03 From Sea to Shining SeaFrom Sea to Shining Sea
7th Toronto Regiment Band Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery
7RCA-003 (goo.gl/Hi9o92)

As the title indicate, this CD takes the listener on a musical journey to many parts of the world, if not actually from coast to coast in Canada. It begins with a modernized version of the traditional Post Horn Galop. With the new title of Gunner Galop, arranger Bobby Herriot has mixed the traditional sound of this work to challenge trumpeter George McCormick with sections of modern swing on the valveless post horn. From that the band moves to two prize-winning marches from the 1990 competition to celebrate the centenary of the Royal Canadian Military Institute. From such more serious works as Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain and Johan De Meij’s Loch Ness, the band shifts to the lively upbeat Bobby’s Blues, written for former band director Bobby Herriot by Paul Yoder.

The majority of the selections are compositions by Canadian composers or special band arrangements by Canadians. These include Herriot, David Allen Jacob, Jack McGuire, Ron McAnespie and above all Howard Cable. Cable gets special recognition here with no fewer than six compositions portraying musically different parts of Canada. The band takes the listener from McIntyre Ranch Country to Scene in Iqaluit, Cape Breton Moments and Point Pelee to mention some.

Very, very rarely does a review copy CD have such an effect on me that I simply want to keep playing it instead of listening to the rest of the month’s selections, but that’s exactly what happened with the absolutely stunning CD Janoska Style, featuring the Janoska Ensemble in a dazzling selection of their own distinctive arrangements (Deutsche Grammophon 481 2524).

01 JanoskaThe ensemble features the three Czech brothers Ondrej and Roman Janoska on violin and František Janoska at the piano, with their Hungarian brother-in-law Julius Darvas on double bass. All four musicians had significant independent careers in Vienna before deciding to concentrate on their own music with the Janoska Ensemble in 2013. They combine salon style, gypsy music, jazz and improvisation and bravura cadenzas in virtuosic arrangements that leave you short of breath and scrambling for words to describe them.

From the opening Die Fledermaus Overture à la Janoska, which morphs into a frenetic gypsy version of Those Were the Days, through reworkings of Waxman’s Carmen Fantasie, Massenet’s Thaïs Meditation, Paganini’s Caprice No.24 to Piazzolla’s Adiós Nonino, this is musical imagination, vision and virtuosity of the highest order.

We’re never asked to choose a CD of the Year, but if we were then this would undoubtedly be mine.


02 Haimowitz BachOvertures to Bach is the latest CD from the cellist Matt Haimovitz on the Pentatone Oxingale Series label (PTC 5186 561). It’s yet another tour-de-force solo recital of Bach and Bach-inspired contemporary works from this outstanding performer.

Haimovitz’s continuing relationship with the Bach Cello Suites stretches back over a period of more than 30 years, and in this latest venture – which he calls a culminating moment in the relationship – he has commissioned six new overtures that reflect on and anticipate the six individual suites and, by expanding on the cross-cultural and vernacular references in Bach’s music, reach both forward and backward in time. Each new piece is followed by the Prelude to the relevant Suite. The new works, in Suite order, are: Overture by Philip Glass; The Veronica, by Du Yun; Run, by Vijay Iyer; La memoria, by Roberto Sierra; Es War, by David Sanford; and Lili’uokalani for solo cello piccolo by Luna Pearl Woolf.

Haimovitz is superb in the wide range of technical challenges presented by the new works, and is as thoughtful and inquisitive as ever in the Bach Preludes. It’s a simply outstanding CD.

03 Bartok ChiaraWhen I saw the title of the new 2-CD set from the Chiara String Quartet – Bartók by Heart (Azica ACD-71310) I couldn’t believe my eyes. Surely it didn’t mean that they were performing all six of the Bartók quartets from memory? Well, yes it did, and yes they were.

I don’t think you necessarily have to be a string player to be able to appreciate the simply staggering nature of such a challenge, but anyone who has ever played in a string quartet will know exactly what is involved here – you don’t simply have to remember your own part, but also everybody else’s part to a large extent so that the complete picture is always present in your mind. And these are six works of huge complexity and technical difficulty.

It’s important, though, to move beyond the astonishing magnitude of the feat itself to the musical and emotional result, and the level of the performances here more than repays the effort involved. Interestingly, the quartet members feel that memorizing the music made the more difficult passages easier to play, and that the process took the music back to the aural tradition from which Bartók drew his initial influences.

One thing is certain: in a fiercely competitive field there isn’t another Bartók set quite like this one.

04 Koh TchaikovskyThe outstanding American violinist Jennifer Koh, who has produced a string of terrific CDs for the Cedille label featuring contemporary compositions, returns to the standard repertoire for her latest release, Tchaikovsky Complete Works for Violin and Orchestra, with Alexander Vedernikov conducting the Odense Symphony Orchestra (CDR 90000 166). The trademark Koh intelligence and sensitivity in programming is still there, however: Vedernikov was the conductor when the 15-year-old Koh played the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D Major Op.35 in the International Tchaikovsky Competition for Young Musicians in 1992, the same year in which she first played with the Odense Symphony, and in 2011 all three performed together for the first time.

Koh admits to possibly being more patient in the concerto after all these years, and there is certainly never any sense of rushing in what is a carefully measured and highly lyrical performance. There aren’t quite the fireworks that you’ll find in some recordings, perhaps, but that doesn’t in any way diminish the interpretation here – it’s a thoughtful, personal statement from a player with impeccable technique.

Tchaikovsky’s works for violin and orchestra all date from the years 1875-78. The Sérénade melancolique in B Minor Op.26 from 1875 and the Valse-Scherzo in C Major Op.34 from 1877 open the disc, with the 1878 concerto as the central work; the Glazunov orchestration of the three-piece Souvenir d’un lieu cher Op.42, also from 1878, completes a highly satisfying CD.

Another outstanding American musician, cellist Zuill Bailey, features on two new CDs.

05 ArpeggioneOn Arpeggione (Azica ACD-71306) he teams with guitarist and composer David Leisner in a recital that includes Schubert’s Sonata in A Minor (Arpeggione) D821, de Falla’s Siete Canciones Populares Españolas and the world premiere recording of Leisner’s own Twilight Streams. Short pieces by Gluck, Saint-Saëns and Villa-Lobos fill out a CD that ends with an astonishing transcription of a virtuosic violin piece by Paganini – the Variations on One String on a Theme from Rossini’s Moses.

Terrific technique and warm tone from both players make this a charming disc. All of the arrangements other than the Villa-Lobos are by Leisner.

06 Re Imagined Ying QuartetOn Reimagined: Schumann & Beethoven for Cello Quintet (Sono Luminus DSL-92204) Zuill Bailey joins the Ying Quartet in arrangements of the Schumann Cello Concerto in A Minor Op.129 and Beethoven’s Sonata No.9 for Violin and Piano Op.47Kreutzer.” The Schumann arrangement is by the performers; the Beethoven is an anonymous arrangement from 1832.

The Schumann works well, but the revelation here is the “Kreutzer” Sonata. The absence of a piano makes for a completely different opening, for starters, but the entire work comes across not just as a transcription or arrangement but as a new Beethoven string quintet – and a stunning one at that. It makes you realize and appreciate the sheer depth and strength of the original sonata.

The playing is outstanding throughout a quite fascinating and thought-provoking CD.

07 Brahms TetzlaffHaving first recorded the Brahms Violin Sonatas in a 2002 live performance, violinist Christian Tetzlaff and his regular collaborator pianist Lars Vogt have revisited them after 14 years as they feel that their growth as a duo has resulted in their having more to say (Ondine ODE 1284-2). I’ve never heard the 2002 CD, but this latest issue provides ample proof that the duo does indeed have a great deal to say in these immensely popular works.

The opening of the Sonata No.1 in G Major Op.78 is simply lovely, and the beautiful playing that follows evokes all the usual Brahms descriptive terms – it’s warm, gentle, expansive and autumnal in feel. The Sonata No.2 in A Major Op.100 is equally lovely, and there is plenty of fire in the Sonata No.3 in D Minor Op.108.

Brahms’ contribution to the F.A.E. Sonata, the Scherzo WoO 2 completes the disc. The playing from both performers throughout is rhapsodic, passionate and nuanced, with an excellent dynamic range and a simply lovely recorded sound. This is one revisit that is quite clearly well worth the trip.

08 Prokofiev CooperThere’s more lovely duo playing on Prokofiev Music for Violin and Piano, the debut duo CD by violinist Jameson Cooper and pianist Ketevan Badridze issued on the Afinat Records label (AR1601) in celebration of the 125th anniversary of the composer’s birth. The English-born Cooper has long been active in the United States, and is the first violinist with the Euclid Quartet in residence at Indiana University South Bend, where Badridze is also on the faculty as a senior lecturer.

It’s a CD that certainly makes a lovely birthday present, with outstanding playing of the three works on the program: the Five Melodies Op.35bis; the Violin Sonata No.1 in F Minor Op.80; and the Violin Sonata No.2 in D Major Op.94bis. Both performers are in great form, with their outstanding techniques allowing them to explore the emotional depths of the dark and intensely personal F Minor sonata in particular.

Cooper and Badridze have some top competition in this field – I’ve reviewed similar CDs by Viktoria Mullova, Alina Ibragimova, Jonathan Crow and James Ehnes in the last few years – but this is a disc that can more than hold its own. Cooper’s insightful and perceptive booklet notes complete a terrific package.

09 Caroline GouldingThe 23-year-old American violinist Caroline Goulding teams with pianist Danae Dörken on her debut CD of music by Georges Enescu, Antonín Dvořák and Robert Schumann (Ars Produktion ARS 8536).

The choice for the opening work on the disc, Enescu’s Impressions d’enfance Op.28, is a surprising but strikingly successful one. This simply astonishing suite that traces the course of a child’s day is not what you would expect on a debut disc, but it provides a wonderful palette for violinists to display their range of tone colour as well as their technique, and Goulding takes full advantage of it.

There is something pleasingly old-fashioned about Goulding’s playing in some respects, with its big warm tone and vibrato and her judicial use of portamento. The Dvořák Romantische Stücke Op.75 benefits greatly from this in a lovely performance, and there is more nice playing from both performers in Schumann’s Violin Sonata No.2 in D Minor Op.121.

All in all, an excellent debut CD from a definite talent.

10 Adler Cello ConcertoMaximilian Hornung is the soloist in the Concerto for Cello and Orchestra by the American composer Samuel Adler (b.1928) on the CD José Serebrier conducts Samuel Adler (Linn CKD545); Serebrier also conducts the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in Adler’s Symphony No.6.

The concerto is a strong four-movement work written for the Cleveland Orchestra and its principal cellist Stephen Geber almost 30 years ago, when Adler was a professor at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester. The movements strike a lovely balance between slow, lyrical writing for the cello and rhythmically strong up-tempo passages that show a fair bit of jazz influence.

The symphony is perhaps the more significant recording here. It was written in 1984-85 for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and their conductor David Zinman, but Zinman left the orchestra before the work could be scheduled. This recording is the premiere performance of the symphony as well as the first recording.

It’s a powerful three-movement work with a simply explosive start and a slow, expressive middle movement between two fast outer movements. The orchestration has a distinctively American feel, with more than the occasional hint of Leonard Bernstein, especially in the handling of the percussion and the rhythmic writing.

The short orchestral tone poem Drifting On Winds And Currents concludes an impressive CD.

01 Silver GarburgUsing the piano as an orchestral percussion section, often brutally, is a requisite for performing Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. Sivan Silver and Gil Garburg are unrestrained in conveying the savagery of the ballet’s storyline in their recording Igor Stravinsky – Petrouchka, Le Sacre du printemps (Berlin Classics 0300588BC). Stravinsky wrote this duet version of The Rite of Spring at the same time as the orchestral score. Curiously, the piano version was published a week before the stormy Paris premiere in May 1913, while the orchestral score remained unpublished for another eight years.

The Silver-Garburg duo performs wonderfully throughout this work always using the well-placed quieter moments of repose as contrast against the wilder passages. They understand it completely and play with a commitment to making an emotional impact no less powerful than the larger orchestral score.

Petrouchka also exists as a piano duet by Stravinsky. He finished it just as he began The Rite of Spring in 1911. The duo performs it beautifully. They play with exceptional unity and control especially through the long mystical pauses and speed changes of Petrouchka’s Room. Their crisp, energetic staccatos make Russian Dance a track worth hearing more than once. The disc’s closing track, The Mummers is a brilliant display of speed and technique, and a terrific ending to this recording of two of Stravinsky’s most admired compositions.

02 Prjevalskaya RachmaninoffShortly after winning the 2013 Cincinnati World Piano Competition, Marianna Prjevalskaya recorded Marianna Prjevalskaya plays Rachmaninoff, Variations on Themes by Chopin and Corelli (Fanfare Cincinnati FC-008). The works are big and sit 30 years apart in Rachmaninoff’s oeuvre. The earlier set of variations on the theme of Chopin’s Prelude in C Minor Op.28 dates from 1902. Prjevalskaya plays these 22 pieces capturing all the references to Chopin’s language as well as the early hints of Rachmaninoff’s growing penchant for large-scale orchestral statements, even if only from a keyboard. There’s a lot of emotional variety in this set, with retrospective glances at the Baroque and Classical. But Prjevalskaya ensures that we never lose sight of the essential Russian-ness of the composition. The concluding variation, Maestoso, embodies this in its larger-than-life declaration of Chopin’s idea as towering chords of Russian pianism.

Variations on a Theme of Corelli Op.42 shows us a different composer. Prjevalskaya knows this, and plays with a focus on Rachmaninoff’s more modern vocabulary. She uses his rhythmically irregular figures and unexpected harmonic shifts to present the mature composer writing his last solo piano work. Her approach is less academic than the earlier set and far more a full concert piece that asks to be considered as a whole. It’s for this reason that we hear more clearly the Rachmaninoff of the piano concertos, his melodic voice and rich harmonic palette. Imagine hearing the premiere performed by the composer in Montreal in 1931.


03 Lisitsa Love StoryFilm music is a reliable audience pleaser for orchestras, and people never seem to tire of the great themes that slumber in the soundtracks of so many half-forgotten films. Since its early role as accompaniment to films, the piano has receded into more of a concerto relationship with orchestral film music. Still, many a good theme falls to the keyboard, and Love Story, Piano Themes from Cinema’s Golden Age (Decca 4789454) collects some of film’s most beautiful music for this instrumental combination.

The screen seems to require composers to write in a way that gives immediate access to emotion and drama. Valentina Lisitsa, whose controversial public stance on the turmoil in Ukraine compelled the Toronto Symphony to cancel her 2015 concerts, appears on this disc as the pianist. Her performance of these screen works with the BBC Concert Orchestra is superb. She brings all the requisite concert technique and expression to the service of the score. It’s all intensely Romantic and very lush, graphic music. You can almost smell the popcorn.

There’s a surprisingly conservative Classic/Romantic tradition to these scores. Richard Adinsell’s Warsaw Concerto is the best example of this. Hubert Bath’s Cornish Rhapsody from Love Story (1944) sounds remarkably like Rachmaninoff, while Nino Rota reveals his own voice in The Legend of Glass Mountain (1949). A delightfully unusual track is Dave Grusin’s New Hampshire Hornpipe from On Golden Pond (1981). Here Lisitsa, without orchestra, creates the convincing atmosphere of an early New England folk dance.

The title music from the 1985 TV series Pride and Prejudice, with its period feel, is an artful work by composer Carl Davis. Lisitsa takes her solo moments in this as though they were short solos in Mozart piano concertos. Pure delight.

04 Keys to the CityThis unusual recording Keys to the City – The Great New York Pianists Perform the Great New York Songs (Roven Records RR99999) is a celebration of the Big Apple’s music by its own musicians. As an added treat, the liner notes have the pianists writing about each other. Glen Roven writes about Dick Hyman, Hyman about Frank Owens, Billy Stritch about Paul Shaffer and so on. It’s a wonderful gathering of performers who admire each other’s contribution to the New York keyboard scene.

A few highlights from the playlist include Axel Tosca playing Take the “A” Train with a strong Latin feel that works surprisingly well, Dick Hyman playing 42nd Street, and Frank Owens performing Lullaby of Broadway with a distinctly Gershwinesque feel. There’s also Glen Roven playing 55th Street Bop in a trio for piano, violin and cello.

The bonus track on this disc has pianist, conductor and teacher Leon Fleisher performing Earl Wild’s arrangement of Gershwin’s The Man I Love. He plays it entirely with the left hand, a reminder of the rare condition he suffered, causing him the loss of his right hand for performance.

05 American VisionsPianist Ian Gindes is a commissioned officer in the US National Guard. His pride in the distinctive language of American music is evident throughout the tracks of American Visions (Centaur CRC 3476). More than half the disc is music by Aaron Copland whose Four Piano Blues No.3 opens the program with a tender and haunting tribute to pianist William Kapell. Gindes establishes his credible interpretive abilities in this quiet and muted piece.

He next explodes into Copland’s Rodeo where Buckaroo Holiday and Hoe-down are crisp, powerful and highly energized. Saturday Night Waltz is often played more pensively but Gindes’ approach is entirely consistent with the rest of the suite and works well.

Our Town is Copland’s music to Wilder’s play. It’s less idiomatic than Rodeo and Gindes’ approach reflects the composer’s focus on the atmospheric, emotional narrative. Gone here is the big Copland piano sound of Rodeo. In its place is a deeply quiet introspection delivered by sparse writing and measured playing. Gindes proves to be a superb Copland interpreter.

A couple of fun tracks follow. Études by Earl Wild on Gershwin’s Fascinatin’ Rhythm and Embraceable You are demonstrably virtuosic. Stephen Hough’s equally brilliant arrangements of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s My Favourite Things and Carousel Waltz give Gindes another chance to show his mastery of the keyboard.

The final track is a live recording of Sousa’s The Stars and Stripes Forever for two pianos, eight hands in which Gindes is joined by Tatiana Shustova, Jiafang Yan and Jing Hao. Rousing from start to finish!

06 Field Piano ConcertoIrish-born John Field (1782-1837) was a composer of a modest body of works. Despite their relative neglect, they are exquisitely crafted for any pianist who makes the effort to understand their composer. Benjamin Frith in John Field – Piano Concerto No.7; Irish Concerto with the Northern Sinfonia; David Haslam (Naxos 8.573262), shows Field’s language to have many elements that are antecedents of phrasings and figures we hear in the music of Chopin and Liszt, who both attended the 1832 Paris premiere of the Concerto No.7. It makes for curious listening as Beethoven- and Schubert-like elements also occur. Still, there’s no doubt Field evolved his own voice. He rejected the current trend for virtuosic exhibition, instead favouring nuance and subtlety in his writing and playing. Frith captures these hallmarks of Field’s music. He is generous with his pauses and capably exploits every opportunity to create contrast and interest in Field’s ideas.

Frith is especially engaging in the Irish Concerto, where his gentle touch matches the beauty of Field’s numerous and ornate melodies. This is lovely material and Frith lets not a single note escape his affectionate attention.

The Piano Sonata No.4 in B Major has a frequent early Classical feel and Frith plays it with balanced Mozartian sensibility. Here too there is an ever present lightness to Field’s music that uses none of the turmoil or bombast of some of his contemporaries.

This Naxos disc brings together recordings from 1996, 2013 and 2014. Production values have remained wonderfully consistent over the years and the spread in performance dates is not evident without reading the notes.

07 ArgerichHere’s a terrific video production of a concert featuring familiar and impressive names: Chung, Argerich, Angelich: Live at the Theatre Antique d’Orange, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, BelAir Classics (BAC132). The first-century Roman amphitheatre is packed with an eager audience. Myung-Whun Chung conducts one of Europe’s finest orchestras. And a statue of Caesar looks down on them all as they open the concert with Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture.

The pianistic treat on the program is Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra in D Minor. Martha Argerich and Nicholas Angelich are at their respective Steinways. The whole thing is impeccably played and presented. Clever production offers occasional split screen views of both keyboards in action. Chung conducts the entire evening without a score. He joins the two pianists at a single keyboard to play Rachmaninoff’s Romance for Six Hands in A Major. It’s a bit harmonically thick at times but it’s Rachmaninoff and everyone’s having so much fun. Also on the DVD is Saint-Saëns’ Organ Concerto and a blowout encore that brings the audience to its feet.

08 Schubert UnauthorizedSchubert’s string quartet Death and the Maiden has seen a couple of larger reworkings. Mahler set it for string orchestra and John Foulds for full symphony orchestra. In Franz Schubert, The Unauthorized Piano Duos, vol. 3 (Divine Art dda 25125) duo pianists Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow give us the recording premiere of this 1878 arrangement by Robert Franz.

Franz has arranged the quartet beautifully with part distribution balanced across the keyboard. He uses the added advantage of adding inner harmonies not available to the original four string instruments. Goldstone and Clemmow play fully pianistically using everything the piano can offer. It gives the feeling of the quartet being a rather large duo piano sonata and is completely believable.

The second movement theme and variations on the title Lied is wonderfully played. The third movement theme gets added punch from the piano’s powerful bass register. Goldstone and Clemmow play an impressive final movement never showing the strain that Schubert’s relentless tempo imposes.

This disc also offers the Unfinished Symphony in an arrangement by Hüttenbrenner, to which Goldstone has added his completed version of the Scherzo and Trio, using Schubert’s sketches. Goldstone also adapts a fourth movement finale using the Entr’acte from Rosamunde D.797.


01 Beethoven TafelmusikBeethoven – Symphony No.9
Plundrich; Nesi; Balzer; Tischler; Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra & Chamber Choir; Bruno Weil
Tafelmusik Media TMK1030CD

With his Symphony No.9, Beethoven introduced a whole new compositional territory into the musical world of Vienna. From its 1824 premiere, this work not only influenced several generations of symphonic composers but also became the symbol of victory for humanity. The struggle and rise of man (on both personal and universal levels), so powerful in this symphony and unlike anything heard before it, has produced a wide array of interpretations and recordings. Many argue passionately which one is the best. A few of the notable ones definitely include Karajan’s version from 1962, Bernstein’s from 1989 and the recording by Gardiner in 1994 on period instruments.

So it is in this good company that Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra offers its own dynamic interpretation under the direction of Bruno Weil. Recorded at live concerts at Koerner Hall in Toronto in February 2016, the album holds the animated energy of a live performance. I enjoyed the precise and light articulation of the period instruments in the second movement and slightly subdued colours and the beautiful swelling of the third movement phrases. But make no mistake – Tafelmusik sounds just as powerful as any contemporary symphony orchestra. It builds the momentum of the emotional narrative with conviction, starting from the solemn D Minor theme of the first movement all the way to the jubilant ending of the fourth in D  Major. Tafelmusik Chamber Choir and soloists – Sigrid Plundrich, Mary-Ellen Nesi, Colin Balzer and Simon Tischler – are all superb in bringing out the purity and drama of Beethoven’s music. 

02 French ConnectionsFrench Connections
Music of Saint-Saëns, Prokofiev, Uebayashi
Chatterton-McCright Duo
Proper Canary (lindachatterton.com; matthewmccright.org)

This flute-piano debut recording features Minnesota-based recitalists Linda Chatterton and Matthew McCright in a Paris-themed program. The disc is a timely tribute to the City of Light in these terrorist-plagued times. Flutist Linda Chatterton has ably transcribed and performed Saint-Saëns’ four-movement Sonata in D Minor for Violin and Piano (1885). I am captivated by her variations of colour and mood and her brilliant technique. Pianist Matthew McCright is right with her in ensemble and in creating appealing textures, as in the contrast-filled opening movement. I like the duo’s melodic interplay in the second movement and their light, spiky texture in the waltz-like third. In the hair-raising finale, dynamics are balanced beautifully.

Yuko Uebayashi was born in Japan; her Paris residency is apparent in Sonate (2003), stylistically reminiscent of early-20th-century French music. She has integrated influences from Japan convincingly, for example, in the slow third movement’s pentatonic passages and melodic fourths and fifths. The piece displays exquisite tone colours and textures, idiomatic and expressive instrumental writing, and a sure sense of style. The Chatterton-McCright Duo’s reading of Prokofiev’s Sonata in D Major (1943; later transcribed for violin and piano) is notable for lightness and clarity suggesting the work’s playful, perhaps toy-like aspects. I appreciate their avoidance of over-interpretation and of the vulgar, aggressive sound some duos bring to the finale. Overall a fine, thoughtful program and a duo I hope to hear from again!

03 Canadian BrassPerfect Landing
Canadian Brass
Opening Day ODR 7450 (openingday.com)

Any time that I hear of a new release from the Canadian Brass I wonder what about this CD will set it apart from any other release of theirs. Every time there is something new and different. I could say that this CD is perhaps their biggest step yet. When they first hit the local scene over 40 years ago, brass quintets were almost an oddity and didn’t have the respect that string or woodwind chamber groups enjoyed. How that has changed. The Canadian Brass is now one of the world’s pre-eminent chamber music ensembles. This CD, Perfect Landing, establishes their versatility in a wide variety of genres. For this project they are joined by their former trumpet player, Brandon Ridenour, on harpsichord.

What better way to start than with Bach. The CD opens with a short harpsichord cadenza based on Brandenburg Concerto No.5 and then shifts into the fiendishly difficult third movement of the Brandenburg Concerto No.2 featuring the piccolo trumpet of Caleb Hudson. Then it’s Mozart’s “Spring” Quartet K387 where all members of the ensemble have an opportunity to demonstrate their skills. Having demonstrated their skills in that genre, with the help of arrangements by Luther Henderson, they demonstrate that Bach’s music still has a place in this era with Dixie Bach, Cool Bach and Bebop Bach. There are also a few fine Latin numbers. Perhaps the most outstanding of these is El Relicario which takes the listener through an amazing range of musical skills and emotions. This CD truly has made a Perfect Landing. It will certainly continue to entertain and amaze me in the days and months ahead.

01 Nicolaj Znaider Beethoven MendelssonIf you’re a fan of violinist Nikolaj Znaider – and it’s really difficult not to be – then the DVD of his live performances of the Beethoven and Mendelssohn Violin Concertos with Riccardo Chailly and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchester is something you really should see (Accentus Music ACC 20345).

Although Chailly chose to leave the orchestra this past June (with no acrimony) it’s clear from these performances that he had a close relationship with the players; his warmth and sensitivity, and the ease with which he communicates, are there for all to see. He also clearly enjoys a similar relationship with Znaider, a big man with a big tone and big technique to match.

The Mendelssohn was recorded in September 2012 and the Beethoven in October 2014, but there is no discernable difference in the quality of the recordings. There is perhaps a slightly different feel to the earlier performance, with some different camera angles and slightly fewer cuts to individual orchestra players at appropriate moments, but the direction for both concerts is unobtrusive and never distracting, with excellent coverage of both Znaider and Chailly.

The performances are quite outstanding, with Znaider in great form and drawing a wonderful sound from the Stradivarius violin once played by Fritz Kreisler; it’s a magnificent instrument, and perfectly suited to Znaider’s playing.

Each performance is followed by a Bach encore, the Beethoven by the Sarabande from the Partita No.1 in B Minor and the Mendelssohn by the Sarabande from the Partita No.2 in D Minor.


02 Esther Yoo SIbeliusThere’s more superb violin playing on Sibelius Glazunov Violin Concertos, the debut Deutsche Grammophon CD by the young American-Korean violinist Esther Yoo with Vladimir Ashkenazy conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra (DG40130).

Still only 22, Yoo was 16 when she became the youngest-ever prize winner at the International Sibelius Competition in 2010, and two years later was one of the youngest-ever prize winners at the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels. In 2014 she was a soloist on the Philharmonia Orchestra’s tour of South America under Ashkenazy; the recordings here, however, predate that tour, having been made in October 2013 and May 2014.

Like Znaider, Yoo plays on a magnificent Stradivarius instrument, this time the 1704 “Prince Obolensky” violin, and, also like Znaider, has outstanding technique and a wonderful tone. The Glazunov Concerto in A Minor Op.82 gets a ravishingly beautiful performance here, as does the Sibelius Concerto in D Minor Op.47, with Ashkenazy finding some subtle and often unheard nuances in an exceptional orchestral accompaniment.

Two smaller works for violin and orchestra complete the CD. Sibelius’ Suite for Violin and Strings JS185/Op.117 from 1929 was the last concertante work he completed, although it lay undiscovered until the 1980s and was not published until 1995. The titles of the three short movements (in English in the manuscript) reflect the composer’s popularity in Great Britain: Country Scenery; Serenade – Evening in Spring; and In the Summer.

Glazunov’s Grand Adagio is taken from his Op.57 ballet Raymonda from 1898, and depicts the rapturous dance of the two lovers at the centre of the story. It’s a lovely end to a simply stunning debut.

Concert Note: Esther Yoo makes her Toronto debut with the TSO on October 8 and 9 playing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto at Roy Thomson Hall.

03 Schnittke ViolinThe Russian duo of violinist Roman Mints and pianist Katya Apekisheva are the performers on an outstanding 2CD set of Works for Violin and Piano by the Russian composer Alfred Schnittke (quartz QTZ2116).

Mints grew up with Schnittke’s music, and feels that it frequently illustrates “even too accurately the life we lived back then” in the former Soviet Union. He performed all of Schnittke’s music for violin and piano in a concert at the Moscow Conservatory several years ago, and this new recording is essentially a reconstruction of that concert program.

Mints plays the three sonatas in reverse order – going “from death to life rather than the other way round” – because of the cheerless and oppressive nature of the Sonata No.3. It was written in 1994 after Schnittke had suffered several severe strokes, and the score is consequently extremely bare. The Sonata No.1 was written during the composer’s 12-tone serialism period and has more than an echo of Berg and Shostakovich.

The Sonata No.2 “Quasi una Sonata” is a technically challenging work with a striking opening and equally striking ending. There are percussive piano hammer chords, huge silences, tonal and atonal passages, structured and aleatoric sections, some stunning piano textures and extended violin techniques; and an ending where 46 consecutive identical piano chords crash into dissonance, leaving the unaccompanied violin to take the sonata to its close. It’s a simply astonishing piece that feels like the emotional centre of the recital.

The Suite in Old Style, five short pieces drawn from Schnittke’s numerous film scores and presented here in an arrangement for viola d’amore, harpsichord and percussion, could hardly be more different, the central Minuet having a distinct Harry Potter flavour.

Three short pieces round out the recital: the Congratulatory Rondo written for the first violinist of the Borodin Quartet; the brief but somewhat grotesque Polka from the incidental music for a stage play; and Stille Nacht, a startlingly eerie arrangement of Franz Gruber’s carol Silent Night. The latter, written as a Christmas greeting for Gidon Kremer, has a growing dissonance in the violin and an increasingly ominous low off-key bass pedal note in the piano, the piece ending with a low Shostakovich-like violin figure that sounds like a distant air raid warning. This night may well be silent, but it’s filled with an air of apprehension and unease.

04 Rebecca ClarkeThe English composer and violist Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979) may well be little known to the general music public – let alone the public in general – but viola players have long known her qualities and her contributions to their repertoire and will no doubt welcome the new CD Rebecca Clarke Works for Viola, featuring the Duo Rùnya of violist Diana Bonatesta and pianist Arianna Bonatesta (ÆVA Æ16008).

Clarke settled in the United States in the early 1940s and stopped composing after marrying the pianist James Friskin in 1944. Her music was largely forgotten until 1976, when a radio broadcast celebrating her 90th birthday revived interest in it; even so, much of her music remains unpublished.

As a professional viola player, a large amount of Clarke’s music was written for her own use. The CD opens with the substantial Viola Sonata from 1919, a beautiful work with hints of Debussy and other contemporaries that has remained part of the standard viola repertoire since its publication in 1921. Morpheus, her first major work for the instrument, was written in 1918.

Six shorter individual works for viola and piano are mostly from the 1909 to 1925 period, and violinist Gabriele Campagna joins the Duo for the final track, the Dumka for violin, viola and piano from 1941.

Diana Bonatesta has a big, warm tone and plays beautifully throughout a really lovely CD.

05 Colin Matthews Violin ConcertoThe contemporary English composer Colin Matthews, who turned 70 earlier this year, is celebrated with the CD Violin Concerto on the label he founded, although the CD also features his Cello Concerto No.2 and the orchestral work Cortège (NMC D227).

Matthews is a prominent figure on the English scene, having worked with Benjamin Britten, Imogen Holst and Deryck Cooke in the 1970s and having been associate composer with the London Symphony Orchestra in the 1990s and the Hallé Orchestra in the 2000s. He is currently professor of composition at the Royal College of Music.

There are no new recordings here. The Violin Concerto is a two-movement work written for Leila Josefowicz between 2007 and 2009, with this performance a live recording of a BBC Proms concert at Royal Albert Hall on July 28, 2010; Josefowicz is the soloist with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Oliver Knussen. It’s a fine work with some beautiful solo writing and constantly changing speeds and textures, and an orchestral accompaniment in the opening section that is highly reminiscent of Alban Berg.

The Cello Concerto No.2 is heard here in another BBC recording, this time made in April 2002 and featuring cellist Anssi Karttunen, with Rumon Gamba leading the BBC Symphony Orchestra. It was written between 1994 and 1996 for Mstislav Rostropovich, and consists of five short movements played without a break.

Cortège is a decidedly dark single-movement work for large orchestra dating from 1988, played here by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra under Riccardo Chailly in a recording made at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, in December 1998.

Performances throughout are top-notch in a CD that is a fine birthday tribute to a significant musical personality.

06 Beethoven Cypress QuartetBeethoven: The Early String Quartets (AVIE AV2348) is a 2CD set of the Opus 18 quartets by the Cypress String Quartet that not only completes their recording of the complete cycle but also marks their final season; after 20 years together the quartet disbanded after a concert in San Francisco on June 26. Their 2012 self-released recordings of the late quartets have also been reissued as a 3CD set alongside this new issue; their recording of the middle quartets was released on AVIE Records in 2014.

This is the only volume of the series that I have heard, and it really made me want to listen to the others, especially to see what the ensemble does with the late quartets. The playing here never lacks bite and intensity when it’s needed, but there’s an overall sensitivity and thoughtfulness which is very appealing; this is refined playing, but never superficial. It’s also very strong rhythmically, particularly in the tricky start to the Presto final movement of the Op.18 No.3 D Major quartet, which can so easily be quite ambiguous without a clearly defined pulse.

07 Northwestern U Cello EnsembleI’ve had the occasional cello ensemble CD over the past year or so, but nothing that approaches the sheer size of the Chicago area Northwestern University Cello Ensemble under their director Hans Jørgen Jensen on their new CD Shadow, Echo, Memory (Sono Luminus SLE-70004).

In May 2013 Jensen, Northwestern’s cello professor, brought together an ensemble of Northwestern students, Chicago-area high school cellists and Northwestern alumni (several of whom are now active in major U.S. symphony orchestras and music schools) to record the Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. This memorable event, with over 50 cellists participating, led to the continuation of the project and the decision to record this debut album, although the remaining tracks here feature ensembles comprising from eight to 23 cellos.

The works range from Fauré’s Après un rêve (1878) and Rachmaninov’s Vocalise (1915) through Ligeti’s 1966 Lux Aeterna to four 21st-century works: Zachary Wadsworth’s Three Lacquer Prints (2012/14); Hans Thomalla’s Intermezzo (2011); Aaron Jay Kernis’ Ballad (2004); and the 2014 title track by the Canadian composer and Northwestern ensemble member Michael van der Sloot.

Finally, the full ensemble is joined by six basses and a harp in the original 2013 recording of the Mahler Adagietto, providing a lovely ending to a CD full of sonic depth and richness.

08 Offenbach Cello DuetsTwo cellos may not have much chance of sounding like 50, but in the hands of Jacques Offenbach, himself a virtuoso cellist, they can still sound like a small ensemble. Paul Christopher and Milovan Paz are the cellists in Offenbach Cello Duets Op.54, #1-3, The Gift – Wrapping! (Human Metronome HMP 106-2016), the fifth and final CD in their complete recording of the six books of duets of increasing difficulty that comprise the Cours méthodique de duos pour deux violoncelles Opp.49-54.

The Op.54 duets rank as Trés Difficiles (or “formidably difficult” in Christopher’s words) with extensive double and triple stops over the entire range of positions and challenges that include rapid scale work, large jumps in pitch, arpeggios, octaves and extremely high tessitura. Christopher and Paz surmount them all with ease and are clearly having a great time in doing so.

Don’t be fooled by the apparent pedagogical nature of the Method’s title; Offenbach is best known for his operettas, and his gift for melody is evident throughout these delightful duets. In Christopher’s opinion they transcend their original purpose and are the high water mark for the cello duets genre, and given the evidence here it’s difficult to disagree with him.

09 Carmine Miranda SchumannThe young Venezuelan-American cellist Carmine Miranda is the soloist on a terrific CD of the Schumann and Dvořák Concerti for Cello & Orchestra with the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra under Petr Vronský (Navona Records NV6034).

Composed in October 1850, the Schumann Cello Concerto in A Minor Op.129 has been given a rough ride by many critics over the years, with criticisms ranging from a lack of virtuosity in the solo part to its being evidence of the composer’s mental decay – within a week of completing the proofreading for the published version in February 1854, Schumann attempted suicide by throwing himself into the Rhine.

The review copy of this CD came with Miranda’s fascinating and extremely detailed article Decoding the Schumann Cello Concerto, reprinted in full from the Spring 2016 edition of The Musical Times, in which he argues convincingly that the work has long been misunderstood, and that Schumann’s decisions in the concerto, far from being a product of any mental deterioration, are in fact calculated, and clear proof of his knowledge of, and use of, cryptography – or cyphers – in his music. The concerto is apparently dominated by references to the initial letters of the full names of Schumann’s wife Clara and the composer himself, and these references determine the structure of the melodies and the choice of keys.

Given this level of insight it should come as no surprise that the performance here is outstanding – sensitive, passionate and rhapsodic – and makes the strongest possible case for elevating the concerto to the same class as the Elgar and the Dvořák.

Miranda brings the same rich, full-toned playing and the same depth of historical research to the Dvořák Concerto in B Minor Op.104, resulting in another glorious performance of this wonderful piece.

10 Michael Nicolas TransitionsAnd finally, to a single cello. Transitions is the first solo CD from the Canadian-born New York cellist Michael Nicolas, a performer with an impressive reputation on the contemporary scene (Sono Luminus DSL-92202).

Nicolas describes the CD as an attempt to show that humans and computers can co-exist musically and explores the relationship from as many angles as possible. The works here were written by composers from three continents and span over 50 years and include duos for cello and electronics, cello solos with electronic backing tracks, pieces with multi-layered cello tracks and a piece for solo cello.

The composers include the Argentinian-American Mario Davidovsky (b.1964), the Americans Steve Reich, David Fulmer and Annie Gosfield, Iceland’s Anna Thorvaldsdottir (b.1977) and the Peruvian Jaime E. Oliver La Rosa (b.1979). Davidovsky’s Synchronisms No.3 for Cello and Electronic Sounds was written in 1964; Thorvaldsdottir’s solo cello title track dates from 2014.

Nicolas hopes that the listener “will be exposed to many new sounds and ways to organize them, and be able to connect them to more traditional ideas of musical expression.” Certainly this CD will go a long way towards helping them do just that. His playing and extended techniques are outstanding, and the works are beautifully recorded.


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