01_DinnersteinSomething Almost Being Said –
Music of Bach and Schubert
Simone Dinnerstein
Sony Classical 88697998242

For someone who supposedly “broke all the rules” when it came to preparing for a concert career, New York-based pianist Simone Dinnerstein has been remarkably successful. She dropped out of the Juilliard School at 18 (only to return later) and by 30 she had neither management nor bookings. Nevertheless, her talents ultimately triumphed, and she has been able to achieve what she calls “a normal life” with international appearances to great acclaim.

Her latest recording, featuring the first two partitas by Bach, and Schubert’s Four Impromptus Op.90, is titled Something Almost Being Said, the name taken from a poem by Philip Larkin. Dinnerstein explains in the notes that, in her opinion, the non-vocal music of both composers has a strong narrative element to it, with a resulting effect of “wordless voices singing textless melodies.” While her full command of the music is evident from the opening of the c minor partita, this is decidedly Bach with a difference. Her approach is convincingly lyrical, proving that Bach need not be played with metronomic rigidity, as is sometimes the case. Indeed, the melodic lines of such movements as the Sarabande in the second partita, or the Praeludium in the first, have a wonderful vocal-like quality to them fully in keeping with the premise of the recording. This declamatory quality is further evident in the four impromptus, coupled at times with a mood of quiet introspection. Bravura for its own sake is refreshingly absent; instead, Dinnerstein chooses to let the music speak for itself.

In all, this is a fine recording from someone who manages a balanced life — and indeed, balance is a key issue here. Beautiful music elegantly played — we can hardly ask for more.

02_SicsicHenri-Paul Sicsic en recital à Paris
Henri-Paul Sicsic

Henry-Paul Sicsic, Canadian pianist and professor at the U of T Faculty of Music, is a remarkable artist who “thrills audiences across North America and Europe with his intense, passionate and imaginative performances.” He is not short of impressive credentials and there is a thread that connects him to the legendary Alfred Cortot via his teacher Juliette Audibert-Lambert who herself had been a student of the master. Sicsic’s remarkable international concert career and the top prizes he’s won are well documented on his website but we must emphasize also his achievements as a teacher and his uncanny ability to inspire the younger generation.

His second solo recording was done in the aptly named Salon Cortot in Paris. This recent disc has been issued to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Chopin’s birth. About half of the program is devoted to Chopin, short pieces of which the passionate Nocturne in C Minor of brooding intensity followed by the sunny, brilliant and bravura Valse in A-Flat Major stand out. The centrepiece is the famous Piano Sonata No.2 that shows off the pianist’s talents with its complex structures and varied moods. How beautifully he makes the piano sing in the slow section of the Scherzo or in the trio of the ubiquitous Marche Funebre!

The remainder of the program is devoted to the impressionist sound-world of Ravel and evocations of Spain by Albeniz. A surprise treat is I Leap through the Sky with Stars by the Toronto composer Alexina Louie that appears to be influenced by Ravel at first, but almost imperceptibly loses its tonal centre as it develops and becomes more like “new music.” It receives grand applause from the Paris audience.

03_KatsarisKatsaris plays Liszt, Volume 1
Cyprien Katsaris
Piano 21 P21 041-N

Liszt! What do we think of when one of the most flamboyant composers of the 19th century comes to mind? Swooning ladies? Technical brilliance on an almost superhuman scale? Whatever image we have, the 200th birthday of this legendary pianist/composer from Raiding was celebrated in 2011, and among those marking the occasion was French-Cypriot pianist Cyprien Katsaris, who issued a splendid two-disc set titled Katsaris Plays Liszt on his own label, Piano 21.

Internationally famous since his debut in Paris in 1966, Katsaris has been the recipient of several prizes for his recordings, including the Grand Prix du Disc Franz Liszt in 1984 and 1989, and the German Record of the Year in 1984. This set — recorded over a 39 year period — is bound to appeal to any Liszt aficionado. The first disc, titled Gypsy and Romantic, is mainly devoted to his earlier works, including four of the Hungarian Rhapsodies, the well-known Liebestraum, and the Piano Concerto No.2 with the German Radio Symphony of Berlin, Arid Remmereit conducting. Here, Katsaris handles the technical demands of the repertoire with ease and panache, easily upholding his reputation as a fleet-fingered virtuoso.

Yet the set is not all tinsel and glitter. The second disc, titled Avant Garde, Hommage à Wagner, The Philosopher, is considerably more introspective and features music from Liszt’s late period. This was a time when the composer was very much “pushing the boundaries.” Indeed, Grey Clouds, The Lugubrious Gondola 1 and 2 and At Richard Wagner’s Grave stylistically look to the future, with Katsaris perfectly conveying the dark, almost sinister quality of the music.

As this set is designated as “Volume I,” may we assume there are more to come? We can only hope so, in light of the high standards and intriguing programming presented in this one.

04_Berlioz_HaroldBerlioz – Les Nuits d’Été; Harold en Italie
Anne Sofie von Otter; Antoine Tamestit; Les Musiciens du Louvre Grenoble;
Marc Minkowski
Naïve V 5266

I was introduced to “Harold” by the Victor recording with William Primrose that Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony made in 1944. Hearing this was a thrilling discovery and repeated encores did not diminish its impact. Particularly winning was Primrose’s patrician elegance and focused performance that would define the role for me.

As it turns out, the genius of Berlioz benefits from a large, well oiled virtuoso orchestra, as the two Primrose recordings with the Boston Symphony in its prime, conducted by Koussevitzky and the 1958 Charles Munch (RCA 88697 08280, hybrid CD/SACD), so magnificently demonstrate. I have also heard many excellent European performances with different soloists, the most notable of which are conducted by Colin Davis.

This new recording with a somewhat smaller orchestra (about 50 players) would seem to lack the splendour and power we have come to expect in a worthy Berlioz performance. Minkowski and his group, however, have a thorough understanding of Berlioz’ musical essence and convey a persuasive enthusiasm, overriding any misgivings about size. Tempos in each of the four movements are well judged and unerringly balanced. Some unusual accents flavour a beautifully constructed performance played with immaculate ensemble. Acclaimed violist, Antoine Tamestit, delivers a compelling, deeply felt performance with a delicious viola sound throughout.

The Les nuits d’été (a work that contrasts with the hectic finale it follows) is one of the finest versions of this enchanting song cycle to come my way. The program concludes with the strange narrative “The King of Thulé” from The Damnation of Faust, with the viola intertwining with Anne Sophie von Otter’s voice in this haunting Gothic lullaby … a master stroke of programming. This disc is a treasure.

05_TournemireCharles Tournemire – Trinitas
Vincent Boucher
ATMA ACD2 2472

The organ music of Charles Tournemire (1870–1939) is a revelation. The youngest student of César Franck, Tournemire developed towards modernism with a mystical bent and was admired by Messiaen. The Triple Choral (1910) is a key work in his journey to individuality. Organist Vincent Boucher’s performance is well paced and his expressive rubato is tasteful. I was especially moved by the sense of growth in the stirring, ecstatic middle section, followed by the contrasting meditative ending. In conveying the tone-palette of Tournemire’s music, Boucher employs to full advantage the magnificent Casavant organ and acoustics of the Church of St. John the Baptist in Montreal; the sound on this recording is glorious.

The two other major works on the disc are Offices from L’Orgue Mystique (1927–1932), organ music for each Sunday in the liturgical year to be played between sung sections of the mass. In the first, for Trinity Sunday, Boucher handles confidently the final recessional with its colouristic wave-like opening and its working of three themes in the introspective mood characteristic of Tournemire’s later works. Boucher captures the improvisational feel of Tournemire’s style in the second­ — music that is unearthly at times, seemingly in-the-moment explorations conveying striking visions. Here tone-content, texture and timbre together produce myriad effects of light, of brilliant rays, glimmering pulsations, murky depths. Three brief Postludes for antiphons of the Magnificat round out this deeply reflective disc.

06_Canadian_BrassCanadian Brass Takes Flight
Canadian Brass
Opening Day Records ODR 7416

It’s yet another recording by the ubiquitous Canadian Brass, and as the title suggests, the Canadian Brass does take flight on this new release, departing from what we are used to in a number of ways. First, it is a new Canadian Brass. In 1970, over 40 years ago, with tuba virtuoso Chuck Daellenbach at the helm, the Canadian Brass began the journey of introducing the world to brass music. Now, with four new permanent members, and Daellenbach performing better than ever, we are treated to some oldies in new arrangements and some departures from what we have come to expect.

The Brass is as stunning as ever with such old favourites as The Flight of the Bumblebee and The Carnival of Venice in sparkling new arrangements. In particular, I enjoyed the versions of La Cumparsita and Mozart’s Turkish Rondo, works not usually considered part of the brass repertoire. Having played in a brass quintet for a few years, I was particularly humbled by their rendition of Scheidt’s Galliard Battaglia. Having attempted that arrangement in rehearsal, I now know how it should sound. The finale on this CD is their long-time favourite Just a Closer Walk with Thee.

The stunning sparkle is still there, but there is also a new warmth and mellow feeling in several of the slower numbers on this release. As for technique, this new young team of Daellenbach’s doesn’t have to take a back seat to anyone. It’s a top notch group to carry on the Canadian Brass name. For fans of brass, this one is a must.

Concert Note: The Canadian Brass is featured in three regional concerts this month. On April 11 they will be at the Sanderson Centre for the Performing Arts in Brantford, on April 12 at the Markham Theatre for the Perfoming Arts and on April 28 in a subscription only performance at the Hi-Way Pentecostal Church presented by Barrie Concerts (705-726-1181).

Jean-Louis Beaumadier; Various Artists
Skarbo DSK4117

As spring arrives and thoughts turn to the outdoors, Pastoral makes an apt musical counterpart. Above all it is French piccoloist Jean-Louis Beaumadier’s playing that is memorable for perfectly-tuned long tones, controlled dynamic changes and technical virtuosity. Two short chamber pieces on the disc specify use of the piccolo; otherwise, Beaumadier has assembled a group of pastoral 20th-century works originally written for the pipe or the flute. Of special interest are seldom-heard miniatures for pipe by such composers as Roussel, Poulenc and Milhaud, published in the volume Pipeaux 1934. I particularly enjoyed the Poulenc Villanelle which has a quality of quirky sentiment. A number of composers included have associations with Beaumadier’s native Provence. Henri Tomasi (1901–1971) wrote Le tombeau de Mireille for galoubet (tabor) and tambourin (pipe), evocative of the medieval Provençal world of troubadours and chivalry. (Note: the tabor’s rattle takes getting used to.)

In the flute works, the piccolo’s pure, focused timbre shows to advantage, conveying well the birdsong, whistle, outdoor piping, dance and amatory elements of the pastoral genre. The soloist moves assuredly through contrasts of melody and rapid filigree in Philippe Gaubert’s tender Andante pastoral. He captures the intimate and pensive feeling in Germaine Tailleferre’s Pastorale, with its gently rocking piano accompaniment. The best is saved for last: the Sicilienne et burlesque (1914) by Alfredo Casella reminding us of the significant accomplishment of this neglected modernist.

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