05_glenn_gould_liveGlenn Gould in Concert 1951-1960

Glenn Gould

West Hill Radio Archives WHRA-6038

The tragedy of Glenn Gould as concert pianist is seldom discussed. He faced crippling performance anxieties he could not overcome, and abandoned his flourishing career in his early thirties. He then commenced to become even more famous in his subsequent life as a combination recording artist, CBC arts producer, music journalist, and general Toronto eccentric.

Here we have the Glenn Gould most of us never knew, the concert artist, in some five hours of previously unreleased recordings. All of this material is unedited, taken from radio broadcasts or private recordings: it is raw Gould, so to say, with the occasional smudges and wrong notes of all pianists, from an artist who in later life insisted on zealous control of his work, in his bid for edited perfection. The performances are from Canada, the USA, Russia, Austria, and Sweden. Gould biographer Kevin Bazzana has supplied lengthy biographical notes, in extremely small print. The release itself is Canadian/German and cryptic, except for a clear warning label: “Not available in the USA.”

A 1958 Vancouver Festival performance of - guess what? - Bach’s Goldberg Variations opens this boxed set. The Aria dances with tremendous musicality and contrapuntal verve. It feels more elastic and personal than the famous Columbia debut release of 1955. Variations 29 and 30 are electric and wild, and played interwoven as one.

There’s a wonderful performance of the Beethoven Second Piano Concerto with Paul Paray and the Detroit Symphony, with an aching slow movement. We tend to put Gould in a cerebral, clinical camp of pianism: not here. With the same conductor and orchestra - on the same night, no less! - Gould then teamed up with the DSO’s concertmaster Mischa Mischakoff and principal flutist Albert Tipton for a splendid, warm performance of the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto. Gould’s long solo cadenza, written by Bach, is muscular and songful.

Other treasures abound, including a gentle reading of Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 109 from a Vienna recital, Schoenberg’s intimate, spiky Piano Concerto with the Cleveland Orchestra, and some gorgeous Beethoven chamber music from the Stratford Festival.

There’s an oddly dreary Gould performance of the Brahms First Concerto - with a fine Winnipeg SO led by Victor Feldbrill - that then roars to life for our hero in the finale.

Swedish mezzo-soprano Kerstin Meyer joined him for Schoenberg’s song cycle Book of the Hanging Gardens at the 1960 Vancouver Festival. She tells us in the notes that Gould was a superb and deferential accompanist, who followed her “like a shadow.”

Sound quality throughout these CDs is so-so, yet very present and alive. Engineer Albert Frantz did the digital restorations: you know right away these are dated performances, but you also feel like a time-traveller, sitting in a good seat at each concert venue.

It is sad to recall that this brilliant young Toronto pianist of the 1950s could still be concertizing today, had he lived, and had he continued a normal path. Gould would turn 80 next year. He was a contemporary of Paul Badura-Skoda, Alfred Brendel and Martha Argerich. But something went wrong, and Gould’s retreat into the recording studio brought a more mannered musical trajectory that still confounds many.

Strongly recommended! Order online from www.canadacd.ca ($52.99).

01_schumann_violin-orchestraThroughout his life, Robert Schumann tended to concentrate on one particular form of composition at a time, and in 1853 he produced his only three works for violin and orchestra, although only one – the Fantasy in C minor – was premiered before his death 3 years later. BIS has released an outstanding SACD of the Complete Works for Violin and Orchestra (BIS-SACD-1775) featuring Ulf Wallin with the Robert-Schumann-Philharmonie under Frank Beermann. The Concerto in A minor is Schumann’s own transcription of his 1850 Cello Concerto, and it works remarkably well, given the two instruments’ differences in pitch and tone. It was premiered as recently as 1987 after a copy was found in the papers of the violinist Joseph Joachim, to whom both the Fantasy and the Violin Concerto in D minor were dedicated. The Fantasy, an attractive work with a striking cadenza, fell out of favour after Schumann’s death, and the D minor concerto fared no better, with several projected premieres being cancelled before Clara Schumann and Joachim lost faith in it and decided against publishing it. Joachim’s resistance was probably due to the concerto’s technical and musical challenges: it’s a large work with a beautiful slow movement, but has never really established itself in the repertoire since finally being published and premiered in 1937. If anything can change that, it’s this recording. Ulf Wallin (who also wrote the outstanding booklet notes) uses Schumann’s original solo part, wisely choosing to ignore the later unauthorized “corrections and alterations” apparently made by Joachim. The result is a definitive performance, full of strength and beauty, and perfectly displaying the mix of Classical and Romantic styles that typify the music of this still often misunderstood composer.

02_bacewicz_violin_concertosCHANDOS has issued Volume 2 of the Violin Concertos of the Polish violinist and composer Grazyna Bacewicz (CHAN 10673), and it’s quite stunning. Bacewicz (1909-69) was that 20th century rarity – a world-class violin virtuoso with compositional skills to match. Volume 1 featured Concertos 1, 3 and 7, and this new CD completes the set with Nos. 2 (1945), 4 (1951) and 5 (1954) (No.6 exists only in manuscript, and has never been performed). The three works here range from the somewhat Prokofiev-like No.2, with its mix of melodic and strongly rhythmic material, to the much tougher, terser world of No.5, as Polish music began moving away from the “formalist” Communist days. All three demonstrate Bacewicz’s innate understanding of the instrument, and her assured grasp of form and orchestration. The Polish-born violinist Joanna Kurkowicz, now resident in the United States, is wonderful throughout, and given terrific support by the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra under Lukasz Borowicz. An absolutely essential addition to the 20th century violin concerto record catalogue.

03_cello_concertosBohuslav Martinu, Arthur Honegger and Paul Hindemith lived almost exactly contemporaneous lives, being born within 5 years of each other in the early 1890s and all dying in their 60s between 1955 and 1963. As cellist Johannes Moser perceptively notes in the booklet for his latest CD, Cello Concertos (Hänssler CLASSIC CD 93.276) they had one other thing in common: they all consciously avoided the path of serialism and consistently developed their own very individual styles. Moser’s idea of bringing their cello concertos together in one programme is a real winner, and results in a terrific CD. All three works are in the traditional three-movement form and are immediately accessible, while clearly imbued with each composer’s individual voice. The Martinu, from 1930, has its roots firmly in the Czech tradition, with a soulfulness very reminiscent of Janáček at times. The Honegger is a short (15 minutes) but very effective work from the same year. The Hindemith, from 1940, is classic Hindemith: a strong, rhythmic opening; an immediate melodic entry for the soloist; an instantly identifiable and highly personal use of tonality; stunning orchestration. It’s a wonderful partner for the Violin Concerto from the previous year. I’m completely at a loss to understand why Hindemith is still regarded in some circles as a dry, theoretical musician – it’s a view completely at odds with his mature orchestral works, and one completely destroyed by performances like this. Moser is outstanding throughout the disc. The recorded sound is warm and resonant, and the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie and conductor Christoph Poppen are ideal partners.

04_yossif_ivanovTwo late 20th century violin concertos are featured on a Harmonia Mundi CD (AP007) of works by Henri Dutilleux and Rafael D’Haene, with the Belgian violinist Yossif Ivanov and the Orchestre de l’Opera national de Lyon under Kazushi Ono. Dutilleux was born in 1916, and is still with us at 95! His violin concerto L’arbre des songes (Tree of Dreams), finished in 1985, took a while to write: it was commissioned by Radio France in 1979 for Isaac Stern’s 60th birthday the following year. It’s an intriguing work, consisting of four main sections joined by three orchestral interludes, and shows a tremendous range of orchestral colour and timbre. The Belgian composer Rafael D’Haene was born in 1943, and was a pupil and consequently a close friend of Dutilleux. His violin concerto (1990) is a two-movement work which has as its theme the myth of Orpheus, with which the composer has always been fascinated. It’s maybe less immediately accessible than the Dutilleux, but is no less striking a work for that. Dutilleux's Nocturne for Violin and Orchestra, sur le meme accord, completes the CD; it's a short but brilliant piece built on a 6-note chord, composed in 2002 and dedicated to Anne-Sophie Mutter. Ivanov and the orchestra are in top form throughout a disc that has to be listened to – no simple background music here – but that amply rewards the effort.

05_rontgenThree more 20th century violin concertos – although you would never guess to listen to them – comprise the programme on a CD of music by the Leipzig-born composer Julius Rontgen (1855-1932), who spent most of his life in the Netherlands, but remained firmly rooted in the German tradition of Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms. The German label CPO has issued an interesting and thought-provoking CD of his Violin Concertos (777 437-2) featuring the Concertos in A minor from 1902 and F sharp minor from 1931, together with the Ballad from 1918. Although I know the name, I can’t recall ever hearing any of Rontgen’s music, and listening to this CD it’s perhaps easy to understand why: despite all three works dating from the 1900s you’re constantly reminded of 19th century composers – Sarasate, Dvořák, and particularly Bruch and Brahms – and while it’s all very competent and makes for pleasant listening there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of substance or individuality. It always seems to fall just short of memorable. Brahms, himself a friend of Rontgen’s, was among those - both critics and colleagues - who commented that Rontgen’s musical voice was simply not original enough. That’s not to say that his voice was without talent, however. Rontgen may have been stylistically stuck in 19th century Germany, but he clearly knew his craft. These works display skill and taste, together with a real melodic gift and a fine grasp of orchestration; what he apparently lacked was that true spark of genius that would have infused his music with a strong personal identity. Dutch violinist Liza Ferschtman makes the most of the material here, with fully committed playing that presents the music in the best possible light. The Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz under David Porcelijn provides excellent support. It might be easy to see why this music has remained in a backwater instead of drifting into the mainstream, but don’t be misled: there are many really lovely moments throughout this CD.

06_mozart_divertimentoThere’s another recording of the wonderful Mozart Divertimento K563 - the String Trio in E flat – one of Mozart’s most glorious keys. I raved about the Trio Zimmermann’s recording of this work earlier this year, and now Naxos has issued an excellent performance by violinist Henning Kraggerud, violist Lars Anders Tomter and cellist Christoph Richter (8.572258). Again, don’t be fooled by the designation Divertimento: although this normally signified light entertainment music where the composer was free to choose a mixture of movements and forms, this six-movement work is, as Ingrid Anderson’s booklet notes so rightly point out, “far from pure entertainment.” She echoes the Alfred Einstein quote from my previous review when she calls the first two movements “…among the most sonorous and masterful examples of chamber music ever written.” And they are. This performance may be slightly less intense than the Zimmermann at times, but it’s a warm, rich reading that is beautifully recorded. At the bargain Naxos price it’s a great way to obtain a superb work that is quite simply Mozart at his best.

01_daniel_taylorShakespeare - Come again sweet love

Daniel Taylor; Theatre of Early Music

RCA Red Seal 88697727222

As founder and artistic director of the Montreal-based Theatre of Early Music (TEM) and a singer of international renown with over 60 recordings to his credit, Canadian countertenor Daniel Taylor is now at a point in his career where, on the Sony label, he headlines a recording that counts among its vocal performers Dame Emma Kirkby, Michael Chance and Charles Daniels as well as Carol Sampson and Neal Davies. Drawing on repertoire inspired by, referred to or performed in the plays of Shakespeare, this is a delightful and varied collection of solos, duets and madrigals complemented by adept instrumentalists from two different ensembles: TEM’s Elizabeth Kenny and Jacob Heringman on lute and Fretwork’s Richard Boothby and Richard Campbell on viola da gamba. A most wonderful confluence occurs in the various combinations of voices as in Orlando Gibbons’ The Silver Swan and particularly when countertenors Taylor and Chance duet in Robert Jones’ Sweet Kate and Thomas Morley’s Sweet nymph, come to thy lover. Purcell’s By Beauteous softness and If music be the food of love as well as Johnson’s Full Fathom Five are interpreted with tender affect by Taylor, Sampson and Davies respectively. Charles Daniels is given the title track and Emma Kirby adds a light-hearted flavour to Now what is love? This collection, recorded in London, is highly recommended as a feast of love for a mid-summer’s night.

01_sacred_bridgeThe Sacred Bridge - Jews and Christians in Medieval Europe

Boston Camerata; Joel Cohen

Apex 2564 69895-6

Early music for many spans over 600 years to the mid-eighteenth century. This single CD takes in music from precisely those six centuries. They were an exhilarating time although this recording also displays deep and sometimes sad contrasts. Some of the music was composed and performed in Jewish ghettoes, some emanated from the Jews’ contemporary Christian persecutors - and yet both communities were inter-dependent.

This interdependence was traced by Joel Cohen 22 years ago in the original “Sacred Bridge” now available on the Apex budget label. At its most intricate Latin and Hebrew versions of Psalm 114 are interwoven line by line, declaimed by tenor, baritone and counter-tenor. As if that is not complex enough, Joel Cohen turns to Jewish minstrels at Christian Courts. One wonders whether Matthew le Juif was actually this composer’s name at court. For all that, John Fleagle (tenor) does him justice, as Michael Collver’s counter-tenor does Suesskint von Trimberg’s Wa heb’uf.

In fact, Cohen’s selections are not all as complicated in their context. Jewish Folklore of the Eastern Mediterranean takes one through Jews in Provence and among Jews exiled from Spain. Again, the counter-tenor makes his presence felt as does Anne Azéma’s soprano in Morena me llaman and Cansoun d’Esther.

And finally, a large number of tracks interpret the songs of Spain before the exile of 1492. King Alfonso the Wise attracts Cohen’s attention; Collver’s impassioned Madre de Deus, ora por nos explains why this monarch is so respected among early music enthusiasts.

02_bach_dom_harpsichordBach - Suites and Partitas

Dom Andre Laberge

Analekta AN 2 9767

If we needed reminding of the inventiveness, adaptability and wide-ranging influence of Bach’s music, this recording provides ample evidence. The four major works are pieces Bach wrote for instruments other than the harpsichord, including violin (A minor sonata, BWV 1003 and famous D minor Chaconne), lute (BWV 996) and a hybrid known as a “Lautenclavicymbel” (BWV 997). With the exception of the Chaconne - which has been transcribed especially for Laberge by Pierre Gouin – all of the transcriptions were made during Bach’s lifetime by his students.

Paradoxically, the most convincing performance on the disc is of the least successful transcription. The solo violin sonata, BWV 1003, is a glorious work, full of contrapuntal and melodic interest. When transcribed for harpsichord, however, the sound alternates between being too thin or – when the “implied” harmonies of the violin are filled in – too thick and literal. Perhaps sensing this challenge, Laberge’s performance is brilliant, free and exciting, most particularly in the sensational fugue. This is in contrast to the somewhat careful and reserved approach to the rest of the material on the recording.

Laberge’s 1987 Dowd harpsichord records well and its warm and majestic sound suits its classy and formal owner, who is the organist and Abbot at the Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Benoît-du-Lac in Quebec.

01a_schumann_castle_trio01b_schumann_triosClara and Robert Schumann - Piano Trios

Castle Trio

Friends of Music FOM 36-801 (www.smithsonian.org)

Robert Schumann - Complete works for Piano Trio

Leif Ove Andsnes; Christian Tetzlaff; Tanja Tetzlaff

EMI 0 94180 2

The American writer Catherine Drinker Bowen once referred to chamber music as “a conversation between friends.” I’ve long thought this a very apt description, and what better way to get ourselves in the mood for all the chamber music being heard at numerous festivals this summer than sampling these two recordings, featuring music by Robert and Clara Schumann? The first, on the Friends of Music label presents Clara’s only completed four-movement work, the Piano Trio Op.17, and her husband’s more familiar Piano Trio Op.63, performed by the Castle Trio. The second is a double disc featuring Schumann’s complete works for piano trio with Leif Ove Andsnes and Christian and Tanja Tetzlaff on EMI.

Clara Schumann’s Trio Op.17 and the Trio Op.63 by Robert were written within a year of each other, between 1846 and 1847, and both are now recognized as among the best of their output. Although Clara once described her trio as “effeminate and sentimental” there is no denying the fine craftsmanship displayed within. The American–based Castle Trio - Lambert Orkis, piano, Marilyn McDonald, violin, and Kenneth Slowik, cello – play with a finely-balanced precision and their exemplary interpretation is further enhanced by the decision to perform on early instruments, including an 1846 Streicher grand piano. To those used to modern-day chamber performances, the thinner, more transparent sound heard here may be a little disconcerting, but at the very least, the result is an accurate representation of how the music would have originally been heard.

The partnership among pianist Leif Ove Andsnes with violinist Christian Teztlaff and his sister, cellist Tanja Tetzlaff, is a not infrequent one, and their performance on this EMI recording is everything we’d expect from three outstanding players. Included in the set are the three piano trios, the Fantasiestücke Op.88, as well as the Six Etudes in Canonic Form Op.56, as arranged by Theodor Kirchner. Indeed, there is much to admire here – the playing is at times bold and impassioned, imbued with the true romantic spirit. Yet sections such as the second movement of the Piano Trio No.2 display a wonderful sense of intimacy, with the cello particularly warm and resonant. The four Fantasiestücke Op.88 are an attractive bonus, with the Marche finale bringing both the set and the collection to a buoyant and optimistic conclusion. In all, these are two fine additions to the catalogue; surely Robert and Clara would nod their heads in approval.

02_argerichLive from Lugano 2010

Martha Argerich and Friends

EMI 0 70836 2

Once again, in June 2010 in Lugano (Switzerland) “the hills are alive with the sound of music.” Those lucky enough to find a hotel room can enjoy Martha Argerich’s famous festival with many of today’s most talented young musicians playing solo and chamber music. Martha is as good as ever but her interests now extend towards a) teaching and inspiring the young and b) getting involved with chamber works as well as new adventurous projects, new music and even jazz. This year, apart from nearly 20 young artists, we have her usual stalwarts like the amazing brothers, violinist Renaud and cellist Gautier Capuçon and even her ex-husband the famous pianist Stephen Kovacevich.

2010 being the year of 200th anniversaries for Schumann and Chopin these are dutifully celebrated with Schumann’s Violin Sonata in a minor played beautifully by Renaud Capuçon and Argerich and his Adagio and Allegro Op. 70 for cello and piano, performed with Gautier Capuçon. To honour Chopin there is a wonderfully relaxed performance of one of Martha’s long time favourites the E minor piano concerto.

But here ends the “traditional” part and the “adventurous” now begins. First comes a fiendishly difficult transcription for two pianos of Liszt’s Les Preludes presaging next year’s Liszt celebrations. Erich Korngold’s rarely heard, feverishly overheated post-Straussian Piano Quintet still harkens back to late Romanticism but not the next work. Bartok’s Sonata for 2 pianos and percussion is from the composer’s “barbaric” period, a relentlessly percussive, uncompromising piece. If some listeners think it is “ugly” then Bartok actually achieved his purpose. It is played with great aplomb and exuberance by Argerich and Kovacevich. It had already been recorded by these two but alas that disc was deleted from the catalogue. Now with this set thankfully it is back.

I doubt Stravinsky ever heard Carlo Maria Griguoli’s three piano version of the Firebird Suite but he would certainly have approved of this stunning virtuoso arrangement played by three young pianists including the arranger himself. Now for a suitable ending of this fascinating set, terrifying noises of the big city emanate from Alfred Schnittke’s Piano Quintet (1976). Fully atonal with plenty of quarter tones we hear sirens of an ambulance at one point and at another unbearable noise of a swarm of hornets closing in around one’s head. Yet at the end ironically there is heavenly peace inspired by Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony.

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