13 Symphonic RoarSymphonic Roar – An  Odyssey of Sound from the Paris Conservatoire
Yuri McCoy; Brady Spitz
Acis APL92957 (acisproductions.com)

Inspired by French composers’ exploitation of the organ’s myriad multicoloured sonorities in these “symphonic” works, Houston-based Yuri McCoy says he feels “free to orchestrate… in many different ways,” often making “many more registration changes than indicated in the score.” (As for the “roar,” wait for it!)

McCoy and console assistant Grant Wareham collaborate in Jean-Louis Florentz’s Poème Symphonique “La Croix du Sud” (2000), named for the constellation. With influences from Florentz’s teacher Messiaen, and Tuareg and Sufi music, it growls, chirps and surges around disquieting interludes that conjure mysterious, desolate landscapes.

A noble central anthem illuminates the celebratory Allegro Vivace from Felix Alexandre Guilmant’s Organ Sonata No.2 (1862). Joseph Bonnet’s brief Elfes from his 12 Pièces (1910) is a gossamer swirl of shimmering light, rendered in sound. Fantaisie, Op.101 (1895) by Camille Saint-Saëns comprises a murmuring, gentle andantino, a tempestuous fuga and a calm, reassuring finale. Clair de Lune from Louis Vierne’s 24 Pièces, Suite No.2 (1926) paints a secluded nocturnal scene in muted pastel watercolour.

At nearly 28 minutes, the CD’s longest and most “symphonic” entry is a remarkably effective arrangement by McCoy and percussionist Brady Spitz of Edgard Varèse’s Amériques (1921), the original version requiring 27 woodwinds, 29 brass and an immense percussion battery. Collin Boothby assists McCoy on organ and Spitz on percussion, employing all of Varèse’s noisemakers – lion’s roar (!), siren, rattles, cyclone and steamboat whistles, etc., etc.

Fascinating listening, from mystery-laden start to roaring finish!

14 In a Time of WarIn a Time of War
Phillip O. Paglialonga; Richard Masters
Heritage HTGCD 173 (heritage-records.com)

In a Time of War, featuring clarinetist Phillip Paglialonga and pianist Richard Masters, proffers works by two composers suffering exile during WW2. An odd pairing to be sure, but it’s possible to hear some common ground between Serge Prokofiev and John Ireland. If you listen to the late moments of Ireland’s Fantasy-Sonata for Clarinet and Piano there’s an argument to be made. Written in 1943, the same year as Prokofiev’s Flute Sonata Op.94, the Ireland work does what a lot of mid-century English music does: explore modernity and expression, but aloof in a way that might evoke Prokofiev the man, although not his music. 

I think clarinetists should leave well enough alone when it comes to poaching repertoire, especially in the case of the Prokofiev, which after all was more or less stolen from flutists for the already-crammed violin library by David Oistrakh (with Prokofiev’s complicity!). Sorry, flutes, it’s a better piece in the second take. Opus 94a is heard as often, if not more than the original. The clarinet version here should maybe be called Opus 94a(b), I don’t know. It’s very dicey, range-wise, and hardly idiomatic for the clarinet. Paglialonga manages the high tessitura quite well, but most tempos are slower than you might be used to, and the balance has his sound too far in front of Masters, which jars a bit at the opening. The duo’s rendition is a work apart from the original, as a quick reference to Oistrakh’s recording will confirm. 

A third work is included, also from 1943, Ireland’s Sarnia: An Island Sequence, a solo Masters performs with more freedom than the other tracks demonstrate. These are good performances, if somewhat staid.

15 Classical KidsClassical Kids: Gershwin’s Magic Key
Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras
Classical Kids Music Education 270541 (classicalkidsnfp.org)

Gershwin’s Magic Key is the first new album in 20 years from the award-winning platinum-selling Classical Kids, most famous for Beethoven Lives Upstairs. This high quality, dynamic studio recording features the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras conducted by Allen Tinkham, voices of professional actors Elic Bramlett and Leslie Ann Sheppard, and head writer/music supervisor/featured pianist Will Martin, who premiered the original live concert.

Set in 1920s New York, the three-act story revolves around a newspaper boy’s chance meeting with composer George Gershwin, leading to the two travelling through New York, verbally telling stories based on Gershwin’s life and the times, intertwined with his music. The opening attention-grabbing string swirls, clear spoken words, piano solo and wailing clarinet set the stage for a fast-paced, exciting fact-based production both children and adults will love. The supportive spoken tips from Gershwin, such as “I was a changed person learning piano; Every sound is music; Do not let anyone tell you what you can or cannot be;” are positive reinforcement for the boy, and all children listening and reading the liner notes. 

Gershwin’s compositions featured include fabulous orchestral renditions of Summertime, An American in Paris and the upbeat singalong/dance-along I Got Rhythm. Educational musical outtakes from other composers include Dvořák’s Humoresque, the Tin Pan Alley hit Take Me out to the Ballgame, and 1920’s Baby Face. Finale recreates the world premiere of Rhapsody in Blue, from the piano/orchestra exuberant performance to the recording’s closing audience cheers. Bravo!

01 TapeoThe Canadian duo of cellist Cameron Crozman and pianist Philip Chiu is in fine form on Tapeo, a delightful recital of popular Spanish pieces (ATMA Classique ACD2 2820 atmaclassique.com/en).

Crozman says that he fell in love with Spain the moment he first stepped into the Tapeo tapas bar on his first day in Barcelona, and when the Canada Council awarded him the loan of the “El Tiburon” cello from around 1769 attributed to the Spanish maker Joannes Guillami he knew he had to make a recording honouring its Spanish origins. Crozman describes the resulting CD as his own “tapas party” of short, diverse Spanish pieces.

Included are Cassadó’s Requiebros, de Falla’s Suite populaire espagnole, Ravel’s Pièce en forme de Habañera and Alborada del Gracioso, Turina’s Polimnia-Nocturno, Granados’ Intermezzo from Goyescas, Albéniz’s Asturias (Leyenda), Ginastera’s Triste, Estrellita by the Mexican Manuel Ponce and Chants oubliés by the Chilean-Canadian Alberto Guerrero.

The gentle warmth of the Guillami cello’s tone is perfect for this material, with both performers providing beautifully nuanced playing in a top-quality CD.

Listen to 'Tapeo' Now in the Listening Room

02 Weinberg ConcertoViolinist Gidon Kremer continues his passionate promotion of the previously neglected music of Shostakovich’s close friend and compatriot with Mieczysław Weinberg Violin Concerto, a live performance of the Concerto in G Minor Op.67 recorded in Leipzig in February 2020 as part of a series of concerts marking the composer’s 2019 centenary; Daniele Gatti conducts the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra (Accentus Music ACC30518 accentus.com/discs/518).

Weinberg completed the four-movement concerto in 1959 at the end of a particularly creative phase. Written six years after the death of Stalin, it’s essentially a warmly lyrical work with spikier moments that clearly shows his musical relationship with Shostakovich, albeit without the sense of tension and utter despair that often haunted the latter’s compositions in the Stalin era.

Kremer is joined by Madara Petersone, the leader of his Kremerata Baltica ensemble, in a studio recording of the terrific three-movement Sonata for Two Violins Op.69, also from 1959. 

03 Il Cannone CoverIn October 2019 the Italian-American violinist Francesca Dego was given the honour of performing Paganini’s Concerto No.1 in Genoa on Paganini’s 1743 Guarneri del Gesù “il Cannone” violin, after which she was allowed to record with the instrument in Genoa Town Hall, where it is permanently housed and guarded by a six-person security detail. The result is Il Cannone: Francesca Dego plays Paganini’s Violin, where she is accompanied by her regular recital partner Francesca Leonardi in a program of works that pay homage to the famous virtuoso (Chandos CHAN 20223 chandos.net/products/catalogue/CHAN%2020223).

Four of the works here are for solo violin: Kreisler’s Recitativo and Scherzo-Caprice; John Corigliano’s The Red Violin Caprices; Carlo Boccadoro’s Come d’autunno; and Schnittke’s tough and quite abrasive A Paganini.

The works with piano are Clochette (Kreisler’s arrangement of La Campanella), Rossini’s Un mot à Paganini, and two works, in particular, that showcase the instrument’s glorious singing quality: Boccadoro’s arrangement of Paganini’s Cantabile and Szymanowski’s Trois Caprices de Paganini. The sweeping melodic phrases, the sweetness and strength in the highest register and the crystal-clear harmonics in these settings of Caprices Nos. 20, 21 and 24 complete a dazzling CD.

04 Schubert DaskalakisWith Franz Schubert Music for Violin II violinist Ariadne Daskalakis and Paolo Giacometti, on fortepiano, complete their survey of Schubert’s music for violin using a historical approach aimed at understanding the framework of Schubert’s time (BIS-2373 bis.se).

The Rondo in B Minor Op.70 D895 “Rondeau brillant” from 1826 provides a strong opening to the disc, bringing appropriately bright and clear playing from Daskalakis, the full recorded resonance allowing the fortepiano to sound warm and not at all dry.

Two of the three Sonatas Op.137 from 1816 (published by Diabelli in 1836 as Sonatinas) are here, No.1 in D Major D384 and No.2 in A Minor D385 drawing terrific playing from both performers, with lovely definition and dynamics in the former and very effective passages in the latter where Daskalakis uses no vibrato. The Duo Sonata in A Major Op.162 D574 from 1817 completes a fascinating CD, full of expansive, visceral music-making.

The fortepiano is by Salvatore Lagrassa from around 1815, so exactly contemporary with the music here, and the violin is a 1754 Guadagnini with gut strings and a classical bridge. The instruments are tuned to 430 Hz.

05 Raphael Pidoux Beethoven Op.5Two instruments from the Paris Musée de la musique provide a fascinating sound on Beethoven Cello Sonatas Op.5, with Raphaël Pidoux playing a 1734 cello by Pietro Guarneri of Venice and Tanguy de Williencourt playing an 1855 piano by Carl Gulius Gebauhr (Harmonia Mundi HMM 902410 store.harmoniamundi.com/format/635912-beethoven-cello-sonatas-op-5).

Both sonatas – No.1 in F Major and No.2 in G Minor – have no slow movement, the two-movement form in each being essentially Adagio – Allegro and Rondo – Allegro. Dedicated to Frederick William II, King of Prussia (himself an accomplished cellist), they were written in 1796 when Beethoven was in Berlin. Despite being published by Artaria in 1797 as sonatas for keyboard “with an obligato cello” they are the first duos to treat both instruments equally, the booklet essay noting their “brilliant writing, ambition and ample dimensions.”

Two works inspired by Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte complete the disc: Beethoven’s 1801 Seven Variations on “Bei Männern welche Liebe fühlen” WoO46 and the Nocturne “Souvenirs de la Flûte enchantée” from 1825 by pianist Camille Pleyel and cellist Charles-Nicolas Baudiot.

06 Haydn London Haydn QuartetThe London Haydn Quartet reaches volume nine in its ongoing set of the complete string quartets of Joseph Haydn with Haydn String Quartets Op.76, a 2CD set priced as a single disc (Hyperion CDA 68335 hyperion-records.co.uk/a.asp?a=A1711).

The six quartets – No. 1 in G Major, No.2 in D Minor “Fifths,” No.3 in C Major “Emperor,” No.4 in B-flat Major “Sunrise,” No.5 in D Major “Largo” and No.6 in E-flat Major – date from 1797 when Haydn was at the height of his creative powers in his string quartet writing; “no set of 18th century string quartets,” notes the excellent booklet essay, “is so wide-ranging in expression, or so heedless of the structural norms of the time.

Using the 1799 editions published by Longman, Clementi & Co. of London and Artaria of Vienna, the players show the same outstanding qualities – the faultless intonation on gut strings, the range of nuances and dynamics, the perfect ensemble feel – that have resulted in this series of quite superb period performances garnering rave reviews. 

07 ModiglianiThe Haydn “Fifths” quartet also turns up on Haydn – Bartók – Mozart, the new CD from the Quatuor Modigliani that features three works that each bear witness to a turning point in the lives of their composers and the advent of new horizons (Mirare MIR506 en.modiglianiquartet.com).

Haydn’s String Quartet in D Minor Op.76 No.2 was written when he was free from his service at the Esterházy estate and was the toast of Vienna after his two hugely successful trips to England. The opening tempo is markedly faster than on The London Haydn Quartet CD, but even with the accent more on lightness and clarity there’s no lack of emotional depth.

The political situation in Hungary at the end of the Great War badly hindered Bartók’s folk music research and deeply affected him; he wrote very little until an outpouring of piano music in 1926. The following year saw his String Quartet No.3 Sz.85, the shortest of his six quartets but the one that heralded his mature style.

Mozart’s String Quartet No.19 in C Major K465 “Dissonance” dates from 1785, and is the last of the six quartets Mozart dedicated to Haydn, whose Op.33 quartets he had heard after arriving in Vienna in 1781. Study of the music of Bach and Handel at that time resulted in a more marked presence of counterpoint in Mozart’s music.

There’s outstanding playing throughout the CD, but the Mozart, in particular, is absolutely beautiful, with clarity and warmth and a crystal-clear Allegro final movement.

08 Vagh HolmboeWith Vagn Holmboe String Quartets Vol.1 Denmark’s Nightingale String Quartet embarks on what promises to be an outstanding set of quartets by the Danish composer who lived from 1909 to 1996 (Dacapo 8.226212 dacapo-records.dk/en).

Holmboe wrote quartets throughout his life and completed over 30, 22 of which are in his official catalogue. Although his lasting role model was Haydn, Bartók’s quartets also became a big influence.

Holmboe had already written ten unpublished quartets before his three-movement String Quartet No.1 Op.46 from 1949, subtitled In memoriam Béla Bartók. The other two works on this first volume are the five-movement String Quartet No.3 Op.48, also from 1949, and the four-movement String Quartet No.15 Op.135 from 1978, its third movement Funèbre very much of Shostakovich’s sound world.

Interestingly – in 2010 – Dacapo, Denmark’s national record label, issued a 7CD box set of the complete 22 Holmboe quartets, apparently assembled from individual issues from the late 1990s and performed by the Kontra Quartet, who “enjoyed a close collaboration with the composer.” This new project promises “fresh, new performances that support the idea that the deeper you dig into Holmboe’s music, the more you find.”

The terrific performances here certainly make a great start. 

09 Strauss ChamberThe Oculi Ensemble is a flexible string ensemble comprised primarily of members of leading string quartets and dedicated to exploring string repertoire for two to seven players. Metamorphosen – Strauss Chamber Works is their debut CD as a stand-alone ensemble (Champs Hill Records CHRCD155 champshillrecords.co.uk).

The Prelude to the opera Capriccio Op.85 from 1940-41 opens the disc, followed by two works for string quartet: the extremely brief fragment Quartettsatz in E-flat Major TRV85 from 1879 (recorded with the permission of the Strauss family) and the String Quartet in A Major from 1880. Three brief works for piano quartet follow: Ständchen from the early 1880s; Festmarsch AV178 from November 1886; and the Two Pieces AV182 – Arabischer Tanz and Liebesliedchen from 1893.

The title track completes the CD. Commissioned for 23 solo strings, Metamorphosen wasn’t finished until after the February 1945 Allied bombing raid that destroyed Strauss’ beloved Dresden, Strauss completing a draft short-score for seven solo strings that March. That manuscript was rediscovered in Switzerland in 1990 and edited for performance by cellist Rudolf Leopold in 1994. Impassioned playing, recorded in the excellent acoustics of the Music Room at Champs Hill, West Sussex, ends a highly commendable CD.

10 Jupiter Jasper QuartetsThe excellent new CD by the Jupiter and Jasper String Quartets, music by Mendelssohn – Visconti – Golijov simply abounds with familial relationships, three Freivogel siblings (a brother and two sisters) and two spouses making for a remarkably close connection between the two ensembles (Marquis 81613 marquisclassics.com/index.html). 

A luminous opening to the Mendelssohn Octet in E-flat Major Op.20 sets the tone for a simply thrilling performance – vibrant, pulsating and dynamic with a dancing Scherzo and a sweeping Presto finale.

Dan Visconti’s quite beautiful Eternal Breath, envisioned as a work that would involve their four children and their musical spouses, was commissioned in 2011 by the Freivogel parents (who also funded the recording) for their 40th wedding anniversary. Originally for three violins, a viola, three cellos and a drone box, it is heard here in the later adaptation with a second viola replacing the third cello.

Osvaldo Golijov’s two-movement Last Round from 1996 is a tribute to Astor Piazzolla, the octet being joined by a string bass in Last Round – Movido, urgente and Muertes del Angel, the whole work described by Golijov as “an idealized bandoneón.”

01 Frey VandiniAntonio Vandini – Complete Works
Elinor Frey; Patxi Montero; Marc Vanscheeuwijck; Federica Bianchi
Passacaille 1079 (elinorfrey.com)

The prolific Canadian-American cellist Elinor Frey adds another impressive release to her discography. This new record features the complete works of the regrettably little-known Italian cellist and composer, Antonio Vandini. In mighty musical company with the likes of Tartini and Vivaldi, Vandini proved himself a virtuoso in his own right, touring Europe as a celebrated cellist; he also wrote music that has remained inexplicably neglected, even in the 21st century.

Six sonatas and one concerto adorn this attractive disc, exquisitely conceived, researched and recorded alongside Frey’s collaborators Patxi Montero, Marc Vanscheeuwijck and Frederica Bianchi. The collaborative voices of contrabass, viola da gamba and harpsichord complement these cello-centric works to salient effect. Vandini himself boasted top-drawer musical partners, the most famous of whom was Giuseppe Tartini. Vandini also taught at La Pietà in Venice, alongside Vivaldi. As mirror to the artistic comradery Vandini enjoyed in his own lifetime, Frey has assembled an expert group of musicians here – friends and colleagues – to help realize these colourful, inspired scores. Some highlights include: the duo Sonata in C Major, Van.2 and the sunny Concerto in D major, Van.5 which features the entire ensemble with two added violins and viola. The final work on the record, the Sonata in E Major, Van.7 has a particular depth of expression, exemplifying the verdant key of E Major. Frey’s flawless focus and confident musicality leads us through an 18th-century cave of wonders: a joyous, antique grotto where others fail to tread.

02 Orli Shaham Mozart 1Mozart – Complete Piano Sonatas, Volume 1
Orli Shaham
Canary Classics CC19 (canaryclassics.com)

Young Mozart, the proverbial wunderkind, was known primarily as a performer rather than a composer – one of the greatest exponents of the then, relatively new fortepiano. The antithesis of Franz Liszt, who rose to pianistic eminence almost a century later, Mozart encouraged simplicity and clarity over wizardry. This is perfectly reflected in his sonatas, which he only began writing in 1774. 

Strangely, virtually all 18 of Mozart’s piano sonatas are neglected by pianists and listeners although Mitsuko Uchida, Maria-João Pires and Glenn Gould (who famously disparaged Mozart in one of his CBC broadcasts) have recorded interpretations of the complete sonatas. And now the brilliant young Orli Shaham gives notice that she intends to follow suit with the first of her recordings Mozart – Complete Piano Sonatas (Vol.1).

In the wrong hands Mozart’s outwardly simple sonatas can, indeed, sound simplistic and uninteresting – even formulaic. But Shaham brings out all the delights of the sonatas in this recital that features one early and two late works. Her delicate phrasing creates a feeling of innocent melodiousness, yet each movement is intelligently worked out, and Shaham’s subtle manipulation of timing conveys a strong sense of Mozart’s puckish and quick-witted compositional approach. 

Shaham’s interpretation of the early Sonata in B-flat Major No.3 K281 is gritty. Meanwhile the B-flat Major No.13 K333 and B-flat Major No.17 K570 have been infused with great depth of colour, emotional range and well-tuned melodious elegance.

03 Lortie ChopinLouis Lortie Plays Chopin, Volume 6
Louis Lortie
Chandos CHAN 20117 (naxosdirect.com/search/chan+20117)

The music of Chopin is, for Louis Lortie, a vocational hallmark and the making of his career. Now, six records deep into the composer’s catalogue, Lortie includes a fantasy, an early set of variations and assorted Polish national dances on his latest release. For the dances, an objective, no-nonsense approach is favoured. His sense of rhythmic continuity betrays an aspiration to expose the inherent structures just as they are, without affectation or personalized dilution. The results seem born of the first half of the 20th century – Lortie never handles this music too preciously, with the essence of the dance always at the fore. 

When considering Chopin, contrast between dark and light is essential. Lortie excels at the conveyance of Slavic expression through the lens of extreme sentiment, often using fine-tuned pacing, silence and varied dynamics to admirable effect. Of unexpected delight is the “Military” Polonaise, Op.40 No 1. Not such a fashionable thing to record these days, Lortie offers it up with unabashed affection and aristocratic poise. Arguably saving best for last, the Fantasy in F Minor, Op.49 concludes the album, highlighting the attributes for which Lortie is celebrated. Lucid and buoyant, it is music sculpted with chiselled lines and acute structural sense. At moments on this disc, a seasoned sort of beauty takes hold of our ears, wherein a keyboard’s conjuring casts an airy, aural spell. In the battle of dark and light, Lortie’s own brand of luminescence wins out every time.

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