05 PogorelichPogorelich Chopin
Ivo Pogorelich
Sony Classical 19439912052 (naxosdirect.com/search/19439912052)

The performance on this disc is altogether exceptional. Pianist Ivo Pogorelich takes nothing for granted in music. Nor should we in listening to him. If you know how Chopin “goes” then this almost certainly isn’t for you. Not that Pogorelich does anything wildly idiosyncratic, let alone provocatively iconoclastic, à la Glenn Gould. Rather, Pogorelich plainly understands that every interpretation is but one possibility, and he offers us a very enticing opportunity to open our minds, especially in these familiar works most burdened by tradition. 

Everywhere revelations abound, beginning with the spacious opening of  the Nocturne in C Minor Op 48/1. Pogorelich’s Nocturnes are altogether dreamy and lyrical. And in the Fantasy in F Minor Op.49 he takes us unexpectedly into another world. It’s full of glinting lights, mysterious depths, expectations, doubts and hopes like the shattered shadows of a rapturous quasi-Mendelssohn scherzo, glimpsed by moonlight in a forest. 

In sheer colour and variety, in the depth of characterization and in the exceptional range and refinement of pianism, Pogorelich imparts a power and majestic stature to Chopin’s Piano Sonata No.3 in B Minor Op.58. In its component parts the pianist displays urbanity and lyricism that is truly seductive and persuasive, which in itself is an object lesson in the very essence of style. The Scherzo is played with buoyant, aristocratic grace, psychological ambiguity and insolent virtuosity; Chopin as few pianists could even hope to try.

06 Chopin Alan HobbinsThe Art of Chopin
Alan Hobbins
Maestro Music Company MMCD05 (alanhobbins.com)

Canada seems to produce many first-rate pianists one after another: Hewitt, Lisiecki and Fialkowska, not to mention the immortal Glenn Gould! Into this august circle now endeavors to step Alan Hobbins. A pianist of Jamaican descent, Hobbins graduated from The Royal Conservatory and later studied at Juilliard. His teachers included the late great Leon Fleisher and Chopin specialist Marek Jablonski. Since then he has given many concerts in Toronto and New York to great critical acclaim. I met him several times in the 80s (he being my daughters’ piano teacher) and was invited to his debut concert. I was particularly impressed with his special affinity to the music of his homeland and American jazz.

Chopin is definitely his favourite composer and this is Hobbins’ third recording devoted entirely to his work. It’s a wonderful collection skilfully selected to give a good cross section of Chopin’s most beloved and immensely difficult pieces. He masters all the challenges with superb technical skill. Above all he brings “a subtlety of expression to every phrase, single chord or a note” raves one newspaper.

From the program of Scherzos, Nocturnes and Impromptus, some of my favorites are the majestic Nocturne in D-flat Major with its grand melody. This is followed later by a masterly performance of the Scherzo No.2 in B-flat Minor that opens with those powerful chords from which a beautiful, emotionally charged melody emerges followed by that peaceful meditative mid-section and the magnificent super bravura coda. 

And dare I mention the explosive, tremendously passionate, heroic Nocturne in C Minor that makes me shiver every time I hear it?  This is truly grand-scale pianism with the ebb and flow of emotion superbly controlled.

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07 Tchaikovsky JarviTchaikovsky Symphonies
Tonhalle-Orchester Zurich; Paavo Järvi
ALPHA 778 (naxosdirect.com/search/alpha778) 

I have been a longtime admirer of the conductor Paavo Järvi since the release of his live Beethoven cycle with the Kammerphilharmonie, Bremen of September 2009. At that time, I was very impressed by his ability to beautifully balance the orchestra.

Now we have a box set of Tchaikovsky symphonies together with various orchestral works and here it is again, the orchestra balanced so well that every instrument is clearly audible, still in its natural balance without being spot lit. This five-CD set from Alpha Classics has been so well recorded that you can map out the entire orchestra, the Tonhalle-Orchester Zurich, of which Järvi is music director. His presentation of these works is more thoughtful and sensitive than some other recorded versions from the likes of Karajan, Mravinsky et al, but no less powerful

Symphony No.1 “Winter Daydreams” is eloquently gentle and Symphony No.2 “The Little Russian, positively optimistic, patriotic and joyful. We move through the power and cumulative intensity of the Third “Polish” to the power of the Fourth and unbounded exuberance and positive optimism of the Fifth to the overwhelming sadness and ultimate resignation of the final movement of the Sixth Symphony, “Pathétique”.

The six orchestral works accompanying the symphonies include Francesca Da Rimini, Capriccio Italien, two pieces from Eugene Onegin, the Waltz and the Polonaise, as well as Romeo and Juliet and the Festival Coronation March. All enjoy the same meticulous attention to detail that we now expect from Järvi.

After a lifetime of listening to these works conducted by so many others, this recording may very well be my preferred version. Here the music unfolds as a narrative. It flows. These are well-considered new readings that may have you rethinking certain passages and perhaps reappreciating others. The five discs are also available separately.

08 Mahler 4Mahler – Symphony No.4
Chen Reiss; Czech Philharmonic; Semyon Bychkov
PentaTone PTC5186972 (naxosdirect.com/search/ptc5186972)

Four decades have passed since the Czech Philharmonic completed their first edition of the complete Mahler symphonies under Václav Neumann in 1982. Mahler was born in Bohemia and raised in Moravia (born in 1860 during the Hapsburg era, he considered himself an Austrian and spoke mainly German) so this first instalment of a new cycle can be considered a festive homecoming for a favourite son. Mahler’s Fourth Symphony is relatively compact in comparison to its gargantuan predecessors in the so-called “Wunderhorn” cycle of symphonies inspired by the 19th-century collection of folk-song texts known as The Youth’s Magic Horn, portions of which Mahler had previously set to music. Despite this economy of means, the symphony’s mischievous antics, ironic stance and complex structure confounded the critics of his time. Today it is regarded as one of his most accessible works.
Mahler himself once observed, “The real art of conducting consists in transitions.” Mahler’s own constantly shape-shifting music teems with kaleidoscopic tempo fluctuations which not every conductor can interpret convincingly. Bychkov’s mastery in this regard marks him as a genuine Mahlerian. The finale of the symphony features Israeli soprano Chen Reiss in an ingenuous rendition of the song Das himmlische Leben from which this work was spawned. 

The distinctive sound of the Czech Philharmonic is gorgeously captured in this Pentatone production; the strings are lustrous, the winds and brass incisive and the dynamic range is vast. Recorded in August 2020 from the confines of a shuttered Dvořák Hall in Prague, this is a very auspicious start to what promises to be an exceptional Mahler cycle.

09 EbenbildEbenbild
Juri Vallentin; Trio d’Iroise; Bernward Lohr; Caroline Junghanns
PASCHEN Records PR 220072 (paschenrecords.de/katalog/pr220072/)

Only to be described as unique and colourfully unconventional, the newly released album Ebenbild, featuring oboist Juri Vallentin and the Trio d’Iroise, is a blend of recited song text, choruses by J.S. Bach, as well as five pieces from various eras and styles all married together with one common theme: J.S Bach’s O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden (O Sacred Head, Sore Wounded). 

Originally derived from the madrigal Mein Gmüth ist mir verwirret (My mind’s confused within me) by Hans Leo Hassler (1564-1612), this theme was repeatedly used by Bach throughout his life in many works, including the St. Matthew Passion and the Christmas Oratorio. Arranged for oboe quartet, the album begins with the original madrigal and then is followed by the recited text of the first stanza, a chorus using the theme from one of Bach’s works and then the Sonata da camera in G minor O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden by Johann Gottlieb Janitsch. The album continues in this format with four other recited stanzas, four choruses and four works: Frederick Kelly’s Romance from the String Trio in B Minor, Charles Bochsa’s middle movements from two of his oboe quartets, Four Preludes to Infinity by Theo Verbey and the unfinished final fugue written by J.S. Bach shortly before his death.

The performances by Vallentin and Trio d’Iroise are virtuosic and thoughtful, showing a range of musical knowledge and sensitivity. A polished gem, this album is truly a heightened experience.

10 Dinnerstein UndersongUndersong
Simone Dinnerstein
Orange Mountain Music OMM 0156 (orangemountainmusic.com) 

A lyrical rubato-laden, eminently shapely Les Barricades Mystérieuses by Couperin opens Simone Dinnerstein’s solo piano recital Undersong, brilliantly captured in the warmth of this recording by Orange Mountain Music. But arch-Romantic Robert Schumann’s Arabesque, Op.18, with its rippling arpeggios and translucent glissandi that follows will likely take your breath away. 

The pianism is impressively nuanced throughout the program. Dinnerstein displays her strong rhythmic backbone with the bubbling lilt of Philip Glass’ Mad Rush but it is, to my mind, at any rate, Schumann’s Kreisleriana Op.16 that is the apogee of this recording. Rarely has the restless romance of this work been captured with greater imagination. Its heavenly, mercurial luminescence is tempered by the pianist’s intellectual rigour through its eight dazzling vignettes. 

Dinnerstein has long been one of the most articulate pianists in the world, remaining technically sound and musically eloquent no matter what the repertoire. Her Satie and Glass is a case in point. On the latter’s Mad Rush she tames the composer’s abrupt changes in tempo and performs the piece with a strong sense of dance braving its knuckle-busting challenges with a kick in her step. 

Her interpretation of Satie’s Gnossienne No.3 is eloquent and direct, quite without impediment or undue idiosyncrasy, yet musical to the core. Meanwhile, she approaches Couperin and Schumann with uncommon refinement of colour and texture. All of this makes for a disc to die for.

01 Viola BorealisOn Viola Borealis the outstanding violist Marina Thibeault explores musical links between several northern cultures. Nicolas Ellis conducts Montreal’s Orchestre de l’Agora (ATMA Classique ACD2 2811 atmaclassique.com/en).

The main work here is the striking 2016 Viola Concerto by Lithuanian composer Pēteris Vasks. Thibeault gave the North American premiere in 2019, Vasks calling her playing “truly excellent – she has captured my message.” High praise indeed, and fully warranted.

Reckoning was originally a series of six improvisations for violin with pedal effects by the Anishinaabe composer Melody McKiver. Two brief sections from a transcription for solo viola are included here, with harmonics and bowing techniques replacing the electronic effects.

A spirited performance of Telemann’s Viola Concerto in G Major, generally considered to be the first ever written for the instrument, completes a fine CD.

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02 Ramjattan InspirationsOn Inspirations: New Music for Solo Guitar the Toronto-based classical guitarist Daniel Ramjattan presents a recital of works by composers based in Canada, played on a seven-string left-handed guitar (danielramjattan.bandcamp.com).

Patrick Roux’s lovely Valse Vertigo is from 1994, but the other five works were all written between 2012 and 2020. John Gordon Armstrong’s Five Inspirations from 2018 opens the disc, and is one of three premiere recordings here, the others being Stephanie Orlando’s Soon (2020) and Luis Ramirez’s Singularity (for guitar and audio) from 2019. The Gamelan Suite was written by Ramjattan’s wife Naoko Tsujita in 2019; the CD closes with the really attractive four-movement Catharsis, written by cellist/composer Raphael Weinroth-Browne in 2012. 

There’s beautifully clean playing from Ramjattan, perfectly captured at The Church of St. Mary Magdalene, Toronto, by guitarist Drew Henderson, whose recording, mixing and mastering is, as always, simply as good as it gets.

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03 Boyd meets girlboyd meets girl: Songs of Love & Despair is the second duo album from the husband-and-wife team of American cellist Laura Metcalf and Australian guitarist Rupert Boyd; the first was reviewed here in September 2017 (Sono Luminus DSL-92255 sonoluminus.com).

It’s another project born in the COVID-19 lockdown, and includes five of their own arrangements: Debussy’s Arabesque No.1; Florence Price’s The Deserted Garden; Beyoncé’s Pray You Catch Me (with vocalise); Radiohead’s Daydreaming (with extended techniques); and Paul McCartney’s Blackbird. Eleanor Rigby is here too, as are Schubert’s Gretchen am Spinnrade (with lovely guitar work) and Boccherini’s Sonata in A Major.

Robert Beaser’s Mountain Songs features four of his set of eight Appalachian folk tunes, and there are world-premiere recordings of two terrific new works – Marián Budoš’ A New York Minute and Paul Brantley’s Filles de l’Élysée. Messiaen’s Praise to the Eternity of Jesus, from his Quatuor de la fin du temps, completes another delightful disc, full of warmth and top-notch playing.

04 Ibragimova MendelssohnThe electrifying duo of violinist Alina Ibragimova and pianist Cédric Tiberghien is back with another superb recital on Mendelssohn Violin Sonatas (Hyperion CDA68322 hyperion-records.co.uk/dc.asp?dc=D_CDA68322).

While only the Beethoven-influenced Sonata in F Minor Op.4 from 1823 was published, three others remained in manuscript: the Sonata in F Major MWV Q7 from 1820; the single-movement fragment Sonata in D MWV Q18 from the late 1820s; and the substantial Sonata in F Major MWV Q26 from 1838, intended for Ferdinand David. Mendelssohn left an unfinished revision of the first movement of the latter work, with the 2009 bicentenary published edition containing both versions; the original is used here.

Mendelssohn was an excellent violinist, so it is no surprise that these are much more than merely competent works. Ibragimova and Tiberghien are as good as ever, with terrific ensemble playing and technical brilliance, especially in the typically dazzling scherzo-like finales.

05 Yevgeny KutikOn The Death of Juliet and Other Tales: Music of Prokofiev violinist Yevgeny Kutik presents a recital inspired by his teacher Roman Totenberg’s story of a chance encounter with Prokofiev in a Paris nightclub, and reflecting Kutik’s belief that Russian folklore imbues all of Prokofiev’s music. The pianist is Anna Polonsky (Marquis MAR623 marquisclassics.com/index.html).

Arrangements of five Russian folk melodies commissioned specifically for the album – three for solo violin (including Kalinka) and two with piano (including Song of the Volga Boatmen) – are built around two Prokofiev works: the exquisite Parting Scene and Death of Juliet from Romeo and Juliet and the Sonata in D Major for Solo Violin Op.115, the latter given a fascinating reading with a much freer opening Moderato than you normally hear. The Violin Sonata No.2 in D Major Op.94bis closes the disc.

Kutik has a gorgeous tone and a great feel for line and phrase, and is ably supported by Polonsky.

06 Bach GoltzGottfried van der Goltz is the violinist on Johann Sebastian Bach Sonatas for Violin and Continuo, with excellent support from cellist Annekatrin Beller and harpsichordist Torsten Johann (Aparte AP276 apartemusic.com/?lang=en).

Note: these are not the six sonatas for violin and keyboard, but works from what Goltz calls the “grey area” of Bach’s catalogue – compositions, sometimes difficult to authenticate, that were described in vague terms and mostly scattered after Bach’s death.

Four works here are presented as authentic, although it looks as if the Gavotte in G Minor should also have been: the Sonata in G Major BWV1021, preserved in a score written by Bach and his wife Anna Magdalena; the Sonata in E Minor BWV1023; the Sonata in C Minor BWV1024 (although the attribution is disputed); and the Fugue in G Minor BWV1026. The Sonata in A Major BWV Anh.II 153 is almost certainly by Georg Philipp Telemann, and the Sonata in C Minor from around 1720 is listed as “Anonymous.”

The question of authenticity, however, never detracts from a quite superb and beautifully recorded recital of terrific Baroque music.

07 Daniel Hope America jpegOn Daniel Hope – America the violinist explores America’s musical heritage in new arrangements by Paul Bateman (Deutsche Grammophon140049 deutschegrammophon.com/en/artists/danielhope).

Most of the tracks are for violin and string orchestra, featuring the Zürcher Kammerorchester in the five-piece Gershwin Song Suite, selections from Bernstein’s West Side Story, Florence Price’s Adoration, Copland’s Long Time Ago, At the River and Hoedown, Kurt Weill’s September Song, My Ship, Speak Low and Mack the Knife, Duke Ellington’s Come Sunday and Samuel Ward’s America the Beautiful. The Marcus Roberts jazz piano trio joins Hope for the Gershwin, and jazz singer Joy Denalone and pianist Sylvia Thereza are the collaborators on Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come.

The effectiveness of the arrangements varies, but as usual Hope is in great form and perfectly at ease in this style of music.

08 Sibelius NielsenThe young Norwegian violinist Johan Dalene, winner of the 2019 Carl Nielsen Competition follows up last year’s first recital disc with an outstanding concerto CD with Sibelius Nielsen Violin Concertos, with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra under John Storgårds (BIS-2620 bis.se).

The composers were both born in 1865 and were excellent violinists, but their concertos, while written within seven years of each other, are markedly different in style. The Sibelius Concerto in D Minor Op.47 from 1904 is in the traditional three-movement form, while Nielsen’s Concerto Op.33 from 1911 is in two movements, each with slow and fast sections.

Dalene has a bright but not huge tone and technique to burn, and puts a quite individual stamp on both works, always sensitive in the Nielsen and simply dancing through the upper register challenges in the Sibelius.

09 Rautavaara Lost LandscapesThe final four orchestral works of Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara (1928-2016) are presented on Lost Landscapes: Works for Violin and Orchestra, a really sumptuous CD featuring violinist Simone Lamsma and the Malmö Symphony Orchestra under Robert Trevino (Ondine ODE 1405-2 naxosdirect.com/search/ode+1405-2).

The beautiful Fantasia from 2015 was written for violinist Anne Akiko Meyers. Deux Sérénades was written in 2016 at the request of Hilary Hahn; the second movement was left unfinished at the composer’s death, with the orchestration completed by Rautavaara’s 1970s student Kalevi Aho in 2018.

The four-movement Lost Landscapes, a revisiting of locations that were important to the composer in his youth was originally a 2005 violin and piano work for Midori, adapted by Rautavaara for violin and string orchestra in 2013-14. Simone Lamsma was the soloist at the full premiere in Malmö in 2021. Lost Landscapes is a world-premiere recording, as is the short orchestral piece In the Beginning from 2015.

10 Magdalena HoffmannThe modern concert harp weighs about 40 kilos, has 47 strings and seven pedals used to raise their pitch, and requires foot as well as manual dexterity, all of which makes the beautifully nuanced and virtuosic performances by Magdalena Hoffmann on Nightscapes for Harp, her debut album on the DG label, all the more remarkable (Deutsche Grammophon 4861724 deutschegrammophon.com/en/artists/magdalena-hoffmann).

Both original works and piano pieces transcribed by Hoffmann are featured in a delightful recital. Britten’s Suite in C Major Op.83 with its Notturno middle movement is the central work in a program that includes Notturno movements by Respighi and Clara Schumann, two Nocturnes by John Field, a Nocturne and three Waltzes by Chopin, Pizzetti’s Sogno and the Nocturne for Left Hand Alone by the American jazz pianist Fred Hersch.

For pure wow factor, though, the Danse des Lutins by the French harpist Henriette Renié, Marcel Tournier’s La danse du Moujik and Jean-Michel Damase’s Fantaisie on Tales of Hoffmann are simply stunning.

11 Schubert ModiglianiSchubert wrote string quartets for almost his entire life, with 15 surviving works composed between 1810 or 1811, when he was 13 or 14, and 1826, less than two years before his death; at least another four or five are lost. The complete canon is available in a new 5CD box set of Schubert – The String Quartets in immensely satisfying performances by the Quatuor Modigliani (Mirare MIR588 mirare.fr/catalogue).

The quartets are creatively grouped in threes with a common thread, the five volumes being labelled Harmony, The Art of Song, The Classical Spirit, Sentiments of the Soul and Light and Shadow. Melissa Khong’s excellent booklet essay and the generous spacing between the tracks add to an excellent release.

12 Ruperto Chapi String Quartets 3 4The Spanish composer Ruperto Chapí (1851-1909), known essentially as a composer of zarzuelas, only became interested in chamber music late in life, starting his four string quartets in 1903. The last two of them are featured in performances by the Cuarteto Latinoamericano on Ruperto Chapí String Quartets 3 & 4 (Sono Luminus DSL-92254 sonoluminus.com).

There had been virtually no Spanish string quartet music, ensembles or societies in the 75 years preceding 1901, when the Sociédad Filarmónica and the Cuarteto Francés were both founded in Madrid. Chapí’s third and fourth quartets were premiered by the Cuarteto Francés in 1905 and 1907 respectively.

Described as brilliantly funnelling the colour of the zarzuela into the string quartet genre, they are attractive, substantial and well-written works that present frequent technical challenges to the performers. The Cuarteto Latinoamericano, founded in Mexico in 1982, is in its element here in full-blooded performances.

13 20C CelloOn his second volume of 20th Century Music for Cello cellist Benjamin Whitcomb gives solid performances of four works for the solo instrument (MSR Classics MA 1798 msrcd.com).

The works are Hindemith’s 1922 Cello Sonata Op.25 No.3, Ernest Bloch’s 1956 Suite No.1, Gaspar Cassadó’s 1926 Suite for Solo Cello and Britten’s Suite No.2 Op.80 from 1967.

Whitcomb has a broad, rather strident tone that tends to lack warmth at times in these competent readings, although there’s the occasional moment – especially in the Cassadó – where the intonation seems somewhat less than secure.

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