04 Tchaikovsky ProjectThe Tchaikovsky Project – Pathétique; Romeo & Juliet
Czech Philharmonic; Semyon Bychkov
Decca 483 0656

A formidable pairing of the great Symphony No.6 with the Romeo & Juliet Fantasy Overture featuring Russian conductor Semyon Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic launches The Tchaikovsky Project on the Decca label, a multi-year endeavour devoted to re-examining the composer’s greatest orchestral works. Was it really 26 years ago that Bychkov recorded the Pathétique with the Concertgebouw? How appropriate that the major work on the initial disc in this new series should contain an underlying theme of mortality!

Completed in 1893, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.6 takes the listener on a highly personal journey, and the Czech Philharmonic under Bychkov’s competent direction has no difficulty conveying the sense of tragic resignation. Well-articulated phrasing highlighted by the luxuriant strings and brilliant brass makes this performance a true odyssey. The four contrasting movements are all marked by a technical precision and warmly romantic sound that particularly befits one of the composer’s final works.

The Romeo & Juliet Fantasy Overture from 1869 has long been a favourite with audiences for its interpretation of the familiar story of ill-fated love. Without overly sentimentalizing the score, Bychkov draws the full range of tonal colours from the orchestra – from the prophetic opening of the fight scenes, to the lyrical love theme and on to the cataclysmic finale.

This is a fine beginning to a promising series. Bychkov wrote: “I’ve loved Tchaikovsky’s music ever since I can remember – and like all first loves, this one never died.”

05 Bruckner 2Bruckner 2
Orchestre Métropolitain; Yannick Nézet-Séguin
ATMA ACD2 2708


I heard Yannick Nézet-Séguin early in his career when he conducted the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. It was immediately clear that we had an outstanding conductor here. Since then he has become the music director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic and of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Soon he will also be the music director of the Metropolitan Opera in New York. In many of his recordings, however, he has stayed faithful to the orchestra where he started: Orchestre Métropolitain of Montreal. The record under review, Symphony No.2, is part of a Bruckner cycle which is now almost complete: only No.s1 and 5 (and perhaps No.0) are as yet unrecorded.

I am a great admirer of Bruckner’s sacred music but I find his symphonies harder to come to terms with. Too often, it seems to me, a movement will begin beautifully but then fail to develop. I may be quite wrong here and I am willing to believe that a conversion is still possible. If that happens, this CD may well have taken its part. Nézet-Séguin shapes the music beautifully and gets wonderful playing from the Orchestre Métropolitain, particularly from the principal wind players.

06 Yuja RavelRavel
Yuja Wang; Tonhalle-Orchester Zurich; Lionel Bringuie
Deutsche Grammophon 479 4954

DG’s latest issue of Yuja Wang is the fifth in a row of the pianist’s bestselling discs. It has already earned Gramophone magazine’s prestigious Editor’s Choice Award, probably the best recommendation today. The young Chinese virtuoso has cut through the music world like a hurricane, an elemental force, in a few years her fame skyrocketing her to the very top. I was lucky to see her at Koerner Hall a few years ago when I literally staggered out of the concert totally astounded.

The record definitely lives up to its stellar reputation. Dashing through the Ravel Concerto in G Major with her customary bravura she is totally in her element, youthful and impetuous, having the time of her life with this somewhat jazzy, very entertaining and exciting concerto. The phenomenal technical skill notwithstanding, she is also a mature pianist. This is well-demonstrated in the lyrical second movement where she creates a gorgeous sound painting with her extraordinary touch and colouring. I have heard this piece many times and it is always dazzling, but here the overall compositional structure truly shines, as both the pianist and the conductor (Lionel Bringuier) clearly understand it and have tremendous chemistry working towards a common goal.

The completely different Piano Concerto for the Left Hand is considerably more difficult, with a mysterious opening of a theme slowly emerging from darkness; as the piano enters we witness an almost titanic power in Wang’s left hand. As the pace quickens in the march-like mid-section there is dazzling showmanship, exhilarating to listen to in a recording of demonstration quality with full frequency and wide dynamic range. Top recommendation.



01 Ehnes Bach

There’s a tendency among leading violinists to leave recording the Bach Six Sonatas & Partitas for Solo Violin until they have been living with them and performing them for some considerable time, given the soul-searching nature of the music. If they do revisit them at a much later date, it’s usually to offer a fresh interpretation that reflects their ever-evolving relationship with these astonishing works.

James Ehnes, who turned 40 this year, was only in his early 20s when he recorded the Sonatas & Partitas for Analekta just over 16 years ago, but his recent revisit (AN 2 8772-3) is a reissue, and not a re-recording. In his introductory note Ehnes acknowledges that his interpretations have evolved over the years, and will continue to do so throughout his life, so it’s perhaps a bit surprising that he didn’t take this opportunity to offer an updated version. Still, when you play them like this, who needs to?

This set often turns up in personal choice lists of the best versions available, and it’s easy to see – and hear – why: Ehnes plays with grace, ease and eloquence, and with complete technical mastery coupled with emotional warmth and intellectual insight. There’s a smooth, effortless and almost religious serenity to these performances (the recordings were made in a church) with towering fugues, achingly beautiful andantes and wonderfully rhythmic dance movements.

If you missed this set the first time around you might want to put that right – it’s one to treasure. And, oh, that 1715 “Marsick” Stradivarius violin!

02 Joshua BellViolinist Joshua Bell and cellist Steven Isserlis get together on the new CD For the Love of Brahms, with Bell directing the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields (Sony Classical 88985 32179 2).

The Double Concerto in A Minor Op.102 for Violin and Cello has often been considered to be inferior to Brahms’ Violin Concerto in critical biographies, but it has always been my favourite of the two works. Perhaps it’s the added warmth and depth of the cello or the simple beauty of the slow movement.

In any event, the performance here is one for the ages. From the carefully measured orchestral opening statement, through Isserlis’ beautiful cello solo, to Bell’s tender entry and his dialogue with Isserlis, it’s clear that this is going to be a performance of sensitivity, rhapsodic passion and haunting beauty. Under Bell’s direction the Academy provides an accompaniment that perfectly complements the soloists. It’s a simply wonderful reading.

The two other works on the CD highlight the close relationships between Brahms, Joachim and the Schumanns (in Brahms’ case, particularly Clara). Schumann’s Violin Concerto in D Minor was written for Joachim, but later supressed by him and Clara, only surfacing in 1937. The hauntingly beautiful Langsam slow movement, with its prominent cello melody, was adapted as an Elegy for violin and strings by Benjamin Britten (who added a codetta) and Yehudi Menuhin at the 1958 Aldeburgh Festival as a memorial to the brilliant young horn player Dennis Brain, who had been killed in a car crash the previous September. Apparently unperformed since then, it is played here with Isserlis assuming the cello melody and joining Bell as soloist.

Pianist Jeremy Denk joins Bell and Isserlis in a sterling performance of Brahms’ Piano Trio in B Major Op.8, a work heavily revised and essentially reworked by the composer in 1889 but presented here in its original version from 1854, written less than a year after Brahms had met the Schumanns and replete with apparent references to his growing love for Robert’s wife Clara. Significantly – and uncharacteristically – Brahms never withdrew this earlier version, and after years of living in the shadow of the later and admittedly more polished reworking it now seems to be growing in popularity.

Justifiably so, for what it lacks in polish it makes up for in its unbridled youthful passion.

03 Lalo ManenThe terrific violinist Tianwa Yang is back with another outstanding disc on the Naxos label, this time featuring Lalo and Manén Violin Concertos (8.573067).

Yang seems to have a natural affinity for Spanish works, having already recorded the complete violin works of Pablo de Sarasate, and her dazzling brilliance seems perfectly suited to the nature of the music. As in the Sarasate set, Yang is paired with a Spanish orchestra for even more authenticity, this time the Barcelona Symphony and Catalonia National Orchestra under Darrell Ang.

Édouard Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole has long been a part of the standard repertoire and despite its symphonic title has always been viewed as a violin concerto. Although the composer was French the work is quite clearly greatly influenced by its dedicatee and first performer, Sarasate, a player noted for his purity of tone and quicksilver technique. Much the same can be said of Yang, who gives a splendid performance here.

The real revelation on this CD, though, is the Violin Concerto No.1 “Concierto español” by the Spanish composer Joan Manén, who was born in 1883 and lived until 1971. Manén was a childhood virtuoso pianist and violinist who composed from an early age and had an astonishing early career; in the pre-WWI years he was regarded as one of the best violinists of the time. His appeal and career waned after the war, and although he continued performing until 1959 his death in Barcelona attracted little attention.

The Violin Concerto No.1 Op.18 was written in the late 1890s when Manén was still only in his mid-teens, and was revised in 1935 when it was re-numbered Op.A-7. It’s an absolute gem of a work in much the same vein as the Lalo, firmly in the 19th-century virtuosic tradition but always more than a mere showcase for technique. The slow movement in particular is simply ravishing, and Yang’s brilliant and sympathetic playing throughout leaves you wondering how on earth you could not have heard this concerto before, and why it has never made its way into the standard repertoire.

Quite simply, it’s worth the price of the CD on its own.


04 Tchaikovsky Quartes 1 3The British string ensemble the Heath Quartet has built an enviable reputation for itself since its foundation at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester in 2002, and garnered glowing reviews for its 2013/14 recording of the complete string quartets of Sir Michael Tippett that comprised its debut CD on the Wigmore Hall Live label last year.

Their new CD of Tchaikovsky String Quartets Nos.1 & 3 (HMU 907665) marks the start of a new relationship with the outstanding Harmonia Mundi label, and what a start it is!

The String Quartet No.1 in D Major Op.11 was written for a March 1871 concert intended to promote Tchaikovsky and his music, and includes the famous Andante cantabile slow movement which almost immediately achieved a life of its own. The Heath Quartet is in tremendous form from the outset, with full-bodied and passionate playing, a warm, rich tone, a lovely dynamic range and sensitive phrasing.

The players for the first performance, assembled from Tchaikovsky’s colleagues at the Moscow Conservatory, were mostly the same for the String Quartet No.2 in 1874. Ferdinand Laub, the Czech first violinist in both performances, died the following year at 43, and the String Quartet No.3 in E-flat Minor Op.30 was Tchaikovsky’s response to the loss. The third movement Andante funebre e doloroso was intended as an elegy to Laub, and not surprisingly made the biggest impression at the premiere. It really is played quite beautifully here.

The Heath Quartet’s next CD release will be the complete Bartók quartets in 2017, apparently recorded during its performance of the complete cycle at London’s Wigmore Hall this past May. That cycle won rave reviews in The Telegraph, and if this outstanding Tchaikovsky CD is anything to go by the Bartók issue should really be something to look forward to.

Concert note: The Heath Quartet will feature music of Bach, Beethoven, Bartók and Dvořák during its Canadian debut tour which includes performances at the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society on January 20 and Mooredale Concerts in Toronto on January 22.

05 Vivaldi coverThe outstanding French baroque violinist Amandine Beyer joins with another outstanding violinist, Giuliano Carmignola, and Gli incogniti, the Italian historical-instrument ensemble that she founded, in Antonio Vivaldi Concerti per due Violini on another new Harmonia Mundi release (HMC902249). There are six concertos for two violins on the disc, together with the Concerto a 4 in D Minor RV127.

Beyer says that recording this CD made her realize how much her love of Vivaldi and his music deepens with each new experience; she finds Vivaldi to be “a composer endowed with humanity and a profound sense of the harmony of beings with nature.” The interplay between the two violins and the orchestra, she says, gives her a pleasure she finds hard to explain in words. But then again, she doesn’t have to – she expresses it in her playing.

The concertos are those in C Major RV507, B-flat Major RV529, C Minor RV510, C Major RV505, B-flat Major RV527 and D Major RV513. The performances throughout are simply bursting with life and dazzling virtuosity, with a wonderful lightness in an accompaniment that features just four or five violins and one each of viola, cello, violone, theorbo or guitar and harpsichord or organ.

It’s a terrific CD that makes Vivaldi’s concertos sound much more varied than some would have you believe.

06 James MathesonThe music of American composer James Matheson is featured on the new self-titled CD from Yarlung Records (25670). His String Quartet was premiered by the St. Lawrence String Quartet in February 2014 and is played here by the Color Field Quartet. It’s an accessible three-movement work of decided substance, with some excellent instrumental writing and a lot of energy.

The leader of the quartet, Baird Dodge, has been principal second violin with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra since 2002, and is the soloist in by far the most significant work on the CD, Matheson’s Violin Concerto. Matheson and Dodge were roommates at college in the 1990s, and Dodge had harboured the idea of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra commissioning a violin concerto from Matheson ever since joining the orchestra. It finally came to fruition as a co-commission with the Los Angeles Philharmonic when conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen added his support.

The recording here is of the concerto’s premiere performance on December 15, 2011, in Chicago with Salonen leading the CSO with Dodge as the soloist. It’s a striking work with a virtuoso role for the soloist and some terrific orchestration. Matheson cites Messiaen, Lutosławski and Mahler as influences and acknowledges that the concerto’s slow movement was inspired by the slow movement of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony, but the high bird-like figures in the violin put me more in mind of the concertos of Szymanowski. It feels like a work that will not want for future performances.

There is a decided concert feel to the recording, as opposed to a studio feel, but there is no hint of an audience being present. Dodge plays quite brilliantly.

The final work on the CD fares poorly in comparison. Soprano Laura Strickling and pianist Thomas Sauer are the performers in the song cycle Times Alone, but unfortunately the high vocal register, Strickling’s big voice and constant wide vibrato mixed with an over-close and frequently heavy piano sound make the words really difficult to understand.

01 Mikolaj WarzynskiMikolaj Warszynski is a thinker. His notes read like an inspired thesis defence. He has solid and clear rationale for the program choices on his newest recording: Piano Solo – Haydn; Szymanowski; Liszt; Chopin (Anima ANM/141200001). Warszynski creates a journey that begins with classical structure and logic, and ends in raw emotion.

Haydn’s Sonata in C Major Hob.XVI:50 is unique for its references to pedalling, found in none of Hadyn’s other keyboard works. The effect is arresting, especially since Haydn allows some odd harmonies to run together. Warszynski’s keyboard technique for this piece is very direct and rather more powerful than we generally expect for this repertoire. He justifies this in his notes on the work’s recipient, a leading London pianist in 1794, who possessed both formidable technique and a powerful English Broadwood piano. The execution is crisp and clear with no sacrifices to phrasing or subtlety.

Karol Szymanowksi’s Shéhérazade from Masques Op.34 is, despite its modernity, as dependent on clarity and articulation as the opening Haydn Sonata. It’s built in a logical arch that Warszynski makes great effort to respect. Still, he captures the exotic program material with an improvisational style that begins to move us away from structure and into the world of Liszt and Chopin.

The Mephisto Waltz uses some lightly applied form and programmatic ideas that leave plenty of room for the transformation of themes that Liszt so uniquely championed. Warszynski finds all the latitude he needs to explore this through the contrasting middle section before he dives back into the emotional intensity that completes the waltz.

Warszynski arranges four pieces by Chopin to serve as a final statement about his program, concluding with the Polonaise in B Minor Op.53 “Héroique” played more slowly than most performers would ever dare. Citing Chopin’s own preferences to avoid the virtuosic showmanship this piece often elicits, he plays it with an overriding sense of nobility.

Concert Note: Mikolaj Warszynski performs with piano duo partner Zuzana Simurdova in Toronto on November 11 at Gallery 345 in The Art of the Piano series and as part of the Nocturnes in the City at St. Wenceslaus Church on November 13.


02 Charles Richard HamelinQuebec-born Charles Richard-Hamelin has added a second recording to his discography. Recorded in May this year, Charles Richard-Hamelin Live – Beethoven; Enescu; Chopin (Analekta AN 2 9129) opens with two Rondos by Beethoven. Because the pieces are so very Classical, they tend to be overlooked in favour of his later, more potboiling audience pleasers. Richard-Hamelin raises the emotional bar on these early works and plays them as Romantic flirtations. It’s very effective.

George Enescu’s Suite No.2 for Piano Op.10 dates from the turn of the 19th century and uses some surprisingly contemporary harmonies. Richard-Hamelin plays these short dance pieces with affection for the graceful nature of the suite’s four parts. Each is uniquely coloured. Pavane, especially, has a dark introspection that Richard-Hamelin explores with intimacy.

He uses the same inclination to begin the Chopin Ballade No.3 in A-flat Major Op.47 but rises to all the grandeur required as the Ballade builds to its finish. The following Nocturne in E-flat Major Op.55 No.2 requires getting deep inside Chopin’s intentions as he shifts tonalities and layers ornaments over very simple thematic ideas. Richard-Hamelin demonstrates a genuine understanding of this music and reveals more of its inner secrets in a gratifying way.

The recording concludes with Introduction and Rondo in E-flat Major Op.16 and the Polonaise in A-flat Major Op.53 “Heroique”. Each is a cauldron of technique but “Heroic” stands out for its less than traditionally punctuated phrases in favour of a more fluid approach.

Concert Note: Charles Richard-Hamelin performs in Toronto at Koerner Hall on November 10, in Aurora at the Aurora Cultural Centre on November 11 and in St. Catharines with the Niagara Symphony Orchestra at FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre on November 27.


03 Piano CameleonsFusing Classical and Jazz has been done before and its success always depends on the calibre of the musicianship brought to the keyboard. A new recording, Piano Caméléons (Justin Time JUST 257-2) features pianists Matt Herskowitz and John Roney recasting many of the classical repertoire’s best known melodies in a jazz voice. The project boasts Oliver Jones as its guide and mentor, and Jones writes glowingly about what the pianists have achieved. Jones also performs with them in the Minuet in G Major BWV 114 by Bach/Petzold.

The opening track uses the Bach Prelude No.2 in C Minor from the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I. After establishing key and rhythmic pattern, Herskowitz and Roney begin drifting from Bach’s melody into a descant that eventually develops into a catchy swing embellishment, all the while maintaining the original pulse of Bach’s keyboard idea. Very clever.

With Debussy’s Claire de lune, the approach changes. Here they use only the briefest motif from the opening measures and spend more creative effort sustaining the piece’s atmosphere. They never let go of the thematic fragment entirely, although they wander significantly before quoting it again at the close.

Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-sharp Minor Op.3 No.2 introduces some mysterious percussion at the outset, remains dark and ominous throughout and offers an impressive display of technique from both keyboards.

The track that emerges as a truly brilliant conception and performance is the Chopin Étude in C Minor Op.10 No.12 “Revolutionary. Starting with the familiar cascade of the work’s first idea Herskowitz and Roney create the turbulence of the “Revolution” and stay with its minor key almost entirely through their jazz treatment. It’s ingenious and impressively creative.

04 Jean Baptiste MullerAnother welcome recording from Jean-Baptiste Müller, Chopin – Sonata No.3; Schumann – Kreisleriana (JBM 40665 jean-baptiste-mueller.com) begins with Chopin’s third and final Sonata in B Minor Op.58. Formally freer than its two predecessors, it sports a wildly sparkling but brief Scherzo that Müller plays with easy abandon. The third movement that follows is marked Largo, and Müller spends a generous amount of time lingering with each of its beautiful ideas. It’s an effective way to contrast the two inner movements of this piece, especially when it concludes with the nonstop energy of the finale. The final movement demands stamina and clarity through its many relentless cascading runs and towers of chords. Müller delivers with a secure keyboard style and obvious musicality.

Robert Schumann’s Kreisleriana Op.16 is a collection of eight short pieces penned in romantic affection for the composer’s wife-to-be. It requires attention to opportunities for contrasting emotional content. While the faster, louder pieces provide short respites from their inherent tensions, the slower pieces are the real challenge to play. Müller approaches these with an unconventional pensiveness that focuses attention on the lingering pauses he uses so effectively at phrase endings. The fourth and sixth pieces in the cycle are examples of just how artfully he applies this device. The closing piece is an impish wee thing performed with a gifted naughtiness that Müller makes no effort hide.

05 Tchaikovsky NebolsinYou need more than just a good grip on the keyboard to play Tchaikovsky No.2. It’s a mental challenge, and Uzbek pianist Eldar Nebolsin has mastered it in his latest recording Tchaikovsky – Piano Concerto No.2; Concert Fantasia (Naxos 8.573462).

Given the tragedies and criticism with which he dealt during his lifetime, Tchaikovsky made a remarkably victorious statement in this work. The big opening for the orchestra is quickly echoed by the piano and it’s here that Nebolsin establishes his presence. He plays the original score, without the cuts imposed by early critical performers. He has a commanding presence at the keyboard which he uses to keep the orchestra at bay. The first movement is very much a tug of war filled with energy and grandeur that makes the second all the more surprising for its profound melancholy and chamber-like approach. Nebolsin completely surrenders to the trio portions with cello and violin and the three players weave a gorgeous tapestry with the movement’s principal theme. The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under Michael Stern holds well back at an unusual distance, heightening the intimacy of this movement and preparing for the eruption of pure joy that begins its finale.

The Allegro con fuoco opens with a quick tempo sustained throughout but the most remarkable feature is the lightness of the piano touch. Nebolsin is simply dancing all over the keyboard in an exhilarating romp to the final chords. It’s a marvellous performance executed with intelligence and a sense of adventure.

The Concert Fantasia in G Major Op.56 is a very different work that gives Nebolsin the opportunity for much more solo playing, showing us yet another side of this accomplished young musician.

06 Steven SpoonerStephen Spooner has recently released the finished results of a huge recording project Dedications – Horowtiz, Richter, Gilels, Cliburn (A Life of Music Records stevenspooner.com). It’s a 16-CD box set that Spooner describes as an homage to the great pianists of the Russian School. The set includes audio liner notes, a live recital and a couple of discs containing hymn transcriptions and other improvisations.

The first three volumes are devoted to Vladimir Horowitz whom Spooner considers to be one of history’s greatest pianists. Without overtly attempting to play as Horowitz played, Spooner does, however, adopt the characteristic thoughtfulness that shaped Horowitz’s keyboard style. While a superb technician, even into his final years, Horowitz always impressed audiences with the feeling that he was somehow considering anew, every note he was playing. There seemed to be a brake on the impulse to rush headlong into virtuosic display for its own sake. This is most evident in Spooner’s performances of Chopin and Rachmaninoff. His Scarlatti Sonatas, some performed on Horowitz’s own piano, recall Horowitz’s crisp, acrobatic fingerings as well as his love of a well-phrased melody.

Sviatoslav Richter gets the lion’s share of the set with eight volumes devoted to his musical legacy. It’s curious that Richter gets so much recorded coverage here. Despite taking recording very seriously, he never enjoyed it as much as live performance. A great many of his recordings are, in fact, live concerts.

In his Richter volumes, Spooner includes Schubert’s Winterreise D.911 in recognition of Richter’s collaborations with both Peter Schreier and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Baritone Chris Thompson performs beautifully, finding the intimacy and fluidity that both his German counterparts cultivated so successfully.

Among Richter’s most critically acclaimed recorded performances are the Liszt B Minor Sonata S.178, Debussy’s Préludes and more than a dozen Haydn Sonatas. Spooner devotes an entire volume to each of these three. Noteworthy too, is that he performs the Liszt twice in one volume using one of Liszt’s last pianos, an 1886 Bechstein, in a comparative performance.

Richter’s broad repertoire included every major composer and Spooner reflects this in volumes containing works by Schumann, Schubert, Chopin, Bartók and Prokofiev.

Emil Gilels receives only a single volume. The physical power of his keyboard technique is captured in Spooner’s performance of Liszt’s Fantasy on a Motif from Wagner’s Rienzi S439. He explores the more intimate and introspective side in a selection of Grieg’s Lyric Pieces as well as Alexander Siloti’s beautiful arrangement of Bach’s Prelude in B Minor from BWV 855.

Van Cliburn, too, gets only a single volume. Remembered as the American kid who won the 1958 Tchaikovsky competition with his stunning performance of a repertoire so close to the Russian heart, Spooner pays tribute to this pianist who beat all the odds at the height of the Cold War.

01 NACO BaroqueBaroque Treasury
Pinchas Zukerman; Charles Hamann; Amanda Forsyth; National Arts Centre Orchestra
Analekta AN 2 8783


Was it really 17 years ago that Pinchas Zukerman became music director of Ottawa’s National Arts Centre Orchestra? Although he stepped down in 2015, the renowned and affable conductor and violinist hardly seems ready to slip into retirement any time soon. He remains the orchestra’s Conductor Emeritus and among numerous other endeavours also starts his eighth season as principal guest conductor of London’s Royal Philharmonic and his second as artist-in-association with the Adelaide Symphony. We should all be so active at 68!

The NACO’s most recent recording, Baroque Treasury, featuring oboist Charles Hamann, cellist Amanda Forsyth and Zukerman as both conductor and soloist, is a delight, and is proof indeed that Baroque repertoire need not always be performed on period instruments in order to sound convincing. The disc presents a number of compositions, opening with the rousing Arrival of the Queen of Sheba from Handel’s Solomon. Bach’s familiar Concerto for Oboe and Violin BWV 1060 is given a spirited and sensitive performance by Zukerman and Hamann while Zukerman returns for the less-familiar Pastorale for violin and string orchestra by Giuseppe Tartini as arranged by Ottorino Respighi. He and his wife (Forsyth) then join forces in Vivaldi’s Double Concerto RV547, the pairing a rarity amongst Baroque concertos. Equally rare is Telemann’s Concerto for Viola, one of few concertos for the instrument.

Throughout, the NACO’ s solid performance demonstrates a particular affinity for the Baroque style. The final work is Bach’s familiar Orchestral Suite No.3 and here the orchestra approaches the score with much aplomb. There is a clear sense of joy in this music making, from the grandeur of the Ouverture to the final rollicking Gigue which brings the suite and the disc to a most satisfying conclusion.

While our 21st-century ears may by now be more accustomed to hearing Baroque music performed with thinner, more transparent textures, Zukerman and the NACO demonstrate that a modern ensemble and gifted soloists can also do it full justice.

02 Postcard SessionsThe Postcard Sessions
Harrington/Loewen Duo
Ravello Records RR7934 (parmarecordings.com)

Classical saxophone is, of course, a misnomer: there was no saxophone in the Classical period proper. This statement isn’t meant to ruffle any feathers, and in any case it’s hardly news to practitioners of the art. In fact, it’s been something of a boon: with no stuffy tradition to weigh it down, the instrument has been received by modern composers with open arms.

As it happens, though, the saxophone does have a Western art music heritage. Debussy composed for the instrument, albeit reluctantly; Berlioz admired its “majestic character.” In fact, there is a wealth of accessible and finely crafted music originating from the instrument’s adolescent years, before its reputation had been gilded by its association with jazz and the hypermodern.

Postcard Sessions, the new CD by the Winnipeg-based Allen Harrington (saxophone) and Laura Loewen (piano), focuses on this core canon of saxophone works. By presenting them with great clarity and sensitivity, the Duo help to cement these works’ status as the bulwark upon which the modern saxophone tradition rests.

Of particular note is the clock-like precision of master miniaturist Jean Françaix’s Cinque dances exotiques, but even the pieces here which weren’t written for the saxophone originally feel as though they might have been. On Schumann’s Drei Romanzen, Harrington’s saxophone masquerades as an instrument much older than it actually is.

Harrington’s tone, always dark and warm, casts upon these seminal works a rich patina commensurate with their age and stature in the canon of saxophone music.

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