)

The duo of pianist/lecturer Iris Graffman Wenglin and composer/pianist Ruth Lomon had been performing traditional two-piano programs when they came up with the idea of playing works by women composers, music that was usually difficult to find and seldom performed. When Lomon was in London, she began to research works, and this project took off. Recorded in 1976 and 1978, and remastered in 2017, this fruit of the duo’s labours features pieces by 11 women composers from the Romantic era to the late 20th century.

Two Clara Wieck Schumann piano solos played by Graffman Wenglin set the stage for future tracks. Highlights include Barbara Pentland’s Three Piano Duets After Pictures by Paul Klee (1958) featuring spaces and rhythmic attacks interspersed with lyric sections. I love Lomon’s composition Soundings for Piano Four Hands (1975) which lives up to its title with wide-ranging atonal piano effects like low ringing lines against higher tones, virtuosic chords and leaps. Thea Musgrave’s Excursions (1965) has eight under-one-minute car-driving movements like the bumpy rhythmic The Drunken Driver, the lyrical relaxing The Sunday Driver and the accented heavy chord Backseat Driver. Compositions by Tailleferre, Talma, Gideon, Richter, Fontyn, Ptaszynska and Ran complete the collection. 

Graffman Wenglin and Lomon are spectacular musicians, both individually and as a duo. They completely respect and understand the diverse styles, technique, ensemble playing and compositional intricacies of each piece and of each other’s musicianship. This timeless recording is a wonderful memorial to Lomon who died in 2017

01 Time EternitySpace restrictions make it difficult to fully describe Time & Eternity, the remarkable new CD from the brilliant and visionary violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja with Camerata Bern (Alpha Classics ALPHA 545 naxosdirect.com). This is the fifth in a series of “staged concerts,” a concept that Kopatchinskaja has been developing since 2016, and her second with this ensemble, of which she has been artistic director since autumn 2018.

Described as “music made out of the blood and tears of tortured souls,” the core works are the Concerto funèbre by Karl Amadeus Hartmann, written in 1939 in response to the Nazi outrages, and Frank Martin’s violin concerto Polyptyque, inspired by six 14th-century altar panels of the Passion of Christ.

That barely scratches the surface of a continuous performance that often feels like a religious service: there’s John Zorn’s solemn and moving Kol Nidre; contributions by cantors and Polish and Russian Orthodox priests; song; and, around and between the six Polyptyque movements, the Kyrie from Machaut’s Messe de Nostre Dame, transcriptions of five Bach chorales and – in place of the Crucifixion panel that Martin omitted – Luboš Fišer’s pain-laden Crux for violin, timpani and bells.

It’s an enthralling and emotional journey from the opening spoken Kol Nidre to the fading tolling bell of the final track, with faultless performances from all involved.

02 BoismortierThe Canadian violinist Olivier Brault is Professor of Baroque Violin at McGill University and has been active in the Baroque music world for over 30 years. In 2007 he completed a doctorate on French music for violin and figured bass, so it’s no surprise to find that his new CD, Boismortier Sonates pour Violon Op.20, beautifully performed here by Sonate 1704, the ensemble Brault formed in 2003 with Dorothéa Ventura on harpsichord and Mélisande Corriveau on bass viol, is an absolute gem (Analekta AN 2 8769 analekta.com/en).

The six sonatas by the French composer Joseph Bodin de Boismortier were published in Paris in 1727, and while they show the increasing influence of Italian violin playing, the French style is still much in evidence, especially in the use of dance movements, with Giga, Corrente, Gavotta, Allemande and Sarabanda accounting for more than half of the movements.

Warm, sparkling playing of richly inventive works makes for an immensely satisfying CD.

03 Tetzlaff Beethoven SibeliusYou can always count on violinist Christian Tetzlaff for something insightful and challenging, and so it proves to be again in Beethoven and Sibelius Violin Concertos, his new CD with Robin Ticciati and the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin (Ondine ODE 1334-2 naxos.com/).

Tetzlaff has recorded both concertos before, but clearly feels he has more to say – or to add, perhaps – this time around. Quite striking, given our being accustomed to the Auer, Joachim and Kreisler cadenzas, is the use of the first movement cadenza with added timpani that Beethoven wrote for his transcription for piano and orchestra, as well as cadenzas and ornamentation by Beethoven in the other two movements (again presumably back-sourced from the piano version, as there were none in the original violin score), although Tetzlaff says in the booklet conversation that he has never done it differently.

Insightful comments on both the Beethoven and Sibelius help to illuminate his approach to their performance and both the physical and intellectual demands. The performers are clearly of one mind in engrossing, intelligent and deeply satisfying performances.

04 Bacewicz Complete ViolinAnnabelle Berthomé-Reynolds is the soloist on Bacewicz Complete Violin Sonatas, with pianist Ivan Donchev joining her in a 2-CD recital of works by the Polish composer Grażyna Bacewicz (muso mu-032 muso.mu).

Bacewicz was an outstanding violinist as well as a more than capable pianist, and numbered seven violin concertos, seven string quartets and concertos for piano, viola and cello in her output. The five numbered sonatas for violin and piano span the period 1945-1951, with the Partita for Violin and Piano following in 1955. All display a high level of both structural assurance and familiarity with the technical and expressive potential of the instruments.

There are also two powerful Sonatas for Solo Violin – the clearly Bach-inspired No.1 from 1941, written in Nazi-occupied Warsaw, and the quite progressive No.2 from 1958, with its haunting Adagio and brief but dazzlingly virtuosic final Prelude, described in the excellent booklet notes as a “breathtaking frenzy of double-note glissandi spiccato.”

Engrossing performances make for an exceptional set. 

05 Weinberg Complete Solo Viola SonatasAnother exceptional 2-CD set of complete works is Miecysław Weinberg Complete Sonatas for Solo Viola in quite superb performances by Viacheslav Dinerchtein (Solo Musica SM 310 naxosdirect.com).

The four numbered sonatas were composed between 1971 and 1983, and are issued here in a centenary edition in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth.

Weinberg’s music continues to be reassessed and promoted, and outstanding releases like this one will clearly help to cement his standing in 20th-century music.

06 Tessa LarkThe American violinist Tessa Lark makes a stunning solo CD debut with Fantasy, a selection of fantasies and rhapsodies from four centuries (First hand Records FHR86 firsthandrecords.com).

Three of Telemann’s 12 Fantasias for Solo ViolinNo.1 in B-flat, No.4 in D and No.5 in A – are spread throughout the disc, with Lark’s own Appalachian Fantasy providing a breathtaking display of virtuosic fiddling in her native Kentucky tradition, reworking the Schubert song that opens his Fantasie in C Major and melding it with tunes from Appalachia. Pianist Amy Yang joins Lark for an outstanding performance of the Schubert Fantasie, as well as for Fritz Kreisler’s Viennese Rhapsodic Fantasietta – Lark producing ravishing tone and perfect style – and a simply dazzling and passionate performance of Ravel’s Tzigane – Rhapsodie de concert.

It’s a recital of the highest calibre.

07 Yorick Alexander AbelCellist Yorick-Alexander Abel is outstanding in Hommage à Pablo Casals, a program honouring the legendary Catalan cellist (Naxos 8.551418 naxos.com).

Two of Abel’s own improvisations – Prélude “Lampes de Sagesse” (Lamps of Wisdom) from 2000 and Prélude “Sagesse Amérindienne” (Native American Wisdom) from 2010 – frame a fine performance of Bach’s Suite in G Major BWV1007.

The Suite Per Violoncel Sol “A Pau Casals” is a striking work in remembrance of his older brother written by Casals’ violinist/composer younger brother in 1973, the year of Pablo’s death. Arthur Honegger’s brief Paduana from 1945 and Pablo Casals’ own Cant dels Ocells (Song of the Birds), based on a Catalan Christmas song, round out a memorable CD.

There are two excellent string quartet CDs from Alpha Classics this month, both featuring Mozart’s String Quartet No.15 in D Minor K421 and with little to choose between them.

08 Quatuor Voce Mozart SchubertQuatuor Voce is the ensemble on Mozart Schubert Quartets Nos.15, the Mozart paired with Schubert’s String Quartet No.15 in G Major D887 in recordings made with a mix of live concert and studio sessions – not that you can tell (ALPHA 559 outhere-music.com/en). There’s a warm, measured opening to the Mozart, a work often played with a stress on the inner turmoil of this significant key for Mozart – the key of Don Giovanni, the Piano Concerto No.20 K466 and the Requiem. There’s passion here though, albeit implied rather than explicit, with the hint of despair always restrained.

The same sensitivity and depth is equally evident in the monumental Schubert quartet.

09 Quatuor van Kuijk MozartOn the Quatuor Van Kuijk’s MOZART the K421 quartet is paired with the String Quartet No.14 in G Major K387 and the Divertimento in F Major K138, the latter in its original form for four solo strings (ALPHA 551 outhere-music.com/en).

The D-minor quartet leans more towards the dramatic here than in the Quatuor Voce performance, with less vibrato, more articulation and dynamic contrast and more overt anguish – in the final chords, for instance. There’s never a shortage of warmth, however, and the same qualities are evident in a vibrant performance of the K387 G-major work.

10 Eisler Ravel WidmannViolinist Ilya Gringolts and cellist Dmitry Kouzov are the performers on Eisler Ravel Widman Duos, a CD that features two 20th-century works and one from the 21st (Delos DE 3556 delosmusic.com).

Hans Eisler studied with Arnold Schoenberg, and the latter’s influence can be heard in the brief two-movement Duo for Violin and Cello Op.7 from 1924, albeit with the 12-tone approach given a softer and more audience-friendly treatment.

The central work on the disc is the two-volume 24 Duos for Violin and Cello from 2008 by the German composer Jörg Widmann. Nine of the pieces are under one minute in length and the longest only just over three minutes, but the double stopping and special effects present technical difficulties that bring brilliant playing from Gringolts and Kouzov in music that is challenging but always interesting. With Widmann himself saying “Sensational!!! You understand every fibre of my music” about the performances, these world-premiere recordings can be considered definitive.

A fine reading of Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello from 1922 completes a fine CD.

11 Margaret BatjerThe Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and their concertmaster Margaret Batjer perform concertante works for violin from across three centuries on Jalbert & Bach Violin Concertos, with Jeffrey Kahane conducting (BIS-2309 bis.se).

The 2017 two-movement Violin Concerto by the American composer Pierre Jalbert was co-commissioned by the LACO and is heard here in a world-premiere recording. The violin’s lyrical qualities are fully exploited from the quiet and ethereal opening through the rhythmic contrasts of the energy-filled second movement.

Bach’s Violin Concerto In A Minor BWV1041 follows in a solid performance, and the disc closes with two 20th-century works by Baltic composers: Arvo Pärt’s Fratres, written in 1977 and heard here in the composer’s own 1992 arrangement for violin, string orchestra and percussion; and Pēteris Vasks’ quite beautiful Lonely Angel, a 2006 re-working of the final movement from his 1999 Fourth String Quartet. Batjer shows gorgeous tone and control in a solo line written mostly in the highest register.

12 Ries Complete Cello 2The excellent cellist Martin Rummel is back with Volume 2 of Ferdinand Ries Complete Works for Cello with pianist Stefan Stroissnig (Naxos 8.573851 naxos.com). Volume 1 is available on Naxos 8.57726.

Ries left a sizeable œuvre of over 200 compositions on his death in 1838, few of which are remembered. Included here are: the Cello Sonata in C Minor WoO2 from 1799, one of the earliest of its genre and written when Ries was only 15; the Trois Aires Russes Variés Op.72 from 1812; the Introduction and a Russian Dance Op.113 No.1 and the Cello Sonata in F Major Op.34, both from 1823. Eric Lamb is the flutist in the 1815 Trio for Flute, Cello and Piano in E-flat Major Op.63.

13 Miguez VelasquezViolinist Emmanuele Baldini and pianist Karin Fernandes perform sonatas by two leading figures in Brazilian classical music at the turn of the last century on Miguez and Velásquez Sonatas in the Naxos Music of Brazil series (8.574118 naxos.com/).

The Sonata No.1 for Violin and Piano, “Delirio” from 1909 and the Sonata No.2 for Violin and Piano from 1911 by Glauco Velásquez, who was only 30 when he died in 1914, are really attractive works with a warm Latin feel. The Sonata for Violin and Piano Op.14 by Leopoldo Miguez (1850-1902) is from 1885, and while it feels structurally stronger than the Velásquez works and more in the standard 19th-century sonata mode, it also has less of a Latin feel.

Baldini’s playing is radiant and idiomatic, with Fernandes particularly brilliant in the demanding piano writing in the Miguez sonata.

Scarlatti – 52 Sonatas
Lucas Debargue
Sony Classical 19075944462 (lucasdebargue.com)

01 Debarque ScarlattiWhen the jury at the 2015 International Tchaikovsky Competition placed French pianist Lucas Debargue fourth (which was actually sixth, since the second and third prizes were each shared by two contestants), the outrage was predictable. For it was Debargue who had won over the audience – and the critics – with his dazzling mix of brilliant technique and poetic sensibility.

In any case, Debargue’s career has flourished. In January he’ll make his third appearance at Koerner Hall in Toronto. And Sony has just released his fifth recording, a four-disc set of sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, the innovative Italian Baroque composer who was born in 1685 – the very same year as Bach and Handel – and spent his later, most productive, years at the royal courts in Portugal and Spain.

These short works are fundamental to the repertoire of harpsichordists. Though heard less often in piano recitals, they have been championed by pianists from Vladimir Horowitz and Alicia de Laroccha to András Schiff, Glenn Gould and Angela Hewitt. Many last just three or four minutes, even with Scarlatti’s repeats. But they have the impact of much grander works. Debargue’s selection of 52 sonatas represents less than a tenth of the 555 that Scarlatti wrote. But that’s four hours of some of the most glorious keyboard music ever written.

Scarlatti, a virtuoso harpsichordist, wrote these sonatas to play on his own instrument. So Debargue, ever mindful of the perils of playing them on a piano, makes minimal use of one of the piano’s most valued assets, the sustaining pedal. As a result, he is able to weave textures of delectable lightness and harpsichord-like clarity. But right from the first – and longest – work here, K206, Debargue makes full use of other resources offered by the piano to create an orchestra-scale range of colours and a variety of textures not possible on the earlier instrument. In K115 he highlights Scarlatti’s alluring harmonic shifts by shaping the broken chords and chromatic scales with dramatic crescendos and diminuendos. He does rush the tempo at times, though there are definite payoffs. K25, which is marked allegro, becomes more dramatic at his presto tempo, with the exquisite melodic lines emerging magically. I especially enjoy his bold use of rubato throughout. His ornaments are gorgeous, especially in episodic works like K268, though they can disrupt the pulse and prevent the Iberian rhythms from dancing.

The way Debargue combines the clarity of the harpsichord with the expressive power of the piano is fresh, imaginative and invariably enjoyable – a thoroughly modern approach to these exquisite works.

Pamela Margles

Bach – The Well-Tempered Clavier I & II
Heidrun Holtmann
Musicaphon M56922 (cantate-musicaphon.de)

02 Holtmann Well TemperedThe Well-Tempered Clavier compositions have always represented a sanctuary of sorts for me; a sonic space for contemplation and stillness, unaffected by the fast pace of modern living, and a doorway to a singular notion of the reciprocity between the laws of music and the cosmos. A collection of two sets of preludes and fugues in 24 major and minor keys for solo keyboard, it is also a wonderfully useful treatise on the forms and style of Baroque times.

The Well-Tempered Clavier is structurally complex and creatively abundant, yet orderly and conceived with a teaching purpose in mind. And that is precisely what Heidrun Holtmann connects to in her interpretation – the magnificent architecture that varies from one key to another comes alive vibrantly on this album. She clearly outlines the relationships between preludes and fugues and subtly indicates the different characters of each key (not an easy task in a well-tempered tuning). Although the term clavier applied to a number of keyboard instruments in Bach’s time (hammerklavier, clavichord, spinet, harpsichord and organ) and it is clear that some of the pieces are better suited to a specific kind of keyboard, Holtmann succeeds easily in displaying how the richness and diversity of the piano supports and enriches the colours in the preludes and the virtuosity in the fugues.

Compositional masterpiece, insightful performance – perfect for solitary late autumn musings.

Ivana Popovich

Haydn – Early and Late Sonatas
Denis Levaillant
DLM Editions DLM 3018 (denislevaillant.net)

03 Haydn LevaillantThe keyboard sonatas of Franz Joseph Haydn represent a great feat of an opus, broad in range, dating from the composer’s youthful period to his final decades. The early 1790s – about 15 years before his death – saw Haydn in London, where he encountered new-fangled Broadwood pianos, outfitted with damper pedal and an extended range. Three irresistibly inventive London Sonatas were spawned. Today, so often are these late Beethovenian sonatas performed and celebrated that a listener rarely hears Haydn’s early essays for the keyboard, even in our contemporary age of rediscovery, mining the catalogues of infamous composers for their un-famous works.

French composer, writer and pianist, Denis Levaillant, celebrates Haydn’s early works – as foil to later ones – in his new disc featuring Sonatas No.13 in E, No.14 in D, No.41 in B-flat, No.48 in C, No.49 in E-flat and No.51 in D, all recorded on a modern (Yamaha) grand. As is stipulated in the artist’s eloquent afterword to the liner notes, Levaillant has chosen to access the interpretive world of Haydn’s early sonatas through the stylistic lens of the later ones. He imagines (and supplements) “missing” indications from the composer and offers touches of pedal, pauses and anachronistic colours.

The results are satisfying, for the most part. A correlative access point for Levaillant’s readings is the functionality of early keyboard instruments: the harpsichord and clavichord. Sonatas Nos.13 and 14 most surely would have been realized on such instruments and Levaillant approaches the music with a certitude of form and fortitude of style that permeate the disc’s 15 tracks. The slightly rough and tumble edges – the rustic origins – of Franz Joseph Haydn’s art are brought into relief through Levaillant’s rendering.

Adam Sherkin

Mozart Piano Sonatas
David Fung
Steinway & Sons 30107 (steinway.com/music-and-artists/label)

04 Mozart FungSteinway artist David Fung offers four lesser-known piano sonatas on his new album: the Piano Sonatas No.2 in F Major, K280, No.4 in E-flat, K282, No.5 in G Major, K283 and No.17 in B-flat, K570. Upon first hearing, Fung’s vision of Mozart’s keyboard music is immediately apparent. The (scant) liner notes make much of Fung’s musical upbringing and exposure to the opera – the Mozartian operatic stage in particular – but these references seem status quo and rather obvious in analogy; the comparisons do not quite do justice to Fung’s interpretive approach.

His is a unique and bold reading. Often, contemporaneous interpreters attempt to subdue their own (romantic) leanings, fearing to obscure the ideals of neoclassicalism as manifested in the music of W.A. Mozart. Fung, however, has no such qualms. He portrays a pianistic tableau of striking contrasts, unusual voicings and wanton manipulation of the dimension of time.

Employing a declamatory style, Fung directs the musical action from his keyboard with a strong command of phrasing and rhythmic impetus. He goes far beyond the customary approach to pulsation and accompaniment figures, in search of an inner energy of syncopated beats and subtle ostinati.

Upon repetition of A and B sections, Fung offers fresh takes on voicings that surprise the listener, challenging established conceptions of such material. By far his boldest strokes come in the form of timescale bending: the stretching out of rests, fermati and cadences, as he pushes values to the limit of neoclassical good taste. The resultant effect is generally pleasurable but does, on occasion, turn to parody. Notwithstanding, variety is the spice of life and let’s applaud Fung’s triumph in delivering his singular vision.

Adam Sherkin

Listen to 'Mozart Piano Sonatas' Now in the Listening Room

Mozart Piano Concertos Vol.1
Anne-Marie McDermott; Odense Symfoniorkester; Scott Yoo
Bridge Records 9518 (bridgerecords.com)

Mozart – Piano Concertos Nos.17 & 24
Orli Shaham; St. Louis Symphony Orchestra; David Robertson
Canary Classics CC18 (canaryclassics.com)

05a Mozart Concerti Vol.1Charm, grace and cordiality are fading qualities in today’s hard-hitting, ego-driven age. Attributes from an older world and its refined modes of human interaction continue to recede from us, seemingly destined for near extinction. Every now and then, however, a specialized, sensitive artist will draw us back, time-capsule-like, to a continental European past where art and music existed to elevate, illuminate and beguile.

Ushering the listener toward this very world of period sensibility, Anne-Marie McDermott’s most recent Mozart disc features two lesser-known piano concerti, the Concerto in C, K415/387a and an earlier work of the same genre, in B-flat, K238. McDermott’s exceedingly good taste and technical prowess make for an ideal blend of musical pleasantries, delighting the listener with her innate ability to shape Mozartian lines, equal in parts lyrical, harmonic and rhythmic. This is an 18th-century pianism of poise and courtliness, neoclassical elegance and Viennese affability. 

05b Mozart ShahamAnother such record of Mozart keyboard concerti hails from a collaboration between pianist Orli Shaham and the St. Louis Symphony, under the direction of David Robertson. Here, two later concertos are presented: the airy No.17 in G Major, K453 and the brooding No.24 in C Minor, K491. Soundworlds apart, these pieces juxtapose handsomely on disc, showcasing the dazzling musicianship of pianist, conductor and orchestra with the personal relationship between Shaham and Robertson clearly audible.

This fruitful partnership gleans splendour and lucidity from every note; the conversational exchange between soloist and orchestra is delectable – hefty at times – but largely cajoling in nature. Robertson encourages his players to take their rightful place in crafting the beauty of line and sculpting of colour that behooves the performance of any Mozart concerto. Like McDermott, Shaham enlivens each phrase with a graciousness and purpose, nearly anachronistic with its old-fashioned aplomb.

Shaham’s readings of Mozartian slow movements are of particular note. Her keen ear for colouristic novelty and lucid intonation rewards the listener again and again. Both Shaham and Robertson divine such a spirit of warmth – such love – from the heart of Mozart’s art that even the most probing pundit or cantankerous curmudgeon couldn’t help but be disarmed. What a thrill to hear Mozart’s music expressed with such timeless insight and overarching reverence for those inventive masterstrokes, born of another time and place.

McDermott and Shaham, in league with conductors Scott Yoo and David Robertson, are integral, generous artists who have conceived these four concerti in a manner both simple and satisfying. In today’s discographic landscape awash with record upon record of Mozart’s piano music, here we meet an old school oasis of felicity and joy, on par with the sublime Mozart interpretations that celebrated pianist Emanuel Ax is so well known for. Such recordings highlight, for the contemporary listener, the true nature and benefit of classical masterpieces, penned by the hand of that perennial favourite of involuntary geniuses: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Adam Sherkin

Schubert – The First Romantic
Mathieu Gaudet
Analekta AN 2 9181 (analekta.com/en/)

06 Schubert Mathieu GaudetIn view of his broad-based career Mathieu Gaudet should not be typecast, but this CD certainly adds to his credentials as a Schubert pianist. Consistency and long-range projection of moods, whether meditative, passionate or joyful, are required of the artist. Consider what Gaudet writes of the G Major Sonata (D894; 1826) finale: “The coda strives for transcendence, giving the impression of rising all the way to heaven.” I didn’t quite get that far — but his recording I find very moving. In the opening movement, with its sustained chords paced and balanced perfectly, this listener became meditative. The contrasting dotted-rhythm episodes and huge, anguished development section climax unfolded naturally; the long (19-minute) movement that I dread hearing in superficial readings achieved unforced inevitability here. Skipping the middle movements, I’ll just mention the rustic Austrian charm in Gaudet’s playing of the finale, with its festive character and bagpipe drones.

The early Schubert Sonata in F-sharp Minor (1817; its tangled history is too complex for this review) begins like a lied with the melody in plain octaves and the accompaniment figure’s rhythm repeated — excessively. Some interesting harmonic twists hint at what was to come from the prodigious composer. Gaudet convinces in the attractive middle movements: a sweet Romance and folk-like Scherzo and Trio. This disc is especially significant in view of plans for Gaudet’s 12-disc box-set comprising Schubert’s complete sonatas plus other major works, on the highly regarded Analekta label.

Roger Knox

First and Last Words
Yerin Kim
Sheva SH 217 (yerinkim.com)

07 Schumann Schnittke KimYerin Kim’s new solo disc features early and (very) late piano music by Robert Schumann, plus two novel cycles by Alfred Schnittke. Schumann’s “Abegg” Variations, Op.1, opens the album: an earnest curatorial choice and one that sets a high standard of interpretive credibility to impress the listener thereafter. Kim’s playing is supple and clear with a sincere directness of expression. Following Schumann’s first opus, we greet the sturdy Allegro, Op.8 with similar pianistic appreciation. Onwards to the last of Schumann’s pieces: the Geistervariationen, (“Ghost Variations”) WoO 24 of 1854 were eerily written during the time leading up to the composer’s admission into a mental asylum, ostensibly the darkest period of his life. Kim’s own program notes identify the “angels and demons” that pervaded Schumann’s mind and pen during those haunted late years.

True standouts come next: the Five Preludes and a Fugue (1953-54) and Aphorisms (1990) by Alfred Schnittke. Kim evidently has a knack for this unusual repertoire in which her virtuosity – of both the technical and intellectual variety – can be aptly demonstrated. This is highly focused music with a taut contrapuntal sense and localized formal design – an appropriate complement to Schumann’s first and last piano works.

The final cycle on this disc, Five Aphorisms, represents a late stage in Schnittke’s output, less accessible in its abstracted lyricism and esoteric brevity. Suddenly, the listener is thrust into a contemporary soundscape of jarring gesture: the sonic by-products of an age where man has made, met and managed machines. Here are the very real angels and demons of our own brave new world. And Kim governs them all, with just as much assurance as she does the last, ghostly “words” of Robert Schumann.

Adam Sherkin

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