04 Schubert SymNovScoSchubert – Symphony No.3; Orchestral Songs
Andrea Ludwig; Symphony Nova Scotia; Bernhard Gueller
Symphony Nova Scotia SNSM001 (symphonyns.ca)

Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 3 (1815) initially struck me as too slight to be the main work on this Symphony Nova Scotia disc. But an early Romantic sensibility already animated the 18-year-old composer, and I have changed my mind. The light themes of the opening movement undergo minor-key twists in the development, and the Allegretto also contains interesting key digressions. The last movement’s perpetual motion for me anticipates the tremendous energy of Schubert’s finale to the Symphony No. 9 in C Major (featured in William Forsythe’s wonderful ballet The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude). Here, Symphony Nova Scotia conductor Bernhard Gueller brings out comparable energies, including confident, incisive playing from the excellent Symphony Nova Scotia strings. And congratulations to the solo winds for sensitive phrasing in the lyrical middle movements.

Orchestral song came to the fore later in the 19th century. Its early proponent Hector Berlioz’s tremendous orchestration of Schubert’s Der Erlkönig appears here, along with Max Reger’s more subdued version. In all the songs, mezzo-soprano Andrea Ludwig conveys text and mood movingly and unfailingly – just listen to the Anton Webern-orchestrated Du bist die Ruh! Canadian composers Brian Current (Im Abendrot/At Dusk) and Kati Agócs (Ständchen/Serenade) fulfilled orchestration commissions successfully for this disc. Current’s use of string tremolo harmonics gives an intriguing otherworldly effect to Im Abedrot, while Agócs deploys piquant winds and an orchestral buildup in her moving Ständchen. The disc is a triumph for all involved.

05 Vaughan Williams TSOVaughan Williams – Piano Concerto; Oboe Concerto; Serenade to Music; Flos Campi
Louis Lortie; Sarah Jeffrey; Teng Li; Toronto Symphony Orchestra; Peter Oundjian
Chandos CHSA 5201 (chandos.net)

I was present at the TSO concert in which these works were played. At that time a CD release was promised and here it is. It does not disappoint. There are four works on the disc: the Serenade to Music for four singers (performed here by Carla Huhtanen, Emily D’Angelo, Lawrence Wiliford and Tyler Duncan), chorus and orchestra; a concerto for oboe and strings; Flos Campi, a suite for solo viola (beautifully played by Teng Li, the TSO’s principal violist), small choir and small orchestra (based on the Latin translation of the Song of Songs); and a concerto for piano and orchestra. All of these had originally been dedicated to musicians admired by Vaughan Williams: the Serenade to Music to the conductor Sir Henry Wood, the oboe concerto to Leon Goossens, Flos Campi to the violist Lionel Tertis and the piano concerto to Harriet Cohen. That gives these works a semi-private quality.

Of the works on the disc I liked the piano concerto least. It struck me as loud and strident, an impression which even the virtuosity of the pianist (Louis Lortie) could not efface. On the other hand, I loved the oboe concerto. It needs a first class soloist to do it justice and we have such an outstanding player in Sarah Jeffrey, the TSO’s principal oboist.

06 Charke Cormier DuoEx Tempore
Charke - Cormier Duo
Leaf Music LM220 (leaf-music.ca)

Flutist Derek Charke and guitarist Eugene Cormier perform with intelligence and passion in their debut release. Both teach at Acadia University, and are well respected Maritime musical personalities. Here they play, produce, engineer and master terrific, clear, stylistically diverse music.

The track Ex Tempore, composed by Charke, is a composed/improvised work for bass flute and guitar that lives up to its title. Note-bending during lengthy dramatic extended-technique bass flute phrases is heard against the guitar-driven rhythm and tonality, all in a spontaneous yet controlled direction, until the final satisfying guitar tone fades. Turning back the clock, Cormier’s arrangement of four Scarlatti harpsichord sonatas allows the duo’s tight ensemble playing to shine especially in the slow, true-to-Baroque quality, Sonata in F Major, K296, L198. Likewise the Presto of the Sonata in F Major K445, L385 features melodic interchanges between the instruments and well-placed lower guitar detached notes. Cormier arranges Peter Maxwell Davies’ 1980 Farewell to Stromness into a straightforward Scottish folk music-tinged piece with Celtic subtleties.

Nesyba’s arrangement makes for a sensitive performance of Debussy’s piano classic La fille aux cheveux de lin, while Mosoczi’s take on Handel’s four-movement Sonata in A Minor HMV 362, Op.1, No. 4 showcases detached note effects. Machado’s Musiques populaires brésiliennes are six 1980s works for flute and guitar based on traditional Brazilian music encompassing toe-tapping, happy sounds.

This is a fabulous debut!

07 La Patrie Our CanadaLa Patrie/Our Canada – Canadian Orchestral Music 1874-1943
Symphonova Orchestra; Shelley Katz
Centrediscs CMC CD 25618 (musiccentre.ca)

Bringing unrecorded music to life is exciting, but this disc’s innovative means make it miraculous! Remarkable UK-based Canadian conductor and inventor Shelley Katz leads the Symphonova Orchestra, employing proprietary technologies developed for digital baton control and acoustic design that augment the playing of solo musicians up to the sound of a full orchestra. La Patrie/Our Canada: Canadian Orchestral Music 1874-1943 shows Symphonova making significant and intriguing heritage repertoire available to us for the first time. One example is Ernest MacMillan’s Overture (1924, written for the Toronto Symphony), a substantial post-Romantic work with a Scottish tinge, beautifully harmonized and orchestrated, with sound convincing enough that I was fully drawn into the work.

In the disc’s opener, Calixa Lavallée’s charming concert overture La Patrie (first performed in 1874), it took time to adjust to the string tone: cooler and with less bow presence than that of an orchestra section. But after that, listening went smoothly: Rodolphe Mathieu’s early atonal Trois Préludes (1912-15) are attractive with a hint of mystery; I was ready for the convincing string writing in Georges-Émile Tanguay’s Pavane (1936) and Murray Adaskin’s Serenade for Strings (1934). And now gaps in our knowledge of major Canadian composers are being filled with Violet Archer’s witty, never-played Capriccio for Hand Timpani (1939) and John Weinzweig’s radio suite Our Canada (1943). Seeking out archival-quality orchestral recordings of seldom-heard works I’m used to. But acoustically this CD brings more listening pleasure, and I look forward to listening again.

08 Michael BridgeOverture
Michael Bridge
Independent MB2001 (michaelbridgemusic.com)

Canadian accordionist Michael Bridge triumphs technically and musically in all styles in his debut solo album, a recent CBC Album of the Week.

Bridge plays two different accordions, a Pigini Nova acoustic free bass, and a Roland digital instrument. His acoustic accordion features single tones on the left hand, allowing for wide pitch range/combination possibilities. Both Makkonen’s original Tango-Toccata and Friedrich Lips’ transcription of Khachaturian’s Tokkata are virtuosic accordion repertoire mainstays. Their tricky technical and dynamic challenges are performed with ease. Bridge’s composition Intoxicating features upbeat, tango-flavoured dance qualities. All the other tracks are Bridge arrangements. A solid contrapuntal feel, balance of lines, precise ornamentation and steady rhythms make his transcription of Bach’s French Suite No.5 a contemplative listen. Avetisyan’s Tzaghgatz Baleni is a lush dramatic tune with the same mood transcending into Cohen’s widely covered Hallelujah, as an interesting low-pitched start soars higher for more grounded accordion vocalizations. Mancini’s Moon River drifts from simple line statement to flourishes, left-hand chords and a rubato feel fitting to Bridge’s personal take.

Listeners unfamiliar with the Roland’s synthesizer abilities will be shocked to hear how close to the original full symphonic sound one accordion played by one performer in one take is in Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, the more laid-back jazz band drums and bass in Garner’s Misty, and the brief self-explanatory Orchestral Tuning.

As an accordionist myself, what I really appreciate and admire in Bridge’s playing is his conviction, tenacity and dedication in all he plays. Bravo!

Listen to 'Overture' Now in the Listening Room

01 Gandelsman BachThere’s another outstanding set of the J.S. Bach Sonatas & Partitas for Violin, this time by the New York violinist Johnny Gandelsman, a member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, on his own In a Circle Records label (ICR010 johnnygandelsman.com). No stranger to crossover styles, Gandelsman cites Irish fiddle bowing and Béla Fleck banjo left-hand chord shapes as influences on his approach to the problems posed by these astonishing works, and there’s certainly a freedom, vitality and a strong sense of character that makes the performances immensely satisfying.

Gandelsman uses gut strings on a modern violin and a transitional bow – YouTube footage of his concert performances shows him holding it a few inches above the frog – and his bowing is effortlessly smooth and controlled, dancing through the faster movements and surmounting the multiple-stop issues with clarity and ease. He’s never afraid to take the time to let phrases breathe, but never loses a fine sense of melodic line or rhythmic pulse. Nothing ever sounds heavy or forced.

It’s simply brilliant playing, on a par with the very best in an intensely competitive field.

02 Mozart Voilin Sonatas bookletThe 2-CD set Mozart: Violin Sonatas Vol.5 is the final issue in the complete series of Mozart’s sonatas for keyboard and violin – including the 16 juvenile sonatas – by the outstanding duo of violinist Alina Ibragimova and pianist Cédric Tiberghien (Hyperion CDA68175 hyperion-records.co.uk). This disc has the Sonatas in G major K11 and A Major K12, the two Sonatas in E-flat Major K302 and K380, the Sonata in A Major K526 and the Variations in G Major K359. An interesting addition is the Sonata in B-flat Major K570, Mozart’s penultimate piano sonata that appeared in print some five months after Mozart’s death with an added anonymous violin accompaniment.

This is the first volume from this set that I’ve heard, and the previous volumes garnered rave reviews. It’s easy to hear why: this duo always works so well together, and can find depth and expression in even the simplest movements. Judging by this beautifully recorded final issue it’s a set that will bear comparison to any.

03 Little BrahmsThere’s another truly lovely set of the Brahms Three Violin Sonatas, this time with the outstanding English violinist Tasmin Little and her regular partner Piers Lane (Chandos CHAN 10977 chandos.net). There’s a beautifully measured opening to the Sonata in G Major Op.78 – always a good indicator of what’s to come – with full, warm playing and a finely judged pulse and tempo. There’s lyricism, expression and passion when called for in all three sonatas.

The rich tone of Little’s 1757 Guadagnini violin is matched by Lane’s Steinway Model D concert grand in as satisfying a set of these works as you could wish to hear.

04 Irina MuresanuFour Strings Around the World is a quite stunning solo CD from the Romanian-born violinist Irina Muresanu that features diverse musical styles from across Europe, the Middle East, Asia and both North and South America (Sono Luminus DSL-92221 sonoluminus.com). Muresanu introduced her Four Strings Around the World project in 2013 after her difficulty in learning Mark O’Connor’s Cricket Dance led her to explore worldwide non-traditional violin styles.

Enescu’s Airs in Romanian Folk Style opens the disc, with works by Ireland’s Dave Flynn, Iran’s Reza Vali, India’s Shirish Korde and China’s Bright Sheng surrounding Paganini’s 24th Caprice, Kreisler’s Recitativo and Scherzo Op.6 and a strongly melodic reading of the Bach D Minor Chaconne. Then it’s Piazzolla’s Tango Étude No.3 and a work by Chickasaw Nation composer Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate before the short Cricket Dance that apparently gave Muresanu so much trouble.

Not that you would know it – complete with foot stomps, it’s a simply dazzling end to one of the best solo CDs I’ve heard.

05a Skoraczewski BachThere are another two sets of the unaccompanied Bach cello works: Bach Cello Suites with Dariusz Skoraczewski, the principal cellist of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (Analog Arts dskora.com); and Johann Sebastian Bach The Six Cello Suites Revisited with the Danish cellist Toke Møldrup (Bridge 9503A/B bridgerecords.com).

Møldrup plays a David Tecchler cello (Rome 1697) and, for Suite VI and the Suite I Revisited a mid-18th-century cello rebuilt as a five-string by Birger Kulmbach in 2016. Skoraczewski’s gorgeous tone is from a 1702 Carlo Giuseppe Testore cello on loan from Marin Alsop.

Recording ambience is fine for both, with a touch more resonance in the Skoraczewski. Individual movement and suite timings vary – the bigger differences probably due to the handling of repeats – but despite Møldrup being faster in 23 of the 36 tracks it’s Skoraczewski who has the smoothest line and who really dances through the suites. Møldrup, incidentally, produces a continuous percussive sound from his left-hand fingers hitting the fingerboard.

05b Moldrup BachThe Møldrup comes with copious booklet notes on the approach to the interpretation (turning the score “into three separate layers – melody, chordal structure and bass line”) and an additional track in Viggo Mangor’s Suite I Revisited, a reworking of the G-major suite transposed to D major for two violins, cello and chamber organ “to give an insight into our working method.”

The Skoraczewski comes with virtually no notes at all, with all aspects of the CD production – recording, engineering, editing, graphics, photography – credited to him. In this particular case, less is definitely more.

06 Guadalupe LopezThe Spanish academic-musician Guadalupe López Íñiguez is the Baroque cello soloist in Domenico Gabrielli & Alessandro Scarlatti Complete Cello Works on an excellent Alba Super Audio CD (ABCD 412 alba.fi). Baroque cellist Markku Luolajan-Mikkola, Baroque guitarist and archlutenist Olli Hyyrynen and harpsichordist Lauri Honkavirta provide varied continuo support where appropriate.

The Gabrielli works are the Sonatas for cello and basso continuo in G major (two versions) and A major, the seven Ricercari for solo cello and the Canon for two cellos. Scarlatti is represented by his three Sonatas for cello and basso continuo in D minor, C minor and C major respectively.

In her excellent booklet notes Iñiquez discusses her approach to the early music genre as well as the issues of sources, pitch, temperament, articulation, vibrato and scordatura, the latter employed in the Gabrielli-major sonata (first version) and the Ricercari numbers 4, 6 and 7.

07 Mendelssohn celloThe American duo of cellist Marcy Rosen and pianist Lydia Artymiw is featured on Felix Mendelssohn Complete Works for Cello & Piano (Bridge 9501 bridgerecords.com). Rosen plays with a smooth singing tone and a fine sense of line in the Variations concertantes Op.17, the two Sonatas – No.1 in B-flat Major Op.45 and No.2 in D Major Op.58 – the Lied ohne Worte Op.109 and the brief musical fragment Assai tranquillo. Artymiw’s contribution is outstanding, full of nuance and sensitivity and with a fine dynamic range. The Molto allegro e vivace finale of Sonata No.2 is a standout on an excellent CD.

08 Schumann QuartettGermany’s Schumann Quartett – the three Schumann brothers Erik, Ken and Mark along with violist Liisa Randalu – presents works by Robert Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn and the German composer Aribert Reimann on Intermezzo (Berlin Classics 0301058BC berlin-classics-music.com).

Schumann’s String Quartet No.1 in A Minor Op.41/1 has long been a part of their repertoire, and their deep understanding of the work is evident in a striking performance.

Aribert Reimann is a direct descendant of Franz Richarz, the doctor who treated Robert Schumann in the asylum near the end of his life. His Adagio in Memory of Robert Schumann from 2006 is based on two wordless chorales that Schumann left unfinished. The soprano Anna Lucia Richter is the excellent soloist in Reimann’s effective setting of Schumann’s Six Songs Op.107, written during the first severe onset of his mental illness.

Schumann dedicated his three Op.41 quartets to Mendelssohn, and the latter’s String Quartet in E-flat Major Op.12 completes a thoughtful and intelligent recital. Again, there’s an excellent feel for the music, with lightness, agility, clarity and – especially in the Molto allegro e vivace final movement – what Randalu describes as the opportunity for “wild joy in playing.”

09 FranckTwo of the three late chamber masterpieces by a French composer who received virtually no public acclaim during his lifetime are presented on César Franck String Quartet and Piano Quintet by the Quatuor Danel and pianist Paavali Jumppanen (CPO 555 088-2 naxosdirect.com/labels/cpo).

The String Quartet in D Minor, premiered in 1890 just months before Franck’s death, was the first work of his to win unbridled public acclaim. It’s a huge and difficult work, which may account for its not being heard more often; this impassioned performance, though, makes you wish it were.

The Piano Quintet in F Minor made little impact at its 1879 premiere but quickly won over Franck’s colleagues, inspiring similar works by an array of French composers. Again, it’s a passionate and sensuous piece that elicits exemplary playing from Jumppanen and the ensemble.

10 Axiom QuartetAxioms – Moments of Truth is the new CD from the Houston-based Axiom Quartet (Navona Records NV6151 navonarecords.com). Although there are short works ranging from Monteverdi through Bach, Ives, Billie Holiday and Fleetwood Mac to Bob Dylan, the driving creative force here is the composer Karl Blench, who not only made all the arrangements but also provided the short pieces that act as transitions between the named works; he also wrote the final title track.

Played without a break, it’s a fascinating program from an ensemble known for its mixing of traditional repertoire with transcriptions of music from a wide variety of popular genres. They’re clearly in their element here.

Listen to 'Axioms – Moments of Truth' Now in the Listening Room

11 Valhala de GrootDuos for violin and double bass features violinist Elina Vähälä and bassist Niek de Groot in a diverse and fascinating selection of contemporary works by Krzysztof Penderecki, the late Isang Yun, Jaakko Kuusisto, Erkki-Sven Tüür, Alfred Huber, György Kurtág and Wolfgang Rihm (audite 97.732 audite.de).

Composition dates range from 1989 to 2012, with the differing approaches to the possibilities presented by these two apparently incompatible instruments creating a remarkable program that Vähälä and de Groot handle with complete technical and musical assurance.

12 Fifth RowThe Fifth Row – An Acoustic Tour of Historic Theaters (Ravello Records RR7988 ravellorecords.com) is a highly original concept album from the American classical guitarist Stuart Weber that acknowledges that a player’s awareness of their physical surroundings is crucially important. “Our ears,” says Weber, “have to be in the house. The Fifth Row, to be precise.”

Weber decided to indulge his fascination with old theatres and their unique acoustic qualities by recording the 11 tracks in 11 historic theatres in Montana, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and Idaho. It’s difficult to discern any real acoustic differences between the tracks, but no matter – it’s a highly entertaining, if brief (35 minutes) program of arrangements of short pieces by Dvořák, Bartók, Weiss, Telemann and others interspersed with five of Weber’s own excellent compositions.

13 Michael Poll BachAnother relatively brief but high quality guitar CD features Michael Poll playing the Lute Suites Nos.1 and 4 on 7-string Bach (Orchid Classics ORC100082 orchidclassics.com). Recorded in the legendary Studio 3 at London’s Abbey Road Studios, Poll plays with a warm, rich and full tone in his own arrangements of the Lute Suite No.1 in E Minor BWV996 and the Lute Suite No.4 in E Major BWV1006a, the latter Bach’s own adaptation of the musical material in his Partita III for solo violin.

Poll plays a seven-string guitar, the additional string making it possible to play these works in their original register. 

02 Aldo CIccoliniAldo Ciccolini, who died in 2015 at age 89, is remembered for his specialization with classical repertoire as well as modern French music, especially Satie. His collaborations with Yannick Nézet-Séguin in 2009 and 2011 have yielded a recording of these live concerts: Mozart Piano Concerto No.20, Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No.2; London Philharmonic Orchestra; Yannick Nézet-Séguin (LPO 0102 lpo.org.uk/recordings).

The recorded performances are wonderful documents, slowed a bit by advanced age, but utterly perfect in every other way. Ciccolini, even in his 80s, had the lightness and clarity of touch to navigate Mozart with supreme elegance. Yet the power needed to battle through the Rachmaninoff Concerto No.2 seems undiminished. Ciccolini plays with a discernible affection for the music, without hasty completion of ideas. Every slightly lingering moment seems so appropriate.

The concerts must have been remarkable events, and judging from the audience response, being there was an unforgettable privilege.

01 Busoni 10Wolf Harden continues his productive career on the Naxos label with his latest CD Busoni - Piano Music - Vol.10, Piano Transcriptions of works by Bach, Brahms, Cramer, Liszt and Mozart (Naxos 8.573806 naxos.com). Busoni’s transcriptions have a distinctive sound. They are big and often dense, but always reflect his abiding respect for the form and structure to which his subject composers adhered. Harden is obviously at home in this genre but equally comfortable with exploiting Busoni’s style for its Italianate swells of emotion.

The most intriguing tracks on this recording are the Brahms Chorale Preludes for Organ Op.122 in which Brahms’ Romanticism is augmented by Busoni’s often heroic keyboard style. Harden plays this with such perfect balance, preserving the sacred nature of the chorales while allowing Busoni to restate them in his own unique terms. Brahms sometimes buried the chorale melody rather deeply in his harmonic mix but Harden never loses his grip of it, keeping the line prominent and easy to follow.

03 Beethoven Lars VogtLars Vogt appears as pianist and conductor on his latest release Beethoven Piano Concertos 2 & 4; Royal Northern Sinfonia (Ondine ODE1311-2 ondine.net). Directing from the keyboard, Vogt leads the orchestra in a highly energized performance of these familiar works. The RNS is a mid-size ensemble well suited to the classical repertoire, and despite the size of their home concert hall, they maintain a satisfying sense of intimacy in their playing.

Both concertos are a delight to hear but the Concerto No.4 really shows the composer as a mature tunesmith. The players sound as if they take some special delight in driving forward the powerful rhythms of this concerto. Vogt is brilliant at the keyboard. His playing is articulate, fluent and sensitive. Rapid ornaments roll from his fingers with astonishing ease. It’s an exciting and bracing recording.

04 Brahms KriegerNorman Kieger’s latest release Brahms Piano Concerto No.2, Piano Sonata No.1; London Symphony Orchestra; Philip Ryan Mann (Decca DD41142/481 4871 decca.com) meets the high expectations raised by its cover. From the opening French horn solo to the concerto’s final chords, orchestra and soloist are perfectly balanced. The fabled third movement cello solos are as beautifully played as you’d ever hear, and the ensemble playing throughout is flawless. The disc also includes the Sonata No.1 in C, Op.1. Even though the two works were recorded in different locations, the relative audio presence of the piano and the space around it are almost identical. This consistency reflects the label’s high production values and contributes to the exceptional quality of this recording.

05 Paganini at the PianoGoran Filipec is a powerhouse pianist, and it’s just as well because no less would do for the repertoire on his latest recording Paganini at the Piano – Arrangements and Variations by Hambourg, Busoni, Zadora, Friedman, Papandopulo (Grand Piano GP 769 grandpianorecords.com). Paganini’s music and virtuosity, especially his Caprices for solo violin, had considerable impact on his piano playing and composing contemporaries. Filipec selects a fine sampling of these inspired keyboard works beginning with a huge set of variations by Hambourg on perhaps the best-known Caprice, No.24. Friedman’s Studies on the same thematic material are equally long, challenging and impressive for their creative originality. Along with the disc’s other tracks you’ll be left breathlessly awestruck by Filipec’s playing.

06 Beethoven UnboundWelsh pianist Llŷr Williams last year completed a Beethoven concert cycle at Wigmore Hall which was recorded and recently released as Beethoven Unbound (Signum Classics SIGCD527P signumrecords.com). The 12-CD box set represents an enormous three-year recording project that documented the complete piano Sonatas, Bagatelles and Beethoven’s several sets of Variations. In all, there are nearly 14 hours of music to satisfy the most demanding Beethovenian consumer.

Williams is supremely capable in this repertoire and possesses a formidable keyboard technique. His artistic vision for this music is to lift it above the struggle we almost naturally assume underlies all the composer’s writing, and set it free in a much larger space. Here is where Williams decides that joviality, tenderness, passion and genius all have a place in Beethoven’s universe. While Beethoven Unbound is a welcome addition to the world of complete sets, it’s a significant re-visioning of music we have perhaps known too well.

07 McDermott HaydnAnne-Marie McDermott’s latest recording is Haydn Sonatas, Vol.2 (Bridge 9497 BridgeRecords.com) and contains four Sonatas, 37, 39, 46 and 48, Hoboken XVI, from the composer’s mid- to late-career years. The immediately arresting thing about McDermott’s playing is her speed and clarity. Her fast tempos are as quick as most performers can manage, yet entirely without loss of articulation. Her phrasings are impeccable and artfully crafted to lift in all the most effective places. She imbues a sense of whimsy and playfulness into Haydn’s music, replacing the too-often heard mechanical approaches that many performers take for the composer. She assumes that the music is already all there and she just needs to find it and reveal it. Even more interesting is the way McDermott brings a kind of retro-romance to Haydn. Imagine Chopin or Debussy playing these, blending the perfection of classicism with the passions of their subsequent eras. It’s a beautiful and fresh approach by a supremely gifted pianist who needs to be more widely heard.

08 Orion WeissOrion Weiss adds a new release to his current handful of recordings with Presentiment (orionwiess.com). Weiss’s program captures the foreboding felt in the years before the First World War. This anxiety is only subtly present in the Granados Goyescas, but Weiss finds it in the music’s shadows and teases it out into the open. He’s a seductive performer; a charmer of sorts. Only in the final two movements does he fully explore what Granados has only been hinting in his earlier pages. Weiss plays Goyescas with an easy lightness that makes many of its phrases pure dance. The best I’ve heard in a long time.

Progressively, more of the early-20th century’s angst reveals itself in Janáček’s In the Mists. Weiss uses the deep melancholy of this work’s plaintive melodies to lead up to the disc’s final piece, Scriabin’s Sonata No.9 Op.68 “Black Mass.” Here there’s no longer any doubt about what the world is about to experience. Weiss portrays it all with a mature and measured confidence.

09 Monica ChewMonica Chew is a gifted player with an affinity for deeply sensitive expression. Her debut recording Tender & Strange – A Piano Recital: Bartok, Janáček, Takemitsu, Messiaen, Scriabin (Chronicalicious CHR 170001 monicachew.com) conveys this in a powerful way and her program title aptly reflects her recital’s intentions. Each of her chosen pieces has some passages where this inner search is evident, but she makes the deepest impression with the Messiaen Le baiser de l’enfant-Jesus. Here she speaks the composer’s language fluently. Similarly, both of Takemitsu’s Rain Tree Sketches capture a contemplative other-worldliness. No.2 in particular, In Memoriam Olivier Messiaen, holds the listener in suspense through its numerous sustained chordal clusters that fade over extended fermatas, each followed by total silence before the next notes sound. Chew plays these final pages of the piece with impeccable timing and musicality.

10 Kabalevsky SonatasMichael Korstick has several dozen recordings to his credit and his latest is Dmitri Kabalevsky – Complete Piano Sonatas (CPO 555 163-2 naxosdirect.com/labels/cpo). Kabalevsky’s piano music suffers the fate of being overshadowed by that of other Russian contemporaries like Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff, but the artistic commitment of performers like Korstick and labels like CPO make this music both available and worth hearing. Kabalevsky’s three sonatas are his only efforts for solo piano in a large form. The first dates from 1927 and the other two from 1945 and 1946 respectively. Kabalevsky wrote the Sonata No.2 Op.45 for Emil Gilels, who premiered it in the Soviet Union in 1945. Vladimir Horowitz performed the American premiere at Carnegie Hall in 1947. It’s the most engaging of the three sonatas, with some devilishly difficult passages in the final movement. On the whole, it’s a beautifully written piece and offers so much that repeated plays are a necessity. Korstick does a fabulous job performing it.

11 Nagy AngelusOrganist and composer Zvonimir Nagy has a new recording of his recent works. Angelus – Music for Organ (Ravello Records RR7987 ravellorecords.com) begins with the title track Angelus, and establishes the profoundly meditative nature of this disc’s program. The recording was made on the four-division pipe organ in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, where Nagy is associate professor of music. It’s a modestly sized instrument and well-balanced for the acoustic space the chapel offers.

There is a marked minimalism in Nagy’s writing. He uses the instrument’s broad dynamic range and colourful stop list to create some very beautiful moments. Even while he concentrates on form, writing movements that are inversions and retrogrades of each other, he is always focused on creating the meditative atmosphere he wants for works like Litanies of the Soul and Preludes for a Prayer.

12 Melnikov Debussy coverAlexander Melnikov is a graduate of the Moscow Conservatory. His new recording Claude Debussy – Préludes du 2e Livre, La Mer (Debussy version for four-hand piano) (Harmonia Mundi HMM 902302 harmoniamundi.com) includes pianist Olga Pashchenko in the transcription of La Mer.

Debussy accepted his publisher’s request to write the transcription, and created a work that blends an astonishing amount of orchestral colour into the capabilities of a single keyboard with two players. Melnikov and Pashchenko are wonderful partners in this recording. They play with a deeply shared artistic sensibility and deliver both the power and rich palette of the orchestral score.

Melnikov plays the Préludes Book II leaving the impression that he understands exactly what Debussy intended to convey. His technique is impressively clean and crisp, and his interpretations are completely convincing. He plays with great attention to colour and emotion, and takes advantage of Debussy’s frequent harmonic densities and other devices to make this a completely captivating disc. Melnikov favours authenticity in performance and has chosen to play an Érard in this recording. 

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