05 Dvorak TriosDvořák – Piano Trios 3 & 4
Christian Tetzlaff; Tanja Tetzlaff; Lars Vogt
Ondine ODE 1316-2 (naxosdirect.com/items/dvorák-piano-trios-nos.-3-4-467122)

Violinist Christian Tetzlaff, cellist Tanja Tetzlaff (his sister) and pianist Lars Vogt are three of the most eminent and sought-after performers in classical music, gracing the world’s most prestigious stages, both as soloists and chamber musicians. They are the crème de la crème.

With their 2015 release of the Brahms piano trios having garnered a Grammy nomination, the Tetzlaff-Tetzlaff-Vogt (T-T-V) Trio once again dazzles in their new recording of two Dvořák piano trios: No. 3 in F Minor and No. 4 in E Minor. The latter, also known as the “Dumky Trio,” consists of six movements, each one a “dumka,” a musical term taken from the Slavic folk tradition. Under Dvořák’s treatment, each movement comprises alternating, strongly contrasting passages, from moody and melancholic to rhythmically exuberant.

These two Dvořák masterpieces are brought to extraordinary life by the consummate musicianship of Tetzlaff, Tetzlaff and Vogt. Their virtuosic playing is muscular, raw, dramatic, intensely expressive – ideal for the sweeping, rhapsodic and near-symphonic – Brahmsian – F Minor trio. Written a few months after the death of Dvořák’s mother, the heart-achingly beautiful third movement is exquisitely executed by the T-T-V Trio.

As for the “Dumky,” with so many recordings of this beloved trio available, one might think that nothing new could possibly be brought into the recording studio. But one would be seriously mistaken. In the impeccable hands of the T-T-V Trio the “Dumky” is revelatory: fresh and exhilarating, reflective, tender and radiant. This CD is a must!

06 Bruckner QuintetBruckner – Quintet in F Major; Ouverture in G Minor (Large Orchestra versions)
Prague RSO; Gerd Schaller
Profil Edition Hanssler PH16036 (haensslerprofil.de)

Featuring conductor Gerd Schaller’s new arrangement – the first for large orchestra – of Anton Bruckner’s String Quintet in F Major (1878), this disc counts as a major success. Already Schaller has recorded the Bruckner symphony cycle; here he adds the composer’s major chamber work, in orchestral garb. The Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra’s immaculate performance is well-paced, the musicians rising to the technical and interpretive challenges of this premiere; they produce excellent tone quality at all dynamic levels. The string quintet was composed following Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony revision. Schaller’s well-informed arrangement really sounds like a Bruckner orchestral work of that era.

The pastoral first movement sets out the orchestral palette, with comforting strings followed by more varied winds, leading to brass climaxes at pivotal points. Then the Scherzo-Trio adds witty contrasts – pauses and harmonic surprises. The acclaimed Adagio makes a profound centrepiece, the organ-like orchestration reminding me that Bruckner’s genius in improvisation was legendary. Next comes Schaller’s interpolation of a shortened version of the Intermezzo that Bruckner originally composed as a simple alternative to the Scherzo-Trio. Although I don’t see the interpolation as necessary, it does serve as a transition in emotional terms from the Adagio to the Finale, whose charming opening alternates with knotty wide-ranging passages. In closing, the Quintet’s material is wonderful in both the chamber work and this orchestral arrangement; Bruckner’s early Ouverture in G Minor (1863) merely adds to the disc’s attractions.

07 Mahler 9 EssenGustav Mahler – Symphony No.9
Essener Philharmoniker; Tomáš Netopil
Oehms Classics ODC 1890 (naxosdirect.com/items/mahler-symphony-no.-9-467120)

The city of Essen is located at the heart of the industrial Ruhr area of Germany. Its rise to prominence is intimately tied to the fortunes of the Krupp family dynasty, who settled in this coal-rich region some 400 years ago and began building steel foundries mainly dedicated to the manufacture of heavy artillery. Gustav Mahler conducted the premiere of his sixth symphony there in 1906, prompting the Viennese critic Hans Liebstöckl to acerbically observe, “Krupp makes only cannons, Mahler only symphonies.”

Throughout the 20th century the orchestra maintained a low profile labouring under a series of provincial kappelmeisters. Judging by the present performance under their current director, the Czech conductor Tomáš Netopil, this highly capable orchestra makes a compelling case for greater international renown. Recorded in Essen’s Alfried Krupp Hall in April 2018 (from what I assume are edits of live performances), for the most part this rendition of Mahler’s Symphony No.9 is quite a revelation. Only the interpretation of the droll second movement Ländler shows a few interpretive seams, as Netopil sentimentalizes the structural ritardandos by consistently beginning them far earlier than indicated in the score. By contrast, the vehement pacing of the accelerandos towards the end of the subsequent daemonic Scherzo are electrifying. The cataclysmic first movement receives an immensely powerful performance, while the finale achieves a Zen-like transcendence superbly conveyed through the carefully modulated tone of the dark-hued Essen string section.

Too much is made in the liner notes of the allegedly “fateful” nature of this work, begun in 1909, two years before Mahler’s demise. Death, with few exceptions, was always a leitmotif in his works. It is not death, but life and love that make this work so exceptional.

08 No Time for Chamber MusicNo Time for Chamber Music
collectif9
Independent (collectif9.ca)

The title of this disc by collectif9, one of the most exciting string contemporary ensembles today, comes by way of that musical omnivore, Luciano Berio, whose Sinfonia uses texts from Le cru et le cuit (The Raw and the Cooked) by the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss. The sardonic cue from the title is given sharper angularity with the interpretation of Mahler’s profound music, which almost always expressed the composer’s innermost thoughts. These peremptory readings of Mahler’s portentous music are gaunt and shard-like.

Together with the oblique Fantaisie à la manière de Callot by Phillipe Hersant, contrabassist Thibault Bertin-Maghit’s imaginative arrangements create a new excitement around Mahler, a composer who received due recognition after many decades of proselytizing by conductors such as Bruno Walter, Wilhelm Mengelberg and later, Leonard Bernstein.

Although what we have here are vignettes of symphonies from Mahler, collectif9 has masterfully recreated the composer’s sound-world infusing much into the music. These suggest – even conjure – every Mahler-like spectacle from Marche funèbre from Symphony No.5 to the vast images of nature especially in Comme un bruit de la nature from Symphony No.1. There is also the extraordinary lyricism of Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen that unfolds in J’ai un couteau à la lame brûlante and the eloquently wistful performance of L’adieu from Das Lied von der Erde. All of this repertoire by collectif9 is highly charged and intensely dynamic, making for a uniquely impactful disc.

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09 Schreker BirthdayFranz Schreker – The Birthday of the Infanta Suite
Berlin RSO; JoAnn Falletta
Naxos 8.573821 (naxosdirect.com/items/schreker-the-birthday-of-the-infanta-suite-prelude-to-a-drama-romantic-suite-466991)

Almost forgotten after the Nazis banned them in the 1930s, Franz Schreker’s feverish, hyper-romantic-expressionist operas have, in recent years, received welcome new stage productions and recordings. For anyone unfamiliar with Schreker’s gripping sound-world, there’s no better introduction than the first work on this CD, Prelude to a Drama, Schreker’s 18-minute elaboration of the Prelude to Die Gezeichneten (1914), incorporating themes from his operatic masterpiece. JoAnn Falletta, known locally as music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, leads the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra in a radiant performance of this gorgeous, numinous music.

The other works on this disc, from Schreker’s earlier years, present him in more genial moods. His 1908 score for The Birthday of the Infanta, a ballet-pantomime after Oscar Wilde’s fairy tale, was his first major success as a composer for the theatre. It obviously remained close to his heart, as he conducted the Berlin State Opera Orchestra in two recordings – an acoustic (1923) and a better-sounding electrical (1927) – of the Suite he arranged from his first hit. Falletta clearly delights in the scintillating sonorities and touches of sentiment in the ten-movement, 20-minute Suite.

Similarly, the 25-minute Romantic Suite (1903) by the then 25-year-old Schreker bathes in warm lyricism throughout its four movements, a symphony in all but its name.

Adding considerably to this CD’s appeal is the brilliant recorded sound and equally brilliant playing of the orchestra under maestra Falletta. Brava!     

10 Shulman GoomanSerenades & Sonatas for Flute and Harp
Suzanne Shulman; Erica Goodman
Naxos 8.573947 (naxosdirect.com/items/serenades-sonatas-for-flute-and-harp-466995)

Flutist Suzanne Shulman and harpist Erica Goodman are popular, brilliant and esteemed Canadian performers who, when asked to participate in a summer festival concert of music for an English garden, gathered pieces evoking an outdoor setting. Here they perform a selection of these compositions/arrangements with stellar ensemble and musical skills.

A single standing bird on the CD booklet cover sets the visual stage for joyous flute and harp garden sounds. The catchy opening of Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Greensleeves (arranged by Jennifer Grady) leads to the familiar melody on flute with harp accompaniment at a faster tempo than some may expect. A key change leads to a middle section based on the folk tune Lovely, and then back to the closing sensitive, musical lead section. Love the opening Prelude’s florid singing birdlike flute lines, and the lush Mists’ slow-moving flute and harp trills/flourishes in Paul Reade’s five-movement Victorian Kitchen Garden Suite. Alphonse Hasselmans’ technically challenging harp solo La Source, Op.44 features an arpeggiated harp part reminiscent of rushing stream water played with subtle tone choices. William Alwyn’s virtuosic Naiades – Fantasy-Sonata for Flute and Harp encompasses arpeggios, staccato jumps and florid runs, like running water and dancing nymphs, to trills and high-pitched garden-like sounds. Works by Couperin, Woodall, Marson, Chausson, Rota and Elgar complete the collection.

Listening to this luscious musical garden tended by two breathtaking musicians should help make waiting for springtime easier!

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01 Wan Beethoven ViolinViolinist Andrew Wan was named concertmaster of the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal in 2008. A Juilliard graduate, he is currently assistant professor of violin at the Schulich School of Music at McGill University. He is paired with Quebec pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin in Beethoven Violin Sonatas Nos. 6, 7 & 8 (Analekta AN 2 8794 analekta.com/en/albums/beethoven-violin-sonatas-6-7-8)

There’s a lovely warmth and sensitivity to the opening of the Sonata in A Major Op.30 No.1, with Wan’s beautifully clear tone immediately making you feel that this is the start of something special – and so it proves to be. Richard-Hamelin is an outstanding partner, especially in the turbulent opening of the tempestuous Sonata in C Minor Op.30 No.2, a work in which Beethoven’s growing use of increasingly intense textures is evident.

A dazzling performance of the Sonata in G Major Op.31 No.3 completes a terrific CD that is the first volume in a projected series of the complete Beethoven violin sonatas. It promises to be a set to treasure and one – if this first volume is anything to go by – that will hold its own against any competition.

02 Hemsing DvorakThe Norwegian violinist Eldbjørg Hemsing is the soloist in three Czech works on Dvořák: Violin Concerto; Suk: Fantasy with the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra under Alan Buribayev (BIS-2246 bis.se naxosdirect.com/items/dvorák-suk-works-for-violin-orchestra-465767).

Hemsing displays brilliance of tone in a performance of the Dvořák Violin Concerto in A Minor Op.53 that is bright, energetic, rhythmic and full of life. It’s a work that still doesn’t have quite the prominence it deserves.

The violinist and composer Josef Suk was Dvořák’s son-in-law. His Fantasy in G Minor Op.24 is the only concert work he wrote for his own instrument, and while quite different than the Dvořák in its episodic form is still clearly Czech through and through. Suk’s Liebeslied Op.7 No.1 is one of his best-known single pieces; the first of a suite of six piano pieces, it is heard here in a very effective transcription for violin and orchestra by Stephan Koncz.

Buribayev draws really strong support from the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra players on a highly enjoyable CD.

03 Suite ItalienneThe Italian-American violinist Francesca Dego follows her hugely successful CD of violin concertos by Paganini and Wolf-Ferrari with Suite Italienne, a recital with her longtime collaborator the Italian pianist Francesca Leonardi of works by Ottorino Respighi, Igor Stravinsky and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (Deutsche Grammophon DG481 7297 universalmusic.it/musica-classica/news/suite-italienne-il-nuovo-album-di-francesca-dego-e-francesca-leonardi_12077).

Respighi was himself a fine violinist, and his Sonata in B Minor Op.110 from 1917 is a striking work, written when he was struggling to overcome the depression brought on by the loss of his mother the previous year. A strong opening movement is followed by a particularly lovely and melodic Andante espressivo middle movement. And what a tone Dego possesses! It’s lustrous, warm, rich and strong, and is more than balanced here by a lovely piano sound.

Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne from his ballet Pulcinella is the central work on the disc, with the dance elements nicely realized, the Tarantella Vivace in particular.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco is represented by four works. His Ballade Op.107 was written for Tossy Spivakovsky and premiered by him at Carnegie Hall in 1940, after which it seems to have been overlooked and forgotten until Dego recovered it for this recording earlier this year with the help of the composer’s granddaughter Diana Castelnuovo-Tedesco. It’s a lovely work that hopefully will stay in the repertoire. Three of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s short operatic transcriptions complete the recital: the rather-Paganini-like Rosina and the playful and virtuosic Figaro from Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia; and Violetta from Verdi’s La Traviata. All but the latter of the Castelnuovo-Tedesco works are world premiere recordings.

04 Telemann violinGeorg Philipp Telemann was not only one of the most prolific composers in musical history but also one of the most cosmopolitan. Some idea of the wide range of national styles and idioms he incorporated in his music can be discerned from Telemann Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord, a new CD featuring Baroque violinist Dorian Komanoff Bandy and harpsichordist Paul Cienniwa (Whaling City Sound WCS 108 whalingcitysound.com).

The six sonatas from 1715 were written specifically for violin and harpsichord – no cello continuo here, as in some recordings – and although they all have the same slow/fast/slow/fast four-movement format they are wide-ranging in idiom and expression. In addition there is a world premiere recording of the unpublished Sonata in F-sharp Minor, a fascinating piece described by Bandy as “a strange convention-defying work” that “seems more an unfinished experiment than a polished piece of music.” His excellent and insightful booklet notes refer to these sonatas as truly distinct, each one unique, daring and extraordinary in its own way.

Bandy plays with a minimum of vibrato, which allows his excellent definition, clarity and agility to be displayed to best advantage. Cienniwa’s playing provides a stylish accompaniment, the harpsichord never too percussive or prominent.

05 American SouvenirsAmerican Souvenirs is the debut recording by the Chicago-based Blue Violet Duo of American violinist Kate Carter and Canadian pianist Louise Chan. Described as an album of jazz, blues and dance-influenced classical works from the mid-to-late 20th century, it features works by Norman Dello Joio, William Bolcom, John Adams and Paul Schoenfeld (bluevioletduo.com).

Dello Joio’s Variations and Capriccio from 1948 and Bolcom’s four-movement 1978 Second Sonata for Violin and Piano are really attractive works, the Bolcom offering a dreamy and surprisingly atonal violin line over a slow blues piano in the opening movement, a “Brutal, Fast” second movement and a finale In Memory of Joe Venuti.

Adams’ three-movement Road Movies from 1995 is in his minimalist style but highly entertaining, with a Relaxed Groove opening movement and a terrific third movement. Schoenfeld’s 1990 Four Souvenirs for Violin and Piano are titled Samba, Tango, Tin Pan Alley and Square Dance, with Carter supplying some simply gorgeous violin playing in the Tango. Some virtuosic playing from both performers in the final Square Dance makes for a great ending to an immensely enjoyable CD.

The duo says that they love performing lesser-known works that are fun and playful yet virtuosic, and that those here are among their favourites by American composers. It’s abundantly clear that they are in their element here, fully at ease and seamlessly blending classical performing standards with the freer popular styles.

06a Beethoven CelloThere are two excellent cello and piano recital CDs this month: Beethoven Sonatas Op.102 with cellist Natasha Brofsky and pianist Seth Knopp (independent store.cdbaby.com/cd/natashabrofskyandsethknopp); and Brahms Cello Sonatas with the husband-and-wife Fischer Duo of cellist Norman Fischer and pianist Jeanne Kierman (Centaur CRC 3648 arkivmusic.com).

Brofsky and Knopp were both members of the Peabody Trio for nearly two decades and clearly have an innate understanding of these sonatas, having played and taught them for many years. Brofsky, currently on the cello faculty at Juilliard, plays with assured technique and a warm, even tone in the two works, the Sonatas Op.102 No.1 in C Major and Op.102 No.2 in D Major. These sonatas, the duo says, have challenged them to use their utmost imagination in colour and expression. At 36 minutes it’s a fairly brief CD, but none the less satisfying for that.

06b Fischer BrahmsThe Fischer Duo CD features the two cello sonatas by Brahms – the E-Minor Sonata Op.38 and the F-Major Sonata Op.99, works the performers have been playing for nearly five decades. Again, the understanding and familiarity with both the works and each other make for truly satisfying performances. Fischer says that the exemplary recorded sound made the performances sound “exactly the way I imagine the music.” Two Songs for Alto, Cello and Piano Op.91 complete the disc, the duo being joined by their daughter, the mezzo-soprano Abigail Fischer in sensitive performances.

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07 Lipinsky string triosThe Polish composer and violin virtuoso Karol Józef Lipiński was a direct contemporary of Paganini, and good enough to not only play with the great Italian but also to be bequeathed one of his eight violins – an Amati – when Paganini died. In his compositions, however, while incorporating the technical innovations of Paganini and the other 19th-century virtuosi, his musical philosophy showed a preference for the less purely virtuosic approach of Spohr and the French school exemplified by Viotti.

Lipiński String Trios Op.8 and Op.12 (Naxos 8.573776 naxosdirect.com/items/lipinski-trios-for-2-violins-cello-opp.-8-12-457581) features Voytek Proniewicz (primo violin), Adam Roszkowski (violin) and Jan Roszkowski (cello) in first-class performances of two works that, according to Lipiński’s biographer, were possibly written for home performance and consequently lack the virtuosic element. Not that you would know it. The G-Minor Trio Op.8 features fast runs, octaves and chromatic runs, including one in octaves. Don’t try this at home. The A-Major Trio Op.12 doesn’t sound that much easier, either.

There’s great playing here – lively, passionate, skillful, committed and always entertaining in charming works that are light but never facile or frivolous.

08 Doric MendelssohnMendelssohn String Quartets Vol.1, presumably the start of a projected complete series, features Britain’s Doric String Quartet in superb performances of the quartets No.1 in E-flat Major Op.12, No.5 in E-flat Major Op.44 No.3 and No.6 in F Minor Op.80 (Chandos CHAN 20122(2) chandos.net). The playing is always clear and balanced, with dazzling agility in the numerous typically Mendelssohnian scherzo-like passages, and with terrific dynamics. The bustling dramatic start to the grief- and despair-ridden Op.80 quartet sets the tone for the whole work.

It’s an outstanding start to the series, and the remaining quartets should be well worth waiting for.

09 Minguet MendelssohnThe Op.12 quartet is also included on Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy String Quartets Vol.2, the latest release in the ongoing complete series by Germany’s Minguet Quartett (cpo 777 931-2 arkivmusic.com). Also included are the early String Quartet in E-flat Major, the 14-year-old composer’s first attempt in the genre, and the Four Pieces for String Quartet Op.81, published posthumously as String Quartet No.7 but actually four movements ranging from 1827 to 1847 that are not connected, although two of them may possibly have been intended for an eighth quartet.

There’s fine playing here too, with tempos in the String Quartet No.1, Op.12 very close to those on the Doric CD, but the recording seems to have been made in a livelier acoustic space. Some listeners may well prefer this, but I found the Doric discs to have a cleaner and clearer sound, with the dynamic range more clearly nuanced and effective.

10 Brian Buch quartetsOn From the River Flow the Stars the Daedalus Quartet plays string quartets by the American composer Brian Buch (MSR Classics MS 1681 msrcd.com/catalog/cd/MS1681). Buch says that he often composes music in collections or books comprised of individual pieces, and extracts from five such books are included here. From the River Flow the Stars No.6, Acanthus Leaves No.6 and Landscapes No.1 are all three-movement works; Maze of Infinite Forms No.1 is in two movements, and Life and Opinions No.7, the central work on the CD, in five.

They are all interesting and inventive pieces that create contrasting atmospheres, although their relative brevity – 12 of the 16 movements are under four minutes in length – may perhaps contribute to their not always leaving a strong impression.

The Daedalus Quartet is known for its work with and support of contemporary American composers, and it’s difficult to imagine these works receiving more sympathetic performances.

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