01_purcell_les_voix_humans Purcell - Fantasias

Les Voix Humaines

ATMA ACD2 2591

 

Henry Purcell composed his fifteen Fantasias and In nomines just after becoming the organist at Westminster Abbey. Composed for consorts of three to seven viols, they are remarkable in their contrapuntal fluidity and surprising in their occasional dissonance in even modern day terms. They are played with acuity and sensitivity here by the gifted Montreal viol ensemble, Les Voix Humaines, on historic instruments with a local connection.

 

Here's a bit of background on the instruments themselves. The Hart House Viols are one of so many hidden treasures lurking in the corners of Toronto buildings. Purchased by the Massey Foundation in 1929, Vincent Massey had the set of viols housed at U of T's Hart House and in 1935 they became the property of that illustrious institution. In 2008, in a stroke of musical brilliance, Susie Napper and Les Voix Humaines had the viols refurbished to playing condition for this wonderful release.

 

This winning combination of compositions, instruments and performers is breathtaking. Of note is Fantasia V in Bb major Z.736 for its twists of rhythm and tempo. In Fantasia IX in a minor Z.740 the aural colours are subtle and intriguing, especially in the slower sections. The treble viol holds middle C throughout the Fantasia upon one note in F major, Z. 745 creating a sonic foundation for the other viols to play around - a kind of early music forerunner of Terry Riley's In C.

 

Les Voix Humaines prove themselves yet again to be world class musicians. This is a very enjoyable musical experience.

Tiina Kiik

 

02_beethoven_horn 

 

The Beethoven Heritage (Romantic music for horn)

Louis-Philippe Marsolais; David Jalbert

ATMA ACD2 2952

 

The French horn probably isn't the first instrument that springs to mind when you think of solo sonatas with keyboard accompaniment, but this fascinating CD features duo works from a pivotal period - both physically and musically - in that instrument's history.

 

The hand-stopped natural horn was gradually replaced by the valve horn from about 1813 on, and the works here reflect the changes that were occurring in the instrument's solo repertoire around the same time.

 

Beethoven wrote his Op.17 F major sonata for one of the greatest natural horn virtuosi, Giovanni Punto, in Vienna in 1800; it was a significant event, as sonatas were new ground for an instrument traditionally featured as a soloist only in concertos.

 

The three other composers represented here were all pianist friends of Beethoven. Ferdinand Ries' Sonata in F was inspired by an 1811 visit to Kassel, home of the horn virtuosi Schunk brothers; Carl Czerny's Andante e polacca for natural horn was probably written for Eugene Vivier's Vienna visit in 1848, Czerny having written a work for valve horn some 18 years earlier. Both of Ignaz Moscheles' works for horn and piano are here: the Introduction et Rondeau Ecossais from 1821; and the Rossini-inspired Thème varié of 1860.

 

Performing these works on a modern horn, Louis-Philippe Marsolais shows complete mastery of a notoriously difficult instrument, leaving nothing to be desired in his technical assuredness, dynamic range, tone quality and expressive nuance. Pianist David Jalbert provides outstanding support. 

Terry Robbins

 

03_mendelssohn_trios 

 

Mendelssohn - Piano Trios

Newstead Trio

Prince Productions Prince 9809 P

www.newsteadtrio.com

 

To date, the Newstead Trio has released five CDs, mostly for the small Prince label, based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Consisting of American violinist Michael Jamanis, Canadian cellist Sara Male and Chinese pianist Xun Pan, the group's recorded repertoire has ranged from Mozart to Piazzolla.

 

Just in time for Mendelssohn's 200th birthday, they've released a disc of the composer's two piano trios. This is well-trodden ground: the Beaux Arts, Florestan, Borodin and many other fine groups have recorded this repertoire - and in the face of such abundance the value of this recording is questionable. On the other hand, it can be argued that it's brave and admirable for a yet another ensemble to record such well known repertoire, as it invites comparison with the best.

 

With this in mind, I'm happy to say that with this new disc, the Newstead musicians have clearly demonstrated they can play this music as well as anyone. From the opening of the Op. 49 Trio in D Minor, it's apparent that they're at home with both the Classical and Romantic qualities that co-habit Mendelssohn's scores. Balance and ensemble are exemplary, and throughout the playing is marked by a strong sense of direction. Some of the most expressive playing on this disc can be heard in the second movement of the Op. 66 Trio in C Minor, which for some unfathomable reason remains the lesser known of these two works.

 

Unfortunately, there are a few flies in this ointment: a boomy murkiness in the bass, and also at times a glassy quality to Male's cello. Still, there's much to be admired - and the question of whether the world wants one more disc of the Mendelssohn trios will be answered soon enough by the CD-buying public. 

Colin Eatock

 

 

04_saint-lubin Leon de Saint-Lubin - Virtuoso Works for Violin, Vol.1

Anastasia Khitruk; Elizaveta Kopelman

Naxos 8.572019

 

Although born in Italy, the now-forgotten 19th century violin virtuoso and composer Leon de Saint-Lubin spent virtually all of his life in Austria and Germany, enjoying a highly successful career in Vienna and in Berlin, where he died at the age of 44 in 1850. His works mirror a period when German music was developing from the Classical to the Romantic style: there are echoes of Beethoven here, along with touches of Schubert, Mendelssohn and Spohr, and even hints of early Brahms.

 

It's difficult to make a definitive judgement from a few selected works - he also left unpublished operas, symphonies and concertos - but clearly Saint-Lubin was not only an outstanding violinist but also a more than competent composer, highly-regarded in his time and obviously capable of some excellent piano writing.

 

Khitruk is brilliant throughout this stunning CD, particularly in the unaccompanied Lucia di Lammermoor Fantaisie Op.46 and the Thalberg Theme and Etude transcription, and has a sympathetic partner in Kopelman in the duo selections.

 

A very few Saint-Lubin pieces have been recorded before, with mixed opinions regarding their merit, but nothing on this scale; I found it an absolute revelation.

 

The CD cover implies that this is only Volume 1, suggesting more to come; there are, apparently, five unpublished Saint-Lubin violin concertos - now there's a project!

 

Recorded in Newmarket and the CBC's Glenn Gould Studio by the usual Kraft & Silver team, the sound quality is exemplary.

 

 

 

Terry Robbins

 

 

01_the_queen The Queen - Music for Elizabeth I

Toronto Consort

Marquis 81387 (www.marquisclassics.com)

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 In light of the recent revival of popular interest in “The Tudors”, this is a most timely release for the Toronto Consort. Following on the heels of recent staging of this repertoire, the CD is beautifully performed with exquisite sound engineering by Ed Marshall. As ever, in the pursuit of historical authenticity, director David Fallis has been thorough in his research, to the point of engaging Professor David Klausner of the University of Toronto to assist with Elizabethan pronunciation, a feature that is most engaging in and of itself. The spirit of the Elizabethan court is recaptured with its love for music, dancing, playfulness and glorification of heroic exploits, realm and monarch, with selections by Dowland, Morley, Campion, Byrd and others interspersed with traditional English music in unique arrangements by Fallis and other members of the consort. Featuring a uniquely English combination of instruments called the “mixed consort”, consisting of lute, bandora, cittern, viola da gamba, flute and violin along with recorder and harpsichord, the accompaniments and instrumental selections are as hearty and multi-layered as the part-singing throughout. With too many wonderful solo performances to single out in these brief pages, let us simply praise the performance as being as glorious and as charming as Oriana herself!

Dianne Wells

 

01_schubert_death Schubert - Death and the Maiden;
Symphony No.8
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra;
JoAnn Falletta
Naxos 8.572051
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 Naxos brings us two ‘new’ symphonic works by Schubert: a transcription of a major chamber work and another attempt to solve the enigma of the Unfinished Symphony.

 American musician Andy Stein’s full orchestration of the Death and the Maiden string quartet is quite striking and works extremely well, supporting his view that the quartet is arguably Schubert’s greatest large-scale composition, and successfully realizes his desire to create a late Classical/early Romantic symphony out of it. The instrumental scoring is idiomatic and highly effective, and there is excellent balance and contrast between the strings, brass and woodwind.

 Less successful - or, at least, less satisfying - is the completed version of the Unfinished Symphony, perhaps because our familiarity with the original makes it virtually impossible to listen objectively to any additions. Over the past 140 years there have been countless attempts to complete the work. This version has a reconstruction of the Scherzo - based on Schubert’s own sketches - by the English Schubert scholar Brian Newbould, together with a Finale assembled by the Swiss conductor Mario Venzago which combines extracts from Schubert’s Rosamunde incidental music with the same work’s Entr’acte, which some historians believe may have been intended as the original Finale for the symphony. It’s an impressive and credible attempt at doing the impossible perhaps, but fails to address the fundamental question with projects like this – “Why even try?”

 Apparently recorded live in concert, the BPO and Falletta deliver performances full of passion and conviction.

  Terry Robbins

 

02_yuja_wang Sonatas & Etudes

Yuja Wang

Deutsche Grammophon 477 8140
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 Among those joining the line of gifted   young pianists emerging from China is Yuja Wang, a 22 year old from Beijing, now living in New York. A graduate of the Beijing Conservatory and the Curtis Institute, Wang made her debut at 16 with the Tonhalle Orchestra in Zurich with David Zinman - and this new CD, the first of five to be recorded for Deutsche Grammophon, is ample evidence of her talents.

 An eclectic collection, it features music by Chopin, Ligeti, Scriabin and Liszt. From the beginning, it’s clear that Ms. Wang possesses a dazzling technique – little wonder she chose such demanding repertoire! Yet at the same time, fast fingers shouldn’t be an end unto themselves. For example, I found the opening movement of the Chopin piano sonata in B flat minor a little disconcerting – never have I heard it played so briskly. Surely, a musical depiction of a race-horse is not what Chopin had in mind! On the other hand, the lyrical and introspective opening movement of the Scriabin Piano Sonata #2 is approached with great sensitivity. Two etudes by Ligeti may seem an odd choice on a disc of Romantic repertoire, but it is their very nature of contrast (#4 even hinting at the style of jazz pianist Thelonious Monk) that Wang decided to include them. Rounding out the disc is the great Liszt B minor piano sonata, a true tour de force. Not surprisingly, she has full command of this most challenging work – those thundering octaves and arpeggios roll off her hands with apparent ease.

 This is indeed an impressive first disc by a young artist to watch out for in years to come. But for her next recording, may I suggest a little less bravura and a little more poetry?

Richard Haskell

 

 

03_ravel Ravel - L’Enfant et les Sortilèges;

Ma Mère L’Oye

Berliner Philharmoniker; Sir Simon Rattle

EMI Classics 2 64197 2
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 The plot of Ravel’s “lyric fantasy” The Child and the Magic Spells involves a petulant boy who trashes his room, which then comes to life to haunt him. Chairs spring to life, teapots foxtrot, and cats come a-courtin’ in this beautifully orchestrated and endlessly imaginative work. Originally intended as a ballet, the scenario was first conceived in 1914 by the popular French novelist Colette following the birth of her only child. The vocal element only came into play later when she began to collaborate with Ravel in 1917. The score was completed in 1925. As it involves a large orchestra, 21 characters and extensive choreography and costuming, it is rarely heard despite Ravel’s otherwise solid presence in the standard repertoire. Sir Simon Rattle is fully in his element here (he first conducted this work at the age of 19) and the orchestra responds brilliantly. Magdalena Kožena as the Child leads an accomplished ensemble of singers ably backed by the outstanding contribution of the Berlin Radio Chorus. The recording is seamlessly patched together from live performances in September 2008 at Berlin’s Philharmonie Hall; an array of microphones suspended over the orchestra provides pin-point detail while sacrificing a degree of acoustic depth. The heightened sonic presence succeeds admirably in the accompanying Mother Goose, which features many gorgeous instrumental solos cushioned by the renowned deep velvet of the Berlin strings. Full texts and translations are provided in a 60-page booklet. An excellent release, not to be missed.

Daniel Foley

 

 

06_royal_regimentPromenade  

Band of the Royal Regiment of Canada and Guests

Royal Regiment of Canada RRC007

(www.band.rregtc.ca)

 As was the case with this band’s previous recording, this offering includes a potpourri of selections by the band and guests. In the limited space of a review it is not possible to discuss all of the selections included. For me, the highlight of this CD is the First Suite in E flat by Gustav Holst. Lamenting the dearth of major works for concert band, other than transcriptions from orchestral scores, officials of the Royal Military School of Music at Kneller Hall commissioned Holst to write two major works in the early 1920’s. Under the baton of Major Paul Weston, formerly of the Royal Marines, this performance of the first of these suites captures all of the many nuances the music requires.

 Compositions by both conductors are also included. Promenade, the title number on this CD by Music Director, Lt. William Mighton leads the listener along a number of light-hearted musical pathways. In contrast Defence of the Realm by Associate Director, Major Paul Weston, is a “Fanfare March” with a much stronger and determined drive.

 Two other numbers which particularly appealed to me were the traditional arrangement of The Holy City with a stunning euphonium solo by Roman Yasinsky and the superb Sammy Nestico arrangement of All Through the Night.

 Also included are a medley of Songs of the Forties featuring vocalist Danielle Bourré, the Alford march The Vanished Army and a variety other British and Canadian traditional and contemporary selections.

Jack McQuarrie

 

04_argerichMartha  Argerich and Friends - Live from the Lugano Festival 2008

Martha Argerich and Friends

EMI Classics 2 67051 2
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Ah, Martha! What an icon she has become ever since she burst onto the scene in 1965, her supreme musicality combining a flamboyant life both on and off the stage! (I well remember a Montreal Symphony Orchestra concert I attended years ago where she was soloist, appearing in a dress not in concert-hall black, but fire-truck red!)

 

The Progetto Martha Argerich (Martha Argerich Project) is an annual event now in its eighth consecutive year which runs for three weeks every June as part of the festival held in Lugano, Switzerland. As artistic director, Argerich gathers together some of the finest artists in the world for three weeks of superb chamber-music and what better way than to capture the magic from 2008 than on this 3-disc EMI recording? Indeed, the wonderfully wide range of material contained within is a treat! It includes piano duos, chamber trios, quartets, a concertino for 7 instruments, and even a short suite for two pianos and chamber orchestra by pianist Mikhail Pletnev. Composers range from Arensky (the Piano Quintet Op.81), and Dvorak (a set of 4 Slavonic Dances) to Ravel (an arrangement of his Introduction and Allegro for two pianos) and Piazzolla (two suites). Many of the performers involved are well-known musicians with whom Argerich has had long-standing professional relationships, such as cellist Misha Maisky and violinist Renaud Capuçon. Others are less familiar, such as clarinettist Corrado Giufreddi and bassoonist Vincent Godel. Not surprisingly, the level of performance is consistently high throughout, and despite these being live performances, audience noises are kept to a minimum.

 

In all, these three discs comprise some very fine music-making, featuring a worthy blend of well-known pieces with those which are decidedly less familiar. It’s almost as good as being there! Recommended.

 

Richard Haskell

 

 

01_bach_von_otter Bach

Anne Sophie von Otter; Concerto Copenhagen; Lars Ulrik Mortensen

Archiv Produktion 447 7467
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First loves are hard to live down – the memories linger and grow more beautiful with time, yet when confronted with reality they often seem puzzling. Such is the case with this recording. J. S. Bach’s music was the first love and first repertoire tackled by the young and promising and at that time completely unknown Swedish soprano, Anna Sofie von Otter. Now, years later, the promise borne out by a great career and international fame, von Otter returns to Bach – with mixed results. To be sure, Bach has not changed (beautifully played here by Concerto Copenhagen) – von Otter has. This extremely talented and versatile mezzo has travelled very different musical grounds over the years. So different, in fact, that the precise and unyielding music of the Baroque master, especially in the excerpts from the cantatas, presents an unexpected hurdle for von Otter. Her phrasing betrays her many years spent not singing the music of the Baroque. And yet, even in this suddenly unfamiliar territory, the beauty of her voice shines in the Magnificat, the Mass in B minor and the St. Matthew Passion. That last one was the music of her original breakthrough, a solo concert in Stockholm years ago. Listening to these parts of the album, one easily understands and appreciates the allure of the first love.

 

Robert Tomas 

 

 

02a_bach_goldberg Bach - Goldberg Variations

Chiara Massini (harpsichord)

Symphonia SY 06222 (www.chiaramassini.com)

 

 

 

02b_gould_tributeA Tribute to Glenn Gould

Magdalena Baczewska

holoPhon LC9112 (www.magdalenabaczewska.com)

 

Chiara Massini’s 2007 recording of the Goldberg Variations on harpsichord is a triumph on many levels. On the surface, the bravado of her playing surprises and delights at every turn, especially impressive in the strong drive of the left hand and exciting forward motion of each variation. Digging a little deeper, the care taken to present each variation as a unique entity reveals a great deal of thought and understanding of rhythmic and harmonic structure. Happily, she repeats each “A” and “B” section - I always wondered if Glenn Gould’s decision to play the aria and each variation “AAB” was in order to keep the length of the performance to within one LP (i.e. the market dictated). On the deepest level, her playing is disciplined, controlled and unromantic which is such a breath of fresh air. Her interpretation, as it were, is to present the piece as written, with exquisite ornamentation, brilliant sense of line and a deep understanding of the way the piece is put together.

 

In the liner notes to her tribute to Glenn Gould the gifted pianist Magdalena Baczewska makes clear her indebtedness to the recordings of the Canadian icon. She dedicates the recording to this “extraordinary musician and thinker” and urges the listener to “spend an hour with some of the most beautiful music ever written”. Her program – the Goldberg Variations and the Strauss Sonata op. 5 – leaves the listener no option but to compare her playing to Gould’s yet, not surprisingly, they are worlds apart. Gould described the Goldbergs as “unity through intuitive perception, unity born of craft and scrutiny, mellowed by mastery achieved, and revealed to us here, as so rarely in art, in the vision of subconscious design exulting upon a pinnacle of potency”. Baczewska plays it all very beautifully, but with little regard for the structure, hierarchy or counterpoint of the piece, begging the question of what she learned, if anything, from Gould's playing. Her Strauss is lyrical, at times majestic, at others intimate and delicate. It comes off much more successfully than the Bach and redeems the “tribute”.

 

Larry Beckwith

 

 

05_spanish_brass The Best of Spanish Brass

Spanish Brass

Marquis 81505 (www.marquisclassics.com)

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Toronto record label Marquis has made a welcome addition to their fledgling brass repertoire offerings with this 2 CD compilation of tracks from the discography of The Spanish Brass, better known in Spain as Luur Metalls. Formed in 1989 and touring internationally ever since, they have released some nine albums on private labels over their busy career, assembled here for their 20th anniversary. A brass quintet of great virtuosity and a keen sense of ensemble, their repertoire features many arrangements of Spanish classics by the likes of Albeniz, Turina and de Falla along with original compositions by lesser known composers, represented here by the intriguing polystylism of the Suite Americana by the Uruguayan-American Enrique Crespo (who, incidentally, is the founder of the German Brass ensemble). The album gets off to a rather bland start with the inclusion of two lengthy Bach arrangements and ends quite disappointingly with a series of hackneyed Christmas medleys involving the Orfeo Valencia Navarro Reverter chorus, but fortunately the bulk of the program is quite invigorating and the performances throughout are excellent. I would have preferred to hear a few samples of the less commercial works in their repertoire, which according to their web site (www.spanishbrass.com) includes works by Berio and Lutoslawski. No information is provided for the sources or producers of the various tracks, though solid production values are quite consistent throughout.

 

Daniel Foley

 

 

 

 

 Dowland - The Queen’s Galliard

(Lute Music Vol. 4)

Nigel North

Naxos 8.570284

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The fourth and final CD of a series devoted to John Dowland’s lute music, this disc’s program of galliards, corants and Elizabethan song tunes offers an affectionate and intriguing glimpse into the musical development of this brilliant composer. Though Dowland’s familiar pensive spirit is rarely out of sight, its reflection through the prism of dance and song makes for delightful listening of a more lively kind, especially in the expert musical hands of Nigel North.

This CD is replete with great tunes expertly played. Several of the composer’s earlier and less familiar galliards can be heard here, of which John Dowland’s Galliard is a particular gem; also included are some of his most famous, such as the Frog Galliard, which receives an elegantly spry performance. Also offered are various lute song and broadside ballad tunes set for lute alone, including Can she excuse, Lord Willoughby’s welcome home, Fortune my foe, Goe from my window and other Shakespeare-era chart-toppers. North also performs his own particularly beautiful version of Francis Cutting’s Awake sweet love.

Besides his exemplary playing, North’s readable notes provide much helpful and interesting information. And the recorded sound on this disc is beautiful.

Congrats to Naxos for their support of Dowland’s remarkable music, as played by one of his most excellent champions. 

Alison Melville

01_dowland

 

02_telemann

 Telemann

Twelve Fantasies for Solo Violin

Augustin Hadelich

Naxos 8.570563

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Like a musical wolf in sheep’s clothing, the Telemann Fantasies lie in wait for the competent but unsuspecting amateur violinist searching for solo Baroque works less challenging than the Bach Sonatas and Partitas.

I’ve been trying to play these things for over 35 years - which probably says more about my reluctance to practise and the relative balance of “competent” and “amateur” in my technique than anything else - and while Telemann clearly intended them for amateurs and students the deceptively straightforward writing is often quite angular and strewn with technical pitfalls.

Composed in 1735, the Fantasies display elements of the Baroque sonata, concerto and suite, with limited two-part writing and less multiple stopping than the Bach; the 1968 Barenreiter edition, however - and with classic understatement - remarked that “the double stopping and chordal work can only be tackled by a competent player.”

Augustin Hadelich’s playing goes far beyond merely competent, making everything sound easy and natural without ever being trivial. The short, slow chordal passages could perhaps be embellished more - comparison with the solo Asseggai of Telemann's Swedish contemporary Johan Helmich Roman would certainly suggest this - but Hadelich's ornamentation is clean and unobtrusive.

These are not the Bach solo works in any respect, leaning more towards Corelli than to Telemann's German contemporary, but they still have much to recommend them.

Recorded in Newmarket by the regular Naxos team of Norbert Kraft and Bonnie Silver the sound quality is, as always, impeccable.

Terry Robbins

 

 Haydn – La Passione

(Symphonies 41; 44; 49)

Arion; Gary Cooper

early-music.com EMCCD-7769

www.early-music.com)

Montreal’s Arion orchestra is joined in this recent CD by the English harpsichordist Gary Cooper in a program of three remarkable symphonies from Haydn’s so-called “Storm and Stress” period. What makes this recording unusual, aside from the highly contentious inclusion of a harpsichord continuo part, is the modest size of the 17 member orchestra, ostensibly modelled after the forces available to Haydn at the Esterhazy palace where these works were first heard. This recording claims to be a premiere of sorts, in that the performance of the Symphony No. 41 is presented, as Cooper explains in the booklet notes, “without the pomp and clatter of additional trumpets and timpani”. An admirable intent to be sure, but regrettably there’s clatter galore from the over-miked horns and an often relentless harpsichord part which contributes a considerable din of acrid overtones of its own. Though the virtuosity of the ensemble is quite evident, particularly in the hell-for-leather tempos of the 44th and 49th symphonies, Anton Kwiatkowski’s over-the-top sound engineering (or to be fair, perhaps it’s a distorted pressing of the album that’s at fault) inflates the modest ensemble to gargantuan proportions, undermining the very intimacy that was the stated intent of this small-scale performance. If heavy-metal Haydn is your thing you may enjoy these bristly, bracing interpretations.

Daniel Foley

03_haydn

 

CLASSICAL AND BEYOND

 

01_beethoven_piano_cti

 Beethoven - Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2

Mari Kodama; Deutsches Symphonie-Orchestre Berlin; Kent Nagano

Analekta AN 2 9955

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I looked forward to hearing these concertos after Nagano’s Beethoven Fifth Symphony recorded with the Montreal Symphony (AN2 9942-3). That performance was a wave of fresh air in dynamics, phrasing and tempi and a welcome addition to the catalogue, holding one’s attention to the last bar.

Mari Kodama is endowed with astonishing virtuosity, self assurance and control. This reminded me of Glenn Gould when his limitless ability, boarding on arrogance, could stand in the way the music. As these performances unfold I was persuaded that she is offering genuine musical insights with a personal touch that is quite appealing.

About eight minutes into the first movement of the first concerto, Beethoven’s genius is manifested using simple means for the unfolding drama of the music. Descending scales, played 3 times, remind me of similar scales in Mozart’s Don Giovanni which portend the demise of the Don. How these simple passages are played is one of the critical measures of artistic insight. No reservations here nor with the inner world of the slow movement. The third movement, taken at a brisk pace, is exhilarating.

Kodama’s style is perfectly akin to the second concerto. Her no nonsense, clear approach suits this work perfectly. Sparkling throughout and as stylistically satisfying as any I know of.

The orchestra is just the right size for these works and Nagano, as expected, provides illuminating support, fresh and pointed beyond merely impeccable. The spacious recording is clean and well projected with a pleasing ambience.

It will be quite interesting to hear the other three concertos as they may require less of the sparkling pianism and more heavyweight musicianship. Odds are she’ll make it brilliantly.

Bruce Surtees

 

 Chopin

André Laplante

Analekta AN 2 9964

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We can only wonder why it took Andre Laplante – a pianist long renowned for his interpretations of late-romantic repertoire – until now to record an all-Chopin disc. But in light of the well-balanced program and superb playing, it was well worth the wait! Included on this Analekta recording are 2 major works, the Sonata in B flat minor, Op. 35 and the Fantaisie Op.49, in addition to two early Nocturnes, (Op. Post. in C sharp minor, and Op.15 No.1), and the three Mazurkas Op.63.

The Sonata, the second of Chopin’s efforts in the form, raised more than a few eyebrows when first published in 1840. Schumann even went so far as to refer to it as a binding together of “four of his maddest children.” No matter, Laplante approaches the music with aplomb – this is powerful and noble playing, and my only quibble - and a minor one at that - would be the overly brisk pace he takes in the opening movement. Yet the familiar third movement “Funeral March” is treated with the solemnity it deserves, and the finale, with those fleeting octaves once described as “wind over church-yard graves” embodies a spirit that surely would have pleased Edgar Allan Poe.

The two nocturnes and three mazurkas which follow are miniature jewels, but to my mind, Laplante saves his best for last with the magnificent F minor Fantaisie, hailed by many as Chopin’s greatest work. I have heard many versions over the years, but I can honestly say this is among the finest I have encountered. His treatment is nothing less than sublime, from the ominous opening march, to the thrice-heard secondary theme, a veritable love-song. There is a world of contrasting moods in this piece, and Laplante effortlessly captures them all, thus bringing this most satisfying disc to a close.

Richard Haskell

02_chopin

 

 Brahms; Korngold - Violin Concertos

Nikolaj Znaider; Wiener Philharmoniker; Valery Gergiev

RCA Red Seal 88697103362

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The young Danish violinist Nikolaj Znaider appears in the august company of the mighty Vienna Philharmonic in this live recording from December 2006. The notoriously volatile Valery Gergiev provides an unusually restrained interpretation of the Brahms Concerto, well in tune with the beautifully honeyed tone Znaider draws from the Guarneri “del Gesu” violin once owned by Fritz Kreisler and now on loan to Znaider thanks to a Dutch foundation. It is a performance of striking intimacy, long on beauty though a bit short on the drama that other artists have found in this celebrated work. Though Znaider gives it his all, it seems Gergiev’s reticence in such familiar repertoire makes for just another day at the office as far as the orchestra is concerned. Gergiev and the Philharmonic seem much more engaged in Erich Korngold’s 1945 Violin Concerto, a work which is derived in large part from the composer’s Hollywood film scores composed during his decade of exile from his native Vienna. Attractively scored and direct in expression, it was premiered by Jascha Heifetz in 1947 and though it found little favour in European circles of the time it has never fallen out of the repertoire. All in all, a superb addition to Znaider’s discography.

Daniel Foley

03_brahms_korngold

 

04_rabin

 Michael Rabin Collection, Volume 2

Live Performances

Michael Rabin

DOREMI DHR 7951-3

Not only violin fans but all music lovers will be delighted with this set of performances by the legendary Michael Rabin, a violin virtuoso and fine musician who, in his short life (1936-1972), generated explosive excitement and had, and still has, one of the most evident cult followings in classical music.

The three CDs, each of a little over 80 minutes duration, are fully loaded with live performances, all previously un-issued in any format, of concertos, solos and real showpieces for violin and orchestra. These were taken down at various stages of Rabin’s meteoric career, from his precocious teen-age years when he was a frequent and popular guest on The Bell Telephone Hour broadcast nationally on the NBC Network, to the fully mature, seasoned master delivering astounding performances of the Brahms, Bruch’s 1st, and Prokofiev’s 2nd violin concertos. We hear also his earliest known live performances of the Wieniawski first concerto, a work that to this day only Rabin plays with such finesse. He later recorded it for EMI, as authoritatively as if he owned it. Both Perlman and Shaham have recorded the concerto but neither approaches Rabin’s supremacy in this repertoire. Also included in this set are two ‘contemporary’ concertos apparently played only by Rabin: those by Richard Mohaupt (German-American 1904-1957) heard here with the Philharmonic-Symphony conducted by Mitropoulos (1954) and American Paul Creston’s Concerto no.2, commissioned by Rabin (1962).

A 1952 collaboration between the young Rabin and the mature and celebrated Zino Francescatti is heard in a scintillating performance of the first movement of Bach’s Double Concerto BWV1042, Rabin playing primo! Six of Paganini’s Solos Caprices (Berlin 1961) are wondrous.

Most of the repertoire presented here does not exist in Rabin’s commercial discography or in previously issued live performances. The informative and authoritative liner notes were written by Doctor Anthony Feinstein, author of “Michael Rabin: America’s Virtuoso Violinist” (Amadeus Press, 2005), the only biography of the late musician.

It is known that Michael Rabin wished to record the Brahms Violin Concerto. This set honours that wish with a breathtaking performance from 1967 with Rafael Kubelik in Chicago. The sound is of studio quality as are all the tracks except for the Mohaupt and Creston concertos which were rescued from contemporary acetates. The set helps to fill significant omissions in the catalogue.

Bruce Surtees

 

01a_daquin_noels

 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

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Lizst 

Minsoo Sohn

Honens

 

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Mozart

Hong Xu

Honens

(www.honens.com)

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Schumann

Hinrich Alpers

Honens

 

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

 

 

FELIX MENDELSSOHN –

 A BICENTENNIAL SALUTE

 

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

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 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

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 Tchaikovsky - Violin Concerto;

Souvenir d’un lieu cher

Janine Jansen; Mahler Chamber

Orchestra; Daniel Harding

Decca 4780651

buy
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

 

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

London Symphony Orchestra;

Valery Gergiev

LSO LIVE

 

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

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 Extended Play – CANADIAN STRINGS

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.

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 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.

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 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.

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Goldberg Variations
At Grigorian.com

 

buy
Trio Accord
At Grigorian.com

Terry Robbins

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 Schumann - Kreisleriana; Fantasie

Henri-Paul Sicsic

(www.henripaulsicsic.com)

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.

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 Homage

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

Independent

(www.CDBaby.com/heidisaario)

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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