04 Vaughan WilliamsVaughan Williams – Fantasia on Sussex Folk Tunes and other works
Martin Rummel; Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz; Karl-Heinz Steffens
Capriccio CD C5314

This collection of shorter delights, lollipops so to say, opens with the jaunty overture to the comic opera, The Poisoned Kiss, a “romantic extravaganza.” The most interesting work is the Fantasia on Sussex Folk Tunes for cello and orchestra. Vaughan Williams was a collector of folk music and as Bartók did with Hungarian tunes, he incorporated them into his compositions. Vaughan Williams was quite familiar with Sussex County and had been collecting material there since his school days in the village of Rottingdean in East Sussex. His Fantasia, a work new to me, was premiered in 1930 with Pablo Casals as soloist. Instantly recognizable as Vaughan Williams, there are five folk tunes incorporated in a conversation between soloist and orchestra, making this a compelling and interesting workout for cellist and orchestra. It deserves to be popular.

The earliest work, the Bucolic Suite of 1900, also known as the Pastoral Suite, is just that, euphoric thoughts of countryside life. In the Fen Country is no stranger to the catalogues and paints a picture of the lonely and desolate Fen country in the east of England. There are three movements – Explorer, Poet and Queen – arranged from the 1957 inspiring film, The England of Elizabeth. The five works add up to a novel and interesting collection, brilliantly played and recorded. The Elizabeth of Three Portraits from “The England of Elizabeth” refers to the Elizabeth of the 16th century. The Armada and all that.


01 Verdis GuitarThere seem to have been several CDs lately featuring outstanding Canadian classical guitarists, and you can add another one to the list with Verdi’s Guitar – Fantasies for Solo Guitar by J. K. Mertz based on operas by Giuseppe Verdi, performed by British Columbia guitarist Alan Rinehart (Ravello RR7975).

Operatic transcriptions were very popular throughout the 19th century in the days before recordings and radio, and were usually made with home performance in mind. These Mertz transcriptions, though, were clearly not aimed at amateurs, gifted or otherwise. The technical challenges of reproducing operatic scores within the limitations of the guitar must have been daunting, but Mertz – an important figure in the development of the Romantic guitar style – produced an Op.8 Opern-Revue that consisted of 34(!!) transcriptions of operas by composers from Adam to Wagner.

The six Verdi transcriptions – all included here – are from Ernani, Rigoletto, Nabucco, Il Trovatore, La Traviata and I Vespri Siciliani. They are delightful fantasia-style works, with familiar arias popping out from time to time: Ernani, involami; Caro nome; Questa o quella; and La donna e mobile.

Rinehart’s playing is clean and stylish throughout, especially in the tremolo passages in Ernani and I Vespri Siciliani, a technique later used to great effect by Francisco Tárrega.

Now, if we could only hear Wagner’s Flying Dutchman


02 Holly BlazinaAnother very interesting Canadian guitar CD is Transcendencia, the debut disc from Alberta flamenco guitarist, Holly Blazina (iTunes; Spotify; hollyblazina.com).

Originally trained as a classical guitarist Blazina has a solid grounding in the traditional flamenco technique and has been composing her own pieces in the genre for more than a decade, workshopping them with noted flamenco masters Paco Fernandez in Seville and Ricardo Diaz in San Francisco. They are in traditional flamenco forms – Alegría, Bulería, Abandolao and Farruca, for instance – and mostly with the traditional accompaniment of male and female voices, palmas and percussion, but often introduce instruments from other musical worlds, such as violin (on three tracks), and saxophone, piano and Persian santur dulcimer (on different single tracks). The result is not so much a mixing of genres as an extension of the flamenco musical style with an added dimension, and it’s very effective.

Blazina’s playing is clean, crisp and idiomatic – especially in Invocación, the solo final track with its excellent tremolo – and the contributions from the nine other musicians fit in seamlessly. A lovely recorded sound adds to a highly entertaining disc.

03 Joel QuarringtonTranscriptions form the entire program of another Canadian CD this month, as bassist Joel Quarrington is back with another recital disc of transcriptions for double bass and piano (his Brothers in Brahms was reviewed here in September 2013), this time in Schubert “AN DIE MUSIK” with pianist David Jalbert (joelquarrington.com).

Although transcriptions served a specific purpose in the pre-gramophone days, making otherwise unavailable music available for home performance, in many instances since then they have served primarily to enlarge the repertoire for certain instrumentations, not always with complete success. Any misgivings you may have in that respect are simply blown away by Quarrington’s playing, however, with his astonishing agility, his sensitivity and delicacy and the warmth and richness of his tonal colour dispelling any lingering doubts. Granted, part of the attraction is listening to him doing the impossible on what is usually considered a large and unwieldy instrument, but his performances go way beyond the novelty attraction – this is pure music-making of the highest order.

The title track is one of seven short pieces here, but the two major works are the “Arpeggione” Sonata in A Minor D821 and the Violin Sonatina in D Major D384. Both are completely satisfying in all respects, with the final Allegro vivace movement of the latter providing a simply dazzling end to the disc.

With the sensitive accompaniment of David Jalbert the CD is an absolute delight, as well as an absolute wonder, from beginning to end.

04 Euclid QuartetThe American Euclid Quartet presents two works separated by almost exactly 100 years on American Quartets, featuring works by Antonín Dvořák and Wynton Marsalis (Afinat Records AR1701).

The Dvořák is the String Quartet No.12 in F Major Op.96, “American,” written during the composer’s three years as director of the National Conservatory of Music of America in New York and first performed in 1894. The performance here is warm, effusive, vibrant and dynamic.

It seems a long journey from such a completely familiar and frequently heard work to the Marsalis String Quartet No.1 “At the Octoroon Balls,” written at the request of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in 1995, but what a fascinating contrast it presents.

The quartet is named for the legendary 18th- and 19th-century balls in the composer’s native New Orleans, described in the booklet notes as being “…given as a way to facilitate long-term relationships between wealthy White men and usually fair-skinned women of colour.” The work has been called Marsalis’ conscious exploration of the American Creole contradictions and compromises – cultural, social and political – exemplified by life in New Orleans.

It’s a long (almost 45 minutes) but utterly engrossing work of seven sections, the longest of which – at ten minutes – is the astonishing opening Come Long Fiddler for solo violin, recalling, in dazzling fashion, the old Black country dance fiddle tradition. Blues, jazz, African, folk, spiritual and ragtime influences abound in the remaining sections, with simply terrific writing and playing: Mating Calls and Delta Rhythms; Creole Contradanzas; Many Gone; Hellbound Highball; Blue Lights on the Bayou.

Finally, with Rampart St. Row House Rag, here we are at what Dvořák envisioned and encouraged – the use of New World musical material as the basis for classical composition. It makes perfect sense of an apparently diverse program on an outstanding CD.

05a Bach Cello NarrowayThere are another two excellent sets of the cello suites by Johann Sebastian Bach to add to the already extensive list: Six Cello Suites BWV 1007-1012 by the Australian cellist Richard Narroway (Sono Luminus SLE-70010); and Suiten für Violoncello by the Swiss cellist Thomas Demenga (ECM New Series 2530/31).

There are several immediate differences: at the time of the recordings (2015 and 2014 respectively) Narroway was 24, Demenga 59; it’s the first recording of the suites for Narroway, the second for Demenga; Narroway uses a modern cello and bow, Demenga a Baroque bow and gut strings on 18th-century instruments; Narroway plays at modern pitch, Demenga down a full tone.

There are also similarities though: both players are fully aware of early performance issues and have made extensive study of contemporary sources; and both see these works as essentially dance suites, with lively – but not necessarily fast – tempos.

Narroway has a lovely rich sound that never overwhelms, with beautiful phrasing and a fine rhythmic sense that is given room to breathe and expand. It’s all bursting with life and sounds quite effortless.

05b Demenga Bach Six Cello Suites CD bklt Page 01Demenga’s tone can sound a bit tight at times, but again there is freedom in the phrasing and rhythms. On the down side, there is a fair amount of noise from the left-hand fingers hitting the fingerboard. You may or may not find that to be distracting, but it does mean that with Demenga you are frequently aware of the presence of the performer; with Narroway, however, rarely if ever are you aware of anything but the music, and it’s his recordings that I will keep returning to.

06 Danish String QuartetThere’s more immensely satisfying quartet playing on Last Leaf, a recital of Nordic folk tunes all arranged by the Danish String Quartet (ECM New Series 2550). There’s a wide range of sources for the 16 short pieces here, from ancient hymn tunes and medieval ballads to boat songs and traditional dance music. In addition, there are original compositions by two members of the quartet – three by cellist Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin and one by violinist Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen – as well as a polska by Swedish fiddler Eva Sæhter. Sjölin and Sørensen also add the occasional harmonium, piano and glockenspiel and double bass contributions to enrich the sound.

It’s a really lovely collection, beautifully arranged and played. The quartet members say that they “gathered a bunch of amazing tunes and hope you will enjoy what we have done to them.”

Well, consider it job done.


07 Altius ShostakovichDmitri Shostakovich wrote four string quartets in the period 1946-56, years in which his standing with the Soviet regime was still uncertain, so I’m not sure I agree with the statement by the Altius Quartet, on their new CD of Shostakovich String Quartets 7, 8 & 9 (Navona Records NV6125) that these three works, from 1960-64, were written “directly after World War II when art was often oppressed.” By 1960 Stalin had been dead for seven years and the composer’s rehabilitation was well under way.

There is, however, no doubting the quartet’s assertion that these three highly personal works form a triptych, dedicated as they are to the composer’s first (No.7) and third (No.9) wives and ostensibly to the victims of fascism (No.8) including Shostakovich – indeed, his daughter Galina claimed that he originally dedicated it to himself, with the published dedication imposed by Soviet authorities.

There’s a lovely feel to the playing from the outset, from the String Quartet No.7 in F-sharp Minor Op.108 through to the highly positive ending of the String Quartet No.9 in E-flat Major Op.117, but it’s the String Quartet No.8 in C Minor Op.110 that is at the heart of this group, not merely physically but also emotionally. The opening four notes D, E-flat, C and B (or D, S, C, H in German notation) that form the composer’s musical signature reappear in every movement, and the autobiographical nature of the music is constantly underlined by numerous quotations from earlier works.

It’s a committed and moving performance by the Altius, albeit perhaps with not quite the air of utter desolation and despair that some performances wring from the final pages.

08 Martin BoykanThe American composer Martin Boykan, who turned 86 in April, may be a new name to a lot of people, but there is no doubting his pedigree: he studied with Copland, Piston and Hindemith. His output is predominantly in the chamber music realm, which probably makes the new CD Rites of Passage – Chamber Music 1993-2012 (Bridge Records BRIDGE 9483) a fairly representative introduction to his works.

A good deal of American classical music over the past 25 years or so has been unabashedly tonal, but Boykan is clearly not of this persuasion. There’s not a great deal of emotional warmth or purely melodic material, and the absence or ambiguity of tonality together with the often extreme dynamics means that it’s not always easy listening. Still, there’s no doubting that this is a strongly individual and skilled composer fully in control of his structures and material.

The works, recorded between 2011 and 2015 by combinations of ten different players, are: Impromptu for Violin Solo (1993); Sonata #2 for Violin and Piano (2009); Piano Trio #3 “Rites of Passage” (2006); Sonata for Viola and Piano (2012); and Psalm 121 (1997) for mezzo-soprano and string quartet. The violin and viola sonatas were written for the soloists here, Curtis Macomber and Mark Berger respectively.

01 Satie ErardNoriko Ogawa has just released the second volume of her project to record all the solo piano works of Erik Satie, Noriko Ogawa plays Erik Satie (BIS 2225 SACD). Both this disc and Volume I are performed on an 1890 Erard grand piano, an instrument from the period of Satie’s life (1866-1925). The piano maker Erard was noted for numerous innovations in piano design, especially the double escapement action which allowed for rapid note repetition, a feature ever more in demand by composers of the late 19th century. The instrument used in this recording is in remarkably fine condition, sounding well-voiced and mechanically capable of the frequent staccato touch, often at great volume, that Satie requires.

Ogawa’s choice of repertoire for Volume II offers a more esoteric and quirky side of Satie’s personality, the two sets of preludes for flabby dogs, Préludes flasques (pour un chien) being a case in point. The Trois sarabandes are untitled early works, although the second of the three is dedicated to Ravel. These are surprisingly forward-looking, with a feel that occasionally evokes a modern jazz club. Sports et divertissements is a catalogue of 21 social pastimes, often quite comical, and each requiring less than a minute to play.

Ogawa has a very credible understanding of French music of this period, although Satie admittedly sits comfortably outside the mainstream. Still, her previous recordings of the complete piano works of Claude Debussy reveal a studious and comprehensive approach that offers a convincingly genuine feel to her interpretation of Satie’s music.

02 GodowskyEmanuele Delucchi is a young Italian pianist with extraordinary technical ability. His recording Godowsky Studies on Chopin Op.10 (Piano Classics PCL0122) is a rare opportunity to hear this unusual repertoire. Godowsky claimed his studies were equally appropriate for public concert as well as private playing. The music is always immediately recognizable as Chopin, but Godowsky has taken the material and recomposed it as a series of studies for aspiring players. They are devilishly difficult and intentionally so. Many are written for left hand alone and just one is for a solo right hand.

Godowsky takes Chopin’s main thematic material and moves it around, often from one hand to the other, meanwhile creating Chopin-style cascades of other figures around it. Some of these transcriptions are quite strict, others freer, and still others structured as cantus firmus and variation versions. It’s altogether quite an experiment and in its day would have sparked a debate about originality and legitimacy. Anticipating this, Godowsky was careful to include introductory remarks in his publication to clarify his aims. Essentially, he believed that pianists, composers and piano builders had more evolutionary potential to realize. Hence, the Herculean challenge.

Despite all the muscle and stamina, Godowsky’s music is not without its beauty. Chopin’s genius remains intact, both musically and technically. Delucchi ensures that technique is never glorified at the expense of art. He plays a beautifully restored 1906 Steinway, from Godowsky’s day.

03 Piano at Ballet 2Known as “Tony” to his friends, British pianist Anthony Goldstone passed away early this year (2017) and was unable to see his last CD released. A superb pianist equally appreciated as a soloist as well as half of the Goldstone and Clemmow Duo, his final recording, The Piano at the Ballet Volume II - The French Connection (Divine Art dda 25148) is dedicated to his memory.

Goldstone delighted in transcriptions and recorded several featuring music from opera and ballet. This disc is the conclusion of the latter project and uses French composers as the thematic link. Most of the pieces are world premiere recordings, transcribed by various others, although the notes admit that Goldstone made a few improvements along the way.

Goldstone’s playing at age 72 is simply incredible. Speed, reach, accuracy and, above all, unerring musicality mark every transcription he performs. The music tends, understandably, to be extremely athletic and Goldstone’s level of sustained energy is impressive. The finales of Poulenc’s Les Biches and Maurice Thiriet’s L’Oeuf à la coque are fine examples of this. He also captures the grandness of the orchestral score in these transcriptions. Claude Debussy’s Printemps (Suite Symphonique) is the best example of this, with its great washes of sound that conclude the second movement.

04 Ivan IlicReicha Rediscovered Vol.1 (Chandos CHAN 10950) is the promising launch of a series that will see pianist Ivan Ilić record the largely unheard solo piano works of a composer better known for his wind ensemble pieces. A contemporary of Beethoven, Reicha was highly educated and musically intelligent. A number of his later theoretical and philosophical treatises were translated for major European music circles.

The challenge for Ilić is to find and integrate the unique features of Reicha’s language into his playing. The modern ear hears Reicha and understandably recognizes some Haydn, some Mozart and occasional tempestuous bursts of a young firebrand named Beethoven. But the new ground Reicha was breaking was harmonic. The disc contains three pieces from Reicha’s collection titled Practische Beispiele. Ilić encounters each of the composer’s adventurous modulations and plays through them with confidence that pianists of Reicha’s day might well have lacked.

Other tracks include a wonderful set of variations on a theme from Mozart’s The Magic Flute and a substantial mid-career Grande Sonate in C Major that reveals a composer struggling to be free of classical forms. The following volumes by Ilić look promising indeed.


05 Eliane RodriguesBrazilian pianist Eliane Rodrigues has recorded the 21 Nocturnes by Chopin on her newest disc Frédéric Chopin – Notturno (Navona Records NV6123). The two-disc set also includes the Ballades No.1 in G Mino, Op.23 and No.4 in F Minor, Op.52.

Rodrigues teaches at the Royal Conservatoire in Antwerp, performs frequently and has more than 25 recordings in her discography. She traces her Chopin connection to her earliest years at the keyboard playing the Waltzes and Mazurkas. But her affection for the Nocturnes is more than wistful nostalgia. A passing reference in her notes suggests a very deep and personal experience made the sadness and melancholy of the Nocturnes profoundly meaningful to her. As if to underscore this, she uses quotations from a fictitious Chopin diary to capture the mood of each Nocturne.

The playing, however, is the proof of her ownership. Entirely consistent and sustained throughout both discs, her interpretations never stray from the beauty and tenderness that Chopin poured into these pieces. Rodrigues never rushes anything. Arching phrases, ornaments and grace notes are all critical to completing the composer’s every utterance, and she gives each one the time it needs to unfold. It’s an arresting and beautiful performance.

06 KartvelishviliKetevan Kartvelishvili is a power pianist. The title of her new recording The Chase – Liszt, Bartók, Prokofviev (Blue Griffin BGR 437) says it all. Using the title of the final movement from Bartók’s Out of Doors Sz.81 BB89, Kartvelishvili establishes an ethos for this remarkable disc by demonstrating her formidable technique through this relentless onslaught of musical passion. It’s not surprising that Bartók used this piece in his rather dark ballet The Miraculous Mandarin.

Kartvelishvili opens her CD with Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No.1 S514. She takes this at a blistering speed without ever losing momentum or intensity. Her performance of the Liszt Sonata in B Minor S178 is marvellous. By this point her technical skills are beyond question and what emerges is the tenderness Liszt requires to withdraw into his crucial moments of repose. Even at the sonata’s conclusion, those final measures are powerfully hesitant and highly effective.

Prokofiev’s Sonata No.7 in B Flat Major, Op.83 concludes the disc. It’s the second of his three “War Sonatas” and is sometimes called the “Stalingrad.” The outer movements are violent and destructive and leave no doubt about the work’s origin in 1942 Soviet Russia. The middle movement offers Kartvelishvili another opportunity to reveal the depth of her musicality. With an allusion to a Schumann lied, the movement is fairly withdrawn until she builds it to a near climax in the second half before returning to a quiet ending.

Kartvelishvili plays with both impressive might and tender conviction.

07 dont push pianoFlorian Wittenburg is a German-born contemporary composer. He is active throughout Europe but his academic and early career years were spent in the Netherlands. Don’t Push the Piano Around (NurNichtNur 117 01 26) is his latest disc and it adds to an already substantial discography and body of works. Pianist Sebastiaan Oosthout performs on this disc and reveals a strong affinity for Wittenberg’s music. Wittenberg is highly creative and takes his artistic inspiration from everything around him. As a composer, he revels in playing with patterns and sequences. Whether animal sounds, words, or the spelling of a name, Wittenberg is quick to place his subject into changing structures where he plays with progressions and variants.

Oosthout’s grasp of Wittenberg’s language gives him access to the deep emotion of the music, especially in several of the Quotes. Litany for one pianist is particularly effective as a thoughtful and searching work, in which Oosthout is required to whistle along with a few specific notes he plays. But the most captivating of Wittenberg’s works on this disc is the opening track Eagle prayer. It’s based on the call of an African fish eagle, notated and harmonized in a highly engaging and creative way. This is an intriguing recording worth hearing.

08 Russian Four HandsIt’s uniquely gratifying to hear the work of piano duos when they have performed together for many years. Peter Hill and Benjamin Frith have been crafting their sound for more than three decades into an impressive single voice. Their newest recording, Russian Works for Piano Four Hands (Delphian DCD 34191) is an example of how remarkable the combination of such talents can become. They have moved far beyond simply playing together and evolved a unified conception of making music.

This disc presents the music of three composers for whom folk music played an inspirational role. While Rachmaninov’s Six morceaux Op.11 quotes no folk material, it’s written in a style that recalls the dance and energy of folk traditions. Rachmaninov was just 21 but his writing already shows the now-familiar ability to think in large-scale terms. He uses the entire range of the keyboard without hesitation and draws on its dynamic power, amplified under the hands of two players. Hill and Frith are superb in meeting the contrasting demands of this piece, from the gentlest moments of the Romance to the magnificent ending of Slava.

The selections from Tchaikovsky’s Fifty Russian Folk Songs quote directly from folk material, although much of it very briefly; there is, however, no mistaking the focus that Hill and Frith bring to this work. Their touch and tone are wonderfully connected to the often dark modal nature of the melodies.

Stravinsky’s Petrushka is brilliantly played throughout. Flawless execution is matched by complete immersion in the music. The piano duo delivers the Russian Dance with all the wild energy it requires and Petrushka’s Death with the contrasting gravitas the composer intended. Hill and Frith are true masters of their art. clip_image009.png

01 Beethoven Trios 260Beethoven: Piano Trios Vol.5 – “Archduke” Trio, Kakadu Variations
Xyrion Trio
Naxos 8.572343

Just like the Emperor Concerto, Beethoven’s Piano Trio in B-flat, Op.97 is also aptly named. Apart from Archduke Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria to whom it was dedicated, it is also the grandest, most noble of the six works in this genre, a real Archduke of trios. It has an unforgettably beautiful opening theme that Beethoven breaks down into small fragments with ever-changing instrumental combinations and moods so they become sources of further surprises. My love affair with it began in my youth after hearing the legendary Cortot/Thibaud/Casals recording on EMI; it reverberated in me so much that I resisted listening to any later version. Until now that is, when I came across this new recording by three young women from Germany who have recorded all of Beethoven’s trios as their debut with Naxos, winning some prestigious prizes and world acclaim thereafter.

I was immediately surprised by the upbeat tempo, a bit faster than I remembered, and quite taken by the youthful, exuberant and fresh spirit, where the strong personalities and virtuosity of the individual artists add a new insight, achieving a “vibrant and glowing” (Fono Forum) and intense performance.

The Archduke Trio is flanked by two lesser works. First is the earlier (1803) Kakadu Variations, where Beethoven’s sense of humour is evident with its long, gloomy slow G-minor introduction that abruptly bursts into a popular ditty and a set of bravura variations. At one point one can even hear the kakadu (cockatoo) shrieking on the violin. The even earlier Trio in E-flat Major, WoO 38 from 1790 closes and adds further richness to this delightful recording.

Programs 13 & 14; Programs 15 & 16
All-Star Orchestra; Gerard Schwarz
Naxos 2.110561 and 2.110562

02a All Star 13 14It’s been three years now since the American conductor Gerard Schwarz embarked on an ambitious project: assemble 95 leading musicians from top orchestras across 22 states and record an annual series of concerts without an audience over a brief four-day period using high-definition video cameras. The undertaking has garnered considerable critical acclaim, and since 2014, the All-Star Orchestra has made a significant name for itself both through television performances on PBS and WNET and by means of a series of DVDs on the Naxos label. The recording sessions made during the third season have been captured on two DVDs – programs 13/14 and 15/16 respectively – and together they present eclectic programs of music from the late Romantic period to the 20th century.

The first of these, subtitled “Russian Treasures” and “Northern Lights,” features Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, excerpts from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet and the Symphony No.2 by Jean Sibelius. Prior to each performance, Schwarz provides an informal commentary, while various members of the orchestra offer their thoughts on the music as well, all of which makes for an engaging personal touch – and the myriad of effective camera angles throughout gives the ensemble a strong sense of presence. The performances of all three works are uniformly excellent. The individual movements from Pictures are finely crafted, while the familiar segments from the ballet – Capulets and Montagues, Portrait of the Young Juliet, Minuet and Death of Tybalt, are in no small way aided by the warm strings, a full and well-rounded brass section and woodwinds with impeccable clarity. Sibelius’ grand and expansive symphony from 1902 is treated with much aplomb, from the gentle opening movement to the jubilant finale.

02b All Star 15 16Programs 15 and 16 take the viewer from Northern Europe to England and America of the 19th and 20th centuries. “British Enigmas” presents Elgar’s noble and dignified Enigma Variations and Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. Less well known are the ethereal Symphony No.2Mysterious Mountain” by American composer Alan Hovhaness and the Jubilee Variations, a collaborative work by English composer Eugene Goossens and ten American composer friends. The final movement of the variations, written by Goossens himself, is a true tour de force requiring the ensemble to pull out all the stops, thus bringing the work – and the DVD – to a fitting conclusion. The viewer is left almost wishing there was a live audience present to offer a round of well-deserved applause!

So to Gerard Schwarz and the ASO, a big bravo – here’s hoping this ambitious undertaking will be around for many years to come, bringing fine music-making to home audiences around the world.

03 Tchaikovsky ManfredThe Tchaikovsky Project – Manfred Symphony
Czech Philharmonic; Semyon Bychkov
Decca 483 2320

This CD is the second release in Decca Classics’ orchestral Tchaikovsky Project that features the Czech Philharmonic and conductor Semyon Bychkov. For a lonely Romantic symphony needing advocacy, this loving version of the much-criticized Manfred Symphony (1886) is the answer. An hour long and very difficult, the work here receives extraordinary endorsements in both performance and program notes. In the Lento lugubre movement, action begins with Manfred’s gloomy descending theme in B-minor, a key associated with tragedy (as in Swan Lake). The drama is well-paced, with the orchestra holding nothing back. The music of Manfred’s beloved Astarte is an abrupt contrast, delicate strings in delightful interplay with enticing woodwinds. But the mood is temporary; through a controlled build-up, brass forceful but not blaring, Bychkov ushers in her climactic death.

In the accompanying booklet, Bychkov’s rebuttals to criticisms of repetitiveness and episodic structure emphasize the work as drama. While he compares it to opera I think of ballet, for example in the light-on-its-feet second movement where grieving Manfred spots a water spirit; tremendously fast woodwind runs precede strings of supernatural virtuosity. In the following movement the ländler’s dance rhythm along with instrumental drones portray the Alpine people’s rustic life, Manfred looking on sadly. The Czechs’ idiomatic playing makes me want to get up and dance! The orchestra’s energy and aplomb through the bacchanal and ensuing fugue are remarkable, though only in heaven are the lovers reunited. Strongly recommended.


01 Michael Kolk PerosThe outstanding Michael Kolk is the soloist in the world premiere recording of Nocturnes: 24 Nocturnes for Solo Guitar by the Canadian composer Nick Peros (DeoSonic Music DSM54536 nickperos.com). Peros has written numerous other solo works for classical guitar, including five Suites and a Sonata, and is clearly someone who knows and understands the instrument’s potential for tone and colour.

The short pieces here are predominantly quiet, slow and pensive – they are nocturnes, after all – 16 of them with subtitles like relaxed; atmospheric, mysterious; reflective; as a dream; with mystery and longing; peaceful, gentle. Only two are noted as with fire and passion. They appear to be centred on traditional major and minor keys, predominantly the open guitar strings of E, A and D, but it’s never that simple – there is actually a good deal of tonal ambiguity here, and an abundance of rich chromatic expression.

They are well-crafted, attractive and quite beguiling pieces, with the occasional faster numbers in particular much in the style of the standard 19th- and 20th-century guitar etudes. The final two Nocturnes in particular are really lovely.

One thing is certain: they couldn’t possibly have a better interpreter than Michael Kolk, whose playing, as always, is of the highest musical standard – technically faultless, with a clear, clean and resonant sound, and a complete absence of left-hand finger noise. The CD was produced by the composer, and it’s difficult to view these beautiful performances as anything other than definitive.

Although violinist Jacques Israelievitch was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer part of the way through the recording of the complete Mozart violin sonatas with Christina Petrowska Quilico, the duo did manage to complete the project before he passed away in September 2015.

02 Mozart Israelievitch QuilicoMozart: Sonatas and Variations for Piano and Violin Vol. II is the second release in the series (Fleur de Son Classics FDS 58040 fleurdeson.com), and features three of the sonatas from the group known as the Auernhammer set – the Sonatas No.24 in F Major K376, No.25 in F Major K377 and No.27 in G Major K379 – together with the Sonata No.33 in E flat Major K481.

When reviewing Volume I in June of last year I noted that these works are perfectly suited to Israelievitch’s distinctive style and sound, which was always warm, gentle and sensitive; it should go without saying that Petrowska Quilico’s playing is the perfect complement. Again, it’s obvious that the two are of one mind in their performances here.

It’s another volume in what will clearly be a series to treasure, and one that continues to be a wonderful tribute not only to a greatly missed and much-loved violinist but also to his companion at the keyboard.

03 True NorthTrue North is a new CD on the Canadian Music Centre Centrediscs label featuring the Canadian duo of violinist Véronique Mathieu and pianist Stephanie Chua (CMCCD 24417 musiccentre.ca).

Given the CMC’s outstanding promotion of contemporary Canadian composers and the booklet description of Mathieu as “an avid contemporary music performer” it’s no surprise to see that five of the six works are from the period 1996 to 2016; what perhaps is a surprise is the inclusion of Healey Willan’s Sonata No.1 in E Minor, which opens the disc. Written a hundred years earlier than the latest works on the CD (although revised in 1955) it is a solid work, firmly in the early 1900s tradition, which sounds decidedly anachronistic in this setting. Still, its appearance is welcome.

Gradual Erasures by the Toronto composer Adam Scime was written for the duo in 2016 and dedicated to them. Its two movements were inspired by the poem Water Island by Howard Moss, which was in turn prompted by the accidental drowning death of a friend.

Brian Harman’s Cherry Beach for violin, piano and field recordings from 2016 explores connections between music, the environment and the body by combining the musical material with the sounds of running footsteps and waves, all recorded on the shores of Lake Ontario in Toronto.

Maria Molinari’s Danza is a short piece from her 1997 Tre Pezzi per Violino e Pianoforte. Heather Schmidt’s Adagio from 1996 and Alice Ping Yee Ho’s Éxtasis from 2012 complete a very interesting disc.

Mathieu has a sweet, delicate sound with a fairly slow vibrato and a tone that tends to sound a bit thin on occasion, but the contemporary technical and musical challenges as well as the Willan sonata are handled faultlessly. And let’s not forget the pianist, too often overlooked in duo recitals: Chua is terrific as well.

04 stephen NordstromIt would be difficult to imagine a recital CD more in contrast to True North than A Musical Portrait of the American Southwest, featuring works for viola and piano by the American composer Dominic Dousa with violist Stephen Nordstrom and the composer at the piano (Blue Griffin Recording BGR 429 bluegriffin.com).

Dousa has been on the faculty of the University of Texas at El Paso Department of Music since 2004, and has been fascinated by the landscapes of the Texas Panhandle and eastern New Mexico since moving to the region from his native Minnesota. The works on this CD evoke the spirit of this land.

Reflections on a Desert Winter is a five-movement suite inspired by travels in the desert lands of southern New Mexico in the winter of 2014/15; with titles like On the Spirit Path, Desert Glow and The Rugged Pioneer Trail it puts one in mind of the works of Ferde Grofé. Musically they’re along those lines as well: completely and unashamedly tonal; full of constantly flowing melody; and beautifully crafted, with excellent piano writing.

Mountain Song, inspired by a day in the Rocky Mountains near Denver, is in much the same mould. The Sonata for Viola and Piano, “From a Land Wild and Free” was mostly composed in 2008, but the initial ideas and themes were sketched as a result of the experience of that 2004 summer journey from Minnesota to El Paso.

Nordstrom plays with a fine tone across the full range of the instrument, and certainly has more than enough melodic writing in which to immerse himself. Dousa is a fine pianist as well as a fine composer. If I have one quibble it would just be that the music could possibly do with a bit more contrast and fire.

Dousa’s own colour photographs of the Southwest landscapes complement the booklet.

05 4 Seasons 4 ViolesThe Four Seasons concertos appear in yet another re-worked version in Antonio Vivaldi 4 saisons, 4 violes, featuring the Canadian viol ensemble Les Voix humaines – Margaret Little and Mélisande Corriveau on treble, Felix Deak on tenor and Susie Napper on bass (lesvoixhumaines.org). Founding members Little and Napper made the arrangements, Napper transcribing the Spring and Autumn and Little the Summer and Winter concertos.

The resulting performances are much more effective than you might possibly expect, with a really nice period performance feel to the concertos despite the lack of a clear solo violin line. What you won’t be expecting is the interpolation of a short appropriate insert in each of the concertos – well, appropriate from a title viewpoint, that is, but not necessarily a musical one. The traditional En montant la rivière (with tenor Philippe Gagné) is inserted in Spring; Gershwin’s Summertime (arranged by Jay Bernfeld) in Summer; Autumn Leaves (jazzed up with a pizzicato bass) in Autumn; and Petit berceuse du début de la colonie in Winter. Corriveau plays recorder in the Gershwin.

It’s an interesting concept, but obviously raises questions: Are the additions enriching the concertos, or just an inappropriate distraction? Do these additions – especially within these specific arrangements – create new works, or do they merely compromise the original scores? And most important: Do they work? That will probably depend on your personal taste, and you may like to add a further question: Does it really matter? It does certainly make for interesting listening, and given that the movements are played without breaks, the inserts really don’t stand out as much as you would imagine; they’re integrated more than inserted.

The overall sound throughout the CD has a lovely resonance, with nice dynamics, superb definition from all four performers and a satisfyingly wide range – essentially that of a string quartet. The arrangements are extremely well done, and the playing throughout is really quite outstanding. All in all, a very interesting disc, and one that becomes more satisfying the more I listen to it.


06 Roman MintsI don’t recall ever hearing any music by the Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov (b.1955) before, but I’ve clearly been missing out on some strikingly individual compositions. Two of his works – Sketches to Sunset and Russian Seasons – are featured on a new CD on which violinist Roman Mints is the primary artist (quartz QTZ 2122 quartzmusic.com).

Sketches to Sunset from 1992 is based on music written for the film Sunset, about the lives of Jews in pre-Revolution Odessa. Written for violin, piano and orchestra and consisting of nine short connected movements, it also features pianist Alexey Goribol and the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra under Philipp Chizhevsky. Mints is superb in this eclectic work that first introduced him to Desyatnikov’s music some 20 years ago.

Russian Seasons for Voice, Violin and Strings from 2000 has a quite different feel. There are 12 movements, three for each season: Spring, Summer and Winter each have two instrumental tracks and one vocal; Autumn has one instrumental and two vocal tracks. Yana Ivanilova is the soprano in vocal sections that are strongly reminiscent of Stravinsky of Pribaoutki and Les Noces, with the orchestra this time being the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra. It’s difficult music to describe, but in his excellent booklet notes Mints says that “while the instrumental movements feature moments of joy and merriment, utter hopelessness dominates the five vocal movements, in which the composer addresses listeners directly in words.” Shades of Shostakovich, indeed.

Both works were recorded under the supervision of the composer, with the Sketches to Sunset being a world premiere recording.

07 Moscow Quartet clarinetThe Moscow String Quartet CD of the Clarinet Quintets of Weber and Brahms with the Russian clarinetist Alexander Ivanov is a bit of a mystery disc: apparently self-issued, there is no sign of any information regarding recording or copyright dates, and the CD does not appear on the ensemble’s website (moscowquartet.com) or on any independent CD sales sites.

Still, if you can track it down, the performances are excellent. Ivanov plays with warmth, agility and fluency in the opening movement of the Weber Quintet in B-flat Major Op.34, and with great expression in the slow movement. There’s more agility in the third movement Menuetto and some superlative clarinet playing in the final Rondo Allegro.

The string playing from the Moscow ensemble is in the rich Russian tradition with full vibrato, which clearly bodes well for the Brahms Quintet in B Minor Op.115. All the Brahmsian autumnal warmth you could want is fully in evidence, and Ivanov is again in top form.

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