01 FialkowskaLes sons et les parfums
Janina Fialkowska
ATMA ACD2 2766 (naxosdirect.com)

Janina Fialkowska’s latest offering is absolutely enchanting, a CD of “pure nostalgia” for the acclaimed Canadian pianist, as she states in her eloquent liner notes for Les sons et les parfums (the sounds and the fragrances).

Fialkowska transports us to the Paris of the 1950s and 1960s, when, as a youth, she visited the French capital; a time when Les Six members Francis Poulenc and Germaine Tailleferre were dominant forces on the French music scene. And, as Fialkowska tells us, a time when most of the older musicians with whom she came in contact during those visits, knew not only those noted composers, but also Ravel, Debussy and Fauré. One further fun fact: her piano teacher in Paris in the mid-60s, Yvonne Lefébure, actually worked on the two Ravel pieces featured on the CD with Ravel himself! Can anyone imagine a headier environment for one’s musical studies?

Fialkowska’s “love letter to Paris” includes works by all of the above-mentioned composers, as well as Emmanuel Chabrier. From Tailleferre’s charming and shimmery Impromptu, Fauré’s sensuously evocative Nocturne in E-flat Major Op.36, and Poulenc’s sparkling Intermezzo in A-flat Major FP118 with its sense of yearning, to Debussy’s beloved and beyond-beautiful Clair de Lune and the stunning, virtuosic and impressionistic pleasures of Ravel’s Jeux d’eau and Sonatine, Fialkowska indeed captures les sons et les parfums of a bygone Paris. It is there in the characteristic nuance, warmth, commanding musicianship, delight and dignity of her performance, which is nothing short of ravishing.

Sharna Searle

Listen to 'Les sons et les parfums' Now in the Listening Room

02 Richard Hamelin ChopinChopin – Ballades & Impromptus
Charles Richard-Hamelin
Analekta AN 2 9145 (analekta.com)

The quietly heroic Canadian pianist, Charles Richard-Hamelin, has just released a record – his fifth on the Analekta label – of Frédéric Chopin’s most expressive and inspired music: the four Ballades, (presented in chronological order) and the three Impromptus, followed by the Fantaisie-Impromptu.

Audiences the world over have heartened to Richard-Hamelin’s extraordinary talent, a talent without self-indulgence, wholly in service of musical candour on the highest order. It is this very quality, (amongst flawless technique, lyrical sensitivity, inspired voicing and impeccable stylistic command), that makes Richard-Hamelin so unique in today’s individualistic, ego-crazed culture. The pianist brings a poetic integrity to his music-making, born of a sincerity that is both reassuring and human. His craft calls on the objective – not the subjective – to aid him in his quest for beauty, awakening virtue and aesthetic perfection at every musical turn.

In these hands, not one of Chopin’s phrases, chords or moments of pause are left unconsidered or unloved. Richard-Hamelin intimately knows every last fibre of the musical canvas, from first note to last; a marvel of integral conception. It is like watching a skilled and seasoned painter in action, as he places every brush stroke – every swirl and point – with absolute care and expertise. Richard-Hamelin is redesigning this loved (and oft-performed) music, entirely afresh. Each cherished musical moment is revealed to be uniformly exquisite, and the listener is spellbound. Charles Richard-Hamelin is an artist of this rare Earth, singing of its myriad wonders.

Adam Sherkin

07 Tchaikovsky HaochenTchaikovsky – Piano Concerto No.1; Prokofiev – Piano Concerto No.2
Haochen Zhang; Lahti Symphony Orchestra; Dima Slobodeniouk
BIS BIS-2381 SACD (bis.se)

At just 29 years old, Chinese pianist Haochen Zhang ably demonstrates his coupling of a virtuoso approach with a mature and nuanced sensitivity of musical interpretation on this 2019 BIS recording, featuring the Lahti Symphony Orchestra under the measured direction of Dima Slobodeniouk. Traversing two alpine works – Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 and Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No.2 – Zhang evidences considerable musical acumen in his handling of this well-known (and widely recorded and performed) music of these Russian masters, highlighting the embedded Romantic gestures, as well as rising to the stentorian musical challenges put forward by these mighty and canonical composers. 

Dynamics are clearly on display as the pianist takes the listener on a wild ride. This 19th- and 20th-century music is both rigorous and demanding on pianists (Prokofiev was himself a touring and creative pianist), and Zhang, a former child prodigy who won the 2009 Cliburn Competition, demonstrates that he still has the breathtaking and wide-ranging technique that initially captured audience attention when he was still a boy. But now he evidences a coalescing musical maturity that is bound to excite today’s classical musical listeners not only for what is captured here, but also for what is in store for Zhang on future recordings and concertizing opportunities. Overall, a recommended addition to one’s CD collection.

Andrew Scott

03 Beethoven ChoBeethoven – Piano Sonatas Nos.8, 21, 23
Jae-Hyuck Cho
Sony S803556 (jaehyuckcho.com/recording)

Pianist Jae-Hyuck Cho is a well-established international recitalist and a classical music radio presenter in Korea. This CD of three much-recorded Beethoven sonatas – the C minor “Pathétique,” C Major “Waldstein” and F minor “Appassionata” – is justified by its excellent playing and sound engineering. In the Pathétique Cho’s tonal control is exceptional, from the introduction’s sonorities onwards, featuring finely graded crescendos. In the Adagio, expression is fine and intimate, while the Rondo builds and does not overwhelm. No banging in this Beethoven, or in the following Waldstein Sonata. Here, with melody mostly reduced to brief motifs in the first movement, a wealth of harmonic interest, plus the raw energy of pulses and tremolando chords, carry the movement forward. Cho achieves this task, and then shows an atmospheric side to his playing in the heartfelt introduction to the Rondo. Adhering mostly to Beethoven’s blurring pedal markings and extended trills, raising the contrast level through effective accentuation in the episodes, and managing the coda’s octave glissandos well, the end result is stellar.

The Appassionata Sonata is a little overwhelming in Cho`s reading. Admittedly this sometimes aggressive work is not my favourite Beethoven – one is likely to bang and I don`t begrudge Cho`s becoming emphatic at times. With mostly controlled and clean playing here, there is much for devotees to admire. The CD adds an unlisted bonus encore: a finely-realized Liszt transcription of Schumann’s Widmung S566.

Roger Knox

04 Changyong ShinBeethoven; Liszt; Chopin
ChangYong Shin
Steinway & Sons 30115 (steinway.com/music-and-artists/label)

Young Korean Pianist ChangYong Shin has won several important awards including the 2018 Gina Bachauer International Artist Piano Competition. I found this pianist reticent at first. His Beethoven Sonata in E Major, Op.109 is technically secure throughout, but more colour and expression would have been welcome for Beethoven’s quasi-improvisational mode. There are great heights and depths in this work that may require risk-taking. Nevertheless, Shin handles the finale’s fugal section and the theme’s return with extended trills particularly well.

For me Franz Liszt’s Bénédiction du Dieu dans la solitude from the cycle Harmonies poétiques et religieuses, (1847) conveys a genuinely religious sense in the way the piece unfolds. Shin is flawless with the opening’s rustling background and the rich ventures into the bass register, and also in the subsequent dramatic harmony and varied figuration. He confidently paces the balance of the work well, including in the closing section where it is mainly rolled chords that support the pensive upper line. By the end, peace and calm have stilled the emotions of earlier sections.

Of the disc’s three Chopin waltzes I particularly enjoyed Op.42, informally known as the 2/4 “waltz” because of the melody’s cross rhythm against the triple-time bass. Shin is high-spirited here, pedalling lightly, creating a whirl with accents and rubato, and achieving a bravura ending. The brilliant Waltz in E-flat Major, Op.18 and Waltz in A-flat Major, Op.34, No.1 add to the lustre of a splendid CD.

Roger Knox

05 Schumann PonthusSchumann – Fantasie Op.17; Kreisleriana; Kinderszenen
Marc Ponthus
Bridge Records 9514 (bridgerecords.com)

This disc of three contemporaneous Schumann works played by Marc Ponthus is revelatory. Known for major recitals of monumental works, Ponthus here offers technical brilliance with exquisite control of dynamics, voicing, and pedalling. Of the Fantasie (1836-8) his insightful program notes observe “a realm larger than reason”; in the first movement “a constantly fluctuating and forward energy” with vitalizing changes of texture. The finale becomes “an unfinished extension of the magnificent formal ruins of the first movement.” A large-scale, visionary Romantic masterpiece grounded in non-classical principles, then played with seamless continuity and fascinating detail. Using a modern piano, Ponthus adds tasteful speeding up as is now practised (controversially for some) in Romantic-era tempo modification.

With Kreisleriana (1838) Ponthus’ tempo modification becomes more prominent, in keeping with the eccentric fictional persona of Kreisler and perhaps the personalities of both writer E.T.A. Hoffmann and Schumann. But I find the lyricism of the middle section of Kreisleriana’s first piece spoiled by excessive speed; better for the player to be guided by the section’s phrase extensions and key changes. The slow pieces come off best and the fourth one for me is introspection defined. As for Kinderszenen (1838), scenes of childhood for adults, Ponthus’s idiomatic readings themselves justify purchasing the CD. These reflective miniatures are a wonderful introduction to Schumann’s piano music for anyone; no wonder Horowitz played No. 7 (Träumerei) as an encore so frequently.

Roger Knox

06 Fazil SayFerhan & Ferzan Önder Play Fazil Say
Ferhan & Ferzan Önder; RSO Berlin; Markus Paschner
Winter and Winter 910 255-2 (winterandwinter.com)

The duo piano approach of the Turkish-born Austrian twins Ferhan and Ferzan Önder comes together on this 2019 Winter & Winter recording to mine the many musical gems found in the music of contemporary Turkish composer Fazil Say. Although, unfortunately, Say has been plagued by political persecution in recent years – sentenced to jail time in 2013 for tweets that were considered “blasphemous” by the Turkish government – the now 49-year-old composer and pianist himself, has remained prolific and artistically relevant, writing challenging new pianistic and symphonic work, which is taken on here with class and aplomb by the Önder sisters with sweeping accompaniment from the Berlin Radio Symphony. Difficult to categorize stylistically – Say combines a historically rigorous mastery of Western art-music traditions, with influence taken from Turkish folk music, jazz and chance or improvisatory elements – the composer has assembled a hauntingly beautiful and unusual musical world that the talented Önder sisters tackle with virtuosity, expertise and their own recognizable musical agency.

Notable is the Sonata for Two Pianos, commissioned by the Louis Vuitton Foundation, which premiered earlier this year. Here, the sisters explore the range and expressive depth of the four-hand-piano tradition in order to bring to life this beautiful and challenging work that prods listeners to confront their own expectations of what constitutes contemporary classical performance in 2019 and to rethink what remains possible within the codified three-part sonata form employed here. Both the music of Say, and the nuanced playing of the Önder sisters, was new to me prior to receiving this recording. I am pleased to musically get to know these important and, very much of this moment, global artists.

Andrew Scott

01 Tafelmusik VivaldiVivaldi con amore
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra; Elisa Citterio
Tafelmusik Media TMK 1039CD (tafelmusik.org)

Vivaldi con amore, Tafelmusik’s first recording under new music director Elisa Citterio, is a vivid and engaging reflection of both Vivaldi’s ebullient musical style and Citterio’s approach to working with her orchestra. Rather than releasing a disc that shines a spotlight squarely on her artistic leadership through conspicuously demanding orchestral virtuosity or by recording unexpected material, Vivaldi con amore maintains the integrity of the Tafelmusik ensemble, while putting the music first.

One of the most striking features of this recording is how, although there is a new leader at the orchestra’s helm, the “Tafelmusik sound” is maintained, such that these recordings are immediately identifiable as Tafelmusik’s own. Citterio’s respect for the ensemble is apparent in the content of the disc, which features seven separate concerti in which the orchestra’s musicians are given centre stage.

Containing over 75 minutes of the Italian master’s works, the title says it all: Vivaldi con amore; but, as the saying goes, “The devil is in the details.” No detail is overlooked in the interpretation of these works, with beautifully tapered phrasing throughout and thoughtful attention given to the contrasts present in Vivaldi’s pieces, making each come alive in its own way.

The appointment of a new music director is a tumultuous experience for any group, especially for one as established as Tafelmusik. Vivaldi con amore shows us that we need not look to the future to expect great results from this orchestra’s newest chapter; they are already here, and present on this disc.

02 Ofra HarnoyBack to Bach
Ofra Harnoy; Mike Herriott
Analekta ACD 2 8907 (analekta.com)

With the release of her much anticipated new recording, luminous, gifted and transplendant Israeli/Canadian cellist, Ofra Harnoy, and her brilliant collaborator and husband, Mike Herriott, have not only brought forth a project of breathtaking beauty, but they have done the near impossible – through the use of contemporary technology, Herriott’s multi-instrumental/arranging/producing skills, Harnoy’s exquisite cello work (including large cello ensembles performed entirely by her), as well as a united, inspired vision – Harnoy and Herriett have manifested a fresh, innovative and genuine way of presenting this Baroque music in a way that is both exciting and accessible.

Not since the late Jacqueline du Pré (with whom Harnoy studied) has the world heard a cellist of Harnoy’s technical calibre and almost telepathic communicative skills. The well-chosen selections here include some material previously recorded by Harnoy from her 40-plus albums, as well as favourites such as Bach’s Air from Orchestral Suite No. 3 and Bist du bei mir, with the addition of more obscure, but stirring repertoire from Corelli and Allegri… and the sound of Harnoy’s breathtaking musicianship, multiplied by nine on Allegri’s Miserere is almost too beautiful to bear.

In bringing her vision to life, Harnoy also wanted to experiment with using brass instruments instead of the traditional string (or pipe organ, etc.) accompaniments, so Herriott created complex brass arrangements, and performed all of the parts himself: piccolo trumpet, trumpet, flugelhorn, French horn and trombone. There are literally only a handful of individuals in the world who could have accomplished what Herriott has so deftly done on this remarkable project. This recording is a triumph, and a must-have for any serious collector.

03 Berlioz FantastiqueBerlioz – Symphonie fantastique
Lucile Richardot; L’Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique; John Eliot Gardiner
Chateau de Versailles CVS011 (naxosdirect.com)

There is no shortage of recordings of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique but here is yet another one of special interest. A hinged package contains two video discs and trilingual booklet. Presented is a video of an all-Berlioz concert given by Sir John Eliot Gardiner directing his orchestra, the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique in the opulent Opera Royal, Chateau de Versailles on October 17, 2018. The participating guest artist is mezzo-soprano Lucile Richardot. The program begins with the Overture to Le Corsaire, followed by a longtime favourite, the heartfelt, La mort de Cléopâtre, passionately delivered by the totally involved Richardot. From Les Troyens the orchestra plays The Royal Hunt and Storm and the impressive Richardot returns with a deeply felt realization of the Monologue et air de Didon, “Ah, je vais mourir… Adieu, fière cité.” Richardot is a French mezzo-soprano who is highly respected as a soloist in Baroque music and a lot more. You can readily appreciate her voice and versatility on any of her countless videos on YouTube.

As the arguments pro and con original instruments, i.e. the instruments of the composer’s day, have all been stated and debated there is no point in carrying them on here. However, here at least, these unique, previously unheard sonorities and textures of the instruments that Berlioz knew are eloquently articulate and a revelation for listener and viewer alike. Berlioz would be elated.

Footnote: “The Secret of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony” with Gardiner and his orchestra on YouTube is a must-watch.

04 Mahler 1 MinnesotaMahler – Symphony No.1 in D Major
Minnesota Orchestra; Osmo Vänskä
BIS BIS-2346 (bis.se)

This is the fourth entry from the Minnesota Orchestra in a projected Mahler symphony cycle, following releases of the Second, Fifth and Sixth Symphonies under the direction of Osmo Vänskä, the well-regarded Finnish conductor who has devoted himself to bringing this ensemble to international renown since 2003. Mahler’s First Symphony, composed in his 24th year, reveals at a single stroke a unique and compelling voice; it remains one of his most-often-performed works. Vänskä’s solid and unaffected interpretation of the work, though structurally very well-paced, strikes me at times as a wee bit circumspect, particularly so in the funereal third movement, the opening of which is normally played as a mournful string bass solo but is contentiously (alas, not for the first time) assigned here to the entire bass section, robbing this introduction of its essentially grotesque quality; the underplaying of the intentionally vulgar interruptions of klezmer music that follows is yet another ironic opportunity missed. That being said, the strong bond between this orchestra and their leader provides in the end a highly compelling performance. I was tremendously impressed by the excellence and enthusiasm of the Minnesota musicians – I’ve rarely heard such a fierce viola section cut their way through the tumult of the finale of the work. Props as well to the recording team lead by Robert Suff; the low-floor recording level and resultant extended dynamic range lend an other-worldly aura to the liminal string harmonics that slowly reveal the magic of this work and conclude with a sonorous account of the glorious brass passages of the finale. While it’s admittedly not the definitive performance of this popular work in a very crowded field of contenders, it is certainly a substantially satisfying one.

01 Martha MastersHow I’ve managed to miss the playing of guitarist Martha Masters is beyond me; she won the 2000 International Competition of the Guitar Foundation of America (of which she is currently president) and has issued five CDs. Her latest, Baroque Mindset (marthamasters.com) is an absolutely faultless and quite stunning recital of transcriptions of original violin and lute solo compositions by four exact contemporaries of the Baroque era: Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767); J. S. Bach (1685-1750); David Kellner (1670-1748); and Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1687-1750).

Telemann is represented by Fantasias I & III from his 12 Fantasias for solo violin; Bach by the Sonata No.3 in C Major BWV1005 for solo violin; Kellner by three pieces selected by Masters; and Weiss by the Fantasia and Passacaglia for lute. Everything here, from both a technical and artistic viewpoint is of the highest level – clarity, articulation, tonal warmth and colour, phrasing, dynamics and sense of line; are all superb.

It’s a simply outstanding CD.

Concert Note: October 19 the Guitar Society of Toronto presents Martha Masters at St. Andrew's Church, 73 Simcoe St., Toronto.

02 DanceThe guitar is just one of five instruments on Dance, a CD of chamber music featuring guitarist Jason Vieaux with the Escher Quartet (Azica ACD-71328 azica.com).

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Guitar Quintet Op.143 from 1951 was a result of his long collaboration with Andrés Segovia. It’s a gloriously warm work that enthralls you from the opening bars and never lets go. It would be worth the price of the CD on its own, but the other two works here are anything but fillers.

100 Greatest Dance Hits from 1993, with its sounds of the 1970s, certainly shows the lighter side of Aaron Jay Kernis. Its percussive first movement is a bit jarring after the Castelnuovo-Tedesco, but the work soon establishes a delightful mood.

Boccherini’s Guitar Quintet No.4 in D Major, with the famous Fandango finale ends a terrific CD. Vieaux and the Escher Quartet have been playing these works together for the best part of ten years, and their delight and sheer enjoyment in recording three of their favourite quintets is clear for all to hear.

Listen to 'Dance' Now in the Listening Room

03 LeshnoffJason Vieaux is also the soloist on a CD of works by American composer Jonathan Leshnoff (b.1973), this time the Guitar Concerto with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra under Giancarlo Guerrero (Naxos 8.559809 naxos.com). It’s a really strong and attractive work, idiomatic and much in the style of the great Spanish concertos.

The concerto is the centrepiece on a CD of world premiere recordings, the two-part Symphony No.4 “Heichalos” from 2017 opening the disc and the dazzling orchestral tour-de-force Starburst from 2010 closing it, both works strongly tonal and with more than a hint of Samuel Barber in their sound.

Really top-notch performances and recording quality make for a compelling CD.

04 ZalkindThe American cellist Matthew Zalkind makes an outstanding solo CD debut with Music for Solo Cello (Avie AV2406 naxosdirect.com), featuring Bach’s Suite No.6 in D Major BWV1012, the Suite for Solo Cello by New York composer Michael Brown (born 1987) and the monumental Sonata for Solo Cello Op.8 by Zoltán Kodály.

The Bach Suite is believed to have been written for a five-string piccolo cello, but Zalkind uses a conventional modern four-string instrument and set-up. The awkward challenges this presents never impact on Zalkind’s warmth and fine sense of dance rhythm.

The Brown Suite is relatively short and, having apparently been influenced by both other works, makes a fitting bridge to a stunning performance of Kodály’s magnificent Sonata. 

05 Gruebler scanSwiss cellist Cécile Grüebler’s first CD – one on which she wanted to tell a story and not simply play pieces – sprang from a chance meeting in New York in 2017 with the Manhattan-based American composer Walter Skolnik (born 1934). When the two played music together, Grüebler learned that Skolnik’s principal teacher, the German-American Bernhard Heiden (1910-2000) had in turn studied with Hindemith. The result is Hindemith. Heiden. Skolnik, an intriguing CD of works by all three composers, with Grüebler accompanied by her longtime duo partner, pianist Tamara Chitadze (Cybele SACD 361804 cybele.de).

The Hindemith works are Drei Stücke Op.8 (1917) and A frog he went a-courting – Variations on an old English Nursery Song (1941). Heiden, who was born in Frankfurt and immigrated to the United States in 1938 is represented by his Cello Sonata (1958) and the short Siena (1961), while the works by Skolnik, who studied with Heiden at Indiana University, are the Cello Sonata (2004) and Four Bagatelles (1998). Grüebler’s commitment to the project results in excellent performances of some little-known works.

06 Bion TsangBion Tsang is the excellent soloist in the interesting pairing of Dvořák & Enescu Cello Concertos with Scott Yoo conducting the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (Sony Classical S80459C biontsang.com).

There’s no booklet and a complete lack of bio or program notes, but the infrequently heard two-movement Symphonie Concertante Op.8 by Georges Enescu is an appropriate partner for the more famous Dvořák Concerto in B Minor Op.104 – it’s in the same key and was written in 1901, a mere six years after the Dvořák, when Enescu was just 20. Both works are given lovely performances.

Listen to 'Dvořák & Enescu Cello Concertos' Now in the Listening Room

07 Vieuxtemps Saint SaensSouth-African cellist Peter Martens is the soloist in Vieuxtemps & Saint-Saëns Cello Concertos, with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra under Bernhard Gueller (Cello Classics CC1033 celloclassics.com).

Connections abound in this recording project. Both concertos are No.1 in A Minor – Op.46 for Vieuxtemps and Op.33 for Saint-Saëns; both composers also wrote a second, less successful cello concerto. The Saint-Saëns was the first concerto Martens played with an orchestra – the Cape Town Philharmonic in its previous incarnation as the Cape Town Symphony. Conductor Gueller was a front-desk cellist in the celebrated recording of the Vieuxtemps concertos by Heinrich Schiff, with whom Martens had a masterclass while a student in Salzburg.

Marten’s decision to pair the concertos instead of recording two by Vieuxtemps feels absolutely right, as does his choice of the three fillers on the disc: two by Saint-Saëns – his Allegro appassionato Op.43 and, in Paul Vidal’s arrangement, The Swan; and Fauré’s Elégie Op.24 in the composer’s own orchestration.

Martens is terrific in the two extremely virtuosic and difficult concertos, handling the technical challenges with deceptive ease and displaying a fine sense of line and phrase.

08 Strauss Muller SchottRichard Strauss left only three works for cello, and two of them are performed by the German cellist Daniel Müller-Schott on Richard Strauss Don Quixote (Orfeo C 968 191 naxos.com). Herbert Schuch is the pianist in the early Cello Sonata in F major Op.6 and in two songs transcribed by Müller-Schott specifically for this recording – Zueignung Op.10 No.1 and Ich trage meine Minne Op.32 No.1.

The sonata elicits some truly lovely playing, but the main interest here is the quasi-tone poem Don Quixote – Fantastic variations on a Knightly Theme Op.35 from 1897 when Strauss was 33 and leading the way from Romanticism to the modern era. Inspired by the Cervantes novel and recorded in live performance with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra under Sir Andrew Davis in June 2017, it’s a richly textured work lasting over 40 minutes, drawing great playing from all concerned.

09 Popper scanDavid Popper was one of the 18th century’s most important cellists and a more than merely competent composer, as well as virtuoso and teacher. His four seldom-heard Cello Concertos are performed by Austrian cellist Martin Rummel with the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice under Tecwyn Evans (Naxos 8.573930 naxos.com). Mari Kato is the accompanist in the Cello Concerto No.4 in B Minor Op.72, heard here in the version for cello and piano.

The three concertos No.1 in D Minor Op.8, No.2 in E Minor Op.24 and the single-movement No.3 in G major Op.59 are all delightful works, stylistically exactly what you would expect from a Romantic composer who was primarily a great cellist and pedagogue. Rummel provides really lovely playing, with a singing tone and a smoothness that belies the undoubted technical difficulties.

10 Reinecke scanMartin Rummel is also the soloist, this time with pianist Roland Krüger, on another excellent Naxos disc, the Complete Works for Cello and Piano by Popper’s exact contemporary, the German Carl Reinecke (Naxos 8.573727 naxos.com).

Rummel brings the same idiomatic Romantic styling to the three Cello Sonatas – No.1 in A Minor Op.42 (1855), No.2 in D Major Op.89 (1866) and No.3 in G major Op.238 (1897) and the Three Pieces Op.146 from 1893. Tully Potter’s booklet essay notes the “technical skill and easy flow of melody” in Reinecke’s cello music, with the cello and piano clearly on an equal footing.

Outstanding playing coupled with the usual top-notch Naxos production standards make for a terrific CD.

11 Mario scanAnother Naxos CD explores Works for Cello and Piano by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco with the Italian duo of cellist Enrico Dindo and pianist Alessandro Marangoni (Naxos 8.573881 naxos.com).

The selected pieces cover the period 1927-1946, the main works being the Cello Sonata Op.50 (1928), I nottmbuli (Variazioni fantastiche) Op.47 (1927), the Toccata Op.83 (1935) and, in a world-premiere recording, the Sonatina Op.130 from 1946. Four short pieces, including the unpublished Kol Nidre “Meditation” (1941) complete the CD.

There’s fine playing throughout a beautifully recorded disc, with the virtuoso piano part reflecting the composer’s own pianistic skills.

12 Schumann ThorntonCleveland Orchestra cellist Brian Thornton is the cellist and Spencer Myer the pianist on Robert Schumann Works for Cello & Piano on the Steinway & Sons label which was founded in 2010 (Steinway 30117 steinway.com).

Thornton has a deep, warm and velvety tone in the Adagio and Allegro Op.70, the Fünf Stücke im Volkston Op.102 and the Fantasiestücke Op.73, ably partnered by Myer.

Schubert’s Ave Maria D839 is a simply lovely, if somewhat unexpected, closing track.

13 Schumann Murail YthierThere’s more Schumann cello on Une rencontre, a CD of works by Robert Schumann and the French composer Tristan Murail (born 1947), who explains his encounters with both Schumann and cellist Marie Ythier in the extensive booklet notes (Métier msv 28590 divineartrecords.com). There’s a lighter and cleaner balance between Ythier and pianist Marie Vermeulin in the Fünf Stücke im Volkston Op.102 and the Fantasiestücke Op.73 than on the Steinway disc, with perhaps a touch more tonal nuance.

Attracteurs étranges (1992) and C’est un jardin secret, ma sœur, ma fiancée, une fontaine close, une source scellée from 1976 are both solo cello works by Murail; flutist Samuel Bricault joins Ythier in Murail’s Une letter de Vincent (2018).

The final encounter is Murail’s recent instrumental re-interpretation of Schumann’s piano work Scènes d’enfants (Kinderszenen) Op.15, subtitled Une Relecture pour violoncelle, flûte et piano, Murail using a range of instrumental techniques to make the orchestration sound larger than a trio.

Listen to 'Une rencontre' Now in the Listening Room

14 Mozart Cello DuetsThe sheet music publishing company Opus Cello was formed by Boston Symphony Orchestra principal cellist Blaise Déjardin in 2013 with the aim of bringing new, quality additions to the cello ensemble repertoire. Three works arranged by Déjardin are on Mozart New Cello Duos, the first CD release from Opus Cello (opuscello.com) and featuring Blaise Déjardin and the Parker String Quartet’s cellist Kee-Hyun Kim.

The 12 Variations on “Ah, vous dirai-je Maman” K265/300e provide plenty of virtuosic fireworks as an introduction to the two Duos for Violin and Viola in G Major K423 and B-flat Major K424. There’s a lovely feel to the duo transcriptions, although the lower voicings make for a slightly thicker texture at times. Still, there’s really fine playing on a nicely recorded and highly enjoyable disc.

01 Jane CoopThree Keyboard Masters – Bach; Beethoven; Rachmaninoff
Jane Coop
Skylark Music Sky1901 (skylark-music.com)

Veteran pianist Jane Coop brings three composers into focus on her new fall release: Beethoven, Rachmaninoff and Bach. While the aggregate of the music on disc is indeed a favourable one, the record as a whole tends to play more as a recital program than as an album. Coop’s musical conviction and integrity merits discussion of each component, singly: 

Her choice to record the seven jejune Bagatelles Op.33 of Beethoven is a fruitful one. Coop brings a childlike exuberance to this music, augmented by just the right dash of buffoonery. She achieves an essentially scherzando quality, from which the personal side of Beethoven’s art can gleam. Coop has a zeal for these pieces, expert in the Canadian tradition of Beethoven pianism inherited from her teacher, the great Anton Kuerti.

In drastic juxtaposition, a set by Sergei Rachmaninoff plunges in next. Despite the extreme textural disparity between Rachmaninoff’s preludes and Beethoven’s bagatelles, Coop seems easily at home in the vaulting halls of Russian Romanticism. One hears an icy, almost Gouldian austerity. Punctuating the preludes are lesser-known transcriptions by Rachmaninoff, penned late in the composer’s life and intended for his own concert tours.

Finally, Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue brings a sense of homecoming. One has the suspicion that each of these pieces has been well-worn and well-loved by Coop; this is music she’s held dear for a long time. How generous of her then, to share it with us.

Adam Sherkin

Listen to 'Three Keyboard Masters – Bach; Beethoven; Rachmaninoff' Now in the Listening Room

02 Mozart VogtMozart – Piano Sonatas Nos.2, 3, 8 & 13
Lars Vogt
Ondine ODE 1318-2 (naxos.com)

The newest disc from the 40-something pianist, conductor and educator, Lars Vogt, delivers refined and compelling readings of four Mozart piano sonatas. The range of curation here is admirable, as is the enticing (and thoroughly considered) nature of Vogt’s interpretation. We meet an accomplished and intellectually curious artist at the height of mid-career prowess.

To open such an album with Mozart’s early Sonata in F major, K280 is an unusual choice, yet a convincing one. Where Vogt overrides status quo classical sensibilities with modern expressive concepts (cf. the A minor Sonata, K310), he manages to steer us aptly to the brink and then back again with just enough mastery to re-charm us under his pianistic spell. It takes some level of courage to play Mozart like this. Notwithstanding, it seems more acceptable today for a performer to stretch such boundaries and take small yet consequential risks, finding novel paths through well-trodden music.

Among the disc’s notable attributes are its polish and poise. Vogt renders Mozart’s familiar notes with both a wide-eyed curiosity, (as if hearing it all for the first time) and a learned interpretive command that is exceedingly well informed (the second movement of the Sonata in B-flat Major, K333, Andante cantabile, is one such example.)

If anything is amiss, it is a reluctance to take these convictions and whims even further: to pilot the listener beyond the brink, as it were, to the very heart of Mozartian spontaneity.

Adam Sherkin

03 Schumann DownesClara and Robert Schumann – For the Love of You
Lara Downes; San Francisco Ballet Orchesra; Martin West
Flipside Music (laradownes.com)

American pianist Lara Downes offers a new release honouring the 200th anniversary of Clara Wieck Schumann’s birth on September 13, 2019. For the occasion, Downes allies with the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, opening the disc with Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op.54.  The proceeding tracks feature pieces for solo piano – Op.11 by Clara and Op.12 by Robert, dating from “the last three tumultuous and decisive years of courtship, before their marriage.”

Known for her lush and generous playing, Downes brings her customary warmth to bear as concerto soloist. Equally rivalling the orchestra’s might, she appears to revel in the quintessentially Romantic currents, inspired as they ebb and flow through the only concerto Schumann ever finished for the instrument. At times, Downes’ tonal command borders on a pianistic muscularity – an attractive commingling of classical training with a popularized understanding of music’s communicative shtick in the 21st century. She urges the listener to feel at ease: to embrace the brand of hospitality issued from her keyboard.

Aside from the utterly standard repertoire selections (Schumann’s Opp.54 and 12), the Three Romances, Op.11 by Clara bring a fresh and personal stamp to the record. It sounds as if Downes is just getting started with Clara’s catalogue. Surely, in 2019, this music can now stand alone, apart from Robert, and declare itself? Many accomplished proponents of Clara’s Wieck Schumann’s music are active today; Downes should consider joining this consortium, full time!

Adam Sherkin

04 Ivan Ilic 1Haydn Symphonies transcribed by Carl David Stegmann
Ivan Ilić
Chandos 2020142 (chandos.net)

Here we are in for a treat. Noted Serbian-American pianist Ivan Ilić, who has already made a reputation for adventurous repertoire and has never shied away from detective work, is now unearthing century-old music found in a dusty box in someone’s attic in Cologne, Germany: actually the discovery of three Haydn symphonies transcribed for the piano dating back to 1811 by Carl David Stegmann, a musician and contemporary of Beethoven. These things can happen: after all, Schubert’s Great C Major Symphony was also found in an attic by a certain Felix Mendelssohn!

Well, Ilić immediately tried them out and they sounded terrific on the piano, so he subsequently recorded them. First and foremost is the famous Oxford Symphony No.92, one of the late ones written just prior to the London Symphonies and it is a wonderful mature work. Right at the outset we are struck by the pianist’s enthusiastic and joyful approach, a feeling of discovery, grasping the essence of Haydn and his sense of humour. With immaculate, highly precise pianism he emphasizes the clear melodic line and delves fearlessly with his strong left hand into the complex architecture of the contrapuntal middle part. By this time the piano literally sings, and how charming that little closing subject sounds!

I was also delighted by the horn imitation in the trio part of the third movement Menuetto and the terrific freewheeling bravura of the complex yet irresistibly melodic last movement. Symphony No.75 is notable for its second movement’s interesting set of variations showing Italian influences while Symphony No.44 (Mourning) has an astounding last movement Presto, a hot-headed and determinedly monothematic score” Ilić even features in a video on YouTube.

Janos Gardonyi

05 Beethoven Guembes BuchananLate Beethoven
Luisa Guembes-Buchanan
Del Aguila Records DA 55313(luisagbuchanan.com)

Late Beethoven such as the Bagatelles, Op.119 and the Diabelli Variations Op.120 appear to have arrived in music’s world not in a dimming of the light that comes at the end of life, but like an immeasurable future; an unimaginable time beyond time. Certainly the immortal Variations, all 33 of them, coming as they did on the heels of the great Goldberg Variations of J.S. Bach, heralded a Beethoven whose creative urge seemed to have swelled like a kind of historical floodwater, bearing Anton Diabelli’s prosaic waltz upon its crest.

Luisa Guembes-Buchanan’s recording of the Diabelli is a classic, as free flowing as Beethoven’s approach to the variation form. Her playing is muscular, yet supple, accentuating the integrity of each variation without sacrificing the sense of overall structure. That all-important final chord is like a goal reached at the end of a long, long journey.

The pianist’s approach to the Bagatelles – among the best-known of Beethoven’s shorter pieces – is a refreshingly matter-of-fact manner, bringing out the vigour and the fluidity of the pieces but not at the expense of their poetry. Her Fifth Bagatelle is pointedly unsentimental, but most exquisitely and artfully shaped.

Theodor Adorno saw late Beethoven works as profound meditations – partly conscious, perhaps – on death. But he admits that “death is imposed only on created beings, not on works of art…” which might explain the immortal nature of these late works, living fragments of life’s beauty.

Raul da Gama

06 Julia SigovaRussian Piano Music
Julia Sigova
Classica Dalvivo CDL-0518 (juliasigova.com)

As surprising as it may seem, collections of Russian solo piano music on CD are not all that common and when they do appear, they are likely to feature the works of only one or two composers with a similar compositional style. As a result, this recording by pianist Julia Sigova on the Classica Dalvivo label is a welcome addition to the catalogue. Not only did this Minsk-born artist choose four different composers, but ones spanning an 80-year time period – from the Romanticism of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff to the more austere modernism of Prokofiev and Shchedrin.

Today, Tchaikovsky is scarcely remembered for his contribution to the piano repertoire, but his keyboard compositions are still not without their charm as evidenced in the opening track Dumka Op.59 from the set titled Scenes from a Russian Village written in 1886. Sigova’s approach is elegant and self-assured, with just the right touch of melancholia that characterizes much of Tchaikovsky’s music.

Rachmaninov’s first set of Études-Tableaux Op.33 were supposedly written as “musical evocations of external stimuli” although he never really divulged their true inspiration. These are a remarkable study in contrasts – from the pensive seriousness of the Second to the bombastic fervour of the Seventh. In all, they require a formidable technique, and Sigova rises to the demands with much bravado.

Compared to the lush romanticism of Rachmaninoff, the Sarcasmes Op.17 of Sergei Prokofiev and two pieces – Humoresque and A la Albeniz – by Rodion Shchedrin are very much products of the later 20th century. Here, Prokofiev almost seemed to be thumbing his nose at the more conservative musical conventions of the time while the two miniatures by Shchedrin – with their jaunty rhythms and progressive harmonies – round out an eclectic and very satisfying program.

Richard Haskell

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