02_faure_violinFauré - Works for Violin and Piano

Olivier Thouin; Francois Zeitouni

XXI XXI-CD2 1702


This fine disc’s two “pillars” are the early and late Fauré violin sonatas. Sonata No. 1 in A Major shows Fauré already at the height of his powers. This performance realizes the music’s striving, yearning sensibility. The passionate first movement features Fauré’s distinctive modal and chromatic harmony. Zeitouni controls the florid piano accompaniment well, bringing out motifs and subordinating lines, or underlining the violin’s melodic shaping. In the barcarole-like slow movement, sensitivity to harmony is displayed in violinist Thouin’s classic, subtly-coloured style. Both players meet the demands of the intricate, skittering scherzo, featuring fine staccato from Thouin’s bow.


The duo makes the most of the disc’s three lighter works. Berceuse in D Major is like a charming French mélodie. I find the Romance in B-flat Major too conventionally sentimental, but the forward-looking Andante in the B-flat Major’s melody in ascending fourths receives particularly interesting harmonizations.


The performers capture well the much different character of Sonata No. 2 in E minor: the first movement’s soaring lines seeming to ascend out of tumult towards light; the second movement’s tossing and turning; and the finale’s conflict and ambiguity resolving only at the final measure.


This disc may attract new listeners to Fauré, while aficionados will find it faithful to the composer’s style and spirit. The recording quality is excellent, capturing a full dynamic range in all registers, and Zeitouni's accompanying notes only reinforce the case being made for this great composer.


Raymond Spasovski

Independent (www.raymondspasovski.com)


I don’t imagine Walter Hall has changed all that much since I gave my one and only noon-hour recital there many years ago as a fourth-year composition student. But what I do know is that pianist Raymond Spasovski plays much better than I did on this live recording of a concert held there last October. Born in Macedonia, Spasovski made his debut at the age of 10 with the Macedonian Symphony, and since then, has appeared with major orchestras throughout Europe and North America to great acclaim.


This CD, his first, presents an attractive program drawing heavily from the late Romantic period, but opening with a short sonata by the 18th century composer Mateo Albeniz. Although this piece and the Bach Prelude in A minor BWV 807 clearly demonstrate his technical dexterity, it’s the repertoire from the late 19th century in which he particularly excels, especially that by Spanish and South American composers. Indeed, de Falla, Granados, Isaac Albeniz, Lecuona, and Ginastera are well represented, and he approaches them all with great panache. The playing is confident and bold, particularly demonstrated in the Tres Danzas Argentinas by Ginastera, and Granados’ Allegro de Concierto. Yet his interpretation of the Chopin Berçeuse shows a decidedly more sensitive side to his playing.


While I’m always a little leery about live recordings with respect to audio quality, the sound here is well-balanced and warmly resonant - and even the frequent applause doesn’t detract in any way. So a big bravo, Mr. Spasovski – the Walter Hall Steinway sounds much better under your capable hands than it ever did with mine!

05_migotMigot - Suite à trois; Le livre des danceries

Robert Cram; Trio Hochelaga

ATMA ACD2 2543

Intense in his spirituality, drawing on the rich diversity of French music, and inspired by the Touraine landscape, Georges Migot (1891-1976) could not fail to achieve fame as president of La Spirale, the Parisian society dedicated to offering performances of new French works.

Migot’s Trio of 1935 commences with the Modéré, an intense - and clashing and disjointed - movement. It is almost a duel between piano and violin. It is followed by an Allègre. Both movements make great demands on the skills of cellist Paul Marleyn and violinist Anne Robert; their skills ensure that this recording matches up to the description of the Trio as one of the most arresting pieces of French chamber music.

Third movement is the Danse, where Stéphane Lemelin’s piano-playing comes into its own, as intense as the string parts, but more disciplined as the piano is denied the liberty that the latter enjoy as they invoke France’s varied heritage. Last is the Final: no instrument dominates and Migot allows each to test its player’s skill. This is an intense suite of chamber music, a challenge to preconceived ideas of classical ensembles.

In very different spirit is the Livre des Danceries where flautist Robert Cram introduces a sprightly quality which is eventually taken up by the piano part in the second - Gai - movement. At last, the CD’s pianist can relax! Next is Réligieux, longest of the four movements, drawing on melodic religious sources. And then Conclusion, from the earliest bars a celebration of the other movements and an exciting way to round off Trio Hochelaga’s vigorous interpretations.

04_english_violaEnglish Music for Viola

Eniko Magyar; Tadashi Imai

Naxos 8.572407

There is something about the viola’s tonal quality that makes it seem quintessentially English; appropriately so, given that it was an Englishman – Lionel Tertis – who almost singlehandedly established the viola as a legitimate solo instrument in the early 20th century. Tertis had connections with most of the music on this outstanding debut CD by the London-based Hungarian violist Eniko Magyar.

The Bliss Sonata is the most challenging of the works, with a turbulent, restless and dissonant start and a passionate third movement. It was written for, and dedicated to, Tertis, who gave the first performance in 1933.

A year earlier, Tertis had transcribed Delius’s Third Violin Sonata and had played it for the ailing composer at the latter’s home in Grez-sur-Loing. Written in 1930, it is Delius at his distinctively lyrical best.

The seven attractive miniatures by Frank Bridge date from 1901 to 1908, when Bridge was in his 20s. Most were originally written for violin or cello; only two – Pensiero and Allegro appassionato – were written specifically for the viola, Bridge’s own instrument, and were published as the first titles in the Lionel Tertis Viola Library in 1908.

Magyar plays her c.1700 Grancino viola (on loan from the Royal Academy) with warmth, sensitivity, and a superb technique, and is ably and sympathetically supported by pianist Tadashi Imai. The recording quality and booklet notes are both excellent.

03_elgarElgar - Violin Concerto

Nikolaj Znaider; Staatskapelle Dresden; Sir Colin Davis

RCA Red Seal 88697 60588 2

Nikolaj Znaider has not yet attained universal fame but, be assured, he is on the way. He is an exclusive RCA recording artist and has several fine concerto discs including the Brahms and Korngold with Valery Gergiev, the Beethoven and Mendelssohn with Zubin Mehta, the Nielsen and Bruch with Lawrence Foster, and the Prokofiev No.2 and Glazunov with Mariss Jansons. This new recording of the Elgar is clearly one of the finest versions this concerto has enjoyed.

Connoisseurs know well the historic recording with the teen-aged Yehudi Menuhin and Elgar conducting the London Symphony Orchestra from 1932. Although Fritz Kreisler premiered the concerto in 1910 it was the Menuhin/Elgar that had the music world talking.

Znaider impresses me with a seemingly effortless command of his instrument and his silky, singing tone. A performance aided by the authoritative collaboration with consummate Elgarian Colin Davis, under whom one could believe that the German orchestra was a traditional English ensemble steeped in the tradition. Not that I have auditioned the others recently but I believe that this performance is not bettered by any version that I have previously heard.

Top marks are also due the production and sound engineering, naturally balanced and detailed. One caveat, the timing for this concerto is less than 50 minutes - RCA should have included an appropriate filler.

02_mendelssohnMendelssohn - Piano Trios

Emanuel Ax; Yo-Yo Ma; Itzhak Perlman

Sony Music 88697 52192 2

Menahem Pressler, the pianist who for more than half a century was the driving force behind the Beaux Arts Trio, is inclined to take a jaundiced view of piano trios cobbled together on a temporary, ad-hoc basis. “Three fine fellows do not make a trio!” he pointedly remarked.

Yet when the “three fine fellows” happen to be Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma and Emmanuel Ax, Pressler’s concerns may be set aside. Although this group hadn’t played in public before last year and has given only handful of concerts, their collective interpretation is decisive and secure, banishing any hint of the wimpy playing that sometimes finds its way into Mendelssohn performances.

The two Mendelssohn trios on this disc are paired on countless recordings – but they’ve probably never been played or recorded better than they have here. From the outset of the D Minor Trio, the group’s playing is taut, nuanced and intricately interwoven. The dramatic first movement is nicely contrasted with the introspective second. The third movement is all coyness and charm; and the last movement is effervescent, with muscular outbursts.

Perhaps the group might have taken the opening movement of the C Minor Trio a little faster – but the tempo they chose provides some breathing room for the expressive range of this movement: the sotto voce string passages, and surprising outbursts from the piano. The second movement is all sweetness; and the third scampers lightly, as a Mendelssohnian scherzo should. The finale does not lack grandness, but there’s a spring to the rhythm that propels the music forward.

I’m reminded of one other thing Pressler has said about piano trios: the heart of the ensemble is the piano. Violinists and cellists may not like this proposal – but it’s well borne out on this recording, which is solidly founded on Ax’s superb playing.

01_aux_armesGossec - Aux Armes, Citoyens: Royal and Revolutionary Music for Winds

Les Jacobins; Mathieu Lussier

ATMA ACD2 2595

Absolute monarchy, revolution, terror, Napoleon, restored monarchy - François-Joseph Gossec lived through all of this over his 95 years. And he orchestrated La Marseillaise.

Despite name and title, this CD features both royalist and revolutionary music. So, with our six period-woodwind instrumentalists, we aristos can ride with the Grande Chasse de Chentilli to the accompaniment of clarinets, horns and bassoons. Then, revolutionaries, we lower our flags as we remember assassinated Deputy Feraud.

Back on course we hear La Marseilaise. Gossec’s arrangement starts at a quick revolutionary pace but ends in a more stately, Royalist, tempo. Gossec hedges his bets...

And so to five revolutionary airs under Mathieu Lussier’s artistic direction. Ça ira leads. It inspired the French revolutionaries (and one English officer who actually made it his regimental march). In fact, most of this suite is rather un-revolutionary in its tempo - but still a wonderful opportunity to hear authentic Baroque woodwind solos. We arrive at the battlefield with four short pieces. Clarinets, bassoons, and horns boost our morale as we march, playing spiritedly as we engage our foe at close quarters, and with dignity as victory is ours.

More relaxing are Gossec’s Andante and Chasse d’Hylas et Sylvie. Gossec’s interest in the clarinet, new in France when he was composing in the early 1770s, is ably demonstrated by Jane Booth and Martin Carpentier.

Gossec’s hymns to liberty are more reflective than brash; the same is true of his Simphonie à 6. What Les Jacobins have done here is to publicise the vast store of undiscovered French revolutionary music.

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