01 Mahler 6 VanskaMahler – Symphony No.6
Minnesota Orchestra; Osmo Vänskä
Bis BIS-2266 (bis.se)

The enigmatic Sixth of Mahler is one of the “Wunderhorn Symphonies” (Nos.5-7) because each draws its main inspiration from Das Knaben Wunderhorn, Mahler’s most atmospheric and melodic song cycle. But the Sixth stands out because it ends in a minor key; with no triumphant fortissimo ending, it fades out into nothingness.

Hailed as “exacting and exuberant” (New York Times), Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä at the head of the prestigious Minnesota Orchestra is putting his mark on the US’ and the entire world’s music scene with his highly original and compelling interpretations. He has a visceral sense and immediate grasp of the essence of the music and a near hypnotic grip on the orchestra. His revolutionary Beethoven cycle already caused a world sensation and now he is ready to tackle Mahler.

In this superb, spacious BIS recording Vänskä avoids all overt emotional excesses and concentrates on the musical textures and beauties of the score. In fact, in his hands the symphony is not tragic at all, but a strong affirmation of life. He leads us through a remarkable journey: the relentless, terrifying military march that dominates the first movement is relieved by a magnificent love theme (inspired by Mahler’s beloved wife Alma) into an idyllic realm of an alpine meadow, cows grazing and village church bells ringing in the distance. The Andante is one of Mahler’s heavenly creations, but military madness returns as a demonic 3/4 time Scherzo punctuated with piercing and agonizing shrieks. The 32-minute Finale is an incredible piece of music that culminates in those three giant hammer blows, the power of fate that ultimately destroys man, sure, but after what a journey and what a struggle!

02 Hanging GardensHanging Gardens – Debussy; Berg; Webern; Schoenberg
Jacob Greenberg; Tony Arnold
New Focus Recordings FCR 192 (newfocusrecordings.com)

If one went by the names on the cover of pianist Jacob Greenberg’s two-disc set Hanging Gardens, one might wonder if Debussy were the odd man out. After all, of the four composers featured Debussy was the impressionist, while Schoenberg, Berg and Webern were pioneers of the Second Viennese School, not only tending towards expressionist painting but also favouring an atonal approach to harmonic conception. However, the connection between the four men is deep and born of the desire to look beyond mainstream Western traditions as a way of expanding the vocabulary of music, the vividness of Symbolist poetry and above all an overwhelming sense of the elemental beauty of indeterminate harmonies.

The centerpiece of this repertoire is Schoenberg’s Das Buch der hängenden Gärten, a song cycle based on the poetry of German Symbolist poet Stefan George. The work is a telling illustration of Schoenberg’s search for new modes of expression, which though unified poetically, tend to complete a musical statement within the frame of a miniature, with miniatures succeeding one another without developing a broad narrative pattern. But Greenberg shapes this work, as Schoenberg himself declared writing it: seeking beauty and sacrificing everything to it with the ripples of atonality and dissonance that come with it. Tony Arnold’s agile, luminous soprano voice is ideal and sings with power and subtlety. The Berg Sonata Opus 1 with traces of Liszt and – unsurprisingly – Schoenberg, manipulates tiny fragments of melody and rhythm into a statement dense with dramatic gesture and emotional power. And Webern’s Variations Op.27 are packed with incident and crafted like an overture, which enhances its dramatic potential.

Greenberg appears to be ever the outstanding interpreter of fin de siècle French piano music and his wonderfully lucid and fluent pianism seems perfectly suited to Debussy’s quicksilver imagination. His accounts of both the Études and Préludes are astonishing. The Préludes indicate an affinity with the allusive world of the composer’s Images from several years earlier. The Études are more technically demanding and Greenberg, with marvellous gradations of dynamics and timbre, seems perfectly suited to this, Debussy’s most macroscopic piano music.

Violoncelle Français
Cheng² Duo
Audite 97.6987

Violonchelo del Fuego
Cheng² Duo
Audite 97.7366
(audite.de/en/ensemble/127-cheng_duo_duo)

03a Cheng2duo FrancaiseHaving heard the best of the best during more than 60 years of frequent concertgoing, I’m not easily impressed, but four years ago, when I first heard the Cheng² (Cheng Squared) Duo, I was thrilled by their prodigious virtuosity and impassioned expressivity. Cellist Bryan Cheng was then all of 16, pianist Silvie Cheng in her early 20s. I was thrilled again this past August when the brother-and-sister pair from Ottawa performed at the Toronto Summer Music Festival. Bryan combines a dark, robust tone with jaw-dropping bravura, while Silvie creates an extraordinarily varied palette of keyboard colours that enhance her imaginative, nuanced phrasing. Together, they offer remarkably fresh approaches to familiar music, making their first two CDs so very special.

The major works on Violoncelle Français, the Cello Sonatas of Claude Debussy and César Franck, are performed with unusual extremes of moody introspection and rhapsodic abandon. I’d grown tired of hearing the Franck, whether in the original version for violin or Jules Delsart’s cello transcription, but the Duo’s revelatory re-invention of this much-performed work, with myriad subtleties of tempo, dynamics, phrasing and tonal colour, surprised and delighted me.               

The CD also includes five encore-style selections, Saint-Saëns’s Allegro Appasssionato and The Swan, and three well-loved pieces by Gabriel Fauré that receive especially loving treatments – Pablo Casals’ arrangement of the song Après un Rêve and two works originally for cello and piano, Élégie and Sicilienne, both subsequently orchestrated by Fauré.

03b Cheng2duo FuegoMore encore pieces, arrangements of familiar music by Spanish composers Granados, Albéniz, Sarasate and de Falla, appear on Violonchelo del Fuego. Bryan says: “Arrangements open up a whole new world of possibilities, and you’ll hear that at times I will strum like a guitar or Silvie’s playing will imitate castanets.” “Playing” is the appropriate word for their playful, exuberant approach to this music.

Brian and Silvie add expressive embellishments to Maurice Gendron’s transcription of de Falla’s Siete canciones populares españolas, reflecting their desire to convey the meanings of the songs’ words. Bryan has also arranged the second song of the cycle, Seguidilla murciana, omitted from most instrumental arrangements, including Gendron’s. He says: “A lot of the idiosyncrasies in articulation, vibrato and colour are based on the vocal originals of these songs. It was my goal to really make the cello sing and speak as a dramatic singer would.” The results are truly exhilarating!

This wonderful CD also affords Bryan and Silvie the chance to shine as individuals, in Gaspar Cassadó’s virtuosic Suite for solo cello and Joaquín Turina’s evocative Exaltación for piano. Though only in their 20s, both Bryan and Silvie are already world-class, performing separately and together at major international venues and festivals. I can’t – and won’t – stop raving about them.

01 DohnanyiThe chamber music of the Hungarian composer Ernő Dohnányi is featured in outstanding performances by the Nash Ensemble on a new Hyperion CD (CDA68215 hyperion-records.co.uk).

Dohnányi was a central figure in Hungarian musical life in the 1930s, but unfounded Nazi sympathiser accusations by the post-war Communist government essentially destroyed his reputation. It was not until the 1990s that it began to recover.

The works here are from three periods of Dohnányi’s career. The Serenade in C major for string trio Op.10 is an early work, inventive, masterful and humorous. The String Quartet No.3 in A Minor Op.33 is a nationalistic and modernist work from 1926, the composer having returned to Hungary from Berlin at the start of the First World War.

The absolute gem here, though, is the Sextet in C major for piano, clarinet, horn and string trio Op.37 from 1935, the last chamber work Dohnányi completed. It’s absolutely stunning, with writing that’s brilliant and passionate throughout – at times overwhelmingly so. The incredible performance here simply takes your breath away.

02 Mozart Piano QuartetsPianist Joyce Yang joins members of the Alexander String Quartet – violinist Zakarias Grafilo, violist Paul Yarbrough and cellist Sandy Wilson – in Apotheosis: Mozart Vol.2 The Piano Quartets (Foghorn Classics CD2018 FoghornClassics.com). Volume 1 featured the Late String Quartets, and Volume 3 will feature the Late Quintets.

Mozart was not the first to write quartets for piano and strings, but his two contributions – the Piano Quartet in G Minor K478 and Piano Quartet in E-flat Major K493 from 1785 and 1786 respectively – are the first two great works in the genre. They are given simply beautiful performances here, with sensitive, expressive playing all round. The outstanding Yang plays with crystal-clear articulation and a fine sense of melodic line and phrase; the string playing – as one would expect from this ensemble founded in 1981 – is warm and stylish, with generous but never excessive vibrato.

The recorded sound, ambience and balance are all that you could wish for.

03 Kashkashian BachThere’s another quite outstanding set of the Bach Cello Suites in the version for viola on J. S. Bach Six Suites for Viola Solo BWV1007-1012 with American violist Kim Kashkashian (ECM New Series ECM2553/54 ecmrecords.com). The viola is tuned an octave above the cello, so this arrangement, while not altering the music’s physical relation with the instrument, creates a different range of tonal colour.

Kashkashian plays a modern viola by Stefan-Peter Greiner and – for Suite V – a 1989 five-string viola by Francesco Bissolotti. Both instruments have a glowing, lustrous tone.

Kashkashian plays these dance suites with an unerring sense of movement, with faultless technique, and with warmth, flexibility, smoothness and a controlled emotionality that mines the depths of these remarkable creations.

04 Benda ViolaThree viola concertos usually attributed to the 18th-century German composer Georg Benda but now believed by the soloist here to be by Benda’s nephew are presented on Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Benda Viola Concertos 1-3 (cpo 555 167-2 naxosdirect.com/items/benda-viola-concertos-nos.-1-3-455473). The Quebec-born violist Jean-Eric Soucy is the soloist with the SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiberg under Bernard Labadie, with whom Soucy was a co-founder of Les Violins du Roy.

Soucy’s excellent notes trace the intricate but fascinating research journey that led to his opinion regarding the true source of these concertos. They’re simply lovely works which Soucy rightly calls magnificent additions to the viola repertoire.

Concerto No.1 is in F Major; Concerto Nos. 2 and 3 are in E-flat Major. Soucy plays with a lovely warm tone, agility and clear articulation. Labadie creates a perfect setting for him, with the delicate harpsichord sound in particular adding to a transparent orchestral texture to create a perfect period feel.

05 IsserlisThe always outstanding Steven Isserlis plays works by Chopin, Schubert and Franchomme on Chopin & Schubert Sonatas with pianist Dénes Várjon (Hyperion CDA68227 hyperion-records.co.uk). Isserlis is one of the most insightful and intelligent cellists around, and his warm, expansive playing is evident from the opening work, Chopin’s Introduction and Polonaise brillante in C Major Op.3.

Chopin met the French cellist Auguste Franchomme in Paris and the two became close associates, the latter joining Chopin in the premiere performance of the Cello Sonata in G Minor Op.65, the last work published in Chopin’s lifetime. Isserlis, in his customary insightful booklet notes, describes Franchomme’s Nocturne in C Minor Op.15 No.1 as a nice bridge from the youthful Chopin to the inward-looking composer of the late, dark sonata. There’s impassioned playing by Isserlis and Várjon in the Chopin Cello Sonata, especially in the lengthy opening movement.

The Schubert work is the Arpeggione Sonata in A Minor D821. The arpeggione, sometimes called the cello-guitar, was a fretted instrument held between the knees and played with a bow. It was an awkward invention that would probably be forgotten by now were it not for this sonata; certainly its awkwardness isn’t reflected in Schubert’s music.

Two songs in transcriptions by Isserlis complete the CD: Chopin’s Nie ma czego trzeba Op.74 No.13; and Schubert’s Nacht und Träume D827.

06 Gerscheim CelloI don’t recall ever hearing any music by the German late-Romantic composer Friedrich Gernsheim (1839-1916), so the new CD of his Complete Cello Sonatas with cellist Alexander Hülshoff and pianist Oliver Triendl came as a welcome – and pleasant – surprise (cpo 555 054-2 naxosdirect.com/items/gernsheim-complete-cello-sonatas-455471).

This is the first recording of all three of Gernsheim’s cello sonatas, presented here along with two short pieces for cello and piano. The Sonata No.3 in E Minor Op.87 was a direct result of Gernsheim’s dissatisfaction with the Sonata No.2 in E Minor Op.79 from 1906, the composer reworking the finale in 1914 and replacing the original first two movements with completely new ones. The Sonata No.1 in D Minor Op.12 is an early work from 1868 that still inhabits the world of Mendelssohn.

That Gernsheim could clearly write beautiful slow movements is amply illustrated by the two short works here. The Andante in D Major Op.64bis from 1898 is a transcription of the Brahmsian slow movement from the Violin Sonata Op.64, and Elohenu – Hebraic biblical song from1881 was inspired by Max Bruch’s Kol Nidrei for cello from the previous year.

Hülshoff is noted for his “great expressive force and a powerful, warm and nuanced tone,” says the booklet bio, and these works certainly afford him every opportunity to display those qualities. For his part, Triendl handles the ferociously difficult piano writing with a commanding assurance.

07 Goldschmidt ReizensteinVoices in the Wilderness – Cello Concertos by Exiled Jewish Composers is the subtitle of another cpo cello CD, Reizenstein & Goldschmidt Cello Concertos, with Rafael Wallfisch and the Konzerthausorchester Berlin led by Nicholas Milton (cpo 555 109-2 naxosdirect.com/items/goldschmidt-reizenstein-cello-concertos-455472). The same performers were featured on an earlier release of cello concertos by Hans Gál and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco.

Both Franz Reizenstein and Berthold Goldschmidt fled Berlin for England in the mid-1930s, but while the 32-year-old Goldschmidt arrived as a mature composer the 23-year-old Reizenstein was still keen to continue studying, which allowed him to find a place in British musical development that eluded Goldschmidt.

Reizenstein’s concerto was written in 1936, two years after his arrival, but not heard until its premiere in 1951 with cellist William Pleeth. In almost all respects – thematic material, harmony, orchestration – it absolutely screams Hindemith, with whom Reizenstein studied in Berlin, but there are also touches of Vaughan Williams, Reizenstein’s teacher in England.

Goldschmidt’s concerto was written for William Pleeth in 1953, using material from a lost pre-war cello sonata he had written for Emanuel Feuermann. Goldschmidt conducted the 1954 premiere with Pleeth as soloist.

Wallfisch has a strong personal connection to these works: his German musician parents also settled in England and knew both composers as well as Hans Gál. His performances of these two fascinating but rarely-heard works are quite outstanding.

08 Inbal SegevThe Chopin Cello Sonata comes paired with works by Robert Schumann and Edvard Grieg on a new Avie Records CD with Israeli-American cellist Inbal Segev and Finnish pianist Juho Pohjonen (AV2389 avie-records.com).

While all three works are by Romantic-era composers whose musical thinking was shaped instinctively by the piano, Segev notes that they “focus on the cello’s lyrical properties and I feel that here a beautiful tone is of paramount importance.” That’s certainly what we get from her 1673 Francesco Ruggieri instrument in a rich and passionate performance.

The Schumann 3 Fantasiestücke Op.73 were originally written for clarinet and piano and were transcribed for cello by the composer.

Grieg’s Cello Sonata in A Minor Op.36 is full of the folk-inspired melodies so typical of the composer. The cello writing is comparatively straightforward, but the sonata has a simply huge and challenging piano part that at times sounds like Grieg’s Piano Concerto. The Scandinavian Pohjonen is in his element here, and quite superb. Segev’s playing in the really beautiful slow movement is absolutely gorgeous.

A really nice ambience and instrumental balance complement an excellent CD.

09 Gounod BookletString quartets may not be what immediately spring to mind when you hear the name Charles Gounod, but he wrote five, two of which remained unpublished. All five are recorded together for the first time on the 2CD set Gounod: Complete String Quartets (Aparté AP177 apartemusic.com). The Quatuor Cambini-Paris performs on period instruments.

The quartets are: No.1 in C Major CG561, No.2 in A Major CG562, No.3 in F Major CG563, No.4 in A Minor CG564, and No.5 in G Minor CG565. They are very much in the Viennese tradition, and while perhaps not sounding particularly French, are clearly well-crafted and highly entertaining. Performances are top-notch, with a resonant recorded ambience.

10 MacMillanThe Polish ensemble the Royal String Quartet plays String Quartets Nos.1-3 by the 59-year-old Sir James MacMillan on a new Hyperion CD (CDA68196 hyperion-records.co.uk).

String Quartet No.1 Visions of a November Spring, written in 1988 and revised in 1991, is described as displaying a sense of lyricism in the face of aggressive turbulence; MacMillan calls it “sheer frenzy, craziness.”

String Quartet No.2 Why is this night different? from 1998 takes its inspiration from the question Jewish children ask on Seder Night. Running a fine line between elation and anguish, it creates a feeling of celebration against a perilous backdrop.

String Quartet No.3 from 2007 marked a return to absolute music – “Just the notes and nothing but the notes,” said the composer – but if anything is more approachable and effective than the previous two. The quite beautiful final movement marked Patiently and painfully slow ends with a high, quiet, ethereal and striking soundscape.

Performances and recording quality are all first class.

11 Dodgson TriosStephen Dodgson String Trios, which includes Works for Solo Violin, Solo Viola and Solo Cello, features music by the English composer, who died in 2013 at the age of 89 (Naxos 8.573856 naxos.com). Three members of the UK chamber ensemble Karolos – violinist Harriet Mackenzie, violist Sarah-Jane Bradley and cellist Graham Walker – are the excellent performers.

The two string trios, from 1951 and 1964 respectively, act as bookends on the CD around the brief Sonatina in B Minor for Solo Violin from 1963, the 1978 solo viola set of variations Caprice after Puck and the lengthy Partita for Solo Cello from 1985. These are all predominantly tonal works with fine writing, the slow movements of the two trios being particularly attractive.

All but the String Trio No.2 are world premiere recordings.

01 Southam SoundspinningChristina Petrowska Quilico’s new recording Soundspinning – Music of Ann Southam (Centrediscs CMCCD 26018 musiccentre.ca) brings her discography to nearly 50 CDs and adds another item to the Canadian Music Centre’s already enormous collection of recorded Canadian works. Petrowska Quilico and Southam were close friends and frequent collaborators. Their relationship has given Petrowska Quilico a unique point of access to Southam’s world and established her as a respected interpreter of Southam’s piano compositions.

The repertoire on the disc includes five cycles of miniatures, many of which are based on a 12-tone row that Southam used extensively. But the recording also includes two “Bluesy” sets, Three in Blue and Five Shades of Blue, that are particularly intriguing for their obvious reflection of jazz influences. All of them are delightfully playful creations that Petrowska Quilico plays with superb technique and unbridled joy.

The most substantial item is Altitude Lake, written in 1963. It provides a considerable contrast to the shorter pieces on the rest of the disc. As a larger conception it comes across as episodic and complex. Petrowska Quilico spends generous amounts of time exploiting Southam’s technique of sustained resonances and dramatic contrast. Remembering Schubert is of nearly equal length but more meditative. Southam uses a Schubert-like figure strongly reminiscent of an art song accompaniment to cycle through numerous tone row wanderings.

Soundspinning is an important recorded document in the compilation of Southam’s piano works and is masterfully performed by Petrowska Quilico.

02 Lucille Chung LisztCanadian pianist Lucille Chung has released her 11th recording, Liszt (Signum Classics SIGCD533 signumrecords.com), that includes a variety of short works before launching into the Sonata in B Minor S178. Chung writes a portion of the liner notes to explain her personal understanding of Liszt’s music as it has evolved over her career. The B Minor Sonata reveals, for Chung, the composer’s mature voice and dispenses with the extravagant scale of virtuosic pianism often found in his earlier writing. Her argument acknowledges that the sonata in Liszt’s hands is an evolutionary new form but also stresses that he is stripping away the “razzle-dazzle” in favour of his introspective quest.

Consequently, Chung takes every opportunity to explore the moments of repose with softer touch, intimacy and plenty of hesitation. She brings a different kind of intensity to the sonata than is usually heard, one with less bombast – but not less impact. She sets out to play the sonata with a different intent, to explore the depths rather than conquer the heights. Her playing is brilliant and entirely up to the technical demands of the piece. Her new appreciation of the composer’s personal presence in the music makes the sonata, despite her lifelong acquaintance with it, entirely fresh and alive.

03 Schumann PerspectivesLuisa Guembes-Buchanan’s new 2CD set Robert Schumann – Perspectives (Del Aguila Records DA 55312 luisagbuchanan.com) is going to attract a lot of attention for several reasons. Guembes-Buchanan plays with a remarkably wide expressive range. She embraces every opportunity that Kinderszenen Op.15 gives for imitate expression and pulls the music deeply into a very private place. It’s an amazing effect that’s supported by very close and clean recording. She performs on a Fazioli 228, which is a little smaller than a full concert grand. It has a harmonically rich bass and mid-range, and suits this repertoire and the performer’s playing style extremely well.

Guembes-Buchanan explodes into the opening segment of Kreisleriana Op.16 with breathtaking technique. She brings this level of energy to all the fast movements in this cycle, creating a stark contrast to the atmosphere of Kinderszenen.

The second disc includes the Sonata Op.22 in G Minor and the Faschingsschwank aus Wien Op. 26. In the latter, Guembes-Buchanan plays the Scherzino with an arresting lightness and the Finale with another demonstration of her raw keyboard power. She also includes some rarely heard fragments from Schumann’s papers to conclude the disc.

The whole package is set in a beautifully bound book with photographs of letters, manuscripts and other historical images along with quotes by prominent pianists, and pertinent liner notes for the program.

04 WeinbergMeiczyslaw Weinberg – Piano Sonatas Opp 8, 49bis, 56 (Deutschlandfunk Kultur CPO 555 104-2 naxosdirect.com/items/weinberg-piano-sonatas-opp.-8-49bis-56-448637) is the fourth recording in Elisaveta Blumina’s project to record the piano works of this Russian composer. Although Polish-born, Weinberg’s writing strongly reflects his upbringing and education under the Soviet regime. Centralized authorities are threatened by creative expressions that challenge broadly imposed norms on a society, and for Weinberg this meant finding ways to work within established constraints without drawing too much official criticism that might derail his career and livelihood. Consequently, Weinberg and other composers struggled to find ways of expressing their modernism that would sustain their efforts in the long term rather than jeopardize them. Weinberg’s music is a fascinating example of how this compromise was struck. His writing uses traditional forms with a strong tonal centre that includes some careful exploration of unconventional melodic lines. There’s a hint of atonality but nothing jarring. His rhythmic structures are largely traditional but open to extended experimentation.

Blumina chooses three sonatas that offer a clear picture of Weinberg’s development. The earliest is Sonata No.2 Op.8 in A Minor written in 1942. Its beautiful melodic ideas are plentiful and their development easy to follow. The latest in the set is from 1978. The Sonata Op.49bis shows a general disregard for the caution and compromise in the earlier work. Here, angular clusters of dissonant notes freely interrupt melodic ideas that themselves are only distantly related. Blumina plays this sonata with all the boldness and discontent that Weinberg wrote into it. Her performance is powerfully intriguing.

05 Shi An Costello Rounded BinaryShi-An Costello has a new recording that is more a concept than a performance. Rounded Binary – Preludes and Fugues of J.S. Bach and Dmitri Shostakovich (Blue Griffin Records BGR463 bluegriffin.com) finds relationships in works from very different historical periods and links them to explore that kinship. J.S. Bach is the launch point for the experiment and Dmitri Shostakovich is the destination. Costello first plays Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C Major BWV846 at a conventional speed, then repeats the Prelude at four times the speed and just a fragment of the Fugue at half speed. Here he makes the transition to the Shostakovich Prelude in A Minor Op.87 which uses the same rhythmic pattern as the Bach prelude and is now familiar because of the high-speed version of the Bach on a previous track.

Costello explores other linkages that include the shared emotional world of Schumann’s Träumerei and the Bach C-major fugue already heard. He also ties together another pair of works by Bach and Shostakovich. Mostly interestingly, he steps more fully into his role as composer/performer in a combination of the now-familiar Bach Prelude in C Major BWV846 and the Shostakovich Prelude in C Major Op.87, blending the harmonic progression of the latter with the rhythmic patterns of the former.

It’s a creatively curious exercise and should spark some discussion among cognoscenti.

06 Matei Varga Early DeparturesMatei Varga’s latest recording Early Departures (sonoluminus.nativedsd.com/albums/DSL92223-early-departures) pays homage to pianists who died young and whose potential remained unfulfilled. Not all the names in the program are well known. Varga’s performance of their work is a welcome document on great talents we might have watched grow into towering maturity. Tudor Dumitrescu, for example, killed at the age of 19 in the 1997 earthquake that struck Bucharest, was, by a few recorded accounts, another Van Cliburn. His 7 Preludes, Preludes in C Sharp Minor and B Minor are heartfelt works revealing a fluid writing style, and profound understanding of his instrument. His emotional maturity is striking. Regardless of whether his future would have evolved as a composer or a performer, the world is poorer for having lost him.

Dinu Lipatti lived to age 33. While he made his reputation principally as a brilliant performer, his deeper desire was to compose. His 15 works represent a variety of forms. Among his piano compositions are two works included on this disc as world premiere recordings: The Little Suite: Prelude, WoO B.35 and the Sonata Romantica, WoO B.13.

Another dimension of early loss is the grief of surviving parents. Hence Varga’s inclusion of Janáček’s In The Mists. The composer wrote this brief four-movement suite in the wake of his 21-year-old daughter’s death from typhoid fever.

Varga appropriately includes J.S. Bach’s serenely simple Adagio from the Concerto in D Minor, BWV 974 as the closing track in this homage.

07 Messiaen OrganOrganist Tom Winpenny plays the organ of Église Saint-Martin, Luxembourg in his latest recording, Messiaen – Livre d’orgue (Naxos 8.573845 naxos.com). The instrument dates from 1912 and is a synthesis of the German symphonic and French Romantic organ-building styles. It’s a big instrument with 85 ranks over 5 divisions.

Winpenny’s choice for the opening track is the Verset pour la Fête de la Dédicace. Messiaen composed it in 1960 as a test piece for the Paris Conservatory. While it opens with a plainsong Alleluia, the piece is intended as an essay in birdsong. Winpenny has a field day pulling the organ’s most colourful stops for the effects the composer wanted. This recording of it is a world premiere, as is the CD’s final track, the Love Theme from Tristan and Isolde which Messiaen wrote as incidental music for a play.

The Livre d’orgue is as challenging for the listener as it is for the performer. Its seven movements require more than just impressive keyboard technique. The registration demands (orchestral colours) are complex and nearly overwhelming. Computerized, programmable registration is a welcome feature and this instrument has it. Winpenny masters the technical issues as well as the intellectual ones. Multiple thematic lines of varying tempi, texture and structure challenge the ear, especially with music that is starkly out of its ecclesiastical context. Nothing here for the faint of heart.

08 Ukrainian RhapsodyAnna and Dmitri Shelest make a welcome return to this column with their latest recording, Ukrainian Rhapsody (Sorel Classics SC CD 011 sorelmusic.org/Sorel/Recordings). As a piano duo they occupy less than half the disc, giving the majority of the program to Anna alone for some rarely heard works by Ukrainian composers. Mykola Lysenko, an avid collector of Ukrainian folk music, wrote the Suite on Ukrainian Themes Op.2 on the model of the Baroque dance suite. Its Toccata and Scherzo are particularly impressive for the relentless energy and sparkle Anna Shelest brings to them. While more contemporary, Levko Revutsky’s voice is still post-Romantic with the exception of his highly attractive Waltz in B-flat Minor. Anna recognizes the modern twists in the piece and lets it lean a little in the direction of music theatre.

The really impressive tracks on the disc are the Three Extravagant Dances for piano four hands by Myroslav Skoryk. With fancifully cumbersome titles like Blues: Almost American, Can-Can: as from an Old Gramophone Plate, and Entrance and Dance: Almost Spanish-Moorish, these three pieces are huge. The writing is big, dense and loud – very loud. This is raw pianism and as thrilling as four hands performance can get. Be warned – it will knock you right off your seat!

01 Fantasia IncantataFantasia Incantata
Ensemble Libro Primo; Sabine Stoffer; Alex McCartney
Veterum Musica VM018 (veterummusica.com)

In the 17th century shortly before the unfettered Baroque genius of J.S. Bach began to unfold, the violin consolidated its position as expressively the most wide-ranging of non-keyboard instruments. In the age of the great violin makers – Amati and Stradivari – and performers such as Corelli, Italy was the centre of instrumental prowess and the art of improvising, referred to in the treatise Musurgia universalis by the highly respected pedagogue of the day, Athanasius Kircher.

And among the finest composers and virtuosos of the day was Heinrich Biber, with whose lesser-known Sonata IV the eloquent duo of violinist Sabine Stoffer and theorboist Alex McCartney close their remarkable Fantasia Incantata. Released both on CD and vinyl – an infinitely more rewarding experience for the audiophile – this album of Renaissance sinfonies, sonatas, aires, and other period songs and dances is a riveting account of music of the day, where improvisation was key to the prevailing sense of musical adventure and joie de vivre tempered by the amazing sonorities of violin and theorbo.

Biber’s Sonata IV is preceded by performances of music by violinists Giovanni Buonaventura Viviani, Nicola Matteis, Biagio Marini, Giovanni Antonio Pandolfi Mealli and theorboist Giovanni Girolamo Kapsperger. All the works were written as vehicles for those instrumentalists’ own prodigious virtuosity. As treated here by Stoffer and McCartney, they are stunning, highly inventive and the finest examples today of technically demanding works played with ease. Both play as though they have this music in their veins, so assured and full of flair are these performances.

02 DevienneFrançois Devienne – Flute Concerto No.13; Symphonies concertante for two flutes; Giovanni Battista Viotti – Violin Concerto No.23 (transcribed for flute)
Patrick Gallois; Per Flemstrøm; Swedish Chamber Orchestra
Naxos 8.573697 (naxos.com)

Here are two composers who deserve a wide audience. Devienne’s training comprised service with a French army regiment, the orchestra of the Opéra in Paris and the chamber orchestra of a French cardinal. In 1782, aged 23, Devienne made his first solo appearance, probably performing his own Flute Concerto No.1.

It is this and Devienne’s 12 subsequent flute concertos that Patrick Gallois has undertaken and now completed with the current release. After a vigorous Allegro, Gallois interprets the Romance: Andante with a sensitivity enhanced by the accompanying strings. Another Allegro movement concludes this lively interpretation of Devienne’s final flute concerto.

At this point, Per Flemstrøm joins Gallois in Devienne’s Symphonies concertante Nos.3 and 6. This is bittersweet, as Flemstrøm died in 2017: the CD is dedicated to his memory and his spirited flute playing becomes apparent in the Allegro of No.6. More studied is his interpretation of the Moderato in No.3, played with thoughtfulness and feeling.

And then there is Giovanni Battista Viotti, back to Gallois as soloist aided by his own cadenzas. This is perhaps the most demanding composition on this CD, with its complex scoring in both the opening Allegro and the concluding Rondo: Allegro. It is, in fact, the string section that creates the more intense quality of this concerto as a whole.

All in all, a display of the overlooked talents of Devienne and Viotti – and a worthy tribute to Per Flemstrøm.

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