Louis-Claude D'Aquin - Noëls pour orgue

Francois Zeitouni

XXI XXI-CD 2 1609

01b_violin_organOuvres pour Violon et Orgue

Anne Robert; Jacques Boucher

XXI XXI-CD 2 1626

 Two organ records arrive from Montreal, from the same label, and they could not be more different from one another! François Zeituoni plays the recently-installed Guibault-Therien organ at Le Grands Seminaire de Montréal. The specifically French voicing and registration give the recording an alarming immediacy, and D'Aquin's early 18th-century Noëls contain enough angular lines and fanfare-like passages to wake the most drowsy parishioner.

Violinist Anne Robert and organist Jacques Boucher work with the recently restored sprawling Casavant Opus 615 at Saint-Jean Baptiste, and this monster shimmers with a sublime delicacy that makes it a truly effective partner for violin, although the engineer exaggerates this equality by his microphone placement. Their disc runs through the work of seven different composers, including Canadian John Burge, who contributed a commissioned piece. Reger's short Romanze sounds almost as if it were written for these two.

Both of the CD's are well presented, with music superbly played and recorded. However, you need reading glasses to cope with the notes. Robert and Boucher's disc has the tiniest of type, white on black background, in both languages. The Noëls CD is particularly bad, with a compressed, ALL-CAPS FONT, ill-suited to body copy. Both organs are dissected in the usual way of listing, with full-frontal photos of each. Both CD's are suitable for serious collections, and enthusiasts will note that Karl Wilhelm (builder of Toronto's St. Andrew's Presbyterian organ) helped prepare the instrument for Zeituoni.

John S. Gray

Concert notes: The month-long organ festival Organix 2009 kicks off on May 1 at the Church of the Holy Trinity with a recital by Dame Gillian Weir and runs throughout May. See our current listings for two organ recitals on May 4 and a tribute to Felix Mendelssohn on May 6.


02_liszt_lare Liszt - Sonata in B minor

Patrice Lare

XXI XXI-CD 2 1533

Patrice Lare is a Paris born pianist who studied in Russia and came to Quebec in 1993. He is building an impressive career (see www.patricelare.com) and has already issued two CD’s with his cellist wife Velitchka Yatcheva. This is his first solo CD as a pianist.

Playing these ambitious showpieces of the great magician of the keyboard is no mean task. The pianist possesses an elemental, masculine force, lots of stamina and powerful hands to handle the thundering climaxes. His technical prowess is unquestionable and his playing is very precise. Note for example the fugato section in the Sonata where his skill in Bach shows up par excellance.

The Sonata in b minor is a titanic masterpiece, a milestone in the literature where Liszt experimented with changing the traditional form by compressing or ‘telescoping’ the movements. Although the form seems loose, there is an inner logic difficult to interpret. In Lare’s playing I feel the overall structure is too rigid and lacking the natural sweep of emotion, the ebb and flow that only the greatest pianists could achieve. At this point I couldn’t rightfully recommend this performance, but given time and maturity he will assuredly overcome this challenge.

The shorter, bravura pieces however generally come off very well. My favorite is the Mephisto Waltz, where his powerful hands build up a very effective crescendo right at the beginning and the transition to the lyrical mid-section is beautifully done. There are many changes of mood here but the structure is held together and the piece really becomes a brilliant mockingly devilish dance. In similar vein, the Rhapsodie Espagnole, a very colourful, challenging and enjoyable work is played to the hilt and the good old Steinway is given a big workout.

Janos Gardonyi


03_flute_sketches Flute Sketches - Mosaic of Flute Favourites

Samantha Chang; Ellen Meyer; Khai Nguyen; Amy Laing

Independent (www.samanthaflute.com)


Flutist Samantha Chang’s debut CD, “Flute Sketches” offers a variety of repertoire, ranging from Paul Taffanel’s Mignon Fantasy of 1866 to Tod Dorozio’s The Exodus Partita written just last year for Ms. Chang. From the one hundred and forty-two years separating these two compositions are works by Albert Woodall, Erwin Schulhoff, Carl Reinecke, Eugene Goossens, Astor Piazzolla and Mizi Tan.

Ms. Chang is at her best in the lyrical music she has chosen for the CD. She has a strong affinity, for example, to A Caged Partridge’s Longing, by Toronto flutist, composer and her first teacher, Mizi Tan, using a sound akin to that of a bamboo flute, entirely appropriate to the piece. Her interpretation of Schulhoff’s Sonata, especially the first movement, is very convincing, although I often wished she could bring to more of her playing the intensity of sound she produced about three-quarters of the way through Carl Reinecke’s late (1908) composition, Ballade.

The always confident but never intrusive piano playing of Ellen Meyer makes a tremendous contribution throughout. Amy Laing’s expressive cello in Piazzolla’s Oblivion and Khai Nguyen’s capable violin playing in the Piazzolla and in Goossens’ Romance and Humoreske add variety and interest.

Ms. Chang is a young and resourceful artist with a strong personal commitment to the flute. This CD is a promising beginning.

Allan Pulker



Minsoo Sohn




Hong Xu





Hinrich Alpers



Named for Calgary philanthropist Esther Honens, the Honens Piano Competition is a unique Canadian musical event which began in 1992, and is held every three years. The competition’s unique approach takes as its premise that much of the learning process of a concert artist occurs outside the practice studio, and the focus is to discover those individuals whose talent both “inspires the heart and engages the intellect.” Indeed, a formidable pairing of both heart and intellect are clearly discernible on these three Honens label discs which I had the recent pleasure of auditioning, and which feature the respective first, second, and third Laureate prize-winners from the 2006 competition: Minsoo Sohn, Heinrich Alpers, and Hong Xu.

First Laureate Minsoo Sohn began piano studies in his native Korea and he later continued at the New England Conservatory in Boston. He admits he wasn’t entirely convinced he would eventually be a musician, explaining that for a while, he even dreamed of becoming a baseball player! Nevertheless, there is no doubt as to his prodigious talent in listening to this all-Liszt recording featuring the 6 Paganini Etudes in addition to transcriptions of music by Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart. Minsoo Sohn takes these pieces – surely among the most difficult in the repertory – in his stride, displaying a breathtaking technique and the relentless fortitude required of any Liszt player. Yet Sohn’s approach is not all bombast. In pieces such as La Campanella and La Chasse, he demonstrates a particular lightness of touch, his hands seemingly dancing over the keyboard with a shimmering delicacy.

German-born Heinrich Alpers offers an all-Schumann disc, featuring the Faschingschwank aus Wien, the Kinderszenen, and the less-often played Sonata in F sharp minor. Alpers studied at the Hanover Hochschule für Musik and later at the Juilliard School, and he currently teaches piano, improvisation, and music theory at the Institute for Highly Gifted Children in Hanover. He won rave reviews at his New York debut in 2008, and little wonder! Alpers’ playing is stylish and eloquent - and while his solid technique is evident at all times, it never becomes an end unto itself. Clearly this is music played by a musician rather than a mere technician, and one who displays an innate feeling for the repertoire.

From 19th century Leipzig we turn to 18th century Vienna for a recording of keyboard music by Mozart performed by third Laureate Hong Xu. Included on this disc are the sonatas K.282, 310, 332, and 576 as well as the Adagio in B minor K540. A graduate of Wuhan Conservatory and the Juilliard School, Xu admits a love for the piano works of Mozart, and this admiration is clearly reflected on this recording. The playing is polished and self-assured, while always demonstrating the subtle nuances so important in interpreting this deceptively complex music.

Three different artists, each playing very different repertoire, and doing it well, make for very satisfying listening – a perfect melding of heart and intellect!

Richard Haskell






Editor's Note: The Honens International Piano Competition and the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra will celebrate Mendelssohn’s 200th birthday with the North American premiere of his Piano Concerto No. 3 in E minor. The score was recently completed and reconstructed by composer/conductor Marcello Bufalini for exclusive performance by Italian pianist Roberto Prosseda. Julian Kuerti conducts the all-Mendelssohn program on May 11, 2009 at Jack Singer Concert Hall in Calgary, which also includes the Hebrides Overture Op. 26 (Fingal’s Cave) and Sinfonia for String Orchestra No. 10 in B minor. Roberto Prosseda will be joined by his wife Alessandra Maria Ammara (2000 Honens Laureate) to perform the Concerto for Two Pianos in E major.


01_mendelssohnMendelssohn - Complete works for cello and pianoforte

Sergei Istomin ; Viviana Sofronitsky

Passacaille 947 (www.passacaille.be)

During his short life Felix Mendelssohn composed five pieces for cello and piano, all remarkable for their perfect blend of Romantic expression clothed in classical language. That these pieces comprise exactly enough music to fill a single CD is quite a stroke of luck; that it has been recorded on period instruments by Viviana Sofronitsky and Sergei Istomin is not only fortuitous for us all today, but a posthumous stroke of luck for Felix Mendelssohn as well. Istomin, formerly with Tafelmusik and now resident in France, plays an 18th-century Widhelm cello here; and Sofronitsky, founder of Toronto’s Academy Concert Series and now living in Prague, plays a Graf copy fortepiano by Paul McNulty.

The ‘big ticket’ items on this CD are the three-movement sonata op. 45 and its later, larger counterpart, op. 58. The first movements of both are grand and dramatic, and brilliantly played. The sardonic quality of op. 58’s allegretto scherzando is delightful here, and the innocent ending of op. 45 perfectly concludes this program of rich musical chiaroscuro. Also included are the Variations Concertantes (op.17), premiered on Mendelssohn’s first trip to London in 1829; the short Romance without words, published posthumously in 1868; and a short Assai tranquillo, the ephemeral ending of which leaves us wanting just a little more…

This recording will no doubt come as a revelation to many. Here there is no struggle for a balance between the voices of cello and piano, a problem all too familiar on modern instruments. Istomin and Sofronitsky’s performance is a genuine and focused musical dialogue, full of thoughtful phrasing and a fluid and natural exhange of roles as the music requires. Both artists play with virtuosic flair, refined musical sensitivity, and an obvious affection for the repertoire. And their breadth of their tonal and dynamic palette is pretty astonishing!

On top of that, this disc is beautifully recorded and packaged. The cover features a Swiss landscape painted by Mendelssohn himself in his last year; the notes are informative and readable; and the CD’s program order is brilliant, highlighting the composer’s variety of approach to this instrumental combination. Buy this disc. You won’t be sorry!

Alison Melville


02_mendelssohn_violinMendelssohn - Violin Concerto;

Piano Trio No.1; Violin Sonata

Anne-Sophie  Mutter;

Gewandhausorchester Leipzig;

Kurt Masur; André Previn; Lynn Harrell

Deutsche Grammophon 00289 477 8001

Anne-Sophie Mutter always manages to find something fresh to say with even the most familiar repertoire, and does it again with this brilliant performance of the Mendelssohn concerto, recorded in concert at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig with Mendelssohn's own orchestra.

Issued to mark the bicentenary of Mendelssohn's birth in February 1809, this CD/DVD package also includes outstanding performances of the D minor Piano Trio Op.49 and the F major Violin Sonata, the latter in the 1953 Menuhin edition.

All three CD performances were captured for the DVD, and the coverage of the concerto in particular is outstanding, with virtually every possible camera angle and distance showing soloist, conductor and orchestral players to great effect. Few shots last longer than 4 or 5 seconds, but the constant movement is never annoying or inappropriate; on the contrary, it serves to fully involve the viewer in the performance. Close-up coverage of Mutter's left hand, from behind as well as from in front, is particularly satisfying.

Much the same approach is used for the Piano Trio and Violin Sonata, recorded (without an audience) in the Musikverein in Vienna; again, these are very much internal views of the performances.

The DVD includes a fairly short documentary, “Encounters with Mendelssohn”, which features some interesting observations from Mutter and her chamber colleagues, especially about Previn's apparently effortless playing in the Piano Trio!

The CD sound quality is excellent, with no hint of an audience present in the concerto.

Terry Robbins


03_kuerti_mendelssohnMendelssohn - Piano Concertos

Anton  Kuerti; London Philharmonic Orchestra; Paul Freeman

DoReMi DHR-6606 (www.doremi.com)

Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto remains a concert-hall staple – but the two concertos that he completed for the piano (an instrument on which he himself was a virtuoso performer) have fallen into relative neglect. Why did they vanish from the repertoire?

This recording of Toronto pianist Anton Kuerti’s performance of the concertos – and also the Capriccio Brillante Op. 22 – raises the question. The CD is a reissue from 1986, and Kuerti is heard with the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Paul Freeman. While the sound quality is not quite up to today’s standards, the commitment of Kuerti and Co. shine through – illuminating both the strengths and weakness of the music.

The first concerto is unconventional: the three movements follow without a pause, and there is no formal cadenza. But there’s plenty of glittery pianism in both the first and third movements, which Kuerti renders with an admirable facility and evenness of tone. The second movement, by contrast, is more introspective. Kuerti’s approach is dreamy and tender – although, at times, his interpretation verges on the diffuse.

Like the first concerto, the second is also cadenza-less and continuous in its structure. It opens with a Beethoven’s Fifth-inspired movement that’s milked for every drop of drama. Kuerti’s handling of the transition to the slow movement is impressive, and what follows is probably the best playing on this disc. In the final movement, Kuerti and the LSO make the most of the music’s operatic ebullience.

Completing the disc is Mendelssohn’s Capriccio Brillante – which, as its title suggests, is a joyful single-movement romp. There are also moments of repose – and Kuerti takes full advantage of the opportunities for expressiveness that they afford.

I said something about strengths and weakness, didn’t I? To be sure, there’s much that is beautiful, and even sometimes profound, in this music. But there’s also an excess of “passage work” for the piano – and the naïve charm of the concertos’ final movements is sometimes more naïve than charming.

Colin Eatock




 Late Beethoven - Commentary and Performance

Luisa Guembes-Buchanan

Del Aguia DA 55306 (www.beethovenpianoworks.com)


Although Beethoven lived to age 56, he wrote his last piano sonata at the age of 52 – a period when his everyday existence was marked by deteriorating health and total deafness. Nevertheless, he was still able to rise above the complexities of his daily existence, creating some of his finest music, where he pushed the boundaries of tonality and form as he never had before. This fine 6-disc set on the Del Aguila label featuring pianist/musicologist Luisa Guembas-Buchanan and cellist Philip Weihrauch is an examination of the products of Beethoven’s final years, taking as its premise that these late works have numerous stylistic qualities in common. And what a wealth of music is included! Not only are there five late piano sonatas (#28 through #32) but also the Diabelli Variations, 11 Bagatelles Op.119 and 6 Bagatelles Op.126, in addition to numerous smaller pieces all from the sketchbook, plus the two Cello Sonatas Op.102 – enough to keep a Beethoven connoisseur happy for weeks!

I admit the name Luisa Guembas-Buchanan was not one familiar to me. Originally from Lima, Peru she studied in her native city at the Conservatorio National de Musica, and later at the Manhattan School of Music before concluding her studies at New York and Boston Universities. Since then, she has held teaching positions at Amherst College and the New England Conservatory, where she has assumed the dual role of musicologist and pianist perhaps not unlike that of Charles Rosen 40 years ago. The scholarly notes she provides in the attractive 60-page booklet are impressive (they are in both English and German and even contain end-notes), but there is certainly more to Ms. Gumbas-Buchanan than scholarship. To anyone who might initially dismiss this recording as an example of a musicologist who “also happens to play the piano”, this is clearly not the case! From the serene and reflective opening measures of the Sonata Op.101 to the bravura of the Diabelli Variations, Guembas-Buchanan demonstrates an effortless command of this demanding repertoire. Her playing is noble and majestic, coupled with a flawless technique - quite clearly an artist who not only performs admirably, but possesses a deep understanding of the music and is keen to share that knowledge with others.

The two Cello Sonatas presented here, Op. 102 #1 and #2 were composed during the summer of 1814, the very beginning of Beethoven’s late period. Just as in the works for solo piano, Beethoven was also “pushing boundaries” through his use of counterpoint and extensive modulations. Together with cellist Philip Weihrauch, Guembas-Buchanan approaches the music with a bold assurance and both demonstrate a deep affinity for the music.

The pleasure in this set is indeed two-fold – apart from the illuminating information provided, it is also great listening - a treat both for Beethoven scholars and those who simply love and admire the music of “the great mogul”.

Richard Haskell




 Grigory Sokolov – Live in Paris: Beethoven; Komitas; Prokofiev

Directed by Bruno Monsaingeon

Ideale-Audience DR 2109 AV 127 (www.ideale-audience.com)


If I mention the name Grigory Sokolov and you give me a blank stare, I wouldn’t be surprised. The reclusive Russian pianist, winner of the 1966 International Tchaikovsky Competition, regarded as a true successor to the giants, Gilels and Richter and who gives about 60 recitals a year to sold out houses in Europe, is almost unknown in North America. He hasn’t recorded much as he distrusts recordings unless they are made live and in one take. So this DVD is likely as close as you will get to seeing him live.

The remarkable program starts off with 2 Beethoven early sonatas (Nos.9 & 10) played with an exquisite lyrical and romantic touch and a fine dynamic and emotional range. A more complex work, the Pastoral Sonata (No.15), is a true adventure especially the 2nd movement with its understated yet poignant ostinato staccato left hand and the beautifully shaded virtuoso Rondo finale.

Sokolov’s phenomenal gift is getting inside the composer’s head and intuitively finding the right style although he never plays anything the same way twice. The 6 Armenian dances by Komitas that follow all sound similar yet different from one another. They are languid, soft, using exotic oriental rhythms to a mesmerizing, hypnotic effect.

The final work is the monumental and fiendishly difficult Sonata No.7 by Prokofiev. The masterful interpretation winds up with ‘Precipitato’, a monstrous physical effort with an incessant toccata in steady ff and yet the pianist still manages to increase the crescendo to an overwhelming culmination.

The ecstatic audience simply refuses to leave and Sokolov tirelessly keeps giving encores one after the other, five in all. Much more can be said, but let the music speak for itself.

Janos Gardonyi




 Tchaikovsky - Violin Concerto;

Souvenir d’un lieu cher

Janine Jansen; Mahler Chamber

Orchestra; Daniel Harding

Decca 4780651

At Grigorian.com

The Dutch violinist Janine Jansen is rapidly rising to the very forefront of the international ranks, and this outstanding CD, her second full concerto recording, clearly demonstrates why.

Recorded live in July 2008 at the Festival Via Stellae in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, it is Jansen at her best: intelligent, articulate phrasing; stunning technique; a full, warm tone; and a rich sweetness with that characteristic underlying steely strength.

I had high praise for the Vadim Gluzman recording of this concerto last year, and if you ever needed proof of the need for contrasting interpretations, then this is it. There may perhaps be less sheer excitement here at times, but Jansen presents a beautifully thoughtful, introspective and fully committed performance that I actually find more satisfying. Nothing is rushed or glossed over, and the somewhat slower tempos are well-balanced in the overall structure. Clearly Jansen and Daniel Harding are of one mind here, a sentiment borne out by even a cursory glance at the DVD footage of their rehearsals and performance for this recording that is currently viewable on YouTube.

The three pieces that comprise Souvenir d’un Lieu Cher make an obvious coupling choice, as the first piece, Meditation, is the concerto’s original slow movement which Tchaikovsky rewrote for violin and piano. The version heard here is not the usual Glazunov orchestration but a smaller and extremely effective arrangement for violin and strings by the Romanian-Dutch conductor Alexandru Lascae.

Terry Robbins



 Gergiev conducts Mahler Symphonies 1, 2, 3, 6 & 7

London Symphony Orchestra;

Valery Gergiev



LSO LIVE, the London Symphony Orchestra’s own label, is well into its Mahler cycle recorded ‘live’ in The Barbican, their home venue. The label has been remarkably successful since its introduction in 2000 with selected concert performances conducted by Colin Davis, Bernard Haitink, Mstislav Rostropovich, and now Valery Gergiev. The discs are usually hybrid-SACD discs and are, as this Mahler cycle, state of the art technically with extraordinary dynamic range and true to life timbres. Tuttis never become congested. Acoustically, the Barbican is not an ideal venue but producer James Mallinson’s recordings are articulate with a sparkling clarity.

Valery Gergiev is one of the busiest conductors around today, in demand everywhere it seems. He has brought his Kirov Orchestra to Thomson Hall, treating us to stunning performances of Russian music, each work given definitive performances. His Le Sacre du Printemps was both illuminating and shattering ... an unforgettable performance; his Scheherazade electrifying. However his performances certainly did not reveal the essence of some non-Russian repertoire which brings us to this ongoing Mahler cycle.

It has become standard practice for conductors who ‘understand’ Mahler and ‘feel his pain’ to wear their hearts on their sleeve and subtly, or not so subtly, convey this empathy to the listener, whether live or from recordings. Leonard Bernstein comes immediately to mind. But can a conductor simply play what is written when every reading is a new decoding of the composer’s notation?

Gergiev’s Mahler may well be the most articulate on disc! There can be no doubt that the LSO is one of the very finest on the planet and under the proven eye of their current principle conductor they have turned in inspired, immaculate performances.

However, Mr. Gergiev does not, as yet, have the special insight that leads to Mahler’s anima which would have elevated these acclaimed performances from outstanding into Mahler’s inspired visions. Still, acknowledging this shortcoming, these five initial releases are so well performed and recorded that I look forward to the balance of the cycle.

Bruce Surtees




By Terry Robbins


 Three Sonatas for Violin and Piano - a mature work by Elgar, and early works by Richard Strauss and Ravel - are presented on an excellent disc by the Canadian duo Jonathan Crow and Paul Stewart on ATMA Classique (ACD2 2534). Elgar’s sonata, completed in September 1918, is a somewhat conservative piece that reflects the sombre effect on the composer of four years of the Great War. It has never really established a secure place in the repertoire, but is a work that really deserves to be heard more often. The Strauss sonata, written in 1887, is a passionate Romantic work clearly influenced by the chamber music of Brahms. The Ravel is an early single-movement work from 1897 that remained unknown until its discovery in manuscript many years after the composer’s death; its first public performance was in 1975. Crow, a Professor of Violin at McGill University and former concertmaster of the Montreal Symphony, plays with faultless intonation and a sweet, clear tone throughout. He has a sympathetic partner in Stewart, who is particularly outstanding in the Strauss. Recorded in Saint-Irenée, Quebec, the sound is excellent.

At Grigorian.com



 Odd Couple, the title of a new CD of American works from cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Geoffrey Burleson (Oxingale OX2015) is not a comment on the players; rather, it is taken from Matt Haimovitz’s description of the relationship between these two seemingly disparate instruments. Unsuitable partners they may be in some respects, but the music on this outstanding disc shows none of the weaknesses and all of the strengths that the cello and piano duo can display. The two central works are the sonatas by Samuel Barber and Elliott Carter, the former having its roots firmly in the Romantic tradition of the two Brahms sonatas, although firmly stamped with Barber’s own unmistakeable voice, and the latter, from 1948, harking back to the Beethoven sonatas in some respects while still looking ahead to Carter’s mature style. The opening and closing works are both world-premiere recordings: David Sanford’s 22 Part I from 1998 and Augusta Read Thomas’ Cantos for Slava, which was commissioned as part of an ASCAP award Haimovitz received in 2006, shortly after the death of Mstislav (“Slava”) Rostropovich. Thomas had worked closely with the great Russian cellist over the previous 15 years. The disc was recorded this past June at McGill’s Schulich School of Music, where Haimovitz is Professor of Cello. The sound quality is excellent, and both players are outstanding in difficult and challenging, but highly rewarding, repertoire.

At Grigorian.com


 There are two recent CDs of the Bach Goldberg Variations in the string trio arrangement by the violinist Dmitri Sitkovetsky. On the firstthe abovementioned Jonathan Crow and Matt Haimovitz team up with violist Douglas McNabney (Oxingale OX2014); the other features Vancouver’s Trio Accord - Mary Sokol Brown (violin), Andrew Brown (viola) and Ariel Barnes (cello) (Skylark Music SKY0802). As McNabney points out, Bach’s music is strong enough to transcend the many transcriptions that have been made of this work; certainly this version, which Sitkovetsky dedicated to Glenn Gould, serves the predominantly three-part keyboard writing extremely well. There are many differences in tempo and track timings here, the latter probably due to the observance - or lack thereof - of repeats as much as anything, but both recordings are extremely satisfying performances. The playing is excellent on both CDs, both from an individual and ensemble viewpoint, and the recording ambience - both were recorded in a church - is warm and resonant. On first hearing I preferred the brightness and contrast in the Trio Accord CD, whereas the Quebec-based ensemble plays with a touch more legato throughout, but on further comparison I’m not so sure; in two outstanding recordings I have a feeling that it’s Jonathan Crow and friends who come closest to the spiritual heart of this astonishing work.

Goldberg Variations
At Grigorian.com


Trio Accord
At Grigorian.com

Terry Robbins








 Schumann - Kreisleriana; Fantasie

Henri-Paul Sicsic


For those who believe, the bible tells us that the Lord created the world in six days – it took Robert Schumann only four to write his famous piano set Kreisleriana in 1838, not bad for a mere mortal! The equally famous Fantasie Op.17 - arguably his most famous piano work - took considerably longer, almost two years from conception to completion. Both pieces require extraordinary technique, a deeply rooted sensitivity, and most importantly, a keen understanding of Schumann’s own complex personality. Fortunately, all these qualities are in abundance in this recording featuring French-born pianist Henri-Paul Sicsic, released on a private label. Originally from Nice, Sicsic studied in his native city where he was awarded a first prize with highest honours in piano, a first prize in chamber–music, and a diploma in orchestral conducting. Between 1986 and 1992, he taught at Rice University, Houston, and then at the University of British Columbia before accepting a position with the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music in 2007.

Schumann wrote of his Kreisleriana: “My music seems so wonderfully complicated, for all its simplicity.” Indeed, the set is truly a study in contrasts, as emotionally complex as Schumann himself. Not surprisingly, Sicsic rises to the challenges admirably – how effectively he conveys the contrasting moods within, playing with a solid self-assurance, while treating the more languid movements with a quiet introspection. Similarly, his treatment of the Fantasie is always boldly coloured, from the noble and grand opening measures to the tender finale, music clearly written with his beloved Clara in mind. In all, this is a fine performance by an artist the Music Faculty should be rightly proud to have on staff!

Richard Haskell

Concert Note: Henri-Paul Sicsic joins Jacques Israelievitch, Teng Li and Shauna Rolston for piano quartets by Chausson and Fauré in a Faculty Recital at Walter Hall on February 6. The quartet can be heard live in a preview showcase at noon on February 3rd on Classical 96.3 FM.




 Debussy - Preludes for Piano Books 1 & 2

Ivan Ilic

PARATY 108.105

We are fortunate to have this recording come out this particular time. Although Debussy’s Preludes have been recorded a number of times previously, I find this issue far more successful. Many earlier releases have been discontinued or suffer from outdated recording quality or somewhat unengaged playing. This new high quality disc on the French Paraty label played on a magnificent Steinway by young American artist of Serbian origin, Ivan Ilic, is now an outstanding recommendation.

Debussy, like his predecessor Chopin whom he admired tremendously, also wrote 24 preludes in two books. While Chopin’s Preludes are short pieces of emotional states and based on varying techniques, Debussy’s Preludes invoke impressions of an imaginary universe and are generally longer and more complex than Chopin’s. Nature, in form of water, fog, winds and landscapes figure heavily, but some capricious humour and dances also occur.

Due to the many images of varying moods, impressions and atmospheres, it requires a pianist of phenomenal technique, utmost sensitivity and playing with élan, colour, restrained but pronounced emotional engagement and an extraordinary imagination. All these are presented here in abundance, with the natural resonances of the Steinway just as Debussy intended it. Each piece has its own atmosphere and structure that the pianist never fails to bring out. As random examples, Ce qu’a vu le Vent d’Ouest is a very dynamic piece simulating the powerful, menacing wind, perhaps the loudest in the series, but even here the pianist never pounds the piano. It comes as a breathtaking climax. Or La Cathedrale engloutie with its archaic harmonies and long sustained pedal notes suggesting the texture of deep water. I could go on…

Janos Gardonyi

Concert Note: Ivan Ilic performs music of Debussy and Canadian premières of works by Brian Current, Keeril Makan and John Metcalf at Glenn Gould Studio on February 19.







James Ehnes

ONYX 4038

David Fulton has spent years assembling an astonishing collection of instruments by the great Cremonese makers, and Canadian violinist James Ehnes has selected nine violins - 6 Stradivari, 2 Guarneri ‘del Gesu’ and a Pietro Guarneri - and three violas for a dazzling recital programme designed to showcase the specific qualities of each instrument. Several, like the 1709 Stradivari ‘La Pucelle’, have never been recorded before, and one - the 1715 Stradivari ‘Marsick’ - has been Ehnes’ concert instrument since 1999. Seven different bows from Fulton’s equally superb collection of bows by Tourte and Peccatte were used in the recording, each hand-picked to complement the strengths of the particular instrument.

In addition to a CD, the ONYX release includes a 100-minute DVD which features the entire 21-piece CD recital, with Ehnes describing the instrument and its qualities before each track, plus selection options and a 30-minute Extras chapter that includes the audio comparison tracks from the CD and extended commentary clips by Ehnes and Fulton.

Ehnes hardly moves when he plays, but the close-up camerawork still manages to make it difficult to see exactly what he’s doing at times, especially his deceptively effortless bowing. The filming of the instruments is beautiful, though, and Ehnes is in spectacular form, with the opening track, Bazzini’s La Ronde des Lutins, worth the price of the set on its own.

The violinist remarks in his outstanding booklet notes that “the difference in tone between instruments is often very subtle indeed”, especially when it’s the same player, of course, and it will take a professional ear to identify significant differences between the instruments. Still, a wonderful record of a remarkable project.

Terry Robbins




 Sibelius - Compositions for Piano

Heidi Saario



As a young boy, I used to delight in leafing though my grandmother’s old sheet-music from the 1920s, and one piece I recall in particular was the Sibelius Romance Op.24 #9. I can still envision it – the heavy yellowed score with the bright orange cover, and the title in a bold black script across the front. Admittedly, I had forgotten all about the piece until I came across it on this disc of piano music by Sibelius played by Heidi Saario on the Aspasia label. A native of Finland, Saario moved to Canada six years ago in order to undertake graduate-work at the Glenn Gould School. Since completing her studies, she has made a determined effort to promote the piano music of Sibelius, a genre too often overlooked. After all, the composer is much better known for his vibrant and nationalist tone-poems and symphonies than for his small output for the piano.

In the past, certain critics have dismissed Sibelius’ piano works as nothing more than salon-music. Unfair! While perhaps not great, these miniatures nevertheless seem well-crafted, containing a charm all their own, and as such, have much to offer the listener. What is particularly striking is the wide variety of moods achieved on a relatively small scale. These range from the gentle introspection of the Berceuse Op.104 #1 to the robust virtuosity of the finale from the Piano Sonata in F major. Saarios’s playing is polished and self-assured, at all times displaying a real affinity for the music. Is it the Nordic blood? Quite possibly - for although these pieces cannot honestly take their place beside those by a Beethoven or a Chopin, her elegant and heartfelt interpretation makes them particularly endearing, and well worth investigating. Recommended.

Richard Haskell






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