01 Jan Lisiecki Cover PhotoCanadian pianist Jan Lisiecki’s recording career continues with his latest issue of Mendelssohn (Deutsche Grammophon DG 4836471; deutschegrammophon.com/en/artist/lisiecki), the sixth time his name appears on this prestigious label. Lisiecki plays the Concerto No.1 in G Minor Op.25 and No.2 in D Minor Op.40 along with the Variations sérieuses, Op.54 and a couple of shorter pieces. His earlier recordings set expectations very high and he has no difficulty in exceeding them. At age 23, his towering technical ability and the blazing speed and accuracy of his playing promise to propel him for a good many years toward some still distant pinnacle. It would all be something of a meteoric flash were it not for his maturity.

The willingness and ability to forgo the energized brilliance of a youthful performance is the early mark of a musician with something to say, something worth hearing. Lisiecki’s fast playing is so impressive it’s a wonder the piano is mechanically capable of keeping up. But the middle movements of both concertos along with the more pensive sections of the Variations are the places where the artist becomes subsumed in the art. In the moments of pause and suspense, where so little seems to happen, so much is conveyed. Lisiecki shows how completely he is able to surrender to this music, to lift away from it and let it speak. It’s a beautiful recording that promises as much and more for what Lisiecki will still do.

02 Levinston CitizenBruce Levingston’s new CD Citizen (Sono Luminus DSL 92228; sonoluminus.com/m-175-bruce-levingston.aspx) finds its inspiration in his invitation to perform at the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. Being his home state, it occasioned considerable reflection for him on the deep questions at the core of his community’s history and conscience. Two of the works are world premiere recordings from composers commissioned to write music for the same opening. They, along with the four others represented on the disc, speak with a remarkably similar voice. Levingston has programmed his recording to be this way – a reflection of the higher ideals the Civil Rights Museum enshrines.

The opening track is Nolan Gasser’s An American Citizen. It’s inspired by one of Marie Atkinson Hull’s portraits of Mississippi tenant farmers and sharecroppers. Gasser uses many recognizably American idioms to build a highly complex work that nevertheless offers immediate and sustained emotional access. A more contemplative work is David T. Little’s Accumulation of Purpose inspired by the Freedom Riders, the civil rights activists who rode buses across the South in 1961. The final tracks go to Price Walden whose Sacred Spaces is a profoundly moving remembrance of the countless churches where African-Americans gathered and contributed to their sense of community. His arrangement of Amazing Grace closes the recording. It’s a straightforward structure that uses some extraordinary harmonic transitions to make this iconic hymn even more meaningful in the context of the disc.

This recording by Bruce Levingston is far more than a simple CD. It’s a meditation on one of the central issues of our time and can only benefit from being heard and experienced in that way.

03 Liszt TiberghienCédric Tiberghien focuses on the closing years of one of the 19th century’s greatest musical figures in his latest recording Liszt – Années de pèlerinage, troisième année & other late works (Hyperion CDA68202; hyperion-records.co.uk). It begins with a handful of shorter works from the last five years of Liszt’s life. Tiberghien’s posture in these works is hard to describe but a valiant effort might yield something like “micro-playing.” The understated pianissimos seem to come from a distant instrument in another place. It’s a remarkable technique that can extract so small a whisper from such a powerful instrument. But Liszt is contemplating another world and Tiberghien transcendentally plays from there. The voice he creates at the keyboard speaks a language free to be atonal and arrhythmic as Liszt so daringly intends in the Bagatelle sans tonalité and the Fourth Mephisto Waltz. Contemplation of what lies beyond the threshold of mortality is nearly, but not entirely, without hope. The simple beauty of Wiegenlied and En rêve are sparingly applied to the dark certainties of La lugubre gondola II and Schlaflos! Frage und Antwort. Tiberghien’s playing in these late works may be the most beautiful you have ever heard.

The Années predate this period and are freer of the later works’ darker contemplations. There is much grand-scale writing and brilliant pianistic conception in these pages and Tiberghien dominates with power and dexterity. His Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este is a breathtaking portrayal of Liszt’s fountains. And his interpretations of Angelus! and Sursum Corda are convincing evocations of their spiritual and liturgical roots.

04 Melisande McNabneyMélisande McNabney’s new release Inspirations (Atma Classique ACD2 2780; atmaclassique.com/En/Albums/AlbumInfo.aspx?AlbumID=1620) offers an intriguing twist on expectations of harpsichord repertoire. These works are transcriptions of music originally for lute. As such, they lack the conventional form that keyboard works devised for two hands would ordinarily display. Instead, these reveal a kind of hybrid piece, principally adapted for keyboard but still revealing much of the lute’s character in the way brief solo thematic ideas alternate with great strum-like keyboard arpeggios. Even the lutenist’s finger plucking is recreated as clustered staccato patterns by the harpsichordist. It takes some careful listening but the ear begins to hear what the music might have sounded like as a lute piece. It sounds terribly difficult at times with endless cascades of keyboard notes that would have been easier on the lute. Still, 17th-century demands for repertoire for the popular emerging keyboard instrument made transcription a necessary composer’s skill. McNabney herself transcribed two works by Rameau, Tendre amour and Air de la Folie. On this recording, she performs on a 1981 instrument built by Keith Hill after an original by the builder Blanchet.

Listen to 'Inspirations' Now in the Listening Room

05 Messing AroundHakan Toker’s latest recording is aptly titled Messing Around (Navona Records NV 6202; navonarecords.com/catalog/nv6202). Yes, this is one of those lists of familiar tunes jazzed up by a talented and creative player. But wait, this inventive and, frankly, brilliant pianist takes the practice to a new level. Imagine Henry Mancini’s Moon River being reconceived as a Bach invention or a Satie Gnossienne as a Czardas; or how about Beethoven’s Für Elise as Elise’s Got The Blues! This is beyond simply clever, it’s genius. The Bach Toccata and Fugue in Blue, like the other tracks, shows Toker’s understanding of the original forms and his fluency with the modern ones that enables his fusion (or maybe it’s fission?) of ragtime, blues, jazz and seemingly any other musical style. It’s a little comic at first but very quickly becomes stunningly impressive. The disc includes Paul Desmond’s Take Five and Mozart’s Rondo alla turka rethought in the most entertaining ways

Toker is the master of everything he plays, regardless of style or technical difficulty.

06 Deschenes OvalleAndree-Ann Deschenes is a California-based French-Canadian pianist. Her new 2CD set The Ovalle Project (aadpiano.com/the-ovalle-project) celebrates the music of Jayme Ovalle, a Brazilian composer of the first half of the 20th century. Ovalle wrote a modest body of works that include some songs, instrumental pieces and 24 compositions for piano. They are varied in style and length but generally conform to classical Western forms and tend toward character pieces and dances but also include several virtuosic works. Deschenes’ website describes her attraction to the music and its harmonic richness, density and chromaticism. She has spent some time searching for scores and assembling the manuscripts to be able to record the 24 piano pieces.

The most substantial items in the set are the three Legenda Opp.19, 22 and 23. These are conceived on a larger scale than most of the other material. Massive chords and a wider dynamic make these stand out quite impressively. By contrast Album de Isolda Op.27 is simple and at times seems to have been written in the spirit of a Baroque exercise.

Ovalle’s writing takes a few risks with tonality but only rarely. Rhythm is his principle tool and Deschenes uses this masterfully. She has a natural affinity for the Latin spirit of this music and Ovalle’s harmonic language. There’s a surprising amount of very satisfying variety in this program, aided significantly by Deschenes’ obviously passionate interest in Ovalle’s work.

Listen to 'The Ovalle Project' Now in the Listening Room

07 David WittenThe Eclectic Piano Music of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (Albany Records Troy 1732; albanyrecords.com) is David Witten’s new recording treating listeners to an exotic and luscious program of music not often heard. Despite the familiarity of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s name, his piano music is infrequently performed or recorded. Witten’s selection of works highlights the modal nature of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s writing and demonstrates his impressive ability for caricature and programmatic writing.

The Seasons Op.33 is a wonderful example of how Witten works the subtle emotional elements used to portray the feel of each season. Similarly, Sonatina Zoologica Op.187 carries titles like Dragonflies, The Snail, Little Lizard and Ants that match the musical portraits the composer paints of the garden creatures. Witten plays the Sonatina beautifully, seizing every opportunity to exploit the composer’s picturesque devices. Witten’s liner notes offer an instructive reminder of the composer’s successful career as a Hollywood film composer and suddenly it all makes sense. This is music for the imagination as much as the ear.

On a higher level, however, Castelnuovo-Tedesco writes Greeting Cards Op.170 in which he devised his own coding system to convert the alphabet into musical notes in order to compose tributes to musicians he admired. Three such pieces on this disc pay homage to Walter Gieseking, André Previn and Nicolas Slonimsky. Witten’s playing throughout this disc is consistently superb. He exhibits an abiding curiosity that drives him to explore the reaches of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s language, and a musical intelligence that guarantees the highest fidelity to the composer’s intention.

08 Prokofiev KholodenkoVadym Kholodenko has more than a half dozen recordings to his credit and now adds his new release Sergei Prokofiev Concertos No.1, 3 & 4 (Harmonia Mundi HMM907632; harmoniamundi.com). Having recorded Piano Concertos 2 and 5 on a previous disc, he completes the cycle with the remaining three. These three come from very different circumstances in Prokofiev’s life. The well-known story of Concerto No.1 in D-flat Major, Op.10 has Prokofiev as a 21-year-old pianist winning the Rubinstein Piano Competition performing it. It’s a short work played through without movement breaks. Kholodenko immediately captures the boldness and youthful optimism of this work with his opening statements of the main idea, and drives through the rest of the work with undiminished energy.

Concerto No.3 in C Major, Op.26 comes from nearly a decade later, after Prokofiev had left the Soviet Union. Kholodenko plays this in a way that reflects the more confident modernity the composer found in a new environment that encouraged some careful flirtation with atonality. Kholodenko maintains the sense of rhythmic drive that underscores the strong dance impulse of this music.

Concerto No.4 for the left hand in B Flat Major, Op.53 was written in 1931 for Paul Wittgenstein who disliked it and refused to play it. He was kinder to Ravel who also wrote him a similar work. It’s a very difficult piece that Kholodenko plays flawlessly.

01 Gryphon TrioImmortal and Beloved
Gryphon Trio
Analekta AN 2 9522 (analekta.com/en) 

Shortly after Beethoven’s death, three letters to “meine unsterbliche Geliebte” (my immortal beloved), dated July 6/7 (1812), were discovered among his effects. Speculation about her identity has since abounded, with numerous suggested candidates. A 1994 British movie, Immortal Beloved, even portrayed her, absurdly, as his sister-in-law! Recent attention has focused on Countess Josephine von Brunswick, the secret dedicatee of Beethoven’s piano piece Andante favori.

Carleton University professor James Wright (b.1959) has rearranged excerpts from the letters to compose a moving, memorable 15-minute cycle of three songs, Briefe an die unsterbliche Geliebte (Letters to the Immortal Beloved) (2012), quoting the opening of the Andante favori near the end of the third song. Canadian baritone David John Pike, accompanied by the Gryphon Trio, effectively expresses the hyper-emotional words of Beethoven’s desperate longing. These beautiful, heartfelt songs should be welcomed into the lieder repertoire, perhaps in a version for voice and piano alone.

Pike, accompanied by Gryphon pianist Jamie Parker, also contributes a sensitive performance of Beethoven’s song-cycle An die ferne Geliebte (To the Distant Beloved), another outpouring of longing for an absent lover.

Filling 40 of this CD’s 70 minutes is the Gryphon Trio’s exuberant 2008 recording of Beethoven’s Archduke Trio, needlessly reissued while still available on Analekta AN 2 9858. Surely, music not yet in the discographies of Wright, Pike or the Gryphon Trio would have been preferable.

Nonetheless, Wright’s fervent song cycle definitely deserves repeated hearings. Texts and translations are included.

02 Schubert BRockSchubert – Symphonies 1 & 6
B’Rock Orchestra; René Jacobs
Pentatone PCT 5185 707 (naxosdirect.com) 

This new recording of Schubert’s First and Sixth Symphonies is René Jacobs’ first foray into the music of this composer and it certainly promises to be an exciting new adventure. Thus far I have been acquainted with the Belgian maestro as a distinguished interpreter of Baroque repertoire, but as is usually the case with extraordinary musical minds, they soon branch into the classics or even the Romantics.

Schubert was the first love of my life and I grew up with the lush and graceful interpretations of German conductors, beautifully rendered with modern instrument orchestras. Little did I know that Schubert’s original scores were augmented by Brahms, so Jacobs’ principal aim is to restore authenticity with the original, leaner orchestrations with period instruments using the B’Rock Orchestra, a group of young enthusiastic and energetic players famous for their original approach to the classics.

Notwithstanding some critics’ complaints about harsh sounds, extreme dynamics and sonorities of period instruments, we are amply compensated with how even the First Symphony, written by a mere teenager, dashes forth with such verve, fire, joie de vivre, brilliance and humour at the hands of these young players. The fourth movement especially, is a delight.

The Sixth, my favourite from the early period, referred to as the Little C Major (as opposed to the Great C Major) is definitely a masterpiece and comes off even better. Everything makes sense, the extremely fast tempo at the ritornello of the Scherzo and its heavenly Trio, that marvellous second movement with its sudden outbursts of sadness and anger, the delightful fourth that dances along like a ballet with its interesting modulations, and that surprising sudden visionary reference to the great Ninth at the very end. A vigorous, original and highly inspired performance!

Complete set to be completed by 2021, can’t wait!

03 Brahms DvorakBrahms – Symphony No.4; Dvořák - Symphony No.9
Bamberger Symphoniker; Jakub Hrůša
Tudor Recording AGSACD 1744 (naxosdirect.com) 

As I learned from the informative liner notes contained within this highly enjoyable and beautifully captured double CD – containing, what is no doubt, some of the finest and certainly best loved music of Johannes Brahms and Antonin Dvořák – both men, at different junctures in their lives, performed the role of torchbearer for one another. Dvořák, literally, was torchbearer at the funeral of the more senior Brahms, who had famously encouraged, mentored and recommended to publishers the compositions of Dvořák, who was then living and composing in Prague, anxious to be heard and appreciated on a more international level. Brahms, more famously, was stylistic torchbearer for a future generation of composers that include Dvořák, all whom found inspiration in the late German composer’s broad Romantic themes and melodic beauty.

The relationship between the two men is programmed here, with two of their most famous symphonies (Brahms’s Symphony No.4 and Dvořák’s Symphony No.9), presented under the masterful direction of Czech conductor Jakub Hrůša, working with the dynamic German Bamberg Symphony Orchestra. In addition to the shared appreciation that the composers had for one another, these two symphonies share key, aesthetic beauty and a grandness of gesture that Hrůša and orchestra develop fully, while simultaneously teasing out the subtle differences and exploring the individual intricacies of these two masterworks, which represent the last symphonies of the two composers.

The CD is bold in its programming and beautiful in its presentation of these popular symphonic works, offering another important telling and capture of these compositions for lovers of bold Western art music.

04 NYOCMigrations
National Youth Orchestra of Canada; Jonathan Darlington
Independent NYOC2018CD (nyoc.org)

Richard Strauss commented at least once on how unusually polyphonic (many-voiced) his musical brain was. Indeed, in preparing Strauss’ extraordinary work Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life) the 2018 National Youth Orchestra of Canada’s nearly 100 advanced musical brains have been suitably challenged! Expertly conducted by Jonathan Darlington, the tone poem’s long-range progression through myriad orchestral details is engrossing. Part way through the third of the composition’s six sections I realized that the performers were on a heroic path of their own with this confident performance. So, kudos to last summer’s conductor, faculty and young instrumentalists who brought this excellent recording, plus an ensuing performance tour of Germany and Scotland, to fruition.

Four works by accomplished Canadian composers follow on the disc. Evoking the natural world, Moontides by the well-recognized John Estacio is about to be connected to a forthcoming film about lunar tides. From the beginning, sweeping and brilliant orchestral colours and textures create a mysterious mood within the tonal, harmonic framework. Nature also is suggested in River Memory, a 2018 NYOC commission from emerging composer Alison Yun-Fei Jiang that is likewise imaginatively orchestrated with metamorphoses of timbre and expert percussion scoring. Here the pitch basis includes long pedal notes and intervallic patterns rather than chords. The NYOC program traditionally includes choral singing; brief and effective a cappella choruses Lead Us Home (by Matthew Emery) and Terre-Neuve (by Marie-Claire Saindon) round off this remarkable disc.

01 ClarkeEnglish cellist Natalie Clein and Norwegian pianist Christian Ihle Hadland are quite superb on a new CD of Sonatas by Rebecca Clarke and Frank Bridge (Hyperion CDA68253; hyperion-records.co.uk/dc.asp?dc=D_CDA68253).

Clarke’s Viola Sonata – here in the alternate cello version – is a sweeping, passionate work completed in 1919, and seems to benefit from the added depth the cello brings. And what inspired playing it draws from Clein! Bridge’s two-movement Cello Sonata in D Minor is also from the Great War period. Begun in 1913, it was finished in 1917, the second movement reflecting the darker times and the composer’s deep dismay at the course of world events. Three brief pre-war pieces precede the sonata: the Serenade (1903); Spring Song (1912); and the Scherzo (1901-03) that was rediscovered in 1970.

Besides the obvious English connection there is another link with Ralph Vaughan Williams here, his Six Studies in English Folk Song having been written in 1926 for cellist May Mukle, Rebecca Clarke’s longtime chamber music partner. They provide a lovely end to an outstanding disc.

02 Hopcker BrahmsThe German violinist Sabrina-Vivian Höpcker is the brilliant soloist in Brahms Hungarian Dances, a recital of all 21 pieces originally written for piano four hands and heard here in the arrangements by Joseph Joachim; Fabio Bidini is a perfect collaborator (Delos DE 3558; delosmusic.com/recording/brahms-hungarian-dances).

Only a few of the dances were actually written by Brahms, the remainder being a mixture of contemporary Hungarian Roma compositions, some of which were probably settings of traditional tunes. Höpcker’s playing of these technically demanding pieces has everything you could possibly wish for: stunning technique; faultless intonation; great dynamics; passion; energy; style; and a tone that is brilliant in the upper register and deep and warm in the lower. Bidini knows the original piano settings well, and it shows.

There are some familiar old favourites here, but all are gems. There’s never a dull moment in an outstanding disc.

03 Jinjoo ChoThe Indianapolis Commissions 1982-2014 is a fascinating CD issued for the tenth Quadrennial International Violin Competition of Indianapolis (IVCI) in 2018, and presents all nine specially commissioned works written through the 2014 competition (Azica Records ACD-71321; naxosdirect.com/items/the-indianapolis-commissions-468596).

Violinist Jinjoo Cho, the Gold Prize Winner in the 2014 IVCI, is quite stunning in a wide range of pieces that include three – by Joan Tower, Leon Kirchner and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich – for solo violin. Pianist Hyun Soo Kim supplies first-rate collaboration in works by Richard Danielpour, George Rochberg, Bright Sheng (the particularly dazzling A Night at the Chinese Opera), Joonas Kokkonen, Witold Lutosławski and Ned Rorem. One gets the impression that Cho could probably have won every one of the other eight competitions as well.

04 HaydnThere’s another 2CD volume available in the outstanding ongoing series of Haydn String Quartets by The London Haydn Quartet, this time the Six Quartets Op.64 from the London Forster edition (Hyperion CDA68221; hyperion-records.co.uk/dc.asp?dc=D_CDA68221).

The previous six volumes over the past 11 years have garnered rave reviews, and rightly so. These are period instrument performances simply bursting with life and energy, and with faultless intonation on gut strings – no easy feat. Hyperion’s two-CDs-for-the-price-of-one deal makes these terrific issues even more of a bargain.

05 Schubert Die Nacht track CD bklt 1Cellist Anja Lechner and guitarist Pablo Márquez team up on Die Nacht, a recital of works by Schubert and his contemporary Friedrich Burgmüller (ECM New Series 2555; ecmrecords.com/catalogue/1534923762).

A lovely performance of Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata is the centrepiece of the disc, surrounded by five Schubert songs interspersed with Burgmüller’s Trois Nocturnes for cello and guitar. Songs with guitar accompaniment were a strong tradition in 19th-century Vienna, many of Schubert’s being published in guitar versions. The songs here are Nacht und Träume D827, Fischerweise D881, Meeres Stille D216, Der Leiermann from Die Winterreise and the Romanze from Rosamunde, the last two in transcriptions by the artists. A rich cello sound and warm guitar tone add greatly to a simply lovely CD.

06 Sol GabettaSchumann is the latest CD from cellist Sol Gabetta and features three works for cello and piano with her long-time collaborator Bertrand Chamayou and the Cello Concerto in A Minor Op.129 with the Kammerorchester Basel under Giovanni Antonini (Sony Classical 88985352272; sonyclassical.de/sonyclassical_neu/CD/88985352272.html).

The works with piano are 5 Pieces in Folk Style Op.102, the Adagio and Allegro Op.70 (originally for horn and piano), and the Fantasiestücke Op.73 (originally for clarinet and piano), Schumann allowing that the latter two could be played “also on melody instrument.”

Gabetta has a deep strong tone but never lacks warmth and subtlety. She has performed with and known the members of the Basel orchestra for many years, and the comfort level is apparent in a warm and engaging performance.

07 BraumfelsI don’t recall receiving any CDs of the music of German composer Walter Braunfels (1882-1954) before, which made his Works for String Orchestra performed by the Münchner Rundfunkorchester under Ulf Schirmer all the more interesting (cpo 777 579-2; naxosdirect.com/items/braunfels-string-quintet-op.-63-sinfonia-concertante-op.-68-459907).

Both works here are relatively late compositions from the mid-1940s. The Quintet for String Orchestra Op.63a is a setting of Braunfels’ Op.63 String Quintet by his student, the conductor and musicologist Frithjof Haas. It’s a fine work with a particularly lovely Adagio movement, although one gets the feeling that some of the intimacy of the original is lost in the bigger sound.

The Sinfonia Concertante Op.68 for Violin, Viola, 2 Horns and String Orchestra is a shorter but more substantial and impressive work. Described in the notes as “more modern and radical” it is decidedly in the German Romantic tradition with a strong post-Mahlerian and Straussian feel to it, the prominence of the solo violin in particular giving the work more the feel of a concerto.

The excellent recordings were made in 2007 and 2009, presumably for radio broadcast.

08 Great NecksThe Great Necks – original arrangements for three guitars is the excellent debut CD from the guitar trio of Scott Borg, Adam Levin and Matthew Rohde (thegreatnecks.com/shop).

Borg is the arranger for the first four offerings: Sibelius’ Finlandia, the three-fold heavy strumming making for a rather thick texture; four unrelated individual movements by J. S. Bach; Villa-Lobos’ Chóros No.5 “alma brasileira”; and Albeniz’s Asturias. Rohde joins him in transcribing four brief preludes from Scriabin’s Op.11 keyboard set, but is solely responsible for, by far the most effective track on the disc, an engrossing arrangement of the hypnotic Danzón No.2 by Arturo Márquez.

Recorded in Toronto and engineered by the always reliable guitarist Drew Henderson, the sound is clear and resonant.

09 Czech StringsThe Orchestre d’Auvergne under Roberto Fores Veses performs string works by Dvořák, Janáček and Martinů on a new CD described as “a testimony to the Czech musical soul over a period of more than a century.” (Aparté AP 195D; apartemusic.com/discography/dvorak-janacek-martinu).

Dvořák’s Serenade in E Major Op.22 from 1875 is heard here in its complete version, the composer’s cuts and corrections from 1879 reinstated. Janáček’s Suite for String Orchestra was written in 1877, a year in which the composer spent the summer walking in Bohemia with Dvořák. The latter’s influence is apparent in a delightful work. Martinů’s String Sextet dates from 1932, and is heard here in the string orchestra arrangement made by the composer in 1951.

Performances full of warmth of works that all came from happy periods in the composers’ lives make for a highly satisfying disc.

10 WeinbergTwo rarely performed works by the Polish/Russian composer Mieczysław Weinberg are presented on Weinberg – Concertino, 24 Preludes, with the Russian cellist Marina Tarasova and the Music Viva Chamber Orchestra under Alexander Rudin in the Northern Flowers St. Petersburg Musical Archive series (NF/PMA 99131; altocd.com/northernflowers/nfpma99131/).

The Concertino for Violoncello and String Orchestra Op.43 was written in 1948; never played, it became the basis for the Cello Concerto with the same opus number, and was not discovered until 2016. It’s a lovely if brief work – the four movements are each under five minutes long – with a strong Jewish klezmer influence and more than a hint of Weinberg’s close friend Shostakovich. This is its premiere studio recording.

Weinberg’s 24 Preludes for Cello Solo were written for Rostropovich in 1960 but never performed by him. In 1979 the composer presented the score, inscribed with his compliments, to the young Marina Tarasova, although again they remained unplayed for nearly four decades. Wide-ranging in style and quoting from Schumann, Mozart and Shostakovich as well as his own works and popular song, they draw outstanding playing from Tarasova.

11 LanggaardThe Danish composer Rued Langgaard never gained acceptance in his home country during his lifetime, his rejection of his contemporary Carl Nielsen’s modernist path assuring him of a life in the musical backwaters. The last 50 years, however, have seen a reassessment and major change of opinion.

Complete Works for Violin and Piano Vol.2 is the second of three planned CDs of Langgaard’s compositions in the genre, with outstanding performances by violinist Gunvor Sihm and pianist Berit Johansen Tange (Dacapo 8.226131; naxosdirect.com/items/langgaard-complete-works-for-violin-piano-vol.-2-469744). Sihm is a member of the Nightingale String Quartet, which released an outstanding 3CD set of Langgaard’s complete string quartets between 2012 and 2015.

The Sonata No.1 “Viole” is a large work from 1915, the first and third movements being thoroughly revised by the composer in 1945. It’s a sweeping, passionate work, its changing moods brilliantly captured by the performers. The Andante Religioso, Langgaard’s final work for violin and piano following a burst of activity in the genre in the late 1940s, is a short work from 1950.

The final work here, the Søndagssonate (Sunday Sonata) for violin, piano, organ and orchestra is accurately described in the notes as “bizarre and unpredictable.” It was originally three separate compositions: the Sunday Sonata for violin and piano (movements 1 and 2); the Marble Church Prelude for organ (movement 3); and the Small Grand Symphony for orchestra with organ (movement 4 – and small indeed, at 2’47”). Organist Per Salo and the Danish National Symphony Orchestra under Thomas Søndergård are the additional performers in a world premiere recording of a unique work not heard until 2016.

12 Ries 3Violinist Eric Grossman and pianist Susan Kagan are the performers in the third volume of Ferdinand Ries Sonatas for Violin and Piano (Naxos 8.573862; naxosdirect.com/items/ries-sonatas-for-violin-piano-vol.-3-466993).

Ries was an exact contemporary and close friend of Beethoven, both composers having studied with Ries’ father Franz. The three sonatas here – in E-flat Major Op.18 from 1810, in G Minor Op.38 No.3 from 1811 and D Major Op.83 from 1818 – are clearly a continuation of the Viennese style developed by Mozart, but are closer to Beethoven in sound. They are delightful and charming works though, and the performances, balance and recorded sound here are all first class. 

13 Murasaki DuoWorks for Cello and Piano Book 1 is a CD of music by the American composer Maria Newman with the Murasaki Duo of cellist Eric Kutz and pianist Miko Kominami (Montgomery Arts House Press MAHMR 1205209; store.cdbaby.com/cd/marianewmanandwendyproberandpi).

The two excellent three-movement works, Peccavi Duo and Tri Follis were commissioned for these performers, but the real gem here is Othmar, An Eccentric Tone Poem for Violoncello Alone based on characters by the 19th-century English author and suffragette Mary De Morgan, whose fairy-tale stories often featured women noted for their personal – as opposed to physical – qualities. Kutz is simply outstanding in a quite dazzling and virtuosic work. 

01 KuulaAdam Johnson introduces a lesser known Finnish composer in his new recording Kuula – Complete Works for Solo Piano (Grand Piano GP 780; naxosdirect.com/items/kuula-complete-works-for-solo-piano-467079). Toivo Kuula (1883-1918) was a conductor and composer who studied in a number of European centres and spent some time as a composition student of Sibelius. His piano works represent only a modest portion of his oeuvre which includes more than 50 works plus a few posthumous items.

Kuula was a self-taught pianist whose earliest compositions date from 1900. While he never achieved virtuosic stature with the instrument, his eloquent writing suggests that he understood it profoundly. Johnson’s playing immediately captures the stylistic brew of Kuula’s late Romantic and early modern influences. His technique is fluid and confident and suits this music perfectly.

The disc’s program includes Two Song Transcriptions Op.37 which are especially beautiful and whose distinctive character easily sets them apart from the piano pieces. Johnson has done a wonderful job of drawing attention to a worthwhile creative voice not often heard.

02 Musica BrasilieraLuiz Carlos De Moura Castro’s new disc Musica Brasileira II (store.cdbaby.com/cd/luizdemouracastro10) is a collection of three substantial works: one by José Antônio Almeida Prado and the others by Villa-Lobos.

Prado’s Sonata No.5 “Omulu” is part of his cycle of Afro-Brazilian compositions. It’s a wild conception of ideas, dense, colourful and highly energized. The architecture is formal but the spirit of the piece is raw and untamed. De Moura Castro performs it with astonishing force and insight in an impressive combination of wild abandon and discipline. The composer dedicated the work to him and he premiered it in 1986 in Switzerland.

Villa-Lobos dedicated Rudepoema to Arthur Rubinstein. It’s a huge work of nearly half an hour and reflects, in an extended fantasy format, the composer’s deep affection for and artistic admiration of Rubinstein’s playing.

The other Villa-Lobos work is the fantasy for piano and orchestra Momo Precoce. This track was recorded live at a March 1985 performance and carries the acoustic colour of its period’s recording technology. It too is a lengthy piece, with some programmatic content depicting a Brazilian children’s carnival. Despite its vintage, the performance is first rate and completely engaging.

03 LisztomaniaMikolaj Warszynski is an accomplished performer and teacher. His latest recording Liszt-O-Mania (University of Alberta - Wirth Institute for Austrian and Central European Studies WIR07/2018; mikolajwarszynski.net/lisztomania) is a well-chosen program of favourites by Liszt, and therefore, an easy program to sell but a tough one to perform. As an academic, Warszynski brings his love of history and research to his liner notes. They are concise, captivating and inspiring. Moreover, they create the right expectation for his performances.

Warszynski sees Liszt as a spiritual explorer rather than solely a wild keyboard demigod. He expresses this by creating greater distances between moments of ferocity and moments of repose. This contrast is powerful, spellbinding and reflects a mature understanding of the composer’s intentions. Ballade No.2 in B Minor is a fine example of this device but the bonus track, Sonetto del Petrarca 123 is the most memorable, because of its artful application.

Lisztomania is less manic than its title might suggest, and it offers far more than a recital of “favourites” can usually manage. There’s some arrestingly beautiful playing on this disc.

04 Peter SchaafPeter Schaaf has released a third recording following his return to the keyboard after a lengthy hiatus pursuing other creative ventures. Chopin: 17 Waltzes (Schaaf Records SR 103; schaafrecords.com) is a collection of waltzes divided between those published during Chopin’s lifetime and those published posthumously.

Schaaf’s approach is relaxed and the tempos reflect this, often being a touch slower than is commonly heard. His playing is wonderfully clear and articulate. The all-important ornaments that give Chopin’s writing its identifying signature are unerringly executed with impressive consistency. Waltzes Op.34, No.3 and Op.69, No.2 are terrific examples of this splendid technique. Schaaf also brings a welcome degree of introspection to this music that is especially poignant in the minor keys. He creates a feeling of heightened mystery that, combined with a slower tempo, make pieces like the Waltz in C Sharp Minor Op.64 No.2 an entirely new experience.

05 Shoshana TelnerShoshana Telner’s latest release is a 2CD set titled Johann Sebastian Bach – The Six Partitas BWV825-830 (Centaur CRC 3642/3643; centaurrecords.com). The joy of playing or hearing Bach lies in the search for melody. Regardless of how familiar a work may be, chances are that a hidden fragment of melody will reveal itself, making the already beautiful impossibly better. This is how Telner plays. From her first phrase she declares her intention to mine every treasured nugget in Bach’s motherlode of counterpoint. These French dance suites are replete with ideas great and small lying in every range of the keyboard voice. Telner’s technique unfolds each one carefully. The versatility of the nine-foot Fazioli she plays allows for rich dynamic contrasts and subtle touch variations to highlight each new idea she encounters, as if to coax them out of hiding. It’s a mindful, disciplined and loving way to handle this music and the result is a breadth of beauty difficult to describe.

06 Quattro ManiSteven Beck and Susan Grace are the second incarnation of the piano duo Quattro Mani. Their new recording Re-Structures (Bridge 9496; bridgerecords.com/products/9496) is a wonderfully programmed disc of contemporary works for two pianos plus a variety of other instruments.

Poul Ruders’ Cembal D’Amore for piano and harpsichord places the piano mostly on the left audio channel while the harpsichord occupies the centre and right of the audio spectrum. Not only is the stereo effect immediately engaging but the writing too grabs the attention with very clever keyboard combinations and colouristic effects.

György Kurtág’s Életút Lebenslauf Op.32 uses a normally tuned piano in combination with another tuned a quarter tone lower and also calls for a pair of basset horns.

The title track Re-Structures by Tod Machover is written for two pianos and live electronics. It’s dedicated to Pierre Boulez for his 90th birthday and is inspired by Boulez’s own works for two pianos Structures.

The opening and closing tracks are for the duo alone. The final one is particularly intriguing for its relentless adherence to a Latin beat. Ofer Ben-Amots’ Tango for the Road provides a memorable finish to this excellent production.

07 David McGroryDavid McGrory’s new release Remember the Fallen (store.cdbaby.com/cd/davidmcgrory2) marked the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War, 1914-1918. He’s chosen three works to represent the responses of composers affected by the conflict.

Le Tombeau de Couperin is Maurice Ravel’s memorial to people he knew who had lost their lives in military service. Each of the work’s movements is dedicated to them. It’s not a directly programmatic piece and doesn’t set out to capture the mood of the period. It’s simply a contemporary expression inspired by Couperin’s 17th-century keyboard suites. McGrory has an impressive facility with the speed Ravel requires to execute the Prelude, Rigaudon and Toccata but he makes his greatest impact with the very tender and heartfelt Minuet. There’s a tremendous feeling of suspended melancholy that hangs over the entire movement. Gorgeous.

Frank Bridge’s Piano Sonata gives McGrory a similar opportunity. Its second movement is an extended calm between the work’s violent outer movements and his performance of it is profoundly moving.

Listen to 'Remember the Fallen' Now in the Listening Room

08 100 Years British MiniaturesDuncan Honeybourne performs an entire disc full of world premieres in his recent recording A Hundred Years of British Piano Miniatures (Grand Piano GP 789; naxosdirect.com/items/a-hundred-years-of-british-piano-miniatures-467080). Eleven composers’ works arranged chronologically give an illuminating view of the piano miniature’s evolution. English composers seem to have a deep and abiding affection for a sense of place, and they allow this to spark their creativity. Whether city streets or countryside, experiences had there are the prime resource for these miniatures.

The disc is full of these very short tracks, beautifully selected for their contribution to the program and historical relevance. Those from the first half of the last century seem to share a common language despite the great upheavals that changed the world in which they were conceived. The more contemporary ones are somewhat less tied to the charm of a place and are more outward-looking in concept. There is a remarkable degree of originality throughout all these works that makes this disc an engaging listen from start to finish.

09 Lorenzo MaterazzoLorenzo Materazzo takes a freely modern approach in his newest recording of Baroque repertoire Lorenzo Materazzo Plays Scarlatti & Bach (Austrian Gramophone AG 0010; naxosdirect.com/search/lorenzo+materazzo). He’s an active performer, composer and musicologist bringing a thorough rationale to his performance decisions. Materazzo extracts the greatest amount of emotional content possible from every phrase and thematic idea. His tempos are unconstrained by conventional practice and his dynamics are unashamedly romantic. He argues that both composers would have spoken this musical language had they lived today and points to the way his interpretation realizes more fully the potential of each work.

Scarlatti’s familiar Sonata in E Major K.380 proves an instructive comparison with almost any other version. Like all the other tracks, it’s an intimate recording with the mics very near the strings. Materazzo’s effort is persuasive, credible and very much worth hearing.

10 FiserZuzana Šimurdová introduces the music of a hitherto unrecorded composer in her new world premiere recording release Fišer – Complete Piano Sonatas (Grand Piano GP 770; naxosdirect.com/items/fišer-complete-piano-sonatas-417996). Luboš Fišer was a 20th-century Czech composer whose works are becoming better known through their publication by Barenreiter. His eight piano sonatas span the period from 1955 to 1995. He discarded the second sonata of which he was highly critical and the work was never recovered. Sonatas No.1 and No.3 are in three and two movements respectively while all the rest are single movements only.

Šimurdová is a powerful performer completely capable of the turmoil that is central to Fišer’s writing. Her ability to retreat into more tender moments of his music is what makes it truly human. Kudos to her for championing this voice.

11 Rubinstein Concerto 4Anna Shelest delivers a powerhouse performance in the new release Anton Rubinstein Piano Concerto No.4 (Sorel Classics SC CD 013 sorelmusic.org/Sorel/Recordings.html). She shares the stage at the Lincoln Center with The Orchestra Now (TON as they like to be called). This ensemble comprises specially chosen musicians from leading conservatories around the world. Their youthful approach breaks the mould of traditional orchestral players with their avid participation in pre-concert talks, onstage introductions and other forms of audience engagement.

The Rubinstein Concerto No.4 is gargantuan and Shelest is simply brilliant in her navigation of this iconic 19th-century Russian’s work. She captures the rich beauty of all Rubinstein’s melodies, both broad orchestral statements and intimate piano utterances. Conductor Neeme Järvi brings his extraordinary skill to the podium to direct the energies released by the music.

The CD also includes Rubenstein’s Caprice Russe Op.102 whose strong national folk content stands in contrast to the more European flavour of the concerto. It’s a thrilling live recording. 

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