03 Tchaikovsky ManfredThe Tchaikovsky Project – Manfred Symphony
Czech Philharmonic; Semyon Bychkov
Decca 483 2320

This CD is the second release in Decca Classics’ orchestral Tchaikovsky Project that features the Czech Philharmonic and conductor Semyon Bychkov. For a lonely Romantic symphony needing advocacy, this loving version of the much-criticized Manfred Symphony (1886) is the answer. An hour long and very difficult, the work here receives extraordinary endorsements in both performance and program notes. In the Lento lugubre movement, action begins with Manfred’s gloomy descending theme in B-minor, a key associated with tragedy (as in Swan Lake). The drama is well-paced, with the orchestra holding nothing back. The music of Manfred’s beloved Astarte is an abrupt contrast, delicate strings in delightful interplay with enticing woodwinds. But the mood is temporary; through a controlled build-up, brass forceful but not blaring, Bychkov ushers in her climactic death.

In the accompanying booklet, Bychkov’s rebuttals to criticisms of repetitiveness and episodic structure emphasize the work as drama. While he compares it to opera I think of ballet, for example in the light-on-its-feet second movement where grieving Manfred spots a water spirit; tremendously fast woodwind runs precede strings of supernatural virtuosity. In the following movement the ländler’s dance rhythm along with instrumental drones portray the Alpine people’s rustic life, Manfred looking on sadly. The Czechs’ idiomatic playing makes me want to get up and dance! The orchestra’s energy and aplomb through the bacchanal and ensuing fugue are remarkable, though only in heaven are the lovers reunited. Strongly recommended.


01 Michael Kolk PerosThe outstanding Michael Kolk is the soloist in the world premiere recording of Nocturnes: 24 Nocturnes for Solo Guitar by the Canadian composer Nick Peros (DeoSonic Music DSM54536 nickperos.com). Peros has written numerous other solo works for classical guitar, including five Suites and a Sonata, and is clearly someone who knows and understands the instrument’s potential for tone and colour.

The short pieces here are predominantly quiet, slow and pensive – they are nocturnes, after all – 16 of them with subtitles like relaxed; atmospheric, mysterious; reflective; as a dream; with mystery and longing; peaceful, gentle. Only two are noted as with fire and passion. They appear to be centred on traditional major and minor keys, predominantly the open guitar strings of E, A and D, but it’s never that simple – there is actually a good deal of tonal ambiguity here, and an abundance of rich chromatic expression.

They are well-crafted, attractive and quite beguiling pieces, with the occasional faster numbers in particular much in the style of the standard 19th- and 20th-century guitar etudes. The final two Nocturnes in particular are really lovely.

One thing is certain: they couldn’t possibly have a better interpreter than Michael Kolk, whose playing, as always, is of the highest musical standard – technically faultless, with a clear, clean and resonant sound, and a complete absence of left-hand finger noise. The CD was produced by the composer, and it’s difficult to view these beautiful performances as anything other than definitive.

Although violinist Jacques Israelievitch was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer part of the way through the recording of the complete Mozart violin sonatas with Christina Petrowska Quilico, the duo did manage to complete the project before he passed away in September 2015.

02 Mozart Israelievitch QuilicoMozart: Sonatas and Variations for Piano and Violin Vol. II is the second release in the series (Fleur de Son Classics FDS 58040 fleurdeson.com), and features three of the sonatas from the group known as the Auernhammer set – the Sonatas No.24 in F Major K376, No.25 in F Major K377 and No.27 in G Major K379 – together with the Sonata No.33 in E flat Major K481.

When reviewing Volume I in June of last year I noted that these works are perfectly suited to Israelievitch’s distinctive style and sound, which was always warm, gentle and sensitive; it should go without saying that Petrowska Quilico’s playing is the perfect complement. Again, it’s obvious that the two are of one mind in their performances here.

It’s another volume in what will clearly be a series to treasure, and one that continues to be a wonderful tribute not only to a greatly missed and much-loved violinist but also to his companion at the keyboard.

03 True NorthTrue North is a new CD on the Canadian Music Centre Centrediscs label featuring the Canadian duo of violinist Véronique Mathieu and pianist Stephanie Chua (CMCCD 24417 musiccentre.ca).

Given the CMC’s outstanding promotion of contemporary Canadian composers and the booklet description of Mathieu as “an avid contemporary music performer” it’s no surprise to see that five of the six works are from the period 1996 to 2016; what perhaps is a surprise is the inclusion of Healey Willan’s Sonata No.1 in E Minor, which opens the disc. Written a hundred years earlier than the latest works on the CD (although revised in 1955) it is a solid work, firmly in the early 1900s tradition, which sounds decidedly anachronistic in this setting. Still, its appearance is welcome.

Gradual Erasures by the Toronto composer Adam Scime was written for the duo in 2016 and dedicated to them. Its two movements were inspired by the poem Water Island by Howard Moss, which was in turn prompted by the accidental drowning death of a friend.

Brian Harman’s Cherry Beach for violin, piano and field recordings from 2016 explores connections between music, the environment and the body by combining the musical material with the sounds of running footsteps and waves, all recorded on the shores of Lake Ontario in Toronto.

Maria Molinari’s Danza is a short piece from her 1997 Tre Pezzi per Violino e Pianoforte. Heather Schmidt’s Adagio from 1996 and Alice Ping Yee Ho’s Éxtasis from 2012 complete a very interesting disc.

Mathieu has a sweet, delicate sound with a fairly slow vibrato and a tone that tends to sound a bit thin on occasion, but the contemporary technical and musical challenges as well as the Willan sonata are handled faultlessly. And let’s not forget the pianist, too often overlooked in duo recitals: Chua is terrific as well.

04 stephen NordstromIt would be difficult to imagine a recital CD more in contrast to True North than A Musical Portrait of the American Southwest, featuring works for viola and piano by the American composer Dominic Dousa with violist Stephen Nordstrom and the composer at the piano (Blue Griffin Recording BGR 429 bluegriffin.com).

Dousa has been on the faculty of the University of Texas at El Paso Department of Music since 2004, and has been fascinated by the landscapes of the Texas Panhandle and eastern New Mexico since moving to the region from his native Minnesota. The works on this CD evoke the spirit of this land.

Reflections on a Desert Winter is a five-movement suite inspired by travels in the desert lands of southern New Mexico in the winter of 2014/15; with titles like On the Spirit Path, Desert Glow and The Rugged Pioneer Trail it puts one in mind of the works of Ferde Grofé. Musically they’re along those lines as well: completely and unashamedly tonal; full of constantly flowing melody; and beautifully crafted, with excellent piano writing.

Mountain Song, inspired by a day in the Rocky Mountains near Denver, is in much the same mould. The Sonata for Viola and Piano, “From a Land Wild and Free” was mostly composed in 2008, but the initial ideas and themes were sketched as a result of the experience of that 2004 summer journey from Minnesota to El Paso.

Nordstrom plays with a fine tone across the full range of the instrument, and certainly has more than enough melodic writing in which to immerse himself. Dousa is a fine pianist as well as a fine composer. If I have one quibble it would just be that the music could possibly do with a bit more contrast and fire.

Dousa’s own colour photographs of the Southwest landscapes complement the booklet.

05 4 Seasons 4 ViolesThe Four Seasons concertos appear in yet another re-worked version in Antonio Vivaldi 4 saisons, 4 violes, featuring the Canadian viol ensemble Les Voix humaines – Margaret Little and Mélisande Corriveau on treble, Felix Deak on tenor and Susie Napper on bass (lesvoixhumaines.org). Founding members Little and Napper made the arrangements, Napper transcribing the Spring and Autumn and Little the Summer and Winter concertos.

The resulting performances are much more effective than you might possibly expect, with a really nice period performance feel to the concertos despite the lack of a clear solo violin line. What you won’t be expecting is the interpolation of a short appropriate insert in each of the concertos – well, appropriate from a title viewpoint, that is, but not necessarily a musical one. The traditional En montant la rivière (with tenor Philippe Gagné) is inserted in Spring; Gershwin’s Summertime (arranged by Jay Bernfeld) in Summer; Autumn Leaves (jazzed up with a pizzicato bass) in Autumn; and Petit berceuse du début de la colonie in Winter. Corriveau plays recorder in the Gershwin.

It’s an interesting concept, but obviously raises questions: Are the additions enriching the concertos, or just an inappropriate distraction? Do these additions – especially within these specific arrangements – create new works, or do they merely compromise the original scores? And most important: Do they work? That will probably depend on your personal taste, and you may like to add a further question: Does it really matter? It does certainly make for interesting listening, and given that the movements are played without breaks, the inserts really don’t stand out as much as you would imagine; they’re integrated more than inserted.

The overall sound throughout the CD has a lovely resonance, with nice dynamics, superb definition from all four performers and a satisfyingly wide range – essentially that of a string quartet. The arrangements are extremely well done, and the playing throughout is really quite outstanding. All in all, a very interesting disc, and one that becomes more satisfying the more I listen to it.


06 Roman MintsI don’t recall ever hearing any music by the Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov (b.1955) before, but I’ve clearly been missing out on some strikingly individual compositions. Two of his works – Sketches to Sunset and Russian Seasons – are featured on a new CD on which violinist Roman Mints is the primary artist (quartz QTZ 2122 quartzmusic.com).

Sketches to Sunset from 1992 is based on music written for the film Sunset, about the lives of Jews in pre-Revolution Odessa. Written for violin, piano and orchestra and consisting of nine short connected movements, it also features pianist Alexey Goribol and the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra under Philipp Chizhevsky. Mints is superb in this eclectic work that first introduced him to Desyatnikov’s music some 20 years ago.

Russian Seasons for Voice, Violin and Strings from 2000 has a quite different feel. There are 12 movements, three for each season: Spring, Summer and Winter each have two instrumental tracks and one vocal; Autumn has one instrumental and two vocal tracks. Yana Ivanilova is the soprano in vocal sections that are strongly reminiscent of Stravinsky of Pribaoutki and Les Noces, with the orchestra this time being the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra. It’s difficult music to describe, but in his excellent booklet notes Mints says that “while the instrumental movements feature moments of joy and merriment, utter hopelessness dominates the five vocal movements, in which the composer addresses listeners directly in words.” Shades of Shostakovich, indeed.

Both works were recorded under the supervision of the composer, with the Sketches to Sunset being a world premiere recording.

07 Moscow Quartet clarinetThe Moscow String Quartet CD of the Clarinet Quintets of Weber and Brahms with the Russian clarinetist Alexander Ivanov is a bit of a mystery disc: apparently self-issued, there is no sign of any information regarding recording or copyright dates, and the CD does not appear on the ensemble’s website (moscowquartet.com) or on any independent CD sales sites.

Still, if you can track it down, the performances are excellent. Ivanov plays with warmth, agility and fluency in the opening movement of the Weber Quintet in B-flat Major Op.34, and with great expression in the slow movement. There’s more agility in the third movement Menuetto and some superlative clarinet playing in the final Rondo Allegro.

The string playing from the Moscow ensemble is in the rich Russian tradition with full vibrato, which clearly bodes well for the Brahms Quintet in B Minor Op.115. All the Brahmsian autumnal warmth you could want is fully in evidence, and Ivanov is again in top form.


01 J P SylvestreJean-Philipe Sylvestre is the recipient of many prestigious Canadian and international piano performance awards. His new recording André Mathieu – Concert de Québec, Sergei Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.2; Orchestre Métropolitain, Alain Trudel (ATMA ACD2 2763) is an important document for several reasons. It presents this extraordinary artist in an impressive light, revealing his technical power and profound musicality.

It also brings back to the Canadian recording marketplace the rare music of a young 13-year-old André Mathieu, trapped with his family in North America by the outbreak of the Second World War. The simple version of the story is that the young Canadian composer won the New York Philharmonic’s Composer Competition celebrating the orchestra’s centennial. His subsequent work fared less well, but his Piano Concerto No.3, written in 1942-43 and eventually renamed Concert de Québec so as to work better as a film score, is now winning renewed admiration. The score used for this recording is deemed fairly complete and authentic, based on the original score for two pianos. Still, a definitive final version is currently underway and is promised for a couple of years hence.

There’s no mistaking the affinity Mathieu’s music has with Rachmaninov’s. Mathieu’s mother long cherished and promoted the undocumented notion that Rachmaninov had seen young Mathieu’s scores in Paris and responded flatteringly to them. True or not, this music restores a creative work that brought musical life to an early French Canadian film. It’s big, gorgeous and so very Hollywood. Sylvestre and Trudel have produced a superb disc!

02 Schubert DuetsThe Goldstone & Clemmow piano duo have been performing together for more than 30 years. Their latest, and sadly final, release is Franz Schubert – The Complete Original Piano Duets (Divine Art dda 21701 divineartrecords.com). Anthony Goldstone passed away just as the packaging details of the current recording were being finalized. These two pianists created a remarkable four-hands keyboard presence. Unity was the hallmark of their playing. They shared every nuance of the music without hesitation, as though a single mind controlled all four hands.

Their playing has been utter perfection, with a pianistically Zen oneness to all articulation, dynamics and phrasing. It always takes a few minutes of wonder at the technical beauty of their performance before you can relax into what the composer has actually intended to say. All the more reason to laud this substantial seven-CD set as the pinnacle of their lifetime’s work.

Rather than organize the recording by genre or chronology, the duo has taken the complete Schubert piano duo repertoire and created seven recital programs, balancing key relationships, moods and artistic weight. The result is a wonderfully listenable collection that also includes a Schumann Polonaise for piano four hands, at the end of each recital disc. These date from 1828 and are believed to have been inspired by Schubert’s piano duets – a fitting match.

It’s a beautiful set, brilliantly assembled and as inspired as anything they have ever done. Goldstone & Clemmow’s final recording project is definitely an item to collect.

03 Nagano BachKarin Kei Nagano is the daughter of the conductor Kent Nagano and concert pianist Mari Kodama. Her debut solo recording J.S. Bach Inventions & Sinfonias BWV 772-801 (Analekta AN 2 8771) presents a favourite and meaningful repertoire choice from her early piano studies.

The story is well known, of how Bach intended these two- and three-part exercises to teach his students the fundamentals of keyboard playing and composition. Equally important for him was that his pupils develop a true lyrical style to their playing. For Nagano, the connection to these early studies is their beautiful melodic potential. Whether Bach uses a short motif or a longer idea, Nagano is seized by the possibilities they offer. Consequently her playing goes far beyond meeting the technical requirements of counterpoint lessons and reaches for the beauty of what only a creative mind such as Bach’s could have placed there.

Nagano’s playing reveals a level of care and consideration that directs her inquiry into the pursuit of the art before the form, as if somehow the latter will look after itself. This characteristic is more evident in her treatment of the three-part Sinfonias, where the material is richer and offers a greater reward for the player’s attention to it.

Now embarking on her 20s, Nagano is off to Yale in pursuit of medical studies. Let’s hope this recording whets her appetite to do more before too long

04 Boris Giltburg RachmaninovBoris Giltburg is a profound thinker and an original artist. His new CD Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.2, Études-tableaux, Op.33, Royal Scottish National Orchestra Carlos Miguel Prieto (Naxos 8.573629) proves it, once again.

Giltburg’s performance of the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.2 demonstrates just how maniacally frenetic the opening movement can be. This kind of barely constrained raw energy has no match. It’s far more intense than it is fast, and it leaves a lasting impression. His approach to the second movement sets the expressive limits further apart than usual. The quiet moments, either solo or with a few wind players, are powerfully intimate. But he also injects a few surprising intensifications in unexpected places, consisting of a single line in the right hand. The effect is arresting.

The orchestra (RSNO) needs a laudatory remark here too. The guilty pleasure of smaller size is worth the indulgence; it lets us hear so much at a personal level. Closer recording gives us subtle sounds of bows, fingerboards and occasional wind keys. And then there’s the stunningly good horn section. Giltburg writes a little in his wonderful recording notes about the challenges of playing the Rachmaninov Concerto No.2. He cites examples of regular acoustic problems that challenge every performance and how they resolve them. It’s a brief but informative look into the dark art of recording.

The disc also includes the Études-tableaux, Op.33. Giltburg has included the missing three pieces that Rachmaninov mysteriously withdrew just before publication in 1914. The CD closes with a couple of Viennese flavoured tunes, of which the Kreisler Liebesleid is best the known.

05 Goldberg HuThe Goldberg Variations should always be a memorable experience. To that end, performers have, to be sure, taken some wildly differing approaches to them. In Goldberg Variations (Blue Griffon BGR423 bluegriffin.com), pianist Chih-Long Hu has chosen to be rather laissez-faire in his treatment, believing that the music benefits most when left largely as is. It’s certainly a legitimate approach and based on the results, a highly credible one.

This is a very contained performance. Hu is quite deliberate in adhering to the page and minimizing personally expressive deviations from the Baroque nature of the music. His most expressive playing occurs in the bookend Arias. Everything between them remains within these limits. His imposed discipline allows for interesting things to emerge. There is an immediate transparency of the forms Bach uses, a vision of both the near and the distant at the same time. Patterns begin to reveal themselves. The awareness of architecture emerges on its own without overt assistance. It’s as if Hu were an alchemist assembling elements and applying the incantation from the keyboard. After that, it just begins to happen on its own – a kind of musical chain reaction

I suspect what happens is that the ear adjusts to listening without familiar Romantic allusions to things, and suddenly new truths reveal themselves. In that vein, Hu’s own composition Afterthoughts on Bach’s Goldberg Variations, included as a bonus, is a complete table-turner. It’s his take on how the Goldberg Variations bass line might be treated by Mozart, Schumann, Bolcom and even as a deep Southern blues. It’s clever and brilliant, and sheds a revealing light on this gifted Taiwanese pianist.

06 Alfonso SoldanoAlfonso Soldano is the new champion for the music of Castelnuovo-Tedesco. In Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco – Piano Works (Divine Art dda 25152 divineartrecords.com), the young Italian pianist has expressed a deep urge to understand this composer of an earlier generation.

Transplanted from Italy to 1940s America, Castelnuovo-Tedesco ended up in the burgeoning music-film industry, where composers were churning out tunes daily under production-line expectations. Still, he never let go of the unique flavour that marks his writing. He always favoured the modernists and held a high regard for the French impressionists. Alt Wien Op.30 and Cantico Op.19 both make this very clear. Soldano captures the wisps of Ravel and Debussy that Castelnuovo-Tedesco threads through his work. The Sonata Zoologica Op.187 is uncannily similar in spirit to Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals. It’s a brilliant character piece, very demanding, and Soldano plays it with an inner knowledge of exactly where the composer intended it to go.

The most substantial piece in the disc’s program is Rapsodia Napolitana, Op.32. It’s a five-movement work highly charged with direct but complex allusions to the place of its title. Landscapes, feeling, winds, emotions and otherworldly things drift across the pages of this remarkable piece. Soldano is very at home with this repertoire, revealing a connection far beyond what academic understanding alone can forge.

It’s a real pleasure to hear this music presented by an artist who clearly believes in its revival, and who perhaps would enshrine more deeply the reputation of this composer as a national treasure.

07 Eunmi KoPianist Eunmi Ko has released a new CD, She Rose, and Let Me In (Centaur CRC 3491 eunmiko.com), that offers a compelling program of contrasting repertoire. A pair of contemporary works balances the rarely heard Suk O Matince and the better-known Schumann Phantasie, Op.17. In this latter piece, Ko performs the final movement exquisitely. Schumann had intended the work to help with the fundraising for Beethoven’s memorial monument. After numerous refusals by publishers, the dedication was eventually changed to Franz Liszt. Still, the story helps explain the grandness of the work’s conception as well as the breadth and depth of sadness that pervades the final movement that Ko captures so unerringly.

John Liberatore’s title piece She Rose, and Let Me In is a set of variations and a fugue on the Scottish tune of that name. Liberatore explains his impulse to explore the intersections of the ancient and the modern. To do so effectively, he withholds the thematic material until the final movement. Consequently, listening becomes a guessing game in which you’re never quite sure if you’ve heard the old Scottish tune or not, or even a fragment of it.

Gilad Rabinovitch’s …star dazzling me, live and elate… is an extended series of very dense chords, mostly harmonic rather than clustered masses, that builds to a remarkably rich and dark finish. It’s technically demanding and Ko demonstrates both the stamina and intellect to perform it with conviction.

Anton Kuerti
Concertmasters AKR2017CD-1

Beethoven – Profound Passion: Diabelli Variations
Anton Kuerti
Concertmasters AKR2017DVD-1 (antonkuerti.com)

01a Kuerti CDAn icon in the world of Canadian classical music, Anton Kuerti has enjoyed a long and distinguished career, not only as a performer and pedagogue, but also as a concert organizer, artistic director and social activist – a true Renaissance man! Among his extensive recordings, the music of Beethoven has always been a focus (he won a JUNO for three recordings of Beethoven sonatas in 1977), so perhaps it isn’t surprising that he’d return to music by “the great mogul” in this two-disc set featuring Piano Sonatas 21, 23 and 26 in addition to the famous Diabelli Variations.

Sonata No.21, the Waldstein, from 1804, is surely one of Beethoven’s most formidable, both in terms of technique and nuance. Not only is Kuerti’s impressive technique clearly evident from the outset, but the sound he creates is warm and lyrical. The tranquil, gentle second movement gracefully merges into the expansive third movement Rondo, where Kuerti gives full weight to the piano, clearly allowing the music to speak for itself.

The tempestuous mood of the Appassionata is artfully conveyed, but done so with dignity and never to excess. Phrases are well articulated and while the tempos are perhaps more leisurely than the listener might be accustomed to – particularly in the third movement – they never lag. The programmatic Sonata No.26Les Adieux” from 1810 is one of Beethoven’s most challenging through the contrasts of emotions, but again, Kuerti easily meets the demands, delivering a polished and elegant performance.

The second disc is devoted entirely to the Diabelli Variations, a simple tune that Beethoven fashioned into one of his most famous compositions. Kuerti brings a special sensitivity to this performance, crafting each one with particular care – a true study in contrasts.

01b Kuerti DVDThe variations appear again as the sole work on a worthy companion to this set, a DVD titled Profound Passion. The introduction states that while this monumental piece has long held a particular fascination for Kuerti, its length may prove too daunting for the average listener and, without a proper explanation, it may not receive the appreciation it deserves. Hence, Kuerti provides an informal but lucid program guide prior to the performance, using various musical examples. Once again, the final performance is stellar – and for those who enjoy watching a pianist’s hands, this DVD is a treat.

Either singularly or together, these recordings are a fine tribute, both to an outstanding Canadian artist and to music written by a composer at the height of his musical creativity. Highly recommended.

02 Mendelssohn NezetMendelssohn – Symphonies 1-5
Chamber Orchestra of Europe; Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Deutsche Grammophon 00289 479 7337

It is a genuine pleasure to take a deep dive into these remarkably diverse and interesting symphonies, especially when they are played (and sung) with such enthusiastic vigour and passion as they are here. Photos of Canada’s latest star, the charismatic Montrealer Yannick Nézet-Séguin, adorn the cover and several of the inside pages of the booklet; quotes from the maestro pepper the informative liner notes, such as “what I always admire in Mendelssohn, over and over again, are his abilities as a melodist.” You can’t argue with success and it’s clear that Deutsche Grammophon are milking their exclusive partnership with Nézet-Séguin. They have a winner with this smart and attractive recording.

The Chamber Orchestra of Europe was founded in 1981 by young graduates of the European Union Youth Orchestra. This recording was a result of a week of concerts under Nézet-Séguin’s baton, in the Philharmonie in Paris in February 2016. It has the vitality of a live performance, with fine playing from all the sections.

The numbering of Mendelssohn’s symphonies does not reflect their chronology. Their true order is 1-5-4-2-3. This doesn’t matter, though, as there is a stylistic homogeneity that runs through all five. Clear counterpoint, rugged drama hearkening back to Haydn’s Sturm und Drang (most notably in the last movement of the Fourth), nostalgic beauty and yes, those attractive melodies.

The collaboration between Nézet-Séguin and the COE shines in each of these works. The pacing and tempi illuminate the structure and breadth of Mendelssohn’s expression. There are highlights in all five symphonies: the great journeys of the First and Third, the exuberance of the Fourth, Baroque religiosity of the Fifth.

For me, the greatest achievement of this disc is the superb performance of the Second Symphony or Hymn of Praise (Lobgesang). On the surface, it’s a strange work: symphony? Cantata? Oratorio? There are obvious comparisons to be made with Beethoven’s Ninth (which don’t favour Mendelssohn), but – taken on its own and knowing that it was written as an occasional work to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press – the piece is an irrepressible celebration of life and intelligence. Nézet-Séguin, the RIAS Kammerchor and three fabulous soloists (including Canada’s Ruby Award-winning luminous diva, Karina Gauvin) raise the roof in a sincere and joyful rendering of a unique score.

03 Bruckner 3Bruckner – Symphony No.3; Wagner – Tannhäuser Overture
Gewandhausorchester Leipzig; Andris Nelsons
Deutsche Grammophon 479 7208

Anton Bruckner moved to Linz in 1856 to take up the position of organist at the Old Cathedral, Ignatiuskirche, rapidly establishing himself as one of Europe’s greatest exponents of the instrument. Bruckner also took to studying theory and composition under Simon Sechter and later with Otto Kitzler. When the latter conducted a performance of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser in Linz, Bruckner fell under Wagner’s spell, melding the composer’s passion for poetry and drama with the unbounded exaltation of his (Bruckner’s) spirituality to deliver so much in the way of harmonic ingenuity, melodic sweep and sheer orchestral magnificence in his music.

Andris Nelsons delivers all of this grandeur in Bruckner’s Symphony No. 3 in D Minor (WAB 103), paired with Wagner’s Tannhäuser Overture. This live recording made with the legendary Gewandhausorchester Leipzig is the first in a proposed cycle of Bruckner symphonies. No.3 was unfinished when Bruckner took it to Wagner, who, in 1873, selected it as a dedication to him by Bruckner.

Under Nelsons’ baton Bruckner’s spiritualism and Wagnerian grandeur soar in music redolent of melodic and harmonic touches. It is a visceral and dynamic performance. Nelsons shows that he has developed a perfect bond between the orchestra’s instrumentalists, enabling them to dig deep and bring to No.3 and the Tannhäuser Overture a sublime melodic beauty – conducting the structurally complex music with outstanding naturalness, a special charisma and dignity in a way that only a great Bruckner conductor can.

01 Barton Pine PaganiniAmerican violinist Rachel Barton Pine follows up her outstanding Testament issue of the complete Bach Solo Partitas & Sonatas with another wonderful 2CD set of solo violin works, this time Bel Canto Paganini: 24 Caprices and other Works for Solo Violin (Avie AV2374).

In her excellent booklet essay Pine quite rightly stresses the musicality of these remarkable pieces, and not just the technical aspects. Paganini was greatly admired by his operatic contemporaries, with Rossini, Verdi and Bellini all considering his compositions to be fully in the bel canto Italian vocal style, and Pine’s interpretations always stress the melodic content. There’s never a hint of anything but complete mastery of the technical issues either.

In addition to the 24 Caprices Op.1 three other Paganini solo works are here: the astonishing Introduction and Variations in G Major Op.38 on Paisiello’s “Nel cor più non mi sento; the brief Duo merveille Op.6 “Duet for One; and the Caprice d’adieu Op.68. Pine’s playing leaves you simply breathless.

Finally, in acknowledgement of Paganini’s profound influence on her, Pine adds her own brilliant Introduction, Theme and Variations on “God Defend New Zealand” which she wrote in 2000 for the end of her first tour of New Zealand. If you didn’t know, you would swear it was by Paganini. It’s a dazzling end to a remarkable set.

02 Esther Yoo TchaikovskyThe outstanding American-Korean violinist Esther Yoo follows up her terrific debut Deutsche Grammophon CD of the Sibelius and Glazunov concertos with another outstanding collaboration with Vladimir Ashkenazy and the Philharmonia Orchestra on the same label, this time featuring works for violin and orchestra by Tchaikovsky (481 5032).

It should come as no surprise, given Ashkenazy’s involvement, that all the performances here display a marked sensitivity and an innate empathy for the music. The Violin Concerto is the main work here, of course, and the measured, unhurried opening signals an approach that continues throughout the work, although there is never a lack of passion when needed.

The high performance standard is maintained throughout the remaining works on the disc. The two pieces from Swan Lake – the Pas de Deux from Act 1 and the Danse Russe from Act 3 – are both original violin solos from the ballet score, and not transcriptions or arrangements. The poignant Sérénade mélancolique in B flat Minor, Op.26 was the composer’s first major work for violin and orchestra. The really lovely Valse-Scherzo Op.34 and the Glazunov orchestration of the Mélodie – the last of the three pieces that comprise Souvenir d’un lieu cher, Op.42 – complete another outstanding CD from these artists.

03 Shostakovich GubaidulinaThe Dutch violinist Simone Lamsma is the soloist on Shostakovich/Gubaidulina, her second CD on the Challenge Classics label and featuring the former’s Violin Concerto No.1 in A Minor, Op.77 and the latter’s In tempus praesens. The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra is conducted by James Gaffigan in the Shostakovich and by Reinbert de Leeuw in the Gubaidulina (CC72681).

It’s an impressive performance of the Shostakovich, a deeply personal work written a few years after the end of the Second World War but temporarily shelved when the composer was once again vilified by the Communist Party in 1948; it didn’t receive its premiere until 1955. Lamsma is terrific throughout.

Sofia Gubaidulina’s In tempus praesens is her second violin concerto, an extended single-movement work written for Anne-Sophie Mutter in 2007. A work of extreme contrasts that demands great virtuosity from the soloist, it is scored for a large orchestra that does not include first or second violins, giving the soloist unchallenged freedom in the higher string register. Lamsma handles every challenge quite superbly.

The Shostakovich is a studio recording from 2016, while the Gubaidulina was recorded live in concert at the Royal Concertgebouw, Amsterdam in October 2011. The Netherlands orchestra provides excellent support in both instances.

04 Sarah ChristianGegenwelten (Contrasting Worlds) is the debut CD from the German violinist Sarah Christian, accompanied by the Armenian pianist Lilit Grigoryan in a recital of works by Prokofiev and Schubert (Genuin GEN 17472).

If 27 seems to be a rather late age for a debut CD then in this particular case it was certainly worth the wait; there is a clear and undeniable maturity to both Christian’s playing and her interpretations of the Prokofiev Sonata No.1 in F Minor, Op.80 and the Schubert Fantasie in C Major, D934. The Prokofiev sonata has a dark, ominous opening movement, a strikingly strong second movement, an ethereal slow movement and a tense and desolate final Allegrissimo, all making for a memorable performance.

The Schubert Fantasie is ostensibly an extended single-movement work, but in fact consists of four loosely connected sections played without a break. Again, it’s a beautifully balanced performance, with a finely nuanced opening that sets the tone for everything that follows.

Both players are in tremendous form here, and the recorded sound is outstanding. In the publicity blurb Christian says that “When playing, I really feel everything there is to feel.” That doesn’t always come through on a recording, but on this exemplary debut disc it most certainly does.

05 Beethoven Sonatas with fortepianoI didn’t see the first two volumes of the ongoing cycle of the complete Beethoven Sonatas for Fortepiano and Violin on period instruments, featuring violinist Susanna Ogata and Ian Watson on the fortepiano, but Volume 3 (CORO Connections COR16154) of the four-CD series certainly makes me wish that I had.

The works here are the three sonatas published in 1803 as Opus 30: No.6 in A Major; No.7 in C Minor; and No.8 in G Major. The fortepiano obviously lacks the power of a modern grand piano but more than compensates for this with its range of tonal colour and acoustic variation. Ogata uses gut strings and a period bow, with the resulting warmer sound perfectly complementing the keyboard and creating a sound world imbued with what The Strad magazine, in its review of Volume 2, called “a clarity rarely achieved.”

There are some outstanding sets of the complete sonatas available with modern keyboard – the Ibragimova/Tiberghien and Duo Concertante issues, for instance – but if you still harbour any doubts about the effectiveness of performing these sonatas with fortepiano then this CD series should simply blow them away.

06 Boyd meets Girlboyd meets girl sees the American cellist Laura Metcalf paired with her husband, the Australian guitarist Rupert Boyd, in a really terrific selection of pieces for cello and guitar (Sono Luminus DSL-92217).

The three-movement Reflexões No.6 by Bolivian composer Jaime Zenamon is a lovely work, full of rich and sonorous cello lines and some rapid guitar work, all beautifully handled by the duo. The Allegretto Comodo, the first movement of the Sonata for Cello and Guitar by the Brazilian composer Radamés Gnattali, is the only other work written specifically for cello and guitar; it’s another terrific piece.

Apart from Ross Edwards’ beautiful Arafura Arioso, arranged especially for the duo by the Australian composer, all the other tracks on the CD are arrangements by Boyd and Metcalf. Fauré’s Pavane Op.50, four of Bach’s Two-Part Inventions, Astor Piazzolla’s Café 1930 (originally for flute and guitar) and de Falla’s Siete Canciones Populares Españolas are all extremely effective in these arrangements, but none more so than the quite stunning and ethereal Spiegel im Spiegel by Arvo Pärt, played by Metcalf at the original violin pitch over Boyd’s beautifully controlled guitar work. The final track is the duo’s arrangement of Human Nature, the Steve Porcaro and John Bettis song from Michael Jackson’s 1982 Thriller album.

A warm and resonant recorded sound quality complements a superb CD that is an absolute delight from beginning to end.

07 Emerson Britten DowlandGiven the affinities between Benjamin Britten and his predecessor Henry Purcell it comes as no surprise to see their music paired on Chaconnes and Fantasias – Music of Britten and Purcell, the latest CD from the Emerson String Quartet, celebrating its 40th anniversary (Decca Gold B0026509-02).

Purcell’s Chacony in G Minor appeared in the same manuscript as the Fantazias (Purcell’s spelling) and is played here in Britten’s performing edition. It’s a full-blooded performance, with quite heavy vibrato. The Fantazias Nos.6 in F Major, 8 in D Minor, 10 in E Minor and 11 in G Major are more idiomatic, with very little vibrato and the dissonant clashes clearly defined. In company with Britten’s music they sound decidedly modern.

Sandwiched in the middle of the Fantazias is a terrific performance of Britten’s String Quartet No.2 in C Major, Op.36 from 1945, the first performance of which took place in London on the exact 250th anniversary of Purcell’s death. Moreover, the Chacony final movement is modelled on Purcell’s own Chacony.

Another immensely satisfying performance, this time of Britten’s String Quartet No.3 in G Major, Op.94, a fascinating and highly personal work written in late 1975 just a year before his death, completes an outstanding disc.

08 Harberg WolpertPremiere recordings of two very accessible 21st-century Viola Concertos by Amanda Harberg and Max Wolpert are featured on a new Naxos CD in their American Classics series, with the American violist Brett Deubner accompanied by the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra under Linus Lerner (8.559840).

Both works were written for Deubner, who has had more than 30 concertos dedicated to him. John Corigliano said of Amanda Harberg that she “writes truly beautiful music,” and her Concerto from 2011/12 more than supports that view, with a soaring and strongly rhythmical first movement described as a meditation on flight, a simply beautiful Aria middle movement and an energetic and joyful finale.

Wolpert’s Viola Concerto No.1, “Giants” reflects the composer’s fascination with ancient musical traditions and fable and legend as well as his extensive work in musical theatre. The three movements are Father Time, The Golden Harp and the Balkan-flavoured Dance of the Cloud Women.

Also on the disc is Harberg’s short Elegy from 2007, written for violin and piano and played here in the composer’s excellent arrangement for viola and string orchestra.

Deubner is clearly in his element with these very attractive works.

09 Robert BeaserThe American guitarist Eliot Fisk met the composer Robert Beaser in 1972 when they were both at Yale, and two of the works that resulted from their long friendship are featured on Robert Beaser Guitar Concerto, with José Serebrier conducting the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (LINN CKD528).

The concerto is an immediately attractive eclectic three-movement work; in the dazzling Phrygian Pick third movement Beaser combines the traditional Andalusian flamenco technique with American bluegrass style. Fisk’s performance is simply brilliant. It’s an outstanding concerto, and a significant addition to the guitar repertoire.

The solo guitar work Notes on a Southern Sky was influenced by the folk music of Latin America in general and Venezuela in particular. Again, the clarity, agility and tonal variation of Fisk’s playing are quite stunning.

Two orchestral works complete the disc: the superb tone poem Evening Prayer, aptly described as demonstrating the melodic and harmonic beauty which characterises Beaser’s style; and Ground O, Beaser’s own 2011 orchestration of a movement from an earlier work written within a month of the tragic events in New York in September 2001. The RSNO performance under Serebrier is outstanding, particularly in the Evening Prayer.

10 Well Tempered ClavierJ.S. Bach’s two books of The Well-Tempered Clavier have influenced composers since their creation, with both Mozart and Beethoven scoring some of the pieces for string quartet. In the 2CD set J. S. Bach The Well-Tempered Clavier Book One For String Quartet Nicholas Kitchen, the first violin of the Borromeo String Quartet, has finally fulfilled a long-held desire with his transcription of the music for string quartet (living archive LABSQ 101).

The process clearly produced some surprises and challenges for Kitchen and his fellow quartet members as they developed the project, but the end result is extremely satisfying, both musically and emotionally. Kitchen acknowledges that playing the 48 pieces brought the quartet into “a rarified listening-scape,” where the extreme demands on the players’ need to listen to each other resulted in “a clearer understanding of what is really the essence of musical meaning and spirit.”

Luckily, it has also resulted in an engrossing listening experience for all of us.

11 PermutationsThe English violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen plays two solo pieces written by her younger sister Freya Waley-Cohen on Permutations (Signum Classics SIGCD496).

Permutations is a touring artwork project developed by the sisters and the architectural designers Andrew Skulina and Finbarr O’Dempsey, with Freya writing several different musical characters for both six-part violin consort and for solo violin. The performance setting is “a set of six chambers which spatially distribute the six recorded violin parts… but also give the listener the opportunity to change the acoustic properties and level of isolation for each part. Handing a certain level of artistic and creative power over to the listener was the guiding force in the creation of the artwork.”

For this recording Waley-Cohen decided to take back that power and present Permutations in perfectly balanced ensemble. The individual characters are clearly identifiable in the excellent stereo setup, and one can’t help but wonder what the effect of the original physical setting must be, given how effective and engrossing the recorded version is.

While writing Permutations Waley-Cohen wrote two other works using some of its musical characters; one of them, Unveil for solo violin, is included here.

At less than 28 minutes this is not a substantial CD, but what it lacks in quantity it more than makes up for in quality. Tamsin Waley-Cohen’s playing is exemplary.

12 Paul ChiharaTake the A Train (Bridge Records 9488) is Volume 3 of the eclectic music of the 79-year-old American composer Paul Chihara, whose wide experience includes extensive work for movies and television.

The Gavin String Trio performs the String Trio from 1985, and Jerome Lowenthal is the soloist in the fascinating Bagatelles – Twice Seven Haiku for Piano from 2010. The Girl from Yerevan is an attractive piece from 2014, played here by guitarist David Starobin, violinist Movses Pogossian and violist Paul Coletti.

The final work is a real knockout: the three-movement Ellington Fantasy performed by the Lark String Quartet. Duke Ellington’s I’m Beginning to See the Light is a great opener; the arrangement of Sophisticated Lady is quite stunning, and the CD’s title track provides a great jazzy ending to an excellent disc.

13 Mozart BeethovenAnd finally, violinist Boris Abramov and cellist Carmine Miranda combine their talents on Mozart/Beethoven Violin and Cello Duets (Navona Records NV6118).

None of the music here is in its original form. Mozart’s Two Duos for Violin and Cello are arrangements of the Duos for Violin and Viola in G Major, K423 and B flat Major, K424, both written as a favour to Michael Haydn to complete a set of six duos he was writing for the Archbishop of Salzburg. The Beethoven work is an arrangement of the Three Duos for Clarinet and Bassoon, WoO27, a set of duets that were probably early works influenced by the Mozart duos but may possibly be spurious.

With their warm tone and nice phrasing Abramov and Miranda make a good case for these versions of the works, although the music itself doesn’t allow for a great deal of dynamic range.

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