01 Mozart NoirLe Mozart Noir
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra; Jeanne Lamon
Tafelmusik Media TMK 1031 DVDCD (tafelmusik.org)


This is a welcome re-release from 2002, featuring an hour-long DVD docudrama on the life of the significant 18th-century Parisian composer Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, who was the son of a slave. There is also a full-length CD recording of several of Saint-Georges’ compositions, as well as a movement of a Leclair violin concerto and a symphony by Gossec.

The docudrama is well-researched and engaging, despite rather stilted dramatic performances in period costume. What is most interesting is R.H. Thomson’s narrated story of Boulogne’s life, the lively Tafelmusik performances, the interviews with his biographer and with Tafelmusik director Jeanne Lamon and soloist Linda Melsted. Together they make a good case for the complexity, grace and beauty of Saint-Georges’ music. One clip of Lamon explaining in detail the beauty of a particular theme and accompaniment is wonderfully articulate and a powerful insider’s explanation of how music is put together.

The DVD is entertaining, educational and quite moving in its presentation of the life of this remarkable and unique musician, athlete and military leader. The accompanying booklet includes a beautifully written essay on Saint-Georges by Charlotte Nediger.

As Tafelmusik heads into a new era with the recent appointment of Elisa Citterio as their music director, this recording is a poignant reminder of what a powerhouse the orchestra has been over the years under Lamon’s direction. The recorded sound is excellent and the performances are first-rate, most notably the solo playing of Melsted and Geneviève Gilardeau.

02 Ottensamer New EraNew Era – Stamitz; Danzi; Mozart
Andreas Ottensamer; Kammerakademie Potsdam; Emmanuel Pahud; Albrecht Mayer
Decca 481 4711


Andreas Ottensamer, principal clarinet of the Berlin Philharmonic, has released a delightful assortment of tracks on a disc designed to educate and entertain. New Era refers to the period in Mannheim from the mid- to late-18th century, an epoch in which composers and performers consorted, collaborated and so consolidated what we now call the Classical Style.

Most wind players encounter Johann (père) and Carl (fils) Stamitz, as well as Franz Danzi, en route through undergraduate performance courses. Seldom are these composers heard outside of the academic recital hall, perhaps owing to the tendency in our own era to reduce and highlight, so that we use Mozart as a stand-in for an entire range of musical peaks, as we might with Everest for the Himalayas. These four composers are represented here. For once Mozart’s sublime Concerto K622 is left off the menu in favour of two transcribed arias (from Mitridate and Don Giovanni), and a fantasy on the beloved La ci darem la mano, written by Danzi. For substance, there is a concerto from each Stamitz, and a delightful Concertino by Danzi for clarinet and bassoon (transcribed to great effect for cor anglais). Danzi’s Fantasy is an early iteration of the virtuosic form where a technical tour de force is derived from the music of a popular opera.

Ottensamer plays with fluid precision and a surprisingly bright tone that suits the material; perhaps long gone are the days when to be a member of the Berlin Philharmonic meant using the darkest possible set-up. His articulation is crisp, his intonation trustworthy, and his improvisational cadenzas in the concerti are like rifts in the time-space continuum, somehow joining that New Era with our own. Collaborators include flutist Emmanuel Pahud (on both of Stephan Koncz’ transcriptions of the arias) and Albrecht Mayer on cor anglais, both colleagues of Ottensamer in Berlin, and like him brilliant instrumental musicians. The back-up band, Kammerakademie Potsdam, is equally brilliant under the clarinetist’s direction.

03 Haydn Handel HaydnHaydn – Symphonies 8 & 84; Violin Concerto in A Major
Aisslinn Nosky; Handel and Haydn Society; Harry Christophers
Coro COR16148

This is the latest in a series of recordings of the symphonies and concertos of Haydn by the Boston-based Handel and Haydn Society, under the dynamic direction of Harry Christophers. The Toronto connection is the orchestra’s concertmaster – and violin soloist on this disc - Aisslinn Nosky, a former member of Tafelmusik and one of the driving forces behind I Furiosi.

Haydn’s eighth symphony – nicknamed “Le soir” – is a sinfonia concertante, meaning it features solo passages from several of the orchestra’s principals, including Nosky. It’s a great pleasure to hear the freedom, humour and tenderness each soloist brings to their playing and the whole performance has a tremendous buoyancy and elegance to it.

The A-Major concerto is difficult to bring off the page because of its rather pedestrian themes and somewhat predictable turns, but Nosky and Christophers give it a convincing and lively reading. It’s exciting to hear Nosky let loose in the cadenzas, unencumbered by the regular phrasing and symmetry of the main body of each of the movements.

The disc finishes with a glorious performance of Symphony No.84, one of Haydn’s Paris symphonies. Christophers coaxes clean, balanced performances from his charges without sacrificing drama and expressiveness. The second movement goes to some dark places, which are enhanced and deepened by a wonderful attention to dynamics and accents.

It’s clear that Christophers and Nosky are a powerful team. We will await the next Haydn disc with great anticipation.

04 Strauss AriadneStrauss – Ariadne auf Naxos; Bourgeois Gentilhomme (Suites)
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra; JoAnn Falletta
Naxos 8.57346

Now here is a real gem I wouldn’t mind listening to over and over again. This brand new release from Naxos comes from Buffalo, NY, by an orchestra, one of the best in North America, whose skills were honed by such names as Josef Krips, Lucas Foss, Semyon Bychkov and now led most ably by JoAnn Falletta. If you’ve never heard of or cared for her, you certainly will after listening to this rock-bottom, bargain-priced disc, a deal not to be missed.

Strauss’ love of the music of Lully inspired this absolute jewel of incidental music for Molière’s comedy Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, first performed at Chateau Chambord for Louis XIV in 1670. Strauss’ Suite (1912/1920) is written for a small but virtuoso orchestra, difficult and intricate but played here with flair, charm, delicacy and humour one rarely encounters even from the very best conductors. The violin solo by concertmaster William Preucil is an unforgettable delight.

The Suite from Ariadne auf Naxos is quite new (and a world premiere) by a young American, D. Wilson Ochoa, who put it together from the highlights of the opera of the same name. He certainly knew what he was doing and the suite now enriches the concert repertoire like a new symphonic poem by Strauss and surely will be so welcomed. Strauss said once that “melody strikes him like a bolt of lightning from the clear blue sky” and that’s well proven by the exquisite finale when the god Bacchus appears in his radiance curing Ariadne’s sorrows by falling in love with her and we hear wave upon wave of radiant music pouring forth from Falletta’s magic baton.

05 Bruckner BarenboimAnton Bruckner – The Complete Symphonies
Staatskapelle Berlin; Daniel Barenboim
Deutsche Grammophon 479 6985


There is a story about Karajan that once when he got sick and had to cancel a few concerts, the Philharmoniker decided on Daniel Barenboim to substitute. As soon as he heard this, Karajan exclaimed “OMG not HIM!!” and sick no longer, he jumped out of bed and ran back to conduct.

Barenboim’s approach to Bruckner is different from the holier-than-thou century-old Germanic tradition, trademark of many venerable conductors, mostly dead by now. I remember the great Celibidache stopping the orchestra (the BPO) 15 times before reaching the end of the first bar of the Seventh Symphony to get the opening tremolando just right, his tempo so slow, the symphony ended up a half-hour longer than anybody else’s. Now Barenboim, a consummate musician, does not revere anything but the music, making it as enjoyable, interesting, even exciting as possible and his tempi in Bruckner have always been faster, but never rushed. This is true for this new, beautifully recorded set of the nine numbered symphonies, already the third such cycle in his career, but now on his own label Peral Music, under the aegis of Deutsche Grammophon. The orchestra this time is the Berlin Staatskapelle, one of the oldest in the world, once upon a time the Prussian Court orchestra which the maestro, being its director for the last 20 years, had moulded it into perfection. It even gives the famous Berlin Philharmoniker a run for its money.

There is a unified approach, a remarkable consistency, and the orchestral playing is incredibly precise. Most of the players are young, highly skilled, enthusiastic, very devoted to each other and simply revere their conductor. I have watched some of the performances (televised by medici.tv and Mezzo) and his conducting style avoids all histrionics and, being past 70, he budgets his strength and gets maximum effect with very little effort. All performances are solid, high-quality and the symphonies throb with life, infused with rhythmic vitality. One will discover previously unheard details in the tremendously rich orchestral palette and the conductor’s stamp is always felt. The fff outburst in the Largo of the Seventh Symphony has never been more impressive on record and made even me jump out of my seat practically hyperventilating. Incidentally this had been the moment of my own conversion to Bruckner some 40 years ago.

If you want to enjoy Bruckner rather than worship it, this is the set for you.


01 Montreal Guitar Trio

If you’re a regular listener to Tom Allen’s Shift program on CBC Radio then you’ve probably already heard two of the tracks from DANZAS, the new CD of Spanish guitar music from MG3, the Montréal Guitare Trio of Glenn Lévesque, Sébastien Dufour and Marc Morin (Analekta AN 2 8791).

By pure coincidence the CD arrived in the mail the same afternoon that Allen played a movement from Agustín Barrios Mangoré’s La Catedral, so I knew how good the CD was going to be before even opening it. And “good” is putting it mildly. From the dazzling flamenco runs and rhythms of the opening track of Al Di Meola’s Mediterranean Sundance and Paco De Lucía’s Rio Ancho, the MG3 return to the Spanish roots of their student days with a program of terrific arrangements of mostly standard works.

In addition to the Mangoré Catedral there are six tracks of dances and songs by Manuel De Falla, De Lucia’s Canción de amor and finally Charlie Haden’s Our Spanish Love Song. All arrangements are by the guitarists, either together or as individual efforts by Dufour or Lévesque. The outstanding playing is beautifully captured in a resonant recording made last October in the St-Benoît-de-Mirabel Church in Québec.


02 Canadian Guitar QuartetThere’s more terrific guitar playing on Mappa Mundi, the new CD with a mixture of old and new works from the Canadian Guitar Quartet of Julien Bisaillon, Renaud Côté-Giguère, Bruno Roussel and Louis Trépanier (ATMA Classique ACD2 2750).

Vivaldi’s Concerto in G Minor for Two Cellos RV531 works extremely well in Roussel’s arrangement, with all four guitarists sharing the two solo lines at some point in the three movements.

The other four works on the CD are all comparatively recent compositions. Fille de cuivre (Copper Girl) by quartet member Côté-Giguère explores the conflicting emotions when outward persona is not matched by inner self; it was inspired by the metal-welding works of Québecois sculptor Jean-Louis Émond, whose sculptures include a woman with a perfectly polished front but an open back revealing the rough inner welds.

Concierto Tradicionuevo by Patrick Roux (b.1962) is a terrific homage to the Argentinian tango, with particular nods to the 1930s singer Carlos Gardel and – in a particularly dazzling movement – Astor Piazzolla.

Octopus, by the German composer Hans Brüderl (b.1959) was originally a work for eight guitars (hence the title pun: Oct-Opus) written for the Canadian Guitar Quartet and the Salzburg Guitar Quartet; the former enjoyed it so much that Brüderl adapted it for four guitars. It’s a delightful piece with a real “Wow!” factor.

The CD’s title work Mappa Mundi was written by the Canadian composer Christine Donkin (b.1976) and is a portrayal of four of the images on the 14th-century world map held at Hereford Cathedral in England. Cellist Rachel Mercer joins the quartet in the Tower of Babel movement, the cello representing the voice of God!

These are all substantial, captivating works, beautifully played and recorded.

03 Butterfly LabyrinthButterflies in the Labyrinth of Silence features the guitar music of the Swiss composer Georges Raillard (b.1957) in performances by the American guitarist David William Ross (Navona Records NV6071). Raillard studied classical guitar and composition in the mid-1970s, and his guitar compositions are available for download through his website at georges-raillard.com.

The works here date from 1999 to 2008 and, with titles like Shells on the Beach, Summer Evening at the Rhine, Butterfly and Measuring Clouds, are clearly essentially light classical pieces. Although somewhat limited in technical range in comparison to many contemporary works – often with the feel of classical guitar études – they are consistently pleasant, well-written and competent pieces by someone who clearly loves and understands the instrument. There is lovely clean playing from Ross throughout a thoroughly enjoyable CD.

04 Brahms SextetsThe Cypress String Quartet celebrated its 20th anniversary and its final season in 2016, and for its final recording in April chose the two String Sextets by Brahms, asking longtime friends and collaborators violist Barry Shiffman and cellist Zuill Bailey to join them (Avie Records AV2294). The performers also opted to make the recordings in front of a live studio audience, although there is no hint of audience presence on the CD.

The Sextets No.1 in B-flat Major Op.18 and No.2 in G Major Op.36 are given simply beautiful performances. Brahms always seems to have that quality of wistfulness and yearning, but the G Major work is particularly appropriate here, Brahms having learned from Robert Schumann the device of using musical notation to denote the names of people in one’s life and consequently turning this work into an emotional farewell to his lost love Agathe von Siebold.

It is hardly surprising then that this work should make such a fitting conclusion to the Cypress Quartet’s career. As the quartet members note, the works were an obvious choice for this final CD: “these monumental String Sextets . . . with their warmth and reflective qualities, are perfectly suited to saying farewell.”

The Cypress Quartet will be greatly missed, but this CD is a wonderful tribute to their talents.

05 Saint Saens Cello coverThe outstanding French cellist Emmanuelle Bertrand is back with another excellent CD, this time featuring the Cello Concerto No.1 in A Minor Op.33 by Camille Saint-Saëns with the Luzerner Sinfonieorchester under James Gaffigan and also the Cello Sonatas Nos.2 & 3 with Bertrand’s partner, pianist Pascal Amoyel (harmonia mundi HMM 902210).

Saint-Saëns clearly had a great love for the cello, and it shows throughout these works. Bertrand gives a passionate and convincing performance of the concerto, with excellent orchestral support. Bertrand and Amoyel are, as usual, as one voice in beautifully judged readings of the two sonatas. All of the usual outstanding Bertrand qualities – tone, phrasing, sensitivity and musical intelligence – are here in abundance.

The Sonata No.3 is a late work that occupied the composer from 1913 to 1919, but unfortunately the final two movements have been lost, and the first two exist only in manuscript. This lovely performance is the first recording of the work and leaves us wondering just what we are missing in the two lost movements.

06 Cello StoriesI could easily use an entire column to review Cello Stories – The Cello in the 17th and 18th Centuries, the quite remarkable hardcover book and 5-CD set featuring the French cellist Bruno Cocset and his group Les Basses Réunies, with text by the Baroque cellist and musicologist Marc Vanscheeuwijck (Alpha Classics ALPHA 890).

Cocset says that the intention is to show how an instrument and its repertoire have taken shape, and he has selected the musical program from his recordings for Alpha – some of them previously unreleased – made between 1998 and 2013. The five discs are: The Origins, with music by Ortiz, Bonizzi, Frescobaldi, Vitali, Galli and Degli Antonii; Italy-France, with music by Marcello, Vivaldi and Barrière; Johann Sebastian Bach, two CDs of cello sonatas, choral preludes, movements from the Cello Suites Nos. 1, 2 and 4 and the complete Suites 3, 5 and 6; and From Geminiani to Boccherini, including a short sonata by Giovanni Cirri.

The book is in English and French, with full track listings and recording details, and there are 15 pages of full-colour contemporary illustrations. The astonishingly detailed and researched text portion on the history and development of the instrument and its playing techniques runs to about 50 pages and has 386 footnotes.

The playing throughout is quite superb. It’s a simply astonishing project, completed in quite brilliant fashion.

07 Melia Watras 26Melia Watras: 26 (Sono Luminus SLE-70007) is a fascinating CD inspired by the concept of violists performing and sharing their own compositions. Violists Watras, Atar Arad and Garth Knox (here playing viola d’amore) are joined by violinist Michael Jinsoo Lim in five works by Watras, two by Arad, one by Knox and a duo by American composer Richard Karpen.

All the players have extensive chamber music experience, Arad with the Cleveland Quartet, Knox with the Arditti Quartet and Watras and Lim as co-founders of the Corigliano Quartet. The playing is of the highest standard throughout.

All of the nine works – there are three duos for two violas and two for violin and viola, three solo viola works and a solo violin piece – are world premiere recordings, and each one is a real gem. It’s a terrific CD, and one which should appeal to a much wider audience than just lovers of the viola.

The CD title, incidentally, represents the combined number of strings on the four instruments used.

07 Claremont TrioSPHERES – Music of Robert Paterson is the new CD from the Claremont Trio – violinist Emily Bruskin, cellist Julia Bruskin and pianist Andrea Lam (American Modern Recordings AMR 1046).

The two major works by this American composer are quite different but form a pair, the shorter and sweeter 2015 Moon Trio, commissioned by the Claremont Trio, being a sister piece for the much longer and more strident Sun Trio, a 1995 work revised in 2008; Donna Kwong, who was a founding member and pianist of the Trio for 12 years from its foundation at the Juilliard School in 1999, is the pianist in the latter work.

The Toronto-born cellist Karen Ouzounian joins Andrea Lam and Julia Bruskin in the Elegy for Two Cellos and Piano, a 2006 work originally written for two bassoons in memory of a well-known New York cellist, and transcribed for two cellos in 2007-08. Quoting liberally from the Bach cello works, it’s a simply lovely piece.

08 Mozart Violin ConcertosAnd finally, Henning Kraggerud is the brilliant soloist leading the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra on MOZART Violin Concertos Nos.3, 4 and 5 and the Adagio in E, K.261, a Naxos Music in Motion DVD (2.110368).

Filmed before a small audience in the intimate but resonant Akershus Castle Church in Oslo in January 2015, the camera work is understandably a bit limited, with cameras in front on the left, right and centre providing close-ups and occasional tracking. The picture quality could perhaps be a little sharper, but colour and sound are fine.

It’s the playing we’re here for, though, and it’s simply sublime. Kraggerud’s 1744 Guarneri Del Gesù has surely never sounded warmer or brighter, and the joy, exuberance and perfect communication between soloist and orchestral players is a delight to see. The performances throughout are superb, with brilliant outer movements and beautifully judged slow movements.

Kraggerud, who provides his own cadenzas, gives introductions to each work (in Norwegian with English subtitles) with fascinating insight and stories, including what may well be the historical source of all viola jokes; and there is a brief Behind the Scenes bonus track showing preparations for the concert.

01 SerockiAdam Kośmieja plays a remarkable contemporary program in his recording Serocki – Complete works for solo piano (Dux 1284). The music of Kazimierz Serocki (1922-1981) is regrettably unfamiliar to most North American audiences. Its uniqueness lies in his 12-tone style. Serocki demonstrates a strong affinity for rhythm and texture as the key drivers in his music. Whether he’s drawing out a languorous elegy or spinning a feverish virtuosic passage, he writes for clarity using very little pedal and favouring generous application of staccato. On rare occasions he will seem impressionistic and reveal the French influences he absorbed as a student in Paris. More curious and delightful is the unmistakable, if subtle, flavour of something that is teasingly Broadway and flirts with jazz.

Pianist Adam Kośmieja does an extraordinary job of playing this music. He obviously has a deep understanding of what Serocki is saying and how he means it to be said. Kośmieja’s ability to meet the widely different interpretive demands of the music is impressive. He lists, among his teachers, names like Gary Grafman, Paul Badura-Skoda, Ivan Moravec, Lang Lang and numerous others.

The Sonata for Piano has two wonderfully maniacal movements, veloce and barbaro, that contrast sharply with the other two inquietamente and elegiaco. It’s a substantial work, rich in variety and it’s exceptionally well-played.

The Gnomes: Childrens’ Miniatures is fascinating for its simplicity as repertoire for children yet intriguing for the way it introduces them to the 12-tone system through the strategic placement of gentle dissonances. The disc is a wonderful issue from Polish Radio.

02 VersusUkrainian-born pianist Irena Portenko has conceived a yin-yang study of contrasting concertos that may have more in common with each other than meets the ear. Her new release Versus: Prokofiev Piano Concerto No.2; Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1; Ukrainian National Symphony Orchestra; Volodymyr Sirenko (Blue Griffin Recording BGR417) opens with an intense performance of the Prokofiev Concerto No.2. Actually, there’s no other way to play it. It’s dramatic, dark and relentless.

Prokofiev’s first few performances met with uneven success. He cites generally better public acceptance with each performance, but it was a rocky start. The work was, for 1913, a challenging audience experience. Dense and replete with rhythmic and melodic complexities, it left first-time listeners dealing mainly with the heavy emotional experience. Stravinsky, however, was impressed. Diaghilev, too, was complimentary and reportedly invited Prokofiev to play it as a stage production while dancers moved around him on the stage. Curiously the third movement has the feel of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet with the strong bass pulse that drives the dance, Montagues and Capulets.

The writing is undeniably brilliant and is matched by the performance. Portenko is satisfyingly at home with this music, meeting its technical and interpretive challenges with confidence and style. She brings the same energy to the Tchaikovsky Concerto No.1 in B-flat Minor Op.23. It too, is grand and relentless. Although she is very clear in her notes that she sees this as the counterbalance of light and positive energy to the Prokofiev. Noteworthy in this performance is the way some of the inner wind voices are brought forward in the second movement, creating the impression of familiar music never heard before.

A very impressive recording.


03 Chopin ChoSeong-Jin Cho won the 17th International Chopin Piano Competition in 2015, the first Korean to do so. His latest recording Chopin – Piano Concerto No.1; Ballades; London Symphony Orchestra; Gianandrea Noseda (Deutsche Grammophon 4795941) shows how his focus on the singing qualities of Chopin’s ideas won him that coveted prize. Cho’s treatment of the principal melodic ideas in the opening movement is fluid and lyrical. Even his ornaments come across more as small eddies in a current than clusters of notes on a page. The second movement Romance is exquisite. Cho manages to retain a fragility about his playing, even through the slightly more assertive middle section. His technical display in the final movement is flawlessly clear.

The Ballades too, reveal Cho’s fascination with the singing qualities of Chopin’s ideas. Much of the Ballade No. 1 in G Minor Op.23 is remarkably understated, making for a starker contrast with the outburst of the middle section as well as the closing measures. The Ballade No.2 follows in a similar vein. The effectiveness of Cho’s playing lies as much in his virtuosity as in his ability to fall into Chopin’s moments of repose with a delicacy that transcends the pianissimo markings. He’s a tall young man whose interviews reveal a shyness, a non-star-like simplicity that seems to suit him perfectly for this music.


04 Scriabin OhlssonGarrick Ohlsson won the Chopin International Piano Competition more than 45 years ago and has, since then, been a recognized and respected interpreter of Chopin’s music. The way in which Chopin expanded musical boundaries in his own time, is very much echoed in the evolution of Alexander Scriabin’s piano music. So it seems a natural choice for Ohlsson to make a recording of Scriabin – The Ten Piano Sonatas; Fantasy Op.28 (Bridge 9468A/B).

The ten sonatas chart a dramatic course of evolution in both form and tonality with the Sonata No.5 in F-sharp Major Op.53 being the significant turning point. The 1907 work is the first to break free of individual movements, and Scriabin himself referred to it as a “large poem for piano.” Perhaps more importantly, it moves fearlessly and convincingly in the direction of atonality. Ohlsson captures this new freedom from tonal centre and form with breathtaking virtuosic energy. The Sonata No.6 Op.62 is different again. While still a single movement, it’s a work that Scriabin never played in public, despite his habit of premiering his own compositions. He is said to have feared the darkness inherent in the writing. Ohlsson explores this without reservation and reveals something of what may have perturbed the composer so much about his own creation. The 2-disc set is a welcome and revealing document that sheds valuable light on the development of a composer who saw himself as something of a mystic whose music might change the world.

05 Erik SimmonsOrgan recordings appear infrequently in this column. It’s of special interest therefore, that organist Erik Simmons’ latest release, Hymnus – Music for Organ by Carson Cooman, Divine Art (dda 25147) demonstrates how new technology and contemporary music can be a winning formula for an older genre.

Producers of organ recordings have always wrestled with microphone placement in the quest for the right balance of acoustic space and the instrument’s presence. The problem becomes more complex when organ pipes are located in different places throughout a building. Enter digital technology.

Anyone can now purchase a digitally sampled pipe organ, recorded as individual notes from an optimal acoustic location, and play that library of samples through a midi system from a compatible keyboard. That’s exactly how this 1787 organ in Weissenau, Germany, appears in this recording. Every actual sound from the initial speaking attack of a pipe to its final decay and slight pitch drop is captured faithfully with every note. The authenticity of the performance location sounds so complete, it makes the likelihood of the recording being done in the comfort of his living room, even more astounding.

American composer Carson Cooman, in his mid-30s, has a body of works that numbers well over a thousand. Most are short pieces, three to six minutes, and designed as music for church services where preludes, postludes and interludes on that scale are best suited. His style is fairly traditional, and contemporary in the lightest sense, engaging only occasionally with atonality. The variety of his writing is impressive and he’s capable of evoking greatly contrasting moods. This is especially effective as Erik Simmons uses the Weissenau organ to maximum colouristic effect, whether drawing a single flute rank or the full organ registration.

It’s a terrific recording for three reasons: superb playing, fine composition and technological astonishment.

06 Shostakovich GiltbergPianist Boris Giltburg’s discography expands yet again with Shostakovich – Piano Concertos; String Quartet No.8 (transcribed for piano) Royal Liverpool Philharmonic; Vasily Petrenko (Naxos 8.573666). As he often does, Giltburg writes his own notes for the recording, exploring the circumstances around the creation of these works by a composer admittedly close to his own heart. Giltburg relates the historical events with academic precision and links them to the subtlest aspects of Shostakovich’s music with the knowing intimacy of a soulmate. His exceptional performances of the Piano Concertos No.1 in C Minor and No.2 in F Major reflect this deep understanding. In the case of the Concerto No.2, Giltburg brings ebullience to the music that captures the paternal joy of its dedication to his son Maxim on his birthday in 1957. The earlier concerto predates it by more than two decades and is more formal, but Giltburg finds the positive energy that Shostakovich was soon to have repressed under the attack of the Soviet party establishment.

The transcription for piano of the string quartet material is a fascinating and ambitious undertaking. Wanting to have a larger-scale Shostakovich work for solo piano available to him, Giltburg has transcribed the String Quartet in C Minor Op.110. Being as thorough as he is, he sought and received permission of the Shostakovich family for special access to resource materials for this project. The result is a new iteration of a work from a dark and discouraging period in the composer’s life. In a curious way, Shostakovich never surrendered the skill of his craft to the hopelessness of his present condition. Giltburg has inexplicably and beautifully captured this moment of genius slipping into despair.

07 Andreeva PreludesAnother recording of comparisons is on the shelves this month in Natalia Andreeva plays Preludes and Fugues; Bach, Liszt, Franck and Shostakovich (Divine Art dda 25139). This Russian pianist has given considerable thought to her program and liner notes, and lays out a wonderful rationale for the enjoyment of a series of preludes and fugues that includes some form of shared material.

She begins, logically, with Bach, giving the Prelude and Fugue in C-sharp Minor BWV 849 a disciplined and sensitive reading. Proceeding through Liszt’s transcription of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in A Minor S462 No.1 she arrives at Franck’s Prelude, Chorale and Fugue in B Minor Op 21. By now it’s clear that Andreeva is making serious connections. She concludes with Shostakovich’s Prelude and Fugue in C Minor Op.87 No.20 leaving the impression that 350 years have not diminished the appeal of fugal form, especially when paired with the Prelude. Altogether a very worthwhile artistic and intellectual exercise.

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