01 Rafal BlechaczWords fail spectacularly in trying to describe Rafal Blechacz’s performance on Johann Sebastian Bach (Deutsche Grammophon 479 5534). Playing Bach demands rigour, stamina, discipline. It also requires a profound intellectual grasp of Bach’s contrapuntal intentions. Critical too, is an innate ability to draw from Bach’s writing that unique idea that can be credibly shared by composer and performer as jointly original. In some speechlessly wondrous way, that happens on this disc.

The Partitas Nos.1 in B-flat Major and 3 in A Minor are the familiar collection of Baroque dances. They are, however, raised to a remarkable standard of exhilarating technical display, framed by tasteful expression. Blechacz plays them with emotional vulnerability and unmatched lyricism. Each set concludes with a memorably blazing Gigue.

Blechacz plays the Italian Concerto in F Major BWV 971 at a sustained speed that hasn’t been matched since Alexis Weissenberg broke the sound barrier with his recording in the mid 1960’. Still, there is striking clarity throughout the first and third movements that offers every opportunity to discern the inner counter melodies racing past each other to the final measure.

The Fantasia and Fugue in A Minor BWV 944 offers an unbelievably long and complex fugal subject that cascades through its development section with ease under Blechacz’s hands. He ends the disc with a rapturous performance of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring – Dame Myra Hess’ arrangement.

Blechacz was the winner of the 15th International Chopin Piano Competition. This is his sixth recording for Deutsche Grammophon in addition to a handful of others. You might as well start collecting them now.


02 Andras SchiffAndras Schiff presented his cycle of the 32 Beethoven sonatas at the Zürich Tonhalle from 2004 to 2006. His choice of encore after each concert was quite deliberate and they have now been compiled into Encores after Beethoven (ECM New Series 1950 B0025872-02).

Schiff sought to link the encore in some musical way to the sonatas he’d played on the program that night. These live recordings document his choices. Although now separated from their original context, they still carry a residual connection to the music that preceded them, and Schiff uses his notes as a brief outline to explain these relationships.

The opening selections by Schubert, from Three Piano Pieces D946 and Allegretto in C Minor D915 are linked by a strong conceptual kinship to Beethoven’s Sonatas Op.2 and Op.7 as well as Op.10 and Op.13. The Mozart encore Eine Kleine Gigue in G Major K574 is a humourous study in fugal form like the finale of Beethoven’s Sonata Op.10 No.2 on that evening’s program.

Beethoven had originally intended the Andante Favori in F Major WoO57 to be the second movement of the Waldstein Sonata Op. 53, before eventually setting it aside. Schiff used it as the encore for his performance of the Waldstein.

The final movement of the Hammerklavier is an enormous fugue, understood to reflect Beethoven’s admiration for Bach and his evolution of the form. Schiff’s choice of encore for that performance was Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in B Flat Minor BWV867.

The encores are presented on the disc in the date sequence of their performance and show the program information that preceded them. The Zurich audiences listen in rapt silence and reveal themselves only to applaud enthusiastically.

03 Christain HoolihanOrgan music fans have another CD to add to their collections with Christopher Houlihan Plays Bach (Azica ACD-71314). The instrument is always a critical ingredient in these projects and the Austin organ at Trinity College Chapel in Hartford, Connecticut, provides ample reason to pay attention.

Organist Christopher Houlihan puts plenty of familiar Bach toccatas, preludes and fugues into his program, but what begins to emerge only moments into the performance is how brilliant a colourist Houlihan is. The instrument offers an enormous selection of reeds, strings and beautifully mellow flues. It’s built and voiced to provide the greatest possible dynamic range for the building it occupies.

Houlihan’s clever choice of stops is nowhere more impressive than in his own arrangement of the Italian Concerto BWV971. It’s playful, celebratory and sparkles with colour. Every track on this CD takes advantage of this remarkable instrument and its gifted performer.

04 Diabelli BrautigamBeethoven’s exhaustive treatise on the variation form that we know as the Diabelli Variations Op.120 is the heart of Ronald Brautigam’s latest recording Beethoven – Diabelli Variations Ronald Brautigam (fortepiano) (BIS-1943). The disc is the final production in Brautigam’s complete set of Beethoven’s works for solo piano, performed on fortepiano.

This alone would suffice to set it apart for special attention. An added feature, however, is its recording on a modern fortepiano modelled on an instrument built by Conrad Graf in 1822. We know that Beethoven admired Graf’s fortepianos and eventually came to own one himself. One of Graf’s unique features was his quadruple stringing of notes, giving added volume and power to the sound – though it must have been a tuning nightmare. The copy used in this recording demonstrates a wide dynamic range and an impressive responsiveness to touch, not only for dynamic expression but in clarity of strike, release and repeat in the very fast passages.

Brautigam concludes the disc with the Six National Airs with Variations Op.105. This is just one of several such sets Beethoven wrote for British publisher George Thomson. The relationship with Thomson helped spark some interest in folk-songs which Beethoven pursued in 15 further sets. The tunes in this one are Welsh, Irish, Scottish and Austrian. Best known among them is The Last Rose of Summer.

The disc is another of the outstanding recordings by Brautigam, produced in a career-long devotion to performance on original instruments that includes the complete keyboard works of Mozart and Haydn.


05 Glass OlafssonMid-30s Icelandic pianist Vikingur Olafsson is a Juilliard graduate and a busy concert performer with a passion for contemporary music. His acquaintance with Philip Glass makes for fascinating reading in the liner notes of his new recording, Philip Glass – Piano Works (Deutsche Grammophon 479 6918).

The recording is largely devoted to 11 of the 20 Études that Glass wrote between 1999 and 2012. Olafsson plays them from a personal place of detachment but with all the subtlety and nuance they require. His performance of the final Étude No.20 is striking for its otherworldly feel. He relates the story of asking Glass how this one étude came to be so different and how the composer answered that he didn’t know, he just somehow found himself out in space.

The disc also includes the now well-known Opening from Glassworks as its first track. The same piece appears again as the final track, but reworked for piano and string quartet. It’s a very satisfying comparison. The reworked version comes across with richer sonority, and with the piano taking on a much lesser role than might be expected.

Olafsson has produced a very fine performance in a field growing ever more populous. The calibre of his playing assures he will always stand out.

06 Levinson GlassBruce Levingston is a widely recognized interpreter of Philip Glass’ music. His new 2CD set Dreaming Awake – Philip Glass – Bruce Levingston (Sono Luminus DSL-92205) contains a superbly planned program. Covering a period from 1966 to 2005 the music presents, among others things, an overview of how Glass’ music has evolved.

The earliest work is Wichita Vortex Sutra played by Levingston and narrated by actor Ethan Hawke. Written by poet Allen Ginsberg during the years of the Vietnam War protests, it and the music speak jointly to the injustice of the war and a universal call for peace. It’s a work that reveals more of itself on repeated listening.

Much of the two discs is devoted to ten of Glass’ 20 Études. Written primarily for his personal keyboard practice, they each contain a handful of specific technical challenges. It’s not surprising though that Levingston immediately seizes upon the composer’s creative germ in each of them, and sets them on the creative plane Glass must have intended from the outset.

Levingston gives a rich and colourful performance of the enigmatic, Buddhist-inspired Dreaming Awake. It’s an active work of frequent movement between places of intense feeling and moments of great repose. His playing reveals a deep understanding of the music and its composer.

Compositions for film make up a large part of Glass’ oeuvre. While Metamorphosis No.2 is a frequently recorded work, it is also quoted in the soundtrack of The Thin Blue Line. The Illusionist Suite offers another example of his remarkable writing for the screen.

Levingston is a master in this genre, with complete interpretive access to Glass’ work, whether originating in poetic protest or the cinema, whether written for study or meditation.

07 Andreeva SonatasAn eclectic combination of piano works appears on Natalia Andreeva plays Piano Sonatas – Beethoven, Scriabin, Prokofiev (Divine Art dda 25140). Andreeva is a gifted performer, researcher and teacher. Her program choices are deliberate, balanced and artful. Her approach is methodical, yet inspired. For example, Beethoven’s directions in Sonata No.27 in E Minor Op.90 call for the pianist to play with “liveliness, sensitivity and expression.” Andreeva lets these instructions guide her through a beautifully considered performance of this two-movement work. She takes an especially Romantic posture in the second movement, arguing in her notes that Beethoven always wrote with pictures in his mind. Whatever image emerges from this movement is, according to Andreeva, bound to be one of love. Andreeva builds her phrases with care and balance. Their shape and motion in this sonata are elegant and very often quite exquisite.

Andreeva takes her research seriously, looking for interpretive clues in diaries, letters and other original sources. In the case of the Scriabin Sonata No.10 Op.70, her sleuthing has convinced her that the key to this work’s content is the composer’s notation “radieux” in the score. For Andreeva this single-movement sonata is about light. Consequently, the delicate upper filigree and frequent trills become important textures in the mood Scriabin wants to establish. Andreeva delivers a masterful performance of this 1913 Russian work.

Prokofiev’s Sonata No.2 in D Minor Op.14 is an early work in his series of nine sonatas and dates from almost the same time as the Scriabin. Andreeva’s approach to this underscores the principal traits of Prokofiev’s creative personality: harmonic adventurism, rhythmic drive, playful grotesqueness and classicism. Each movement becomes a stage for these elements as Andreeva constructs a complex picture of Prokofiev’s musical world.

Andreeva is a deeply thoughtful artist and definitely worth hearing.

01 Mozart NoirLe Mozart Noir
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra; Jeanne Lamon
Tafelmusik Media TMK 1031 DVDCD (


This is a welcome re-release from 2002, featuring an hour-long DVD docudrama on the life of the significant 18th-century Parisian composer Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, who was the son of a slave. There is also a full-length CD recording of several of Saint-Georges’ compositions, as well as a movement of a Leclair violin concerto and a symphony by Gossec.

The docudrama is well-researched and engaging, despite rather stilted dramatic performances in period costume. What is most interesting is R.H. Thomson’s narrated story of Boulogne’s life, the lively Tafelmusik performances, the interviews with his biographer and with Tafelmusik director Jeanne Lamon and soloist Linda Melsted. Together they make a good case for the complexity, grace and beauty of Saint-Georges’ music. One clip of Lamon explaining in detail the beauty of a particular theme and accompaniment is wonderfully articulate and a powerful insider’s explanation of how music is put together.

The DVD is entertaining, educational and quite moving in its presentation of the life of this remarkable and unique musician, athlete and military leader. The accompanying booklet includes a beautifully written essay on Saint-Georges by Charlotte Nediger.

As Tafelmusik heads into a new era with the recent appointment of Elisa Citterio as their music director, this recording is a poignant reminder of what a powerhouse the orchestra has been over the years under Lamon’s direction. The recorded sound is excellent and the performances are first-rate, most notably the solo playing of Melsted and Geneviève Gilardeau.

02 Ottensamer New EraNew Era – Stamitz; Danzi; Mozart
Andreas Ottensamer; Kammerakademie Potsdam; Emmanuel Pahud; Albrecht Mayer
Decca 481 4711


Andreas Ottensamer, principal clarinet of the Berlin Philharmonic, has released a delightful assortment of tracks on a disc designed to educate and entertain. New Era refers to the period in Mannheim from the mid- to late-18th century, an epoch in which composers and performers consorted, collaborated and so consolidated what we now call the Classical Style.

Most wind players encounter Johann (père) and Carl (fils) Stamitz, as well as Franz Danzi, en route through undergraduate performance courses. Seldom are these composers heard outside of the academic recital hall, perhaps owing to the tendency in our own era to reduce and highlight, so that we use Mozart as a stand-in for an entire range of musical peaks, as we might with Everest for the Himalayas. These four composers are represented here. For once Mozart’s sublime Concerto K622 is left off the menu in favour of two transcribed arias (from Mitridate and Don Giovanni), and a fantasy on the beloved La ci darem la mano, written by Danzi. For substance, there is a concerto from each Stamitz, and a delightful Concertino by Danzi for clarinet and bassoon (transcribed to great effect for cor anglais). Danzi’s Fantasy is an early iteration of the virtuosic form where a technical tour de force is derived from the music of a popular opera.

Ottensamer plays with fluid precision and a surprisingly bright tone that suits the material; perhaps long gone are the days when to be a member of the Berlin Philharmonic meant using the darkest possible set-up. His articulation is crisp, his intonation trustworthy, and his improvisational cadenzas in the concerti are like rifts in the time-space continuum, somehow joining that New Era with our own. Collaborators include flutist Emmanuel Pahud (on both of Stephan Koncz’ transcriptions of the arias) and Albrecht Mayer on cor anglais, both colleagues of Ottensamer in Berlin, and like him brilliant instrumental musicians. The back-up band, Kammerakademie Potsdam, is equally brilliant under the clarinetist’s direction.

03 Haydn Handel HaydnHaydn – Symphonies 8 & 84; Violin Concerto in A Major
Aisslinn Nosky; Handel and Haydn Society; Harry Christophers
Coro COR16148

This is the latest in a series of recordings of the symphonies and concertos of Haydn by the Boston-based Handel and Haydn Society, under the dynamic direction of Harry Christophers. The Toronto connection is the orchestra’s concertmaster – and violin soloist on this disc - Aisslinn Nosky, a former member of Tafelmusik and one of the driving forces behind I Furiosi.

Haydn’s eighth symphony – nicknamed “Le soir” – is a sinfonia concertante, meaning it features solo passages from several of the orchestra’s principals, including Nosky. It’s a great pleasure to hear the freedom, humour and tenderness each soloist brings to their playing and the whole performance has a tremendous buoyancy and elegance to it.

The A-Major concerto is difficult to bring off the page because of its rather pedestrian themes and somewhat predictable turns, but Nosky and Christophers give it a convincing and lively reading. It’s exciting to hear Nosky let loose in the cadenzas, unencumbered by the regular phrasing and symmetry of the main body of each of the movements.

The disc finishes with a glorious performance of Symphony No.84, one of Haydn’s Paris symphonies. Christophers coaxes clean, balanced performances from his charges without sacrificing drama and expressiveness. The second movement goes to some dark places, which are enhanced and deepened by a wonderful attention to dynamics and accents.

It’s clear that Christophers and Nosky are a powerful team. We will await the next Haydn disc with great anticipation.

04 Strauss AriadneStrauss – Ariadne auf Naxos; Bourgeois Gentilhomme (Suites)
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra; JoAnn Falletta
Naxos 8.57346

Now here is a real gem I wouldn’t mind listening to over and over again. This brand new release from Naxos comes from Buffalo, NY, by an orchestra, one of the best in North America, whose skills were honed by such names as Josef Krips, Lucas Foss, Semyon Bychkov and now led most ably by JoAnn Falletta. If you’ve never heard of or cared for her, you certainly will after listening to this rock-bottom, bargain-priced disc, a deal not to be missed.

Strauss’ love of the music of Lully inspired this absolute jewel of incidental music for Molière’s comedy Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, first performed at Chateau Chambord for Louis XIV in 1670. Strauss’ Suite (1912/1920) is written for a small but virtuoso orchestra, difficult and intricate but played here with flair, charm, delicacy and humour one rarely encounters even from the very best conductors. The violin solo by concertmaster William Preucil is an unforgettable delight.

The Suite from Ariadne auf Naxos is quite new (and a world premiere) by a young American, D. Wilson Ochoa, who put it together from the highlights of the opera of the same name. He certainly knew what he was doing and the suite now enriches the concert repertoire like a new symphonic poem by Strauss and surely will be so welcomed. Strauss said once that “melody strikes him like a bolt of lightning from the clear blue sky” and that’s well proven by the exquisite finale when the god Bacchus appears in his radiance curing Ariadne’s sorrows by falling in love with her and we hear wave upon wave of radiant music pouring forth from Falletta’s magic baton.

05 Bruckner BarenboimAnton Bruckner – The Complete Symphonies
Staatskapelle Berlin; Daniel Barenboim
Deutsche Grammophon 479 6985


There is a story about Karajan that once when he got sick and had to cancel a few concerts, the Philharmoniker decided on Daniel Barenboim to substitute. As soon as he heard this, Karajan exclaimed “OMG not HIM!!” and sick no longer, he jumped out of bed and ran back to conduct.

Barenboim’s approach to Bruckner is different from the holier-than-thou century-old Germanic tradition, trademark of many venerable conductors, mostly dead by now. I remember the great Celibidache stopping the orchestra (the BPO) 15 times before reaching the end of the first bar of the Seventh Symphony to get the opening tremolando just right, his tempo so slow, the symphony ended up a half-hour longer than anybody else’s. Now Barenboim, a consummate musician, does not revere anything but the music, making it as enjoyable, interesting, even exciting as possible and his tempi in Bruckner have always been faster, but never rushed. This is true for this new, beautifully recorded set of the nine numbered symphonies, already the third such cycle in his career, but now on his own label Peral Music, under the aegis of Deutsche Grammophon. The orchestra this time is the Berlin Staatskapelle, one of the oldest in the world, once upon a time the Prussian Court orchestra which the maestro, being its director for the last 20 years, had moulded it into perfection. It even gives the famous Berlin Philharmoniker a run for its money.

There is a unified approach, a remarkable consistency, and the orchestral playing is incredibly precise. Most of the players are young, highly skilled, enthusiastic, very devoted to each other and simply revere their conductor. I have watched some of the performances (televised by and Mezzo) and his conducting style avoids all histrionics and, being past 70, he budgets his strength and gets maximum effect with very little effort. All performances are solid, high-quality and the symphonies throb with life, infused with rhythmic vitality. One will discover previously unheard details in the tremendously rich orchestral palette and the conductor’s stamp is always felt. The fff outburst in the Largo of the Seventh Symphony has never been more impressive on record and made even me jump out of my seat practically hyperventilating. Incidentally this had been the moment of my own conversion to Bruckner some 40 years ago.

If you want to enjoy Bruckner rather than worship it, this is the set for you.


01 Montreal Guitar Trio

If you’re a regular listener to Tom Allen’s Shift program on CBC Radio then you’ve probably already heard two of the tracks from DANZAS, the new CD of Spanish guitar music from MG3, the Montréal Guitare Trio of Glenn Lévesque, Sébastien Dufour and Marc Morin (Analekta AN 2 8791).

By pure coincidence the CD arrived in the mail the same afternoon that Allen played a movement from Agustín Barrios Mangoré’s La Catedral, so I knew how good the CD was going to be before even opening it. And “good” is putting it mildly. From the dazzling flamenco runs and rhythms of the opening track of Al Di Meola’s Mediterranean Sundance and Paco De Lucía’s Rio Ancho, the MG3 return to the Spanish roots of their student days with a program of terrific arrangements of mostly standard works.

In addition to the Mangoré Catedral there are six tracks of dances and songs by Manuel De Falla, De Lucia’s Canción de amor and finally Charlie Haden’s Our Spanish Love Song. All arrangements are by the guitarists, either together or as individual efforts by Dufour or Lévesque. The outstanding playing is beautifully captured in a resonant recording made last October in the St-Benoît-de-Mirabel Church in Québec.


02 Canadian Guitar QuartetThere’s more terrific guitar playing on Mappa Mundi, the new CD with a mixture of old and new works from the Canadian Guitar Quartet of Julien Bisaillon, Renaud Côté-Giguère, Bruno Roussel and Louis Trépanier (ATMA Classique ACD2 2750).

Vivaldi’s Concerto in G Minor for Two Cellos RV531 works extremely well in Roussel’s arrangement, with all four guitarists sharing the two solo lines at some point in the three movements.

The other four works on the CD are all comparatively recent compositions. Fille de cuivre (Copper Girl) by quartet member Côté-Giguère explores the conflicting emotions when outward persona is not matched by inner self; it was inspired by the metal-welding works of Québecois sculptor Jean-Louis Émond, whose sculptures include a woman with a perfectly polished front but an open back revealing the rough inner welds.

Concierto Tradicionuevo by Patrick Roux (b.1962) is a terrific homage to the Argentinian tango, with particular nods to the 1930s singer Carlos Gardel and – in a particularly dazzling movement – Astor Piazzolla.

Octopus, by the German composer Hans Brüderl (b.1959) was originally a work for eight guitars (hence the title pun: Oct-Opus) written for the Canadian Guitar Quartet and the Salzburg Guitar Quartet; the former enjoyed it so much that Brüderl adapted it for four guitars. It’s a delightful piece with a real “Wow!” factor.

The CD’s title work Mappa Mundi was written by the Canadian composer Christine Donkin (b.1976) and is a portrayal of four of the images on the 14th-century world map held at Hereford Cathedral in England. Cellist Rachel Mercer joins the quartet in the Tower of Babel movement, the cello representing the voice of God!

These are all substantial, captivating works, beautifully played and recorded.

03 Butterfly LabyrinthButterflies in the Labyrinth of Silence features the guitar music of the Swiss composer Georges Raillard (b.1957) in performances by the American guitarist David William Ross (Navona Records NV6071). Raillard studied classical guitar and composition in the mid-1970s, and his guitar compositions are available for download through his website at

The works here date from 1999 to 2008 and, with titles like Shells on the Beach, Summer Evening at the Rhine, Butterfly and Measuring Clouds, are clearly essentially light classical pieces. Although somewhat limited in technical range in comparison to many contemporary works – often with the feel of classical guitar études – they are consistently pleasant, well-written and competent pieces by someone who clearly loves and understands the instrument. There is lovely clean playing from Ross throughout a thoroughly enjoyable CD.

04 Brahms SextetsThe Cypress String Quartet celebrated its 20th anniversary and its final season in 2016, and for its final recording in April chose the two String Sextets by Brahms, asking longtime friends and collaborators violist Barry Shiffman and cellist Zuill Bailey to join them (Avie Records AV2294). The performers also opted to make the recordings in front of a live studio audience, although there is no hint of audience presence on the CD.

The Sextets No.1 in B-flat Major Op.18 and No.2 in G Major Op.36 are given simply beautiful performances. Brahms always seems to have that quality of wistfulness and yearning, but the G Major work is particularly appropriate here, Brahms having learned from Robert Schumann the device of using musical notation to denote the names of people in one’s life and consequently turning this work into an emotional farewell to his lost love Agathe von Siebold.

It is hardly surprising then that this work should make such a fitting conclusion to the Cypress Quartet’s career. As the quartet members note, the works were an obvious choice for this final CD: “these monumental String Sextets . . . with their warmth and reflective qualities, are perfectly suited to saying farewell.”

The Cypress Quartet will be greatly missed, but this CD is a wonderful tribute to their talents.

05 Saint Saens Cello coverThe outstanding French cellist Emmanuelle Bertrand is back with another excellent CD, this time featuring the Cello Concerto No.1 in A Minor Op.33 by Camille Saint-Saëns with the Luzerner Sinfonieorchester under James Gaffigan and also the Cello Sonatas Nos.2 & 3 with Bertrand’s partner, pianist Pascal Amoyel (harmonia mundi HMM 902210).

Saint-Saëns clearly had a great love for the cello, and it shows throughout these works. Bertrand gives a passionate and convincing performance of the concerto, with excellent orchestral support. Bertrand and Amoyel are, as usual, as one voice in beautifully judged readings of the two sonatas. All of the usual outstanding Bertrand qualities – tone, phrasing, sensitivity and musical intelligence – are here in abundance.

The Sonata No.3 is a late work that occupied the composer from 1913 to 1919, but unfortunately the final two movements have been lost, and the first two exist only in manuscript. This lovely performance is the first recording of the work and leaves us wondering just what we are missing in the two lost movements.

06 Cello StoriesI could easily use an entire column to review Cello Stories – The Cello in the 17th and 18th Centuries, the quite remarkable hardcover book and 5-CD set featuring the French cellist Bruno Cocset and his group Les Basses Réunies, with text by the Baroque cellist and musicologist Marc Vanscheeuwijck (Alpha Classics ALPHA 890).

Cocset says that the intention is to show how an instrument and its repertoire have taken shape, and he has selected the musical program from his recordings for Alpha – some of them previously unreleased – made between 1998 and 2013. The five discs are: The Origins, with music by Ortiz, Bonizzi, Frescobaldi, Vitali, Galli and Degli Antonii; Italy-France, with music by Marcello, Vivaldi and Barrière; Johann Sebastian Bach, two CDs of cello sonatas, choral preludes, movements from the Cello Suites Nos. 1, 2 and 4 and the complete Suites 3, 5 and 6; and From Geminiani to Boccherini, including a short sonata by Giovanni Cirri.

The book is in English and French, with full track listings and recording details, and there are 15 pages of full-colour contemporary illustrations. The astonishingly detailed and researched text portion on the history and development of the instrument and its playing techniques runs to about 50 pages and has 386 footnotes.

The playing throughout is quite superb. It’s a simply astonishing project, completed in quite brilliant fashion.

07 Melia Watras 26Melia Watras: 26 (Sono Luminus SLE-70007) is a fascinating CD inspired by the concept of violists performing and sharing their own compositions. Violists Watras, Atar Arad and Garth Knox (here playing viola d’amore) are joined by violinist Michael Jinsoo Lim in five works by Watras, two by Arad, one by Knox and a duo by American composer Richard Karpen.

All the players have extensive chamber music experience, Arad with the Cleveland Quartet, Knox with the Arditti Quartet and Watras and Lim as co-founders of the Corigliano Quartet. The playing is of the highest standard throughout.

All of the nine works – there are three duos for two violas and two for violin and viola, three solo viola works and a solo violin piece – are world premiere recordings, and each one is a real gem. It’s a terrific CD, and one which should appeal to a much wider audience than just lovers of the viola.

The CD title, incidentally, represents the combined number of strings on the four instruments used.

07 Claremont TrioSPHERES – Music of Robert Paterson is the new CD from the Claremont Trio – violinist Emily Bruskin, cellist Julia Bruskin and pianist Andrea Lam (American Modern Recordings AMR 1046).

The two major works by this American composer are quite different but form a pair, the shorter and sweeter 2015 Moon Trio, commissioned by the Claremont Trio, being a sister piece for the much longer and more strident Sun Trio, a 1995 work revised in 2008; Donna Kwong, who was a founding member and pianist of the Trio for 12 years from its foundation at the Juilliard School in 1999, is the pianist in the latter work.

The Toronto-born cellist Karen Ouzounian joins Andrea Lam and Julia Bruskin in the Elegy for Two Cellos and Piano, a 2006 work originally written for two bassoons in memory of a well-known New York cellist, and transcribed for two cellos in 2007-08. Quoting liberally from the Bach cello works, it’s a simply lovely piece.

08 Mozart Violin ConcertosAnd finally, Henning Kraggerud is the brilliant soloist leading the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra on MOZART Violin Concertos Nos.3, 4 and 5 and the Adagio in E, K.261, a Naxos Music in Motion DVD (2.110368).

Filmed before a small audience in the intimate but resonant Akershus Castle Church in Oslo in January 2015, the camera work is understandably a bit limited, with cameras in front on the left, right and centre providing close-ups and occasional tracking. The picture quality could perhaps be a little sharper, but colour and sound are fine.

It’s the playing we’re here for, though, and it’s simply sublime. Kraggerud’s 1744 Guarneri Del Gesù has surely never sounded warmer or brighter, and the joy, exuberance and perfect communication between soloist and orchestral players is a delight to see. The performances throughout are superb, with brilliant outer movements and beautifully judged slow movements.

Kraggerud, who provides his own cadenzas, gives introductions to each work (in Norwegian with English subtitles) with fascinating insight and stories, including what may well be the historical source of all viola jokes; and there is a brief Behind the Scenes bonus track showing preparations for the concert.

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