01 Time EternitySpace restrictions make it difficult to fully describe Time & Eternity, the remarkable new CD from the brilliant and visionary violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja with Camerata Bern (Alpha Classics ALPHA 545 naxosdirect.com). This is the fifth in a series of “staged concerts,” a concept that Kopatchinskaja has been developing since 2016, and her second with this ensemble, of which she has been artistic director since autumn 2018.

Described as “music made out of the blood and tears of tortured souls,” the core works are the Concerto funèbre by Karl Amadeus Hartmann, written in 1939 in response to the Nazi outrages, and Frank Martin’s violin concerto Polyptyque, inspired by six 14th-century altar panels of the Passion of Christ.

That barely scratches the surface of a continuous performance that often feels like a religious service: there’s John Zorn’s solemn and moving Kol Nidre; contributions by cantors and Polish and Russian Orthodox priests; song; and, around and between the six Polyptyque movements, the Kyrie from Machaut’s Messe de Nostre Dame, transcriptions of five Bach chorales and – in place of the Crucifixion panel that Martin omitted – Luboš Fišer’s pain-laden Crux for violin, timpani and bells.

It’s an enthralling and emotional journey from the opening spoken Kol Nidre to the fading tolling bell of the final track, with faultless performances from all involved.

02 BoismortierThe Canadian violinist Olivier Brault is Professor of Baroque Violin at McGill University and has been active in the Baroque music world for over 30 years. In 2007 he completed a doctorate on French music for violin and figured bass, so it’s no surprise to find that his new CD, Boismortier Sonates pour Violon Op.20, beautifully performed here by Sonate 1704, the ensemble Brault formed in 2003 with Dorothéa Ventura on harpsichord and Mélisande Corriveau on bass viol, is an absolute gem (Analekta AN 2 8769 analekta.com/en).

The six sonatas by the French composer Joseph Bodin de Boismortier were published in Paris in 1727, and while they show the increasing influence of Italian violin playing, the French style is still much in evidence, especially in the use of dance movements, with Giga, Corrente, Gavotta, Allemande and Sarabanda accounting for more than half of the movements.

Warm, sparkling playing of richly inventive works makes for an immensely satisfying CD.

03 Tetzlaff Beethoven SibeliusYou can always count on violinist Christian Tetzlaff for something insightful and challenging, and so it proves to be again in Beethoven and Sibelius Violin Concertos, his new CD with Robin Ticciati and the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin (Ondine ODE 1334-2 naxos.com/).

Tetzlaff has recorded both concertos before, but clearly feels he has more to say – or to add, perhaps – this time around. Quite striking, given our being accustomed to the Auer, Joachim and Kreisler cadenzas, is the use of the first movement cadenza with added timpani that Beethoven wrote for his transcription for piano and orchestra, as well as cadenzas and ornamentation by Beethoven in the other two movements (again presumably back-sourced from the piano version, as there were none in the original violin score), although Tetzlaff says in the booklet conversation that he has never done it differently.

Insightful comments on both the Beethoven and Sibelius help to illuminate his approach to their performance and both the physical and intellectual demands. The performers are clearly of one mind in engrossing, intelligent and deeply satisfying performances.

04 Bacewicz Complete ViolinAnnabelle Berthomé-Reynolds is the soloist on Bacewicz Complete Violin Sonatas, with pianist Ivan Donchev joining her in a 2-CD recital of works by the Polish composer Grażyna Bacewicz (muso mu-032 muso.mu).

Bacewicz was an outstanding violinist as well as a more than capable pianist, and numbered seven violin concertos, seven string quartets and concertos for piano, viola and cello in her output. The five numbered sonatas for violin and piano span the period 1945-1951, with the Partita for Violin and Piano following in 1955. All display a high level of both structural assurance and familiarity with the technical and expressive potential of the instruments.

There are also two powerful Sonatas for Solo Violin – the clearly Bach-inspired No.1 from 1941, written in Nazi-occupied Warsaw, and the quite progressive No.2 from 1958, with its haunting Adagio and brief but dazzlingly virtuosic final Prelude, described in the excellent booklet notes as a “breathtaking frenzy of double-note glissandi spiccato.”

Engrossing performances make for an exceptional set. 

05 Weinberg Complete Solo Viola SonatasAnother exceptional 2-CD set of complete works is Miecysław Weinberg Complete Sonatas for Solo Viola in quite superb performances by Viacheslav Dinerchtein (Solo Musica SM 310 naxosdirect.com).

The four numbered sonatas were composed between 1971 and 1983, and are issued here in a centenary edition in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth.

Weinberg’s music continues to be reassessed and promoted, and outstanding releases like this one will clearly help to cement his standing in 20th-century music.

06 Tessa LarkThe American violinist Tessa Lark makes a stunning solo CD debut with Fantasy, a selection of fantasies and rhapsodies from four centuries (First hand Records FHR86 firsthandrecords.com).

Three of Telemann’s 12 Fantasias for Solo ViolinNo.1 in B-flat, No.4 in D and No.5 in A – are spread throughout the disc, with Lark’s own Appalachian Fantasy providing a breathtaking display of virtuosic fiddling in her native Kentucky tradition, reworking the Schubert song that opens his Fantasie in C Major and melding it with tunes from Appalachia. Pianist Amy Yang joins Lark for an outstanding performance of the Schubert Fantasie, as well as for Fritz Kreisler’s Viennese Rhapsodic Fantasietta – Lark producing ravishing tone and perfect style – and a simply dazzling and passionate performance of Ravel’s Tzigane – Rhapsodie de concert.

It’s a recital of the highest calibre.

07 Yorick Alexander AbelCellist Yorick-Alexander Abel is outstanding in Hommage à Pablo Casals, a program honouring the legendary Catalan cellist (Naxos 8.551418 naxos.com).

Two of Abel’s own improvisations – Prélude “Lampes de Sagesse” (Lamps of Wisdom) from 2000 and Prélude “Sagesse Amérindienne” (Native American Wisdom) from 2010 – frame a fine performance of Bach’s Suite in G Major BWV1007.

The Suite Per Violoncel Sol “A Pau Casals” is a striking work in remembrance of his older brother written by Casals’ violinist/composer younger brother in 1973, the year of Pablo’s death. Arthur Honegger’s brief Paduana from 1945 and Pablo Casals’ own Cant dels Ocells (Song of the Birds), based on a Catalan Christmas song, round out a memorable CD.

There are two excellent string quartet CDs from Alpha Classics this month, both featuring Mozart’s String Quartet No.15 in D Minor K421 and with little to choose between them.

08 Quatuor Voce Mozart SchubertQuatuor Voce is the ensemble on Mozart Schubert Quartets Nos.15, the Mozart paired with Schubert’s String Quartet No.15 in G Major D887 in recordings made with a mix of live concert and studio sessions – not that you can tell (ALPHA 559 outhere-music.com/en). There’s a warm, measured opening to the Mozart, a work often played with a stress on the inner turmoil of this significant key for Mozart – the key of Don Giovanni, the Piano Concerto No.20 K466 and the Requiem. There’s passion here though, albeit implied rather than explicit, with the hint of despair always restrained.

The same sensitivity and depth is equally evident in the monumental Schubert quartet.

09 Quatuor van Kuijk MozartOn the Quatuor Van Kuijk’s MOZART the K421 quartet is paired with the String Quartet No.14 in G Major K387 and the Divertimento in F Major K138, the latter in its original form for four solo strings (ALPHA 551 outhere-music.com/en).

The D-minor quartet leans more towards the dramatic here than in the Quatuor Voce performance, with less vibrato, more articulation and dynamic contrast and more overt anguish – in the final chords, for instance. There’s never a shortage of warmth, however, and the same qualities are evident in a vibrant performance of the K387 G-major work.

10 Eisler Ravel WidmannViolinist Ilya Gringolts and cellist Dmitry Kouzov are the performers on Eisler Ravel Widman Duos, a CD that features two 20th-century works and one from the 21st (Delos DE 3556 delosmusic.com).

Hans Eisler studied with Arnold Schoenberg, and the latter’s influence can be heard in the brief two-movement Duo for Violin and Cello Op.7 from 1924, albeit with the 12-tone approach given a softer and more audience-friendly treatment.

The central work on the disc is the two-volume 24 Duos for Violin and Cello from 2008 by the German composer Jörg Widmann. Nine of the pieces are under one minute in length and the longest only just over three minutes, but the double stopping and special effects present technical difficulties that bring brilliant playing from Gringolts and Kouzov in music that is challenging but always interesting. With Widmann himself saying “Sensational!!! You understand every fibre of my music” about the performances, these world-premiere recordings can be considered definitive.

A fine reading of Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello from 1922 completes a fine CD.

11 Margaret BatjerThe Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and their concertmaster Margaret Batjer perform concertante works for violin from across three centuries on Jalbert & Bach Violin Concertos, with Jeffrey Kahane conducting (BIS-2309 bis.se).

The 2017 two-movement Violin Concerto by the American composer Pierre Jalbert was co-commissioned by the LACO and is heard here in a world-premiere recording. The violin’s lyrical qualities are fully exploited from the quiet and ethereal opening through the rhythmic contrasts of the energy-filled second movement.

Bach’s Violin Concerto In A Minor BWV1041 follows in a solid performance, and the disc closes with two 20th-century works by Baltic composers: Arvo Pärt’s Fratres, written in 1977 and heard here in the composer’s own 1992 arrangement for violin, string orchestra and percussion; and Pēteris Vasks’ quite beautiful Lonely Angel, a 2006 re-working of the final movement from his 1999 Fourth String Quartet. Batjer shows gorgeous tone and control in a solo line written mostly in the highest register.

12 Ries Complete Cello 2The excellent cellist Martin Rummel is back with Volume 2 of Ferdinand Ries Complete Works for Cello with pianist Stefan Stroissnig (Naxos 8.573851 naxos.com). Volume 1 is available on Naxos 8.57726.

Ries left a sizeable œuvre of over 200 compositions on his death in 1838, few of which are remembered. Included here are: the Cello Sonata in C Minor WoO2 from 1799, one of the earliest of its genre and written when Ries was only 15; the Trois Aires Russes Variés Op.72 from 1812; the Introduction and a Russian Dance Op.113 No.1 and the Cello Sonata in F Major Op.34, both from 1823. Eric Lamb is the flutist in the 1815 Trio for Flute, Cello and Piano in E-flat Major Op.63.

13 Miguez VelasquezViolinist Emmanuele Baldini and pianist Karin Fernandes perform sonatas by two leading figures in Brazilian classical music at the turn of the last century on Miguez and Velásquez Sonatas in the Naxos Music of Brazil series (8.574118 naxos.com/).

The Sonata No.1 for Violin and Piano, “Delirio” from 1909 and the Sonata No.2 for Violin and Piano from 1911 by Glauco Velásquez, who was only 30 when he died in 1914, are really attractive works with a warm Latin feel. The Sonata for Violin and Piano Op.14 by Leopoldo Miguez (1850-1902) is from 1885, and while it feels structurally stronger than the Velásquez works and more in the standard 19th-century sonata mode, it also has less of a Latin feel.

Baldini’s playing is radiant and idiomatic, with Fernandes particularly brilliant in the demanding piano writing in the Miguez sonata.

Scarlatti – 52 Sonatas
Lucas Debargue
Sony Classical 19075944462 (lucasdebargue.com)

01 Debarque ScarlattiWhen the jury at the 2015 International Tchaikovsky Competition placed French pianist Lucas Debargue fourth (which was actually sixth, since the second and third prizes were each shared by two contestants), the outrage was predictable. For it was Debargue who had won over the audience – and the critics – with his dazzling mix of brilliant technique and poetic sensibility.

In any case, Debargue’s career has flourished. In January he’ll make his third appearance at Koerner Hall in Toronto. And Sony has just released his fifth recording, a four-disc set of sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, the innovative Italian Baroque composer who was born in 1685 – the very same year as Bach and Handel – and spent his later, most productive, years at the royal courts in Portugal and Spain.

These short works are fundamental to the repertoire of harpsichordists. Though heard less often in piano recitals, they have been championed by pianists from Vladimir Horowitz and Alicia de Laroccha to András Schiff, Glenn Gould and Angela Hewitt. Many last just three or four minutes, even with Scarlatti’s repeats. But they have the impact of much grander works. Debargue’s selection of 52 sonatas represents less than a tenth of the 555 that Scarlatti wrote. But that’s four hours of some of the most glorious keyboard music ever written.

Scarlatti, a virtuoso harpsichordist, wrote these sonatas to play on his own instrument. So Debargue, ever mindful of the perils of playing them on a piano, makes minimal use of one of the piano’s most valued assets, the sustaining pedal. As a result, he is able to weave textures of delectable lightness and harpsichord-like clarity. But right from the first – and longest – work here, K206, Debargue makes full use of other resources offered by the piano to create an orchestra-scale range of colours and a variety of textures not possible on the earlier instrument. In K115 he highlights Scarlatti’s alluring harmonic shifts by shaping the broken chords and chromatic scales with dramatic crescendos and diminuendos. He does rush the tempo at times, though there are definite payoffs. K25, which is marked allegro, becomes more dramatic at his presto tempo, with the exquisite melodic lines emerging magically. I especially enjoy his bold use of rubato throughout. His ornaments are gorgeous, especially in episodic works like K268, though they can disrupt the pulse and prevent the Iberian rhythms from dancing.

The way Debargue combines the clarity of the harpsichord with the expressive power of the piano is fresh, imaginative and invariably enjoyable – a thoroughly modern approach to these exquisite works.

Pamela Margles

Bach – The Well-Tempered Clavier I & II
Heidrun Holtmann
Musicaphon M56922 (cantate-musicaphon.de)

02 Holtmann Well TemperedThe Well-Tempered Clavier compositions have always represented a sanctuary of sorts for me; a sonic space for contemplation and stillness, unaffected by the fast pace of modern living, and a doorway to a singular notion of the reciprocity between the laws of music and the cosmos. A collection of two sets of preludes and fugues in 24 major and minor keys for solo keyboard, it is also a wonderfully useful treatise on the forms and style of Baroque times.

The Well-Tempered Clavier is structurally complex and creatively abundant, yet orderly and conceived with a teaching purpose in mind. And that is precisely what Heidrun Holtmann connects to in her interpretation – the magnificent architecture that varies from one key to another comes alive vibrantly on this album. She clearly outlines the relationships between preludes and fugues and subtly indicates the different characters of each key (not an easy task in a well-tempered tuning). Although the term clavier applied to a number of keyboard instruments in Bach’s time (hammerklavier, clavichord, spinet, harpsichord and organ) and it is clear that some of the pieces are better suited to a specific kind of keyboard, Holtmann succeeds easily in displaying how the richness and diversity of the piano supports and enriches the colours in the preludes and the virtuosity in the fugues.

Compositional masterpiece, insightful performance – perfect for solitary late autumn musings.

Ivana Popovich

Haydn – Early and Late Sonatas
Denis Levaillant
DLM Editions DLM 3018 (denislevaillant.net)

03 Haydn LevaillantThe keyboard sonatas of Franz Joseph Haydn represent a great feat of an opus, broad in range, dating from the composer’s youthful period to his final decades. The early 1790s – about 15 years before his death – saw Haydn in London, where he encountered new-fangled Broadwood pianos, outfitted with damper pedal and an extended range. Three irresistibly inventive London Sonatas were spawned. Today, so often are these late Beethovenian sonatas performed and celebrated that a listener rarely hears Haydn’s early essays for the keyboard, even in our contemporary age of rediscovery, mining the catalogues of infamous composers for their un-famous works.

French composer, writer and pianist, Denis Levaillant, celebrates Haydn’s early works – as foil to later ones – in his new disc featuring Sonatas No.13 in E, No.14 in D, No.41 in B-flat, No.48 in C, No.49 in E-flat and No.51 in D, all recorded on a modern (Yamaha) grand. As is stipulated in the artist’s eloquent afterword to the liner notes, Levaillant has chosen to access the interpretive world of Haydn’s early sonatas through the stylistic lens of the later ones. He imagines (and supplements) “missing” indications from the composer and offers touches of pedal, pauses and anachronistic colours.

The results are satisfying, for the most part. A correlative access point for Levaillant’s readings is the functionality of early keyboard instruments: the harpsichord and clavichord. Sonatas Nos.13 and 14 most surely would have been realized on such instruments and Levaillant approaches the music with a certitude of form and fortitude of style that permeate the disc’s 15 tracks. The slightly rough and tumble edges – the rustic origins – of Franz Joseph Haydn’s art are brought into relief through Levaillant’s rendering.

Adam Sherkin

Mozart Piano Sonatas
David Fung
Steinway & Sons 30107 (steinway.com/music-and-artists/label)

04 Mozart FungSteinway artist David Fung offers four lesser-known piano sonatas on his new album: the Piano Sonatas No.2 in F Major, K280, No.4 in E-flat, K282, No.5 in G Major, K283 and No.17 in B-flat, K570. Upon first hearing, Fung’s vision of Mozart’s keyboard music is immediately apparent. The (scant) liner notes make much of Fung’s musical upbringing and exposure to the opera – the Mozartian operatic stage in particular – but these references seem status quo and rather obvious in analogy; the comparisons do not quite do justice to Fung’s interpretive approach.

His is a unique and bold reading. Often, contemporaneous interpreters attempt to subdue their own (romantic) leanings, fearing to obscure the ideals of neoclassicalism as manifested in the music of W.A. Mozart. Fung, however, has no such qualms. He portrays a pianistic tableau of striking contrasts, unusual voicings and wanton manipulation of the dimension of time.

Employing a declamatory style, Fung directs the musical action from his keyboard with a strong command of phrasing and rhythmic impetus. He goes far beyond the customary approach to pulsation and accompaniment figures, in search of an inner energy of syncopated beats and subtle ostinati.

Upon repetition of A and B sections, Fung offers fresh takes on voicings that surprise the listener, challenging established conceptions of such material. By far his boldest strokes come in the form of timescale bending: the stretching out of rests, fermati and cadences, as he pushes values to the limit of neoclassical good taste. The resultant effect is generally pleasurable but does, on occasion, turn to parody. Notwithstanding, variety is the spice of life and let’s applaud Fung’s triumph in delivering his singular vision.

Adam Sherkin

Listen to 'Mozart Piano Sonatas' Now in the Listening Room

Mozart Piano Concertos Vol.1
Anne-Marie McDermott; Odense Symfoniorkester; Scott Yoo
Bridge Records 9518 (bridgerecords.com)

Mozart – Piano Concertos Nos.17 & 24
Orli Shaham; St. Louis Symphony Orchestra; David Robertson
Canary Classics CC18 (canaryclassics.com)

05a Mozart Concerti Vol.1Charm, grace and cordiality are fading qualities in today’s hard-hitting, ego-driven age. Attributes from an older world and its refined modes of human interaction continue to recede from us, seemingly destined for near extinction. Every now and then, however, a specialized, sensitive artist will draw us back, time-capsule-like, to a continental European past where art and music existed to elevate, illuminate and beguile.

Ushering the listener toward this very world of period sensibility, Anne-Marie McDermott’s most recent Mozart disc features two lesser-known piano concerti, the Concerto in C, K415/387a and an earlier work of the same genre, in B-flat, K238. McDermott’s exceedingly good taste and technical prowess make for an ideal blend of musical pleasantries, delighting the listener with her innate ability to shape Mozartian lines, equal in parts lyrical, harmonic and rhythmic. This is an 18th-century pianism of poise and courtliness, neoclassical elegance and Viennese affability. 

05b Mozart ShahamAnother such record of Mozart keyboard concerti hails from a collaboration between pianist Orli Shaham and the St. Louis Symphony, under the direction of David Robertson. Here, two later concertos are presented: the airy No.17 in G Major, K453 and the brooding No.24 in C Minor, K491. Soundworlds apart, these pieces juxtapose handsomely on disc, showcasing the dazzling musicianship of pianist, conductor and orchestra with the personal relationship between Shaham and Robertson clearly audible.

This fruitful partnership gleans splendour and lucidity from every note; the conversational exchange between soloist and orchestra is delectable – hefty at times – but largely cajoling in nature. Robertson encourages his players to take their rightful place in crafting the beauty of line and sculpting of colour that behooves the performance of any Mozart concerto. Like McDermott, Shaham enlivens each phrase with a graciousness and purpose, nearly anachronistic with its old-fashioned aplomb.

Shaham’s readings of Mozartian slow movements are of particular note. Her keen ear for colouristic novelty and lucid intonation rewards the listener again and again. Both Shaham and Robertson divine such a spirit of warmth – such love – from the heart of Mozart’s art that even the most probing pundit or cantankerous curmudgeon couldn’t help but be disarmed. What a thrill to hear Mozart’s music expressed with such timeless insight and overarching reverence for those inventive masterstrokes, born of another time and place.

McDermott and Shaham, in league with conductors Scott Yoo and David Robertson, are integral, generous artists who have conceived these four concerti in a manner both simple and satisfying. In today’s discographic landscape awash with record upon record of Mozart’s piano music, here we meet an old school oasis of felicity and joy, on par with the sublime Mozart interpretations that celebrated pianist Emanuel Ax is so well known for. Such recordings highlight, for the contemporary listener, the true nature and benefit of classical masterpieces, penned by the hand of that perennial favourite of involuntary geniuses: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Adam Sherkin

Schubert – The First Romantic
Mathieu Gaudet
Analekta AN 2 9181 (analekta.com/en/)

06 Schubert Mathieu GaudetIn view of his broad-based career Mathieu Gaudet should not be typecast, but this CD certainly adds to his credentials as a Schubert pianist. Consistency and long-range projection of moods, whether meditative, passionate or joyful, are required of the artist. Consider what Gaudet writes of the G Major Sonata (D894; 1826) finale: “The coda strives for transcendence, giving the impression of rising all the way to heaven.” I didn’t quite get that far — but his recording I find very moving. In the opening movement, with its sustained chords paced and balanced perfectly, this listener became meditative. The contrasting dotted-rhythm episodes and huge, anguished development section climax unfolded naturally; the long (19-minute) movement that I dread hearing in superficial readings achieved unforced inevitability here. Skipping the middle movements, I’ll just mention the rustic Austrian charm in Gaudet’s playing of the finale, with its festive character and bagpipe drones.

The early Schubert Sonata in F-sharp Minor (1817; its tangled history is too complex for this review) begins like a lied with the melody in plain octaves and the accompaniment figure’s rhythm repeated — excessively. Some interesting harmonic twists hint at what was to come from the prodigious composer. Gaudet convinces in the attractive middle movements: a sweet Romance and folk-like Scherzo and Trio. This disc is especially significant in view of plans for Gaudet’s 12-disc box-set comprising Schubert’s complete sonatas plus other major works, on the highly regarded Analekta label.

Roger Knox

First and Last Words
Yerin Kim
Sheva SH 217 (yerinkim.com)

07 Schumann Schnittke KimYerin Kim’s new solo disc features early and (very) late piano music by Robert Schumann, plus two novel cycles by Alfred Schnittke. Schumann’s “Abegg” Variations, Op.1, opens the album: an earnest curatorial choice and one that sets a high standard of interpretive credibility to impress the listener thereafter. Kim’s playing is supple and clear with a sincere directness of expression. Following Schumann’s first opus, we greet the sturdy Allegro, Op.8 with similar pianistic appreciation. Onwards to the last of Schumann’s pieces: the Geistervariationen, (“Ghost Variations”) WoO 24 of 1854 were eerily written during the time leading up to the composer’s admission into a mental asylum, ostensibly the darkest period of his life. Kim’s own program notes identify the “angels and demons” that pervaded Schumann’s mind and pen during those haunted late years.

True standouts come next: the Five Preludes and a Fugue (1953-54) and Aphorisms (1990) by Alfred Schnittke. Kim evidently has a knack for this unusual repertoire in which her virtuosity – of both the technical and intellectual variety – can be aptly demonstrated. This is highly focused music with a taut contrapuntal sense and localized formal design – an appropriate complement to Schumann’s first and last piano works.

The final cycle on this disc, Five Aphorisms, represents a late stage in Schnittke’s output, less accessible in its abstracted lyricism and esoteric brevity. Suddenly, the listener is thrust into a contemporary soundscape of jarring gesture: the sonic by-products of an age where man has made, met and managed machines. Here are the very real angels and demons of our own brave new world. And Kim governs them all, with just as much assurance as she does the last, ghostly “words” of Robert Schumann.

Adam Sherkin

01 PaladinPaladin
Alex McCartney
Veterum Musica Vm022 (alexmccartney.co.uk)

This serene disc is an exploration of the under-represented lute composer Jean Paul Paladin (c1500-1565), who was known as Giovanni Paulo Paladino before his move to France around 1516. Among the monarchs he entertained was Mary Queen of Scots, of interest to the performer Alex McCartney who lives in Scotland.

The disc comes with a single fold insert that gives McCartney space to give us detail about the composer’s life and style. His notes finish with a philosophical discussion about his choice of cover art, a gorgeous French-Gothic illumination from a late-medieval book of hours: Paladin’s fantasies for him contain a sense of the “multi-layered ritual and meditation” that the book of hours would have also provided.

Indeed, the disc comes across as very contemplative. The playing is smooth, poised, and well balanced, if a little static at times. McCartney explains that Paladin’s ten fantasias in particular attracted him to the composer, and he includes nine of the ten here. The other tracks offer two madrigal intabulations and four anonymous preludes, all of which are polyphonic in nature. This means that the whole disc is restricted to contrapuntal genres in slow duple meter – so if you’re hoping for something you can tap your foot to, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Paladin did publish a bit of dance music, but McCartney is not trying to give us a complete picture of the composer’s output. His disc offers instead a meditative escape using Paladin’s soothing and exquisite counterpoint.

02 Fantasia BellissimaFantasia Bellissima
Bernhard Hofstotter
TYXart TXA 18115 (tyxart.de; bernhardhofstotter.org)

As if you hadn’t heard enough about Ukraine in the news lately, this superb disc features premiere recordings from the so-called Lviv Lute Tablature, named for its current location. The booklet includes excellent notes on this interesting source by Dr. Kateryna Schöning -- though I believe she may be mistaken when she states that “besides two lost sources… the manuscript is the only lute tablature from the Polish-Lithuanian region.” Canada’s own Magdalena Tomsinska of Waterloo edited the Gdansk Lute Tablature MS 4022 and recorded selections in 2014.

Beyond just music, the source’s 124 folios also contain Latin aphorisms, graphic patterns and other visual ornaments, as well as some Polish poetry. The manuscript’s music comes from a variety of different nations, composers, and time periods. On the disc you’ll find pieces from the early 16th century, such as Joan Ambrosio Dalza’s Pavana alla Ferrarese, yet also two fantasias by John Dowland which were composed towards the end of the century. This makes for a nice variety.

Bernhard Hofstötter’s lute playing is superb, as is the sound of his Renatus Lechner seven-course lute in the acoustic of the Landesmusikakademie Sachsen in Colditz Castle. The dance rhythms have articulation and buoyancy, the counterpoint clarity and grace. Chanson intabulations by Sermisy, Sandrin, and Jannequin are high points. However, purists should be prepared for what I assume is an off-book strum-fest in the anonymous Tarzeto which opens and closes the disc.

03 Morel violleMorel – Premier Livre de Pièces de Violle
Alejandro Marias; La Spagna
Brilliant Classics 95962 (naxosdirect.com)

French composer and viola da gamba player Jacques Morel (c.1690 - c.1740)’s biography is so obscure that even the dates and places of his birth and death are unknown. Sadly, he doesn’t even have a wiki page. We do know he was a pupil of Marin Marais, the composer and foremost viola da gambist of his day, to whom Morel dedicated this Premier Livre de Pièces de Violle (c.1709), his major legacy and the subject of this CD.

There hasn’t been a complete recording of these suites, prompting virtuoso gambist Alejandro Marias to spearhead this project to record several of them for the first time. At the core of the album are Marias’ stylish and musically secure performances of four suites from the Premier Livre for the seven-string bass viola da gamba in differing keys. The continuo parts are provided by members of the award-winning Spanish period music group La Spagna.

Morel’s music is attractively varied in the best high-French Baroque tradition. Seven or eight characteristic period dance movements typically follow the emotive rubato opening prelude in each suite. Judging from this album, Morel’s attractive oeuvre is imbued with his idiosyncratic voice, even though the influence of his teacher Marais’ style is also present. My album picks: Suite in A minor’s Sarabande l’Agréable, the Gigue à l’anglaise and the Échos de Fontainebleau in the Suite in D.

Even though long neglected, this music is full of delightful discoveries and should be better known.

04 Bach OuverturesJohann Sebastian Bernard Ludwig Bach – Ouvertures for Orchestra
Concerto Italiano; Rinaldo Alessandrini
Naïve OP 30578 (naxosdirect.com)

How pleasant to explore music by relatives of Johann Sebastian Bach other than his sons. Johann Ludwig was a third cousin of Bach, Johann Bernhard a second cousin. On this CD, they each contribute an Ouverture to accompany the four by the Bach.

So is Concerto Italiano’s choice justified? The works by the two cousins are substantially shorter than the great man’s. Yet listening to them shows how highly enjoyable they are: listen to the Rigaudons and Gavotte en Rondeaux in Johann Bernhard’s Ouverture-Suite in E Minor.

Then there is Johann Ludwig’s contribution to the CD, namely, his Ouverture in G Major. This is even shorter than Johann Bernhard’s work but much more spritely. The movements all ask to be danced to, whether or not they actually were at the time. Indeed the Ouverture by Johann Ludwig could even be played as background music at any event, no matter how formal.

And so to the four Orchestral Suites by Johann Sebastian. From the movement which opens the CDs (the Ouverture to the Orchestral Suite No.3) there is a complexity to Bach’s composition which marks him out for the composer he was. Real demands are made on the string-players, an aspect repeated throughout the four Suites. It is quite clear that by Bach’s time the movements named after French country dances were well advanced from their original rural simplicity.

Although his own writing shines through on these CDs, the sleeve-notes state how much Johann Sebastian respected his two cousins. The beautiful pieces selected by Concerto Italiano and their sheer vivaciousness demonstrate why.

05 GiordaniTommaso Giordani – Sonatas Op.30; Antonin Kammell – Sonata in D Major
Luchkow-Stadlen-Jarvis Trio
Marquis Classics MAR 81495 (marquisclassics.com)

The viola da gamba’s persistence in late-18th-century England owed something to the aristocracy. It appears that Lady Lavinia Spencer (1762-1831) was the gamba-playing dedicatee of this CD’s Giordani sonatas, and yes, she is a direct ancestor of the late Princess Diana Spencer and sons William and Harry! From a musical standpoint gamba players could by then hold an equal role in sonatas for violin, viola da gamba and fortepiano, such as the Three Sonatas, Op. 30 (published c.1782) by Naples-born, later Ireland-based, Tommasso Giordani (c.1738-1806). The textures Giordani achieves through familiarity with the gamba’s high register liberated the instrument from bass-playing, allowing imitation and echoing between instruments and octave doubling of melody in the violin and gamba, for example in the opening movement of Sonata No.2 in D Major. I find this to be the best of the sonatas, with a particularly fine slow movement; Giordani was a natural melodist whose use of contrasting minor keys and quiet fortepiano solos is notable. His active gamba part in the finale illustrates the instrument’s development towards virtuosity.

The Canadian Luchkow-Stadlen-Jarvis Trio is convincing, with clean solo and ensemble playing free of affectation, with attractive tone and balance, and expressive inflections in the slow movements. And although the Sonata in C Major, Op.1, No.1 by Czech composer Antonin Kammell (1730-1785) that ends this disc has other requirements – ornamentation, accentuation and hairpin crescendos – they meet those demands equally well.

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