03_mozart_donMozart - Don Giovanni

Quatuor Franz Joseph

ATMA ACD2 2559

This 2-CD set gives us a fascinating example of musical transcriptions at the end of the 18th century. Montreal’s Quatuor Franz Joseph, using period instruments, specializes in works from that era, and here they perform Mozart’s wonderful 1787 opera in an almost complete - although unfortunately anonymous - transcription for string quartet published by Simrock of Bonn around 1798.

Transcriptions of popular works were extremely common, being the only way the music could be enjoyed away from the theatre or concert salon; Don Giovanni, for instance, spawned almost 600 various arrangements in the century following its premiere.

Questions arise, of course: Is it necessary to record the whole opera? Does it work? Is it boring? Well, Yes; Yes; and No. This is a genuine 18th century work of very high quality, and there would be little point in excerpting it. There is a transparency to the sound that allows all the vocal lines to be clearly heard, and as these are cleverly woven through the score there is no sense of “melody with accompaniment”. Sure, you lose the fullness of the voices and orchestra, but the richness of the part-writing belies the number of players, and, as the excellent booklet notes point out, the arrangement seems to bring out the purely musical aspect of the work without overly affecting its dramatic qualities.

And boring? - even at over 60 minutes per disc, this outstanding performance simply flies by!

04_mendelssohnMendelssohn - Piano Concertos 1 & 2; Symphony No.5

Louis Lortie; Orchestre Symphonique de Quebec

ATMA ACD2 2617

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To mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Felix Mendelssohn ATMA has released a disc featuring both of his piano concertos and the Symphony No. 5 - the “Reformation”, with the Québec Symphony Orchestra and Louis Lortie, as both soloist and conductor. Lortie has come a long way since his fine debut recording of the complete Chopin Etudes on the Chandos label in 1989. Now recognized as one of the world’s foremost pianists, he is as comfortable with conducting from the keyboard as he is with performing, as this disc clearly demonstrates.

Mendelssohn composed his two piano concertos seven years apart, the first in 1830 while in Italy (completing it in Germany), and the second in England, shortly after his marriage to Cécile Jeanrenaud. While the second is perhaps more serious in tone, both have many similarities – brisk solo passages requiring considerable dexterity, lyrical slow movements, and an overall sense of fine craftsmanship. Not surprisingly, Lortie rises to the challenges admirably, and together with the OSQ, both concertos are performed with great panache. This is indeed a most conducive pairing of soloist and orchestra.

Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 5 was completed in 1830, honouring the 300th anniversary of the Lutheran faith. Under Lortie’s competent baton, the OSQ again treats the music with the respect it deserves, achieving a grand and noble sound. While the second movement was taken at a brisker pace than I would have liked, it certainly didn’t detract from this most satisfying performance. So to all concerned - félicitations on some fine music-making!

05_de_fallaPiano Music by Manuel de Falla

Jason Cutmore

Centaur CRC 2952

(www.JasonCutmore.com)

Pianist Jason Cutmore displays stellar star quality as he performs the piano music of Manuel de Falla. Falla’s compositional output may be described as prolific. His style embraces a wide range of sources, both in melody and harmony, but it is always Spanish in its roots. He wrote specifically for the piano but also arranged some of his other instrumental works for the keyboard. Both genres are represented here.

Two transcriptions are exceptionally noteworthy. Originally scored for chamber orchestra, El amor brujo is technically not as demanding as the other tracks but the folksy Spanish gypsy dance qualities are glorious. From the pantomime El Sombrero de Tres Picos, the piano transcription musically evokes the anger and the frustration of the upset Miller in its guitar-like passages and tumultuous chords. Cutmore plays with a passion and understanding that is never trite.

Of the original piano works, Fantasia Baetica is breathtaking in its compositional and performance values. Originally written for Artur Rubenstein, here is a really virtuosic gem. Cutmore proves that he is a master technical wizard as he seamlessly plays with a clear vision of colour, sound and rhythm.

Jason Cutmore understands de Falla’s piano music, making this an intelligent, musical and enjoyable listening experience.

Concert note: Jason Cutmore performs music of de Falla, Soler and Poulenc for the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society on November 1.

06_quarringtonGarden Scene

Joel Quarrington; Andrew Burashko

Analekta AN 2 9931

This astounding new album from Canada’s premiere bass player Joel Quarrington is proof positive that the rarely-heard, husky voice of the double bass is indeed capable of the expressive cantilena we normally associate with the cello. This is partially accounted for by the fact that Quarrington tunes his double bass in perfect fifths (an octave lower than the cello) rather than the customary fourths, with a consequent enhancement of the instrument’s acoustics, but it is the sheer musicality of his playing that really wins the day. He is ideally partnered here by his long-time friend and sympathizer Andrew Burashko.

The album includes transcriptions of works by Korngold (the title track) and Henri Casadesus (a transposed version of his faux-classical Viola Concerto In the Style of J.C. Bach). Actual bass pieces include the celebrated Elegy in D major by the 19th century bass virtuoso Giovanni Bottesini and a slew of sugary bon-bons commissioned by Serge Koussevitsky from Reinhold Glière. Following this pleasant onslaught of bel canto salon music comes the real find, a powerful, world premiere recording of the remarkable Sonata for Solo Bass composed in 1971 by the prolific Soviet composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg. The first-class acoustics of the album were produced by Toronto jazz bassist Roberto Occhipinti. An extended podcast preview of this recording and related Quarrington interviews are available from Peter Jones’ web site at doublebasscast.com.

04_anderszewskiPiotr Anderszewski - Unquiet Traveller
Bruno Monsaingeon
Medici Arts 3077938
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Voyageur intranquille, Unquiet Traveller, opens with pianist Piotr Anderszewski boarding the train that, by choice, will be his home, complete with grand piano and a kitchen, until the end of this tour. So begins the documentary of an extraordinary musical figure.

During this winter’s journey across Poland we will listen in on his conversations about musical aesthetics, love, and the composers for whom he has a special affinity. He speaks about his personal journey and the decisions that have led him to this point in his life.

His profound favourite composer is Mozart and he is delighted to vocalise passages from The Magic Flute, reducing the orchestral accompaniment to some basic keyboard figures. We also hear him in various venues across Europe playing Bach, Chopin, Szymanowski, Beethoven, Brahms, and Schumann. The film ends with a most affectionate tribute to Lisbon, now his home.

Anderszewski has the rare gift of sharing every performance with his audience, conveyed by his sincere, overflowing personality. Incidentally, he plays only works he likes!

Born in Warsaw in 1969, Anderszewski is a pianist with ample technique and an intriguing personal philosophy, proof that there is true musical force in his generation.

01_janitschJohann Gottlieb Janitsch
Sonate da camera Volume 1
Notturna; Christopher Palameta
ATMA ACD2 2993

For all his militarism, Prussia’s Frederick the Great supported composers who left their mark on music; the role of J.J. Quantz in developing the modern flute comes to mind. Frederick’s most senior musicians included Johann Gottlieb Janitsch whose manuscripts were stored at the Berlin Singakademie; World War Two (when the Singakademie was plundered) deprived us of many of Janitsch’s works.

Twenty-seven quadro sonatas did survive. Christopher Palameta brings us five; that in G Minor (O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden) takes precedence and with good reason. The opening bars of the Largo are at once celestial and solemn; the all-but-forgotten Janitsch is no composer of dull chamber music.

Throughout the recording Palameta’s passion for the oboe is clear. Two of the three used are copies of contemporary oboes from Leipzig, one from Saxony. Both oboists in Notturna rise masterfully to the varied and demanding challenges of the Allegro in the C Minor Sonata Op 4.

It would be wrong to ignore the contribution of the strings to this recording. Janitsch was fond of using the viola which he selects slightly more frequently in his sonatas than either the flute or the violin. Two violas certainly add a slightly darker quality to the Vivace of the Sonata in E Minor Op 5B.

Through his own inspirational direction Palameta has literally revived Janitsch’s music; three of these five sonatas are recorded here for the first time ever.

02_piresChopin
Maria João Pires
Deutsche Grammophon 477 7483
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Nothing but good can be said about this set issued by DGG to celebrate Maria João Pires’ 20 years with the Gesellschaft and entirely devoted to Chopin. Now in her sixties, this rather elusive artist, inspiring teacher and ardent philanthropist has avoided the trimmings of easy fame and the nowadays so prevalent jet-setting. Even on this disc, instead of just playing “popular pieces” she focuses on Chopin’s last five years, beginning with the Third Sonata and ending with his ultimate work, the Mazurka in f minor.

Chopin as we know died very young, at age 39 and his last years were plagued with illness, an unhappy love affair and other pressures. Although already the most original innovator for the piano, by extending the keyboard to its full length and making new harmonies using the enharmonic scales and chromaticism, in his last years he even tried to break out of this bond by rejecting the tonal centre entirely. In this respect he was paving the way to Debussy and Scriabin. The 3rd sonata is “profoundly chaotic and using an energy towards an entirely new logic” (Pires). Her playing, with the beautifully seductive expression of the 2nd theme of the opening movement, the filigree dexterity of the Scherzo, the heartrendingly delicate Lento and the emotionally turbulent, exhausting Finale, makes it the most momentous performance on the disc.

The very complex Polonaise Fantasie is another example of this “new logic” that seems to go in many directions, but with the pulsating, syncopated and sometimes barely present dance tempo solidly maintained she holds the piece triumphantly together. There is also a curiosity, the Cello Sonata (with Pavel Gomziakov), and a number of Mazurkas, Nocturnes and Waltzes to round out the disc, among them the Minute Waltz played in just under 2 minutes!

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