01 Viola BorealisOn Viola Borealis the outstanding violist Marina Thibeault explores musical links between several northern cultures. Nicolas Ellis conducts Montreal’s Orchestre de l’Agora (ATMA Classique ACD2 2811 atmaclassique.com/en).

The main work here is the striking 2016 Viola Concerto by Lithuanian composer Pēteris Vasks. Thibeault gave the North American premiere in 2019, Vasks calling her playing “truly excellent – she has captured my message.” High praise indeed, and fully warranted.

Reckoning was originally a series of six improvisations for violin with pedal effects by the Anishinaabe composer Melody McKiver. Two brief sections from a transcription for solo viola are included here, with harmonics and bowing techniques replacing the electronic effects.

A spirited performance of Telemann’s Viola Concerto in G Major, generally considered to be the first ever written for the instrument, completes a fine CD.

Listen to 'Viola Borealis' Now in the Listening Room

02 Ramjattan InspirationsOn Inspirations: New Music for Solo Guitar the Toronto-based classical guitarist Daniel Ramjattan presents a recital of works by composers based in Canada, played on a seven-string left-handed guitar (danielramjattan.bandcamp.com).

Patrick Roux’s lovely Valse Vertigo is from 1994, but the other five works were all written between 2012 and 2020. John Gordon Armstrong’s Five Inspirations from 2018 opens the disc, and is one of three premiere recordings here, the others being Stephanie Orlando’s Soon (2020) and Luis Ramirez’s Singularity (for guitar and audio) from 2019. The Gamelan Suite was written by Ramjattan’s wife Naoko Tsujita in 2019; the CD closes with the really attractive four-movement Catharsis, written by cellist/composer Raphael Weinroth-Browne in 2012. 

There’s beautifully clean playing from Ramjattan, perfectly captured at The Church of St. Mary Magdalene, Toronto, by guitarist Drew Henderson, whose recording, mixing and mastering is, as always, simply as good as it gets.

Listen to 'Inspirations: New Music for Solo Guitar' Now in the Listening Room

03 Boyd meets girlboyd meets girl: Songs of Love & Despair is the second duo album from the husband-and-wife team of American cellist Laura Metcalf and Australian guitarist Rupert Boyd; the first was reviewed here in September 2017 (Sono Luminus DSL-92255 sonoluminus.com).

It’s another project born in the COVID-19 lockdown, and includes five of their own arrangements: Debussy’s Arabesque No.1; Florence Price’s The Deserted Garden; Beyoncé’s Pray You Catch Me (with vocalise); Radiohead’s Daydreaming (with extended techniques); and Paul McCartney’s Blackbird. Eleanor Rigby is here too, as are Schubert’s Gretchen am Spinnrade (with lovely guitar work) and Boccherini’s Sonata in A Major.

Robert Beaser’s Mountain Songs features four of his set of eight Appalachian folk tunes, and there are world-premiere recordings of two terrific new works – Marián Budoš’ A New York Minute and Paul Brantley’s Filles de l’Élysée. Messiaen’s Praise to the Eternity of Jesus, from his Quatuor de la fin du temps, completes another delightful disc, full of warmth and top-notch playing.

04 Ibragimova MendelssohnThe electrifying duo of violinist Alina Ibragimova and pianist Cédric Tiberghien is back with another superb recital on Mendelssohn Violin Sonatas (Hyperion CDA68322 hyperion-records.co.uk/dc.asp?dc=D_CDA68322).

While only the Beethoven-influenced Sonata in F Minor Op.4 from 1823 was published, three others remained in manuscript: the Sonata in F Major MWV Q7 from 1820; the single-movement fragment Sonata in D MWV Q18 from the late 1820s; and the substantial Sonata in F Major MWV Q26 from 1838, intended for Ferdinand David. Mendelssohn left an unfinished revision of the first movement of the latter work, with the 2009 bicentenary published edition containing both versions; the original is used here.

Mendelssohn was an excellent violinist, so it is no surprise that these are much more than merely competent works. Ibragimova and Tiberghien are as good as ever, with terrific ensemble playing and technical brilliance, especially in the typically dazzling scherzo-like finales.

05 Yevgeny KutikOn The Death of Juliet and Other Tales: Music of Prokofiev violinist Yevgeny Kutik presents a recital inspired by his teacher Roman Totenberg’s story of a chance encounter with Prokofiev in a Paris nightclub, and reflecting Kutik’s belief that Russian folklore imbues all of Prokofiev’s music. The pianist is Anna Polonsky (Marquis MAR623 marquisclassics.com/index.html).

Arrangements of five Russian folk melodies commissioned specifically for the album – three for solo violin (including Kalinka) and two with piano (including Song of the Volga Boatmen) – are built around two Prokofiev works: the exquisite Parting Scene and Death of Juliet from Romeo and Juliet and the Sonata in D Major for Solo Violin Op.115, the latter given a fascinating reading with a much freer opening Moderato than you normally hear. The Violin Sonata No.2 in D Major Op.94bis closes the disc.

Kutik has a gorgeous tone and a great feel for line and phrase, and is ably supported by Polonsky.

06 Bach GoltzGottfried van der Goltz is the violinist on Johann Sebastian Bach Sonatas for Violin and Continuo, with excellent support from cellist Annekatrin Beller and harpsichordist Torsten Johann (Aparte AP276 apartemusic.com/?lang=en).

Note: these are not the six sonatas for violin and keyboard, but works from what Goltz calls the “grey area” of Bach’s catalogue – compositions, sometimes difficult to authenticate, that were described in vague terms and mostly scattered after Bach’s death.

Four works here are presented as authentic, although it looks as if the Gavotte in G Minor should also have been: the Sonata in G Major BWV1021, preserved in a score written by Bach and his wife Anna Magdalena; the Sonata in E Minor BWV1023; the Sonata in C Minor BWV1024 (although the attribution is disputed); and the Fugue in G Minor BWV1026. The Sonata in A Major BWV Anh.II 153 is almost certainly by Georg Philipp Telemann, and the Sonata in C Minor from around 1720 is listed as “Anonymous.”

The question of authenticity, however, never detracts from a quite superb and beautifully recorded recital of terrific Baroque music.

07 Daniel Hope America jpegOn Daniel Hope – America the violinist explores America’s musical heritage in new arrangements by Paul Bateman (Deutsche Grammophon140049 deutschegrammophon.com/en/artists/danielhope).

Most of the tracks are for violin and string orchestra, featuring the Zürcher Kammerorchester in the five-piece Gershwin Song Suite, selections from Bernstein’s West Side Story, Florence Price’s Adoration, Copland’s Long Time Ago, At the River and Hoedown, Kurt Weill’s September Song, My Ship, Speak Low and Mack the Knife, Duke Ellington’s Come Sunday and Samuel Ward’s America the Beautiful. The Marcus Roberts jazz piano trio joins Hope for the Gershwin, and jazz singer Joy Denalone and pianist Sylvia Thereza are the collaborators on Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come.

The effectiveness of the arrangements varies, but as usual Hope is in great form and perfectly at ease in this style of music.

08 Sibelius NielsenThe young Norwegian violinist Johan Dalene, winner of the 2019 Carl Nielsen Competition follows up last year’s first recital disc with an outstanding concerto CD with Sibelius Nielsen Violin Concertos, with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra under John Storgårds (BIS-2620 bis.se).

The composers were both born in 1865 and were excellent violinists, but their concertos, while written within seven years of each other, are markedly different in style. The Sibelius Concerto in D Minor Op.47 from 1904 is in the traditional three-movement form, while Nielsen’s Concerto Op.33 from 1911 is in two movements, each with slow and fast sections.

Dalene has a bright but not huge tone and technique to burn, and puts a quite individual stamp on both works, always sensitive in the Nielsen and simply dancing through the upper register challenges in the Sibelius.

09 Rautavaara Lost LandscapesThe final four orchestral works of Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara (1928-2016) are presented on Lost Landscapes: Works for Violin and Orchestra, a really sumptuous CD featuring violinist Simone Lamsma and the Malmö Symphony Orchestra under Robert Trevino (Ondine ODE 1405-2 naxosdirect.com/search/ode+1405-2).

The beautiful Fantasia from 2015 was written for violinist Anne Akiko Meyers. Deux Sérénades was written in 2016 at the request of Hilary Hahn; the second movement was left unfinished at the composer’s death, with the orchestration completed by Rautavaara’s 1970s student Kalevi Aho in 2018.

The four-movement Lost Landscapes, a revisiting of locations that were important to the composer in his youth was originally a 2005 violin and piano work for Midori, adapted by Rautavaara for violin and string orchestra in 2013-14. Simone Lamsma was the soloist at the full premiere in Malmö in 2021. Lost Landscapes is a world-premiere recording, as is the short orchestral piece In the Beginning from 2015.

10 Magdalena HoffmannThe modern concert harp weighs about 40 kilos, has 47 strings and seven pedals used to raise their pitch, and requires foot as well as manual dexterity, all of which makes the beautifully nuanced and virtuosic performances by Magdalena Hoffmann on Nightscapes for Harp, her debut album on the DG label, all the more remarkable (Deutsche Grammophon 4861724 deutschegrammophon.com/en/artists/magdalena-hoffmann).

Both original works and piano pieces transcribed by Hoffmann are featured in a delightful recital. Britten’s Suite in C Major Op.83 with its Notturno middle movement is the central work in a program that includes Notturno movements by Respighi and Clara Schumann, two Nocturnes by John Field, a Nocturne and three Waltzes by Chopin, Pizzetti’s Sogno and the Nocturne for Left Hand Alone by the American jazz pianist Fred Hersch.

For pure wow factor, though, the Danse des Lutins by the French harpist Henriette Renié, Marcel Tournier’s La danse du Moujik and Jean-Michel Damase’s Fantaisie on Tales of Hoffmann are simply stunning.

11 Schubert ModiglianiSchubert wrote string quartets for almost his entire life, with 15 surviving works composed between 1810 or 1811, when he was 13 or 14, and 1826, less than two years before his death; at least another four or five are lost. The complete canon is available in a new 5CD box set of Schubert – The String Quartets in immensely satisfying performances by the Quatuor Modigliani (Mirare MIR588 mirare.fr/catalogue).

The quartets are creatively grouped in threes with a common thread, the five volumes being labelled Harmony, The Art of Song, The Classical Spirit, Sentiments of the Soul and Light and Shadow. Melissa Khong’s excellent booklet essay and the generous spacing between the tracks add to an excellent release.

12 Ruperto Chapi String Quartets 3 4The Spanish composer Ruperto Chapí (1851-1909), known essentially as a composer of zarzuelas, only became interested in chamber music late in life, starting his four string quartets in 1903. The last two of them are featured in performances by the Cuarteto Latinoamericano on Ruperto Chapí String Quartets 3 & 4 (Sono Luminus DSL-92254 sonoluminus.com).

There had been virtually no Spanish string quartet music, ensembles or societies in the 75 years preceding 1901, when the Sociédad Filarmónica and the Cuarteto Francés were both founded in Madrid. Chapí’s third and fourth quartets were premiered by the Cuarteto Francés in 1905 and 1907 respectively.

Described as brilliantly funnelling the colour of the zarzuela into the string quartet genre, they are attractive, substantial and well-written works that present frequent technical challenges to the performers. The Cuarteto Latinoamericano, founded in Mexico in 1982, is in its element here in full-blooded performances.

13 20C CelloOn his second volume of 20th Century Music for Cello cellist Benjamin Whitcomb gives solid performances of four works for the solo instrument (MSR Classics MA 1798 msrcd.com).

The works are Hindemith’s 1922 Cello Sonata Op.25 No.3, Ernest Bloch’s 1956 Suite No.1, Gaspar Cassadó’s 1926 Suite for Solo Cello and Britten’s Suite No.2 Op.80 from 1967.

Whitcomb has a broad, rather strident tone that tends to lack warmth at times in these competent readings, although there’s the occasional moment – especially in the Cassadó – where the intonation seems somewhat less than secure.

01 SopraSopra La Spagna
La Spagna; Alejandro Marías
Lukos Records 5451CRE201665 (laspagna.es)

Ambitious is perhaps the best word to describe this CD. The mass Agnus Dei was set to many tunes. One of them was the already very well-known Basse Danse La Spagna which subsequently became a setting for Agnus Dei throughout Europe. The ensemble on this CD has even taken La Spagna as its own name. In addition, it has sought to record here as many versions of La Spagna as it can find.

Sometimes the settings are complex. It needs a composer of the calibre of Francesco Canova da Milano to write a complex lute variant, and yet sometimes there is a lively – very lively – simplicity, as in Francisco de la Torre’s version. In the latter all but one of La Spagna’s seven musicians perform, accompanied not least by the pronounced percussion-playing of Daniel Garay.

This contrast between the intense and the spirited is borne out in the suite of six Recercadas sobre la Spagna by Diego Ortiz. Alejandro Marías digs deep into his command of the viola da gamba to interpret these demanding settings. 

La Spagna have been painstaking in their research. They have even uncovered A Spanish Humour, set by Tobias Hume. Hume must have been highly skillful in his talents; he had to be in one of them as he served as a mercenary! Which might account for the explosive introductory bars of his variation... 

It is very difficult to decide which setting of La Spagna is the most thoughtful or the most uplifting. If I had to choose, it would be that by de la Torre, with its loyalty to the intense quality of this sacred composition.

02 Handel Francesco Corti Handel – Winged Hands, The Eight Great Suites and Overtures
Francesco Corti
Arcana A499 (naxosdirect.com/search/a499) 

Interpretations of Handel’s Eight Great Suites have long been popular – and frequently recorded on either piano or harpsichord. The choice of instrument was made for Francesco Corti as his whole career has been with the latter. And it is his virtuoso playing which is showcased on this CD.

Note from the beginning of the Gigue in the first Great Suite; a gigue may be written off as a whimsical moment casually tacked onto a supposedly more serious set of movements but in this case Corti breathes dedication and meaning into his performance.  

There are 39 movements to the Great Suites. Selecting those that most bring out Corti’s mastery of the harpsichord is difficult. I thoroughly enjoyed his interpretation of No 6. There is a real dignity to his Presto, contrasted by the concluding Gigue

Corti’s demonstrated mastery is not confined to the suites however. The Ouverture [largo] to Rodelinda commences – and ends – with his imparting a glissando flourish which bookends Handel’s Presto and Adagio, themselves played with real spirit. 

Finally, Babell’s First Set in F Major gives an all-too-tantalizing glimpse into those all-too-many composers who flourished in Handel’s time but were overshadowed by him.

This is the third recording of the Great Suites I have reviewed for The WholeNote. Conti’s interpretation exemplifies why I will never tire of this Handel masterpiece.

03 CPE BachCPE Bach – Sonatas & Rondos
Marc-Andre Hamelin
Hyperion Records CDA68381 (hyperion-records.co.uk/dw.asp?dc=W22447_68381)

“He is the father and we are the children. Anybody who knows anything at all learned it from him.” Lofty words of praise indeed coming from no less a figure than Mozart in reference – not to JS Bach as we might assume – but to his second surviving son Carl Philipp Emanuel. Born in Weimar in 1714, CPE Bach was an accomplished composer and performer. His extensive keyboard output included 400 solo sonatas, fantasias and other works, all of it demonstrating considerable innovation and impeccable craftsmanship exemplified here in this two-disc Hyperion recording of sonatas and rondos performed by Marc-André Hamelin. 

The 56 tracks – a true choice of riches – follow Bach’s compositional career from 1725 to 1787 and what is particularly striking is the diversity in musical style these pieces contain, all within a classical framework. Some of them, such as the Sonata in E Minor Wq59/1 and the Rondo in E Major Wq58/3 show tendencies towards the north German “expressive style” with sudden changes in tempo and key signature while others like the Arioso with Seven Variations in C Major Wq118/10 are pure galanterie.

Throughout, Hamelin performs with a polished assurance, his playing at all times thoughtfully nuanced. His flawless technique particularly comes to the fore in such works as the presto finale of the Fantasia in C Major Wq61/6.

This recording is an exemplary addition to the catalogue. Not only does it shine light on music that deserves greater recognition, but it proves – if proof is needed – that despite Hamelin’s usual focus on virtuosic 19th-century repertoire, he is a master at anything he decides to approach. Excellent notes and attractive packaging are further bonuses.

04 Cristina Gómez Mozart BarenboimMozart; Strauss – Oboe Concertos
Cristina Gómez Godoy; West-Eastern Divan Orchestra; Daniel Barenboim
Warner Classics (warnerclassics.com/release/mozart-strauss-oboe-concertos) 

Oboist Cristina Gómez Godoy enchants listeners on Mozart & Strauss Oboe Concertos. Directed by Daniel Barenboim, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra skillfully manoeuvres both works with chamber music-like sensitivity. Although these two pieces are an unusual pairing for an album, they are the staple of every oboist’s musical library. Gómez Godoy chose to record these two concertos because they are what made her fall in love with the instrument.

The Mozart Oboe Concerto is played in a buoyant and elegant style, mixing in many passages from the near-identical Flute Concerto in D Major. Gómez Godoy has a beautiful, ringing tone and shows a sophisticated yet charming sense of musical style and phrasing.  

Written in 1945, Strauss’ Oboe Concerto was one of his last works. Often a feat of endurance for the soloist, this concerto combines long, soaring musical lines with intimate conversations with solo woodwinds. The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, where Gómez Godoy is principal oboe, shows a great understanding of supportive and chamber roles. In this beautiful rendition of she shows great control and musical maturity.

05 Mozart BeausejourMozart – Famous Sonatas and Fantasia for Fortepiano
Luc Beauséjour
Analekta AN 2 8931 (analekta.com/en)

Chasing mastery in classical music performance is, undoubtedly, a lifelong endeavour. Once you add in the level of required specificity of technique, musical gesture, understanding of repertoire and the historically mediated instrumental touch demanded by an adherence to period piece performance, you end up with an important, but small collection of musicians whose dedication as both curators and custodians of the music of the past, as well individuals who contribute to a slowly, but ever growing, corpus of interpretations, variations and understandings of these canonical works, are worthy of praise, support and attention. 

Quebec’s Luc Beauséjour, who both administratively as the artistic director of the ensemble Clavecin en Concert, and performatively, as evidenced by his most recent Analekta release of Mozart’s Sonatas and Fantasia for Fortepiano, numbers among this committed group. His efforts to demonstrate the continued meaningfulness and relevance of the harpsichord, organ, and here, the Italian fortepiano – Mozart’s favourite – we learn in François Filiatrault’s informative liner notes, are showcased in this soulful and terrific release. 

Beautifully captured in Mirabel, Quebec’s Saint Augustine Church, this recording is bound to be appreciated in equal parts for Beauséjour’s supreme talent, the haunting clarity of this instrument – invented in the early 18th century but effervescent and alive in Beauséjour’s 2022 handling of Mozart’s frozen improvisations – as well as the beautiful recorded ambiance of a simple neighbourhood cathedral that acts as an additional performer and contributes mightily to the success of this disc.

06 Beethoven Rachel PodgerBeethoven – Violin Sonatas Opp.12/1; 24; 96
Rachel Podger; Christopher Glynn
Channel Classics CCSSA44222 (channelclassics.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/44222.pdf) 

Recorded in May, 2021 on the “Maurin” Stradivari (1718) and an Érard fortepiano, this new recording of familiar repertoire from Rachel Podger and Christopher Glynn is full of fanciful joy, assured playing and great intelligence. Unlike Beethoven’s string quartet output, which stretches across all the periods of his remarkable career, his ten sonatas for piano and violin were written in a shorter span of time – between 1797 and 1812. The three on this disc include the first, the last and the most popular, all in major keys and all given beautifully imaginative performances. Opus 24 in F Major “Spring” is particularly thoughtful, with exciting tempi and full of conversational, intimate ensemble playing.
In a recent feature in The Strad magazine, Podger and Glynn spoke about this recording project with insight, Podger commenting that “I find it fascinating to play Beethoven after having pretty much only lived with and around earlier music. What I’ve enjoyed so much is finding the places where he’s being an 18th- and early-19th-century artist, and where and how he breaks free of those shackles.” 

Indeed, both players bring a fresh approach and wide array of colours and improvisatory spirit to the performances. A recent all-Beethoven Wigmore Hall recital by Podger and Glynn is still available on YouTube and well worth experiencing.

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