01_daughertyThe Montreal violinist Alexandre Da Costa is back with another outstanding CD of contemporary works, this time with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal under Pedro Halffter in Fire and Blood, featuring the music of the American composer Michael Daugherty (Acacia Classics ACA 2 0931). The title work is a violin concerto from 2003; commissioned by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, it was inspired by the “Detroit Industry” murals at the Detroit Institute of Art, painted in the early 1930s by the Mexican artist Diego Rivera on a commission from Edsel Ford. The opening movement – “Volcano” – invokes the fires of Mexican volcanoes and the blaze of factory furnaces. The beautiful second movement – “River Rouge” – is named for the Ford complex where Rivera spent several months sketching with his wife, artist Frida Kahlo; her long-term serious health problems – she almost died from a miscarriage while in Detroit with her husband – resulted in “the color of blood” being everywhere in her works of that period. The third movement – “Assembly Line” – is described by the composer as “a roller coaster ride on a conveyor belt,” with the violin representing the worker surrounded by a mechanical and metallic orchestra that includes a ratchet and brake drums! It’s stunning stuff with wonderful orchestration. It’s difficult to imagine it being performed any better. Two shorter works complete the CD: Flamingo, for two tambourines and orchestra; and Ladder to the Moon, for violin, wind octet, double bass and percussion. Da Costa is again outstanding in the latter, a two-movement work also inspired by art – this time a musical tribute to Georgia O’Keeffe’s 1925-30 paintings of New York skyscrapers and the Manhattan cityscape.

02_ehnes_tchaikovskyThe latest CD from Canada’s James Ehnes sees him paired with the Sydney Symphony and Vladimir Ashkenazy in an all-Tchaikovsky programme recorded live at Australia’s Sydney Opera House in December 2010 (ONYX 4076). I was lucky enough to catch this same team in a memorable performance of the Elgar violin concerto in Sydney in 2009, and it’s no surprise to find them continuing their relationship. Ashkenazy was also the conductor for the Ehnes CD of the Mendelssohn concerto in 2010. The Violin Concerto is obviously the main work here, and it’s a terrific performance, with Ashkenazy drawing idiomatic playing from the orchestra, and Ehnes always managing to find something fresh to say in the solo part while making the technical difficulties sound easy. The two other works with orchestra, the Sérénade mélancolique Op.26, and the Valse-scherzo Op.34, receive equally compelling performances from all concerned.

Ashkenazy returns to his first profession as pianist for the final work, accompanying Ehnes in the three-movement Souvenir d’un lieu cher Op.42. Again, the mutual understanding is there for all to hear. It’s another terrific addition to the already impressive Ehnes discography.

03_christian_tetzlaffThere are more live recordings featured on the latest CD from Christian Tetzlaff (ONDINE ODE 1195-2) which features the Violin Concertos of Mendelssohn and Schumann, with Paavo Järvi conducting the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra. Tetzlaff was artist in residence with the orchestra when the recordings were made in September 2008 and February 2009. The Mendelssohn is a beautiful performance, never over-played, with an affecting slow movement and a finale that displays detailed, subtle and sensitive playing without ever losing a sense of line. The Schumann concerto has had a troubled history and waited 84 years for its eventual premiere in 1937. The beautiful slow movement is its saving grace, but the opening movement material is not the greatest, and with its demanding technical difficulty it’s not hard to see why the concerto continues to struggle to enter the mainstream repertoire. Tetzlaff, however, does a lovely job with this work, as he does with the Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra, which was also written in 1853 and quickly fell out of favour. It was originally felt to be a brilliant and cheerful piece, but Schumann’s mental illness and death within three years seemed to change the public perception of the work. In this repertoire, though, Tetzlaff is up against stiff competition from Ulf Wallin, whose definitive performances of these works on the BIS label were reviewed in depth in the September 2011 Strings Attached column.

04_jasperThe Kernis Project: Beethoven is the title of a new CD from a young American ensemble, the Jasper String Quartet (Sono Luminus DSL-92142). It pairs the Beethoven Op.59, No.3 with the String Quartet No.2 musica instrumentalis, by American composer Aaron Jay Kernis, the last movement of which is based on the finale of the Beethoven quartet. The Jasper Quartet gives a full-blooded, committed reading of the Beethoven, but the real treasure here is the Kernis. The three-movement work, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1998, is an absolute stunner: deep, strong, rich,accessible. There are shades of Shostakovich in the slow movement, and the finale – “Double Triple Gigue Fugue (after Beethoven)” – is truly exhilarating. Although it wasn’t written for them, the Jasper Quartet comment that this was a work they connected with “right from the start.” It’s easy to hear why, and to share their connection. How reassuring – and what a thrill – to hear contemporary works that can hold their own against the classics.

05_river_of_lightKernis also turns up on River of LightAmerican Short Works for Violin and Piano, a new Naxos release in the superb American Classics series (Naxos 8.559662). The title is slightly misleading, as two of the works – Philip Glass’ “Knee Play 2” from Einstein on the Beach and Patrick Zimmerli’s three-movement The Light Guitar – are for violin solo. Virtually all of the works are by living composers and written within the last 35 years, the exception being the 1953 Wistful Piece by Ruth Shaw Wylie, who died in 1989. Lev Zhurbin’s Sicilienne, Jennifer Higdon’s Legacy, Zimmerli’s piece and Richard Danielpour’s title track River of Light are all world premiere recordings. The Kernis Air, Kevin Puts’ Aria and William Bolcom’s Graceful Ghost Rag complete a fascinating and predominantly lyrical programme. The American violinist Tim Fain, who was recently featured in the movie Black Swan, is in his element here, as much at home in the frenetic Glass piece as in the lyrical beauty of the Puts, Kernis and Zhurbin works. Fain grew up playing the standard 19thcentury short virtuoso pieces, and sees this CD as bringing the tradition into the present. Pianist Pei-Yao Wang is a perfect partner in music that is always thought-provoking and immensely satisfying, without ever resorting to the merely virtuosic.

06_bowen_violaEnglish viola music has already been well-served by the Naxos label, and now there’s a new CD featuring the Viola Sonatas Nos.1 and 2 and the Phantasy of Edwin York Bowen in performances by the Bridge Duo (Naxos 8.572580). York Bowen, born in 1884, was a prodigiously-gifted musician and an outstanding composer, but – as was the case with several other British composers – his style came to be considered outdated in the years following the Great War. Bowen worked closely with Lionel Tertis, the man who was almost single-handedly responsible for establishing the viola as a legitimate solo instrument: Tertis premiered Bowen’s Viola Concerto in 1908, as well as these two sonatas a few years earlier. Both sonatas, No.1 in C Minor and No.2 in F Major, date from 1905. They are marvellous works, quintessentially English and exhibiting great strength and variety. The single-movement Phantasy was written in 1918 and was Bowen’s entry in the annual W. W. Cobbett Phantasy composition competition that produced so many outstanding English works. Tertis saw no reason to treat writing for the viola any differently than writing for the violin and as a result all three works are technically very challenging, a fact that no doubt contributed to their somewhat sparse performance history until fairly recently. The Bridge Duo – violist Matthew Jones and pianist Michael Hampton – are fully up to the challenge in a beautifully-recorded disc that makes a fine companion to their recital of English Music for Viola (Naxos 8.572579).

07_jongenThere is more viola music – again from a mostly overlooked composer and with another link to Tertis – on the CD of the Complete Works for Viola & Piano by Joseph Jongen (FUGA LIBERA FUG586). Jongen, born in 1873, was also a precociously-gifted musician, and met Tertis in London in 1914 after fleeing from occupied Belgium at the outbreak of the Great War. He also knew the great French viola player Maurice Vieux in the 1920s. Like Bowen, Jongen was a craftsman who produced works of the highest order, but whose reputation suffered as musical styles evolved through the middle of the 20th century. Both Tertis and Vieux were prominent in establishing the viola as a legitimate solo instrument, and both had a huge influence on Jongen’s viola works – and on their technical difficulty. The young Belgian violist Nathan Braude is simply outstanding in a recital that includes Jongen’s Allegro appassionato Op.79 from 1925, the Introduction & Danse Op.102 from 1935, the Concertino Op.111 from 1940, the two-movement Suite Op.48 and the Andante espressivo. His tone is deep and warm in the lower register, and brilliant and bright, though never thin or lacking in strength, in the upper register. Technically he is flawless and never less than completely musical. He is supported by some terrific piano playing by Jean-Claude Vanden Eynden, who not only has his work cut out in the viola works, but also supplies outstanding performances of the two excellent piano solo pieces that complete the CD: the second Étude de concert Op.65 No.2 and the Soleil à midi Op.33 No.1. The booklet notes make an impassioned plea – and a strong case – for a reassessment of Jongen’s music, and of his place in 20th century music. The charming and beautiful works on this CD make an even stronger one.

08a_haydn_7108b_haydn_74The ever-reliable Hyperion label has issued two CDs by the Takács Quartet of String Quartets of Joseph Haydn, one featuring the three quartets Op.71 and the other the three quartets Op.74 (Hyperion CDA67781 and CDA67793). All six works were written in Vienna between Haydn’s visits to London in 1791-2 and 1794 and were clearly written for public – as opposed to private – performance, following the success of his Op.64 quartets at the Salomon subscription concerts in London. The Takács Quartet plays with precision, warmth and richness, as you would expect, but the real stars here are the works themselves, amply demonstrating the inexhaustible wit, humour and invention for which Haydn is so justly noted.

01_Mozart_HewittMozart - Piano Concertos 6, 8 & 9

Angela Hewitt; Orchestra da Camera di Mantova

Hyperion CDA67840

Has it really been 26 years since Angela Hewitt made the world sit up and take notice as the winner of the Toronto International Bach Competition? Since then, the Ottawa native (now based in London) has gone on to achieve international fame through her interpretations of such diverse composers as Bach, Couperin, Ravel and Messiaen (himself one of the judges in the competition). This newest Hyperion release features three early piano concertos by Mozart, the nucleus of a proposed project to record all 27. Together with the Orchestra da Camera di Mantova, under the leadership of Carlo Fabiano, Hewitt proves that she is as at home with Mozart as she is with music from the baroque or late romantic period. The disc is a gem! Her playing is stylish and elegant, demonstrating well-articulated phrasing and a refined sensitivity to the technical demands, while the 29-member ensemble constitutes a formidable musical partner.

These concertos were all written before Mozart was 22 and, not surprisingly, contain a mood of youthful optimism. Yet the music is not all galanterie. Indeed, for me, the highlight of the recording is surely the slow movement from the Concerto No.9, a work completed in January 1777 for Victoire Jenamy, the daughter of the famed choreographer Jean-Georges Noverre. Here, the sombre and elegiac mood is so perfectly evoked that I can’t help but envision a country churchyard in late autumn, the bare tree branches silhouetted against a grey sky. Sunshine returns with the jubilant finale – among the only concerto movements Mozart wrote in which the soloist begins before the orchestra – thus bringing this pleasing disc to a close. Bravissimo a tutti on a fine performance – we look forward to others in the series.

02_Fialkowska_LisztLiszt Recital

Janina Fialkowska

ATMA ACD2 2641

Canadian pianist of world renown, Janina Fialkowska made an heroic recovery from cancer in 2002 and bravely returned to her brilliant career. Although primarily known for her Chopin interpretations she now surprises us with a full blown Liszt recital. A sensitively selected program of not-so-well-known works of enormous difficulty played with tremendous skill, masculine power, stamina and charming feminine grace would sum up this very successful issue. Interestingly, only two of the pieces are original Liszt compositions. All the others are transcriptions, or rather complete reworkings, of Schubert, Chopin and even Gounod, all propelled into Liszt’s magical sound world.

First an elegant Waltz by Schubert from Soirées de Vienne, greatly extended by Liszt’s cascading fioraturas is dashed off with superb panache. Next comes original Liszt, Benediction de Dieu dans la Solitude, a deeply religious piece that reminds me of the Petrarca Sonnets with most heartfelt and beautifully built up melodies. The “Polish Connection” brings a rarely heard set of six songs by Chopin put into piano settings and dedicated to Liszt’s paramour, Polish princess Carolyne. They include virtuoso mazurkas, tender nocturnes and a wild, stormy finale that thunders along like the Revolutionary Etude.

The final portion of the disc dedicated to Goethe’s Faust is represented by a piano transcription of the second movement (Gretchen) of the Faust Symphony. Fialowska’s sensitive, deeply felt and fully understood performance sounds even better on the piano than with full orchestra. Here one can concentrate on the girlish longings of its simple melody followed by the more menacing themes of Faust. The two in combination build to a passionate climax like a love duet.

A sumptuous paraphrase of the delightful waltz from Gounod’s Faust brings us to a brilliant close. Liszt sums it up by saying that, “in the compass of the piano’s seven octaves it includes the entire scope of the orchestra, and the 10 fingers of a single man suffice to render all the harmonies produced by the concurrence of over a hundred concerted instruments.”

03_BusoniBusoni - Piano Concerto

Roberto Cappello; Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma; Francesco La Vecchia

Naxos 8.572523

Ferruccio Busoni’s gigantic Piano Concerto (1902-1904) is rarely performed in concert due to its lengthy duration (c. 80 minutes), super-human demands on the soloist and the unusual incorporation of an invisible male chorus singing a Hymn to Allah in the finale of the work. It is stylistically unorthodox as well, with the piano cast as more of a commentator on the ongoing symphonic events rather than the usual self-centred protagonist. It has fared well on disc however, with multiple releases following the landmark 1968 performance by the legendary Busoni champion John Ogdon.

The present disc features the rarely recorded Italian pianist Roberto Cappello in a truly spectacular display of the challenging amalgam of power, energy and nobility the score demands. Balances in this production are straightforward, emphasizing the elaborate piano writing with a judicious mixing of the orchestra. The Rome Symphony Orchestra proves itself a proficient partner, though the attention to dynamics and voicing by conductor Francesco La Vecchia is tenuous. To truly appreciate the finesse of Busoni’s orchestration I would recommend the 1989 Telarc recording by pianist Garrick Ohlssohn with Christoph von Dohnányi leading the incomparable Cleveland Orchestra. That being said, at this price one need not be too picky and the soloist is indeed truly magnificent. Thank you Naxos for making this awesome leviathan of a concerto more widely available.

04_BrucknerBruckner - Symphony No.7

Bayerischen Staatsorchester; Kent Nagano

Sony Classical 88697909452

The critic Edouard Hanslick ridiculed Bruckner so much that when he was decorated by the Emperor and asked if there was anything he could do for him, Bruckner naively answered (I paraphrase), “please, Majesty, do something with this Hanslick, he is making my life miserable!” Seriously though, little Bruckner, the Austrian country bumpkin kept writing his symphonies one after another not really caring what the world was thinking about them but by the time he wrote the Symphony No.7 in E major the world was noticing. The rest is history as the rather hackneyed expression goes.

Indeed Bruckner is enjoying a tremendous renaissance these days. What was at one time the sole territory of the great German-Austrian tradition, with venerable old conductors like Klemperer, Celibidache, Schuricht, Wand, Karajan and others is now the property of a new generation no longer German nor old, let alone venerable.

One of these is Kent Nagano and this new recording by Sony Classical makes us listen with renewed interest. It is so fresh and exciting and indeed unpredictable that it is as if we have never heard the symphony before. From the first bars on, where the theme appears as if it has descended from heaven (in fact it came to Bruckner in a dream) with a pianissimo tremolando in the violins generating tension, the first movement builds with a sense of inevitability culminating in a magnificent peroration in the brass. The second, the essence of the work and one of the most beautiful adagios ever written, simply glows and the famous climax with the cymbal crash is overwhelming. The typical Brucknerian scherzo thumps along merrily like Fafner and Fasolt albeit with a sensuous lyrical trio interlude, perhaps reminding us of Fasolt’s love for the goddess Freia.

The finale is always a stumbling block for conductors but with a faster than usual tempo Nagano resolves the problem and the symphony ends in an outburst of glory.

05_SchoenbergSchoenberg – Orchestral Works

Berliner Philharmoniker; Simon Rattle

EMI Classics 4 57815 2

This fantastic new album juxtaposes three quite different sides of the composer Arnold Schoenberg in superlative performances by Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic. The earliest of the compositions, the 1907 Chamber Symphony No.1 Op.9, is a crucial work in the composer’s oeuvre, marking his first forays towards an expanded harmonic palette. Though originally conceived for a chamber ensemble of 15 solo instruments, the composer later decided the sound of the five string players was too easily swamped by the wind ensemble and prepared an alternate version (Op.9b) in 1935 incorporating a full string section. Performances of this symphonic version remain quite rare however, and it is quite a treat to have this late Romantic score so convincingly interpreted. The Accompanying Music for a Film Scene Op. 34 was composed in 1930 on commission from his publisher. It is a curious work in that the horrific silent movie scenario Schoenberg had in mind was completely imaginary. Though conceived in his new dodecaphonic style it recalls the compelling expressionistic drama and colourful orchestration of his early atonal works, elements often suppressed in the self-constrained classicism of many of his other serial works. The performance of this nine minute wonder is truly inspired and totally engaging.

Schoenberg turned his hand to orchestrating Brahms’ Piano Quartet in 1937 while exiled in paradise in California with very few opportunities for performances of his own music. A great admirer of Brahms, his approach to the Quartet is for the most part respectful to a fault, featuring lush strings padded with opulent winds. The Berlin string section is truly in its element here and contributes some stunning sonorities. The orchestration of the gypsy-inspired music of the finale is a zany affair, featuring stylistically incongruous xylophone and glockenspiel solos and wonderfully exuberant playing from the orchestra.

01_Shuffle_PlayCellist Matt Haimovitz has come up with a terrific double album for his latest release, Suffle.Play.Listen (Oxingale OX2019). Haimovitz, who is no stranger to cross-over and improvisatory playing, has teamed with pianist Christopher O’Riley to record what they describe as “a collaboration that blurs the boundaries between classical and pop.”

CD 1 alternates the five movements of the Vertigo Suite, arranged by O’Riley from Bernard Hermann’s score for the Hitchcock movie of the same name, with four 20th century standard repertoire pieces: Janáček’s Pohádka; Martinů’s Variations on a Slovak Folksong; Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne (after Pulcinella); and Piazzolla’s Le Grand Tango. It’s all terrific stuff and, if anything, it shows just how close top-level film music is to the concert repertoire. CD 2 features O’Riley’s arrangements of songs by the groups Arcade Fire, Radiohead, Cocteau Twins, Blonde Redhead and A Perfect Circle, and by guitarist John McLaughlin. It gets off to an electrifying start with Arcade Fire’s Empty Room (watch a video of the recording session on www.oxingale.com) and is simply full of stunning playing by both performers. There is no mix with standard repertoire here, but it’s not needed: several tracks are strongly reminiscent of the minimalist music of Philip Glass or Steve Reich and again serve to show just how blurred the boundaries between pop and concert repertoire can be. Haimovitz is clearly right at home her, but a great deal of the credit for this outstanding issue must go to O’Riley for his stunning arrangements and playing to match.

02a_Beethoven 102b_Beethoven 202c_Beethoven 3London’s Wigmore Hall has long been a leading venue for top-class chamber music, both debut recitals and concerts by established artists. On May 25, 2010, the Russian violinist Alina Ibragimova and the French pianist Cédric Tiberghien gave the third and final recital in their complete Beethoven sonata series that started on October 27, 2009. Released on the Hall’s own label to huge critical acclaim, Beethoven Violin Sonatas Vols.1-3 (WHLive0036, 0041 and 0045) captures the whole series in simply stunning live sound quality; apart from the extended applause at the end of each sonata, there is no hint of audience noise, although you can sense their presence and really feel that special electricity of a live performance in the simply exceptional playing.

Rarely do I play CDs that noticeably increase my pulse rate, but from the opening movement of the Sonata in D Major Op.12 No.1, through a magical “Spring” sonata and a dazzling “Kreutzer” to the final G Major Op.96, this Beethoven playing is as fine as any you will hear. It engages you on an emotional as well as an intellectual level from the outset and never lets go. Everything you could possibly ask for is here in abundance: breathtaking technique; faultless intonation; commitment; passion; tenderness and sensitivity; warmth and richness of tone; wonderful attention to detail; a wide range of colour, nuance, shading and dynamics; perfect balance; two wonderful artists thinking and playing as one. If ever three CDs cried out to be issued in a box set, it’s these. They put you, front row centre, at one of the most thrilling and satisfying Beethoven recitals you will ever hear.

“Smiling faces, furious applause: that’s how this series ended,” said The Times. It’s easy to see – and hear – why.

03_mozart_prussianMozart’s Prussian Quartets K575, K589 and K590 were all that he managed to complete for an apparent commission for six quartets from King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia in 1789. It’s been a while – 20 years – since the Emerson String Quartet recorded any Mozart quartets, so these Prussian Quartets (Sony 88697935982) are a welcome addition to the catalogue. This is big, warm playing, with the players admitting that they don’t hesitate to use generous vibrato when the emotional nature of the music calls for it. Their playing and interpretation are much in the style of the 1966 Decca recordings by the Weller Quartet, long a favourite of mine, and a masterclass in how to play late Mozart with passion and intensity as well as sensitivity and style. These are wonderful works, and the Emersons never put a foot wrong.

04_GinasteraI’m not sure exactly what I was expecting from the new CD of the Cello Concertos by the Argentinean composer Alberto Ginastera (Naxos 8.572372) who died in 1983, but I was still quite taken aback by the two works; for some reason, I had no idea that they would have such an incredibly modernistic sound and form. The jewel case notes tell us that Ginastera “…fused the strong traditional influences of his national heritage with experimental, contemporary and classical techniques” and that’s a perfect description. Soloist Mark Kosower does an outstanding job with extremely difficult and emotionally demanding works and has matching support from Lothar Zagrosek and the Bamburg Symphony Orchestra. Concerto No.1 dates from 1968, although Ginastera revised the score in 1977; the premiere of this version the following year featured the composer’s second wife, cellist Aurora Natola, as soloist. The work uses 12-tone and quarter-tone techniques, and displays an astonishing range of colour and mood. The Concerto No.2, recorded here in a live March 2010 performance, is from 1980, and was written to celebrate the tenth wedding anniversary of Ginastera and Natola. In 2008 Kosower met and played for Ginastera’s widow, shortly before her death early the following year at the age of 85; this CD is dedicated to her memory. In a 1964 programme note, the composer said that “A work which speaks only to the intelligence of man will never reach his heart.” This CD speaks loud and clear – and in a highly individual and effective voice – to both. Mark Kosower has also recorded Ginastera’s Complete Music for Cello and Piano on Naxos (8.570569), a CD that should be well worth tracking down if the performances here are anything to go by.

05_edwards_sibeliusThe Australian-American violinist Adele Anthony has a new CD on her husband Gil Shaham’s Canary Classics label, pairing the Violin Concertos of the Australian composer Ross Edwards and Sibelius (Canary Classics CC09). The Edwards concerto, subtitled “Maninyas,” has firmly established itself on the Australian musical scene, although it was at the centre of a philosophical storm over the future course of Australian music when it first appeared in the late 1980s. “Maninyas” is a word that Edwards coined to describe the new and personal style he was developing, which used rhythmic and chant-like melodies based on sound patterns from the world of the Australian bush. It’s a beautiful work, and one to which Anthony is clearly fully attuned. The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra under Arvo Volmer provides excellent support.

At first sight, the Sibelius may seem to be a bit of an odd partner, but it too was drawn from the influences of the composer’s native soil, and did much to establish an independent voice for Finnish music. It receives a wonderfully satisfying reading from Anthony, who won the ABC Instrumental and Vocal Competition in her native Australia with a performance of this concerto at the tender age of 13. Her affinity for the music and her complete mastery of the technical challenges are evident every inch of the way, and are clearly shared by Volmer, whose own experience with the orchestral works of Sibelius runs deep. This is a performance not to be missed.

06_Mozart_HaydnViolinist Rachel Podger and violist Jane Rogers have both been astonishingly successful in the world of period performance, and their technical and musical abilities and accomplishments are indisputable. Their latest recital disc (Channel Classics CCS SA 32411) features Duo Sonatas by Mozart and Michael Haydn, Joseph’s younger brother. The two composers were good friends and Mozart’s two sonatas were probably composed to complete a set of six that Michael Haydn was writing for the Archbishop of Salzburg. Podger and Rogers have been playing these two Mozart duos together since they were teenagers, and the playing here is not surprisingly stylish and absolutely top-notch; however, I did find it a bit on the cool side emotionally at times. The first two of Haydn’s four sonatas are included, and while they are not the equal of the Mozart duos, they are delightful works presenting a different set of challenges for the players. A short Menuetto from Mozart’s 12 Duos for 2 Horns rounds out the disc.

07_HandelRegular readers will no doubt have noticed that my reaction to period performance CDs is quite often rather lukewarm. I’m not sure exactly what it is - perhaps it’s the often transparent sound that many listeners simply love, but which to me too frequently comes across as thin, and not merely pure and clean, or the slightly-held-back performance manner that sometimes seems lacking in any real emotional involvement – but I often feel that the performances lack something and fail to engage me emotionally. For period performance playing that not only sets a very high standard but also draws you into the performances, try listening to the new Naxos CD by Ensemble Vintage Köln of the Handel Complete Violin Sonatas (Naxos 8.572245), featuring Ariadne Daskalakis on baroque violin, Rainer Zipperling on viola da gamba and baroque cello and Gerald Hambitzer on harpsichord. The Handel violin sonatas have been the subject of much research concerning their authenticity, and this disc presents all of the works now credited to the composer, as well as the four sonatas that were long attributed to him but are now believed to be the work of others. This is an immediately warm and fully engaging disc; Daskalakis is a marvellous soloist, and receives perfect support from Zipperling and Hambitzer. The harpsichord continuo is crisp and lively, and the cello playing simply outstanding – in fact, the interaction is so strong that it sometimes feels as if we are listening to duo sonatas. These are clean, strong, well-balanced and scintillating performances, with impeccable style but also with heart and guts. And there’s the difference: while you’re listening to this CD, you simply can’t imagine these works being played any other way, or being played better. And for me, that’s the true test of period performance – or of any performance, for that matter.

08_GriegNaxos has issued a fifth volume in their ongoing series of the music of Edvard Grieg, this CD featuring the Music for String Orchestra along with the Lyric Suite for Orchestra Op.54 (Naxos 8.572403). The Malmo Symphony Orchestra is led by the Norwegian conductor Bjarte Engeset.

Most of the music here is well-known and well-loved: Two Elegaic Melodies Op.34; Two Melodies for Strings Op.53; the Holberg Suite; Two Lyric Pieces Op.68; Two Nordic Melodies Op.63. The Lyric Suite was originally the Norwegian Suite, an 1894 orchestration by Anton Seidl of four of Grieg’s Lyric Pieces for Piano; the suite was substantially revised, re-orchestrated and rearranged by Grieg himself in 1904, some six years after Seidl’s death. All of the performances here are warm and suitably idiomatic, with the sound quality up to the usual Naxos high standard.

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