01 Eybler Beethoven 2The much-anticipated second and final volume of the Beethoven String Quartets Op.18 (Nos.4-6) in groundbreaking performances on period instruments by Toronto’s Eybler Quartet is finally here, and it was well worth the wait (CORO Connections COR16174 eyblerquartet.com).

Beethoven’s metronome markings, viewed by many as impossibly fast, have long been the subject of heated debate, and the Eybler’s decision to take them head-on and see what they revealed created quite a stir when the first volume was released last year (reviewed here in April 2018). The astonishing speed of some of the movements had some reviewers shaking their heads even while acknowledging the brilliant playing, Gramophone going so far as to call it – in a not entirely negative way, given the wit and humour the Eybler Quartet found in Beethoven’s writing – “straight-up hilarious.”

The three works on this second volume don’t seem quite as radically fast, perhaps because our ears know what to expect this time, but the performance standard remains consistent – technique, clarity, intonation and ensemble playing are all stunning in performances full of depth and life.

Violist Patrick Jordan’s intelligent and insightful booklet notes add a great deal to an understanding of the performance approach, in particular his illuminating comments on tactus, the sense of a relatively steady and consistent pulse within a movement.

It’s not often that you encounter performances that challenge your preconceptions and radically and permanently change how you hear certain core repertoire works, but this indispensable set does exactly that.

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02 Kremer WeinbergWhen he was a student in 1960s’ Moscow, Gidon Kremer frequently saw and heard the composer and pianist Mieczysław Weinberg in performance although, despite his interest in composers negatively affected by Soviet ideology, he never met him. Kremer has done more than most in recent years to promote Weinberg’s music, and now adds a personal contribution with his brilliantly successful arrangements for solo violin of Weinberg’s 24 Preludes for Violoncello Solo, Op.100 (Accentus Music ACC 30476 naxosdirect.com).

The preludes, written in 1969 but only premiered in 1995, were dedicated to Rostropovich, who never played them. They are complex pieces full of quotations from works in Rostropovich’s repertoire as well as referencing other composers and folk songs. The transfer from cello to violin apparently presented few major challenges, Kremer noting that “only a few of the pieces needed to be put into a different tonality.”

His superb performance befits such a towering achievement, one which is a monumental addition to the solo violin repertoire.

03 Hattori scanThe young Japanese violinist Moné Hattori was only 16 when she recorded her astonishing debut CD. Released in Japan in late 2016 it has now been given a world-wide release on International Classics Artists (ICAC 5156 naxos.com).

It features outstanding performances of the Shostakovich Violin Concerto No.1 in A Minor Op.77 and Franz Waxman’s Carmen-Fantasie with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin under Alan Buribayev. Hattori is dazzling in the Waxman and is quite superb in a commanding performance of the Shostakovich. She has a sumptuous tone, flawless technique, emotional depth and physical strength, and wrings every drop of emotion from this deeply personal work.

Hattori has been active mostly in Japan and Asia, although she is making inroads in Europe this year. She is clearly one to watch.

04 Duo Fantasyduo 526, the pairing of Canadian violinist Kerry DuWors and Japanese pianist Futaba Niekawa, is in fine form on Duo Fantasy, a CD featuring works by Heitor Villa-Lobos, Arnold Bax and William Bolcom (Navona NV6231 navonarecords.com).

Villa-Lobos’ Sonata Fantasia No.2 was completed in 1914 although not published until the early 1950s. It’s a lovely work that reflects many of the musical influences of the period.

The English Bax is represented by the substantial four-movement Violin Sonata No.2, completed in 1915 and revised in 1920. It’s another very attractive and compelling work, full of contrast and with much writing of great beauty.

Bolcom’s Duo Fantasy from 1973 is exactly what you would expect from this wonderfully eclectic American musician – a kaleidoscope of popular styles leading to a quite unexpected ending.

DuWors plays with a commanding combination of strength, sweetness and brightness, fully supported by Niekawa’s rich, expansive piano playing.

05 Hindemith violinOn Hindemith Complete Works for Violin & Piano violinist Roman Mints and pianist Alexander Kobrin give quite superb performances of the four violin sonatas – in E-flat Op.11 No.1 and in D Op.11 No.2 (1918), in E (1935) and in C (1938) – together with the Trauermusik from 1936, the Meditation from the ballet Nobilissima Visione (1938) and the Sonata for Viola d’amore and Piano, “Kleine Sonate” Op.25 No.2 from 1922 (Quartz QTZ 2132 quartzmusic.com)

Mints in particular plays with tremendous strength, power and brilliance in music that clearly has special meaning for him. The Sonata in D was “the first window into contemporary music” for the 13-year-old Mints; later Hindemith was his ”window into Romantic music” and the composer continues to hold a special place in Mints’ heart. It’s certainly difficult to imagine better performances of these fascinating works.

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06 Hindemith Viola RodolfoThere’s more terrific Hindemith playing on Hindemith Sonatas for Viola Solo by the Spanish violist Jesus Rodolfo (IBS Classical IBS52019 naxosdirect.com)

The three numbered Sonatas for Viola Solo – Op.11 No.5 (1919), Op.25 No.1 (1922) and Op.31 No.4 (1924)together with the Sonata for Viola Solo from 1937 are challenging and extremely difficult works by a composer who was himself a world-class violist. They are often strident and dissonant, but there is more than enough lyrical and tonal writing to make them compelling listening.

Rodolfo plays with a deep, rich tone and a commanding technique in performances that hold you from beginning to end. 

07 Janet SungOn Edge of Youth, her first recording for the Sono Luminus label, violinist Janet Sung presents a program of works that she feels were significant in her development of a more mature musical voice (DSL-92230 sono-luminus.squarespace.com).

Two 20th-century masterpieces – George Enescu’s astonishingly original Impressions d’enfance Op.28 and Benjamin Britten’s early Suite for Violin and Piano Op.6 – are paired with three recent compositions: Missy Mazzoli’s Dissolve, O My Heart (2011) and Gabriel Prokofiev’s Sleeveless Scherzo (2007), both for solo violin; and Dan Visconti’s Rave-Up for violin and piano (2012). William Wolfram is the excellent pianist in the duo pieces.

Sung’s technique and musicianship are quite superb, hardly surprising for someone who studied with both Josef Gingold and Dorothy DeLay.

09 Mozart Mi Sa YangFour violin sonatas from the middle of Mozart’s canon are featured on Mozart sonates pour piano et violon, with violinist Mi-Sa Yang and pianist Jonas Vitaud (Mirare MIR420 mirare.fr). The two Sonatas in E Minor K304 and D Major K306 are from the six sonatas finished in Paris in 1778 and known as the Palatine Sonatas, while the two Sonatas in G Major K379 and E-flat Major K380 are also from a set of six, the Viennese sonatas of 1781.

There’s a lovely balance here, with a clear, resonant sound. Yang’s tone is warm and sensitive with a judicious use of vibrato, and there is equally fine playing from Vitaud. The two Palatine sonatas feature particularly strong playing, with excellent articulation and intelligent nuance.

The CD doesn’t appear to be intended as part of an ongoing series, but as a one-off with almost 80 minutes of music it’s certainly a very worthwhile release.

08 HenriquesFini Henriques Works for Violin and Piano features 21 short pieces plus two multi-movement collections from the period 1899-1923 by a composer who was one of the most popular Danish musical figures of his time. Violinist Johannes Søe Hansen and pianist Christina Bjørkøe are the performers on Denmark’s national record label (Dacapo 8.226151 naxos.com).

Henriques enjoyed a stellar career as a virtuoso violinist, and clearly knew how to write for his instrument. He was at his most effective with short recital pieces, the excellent booklet notes describing him as “almost unrivalled in his ability to compose small pieces with a sharp characterisation – works with charm and warm-heartedness.” And they are exactly that – lovely works, light but never trivial, and beautifully played and recorded on an absolutely delightful CD.

10 Haydn scanJoseph Haydn String Quartets Op.71 is the excellent new CD from Scotland’s Maxwell Quartet (LINN CKD 602 naxosdirect.com).

The quartet’s perceptive booklet notes make it clear that they have a strong affinity for Haydn’s quartets, and it really shows in warm, sympathetic performances of the quartets No.1 in B-flat Major, No.2 in D Major and No.3 in E-flat Major. Each quartet is followed by a “Scottish epilogue” – Gaelic folk and fiddle tunes by the likes of James Scott Skinner and Niel Gow, arranged by the quartet members and with one written by Maxwell violinist George Smith. It’s an extremely effective addition, fully supporting the ensemble’s view that “just like Haydn’s quartets, this is music that is capable of speaking to everyone.” All in all, a lovely CD.

11 KovarovicThe three string quartets of the Czech composer Karel Kovařovic (1862-1920) were never published, the source material for the world premiere recordings of The Complete String Quartets by the Czech Stamic Quartet being the manuscripts in the National Museum – Czech Museum of Music in Prague (Supraphon SU 4267-2 supraphon.com).

There is much to remind you of Smetana and Dvořák here, so consequently much to enjoy, from the 17-year-old composer’s Quartet No.1 in D Major from 1879, through the substantial Quartet No.2 in A Minor from 1887 (dedicated to Dvořák and admired by him) to the unfinished Quartet No.3 in G Major from 1894 – there is no fourth movement and the third remains incomplete but performable.

The Stamic Quartet was formed in 1985 – the second violin and viola are original members – and is clearly in its element here on a generous (at over 80 minutes) and beautifully played and recorded CD

12 Atma QuartetPoland’s Ãtma Quartet chose relatively brief but engrossing works by three 20th-century Polish composers for their debut CD, Penderecki Szymanowski Panufnik String Quartets (CD Accord ACD 252-2 naxosdirect.com).

Karol Szymanowski’s Quartet No.2 Op.56, written in 1927 for a Philadelphia competition (it lost out to quartets by Bartók and Casella) was actually the first he completed. Its three movements total less than 18 minutes, but it’s a very attractive work amply demonstrating the composer’s distinctive style and sound.

Andrzej Panufnik’s Quartet No.3 Paper-Cuts from 1990 is even shorter at less than 11 minutes despite having five sections which explore various aspects of string playing. Krzysztof Penderecki’s Quartet No.3 Leaves of an Unwritten Diary is a single-movement but episodic work lasting 18 minutes.

The performances of these fascinating works are top-notch on a very impressive debut album.

13 Raphael FeuillatreClassical guitarist Raphaël Feuillâtre, the winner of the 2018 Guitar Foundation of America Competition, is simply outstanding in a recital of transcriptions and original works on the Naxos Laureate Series (8.574127 naxos.com).

The transcriptions are of works by Ariel Ramírez, Rameau, Scriabin and Rachmaninov, with Feuillâtre’s own transcription of the Granados 8 Valses poéticos particularly dazzling, while the original works are by Agustín Barrios Mangoré, Heitor Villa-Lobos and – a particularly virtuosic showpiece – Miguel Llobet Solés’ Variations on a Theme of Sor, Op.15.

Feuillâtre’s playing is technically superb – clean, sensitive and nuanced, and with a sense of style and phrase to match the virtuosity. There’s a complete absence of left-hand noise in the resonant recording, engineered and produced by the always reliable Norbert Kraft and Bonnie Silver in Florida. 

01 Jae Hyuck ChoBeethoven & Liszt Piano Concerti No.1
Jae-Hyuck Cho; Royal Scottish National Orchestra; Adrien Perruchon
Sony Classical S80403C (amazon.com)

The most recent collaboration on disc between pianist Jae-Hyuck Cho and conductor Adrien Perruchon directing the Royal Scottish National Orchestra offers first piano concertos by both Liszt and Beethoven. This recording exhibits poise, candour and marked esteem for the well-worn music at hand.

Cho approaches Beethoven’s youthful first piano concerto with a Haydnesque profile, achieving this with his own earnest brand of pianism, both tactile and circumspect. The lighter side of Beethoven’s early period is revealed here, as is the German composer’s debt to neoclassical attributes such as a Mozartian savvy for crafting melodic lines. Cho’s faithful – at times predictable – reading of the score contains just enough bravura to affirm that we are experiencing a concerto.

With conductor Perruchon’s background as both percussionist and bassoonist, one hears vividly planned out orchestral accompaniments, laser-precise and metrically refined. This kind of rhythmic cultivation is what Leon Fleisher so often refers to as performative “irresistibility,” and Perruchon’s orchestra and Cho’s keyboard both seem to have it in ample measure. Crisp and carefully wrought woodwind lines squint through the textures in classical and Romantic scoring alike, with Perruchon’s prizing of oboe and bassoon parts enhancing this effect.

With affectionate, palpable exchange between soloist and conductor, (especially in the Liszt concerto), this disc is also aided by a notably high standard of audio recording. Producer Michael Fine and engineer Jin Choi are to be applauded for such a balanced and crystalline achievement.

Adam Sherkin

 

02 Sheng Cai LisztLiszt – 12 Etudes d’exécution transcendante; 2 Etudes de concert
Sheng Cai
ATMA ACD2 2783 (atmaclassique.com)

Sheng Cai is a Canadian pianist with a growing international reputation. The playing on this disc is remarkable. In Franz Liszt’s 12 Transcendental Etudes (1852), what stand out are clear voicing, fine control of dynamics and a sense of expressive freedom. For example, in Paysage (No.3) pacing is flexible and there are several grades of softness. Ricordanza (No.9) opens with comparable expressiveness in movement and dynamics but on an expanding scale, meeting this longer work’s more dramatic and extreme demands. In other words, Cai is fully up to the Etudes’ diverse challenges! We haven’t yet considered that he successfully matches such technical demands as the fearsome leaps in Mazeppa (No.4), the colouristic intricacies of Feux follets (No.5), or the tremendous approaching storm tremolos in Chasse-neige (No.12). Throughout the disc, effective groupings of pedalled notes and precise phrase cut-offs are among the ways this pianist has avoided the banging and noisiness I have heard in some well-known artists’ Liszt renderings.

Through the artist we meet the composer, and I have enjoyed Liszt’s humour in the characterization of the Eroica (No. 7) and the composer’s artistry with what seem like painters’ brush strokes in Waldesrauschen (Forest Murmurs), one of the Two Concert Etudes (1862-63) also included on this recording. Do not fear for lack of variety among all of these etudes, no two are alike and Cai makes the listening experience a distinct pleasure.

Roger Knox

Listen to 'Liszt: 12 Etudes d’exécution transcendante; 2 Etudes de concert' Now in the Listening Room

 

03 Donna VoceDonna Voce (Fanny Mendelssohn; Amy Beach; Clara Schumann; Cecile Chaminade; Lili Boulanger; Chia-Yu Hsu)
Anna Shelest
Sorel Classics n/a (sorelmusic.org)

It is unfortunate that to record an entire album featuring beautiful and stylistically diverse music from a well-chosen program of women composers is still, in 2019, an inherently political statement, but here we are. Unlike both piano playing and pedagogy which have long been gendered activities coded as “safe” or “acceptable” entrees into the music business for women, historically composition was seen as the realm of men. Upon occasion, as featured on the recording, some who are related to better known male figures (i.e. Fanny Mendelssohn’s brother Felix and Clara Schumann’s husband Robert) were allowed to “dabble” in the form, but not encouraged, nor taken particularly seriously.

Anna Shelest, a Ukraine-born pianist who graduated from Juilliard and who currently lives in New York City, is a wonderfully expressive and talented musician who unites these composers, some of whom are separated by multiple centuries, with her deft touch and clear lyricism on this Sorel Classics release. Partially, this is exploration of lost histories, in the sense that some of this music has not been given its rightful place in canon of Western art music due, undoubtedly, to antiquated views on what constituted “acceptable” activities for married women (in the case of American composer Amy Beach); patriarchally established family responsibilities that curtailed artistic practice and output (Clara Schumann) and outright sexism masquerading as musical criticism (Cécile Chaminade, who was undermined in a New York Post review of her 1908 Carnegie Hall recital that stated, in part, “on the whole this concert confirmed the conviction held by many that while women may someday vote, they will never learn to compose anything worthwhile,” this recording is no mere historical exercise.

Through Shelest’s clear musicality and performance prowess, Donna Voce is an extremely musical and satisfying contemporary classical release that will hopefully (and deservedly) present this collection of music, as well as Shelest’s many talents, to a wide audience of listeners around the world.

Andrew Scott

 

04 Artur SchnebelArtur Schnabel – Complete Works for Solo Piano
Jenny Lin
Steinway & Sons 30074 (steinway.com)

Some wonders will never cease, as evidenced by the latest Steinway & Sons disc of Artur Schnabel’s Complete Works for Solo Piano with pianist Jenny Lin. That’s right: Artur Schnabel, composer.

Amongst the great 20th-century pianists, Schnabel was the first to record the entire cycle of Beethoven sonatas, a practice now well-entrenched – and a yardstick oft’ attained – by numerous keyboardists on a regular basis. But the legacy of Schnabel’s pianism remains sacrosanct, as does his pedagogical lineage. So then, how well-perceived is his compositional output? Not well, it would seem. Consequently, Steinway & Sons and intrepid pianist Jenny Lin “aim to correct this imbalance of perception.”

A new double album presents Schnabel’s works in chronological order, an edifying curatorial decision and one that reveals the breadth of his compositional development, starting with the Three Fantasy Pieces of 1898 – written when the composer was just 16 years old – and ending in 1947 with seven austere, Webern-like miniatures.

It is in the early pieces that we glimpse a refined era of waltzes and foxtrots, elegantly wrought with an audible fondness for the Austro-Hungarian imperial ballroom. Schnabel’s Dance Suite of 1920/21 is beguiling in its invitational charm and expressivity; quirky and yet intriguing in a slightly mangled mode. How delighted his audiences might have been, after hearing him stride through late Beethoven piano sonatas in recital, to finish the evening with encores of the pianist-composer’s own! The Sonata of 1923 probes a darker, dissonant world. Shadowy spectres of Charles Ives seem to rush in at the resolute opening. Now far off from waltzes-of-old, Schnabel’s oeuvre can proclaim a newfound dimension.

Jenny Lin is a contemporary titan of the keyboard, already boasting an impressive discography. This latest addition only reaffirms her bravery and fierce commitment to all things new and different. Possessing a truly unique pianistic skill set, Lin manages the character and style of old Europe remarkably well in this recording, considering how distant Schnabel’s music sits from the sights and sounds of 2019.

Lin’s singular devotion to Germanic literature, (she has an undergraduate degree in the subject), must come to bear when interpreting these pieces. There’s a lingua franca here that few artists of today would comprehend and, moreover, command with such conviction. Not many could pull off a feat of one such disc, let alone two. Such accomplishment urges the question: what will she tackle next?

Adam Sherkin

 

05 Stefan WolpeStefan Wolpe Volume 8 – Music for Two Pianos
Quattro Mani
Bridge Records 9516 (bridgerecords.com)

German, Jew, Communist, American, activist, modernist and eminent teacher, composer Stefan Wolpe and his impressive catalogue of works should probably be better known today. Volume Eight from Bridge Records’ projected complete recordings forms the most recent release to date, featuring Wolpe’s music for two pianos.

This disc runs the gamut of styles, presenting Wolpe’s stern and structured March and Variations and Two Studies on Basic Rows, (both from the 1930s). These works are punctuated by the Ballet Suite in Two Movements: The Man from Midian, (1942) which is filled with rousing populist gestures and extramusical inspiration. These two extremes of Wolpe’s art – aptly represented and admirably executed by pianists Steven Beck and Susan Grace of Quattro Mani – lend themselves well to the dual keyboard medium.

The most arresting and remarkable work on the record, Two Studies on Basic Rows, is delivered with analytical focus and an informed musical intelligence. The complexity of the Passacaglia, (the final track on the album), is so well conceived that the brightness and fury at the heart of Wolpe’s art can distinctly shine through.

The Man from Midian ballet suite serves as a welcome bit of fun – nearly 30 minutes in length – that takes the listener on a kind of mid-century musical romp through various styles, political commentary and Judaic narrative, all channelled via the mind of a relatively unknown 20th-century composer who just might have something important to tell us in our 21st-century reality.

Adam Sherkin

01 Bach Trio Sonata ProjectJohann Sebastian Bach – The Trio Sonata Project
Tripla Concordia
Arcana A114 (naxosdirect.com)

What would Bach think? It’s the question with which the recorder virtuoso Walter van Hauwe began his proverbial quest to re-imagine Bach’s sonatas and a partita as if they were written for his instrument. Van Hauwe also takes comfort from the fact that Bach’s contemporary, the composer and writer, Johann Mattheson deemed “the elaboration of an idea” by another composer “does not harm the original inventor” and, one must assume, his original inventions as well.

It is with this in mind that one must approach this wonderfully irreverent music, which is still Bach, but with an iconic twist in articulation and dynamics. While the keyboard remains ubiquitous throughout this repertoire, the viola da gamba has been replaced by a violoncello and both have been embellished by recorders. Most notably, Bach’s basso continuo is replaced, quite ingeniously, by the contrapuntal lines of the bass recorder.

As if by magic, Bach’s original trio sonatas – the C Minor BWV1029, G Major BWV1039 (1027), F Major BWV1028, D Minor BWV527 and the Partita in D Minor BWV997 – are reborn in subtle shifts in colour as the music moves from one key to another. It is a refreshingly forthright and decidedly wide-awake performance on bright-sounding instruments by Tripla Concordia. Tempi tend to be wonderfully brisk and bright changes in the dynamics let the leading recorders do the work with verve, in crisp and buoyant style and vivid articulation.

02 PlattiPlatti – Flute Sonatas, Op.3
Alexa Raine-Wright
Leaf Music LM224 (leaf-music.ca)

There are five outstanding musicians whose contributions to this wonderful recording all deserve recognition. First and foremost, of course, is the Baroque/rococo composer, Giovanni Benedetto Platti (1697-1763), whose six Opus 3 flute sonatas have not, until recently at least, been part of the standard flute repertoire, unlike those by some of his better-known contemporaries. The obscurity of these works, as this recording demonstrates, is due not to any defects but rather to the unavailability of the printed music. The fecundity of Platti’s musical imagination, from joie de vivre to pathos to artfully crafted lyricism is evident throughout the CD.

Then there is, of course, the soloist, Baroque flutist Alexa Raine-Wright, whose playing is full of vivacity, exquisite phrasing, breathtaking virtuosity, definite and confident articulation and all-round sensitivity to the voice of the composer. You know from the first seconds of track one that her first priorities are to be musical, that is, to play the phrases, the musical sentences, so that their meaning can be heard, and to be more than just a soloist but also part of the ensemble.

Her team (Camille Paquette-Roy, Baroque cello, Rona Nadler, harpsichord, Sylvain Bergeron, archlute and Baroque guitar) are worthy collaborators, who, while always keeping a rock-solid steady tempo, seem also able to allow space for rhapsodic freedom to the flute. Worth mentioning too are the several truly exquisite duo moments for flute and cello, as in the first movement of Sonata 4 and the second movement of Sonata 5.

Bravissimi to our musical colleagues in Montreal.

Listen to 'Platti: Flute Sonatas, Op.3' Now in the Listening Room

03 Mozart Last 3 SymphoniesMozart – The Three Last Symphonies
Ensemble Appassionato; Mathieu Herzog
Naïve V 5457 (naxosdirect.com)

A contemporary pace of living, especially in the metropolis, must include small pleasures in the form of art. Mozart’s music might be one of those necessary delights in the lives of many. Although there are countless recordings of his works, it is exciting to discover new aspects of Mozart’s music and this recording undoubtedly brings some new thoughts and sounds. I loved the spirited energy and the clear sound on this recording as well as the candour of the interpretations. Playfulness is interwoven with drama and expressed through resonant simplicity of sound – a perfect formula for bringing out the essence of Mozart’s music.

What attracted French conductor Mathieu Herzog to this triptych is the fact that there is a certain mystery surrounding these symphonies – all three were written in the summer of 1788, when things were not looking too bright in Mozart’s life. There is no evidence to suggest any of them were ever performed during the composer’s lifetime and Mozart never again returned to this genre. No.39 and No.41 are warm, expansive and buoyant and No.40 is unusually dark and melancholic. There is a common thread though – all three are powerful masterpieces.

Ensemble Appassionato, founded by Herzog and comprised of leading French musicians, is on fire here – both bows and sparks are flying and the joy of the performance is thrilling. This recording is worth hearing, not because it might be perfect but because it just might surprise you.

04 Berlioz TSOBerlioz – Symphonie fantastique; Tempest Fantasy
Toronto Symphony Orchestra; Sir Andrew Davis
Chandos CHSA 5239 (tso.ca/watch-listen)

Do we really need another Symphony fantastique? Not an unreasonable question. Many more than a few decades ago when the question was asked by a neophyte record producer, “How do you know what to record?,” the experienced answer was “Look through the Schwann Record Catalog, find the most recorded work and make another one.” That proved to be sage advice then.

There are countless recordings of the Symphonie fantastique available now, some outstanding performances and some sonic spectaculars. As far as performance is concerned, this new one is high in the outstanding category. The entire string section is splendid, “singing” immaculately together. The winds are a joy, from serene to bustling. The brass is burnished and the percussion can have fearful presence and power.

Davis’ beat is steady, without being carried away emotionally, and ever true to the score, observing every nuance. I enjoyed it cerebrally as well as viscerally. Sonically, this is what audiophiles dream of. From piccolos to the lowest notes in the basses and thumping bass drum, to articulate strings and winds this is nirvana.

Equally impressing is the Tempest Fantasy with the orchestra and the Mendelssohn Choir in this Berlioz 14-minute showpiece in four parts: Prologue, The Tempest, Action and Dénouement. Those who know their Berlioz will recognize quotations from Lelio: the return to life, the sequel to the Symphonie fantastique.

If one were buying a Fantastique this could very well be it. It stands up to repeated hearings for, as I listened for some passages to critique, there were plenty of positives but no negatives that I heard.

This disc creates a gorgeous reality in an acoustic better than any seat in Roy Thomson Hall where these recordings were made on September 20-22, 2018.

05 DvorakAntonin Dvořák – Piano Quartets Nos.1 & 2
Dvořák Piano Quartet
Supraphon SU 4257-2 (naxosdirect.com)

Czech composer Antonín Dvořák’s music, presented here in a piano quartet form, is beautifully brought to life in this capture on Supraphon Records. Featuring the somewhat unusual instrumentation of piano, violin, viola and cello (inspired by both the public’s interest in his work at the time and by Dvořák’s hero Brahms’ employment of the same musical aggregation), the Dvořák Piano Quartet, a current ensemble based in the Czech Republic, performs this music in a thoughtful, and at times playful manner, bringing out, as great classical music and performance will do, the range of human emotion and expression.

A violinist and violist himself, Dvořák’s writing here places a premium on string virtuosity and the accomplished string performers, Štěpán Pražák, Petr Verner and Jan Žďánský, are more than up for the masterful task. While Dvořák is certainly known for his dramatic scope and the power of his fulsome symphonic works, the intimacy of the chamber group context heard here brings out the range of his grand musicianship and empowers listeners towards a quiet reflection of his beautiful musical ideas. This is easy, lyrical music best listened to intently, that combines the beauty of the Western art music tradition in which Dvořák worked so well, with the native folk music influences that the composer so skillfully researched and incorporated into his music. Captured with beautiful clarity and fidelity, this 2018 recording would be a welcome addition to the collections of both Dvořák and chamber music fans alike.

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