05 Strauss AlpsRichard Strauss – Eine Alpensinfonie
Frankfurt Radio Symphony; Andrés Orozco-Estrada
Pentatone PTC 5186 628 (pentatonemusic.com)

With Ein Heldenleben and Macbeth released in 2016, Andrés Orozco-Estrada and the Frankfurt Radio Symphony already showed themselves to be impressive Straussians. And now, with Eine Alpensinfonie, Orozco-Estrada and the orchestra have continued to uncover the feverishly ardent harmonics and melodic tuneful artistry of the last great German Romantic composer with electrifying brilliance. Unravelling this work with subtle note-spinning, both conductor and orchestra have infused it with febrile energy and hip-swinging seductiveness through to a finale that is properly shattering.

Completed in 1915, Eine Alpensinfonie turned out to be the last of Strauss’ large-scale non-operatic works, crafted with masterful use of horns. Orozco-Estrada’s approach here is unrushed and often expansive. But there is no shortage of dynamism: though leisurely by the clock the performance is spectacularly punctuated by enormous Straussian shock and shudder. At its peak this performance takes the composer’s atmospherics of Eine Alpensinfonie completely seriously, and achieves a quality of sound so rich and incisive as to overcome Strauss’ proverbial bombast and prolixity.

What the conductor cannot disguise – indeed he revels in it – is the impetuosity of Strauss’ orchestral writing. Moments of awe swell in Eintritt in den Wald and the thrill of adventure soars in the prophetic colour and expression, especially in Auf dem Gipfel and the thunderous Gewitter und Strum, Abstieg. This work is well-suited to Orozco-Estrada’s flamboyant style, and the orchestra’s rich refulgent tone as both conductor and orchestra hit the mark in thrilling fashion.

06 Bartok Kodaly ConcertosBartók & Kodály – Concertos for Orchestra
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin; Jakub Hrůša
Pentatone PTC 5186 626 (pentatonemusic.com)

Two works of the same title and genre by the two most important composers of 20th-century Hungary, yet as different as can be. Bartók is a genius and now is being fully appreciated. He successfully achieved a synthesis of modern trends between tonal and atonal music, consonance and dissonance, infusing both with inspiration from mid-century turmoil and anguish. Kodály is in no way close to this level though highly skilled, very competent and dedicated to Hungarian folk music, suffusing it with his own considerable melodic richness and compositional skill and also achieving international fame.

Kodály’s Concerto (1940) has only recently come to widespread worldwide attention with some worthy new recordings. It combines contrapuntal fireworks of Baroque architecture with a high-stepping Hungarian folk dance, alternating fast and slow movements, all with a jaunty good forward momentum and an increasing complexity. It is also highly entertaining, and young, dynamic Polish conductor Jakub Hrůša makes the most of it with his energetic, brisk tempi and natural affinity for Eastern European music. This performance will make many converts to the piece.

But the ultimate appeal for this new Pentatone issue (famous for recording excellence today) is this atmospheric, beautifully detailed, thoroughly convincing and passionate performance of the Bartók Concerto (1943). Hrůša sure has what it takes and reminds me of the great Georg Solti in his prime, but with an even more virtuosic orchestra and superior recording technology. Bartók was a very sick man in America when he wrote this amazing work, but just listen to the incredible energy of the rustling strings, the bold utterances on the brass and the vitality of superhuman energy outpouring in the last movement. An unshaken faith for a better world and unconquerable humanity.

American Romantics
Gowanus Arts Ensemble; Reuben Blundell
New Focus Recordings FCR 166

American Romantics III
Lansdowne Symphony Orchestra; Reuben Blundell
New Focus Recordings FCR166C (newfocusrecordings.com)

07a AmericanLovely melodies and evocative tone-painting fill the first and third volumes of the American Romantics series created by conductor Reuben Blundell. Together these two CDs present first recordings of 19 pieces by 14 mostly forgotten late-19th- and early-20th-century composers born or active in the U.S.

In the first volume, Blundell leads the Gowanus Arts Ensemble, ten string players who also perform on American Romantics II, reviewed in The WholeNote this past February. In the latest release, Blundell appears as music director of the Lansdowne Symphony Orchestra, a professional-sounding community orchestra in Philadelphia.

Two composers, Ludwig Bonvin and Carl Busch, are featured in both discs under review. Swiss-born Bonvin (1850-1939) emigrated to Buffalo, where he served as music director of Canisius College. He’s represented by the hymn-like Christmas Night’s Dream for strings and the very Wagnerian Festival Procession for orchestra. Busch (1864-1943), from Denmark, settled in Kansas City, finding inspiration in North American Indigenous melodies. Volume I contains two movements from his Indian Tribal Melodies: Four North American Legends; Volume III includes two richly coloured, dramatic tone poems, Minnehaha’s Vision and The Song of Chibiabos, both based on Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha.

07b American IIIAnother composer who wrote many works on First Nations subjects was Charles Wakefield Cadman (1881-1946), one of the few recognizable names in the American Romantics series. His five-movement Thunderbird Suite, said to incorporate Blackfoot melodies, is, at 21 minutes, by far the longest work on these two discs. The highly cinematic Suite dates from 1918, well before sound arrived in Hollywood, but it’s not surprising that, in later years, Cadman moved to Los Angeles where he would indeed go on to compose music for films.

Gena Branscombe (1881-1977), the only woman and only Canadian on these discs, was born in Picton, Ontario (not PEI, as the notes state) but left for the U.S. as a teenager to pursue her musical studies. There, she composed prolifically in all genres, founded and conducted the Branscombe Chorale, and commissioned and performed works by many other women composers. Her brief, bittersweet waltz, A Memory, a miniature Valse Triste, was originally for violin and piano; it’s heard in an arrangement for harp and strings.

Like A Memory, all of the predominantly short pieces on these two CDs are well worth hearing, though they tend to fall into the Easy Listening category. This series is obviously a labour of love for conductor Blundell and I hope he continues his pattern of one release per year. I look forward, however, to hearing more extended, substantial yet unfairly forgotten works by these unfairly mostly forgotten composers.

01 James Ehnes KernisWhat is there left to say about James Ehnes? Canada’s superstar violinist is back with another outstanding CD, this time featuring live concert performances of two recent violin concertos written for him. Ludovic Morlot leads the Seattle Symphony in a March 2017 performance of the Aaron Jay Kernis concerto, while Cristian Măcelaru is the conductor with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in the May 2017 performance of James Newton Howard’s work (Onyx 4189 onyxclassics.com).

Both concertos essentially follow the traditional form of extended first movement (in the Kernis it’s a Chaconne), contemplative slow movement (for Howard “the centrepiece” of his concerto) and a fast, dazzlingly virtuosic finale.

These are accessible, strongly tonal and highly effective works. Ehnes, naturally, is superb throughout, with terrific orchestral support. His regular recital partner Andrew Armstrong joins Ehnes for Bramwell Tovey’s Stream of Limelight, written for the violinist’s 40th birthday.

02 Sei Solo Thomas BowesEnglish violinist Thomas Bowes adds another outstanding set to the list of Bach’s Six Sonatas & Partitas with Sei Solo (Navona NV6159 navonarecords.com).

The recordings grew from a series of church concerts of the works that Bowes undertook across England in 2013. His insightful notes show how deeply he has thought about this music, but his performances make it even clearer. Tempos are predominantly relaxed and spacious but never drag, although even allowing for observation of all repeats the total time – 3CDs and 160 minutes – is by far the longest of my 12 sets.

Bowes uses gut G, D and A strings on his 1659 Amati and says that his approach to style and historical context “has been to acknowledge them but to move away from them when they felt limiting or too fixed. I feel that this music transcends limitations of epoch and style.”

Recorded on six single days between November 2013 and February 2016 in Abbey Road Studios, these are warm, contemplative and deeply rewarding performances.

03 Mystery Sonatas Christina Day MartinsonBoston Baroque’s concertmaster Christina Day Martinson is the outstanding soloist on a new set of Biber The Mystery Sonatas with Martin Pearlman, Michael Unterman and Michael Leopold the excellent continuo (Linn CKD 501 linnrecords.com).

This truly extraordinary work from the 1670s sets unique challenges for the violinist, with all but the first of the 15 sonatas employing scordatura; no two sonatas having the four violin strings tuned to the same set of notes. A final solo passacaglia returns to the original standard tuning.

The open strings are played here before each sonata, excellent booklet notes explaining the resulting issues and effects. Martinson’s faultless and sensitive playing shows just how powerful and emotional these astonishing works can be.

04 British Music for Viola and OrchestraHelen Callus is the outstanding soloist in British Music for Viola and Orchestra, a welcome reissue of recordings originally released in 2006 on the ASV label. Marc Taddei conducts the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (Naxos 8.573876 naxos.com).

All four works are associated with Lionel Tertis, the player most responsible for the viola’s emergence as a solo instrument. The Vaughan Williams Suite for viola and small orchestra and York Bowen’s Viola Concerto in C Minor Op.25 were written for and premiered by him; he premiered Herbert Howell’s Elegy for viola, string quartet and string orchestra and was the dedicatee of the Walton Viola Concerto in A Minor, played here in the 1961 revised version.

Extremely attractive works, a lovely solo sound, fine orchestral playing and excellent sound quality make for a delightful CD.

05 Pierre Rode Violin ConcertosNaxos ends its five-volume series of the Violin Concertos of the French violinist/composer Pierre Rode with world premiere recordings of Concertos No.11 in D Major Op.23 and No.12 in E Major Op.27, with Friedemann Eichhorn and the Jena Philharmonic Orchestra under Nicolás Pasquet (8.573474). Two Airs variés complete the disc.

A pupil of Viotti, Rode eschewed mere virtuosic writing for a more idiomatic style, Eichhorn noting that for Rode virtuosity meant ease and sovereign control, his manner “honest and always musical; what he is aiming for is verve and brilliance.”

Those are just about perfect descriptions of Eichhorn’s exceptional playing here. 

06 Joshua Bell BruchHis father’s Scottish heritage adds to the strong personal connections Joshua Bell feels for the two Max Bruch works on his new CD Bruch Scottish Fantasy with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields (Sony Classical 19075 84200 2
sonymusicmasterworks.com).

The other work here, the Violin Concerto No.1 in G Minor Op.26, was the first major concerto the 11-year-old Bell learned; moreover, he first recorded the work over 30 years ago with this same Academy and its founder Sir Neville Marriner. In 2011 Bell was named music director of the ensemble, the only person to hold this post since Marriner founded the group in 1958.

It’s clearly a perfect match if this superb CD is anything to go by; there’s glorious sound throughout from soloist and orchestra, and a lovely recorded resonance.

07 Bartok concertosThe Austrian violinist Benjamin Schmid is the soloist in Béla Bartók Die Violinkonzerte with Hungary’s Pannon Philharmonic Orchestra under Tibor Bogányi (Gramola 99138 gramola.at).

The first of Bartók’s two concertos was written in 1907-08 and inspired by the composer’s feelings for the young violinist Stefi Geyer, to whom he gave the manuscript; it remained unplayed and virtually unknown until a few years after her death in 1956, although the first of the two movements was published – slightly altered – in 1912 as the first of Two Portraits Op.5. It’s a lovely work with a rhapsodic first movement and a second that shows the early influence of Bartók’s folk music studies.

The Violin Concerto No.2 was written for Zoltán Székely in Hungary in 1937-8, prior to Bartók’s 1940 move to the United States. The middle movement in particular has a wistful introspection that seems redolent of a beloved but changing country, soon to be left behind forever.

There’s suitably rapturous playing throughout from all involved.

08 Minetti quartetTwo works closely associated with death are featured on Mendelssohn Bartholdy/Schubert, a new CD from the Viennese Minetti Quartett (Hänssler Classic HC18021).

Mendelssohn wrote his String Quartet No.6 in F Minor Op.80 while in the depths of despair after the sudden death of his beloved sister Fanny. All the customary grace and brilliance is there, but with an ever-present sense of brooding and darkness, and a heart-wrenching Adagio third movement.

Schubert’s String Quartet in D Minor D810 “Death and the Maiden” may have been completed in 1826 when Schubert was in a healthier frame of mind, but the first two lengthy movements were written in 1824 when the composer was facing the prognosis of an early death.

From the nervous, unsettled opening of the Mendelssohn through to the final scampering Presto of the Schubert this is wonderfully nuanced, sensitive and passionate playing on a simply outstanding CD.

09 Mendelssohn concertosThere’s more Mendelssohn on Mendelssohn Bartholdy Double Concerto, with violinist Lena Neudauer and pianist Matthias Kirschnereit performing the Concerto in D Minor for Violin, Piano and String Orchestra and Neudauer taking the solo role in the Concerto in D Minor for Violin and String Orchestra (cpo 555 197-2 naxos.com). The Südwestdeutsches Kammerorchester Pforzheim under Timo Handschuh provides the excellent orchestral support.

The Double Concerto is an astonishing work from 1823, when Mendelssohn was only 14. It has a simply gorgeous slow movement and a dazzling Allegro molto finale.

His D Minor Concerto from the previous year lay unknown for 130 years until Yehudi Menuhin discovered and promoted it in 1952. The manuscript contains only sketches for the finale and the version recorded here is a later revision by Mendelssohn, making it difficult to know exactly how much of the original childhood work remains.

Neudauer’s playing is outstanding, with technical assurance and fluency matched with a warm, sensitive tone. Kirschnereit is an excellent partner in the Double Concerto.

10 HenzeFew violinists have greater experience in the contemporary field than Peter Sheppard Skærved, whose new CD Henze Violin and Viola Works features compositions spanning 53 years in the career of the German composer Hans Werner Henze (Naxos 8.573886).

The 1946 Violin Sonata is a lovely piece with a particularly attractive Nocturne second movement. Roderick Chadwick is the pianist for this and two works from 1979, the Pollicino: Violin Sonatina and the quite challenging Viola Sonata which Skærved describes as having an “emotionally shattering quality.”

Skærved worked with Henze on the latter’s Solo Violin Sonata, including the revised version in his 1999 recording of Henze’s unaccompanied works. Here, however, he reverts to the 1977 original, “rough, more violent” version of the work, which he admits to preferring.

Two short unaccompanied pieces for solo violin, both written as memorials to friends, complete the disc: Für Manfred (1989) and Peter Doll zum Abschied (1999).

11 Double Concertos Jan Vogler Mira WangThree concertos for violin and cello are featured on the excellent Double Concertos Brahms/Rihm/Harbison, with violinist Mira Wang and cellist Jan Vogler supported by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra with conductor Peter Oundjian (Sony Classical 19075836752 sonyclassical.de).

Wolfgang Rihm’s single-movement Duo Concerto was written for Wang and Vogler in 2015, its strongly tonal opening setting the scene for a dialogue between the soloists that Rihm describes as a single voice singing to its heart’s content.

John Harbison’s Double Concerto was written for the duo in 2010 and has three movements of quite dissimilar musical language that work from “misunderstandings” to a final close accord.

The Brahms Double Concerto in A Minor Op.102 is the central work on the CD. It’s given a performance that is solid and thoroughly enjoyable.

12 Montenegran duo Bach English SuitesThere’s some superb guitar playing on J. S. Bach English Suites Nos.4-6 Arranged for Two Guitars by the Montenegrin Guitar Duo of Goran Krívokapić and Danijel Cerović (Naxos 8.573676).

The excellent transcriptions are an absolute delight; the playing is warm and bright, with accuracy, agility, articulation, definition and clarity, all beautifully captured by the top-level Naxos team of Norbert Kraft and Bonnie Silver at the St. John Chrysostom Church in Newmarket.

Volume 1 of this outstanding two-CD set is available on Naxos (8.573473).

13 Alan RidoutThe complete 6 String Quartets of the English composer Alan Ridout are available on a new CD from the Coull Quartet (Omnibus Classics CC5014).

Ridout was only 61 when he died in 1996. His quartets, from the last decade of his life, are well-crafted, attractive works with hints of the influence of Shostakovich, Bartók, Tippett and Britten, and more than support the description of Ridout’s music as “always playable, clear to listen to, beautifully fashioned and idiomatically written.”

The Coull Quartet, formed at London’s Royal Academy of Music in 1974 and with two original members still present, gives beautiful performances on a CD which is a significant addition to the 20th-century English string quartet discography.

14 Sarasate 1 4Finally, Naxos has issued the four outstanding volumes of the Sarasate Complete Works for Violin and Piano, featuring the remarkable violinist Tianwa Yang and pianist Markus Hadulla, as a box set (8.504054). The individual CDs were originally released in 2006, 2007, 2012 and 2014, the latter two reviewed in this column in May 2012 and March 2014 respectively.

With a retail price of around $32, this is an excellent and welcome opportunity to acquire a simply terrific series. Hopefully Naxos will do the same with Yang’s equally outstanding four CDs of the Sarasate Complete Music for Violin and Orchestra. 

01 Rea BeaumontCanadian pianist Réa Beaumont’s recording Timeless (Shrinking Planet Productions SP0093 reabeaumont.com) includes works by Philip Glass, John Adams, Srul Irving Glick and others, as well a couple of her own compositions. Beaumont’s program is designed to show how “music changes our perception of time.” John Adams’ China Gates, for example, is composed without a time signature and is one of several whose flow supports the recording’s “Timeless” title.

Toronto Symphony Orchestra affiliate composer Jordan Pal’s Study in White is the longest work on the program. Beaumont brings an impressive sustained energy to the gradually building intensity of this piece before ending it in the blaze of pianistic colour the composer intended. The six Glick Preludes are short. Beaumont plays them with great attention to the inner melodic material that Glick uses against his rhythmic elements. There’s some shared musical language between Glick and Beaumont that becomes evident on comparative listening. It makes her particularly adept at interpreting his music.

Listen to 'Timeless' Now in the Listening Room

02 Brian Finley Preludes to CanadaBrian Finley spent nearly two decades patiently composing the 13 pianistic impressions that comprise his new recording Preludes to Canada (Booth Street Records BSR0002 brianfinley.ca). Experiencing the country from sunrise on the Atlantic coast to sunset on the Pacific, the pieces offer poetic and emotional portrayals of very specific places. Sometimes as localized as A Park Bench in Joliette and Victoria Harbour, the works focus intently on Finley’s personal experiences in these places. Even the more broadly conceived ones like North of 60 and Red River Dreams contain Finley’s unique language formed during many years as a pianist, composer and artistic director of the Westben Arts Festival. He writes with the simple yet mysterious introspection of Satie but is equally capable of enormously powerful orchestral gestures reminiscent of Rachmaninov and Stravinsky. Finley’s music can’t escape the reality that his Canadian experience has been principally shaped by the land. And he aptly opens his notes with words from Emily Carr that describe Canada as “something sublime that you were born into.”

03 Anderson Roe MotherAnderson & Roe are no garden variety piano duo. Their new recording Mother - a musical tribute (SWR Music SWR19058CD swrmusic.de) is ample evidence of their stunning ability to arrange and reinvent well-known tunes in ways that leave you breathless. Covering an established song or piano work always runs the risk of leaving the listener wishing you hadn’t tried in the first place. Anderson & Roe, however, possess the highest form of originality combined with a gob-smacking keyboard technique that reimagines Lennon/McCartney, Paul Simon, Louis Armstrong and Freddie Mercury with both skill and panache.
Their advanced understanding of structure and form in everything imaginable from fugues to gospel blues reveals their deep respect for the material as well as a womb of pure genius in which their arrangements are conceived. Grieg, Dvořák, Schubert and Brahms fare equally well in this duo’s creative hands. You should be running out to get this disc, right about now.

04 LeslieHoward LisztLeslie Howard’s 99-CD set of Liszt’s piano music released in 2011 to mark Liszt’s bicentenary included a three-volume “New Discoveries” series. Continuing scholarly research since then has turned up more manuscripts and other early editions, compelling Howard back into the studio to record a fourth volume for the series, Liszt: New Discoveries Vol. 4 (Hyperion CDA68247 hyperion-records.co.uk).

The disc’s program includes familiar titles appearing as early versions and sketches. Also, there are some tantalizing fragments listed simply as Album-Leaf that offer clues to the origins of some of Liszt’s later thematic ideas.

Leslie Howard writes superb notes for this series and explains why the very substantial opening track is, by far, the most important discovery in this set. Hungarian Rhapsody No.23 S242/23 appears to have been erroneously divided into two halves long ago, because of a formatting difference in the manuscript. Howard presents it in its original extended form.

Scheduled for release in late September, Volume 4 promises to be in high demand for serious Liszt collectors.

05 PavelKolesnikov BeethovenWith a mere handful of recordings in his discography, Pavel Kolesnikov’s regularly glowing reviews make his newest release, Beethoven (Hyperion CDA68237) a highly anticipated event.

Kolesnikov plays the Sonata in C Sharp Minor “Moonlight” Op.27 No.2 with a seductive intimacy that makes you strain to hear every note. Tempi and phrasings may be conventional, but the overall approach is rarely so subdued – it’s very effective. The second movement is quite relaxed before he bursts into blazing speed for the third. It’s an entertaining performance of contrast and high drama.
In the Seven Bagatelles Op.33, Kolesnikov exploits Beethoven’s whimsical technical devices by playing with exceptional lightness, separation and the sharpest staccato. He has a distinctive touch that lends a freshness to familiar repertoire. The program also includes the Piano Sonata in G Major Op.14 No.2, 32 Variations on an original theme in C Minor WoO80 and four unpublished works that will intrigue the curious.

06 HowardShelleyUlsterOrchestra DussekHoward Shelley appears as pianist and conductor with the Ulster Orchestra in his latest recording The Classical Piano Concerto Vol.5 (Hyperion CDA68211). The series is a companion to Hyperion’s earlier one, The Romantic Piano Concerto. You can expect to find all the usual works in this series but it’s interesting to find Jan Ladislav Dussek among the first recordings. As odd as it may sound, hearing music of the period that isn’t either Haydn or Mozart is actually refreshing, if not downright exciting. It sets aside the habitual assumption that those two composers had said it all. Dussek wrote with a natural clarity and showed a refined elegance in his orchestral scoring that comes across as a lightness of character lacking nothing in harmonic richness.

Shelley is a demonstrated master at this genre, having recorded most of his 150 discs with small ensembles and chamber orchestras. His performance of Dussek’s Concerto in G Minor Op.49 is utterly beautiful. The second movement, for example, is wonderfully conceived and emotionally planned, and Shelley’s unerring judgement makes it hard to describe the powerful, moving effect he creates with the ensemble. 

07 Steven OsborneSteven Osborne has a long relationship with Hyperion. After nearly two decades and 27 releases, his most recent, Sergei Rachmaninov Études-tableaux Opp.33 & 39 (Hyperion CDA68188), broadens his discography still further. The Études-tableaux are small compositions over which Rachmaninov admitted spending far more time and effort than his larger-scale works. The composer claimed that such concise expression required a higher degree of economy and precision. And although he discreetly admitted to having general programs in mind for these pieces, he deliberately never revealed them, leaving the music to be heard absolutely.

In this disciplined context, Osborne performs impressively. He’s a very direct player, moving straight to the emotional heart of any given phrase or thematic idea. Moreover, Rachmaninov packs his Études-tableaux with emotion, requiring dramatic changes in expression that Osborne manages masterfully.

08 Jonathan Plowright SukJonathan Plowright’s latest CD Suk: Piano Music (Hyperion CDA68198) features works from a ten-year period bridging the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Josef Suk may be a lesser-known composer, but Plowright shows his music to be of surprising substance. As a pupil (and eventual son-in-law) of Dvořák, Suk’s musical pedigree was superb, though somewhat overshadowed by the critical reception of contemporaries like Janáček.

Plowright understands Suk’s language, capturing his moods and characterizations in an articulate and playful way. Spring Op.22a and Summer Impressions Op.22b are an unfinished attempt at a “Seasons” set, yet reveal the composer’s remarkable gift for portraying time and place in music. Similarly, Plowright performs Piano Pieces Op.7 and Moods Op.10 beautifully, leaving the strong impression that there is an expressive kinship between Suk and his older contemporary Edvard Grieg.

09 Nicolas Horvath Satie 3Among the numerous ways Nicolas Horvath has distinguished himself is with his commitment to the music of Erik Satie. His latest installment in this series, Satie – Complete Piano Works Vol.3 (Grand Piano GP763 grandpianorecords.com) continues his 2014 project using the new Salabert edition. This edition corrects many errors by earlier publishers as well as others arising from Satie’s sometimes lax proofreading. Nearly half the disc includes world premiere recordings of the Salabert edition. Airs á faire fuir No.2, in particular, stands out as the first recording of Satie’s more chromatic revision of an earlier effort. Horvath plays Cosima Wagner’s 1881 Érard with its antique aural charm. In spite of the subtle technical compromises he is forced to make on this instrument, he nevertheless creates a sublimely haunting singing quality with his touch.

10 Alessio Bax Beethoven 5Alessio Bax’s latest recording Beethoven Piano Concerto No.5; Southbank Sinfonia; Simon Oliver (Signum Classics SIGCD525 signumrecords.com) proves how beautiful small can be. The Southbank Sinfonia is a small ensemble of 32 emerging young professionals whose performance with Bax turns the monumental Emperor Concerto into a private and intimate experience. Bax scales back his playing accordingly and brings out the hidden charm sometimes lost in recordings by larger orchestras. The collaboration is more a pas de deux than a traditional contest of strength. It’s an altogether beautiful interpretation.

The disc includes Beethoven’s Contredanses WoO 14, of which the seventh reveals a thematic source for the origin of the Eroica symphony. Bax also plays an early teenage composition (WoO55) deeply reflective of Beethoven’s admiration for Bach, as well as a delightfully crisp Polonaise Op.89.

11 Byron JanisHailed by music writer Harold Schonberg at the peak of his career as “one of the best pianists around today,” American pianist Byron Janis last year celebrated the 70th anniversary of his first recording for RCA at age 19 with the release of Byron Janis Live On Tour (byronjanislive.com). This disc is the first of three planned releases and covers American and European tours from the years 1978 to 1999. Most of the program is Chopin but it also includes some Liszt and Haydn – as well as a piano duo recording with Cy Coleman of Paganini Variations, which begin with the familiar theme but quickly evolve into a jazz and blues style that has the partygoers audibly excited by their originality and brilliance. Disc 2 of the series “Live from Leningrad” will cover the early 60s when Janis was a US Cultural Ambassador helping to start the thaw of the cold war.

12 Liszt 49 Goran FilipecGoran Filipec wears an impressive chestful of medals representing his pianistic achievements. Competitions, concert tours and recordings occupy much of his time and the laudatory reviews that follow him everywhere he performs explain why he appears as one of the distinguished pianists in the Naxos Complete Music of Liszt series. The new addition to this colossal project is Volume 49, Franz Liszt Dances (Naxos 8.53705 naxos.com).

The disc’s program offers an array of dances: valses, csárdás, a mazurka and more. Filipec’s playing is, of course, brilliant. He captures, early on, the mood that Liszt wants to establish for each dance. This is sometimes modal, sometimes purely technical but most often introduces itself as a lyrical idea. Filipec identifies and artfully exploits each access point to the spirit of these dances. His touch is generally light, somehow floating above the keys. But he convincingly delivers bravura and power whenever Liszt requires it.

01 LachrimaeLachrimae John Dowland
Nigel North; Les Voix humaines
ATMA ACD2 2761 (atmaclassique.com)

Nigel North. To whom else would you turn to play the lead lute part in a Renaissance consort? Fifty years of playing and teaching, whether or not for solo lute, continue to enhance his reputation. And so it is that ATMA Classique has engaged North to perform alongside Les Voix humaines, themselves a group of exceptional viol players. 

This CD interleaves Dowland’s seven passionate pavans, those prefaced Lachrimae, with some popular pieces, e.g., Captaine Piper his Galiard. The latter features skillful treble viol playing, belying the idea that this piece can only be played by the Elizabethan consort of six instruments. However, this collection is centred around the pavans. The players’ interpretation of the “usual” Lachrimae incorporates every possible nuance that Dowland could have introduced, North’s lute playing adding to the treble line’s existing intricacies. The introspective Lachrimae is followed by the sprightly Earle of Essex Galiard, giving our minds time to refresh before hearing the next pavan; this model is repeated throughout the CD.

Of course, which pavan is the most meaningful must be in the listener’s mind. Lachrimae Gementes does indeed have a tortuous, drawn-out quality, as does Lachrimae Tristes. Perhaps these two pavans are even more thoughtful than the aforementioned usual Lachrimae. Finally, bear in mind that two of the viols in this recording were created by Henry Jaye in the early-17th and by Barak Norman in the late-17th century. We are in exalted company, not to mention local, as the Jaye treble viol was loaned from Hart House, University of Toronto.

02 Bach baroque flute harpsichordJ.S. Bach – Sonatas for Flute and Harpsichord
Stephen Schultz; Jory Vinikour
Music & Arts CD-1295 (musicandarts.com)

Of the four sonatas on this disc, two are almost certainly by Bach: the B Minor and the A Major. The other two are given as “attributed to Bach.” The case of the E-flat Major is particularly interesting. It used to be attributed to Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel but it has since been established that the work is based on a trio sonata by Quantz. The B Minor sonata is the finest work on this disc with its long-breathed melodies and its large intervals. Schultz and Vinikour are fine players and in the B Minor sonata they are at their best.

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