01 Ensemble la CigaleUp in the Morning Early – Baroque Music from Celtic Countries
Ensemble La Cigale
Leaf Music LM 211 (leaf-music.ca)


Quebec-based early music ensemble La Cigale has a hit on its hands with this collection of Baroque instrumental music from Celtic countries. The tight ensemble playing, sensitivity to style and musical moods, and clear production values, showcase a range of performances from the witty to the danceable to thoughtful to florid.

The large number of works featured is mind-boggling and educational for any Celtic music fan. The opening track is the ensemble’s arrangement of the Scottish song John Come Kiss Me Now. Complete with the lilt and bounce of the faster sections, and lyrical recorder in the slower sections, it is a successful combination of classical with Celtic folk traditions, and foreshadows the flavourful music to follow. Scottish music is the big feature, with works by James Oswald, William McGibbon and General John Reid. Five short Scottish lute works from the Rowallan and Straloch Lute Books circa early 1600s are given a breathless rendition by artistic director Madeleine Owen, especially in the waltzing songbird tune The Canaries. Irish composer Turlough O’Carolan’s Carolan’s Concerto is a curious mix of Irish folk and serious Italian art music.

The touching closing track is the group’s very loyal, respectful arrangement of the Canadian fiddler Oliver Schroer’s (1956-2008) modern day lyrical Celtic work A Thousand Thank-yous.

And more than a thousand thank yous to director Madeline Owen (lute, theorbo, Baroque guitar), Sara Lackie (harp), Vincent Lauzer (recorders), Marie-Laurence Primeau (viola da gamba) and Sari Tsuji (violin) for this joyous music!


02 Galliano MozartRichard Galliano Mozart
Richard Galliano; Bertrand Cervera; Stephane Henoch; J-P Minale-Bella; Raphael Perraud; Syvain Le Provost
Deutsche Grammophon 4812662

French accordionist Richard Galliano is world renowned for his jazz stylings. He goes back again to his classical music roots with this all-Mozart release, the third in a series of performing select classical masters on accordion. Supported by a superb string quintet, Galliano explores new sounds in some familiar works.

The strongest performance by far is Mozart’s Rondo alla Turka (Piano Sonata No. 11 in A Major K.331). The Turkish Rondo lends itself well to an accordion arrangement – a Palmer Hughes Accordion Course version of it is on the RCM Grade 6 accordion exam repertoire list. Galliano’s version showcases his effortless florid technique and musical nuances. There is nice dialogue between him and the strings, with a solid, never-rushed, low-end support from the double bass. Another appealing dialogue can be heard on the Adagio from Flute Quartet in D Major K.285 where the long tones created by steady bellows pressure are in stark contrast to the strings’ pizzicato parts. More exploration of breaths between phrases would elevate the musicality dramatically. Not too keen on the unison playing of accordion and strings in Eine kleine Nachmusik as the work’s inherent colours are lost by too many instruments playing the same thing. Nice decision to use bandoneon in Laudate Dominum as Mozart is thrust into the 20th century with Galliano’s nod to Astor Piazzolla.

Galliano’s Mozart CD is an interesting and satisfying listen to some of Mozart’s compositions from unique instrumentation and arrangement standpoints.

03 Freedom of the City Royal RegimentFreedom of the City
The Band of the Royal Regiment of Canada
RRC009 (band.rregtc.ca)

In 1962 the City of Toronto granted the Freedom of the City to the Royal Regiment of Canada to honour the regiment for their 100 years of service. On May 15, 2016, the city reaffirmed this Freedom. As part of that ceremony the band and regiment marched through the streets of Toronto. Production of this recording, with the Pipes and Drums of the 48th Highlanders and vocalist Danielle Bourré, is part of their thanks to the city for a century and a half of support.

This CD has a wealth of variety from such works as Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance Military March No.2 and Sibelius’ Finlandia to film classics such as The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape. The Pipes and Drums of the 48th Highlanders blend in with the band on The Magnificent Seven so well that one could well think that this was the original arrangement. Similarly, Bourré’s rendition of the English folk song O’er the Hills and Far Away is enhanced with blending of the pipes. Among the lesser-known works, I have two personal favourites on this CD. They are The Two Imps, a novelty xylophone duet by Kenneth Alford of Colonel Bogey fame, and Serenade for Wind Band by British composer Derek Bourgeois. This number, written for guests at his own wedding to walk out of the church by, has a very tricky rhythm. In the composer’s words he was “[n]ot wishing to allow them the luxury of proceeding in an orderly 2/4.”

All in all this is a fine combination of familiar classics and entertaining music which we rarely have an opportunity to hear. It is well-performed, well-recorded and comes with clearly written program notes for all numbers.

04 Vegh SchubertVégh conducts Schubert
Camerata Salzberg; Sándor Végh
BMC Records CD 201 (bmcrecords.hu)

Best known as violinist leader of string quartets, Sándor Végh (1912-1997) in later life conducted the chamber orchestra now known as Camerata Salzburg; it attained a high standard as is evidenced by these discs. The opening introduction of Symphony No.1 in D Major (1813) leads into the Allegro through an attractive chain of suspended notes, a feature that recurs as the Allegro theme returns. Végh shapes the lyrical second theme beautifully. The lilting Andante and the Trio of the Menuetto movement are also fine examples of the lyrical style, with strings and winds equally integrated. Symphony No. 2 in B-flat Major (1814-15) opens more promisingly with woodwinds in dialogue, followed by an Allegro energetic and melodic in turn. Clarity in the strings is matched even by the cellos and bass; the winds are flawless.

In Symphony No. 3 (1815) Schubert returned to the key of D Major with more formal assurance and ability to develop first-movement themes. The charming Allegretto that follows is the highlight of the work for me. Symphony No. 4 in C MinorTragic” (1816) reinforces our astonishment at Schubert’s rapid progress before he reached the age of 20! The Introduction of this minor-key work is moving indeed and Végh communicates the changed mood convincingly throughout. Good intonation, excellent ensemble and orchestral balance prevail. Idiomatic and elegant performances have raised my estimation of all these works and of Végh as conductor; they will receive many hearings.

05 Pictures at an ExhibitionMussorgsky – Pictures at an Exhibition
Wiener Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel
Deutsche Grammophon 479 6297


Of all the composers in the Russian nationalist school “The Mighty Handful,” Mussorgsky is arguably the greatest. True, Rimsky-Korsakov’s highly colourful style left its mark on Glazunov and Stravinsky, but it was Mussorgsky’s works that were ground-breaking. And though Rimski-Korsakov disparaged Mussorgsky’s work as having “absurd, disconnected harmony, ugly part-writing, sometimes strikingly illogical modulation…” these characteristics were grist to the mill for Mussorgsky’s power, earthiness and sheer musical invention that inform, for instance, the mighty work: Pictures at an Exhibition (1874). This tribute to the architect and painter Victor Hartmann was written as a suite of piano pieces and, like other versions, not performed until after Mussorgsky’s death.

This Wiener Philharmoniker version conducted by Gustavo Dudamel comes from Maurice Ravel’s 1922 orchestration. Unlike every previous recording of Pictures at an Exhibition – including Berliner Philharmoniker and Claudio Abbado’s – in this interpretation (of Ravel’s Mussorgsky) Dudamel restores Mussorgsky’s Pictures to its architectural grandeur. The ten pictures – each one an atmospheric miniature – are connected by a recurring theme (the Promenade) and suggest Liszt’s influence, but with a greater psychological insight. The sinister melancholy of Gnomus, playfulness of Tuileries and grand triumphalism of The Great Gate of Kiev are dazzling. The intense beauty of the performance is completed by Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain and the Waltz from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Now all we need is a documentary of the 900 Superar children aged 5 to 16, from Vienna’s tenth district that contributed to this project.

Editor’s Note: Superar is a high quality musical program for young people. The program is free for participants and offers courses in choirs and orchestras. Superar is an offer to young people who for various reasons have little or no access to cultural education. Superar was founded in 2009 by Vienna’s renowned institutions the Wiener Sängerknaben, the Caritas of the Archdiocese of Vienna and the Wiener Konzerthaus.

06 Bruckner completeBruckner – Samliche Sinfonien (Symphonies 1–9; Student Symphony; Symphony “0” – Original versions)
Philharmoniker Hamburg; Simone Young
Oehms Classics OC 026

The legendary Sergiu Celibidache, perhaps the greatest Bruckner conductor ever, once said: “Time for the average person begins at the beginning, but for Bruckner time begins after the last note has been heard.” This distinguishes his music from, say, Beethoven or Brahms which moves logically from beginning to end. A Bruckner symphony must be heard in its entirety to begin percolating through one’s senses with the full effect emerging from the subconscious, sometimes as a jolt like the conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus. Bruckner is in no hurry. He ambles along at a leisurely pace, often stopping for breath or a backward glance. His music is “elemental rather than intellectual, it is hypnotic and incantatory” (Richard Capell). A great live performance could be breathtaking and cataclysmic.

This new set of complete Bruckner symphonies has been released one by one over the past few years and reviewed extensively by the most respectable music journals to rave reviews. After listening to every single one of them I most emphatically concur; in fact it’s been hard to contain my enthusiasm. And the conductor? Simone Young, a young lady from Sidney, Australia, who arrived in Germany in her 20s and quickly became assistant to Daniel Barenboim at the Berlin Staatsoper and soon thereafter took over the entire musical life of Hamburg (i.e. the Symphony and the Opera that dates back to the 17th century under such directors as Telemann, Gluck, Handel, Bulow, Mahler and a list of venerable conductors like Klemperer, Wand and Nagano). Now, this already indicates an extraordinary and enormously gifted musician, but a first foray into the recording world with a statement on one of the most complex and difficult composers, Bruckner (who conductors have spent a lifetime studying and struggling to interpret) is a feat no less than miraculous. Notable also that she opts for the original versions (Urfassung) unlike most other conductors who use one of the many revised versions. Minor point, but Symphony No.4 is completely unrecognizable in its original form; the 1880 version is the way it’s always performed and as such is sadly missing from this set.

Bruckner’s oeuvre divides itself into three categories, the early symphonies (1 - 4), the middle period (5 and 6) and the final masterworks (7, 8 and 9). Symphony No.1 is youthful, tempestuous, strongly rhythmic and then there is a curiosity, Symphony 0, a piece Bruckner rejected as “not good enough” so it became known as the Die Nullte (annulled) but luckily survived. Both of these are driven joyfully with exuberance, very un-Bruckner as it were, but in the Third Symphony (1873, D Minor) Young passes the first real hurdle with great aplomb showing youthful lightheartedness in the lovely Scherzo that really dances; it’s an absolute delight. The second movement with its Tristan quotations is majestically developed with beautiful lyricism and an almost Schubertian joy in melodies. The fourth movement is fast and turbulent, exciting and suspenseful with a nice Brucknerian finale.

As we now enter the middle period there is a quantum leap in Bruckner’s output and although he keeps to his original format the music is entirely different like the giant Fifth Symphony of churchlike solemnity and unheard-of complexity. A real stumbling block for conductors, it is rarely performed but – and here comes the miracle – she is simply magnificent. “Probably the finest [new performance] I’ve heard for a long time…Young manages the rare feat of honouring all Bruckner’s changes of gear and tempo while keeping a powerful forward flow…no doubt I shall listen to other accounts which are as fine, but for the moment I find that hard to believe” (BBC Music Magazine, December 2015). I would love to watch her do the giant fugue of the last movement at the helm of the thundering orchestra like a Napoleon commanding his armies. And what made Napoleon able to conquer most of Europe was not the size of his armies, but his uncanny ability to manipulate his troops and outwit the enemy, much the same as what Young does. With a tremendous insight and overview of the score she always has the ending in sight and by shifting the emphasis of the thematic material the progress is kept interesting, never boring.

The last three symphonies are the pinnacle of Bruckner’s art and this is where Young brings out the big guns. The unfinished, enigmatic and otherworldly Ninth with its valedictory Adagio is simply musical heaven and the greatest thing he ever wrote, but the monumental 90-minute long Eighth Symphony, being 100 percent complete, is also an incredibly satisfying, glorious work to which she brings grace and lightness in the Scherzo, and a hushed intensity to the Largo like a long, long prayer with a single earth-shattering fortissimo climax achieved after a long sustained crescendo of some 22 minutes. Big guns, indeed. Unhesitating recommendation.

07 Mahler HaitinkMahler – Symphony No.3
Gerhild Romberger; Augsburger Domsingknaben; Frauenchor und Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks; Bernard Haitink
BR Klassik 900149

This is Bernard Haitink’s most recent recording of Mahler’s monumental Third Symphony, preceded by a boatload of discs from his days leading Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw (five versions) and subsequent recordings with the orchestras of Berlin, Chicago and London. Despite his apparent affection for Mahler’s work in general and this symphony in particular, his name does not often rise to the top of the list in this repertoire as often as those of Bernstein, Kubelik or Abbado. This latest incarnation may settle the score in this regard, thanks to the excellence of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in this splendidly recorded disc. Haitink is particularly fine in the central sections of this sprawling six-movement work, the lengthiest symphony in the standard symphonic repertoire. The fleetness of the second movement is utterly charming while the third movement’s vivid rusticity includes a very simply played posthorn solo, which is too often over-sentimentalized. The fourth and fifth movements introduce vocal elements to the work and feature mezzo-soprano Gerhild Romberger in a merely adequate reading of Mahler’s setting of Nietzsche’s Midnight Song; the oboe solo here also skirts around the quite striking minor-third glissando called for by Mahler. The pace picks up again with the excellent Augsburger Domsingknaben boys’ choir joining Frau Romberger and the BRSO women’s chorus for the following Es sungen drei Engel movement. I was quite pleased with the well-nigh perfect Finale, which builds inexorably to a masterful climax marked by mellifluous contributions from the admirable brass section. My only major reservation concerns the vast first movement, which Mahler subtitled with the motto, “Pan awakes – Summer marches in;” I did not feel Haitink’s circumspect approach completely exploited the chaotic play of elemental forces at work here. However, the fluidity of the finale more than makes up for this shortcoming and I have no hesitation in recommending this live recording from June of 2016.

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