It’s been quite a while since the terrific 2012 debut CD of Toronto’s Windermere String Quartet, but their second CD release turns out to have been well worth the wait. The ensemble’s name is usually followed by “on period instruments,” but their repertoire has never been restricted to works from the Classical period and their regular concert series frequently features world premieres of new works by Canadian composers.

01 Windemere QuartetTheir sophmore CD, Inner Landscapes (Pipistrelle PIP 1216) follows this same pattern, with Beethoven’s Quartet in F Minor Op.95 and Mendelssohn’s Quartet in A Minor Op.13 acting as bookends to Traces of a Silent Landscape, a 2011 work by Canadian composer Robert Rival that was commissioned by the quartet.

The Beethoven and Mendelssohn works both receive exemplary performances, with intimate and sensitive playing that never lacks strength and power when needed. The Mendelssohn in particular has an achingly beautiful slow movement and a simply dazzling Presto. All the hallmarks of this ensemble’s playing are here: a judicial use of vibrato; delicate nuances; excellent dynamics; finely judged tempos; and an overall balance that always allows the identity of the individual instruments to be clearly felt.

The Rival quartet, which was inspired by a snowshoe trek in Algonquin Park in the dead of winter, is a striking and very effective work, quite modern in style but with clear traditional roots. One gets the immediate impression that the quiet, wispy nature of the music is not only perfectly suited to the particular sounds that these period instruments produce but was also inspired by them, a feeling confirmed by the composer, who says that while composing the work he had in mind “…the subdued, airy quality of gut strings and the sparing use of vibrato, in particular.” The delicate ending of the final Forest’s lullaby is quite stunning.

Rival also paid tribute to the two works with which his new work would be premiered – and which accompany it on this CD in a re-creation of that recital – by starting with a slow fugue; both the Beethoven and Mendelssohn quartets incorporate fugues in their slow movements.

What continually impresses me about this ensemble is the way they can convey depth, conviction and an emotional range and intensity without ever overwhelming you with either volume or gesture. It’s very easy to imagine that the Beethoven and Mendelssohn works sounded like this at their premieres, but very difficult to imagine that they sounded better.

Recorded at the wonderful St. Anne’s Anglican Church in Toronto’s west end with the always-reliable Norbert Kraft as engineer, the sound is exemplary, catching every delicate nuance in another outstanding CD from the Windermere players. Hopefully we won’t have to wait another five years for their next one.

Concert note: The Windermere Quartet presents “Mozart by Any Other Name” including works by Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Rossini, Joseph Kraus and Mozart at St. Olave’s Anglican Church on April 2.

02 Johan HalvorsenGiven his wonderful playing on the Mozart concerto DVD reviewed here last month, I was delighted to see that this month’s offerings included a new CD of Henning Kraggerud playing Nordic Violin Concertos with Bjarte Engeset conducting the Malmö Symphony Orchestra (Naxos 8.573738). The Violin Concerto Op.28 by Johan Halvorsen is paired with the Violin Concerto Op.33 of Carl Nielsen, with the well-known Romance of Johan Svendsen completing the disc.

The concerto by the Norwegian Halvorsen (1864-1935) has an interesting story. He was an outstanding violinist and a self-taught composer, and his violin concerto was introduced by the 18-year-old Canadian violinist Kathleen Parlow in the Netherlands in 1909. After only a handful of performances by Parlow the work was not played again during Halvorsen’s lifetime. When he retired in 1929 he destroyed several of his manuscripts, his wife stating after his death that she believed the concerto to be among them. But in 2015 the score and parts were discovered in Parlow’s papers in the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music Library, where they had resided since 1963. Kraggerud gave the first modern performances in Norway last July, making this world premiere commercial recording in Sweden a short while later. It’s a lovely work, full of lyrical themes and redolent of Norwegian folk music, with more than a hint of Hardanger fiddle music. The solo part is technically demanding, but Kraggerud is clearly in his element with a work which will hopefully find a place in the regular repertoire.

The Nielsen concerto, written just a few years after the Halvorsen in 1911, continues to be a work which should be much better known, but hopefully this is changing, Haggerud’s terrific performance here coming not long after Baiba Skride’s equally excellent 2015 recording.

A lovely performance of the Svendsen Romance rounds out an outstanding CD.

03 Johannes MoserIf you love the Elgar Cello Concerto then you should really try to hear the new Super Audio CD Elgar & Tchaikovsky from the outstanding cellist Johannes Moser with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande under Andrew Manze (PentaTone PTC 5186 570). Moser is simply superb in the emotional work that essentially marked the end of the 62-year-old Elgar’s compositional activity. Written in 1919, it is essentially a lament for the composer’s Edwardian world that was destroyed by the First World War, and Moser beautifully captures the very soul of the music.

Moser notes that both Elgar and Tchaikovsky were looking back to a brighter past – Elgar to the pre-1914 world and Tchaikovsky to the music of Mozart, using an original theme written in Mozartian style as the basis for his Variations on a Rococo Theme Op.33. It’s the original version that is performed here, and not the modified and altered version by the cellist Wilhelm Fitzenhagen that constituted the original 1877 publication and is still frequently heard in the concert hall. Moser’s performance makes you wonder why anyone would ever want to hear the Fitzenhagen version again.

Three shorter Tchaikovsky works for cello and orchestra complete the CD. The Nocturne from Six Pieces for Piano and the famous Andante cantabile from the String Quartet No.1 were both transcribed by the composer, and the Pezzo capriccioso Op.62 is a lovely original work.

Manze and the orchestra supply great support throughout a simply lovely CD.

04 Schumann QuartetThere’s more excellent quartet playing on Landscapes, the latest CD from Germany’s Schumann Quartett in a program of works by Haydn, Takemitsu, Bartók and Pärt (Berlin Classics 0300836BC). It’s clear that these are works that the quartet – brothers Erik, Ken and Mark Schumann and Estonian violist Liisa Randalu – has played and cared about for some time.

Haydn’s String Quartet in B-flat Major Op.76 No.4, the “Sunrise” makes for a lovely opening to the CD, the emerging radiance of the opening particularly well captured. Landscape I by the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu acknowledges the Schumanns’ family roots – their mother is Japanese – and is a somewhat bleak piece with a decidedly meditative stillness about it.

Bartók’s String Quartet No.2 Op.17 is an expressive post-Romantic piece written during the First World War when the composer was forced to take a break from his Hungarian folk-song collecting. The folk-music element is clearly present in a work dominated by an air of melancholy.

The final piece, Fratres, by the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, was prepared with the composer and recorded in July 2016 in a church near the Estonian capital of Tallinn. It’s one of several instrumental versions of this very effective work.

05 Nigel KennedyThe enigmatic Nigel Kennedy is back with another non-classical CD in My World, a program of his own compositions on the German label Neue Meister (0300878NM). Launched just over a year ago, the Berlin label features “…music by artists and composers who recognize no boundaries between the classical orchestra world, experimental art, electronica and pop music,” which should give you some idea of what this new release sounds like.

There are two distinct sections to the CD: Dedications, five pieces dedicated to the Polish musician Jarek Śmietana, Isaac Stern, Stéphane Grappelli, Yehudi Menuhin and Mark O’Connor; and Three Sisters, a suite of incidental music that Kennedy wrote for a run of the Chekhov play that his wife was producing. The Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra is listed on the CD cover, but it’s a bit misleading both from a participation and expectation viewpoint: the main musicians listed in the booklet are a six-piece guitar, bass and percussion combo, an oboist and an accordionist and anonymous Friends from the named orchestra.

It’s certainly the combo that seems to be front and centre most of the time, and even when there are strings present the sound seems to be more synthesized than live. There’s a clear jazz influence in the Dedications, along with the occasional melismatic Eastern feel, some pleasant melodic writing, and a rhythmic rock-fiddle drive in the number dedicated to O’Connor.

There’s a thicker orchestral sound with much the same feel throughout Three Sisters, but with added electronic effects and more of an improvisatory feel – one wonders just how much of the music was actually notated.

All in all, it’s typical Kennedy – spiky performances of varying effectiveness from a huge talent who simply refuses to follow what could be called standard career paths. When he gets away from the normal classical fare it tends to be hit or miss with him a lot of the time, and which category this particular CD falls under will probably depend on your own musical tastes.

06 Moonkyung LeeFinally, there’s another recording of the complete Tchaikovsky Works for Violin & Orchestra, this time by the Korean violinist Moonkyung Lee on her debut Navona Records CD (NV6079) with the London Symphony Orchestra under Miran Vaupotić.

Her performance of the Violin Concerto in D Major Op.35 is a competent one which never quite reaches the heights, although the rather lacklustre contribution of the LSO under Vaupotić may well be a contributory factor; certainly the tempos tend to drag in places, and the orchestral balance tends to be a bit muddy and the sound quite dry. It’s a performance that just doesn’t take flight.

The other two works here – the Méditation in D Minor (the original slow movement for the Violin Concerto) and the Sérénade Mélancolique in B-flat Minor Op.26 – fare better, as the soloist’s rather dark tone is more suited to the slower tempos and the minor keys. Certainly the performances seem to get closer to the heart of the music.

The problem, though, is that given the fierce competition in recordings of these works – especially the concerto – a competent performance, while nothing to be sneezed at, will inevitably struggle to compete with the absolutely top-level recordings available.

The soloist’s instrument, incidentally, is the 1845 Vuillaume violin once owned by Jack Benny.


01 Rafal BlechaczWords fail spectacularly in trying to describe Rafal Blechacz’s performance on Johann Sebastian Bach (Deutsche Grammophon 479 5534). Playing Bach demands rigour, stamina, discipline. It also requires a profound intellectual grasp of Bach’s contrapuntal intentions. Critical too, is an innate ability to draw from Bach’s writing that unique idea that can be credibly shared by composer and performer as jointly original. In some speechlessly wondrous way, that happens on this disc.

The Partitas Nos.1 in B-flat Major and 3 in A Minor are the familiar collection of Baroque dances. They are, however, raised to a remarkable standard of exhilarating technical display, framed by tasteful expression. Blechacz plays them with emotional vulnerability and unmatched lyricism. Each set concludes with a memorably blazing Gigue.

Blechacz plays the Italian Concerto in F Major BWV 971 at a sustained speed that hasn’t been matched since Alexis Weissenberg broke the sound barrier with his recording in the mid 1960’. Still, there is striking clarity throughout the first and third movements that offers every opportunity to discern the inner counter melodies racing past each other to the final measure.

The Fantasia and Fugue in A Minor BWV 944 offers an unbelievably long and complex fugal subject that cascades through its development section with ease under Blechacz’s hands. He ends the disc with a rapturous performance of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring – Dame Myra Hess’ arrangement.

Blechacz was the winner of the 15th International Chopin Piano Competition. This is his sixth recording for Deutsche Grammophon in addition to a handful of others. You might as well start collecting them now.


02 Andras SchiffAndras Schiff presented his cycle of the 32 Beethoven sonatas at the Zürich Tonhalle from 2004 to 2006. His choice of encore after each concert was quite deliberate and they have now been compiled into Encores after Beethoven (ECM New Series 1950 B0025872-02).

Schiff sought to link the encore in some musical way to the sonatas he’d played on the program that night. These live recordings document his choices. Although now separated from their original context, they still carry a residual connection to the music that preceded them, and Schiff uses his notes as a brief outline to explain these relationships.

The opening selections by Schubert, from Three Piano Pieces D946 and Allegretto in C Minor D915 are linked by a strong conceptual kinship to Beethoven’s Sonatas Op.2 and Op.7 as well as Op.10 and Op.13. The Mozart encore Eine Kleine Gigue in G Major K574 is a humourous study in fugal form like the finale of Beethoven’s Sonata Op.10 No.2 on that evening’s program.

Beethoven had originally intended the Andante Favori in F Major WoO57 to be the second movement of the Waldstein Sonata Op. 53, before eventually setting it aside. Schiff used it as the encore for his performance of the Waldstein.

The final movement of the Hammerklavier is an enormous fugue, understood to reflect Beethoven’s admiration for Bach and his evolution of the form. Schiff’s choice of encore for that performance was Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in B Flat Minor BWV867.

The encores are presented on the disc in the date sequence of their performance and show the program information that preceded them. The Zurich audiences listen in rapt silence and reveal themselves only to applaud enthusiastically.

03 Christain HoolihanOrgan music fans have another CD to add to their collections with Christopher Houlihan Plays Bach (Azica ACD-71314). The instrument is always a critical ingredient in these projects and the Austin organ at Trinity College Chapel in Hartford, Connecticut, provides ample reason to pay attention.

Organist Christopher Houlihan puts plenty of familiar Bach toccatas, preludes and fugues into his program, but what begins to emerge only moments into the performance is how brilliant a colourist Houlihan is. The instrument offers an enormous selection of reeds, strings and beautifully mellow flues. It’s built and voiced to provide the greatest possible dynamic range for the building it occupies.

Houlihan’s clever choice of stops is nowhere more impressive than in his own arrangement of the Italian Concerto BWV971. It’s playful, celebratory and sparkles with colour. Every track on this CD takes advantage of this remarkable instrument and its gifted performer.

04 Diabelli BrautigamBeethoven’s exhaustive treatise on the variation form that we know as the Diabelli Variations Op.120 is the heart of Ronald Brautigam’s latest recording Beethoven – Diabelli Variations Ronald Brautigam (fortepiano) (BIS-1943). The disc is the final production in Brautigam’s complete set of Beethoven’s works for solo piano, performed on fortepiano.

This alone would suffice to set it apart for special attention. An added feature, however, is its recording on a modern fortepiano modelled on an instrument built by Conrad Graf in 1822. We know that Beethoven admired Graf’s fortepianos and eventually came to own one himself. One of Graf’s unique features was his quadruple stringing of notes, giving added volume and power to the sound – though it must have been a tuning nightmare. The copy used in this recording demonstrates a wide dynamic range and an impressive responsiveness to touch, not only for dynamic expression but in clarity of strike, release and repeat in the very fast passages.

Brautigam concludes the disc with the Six National Airs with Variations Op.105. This is just one of several such sets Beethoven wrote for British publisher George Thomson. The relationship with Thomson helped spark some interest in folk-songs which Beethoven pursued in 15 further sets. The tunes in this one are Welsh, Irish, Scottish and Austrian. Best known among them is The Last Rose of Summer.

The disc is another of the outstanding recordings by Brautigam, produced in a career-long devotion to performance on original instruments that includes the complete keyboard works of Mozart and Haydn.


05 Glass OlafssonMid-30s Icelandic pianist Vikingur Olafsson is a Juilliard graduate and a busy concert performer with a passion for contemporary music. His acquaintance with Philip Glass makes for fascinating reading in the liner notes of his new recording, Philip Glass – Piano Works (Deutsche Grammophon 479 6918).

The recording is largely devoted to 11 of the 20 Études that Glass wrote between 1999 and 2012. Olafsson plays them from a personal place of detachment but with all the subtlety and nuance they require. His performance of the final Étude No.20 is striking for its otherworldly feel. He relates the story of asking Glass how this one étude came to be so different and how the composer answered that he didn’t know, he just somehow found himself out in space.

The disc also includes the now well-known Opening from Glassworks as its first track. The same piece appears again as the final track, but reworked for piano and string quartet. It’s a very satisfying comparison. The reworked version comes across with richer sonority, and with the piano taking on a much lesser role than might be expected.

Olafsson has produced a very fine performance in a field growing ever more populous. The calibre of his playing assures he will always stand out.

06 Levinson GlassBruce Levingston is a widely recognized interpreter of Philip Glass’ music. His new 2CD set Dreaming Awake – Philip Glass – Bruce Levingston (Sono Luminus DSL-92205) contains a superbly planned program. Covering a period from 1966 to 2005 the music presents, among others things, an overview of how Glass’ music has evolved.

The earliest work is Wichita Vortex Sutra played by Levingston and narrated by actor Ethan Hawke. Written by poet Allen Ginsberg during the years of the Vietnam War protests, it and the music speak jointly to the injustice of the war and a universal call for peace. It’s a work that reveals more of itself on repeated listening.

Much of the two discs is devoted to ten of Glass’ 20 Études. Written primarily for his personal keyboard practice, they each contain a handful of specific technical challenges. It’s not surprising though that Levingston immediately seizes upon the composer’s creative germ in each of them, and sets them on the creative plane Glass must have intended from the outset.

Levingston gives a rich and colourful performance of the enigmatic, Buddhist-inspired Dreaming Awake. It’s an active work of frequent movement between places of intense feeling and moments of great repose. His playing reveals a deep understanding of the music and its composer.

Compositions for film make up a large part of Glass’ oeuvre. While Metamorphosis No.2 is a frequently recorded work, it is also quoted in the soundtrack of The Thin Blue Line. The Illusionist Suite offers another example of his remarkable writing for the screen.

Levingston is a master in this genre, with complete interpretive access to Glass’ work, whether originating in poetic protest or the cinema, whether written for study or meditation.

07 Andreeva SonatasAn eclectic combination of piano works appears on Natalia Andreeva plays Piano Sonatas – Beethoven, Scriabin, Prokofiev (Divine Art dda 25140). Andreeva is a gifted performer, researcher and teacher. Her program choices are deliberate, balanced and artful. Her approach is methodical, yet inspired. For example, Beethoven’s directions in Sonata No.27 in E Minor Op.90 call for the pianist to play with “liveliness, sensitivity and expression.” Andreeva lets these instructions guide her through a beautifully considered performance of this two-movement work. She takes an especially Romantic posture in the second movement, arguing in her notes that Beethoven always wrote with pictures in his mind. Whatever image emerges from this movement is, according to Andreeva, bound to be one of love. Andreeva builds her phrases with care and balance. Their shape and motion in this sonata are elegant and very often quite exquisite.

Andreeva takes her research seriously, looking for interpretive clues in diaries, letters and other original sources. In the case of the Scriabin Sonata No.10 Op.70, her sleuthing has convinced her that the key to this work’s content is the composer’s notation “radieux” in the score. For Andreeva this single-movement sonata is about light. Consequently, the delicate upper filigree and frequent trills become important textures in the mood Scriabin wants to establish. Andreeva delivers a masterful performance of this 1913 Russian work.

Prokofiev’s Sonata No.2 in D Minor Op.14 is an early work in his series of nine sonatas and dates from almost the same time as the Scriabin. Andreeva’s approach to this underscores the principal traits of Prokofiev’s creative personality: harmonic adventurism, rhythmic drive, playful grotesqueness and classicism. Each movement becomes a stage for these elements as Andreeva constructs a complex picture of Prokofiev’s musical world.

Andreeva is a deeply thoughtful artist and definitely worth hearing.

01 Mozart NoirLe Mozart Noir
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra; Jeanne Lamon
Tafelmusik Media TMK 1031 DVDCD (


This is a welcome re-release from 2002, featuring an hour-long DVD docudrama on the life of the significant 18th-century Parisian composer Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, who was the son of a slave. There is also a full-length CD recording of several of Saint-Georges’ compositions, as well as a movement of a Leclair violin concerto and a symphony by Gossec.

The docudrama is well-researched and engaging, despite rather stilted dramatic performances in period costume. What is most interesting is R.H. Thomson’s narrated story of Boulogne’s life, the lively Tafelmusik performances, the interviews with his biographer and with Tafelmusik director Jeanne Lamon and soloist Linda Melsted. Together they make a good case for the complexity, grace and beauty of Saint-Georges’ music. One clip of Lamon explaining in detail the beauty of a particular theme and accompaniment is wonderfully articulate and a powerful insider’s explanation of how music is put together.

The DVD is entertaining, educational and quite moving in its presentation of the life of this remarkable and unique musician, athlete and military leader. The accompanying booklet includes a beautifully written essay on Saint-Georges by Charlotte Nediger.

As Tafelmusik heads into a new era with the recent appointment of Elisa Citterio as their music director, this recording is a poignant reminder of what a powerhouse the orchestra has been over the years under Lamon’s direction. The recorded sound is excellent and the performances are first-rate, most notably the solo playing of Melsted and Geneviève Gilardeau.

02 Ottensamer New EraNew Era – Stamitz; Danzi; Mozart
Andreas Ottensamer; Kammerakademie Potsdam; Emmanuel Pahud; Albrecht Mayer
Decca 481 4711


Andreas Ottensamer, principal clarinet of the Berlin Philharmonic, has released a delightful assortment of tracks on a disc designed to educate and entertain. New Era refers to the period in Mannheim from the mid- to late-18th century, an epoch in which composers and performers consorted, collaborated and so consolidated what we now call the Classical Style.

Most wind players encounter Johann (père) and Carl (fils) Stamitz, as well as Franz Danzi, en route through undergraduate performance courses. Seldom are these composers heard outside of the academic recital hall, perhaps owing to the tendency in our own era to reduce and highlight, so that we use Mozart as a stand-in for an entire range of musical peaks, as we might with Everest for the Himalayas. These four composers are represented here. For once Mozart’s sublime Concerto K622 is left off the menu in favour of two transcribed arias (from Mitridate and Don Giovanni), and a fantasy on the beloved La ci darem la mano, written by Danzi. For substance, there is a concerto from each Stamitz, and a delightful Concertino by Danzi for clarinet and bassoon (transcribed to great effect for cor anglais). Danzi’s Fantasy is an early iteration of the virtuosic form where a technical tour de force is derived from the music of a popular opera.

Ottensamer plays with fluid precision and a surprisingly bright tone that suits the material; perhaps long gone are the days when to be a member of the Berlin Philharmonic meant using the darkest possible set-up. His articulation is crisp, his intonation trustworthy, and his improvisational cadenzas in the concerti are like rifts in the time-space continuum, somehow joining that New Era with our own. Collaborators include flutist Emmanuel Pahud (on both of Stephan Koncz’ transcriptions of the arias) and Albrecht Mayer on cor anglais, both colleagues of Ottensamer in Berlin, and like him brilliant instrumental musicians. The back-up band, Kammerakademie Potsdam, is equally brilliant under the clarinetist’s direction.

03 Haydn Handel HaydnHaydn – Symphonies 8 & 84; Violin Concerto in A Major
Aisslinn Nosky; Handel and Haydn Society; Harry Christophers
Coro COR16148

This is the latest in a series of recordings of the symphonies and concertos of Haydn by the Boston-based Handel and Haydn Society, under the dynamic direction of Harry Christophers. The Toronto connection is the orchestra’s concertmaster – and violin soloist on this disc - Aisslinn Nosky, a former member of Tafelmusik and one of the driving forces behind I Furiosi.

Haydn’s eighth symphony – nicknamed “Le soir” – is a sinfonia concertante, meaning it features solo passages from several of the orchestra’s principals, including Nosky. It’s a great pleasure to hear the freedom, humour and tenderness each soloist brings to their playing and the whole performance has a tremendous buoyancy and elegance to it.

The A-Major concerto is difficult to bring off the page because of its rather pedestrian themes and somewhat predictable turns, but Nosky and Christophers give it a convincing and lively reading. It’s exciting to hear Nosky let loose in the cadenzas, unencumbered by the regular phrasing and symmetry of the main body of each of the movements.

The disc finishes with a glorious performance of Symphony No.84, one of Haydn’s Paris symphonies. Christophers coaxes clean, balanced performances from his charges without sacrificing drama and expressiveness. The second movement goes to some dark places, which are enhanced and deepened by a wonderful attention to dynamics and accents.

It’s clear that Christophers and Nosky are a powerful team. We will await the next Haydn disc with great anticipation.

04 Strauss AriadneStrauss – Ariadne auf Naxos; Bourgeois Gentilhomme (Suites)
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra; JoAnn Falletta
Naxos 8.57346

Now here is a real gem I wouldn’t mind listening to over and over again. This brand new release from Naxos comes from Buffalo, NY, by an orchestra, one of the best in North America, whose skills were honed by such names as Josef Krips, Lucas Foss, Semyon Bychkov and now led most ably by JoAnn Falletta. If you’ve never heard of or cared for her, you certainly will after listening to this rock-bottom, bargain-priced disc, a deal not to be missed.

Strauss’ love of the music of Lully inspired this absolute jewel of incidental music for Molière’s comedy Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, first performed at Chateau Chambord for Louis XIV in 1670. Strauss’ Suite (1912/1920) is written for a small but virtuoso orchestra, difficult and intricate but played here with flair, charm, delicacy and humour one rarely encounters even from the very best conductors. The violin solo by concertmaster William Preucil is an unforgettable delight.

The Suite from Ariadne auf Naxos is quite new (and a world premiere) by a young American, D. Wilson Ochoa, who put it together from the highlights of the opera of the same name. He certainly knew what he was doing and the suite now enriches the concert repertoire like a new symphonic poem by Strauss and surely will be so welcomed. Strauss said once that “melody strikes him like a bolt of lightning from the clear blue sky” and that’s well proven by the exquisite finale when the god Bacchus appears in his radiance curing Ariadne’s sorrows by falling in love with her and we hear wave upon wave of radiant music pouring forth from Falletta’s magic baton.

05 Bruckner BarenboimAnton Bruckner – The Complete Symphonies
Staatskapelle Berlin; Daniel Barenboim
Deutsche Grammophon 479 6985


There is a story about Karajan that once when he got sick and had to cancel a few concerts, the Philharmoniker decided on Daniel Barenboim to substitute. As soon as he heard this, Karajan exclaimed “OMG not HIM!!” and sick no longer, he jumped out of bed and ran back to conduct.

Barenboim’s approach to Bruckner is different from the holier-than-thou century-old Germanic tradition, trademark of many venerable conductors, mostly dead by now. I remember the great Celibidache stopping the orchestra (the BPO) 15 times before reaching the end of the first bar of the Seventh Symphony to get the opening tremolando just right, his tempo so slow, the symphony ended up a half-hour longer than anybody else’s. Now Barenboim, a consummate musician, does not revere anything but the music, making it as enjoyable, interesting, even exciting as possible and his tempi in Bruckner have always been faster, but never rushed. This is true for this new, beautifully recorded set of the nine numbered symphonies, already the third such cycle in his career, but now on his own label Peral Music, under the aegis of Deutsche Grammophon. The orchestra this time is the Berlin Staatskapelle, one of the oldest in the world, once upon a time the Prussian Court orchestra which the maestro, being its director for the last 20 years, had moulded it into perfection. It even gives the famous Berlin Philharmoniker a run for its money.

There is a unified approach, a remarkable consistency, and the orchestral playing is incredibly precise. Most of the players are young, highly skilled, enthusiastic, very devoted to each other and simply revere their conductor. I have watched some of the performances (televised by and Mezzo) and his conducting style avoids all histrionics and, being past 70, he budgets his strength and gets maximum effect with very little effort. All performances are solid, high-quality and the symphonies throb with life, infused with rhythmic vitality. One will discover previously unheard details in the tremendously rich orchestral palette and the conductor’s stamp is always felt. The fff outburst in the Largo of the Seventh Symphony has never been more impressive on record and made even me jump out of my seat practically hyperventilating. Incidentally this had been the moment of my own conversion to Bruckner some 40 years ago.

If you want to enjoy Bruckner rather than worship it, this is the set for you.

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