16 Russian Album Jussen BrosThe Russian Album
Lucas & Arthur Jussen
Deutsche Grammophon (arthurandlucasjussen.com/en)

Music scored for two pianos has had an illustrious history – Bach, Mozart and Brahms all wrote compositions for multiple keyboards – and this new recording on the DG label featuring the brothers Lucas and Arthur Jussen performing an all-Russian program is further proof of its integrity.

Hailing from Hilversum in the Netherlands, the two brothers – both under 30 – studied with Maria Joäo Pires, made their debut at the ages of 10 and 13, and signed a contract with DG in 2010 while still in their teens. Performances in Europe and the U.S. have received rave reviews and this is their seventh (!) recording. 

Shostakovich wrote his brief Concertino for Two Pianos Op.94 in 1954 for his son – then a student at the Moscow Conservatory – with an eye to performing it together. In keeping with the youthful theme, much of the score is vigorous and lighthearted, providing the two artists ample opportunity to demonstrate flawless technique.

Following are three contrasting movements from Rachmaninoff’s Suite No.2 Op.17. While the second movement Waltz and concluding Tarantella are frenetic perpetuum mobiles, the third movement Romance is all heartfelt lyricism. Two movements from Stravinsky’s 1935 Concerto for Two Pianos is another indication that these two artists seem to thrive on repertoire requiring an almost super-human prowess. At all times, the two demonstrate not only an innate understanding of the music, but a seemingly telepathic connection with each other, performing as one.

The disc closes in a lighter vein – the Coquette and the Valse from Arensky’s Suites Nos.1 and 2 for two pianos prove a fitting conclusion to a most satisfying program.

Hans Rott – Orchestral Works Vol.1
Gurzenich Orchester Köln; Christopher Ward
Capriccio C5408 (naxosdirect.com/search/c5408) 

Hans Rott – Orchestral Works Vol.2
Gurzenich Orchester Köln; Christopher Ward
Capriccio C5414 (naxosdirect.com/search/c5414)

16a Hans RottLanguishing in total obscurity for over a century, the music of Hans Rott (1858-1884) first came to light through Gerhard Samuel’s 1989 Cincinnati Philharmonia Orchestra recording of his Symphony in E Major. Rott’s surviving works date from his time as a student at the Vienna Conservatory, where his classmates included Gustav Mahler and Hugo Wolf. Mahler in particular treasured him, proclaiming “He and I seem to me like two fruits from the same tree, brought forth by the same soil, nourished by the same air.” Curiously, fugitive thematic references to Rott’s works are echoed in Mahler’s earlier symphonies. Alas, Rott’s fate was not a happy one. The aesthetics of his day were wracked by a cultural war between the progressive advocates of Wagner’s “music of the future” and the traditionalists, devotees of the absolute music of Brahms. Rott, as revealed in this comprehensive survey, would seem to fall between these two camps, but was rejected for his Wagnerian tendencies when submitting his works to competitions. In 1880 he brought his symphony to Brahms himself for his assessment and was rudely told he had no talent whatsoever. This sent him over the edge; not long after he boarded a train on his way to take up a demeaning provincial job as an organist when he spotted a man in the carriage about to light a cigar. He threatened him with a pistol, screaming that Brahms had packed the train with dynamite! Hauled off by the authorities, he spent the last years of his life in an insane asylum, where he died of tuberculosis at the age of 25.

The first volume of these recordings includes a number of Rott’s lesser-known works. There are two overtures, a Prelude to Julius Caesar and the premiere recording of a reconstruction of his Hamlet Overture, along with movements from two unfinished orchestral suites. Stylistically Rott covers a wide ground; yes, there are more than a few stentorian Wagnerian passages, but they are filtered through the lens of his organ teacher Anton Bruckner, his sole advocate amongst the notoriously reactionary Conservatory faculty. The most substantial work is the closing Pastorale Prelude, which ends, somewhat incongruously, with an elaborate fugue. 

16b Hans Rott 2The second volume saves the best for last. The E Major Symphony remains an astonishing achievement, falling just short of the mark due to its rambling finale, reminiscent of (wait for it…) Brahms! It is his most celebrated work, having been recorded a dozen times to date. A three-movement Symphony for String Orchestra in A-flat Major follows, the prim and proper serenades of a 16-year-old tyro aiming to please. The volume concludes with another premiere of sorts, the Symphonic Movement in E Major, an earlier version of the opening of the Symphony

These two volumes, impressively played by the distinguished Gürzenich orchestra, sensitively interpreted by the young English conductor Christopher Ward, and expertly recorded by the Capriccio team, are a must-have item for all enthusiasts of this unjustly neglected composer.

Vaughan Williams – Symphonies 4 & 6
London Symphony Orchestra; Sir Antonio Pappano
LSO Live LSO0867D (lsolive.lso.co.uk) 

Vaughan Williams – Symphony No.5
BBC Symphony Orchestra; Martyn Brabbins
Hyperion CDA68325 (hyperion-records.co.uk) 

17a Vaughan Williams 46The latest release on the LSO Live label, recordings where the orchestra is the major stakeholder, features two symphonies by Ralph Vaughan Williams. 

Many diehard fans of the Fourth Symphony will point to the 1937 recording, conducted with relentless fury by the composer himself, as the gold standard, but for me, the benchmark recording of this symphony (and, indeed, all of the others) is that of Sir Adrian Boult, who worked closely with RVW for several decades. Pappano’s interpretation equals and at times surpasses these, bringing an appropriate anger and relentlessness to this groundbreaking work.

The same can be said of Pappano’s interpretation of the Sixth Symphony. Composed in four distinct movements without pause, from its opening notes to its life-changing sempre pianissimo finale, you get the feeling that you are hearing a monumental and important symphony from the 20th century. And you are!

The London Symphony Orchestra is no stranger to the works of Vaughan Williams, having recorded the entire cycle of nine symphonies on more than one occasion – the 1970s cycle by André Previn being the most celebrated. And as these are live performances, there is a resulting excitement to the playing that can’t be matched in studio recordings.

I have one small quibble with the otherwise excellent booklet notes: the alternating triads that close the epilogue of the Sixth Symphony are E Minor and E-flat Major sonorities, not E Minor and E Major as noted.

17b Vaughan Williams 5The release of the Fifth Symphony is part of a projected complete cycle of Vaughan Williams symphonies by Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Symphony Orchestra on the Hyperion label. Brabbins clearly loves this piece and under his baton the themes seem to unfold in a natural, organic way – unhurried, yet with a careful eye on the overall structure of the entire work. The orchestra’s winds sparkle in the second movement and its strings luxuriate in the beauty of the third movement Romanza. Brabbins deftly handles the architecture of the finale, making the cyclical return of the opening seem inevitable and treating the work’s closing pages more like a benediction than a mere coda.

Since the Fifth Symphony contains themes originally composed for RVW’s then-unfinished opera, The Pilgrim’s Progress, it seems appropriate to include music from that on this release. The scenes are mostly incidental music, and they don’t hold together as a concert work for me, but as a RVW enthusiast, I am very glad to get to hear music from a work that preoccupied him for over 40 years of his long life.

18 Hindemith HornHindemith – Chamber Music for Horn
Louis-Philippe Marsolais; David Jalbert; Pentaèdre
ATMA ACD2 2822 (atmaclassique.com/en) 

Paul Hindemith was a fascinating figure in 20th-century music, a prolific composer, conductor and theorist whose writings are still used to teach students in conservatories and universities around the world. A gifted violinist and violist, Hindemith was able to play almost every instrument in the orchestra, as well as the organ and piano, as he attempted to learn an instrument and its workings through practice before composing for it. Much of Hindemith’s work is written in a non-tonal style in which there is nonetheless a clearly defined central pitch; this is not atonal music by any means, but rather a modernist modality that is unique and immediately distinguishable as Hindemith’s own musical language.

Chamber Music for Horn features five unique works and a range of instrumentations, each featuring at least one horn, including the remarkable Concerto for Horn and Orchestra, admirably arranged for horn (Louis-Philippe Marsolais), wind ensemble (Pentaèdre) and piano (David Jalbert) by Simon Bourget; and the strikingly beautiful Sonata for Four Horns. This latter work is a masterful example of Hindemith’s ingenious skill, using the four horn “voices” to create different moods and characters in exceedingly successful ways.

The intricacies of Hindemith’s writing require constant precise tuning and rhythmic precision, and this disc abounds with both. Timbres are robust throughout and always impeccably tuned, allowing the resonance of each instrument to reach its full potential, while rhythms are crisp and accurate. Whether a Hindemith neophyte or a seasoned listener, this recording is highly recommended as an exploration of Hindemith’s musical style, even if it contains only a small portion of this master’s many works.

Listen to 'Hindemith: Chamber Music for Horn' Now in the Listening Room

01 Azuline DuoThere are two fascinating CDs from Canadian guitarist Emma Rush. On Fandango by the Azuline Duo she is joined by flutist Sara Traficante in a program of mostly contemporary works for flute and guitar (azulineduo.com). The title track is the duo’s own arrangement of a piece for solo Baroque guitar by Santiago de Murcia (1673-1739); the duo also arranged the two works by the Brazilian Chiquinha Gonzaga (1847-1935).

Traficante plays alto flute in Miroslav Tadić’s Macedonian Pieces and wooden flute and tin whistle in Five Celtic Pieces, Gerald Garcia’s striking arrangements of traditional Irish and Scottish melodies. Maximo Diego Pujol’s Nubes de Buenos Aires and Jeffrey McFadden’s Aguardiente complete a refreshingly different and quite beautiful CD.

02 Emma RushRush’s solo CD Wake the Sigh – 19th Century Music for Guitar (emma-rush.com) opens a window on a world we rarely encounter with a collection of works for both accomplished amateur guitarists and professional players, all written by women, five of whom were renowned soloists in their own right.

Featured are: Emilia Giuliani-Guglielmi (1813-1850); Angiolina Panormo Huerta (1811-1900); Catharina Pratten (1824-1895); Susan C. Domett (1826-1911); Julie Fondard (1819-1864?); Julia Piston (c.1800-1842); and Madame Delores de Goñi (1813-1892).

As with the Fandango CD, there’s clean, sensitive playing of an intriguing program. No information on when or where they were recorded, other than “in Hamilton Ontario, produced and engineered by Kirk Starkey,” who clearly did a terrific job.

03 Pascal ValoisNapoli 1810: Italian Romantic Music is the first album on the Analekta label for Canadian guitarist Pascal Valois, who performs music from the Romantic era on period instruments (AN 2 9195 analekta.com/en). The guitar here is a Cabasse-Bernard model c.1820 with a soft, warm sound – not big, but with a nice range of colour and tone.

Italian music, with its strong bel canto vocal influence, dominated the early-19th-century virtuoso guitar repertoire, and Valois uses period-appropriate elements of the style to highlight the lyrical nature of the music. Niccolò Paganini’s Grand Sonata, Mauro Giuliani’s Sonata Op.15 and Ferdinando Carulli’s Six Andantes Op.320, his Sonatina Op.59 No.1 and Sonata Op.159 No.1 – the latter two in world-premiere recordings – make an attractive and finely played recital.

04 Elgar Renaud CapuconRenaud Capuçon is the soloist on Elgar Violin Concerto & Violin Sonata with Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra, pianist Stephen Hough joining Capuçon in the sonata (Erato 9029511282 warnerclassics.com).

Capuçon admits that the concerto has always moved him deeply, and that recording the work with Rattle and the LSO – the orchestra that played in the 1910 premiere and was also conducted by Elgar in the famous 1932 Menuhin recording – was an inspiring experience, feelings that are clearly evident in a heartfelt performance.

The Violin Sonata in E Minor Op.82 from 1918 is a truly lovely work, with Capuçon and Hough proving to be sensitive partners in an outstanding reading.  

05 Trio Arnold BeethovenThe Trio Arnold is in outstanding form on its debut CD for the Mirare label, Beethoven String Trios Op.9 (MIR550 mirare.fr).

The three works – No.1 in G Major, No.2 in D Major and No.3 in C Minor – were written as Beethoven sought to establish himself as a chamber music composer, the risk of comparison with the string quartets of Haydn and Mozart leading him to choose the safer option of string trios. They clearly act as preparation for the string quartets, and indeed sound like quartets at times.

The release sheet cites “beauty of sound and a high degree of instrumental virtuosity” in the works, and that’s also exactly what the Trio Arnold displays in superb performances.

06 Liya PetrovaThere’s more Beethoven on another Mirare CD with Liya Petrova playing Beethoven & Mozart Violin Concertos in D with the Sinfonia Varsovia under Jean-Jacques Kantorow (MIR552 mirare.fr).

The Beethoven is a beautiful performance in all respects, but the bigger interest here, perhaps, is the Violin Concerto No.7 K271a/271i attributed to Mozart, the true provenance of which remains unknown and hotly debated. Breitkopf & Härtel published an edition in 1907, and a set of parts was prepared in 1837 in Paris, apparently from the now-lost autograph. It’s a substantial work with passages of pure Mozartean beauty and sections that sound less than convincing, especially the pizzicato cadenza in the slow movement.

Again, simply beautiful playing makes a strong case for a fascinating work.

07 Danish Prism IIIBeethoven was obsessed with Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier and used many melodic motifs from it in his late quartets. Prism III is the third volume in the ongoing series by the Danish String Quartet that aims to show how the radiance of Bach’s fugues is refracted through Beethoven’s quartets to illuminate the work of later composers. (ECM New Series ECM2563 ecmrecords.com/catalogue).

There’s a clear line here from Bach’s Fugue in C-Sharp Minor, with its four-note BACH motif, through Beethoven’s String Quartet No.14 in C-Sharp Minor Op.131, which starts with a fugue and a four-note motif, to Bartók’s String Quartet No.1, which also opens with a four-note motif and pays direct homage to the Beethoven.

Outstanding playing and interpretation result in a terrific CD. 

08 KarnaviciusEven if you’re aware of the Lithuanian composer Jurgis Karnavičius (1884-1941) you almost certainly haven’t heard his string quartets; Jurgis Karnavičius String Quartets Nos.1 & 2, the first two of his four quartets, are presented in world-premiere recordings by the Vilnius String Quartet (Ondine ODE1351-2 naxosdirect.com/search/ode+1351-2).

Karnavičius moved to St. Petersburg in 1903, writing his first quartet on graduating from the Conservatory in 1913. Drafted into the Russian army the following year, he wrote his second quartet in 1917 while a prisoner of war. They are works in the Russian classical tradition, tinged with Lithuanian folk elements and a hint of early-20th-century modernism.

The Lithuanian Vilnius Quartet, founded in 1965, gives wonderfully sympathetic performances, beautifully recorded with a full, resonant sound quality on a gorgeous CD.

09 Great Violins 4Peter Sheppard Skærved continues his fascinating exploration of outstanding violins with The Great Violins Vol.4: Girolamo Amati, 1629, performing the Six Partias for solo violin from 1715 by Johann Joseph Vilsmaÿr (1663-1722) (Athene ATH 23210 naxosdirect.com/search/ath23210).

The Partias, all consisting of eight, nine or ten very short movements, are described as “an extraordinary bridge” from the solo compositions of German composers like Biber to the later masterpieces of Bach and Telemann. They receive beautifully nuanced performances in a generous CD of almost 82 minutes.

As always, Sheppard Skærved’s booklet essay is remarkably erudite and informative, examining the use of scordatura and the emotional effects attached to specific key signatures in order to understand the physical and emotional structure of the music.

10 Nordic RhapsodyThe 20-year-old Swedish violinist Johan Dalene, winner of the 2019 Carl Nielsen Competition, is joined by Norwegian pianist Christian Ihle Hadland on Nordic Rhapsody, his second CD on the BIS label (BIS-2560 naxosdirect.com/search/bis-2560).

A dazzling Presto from Sinding’s Suite im alten Stil Op.10 sets the tone for a recital bursting with strong, brilliant tone and outstanding technique, with Hadland an excellent partner. Stenhammar’s Two Sentimental Romances Op.28, three of the Six Pieces Op.79 by Sibelius, Nielsen’s Romance in D Major, Rautavaara’s Notturno e Danza and Grieg’s Sonata No.1 in F Major Op.8 complete an impressive recital disc from a player from whom we will clearly be hearing a lot more in the future.

11 A French ConnectionOn A French Connection violinist Daniel Rowland and pianist Natacha Kudritskaya present what the violinist calls “two wonderful, luscious, gorgeously romantic pieces, one a perennial favourite, the other still all too rarely heard” (Champs Hill Records CHRCD157 champshillrecords.co.uk).

The latter is Chausson’s Concerto for Violin, Piano & String Quartet, the duo being joined by violinists Francesco Sica and Asia Jiménez Antón de Vez, violist Joel Waterman and cellist Maja Bogdanović in a passionate performance to open the disc.

World-premiere recordings of effective arrangements of three Debussy Preludes by Craig White precede the “perennial favourite”: the Franck A Major Sonata. It does indeed turn up regularly on CD, but is nevertheless always welcome, especially in warm, sensitive performances like this.

12 Duo ShuCellist Yi-wen Zhang and pianist Nanyi Qiang have been collaborating since 2002 and founded the DUO SHU in 2019. Their self-titled debut CD on the Blue Griffin label features two songs by Fauré, Schumann’s Five Pieces in Folk Style Op.102, Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise Op.34 No.14, Dvořák’s Four Romantic Pieces Op.75 and Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances, together with Longing for SHU by Weijie Gao (BGR581 bluegriffin.com).

It’s a very pleasant disc with some passionate playing, particularly in the Dvořák, with a singing cello tone and crystal-clear piano playing, although the double-stopping passages in the cello sound a bit laboured in places.

Listen to 'DUO SHU' Now in the Listening Room

13 Wieder AthertonChances are you’ve never heard Boccherini cello concertos sound the way they do on Cadenza, the new CD from cellist Sonia Wieder-Atherton that features the concertos No.3 in D Major G476, No.4 in C Major G477 and No.6 in D Major G479 in small combo arrangements by Wieder-Atherton and cimbalom player Françoise Rivalland. The other players are Amaryllis Billet (violin), Rémi Magnan (double bass) and Robin Billet (bassoon) (ALPHA667 naxosdirect.com/search/alpha667).

Wieder-Atherton says that incorporating the cimbalom results in our “hearing the dances, the infinite colours and the bursts of rhythmic music,” but it does seem an odd way to present Boccherini, especially when you add the lengthy cadenzas from various contributors with – at times – cimbalom, drones and finger cymbals, and musical material from Handel and Stravinsky. 

14 Nights TransfiguredGuitarist Aaron Larget-Caplan follows up his 2010 CD New Lullaby – 14 Enchanting Ways to Fall Asleep with Nights Transfigured – Vol.2 of the New Lullaby Project, a second collection of short pieces by 14 different composers written for Larget-Caplan between 2009 and 2020 (Stone Records 5060192781106 stonerecords.co.uk).

Don’t be misled by the title. Although there’s obviously a general sense of calm throughout the CD, this isn’t a disc of music for children but a fascinating collection of exquisite contemporary miniatures for classical guitar that explore a wide range of musical languages and often employ extended guitar technique, all of it beautifully played and recorded.

15 Kontogiorgos KaleidoscopeGreek guitarist Pavlos Kanellakis is the soloist on Kaleidoscope, a recital of world-premiere recordings of works by George Kontogiorgos (Naxos 8.579084 naxosdirect.com/search/8579084). The music is essentially tonal and very accessible.

The five-movement Sea Vespers from 2015 takes melodies from the composer’s songs from the 1960s and 1970s. Kanellakis is joined by cellist Vangjel Nina in the four-movement Cansonata from 2014. Elegy was written in 1980 and revised for Kanellakis in 2006 when Kontogiorgos was writing the commissioned guitar suite that gives the CD its title, the four-movement Kaleidoscope consisting of multi-coloured fragments that shift and dance as if viewed through a kaleidoscope.

The darker Emotions from 2018 completes a recital of performances that can be considered definitive, Kanellakis having worked closely with the composer.

16 Violeta VicciMirror Images, the latest album from violinist, violist and vocalist Violeta Vicci, features world-premiere recordings of solo works by Ragnar Söderlind, Imogen Holst and Jean-Louis Florentz, plus related works by Bach and Ysaÿe and six interspersed improvisations (two of them vocal) by Vicci (Gramola GRAM98010 naxosdirect.com/search/gram98010).

Bach’s Partita No.3 in E Major (with hardly any repeats, lasting just 14 minutes for all seven movements) and Ysaÿe’s Sonata in A Minor are given competent if somewhat mundane performances; the Söderlind is the brief Elegia II and the Florentz an equally-brief Vocalise. By far the most interesting work, though, is the 1930 Holst Suite for Solo Viola, which also draws the best playing from Vicci.

01 Daniel ZapicoAu Monde
Daniel Zapico
Alborada editions ALB001 (alborada-editions.com)

Daniel Zapico explains that, as soon as he picked it up, the theorbo was to be his instrument. Such is his dedication to it that he takes manuscripts of compositions for inter alia harpsichord, viola da gamba and guitar and transcribes them for theorbo.

Taking inspiration from the Vaudry de Saizenay manuscript of 1699, Zapico performs pieces from six composers in Au Monde. From the start, the theorbo demonstrates capabilities in excess of its younger sister the lute, in the shape of a more resonant, mellow and deeper tone, the instrument being perfectly suited to Zapico’s interpretations. Robert de Visée’s Prélude brings out this very deep and resounding sonority.   

Then there are the longer and more demanding compositions. Zapico selects Couperin’s Les Bergeries and de Visée’s Pastoralle to demonstrate his forceful technique. Contrast these with the sensitivity of Monsieur du Buisson’s Plainte sur la mort de Monsieur Lambert (one of the other composers featured on this CD). This piece is complex and makes real demands on Zapico’s technique.   

Of course, there is always the Bourée by de Visée for a lighter enjoyment of this CD, which is sufficiently varied to show Zapico’s mastery of an instrument overshadowed by the lute in popularity and ultimately by the harpsichord. Zapico’s love for the theorbo is brought home by the highly complex tablature he works from – printed in copper-coloured ink to grace even further this very sumptuously presented CD.

02 Telemann PolonaiseTelemann – Polonoise
Holland Baroque; Aisslinn Nosky
PentaTone PTC5186878 (naxosdirect.com/search/827949087868)

One walks a fine balance when performing early music. Often, musicians and audiences who perform, record and appreciate early music are, and I say this kindly, authenticity fetishists who value the period veracity of everything from the repertoire, tempo and interpretation of the music to, in some cases, the lineage and pedigree of the instruments played, to the ensemble dress. Holland Baroque, led by Judith and Tineke Steenbrink (who supply new arrangements of Georg Philipp Telemann’s familiar music for the recording here), manages to thread the difficult needle of adhering to the purity and concretized tradition of Germanic Baroque performance while imbuing a flair for innovation that places this musical style in a contemporary setting that includes elements of improvisation and innovative collaboration. It is little wonder then that the ensemble has won fans worldwide. 

Here, on their second strong release for PentaTone Records, the group is sure to earn even more accolades and listeners. Joined by Canadian early music violinist Aisslinn Nosky, the group explores Telemann’s Danses d’Polonié (TWV 45), which the composer wrote during his Polish travels, and which had a lasting impact upon his compositional style and artistic output. Cinematic and rich in its thematic mining of the imagery, landscape and nature of Poland and its surroundings, this recording is a winner. Sure to delight connoisseurs of early music while making fans out of other listeners too.

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