01 Bach Magnificat

Bach – Magnificat BWV243; Kuhnau – Cantate “Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern”
Winkel; Zomer; Laing; Wilder; Brock; Arion Orchestre Baroque; Alexander Weimann
ATMA ACD2 2727 (atmaclassique.com)

Review

Bach composed the Magnificat for Christmas 1723. The work was originally in E-flat Major but revised to the lower tonality of D Major. Like most recordings this CD presents the revised version but with two differences. The first version included four interpolations. These have been included (transposed in accordance with the D-Major tonality) on the present recording. A more substantial difference with most performances lies in the handling of the choral sections. Most performances observe a marked difference between the solo and the choral sections but Weimann’s interpretation follows the views of Joshua Rifkin and Andrew Parrott that the choral sections should also be sung one to a part. The gain in clarity in movements like Fecit Potentiam and Sicut locutus is unmistakable. There is an odd error in the Table of Contents which states that Suscepit Israel is a duet between the two soprano voices. It is actually a trio with the alto taking the lowest part.

The performance is very successful and several moments stand out: the virtuoso trumpets in the opening and closing movements, the soprano solo (Johanna Winkel) and oboe d’amore obbligato (Matthew Jennejohn) in Quia respexit, the alto and tenor duet (James Laing and Zachary Wilder) in Et misericordia and the alto solo and the flutes’ obbligato (Claire Guimond and Alexa Raine-Wright) in Esurientes implevit bonis.

The CD also contains Johann Kuhnau’s Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, also for five voices and also performed one to a part. It is an imaginative coupling: Kuhnau is best known as Bach’s predecessor as cantor of Saint Thomas’ in Leipzig, but he is clearly an important composer, whose works are worth listening to for their own sake.

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02 Franco Fagioli

Rossini
Franco Fagioli; Armonia Atenea Choir and Period Orchestra; George Petrou
Deutsche Grammophon 479 5681

Review

The best ever? In the early 1960s I was fortunate to hear and meet Alfred Deller and Russell Oberlin, pioneers who created the standard for countertenors well before their voice type entered the musical mainstream. They were models for those who followed and eventually surpassed them, such as the splendid David Daniels.

But when I watched the DVD of Vinci’s Artaserse (Erato 46323234) I felt a new level of countertenor brilliance had been achieved. The DVD of Hasse’s Artaserse and the CD Arias for Caffarelli (Naive V5333) convinced me that Franco Fagioli’s phenomenal coloratura technique and uniquely dark timbre make him the greatest of all countertenors.

This, Fagioli’s first CD as an exclusive DG artist, focuses on Rossinian trouser roles, male characters written for and traditionally sung by mezzo-sopranos. Other than arias from Tancredi and Semiramide, four rarities are represented: Demetrio e Polibio, Matilde di Shabran, Adelaide di Borgogna and Eduardo e Cristina.

Though unfamiliar, the music is high quality, showcasing Fagioli through emotions from anguish to joy, fearfulness to triumph. I especially enjoyed the two scenes from Adelaide featuring martial choruses and Fagioli as the heroic Otto singing, of course, heroically. In the scene from Eduardo e Cristina, he spins a breathless, lyrical line before launching into the spectacular coloratura finale, also the CD’s thrilling conclusion. Special credit to George Petrou’s crackling period-instrument orchestra and chorus.

Texts and translations are included. A super disc by a super singer.

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11Thread of Winter

Thread of Winter
Leslie Fagan; Lorin Shalanko
Canadian Art Song Series (canadianartsong.ca)

Review

When reviewing (in early 2004) the first solo album by Leslie Fagan, I stated that “she is in a class of her own.” What a pleasure to conclude, some 12 years later, that she remains just as original. Her career has taken her to the world’s most important concert stages, providing Fagan with opportunities to present both traditional (Handel, Mahler) and contemporary (Poulenc, Kulesha) repertoire. She is also active as a voice teacher, in schools ranging from Wilfrid Laurier to Juilliard. It is that latter school’s reverence for the American Songbook that prompted Fagan to record this first album of the Canadian Art Song Series.

Much to no one’s surprise, Canadian composers such as Gary Kulesha, James Gordon, Walter MacNutt, Imant Raminsh, Jeff Smallman and others, have been steadily amassing a repertoire of songs, set to the words of both Canadian and international poets. It is perhaps our ongoing doubt about the nature of Canadian identity that prevents us from recognizing and celebrating this treasure trove in the way the American Songbook is usually feted. I have a feeling that Prof. Fagan will soon change that, at least among her students.

In this first of hopefully many recordings, Fagan is in great form: clear, lyrical, playful (in Six Nursery Rhymes by Peter Tiefenbach) and pensive. She is showcasing not only her beautiful soprano (so reminiscent of her erstwhile teacher, Ileana Cortubas), but also an interpretive range to be envied. Lorin Shalanko’s accompaniment is superb – fully supportive and intelligent, bringing to mind some of Gerald Moore’s best recordings.

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12 Winter Voces

Winter
Voces8
Decca 483 0968

Review

The cover art of Voces8’s Winter accurately represents this gorgeous, chill compilation of choral pieces written and arranged by composers from countries of Northern climes. There’s an ethereal quality to the recording that evokes the Aurora Borealis, such as in the first track, Arnalds and Arnarson’s For Now I Am Winter.

And while the season pervades the album’s themes, there’s a lot of variety. Es ist ein Ros entsprungen is like a slo-mo version of the Praetorius standard, and the Balulalow text, written by the three 16th-century brothers and poets, the Wedderburns, is nothing like Britten’s version: where the Ceremony of Carols setting swells like waves off the North Sea coast, this one glides along like cross-country skis. Of course, my hero Pärt’s Nunc Dimittis is divine, as is Rachmaninoff’s Vespers. There’s harp accompaniment with a touch of the medieval in the traditional The Snow It Melts the Soonest, and the countertenors in Rebecca Dale’s premiere, Winter, reminded me of those in the Talla Vocal Ensemble. Ola Gjeilo offers up a Holst-based In the Bleak Midwinter, and it’s not so Christmasy that you can’t enjoy it now.

Perhaps most interesting are the featured Vasks pieces: three Plainscapes movements and The Fruit of Silence, the text of which was penned by Mother Teresa. All four convey the Latvian composer’s concern for and focus on environmental issues. This is a simply lovely, contemplative mood-setting release, with pristine choral and instrumental blending.

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01 Goldberg Beyond Variations

Johann Gottlieb Goldberg – Beyond the Variations
Rebel; Jörg-Michael Schwartz
Bridge Records 9478 (bridgerecords.com)

Review

Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, namesake of Bach’s famous Variations, was a highly talented musician. His life (1727-1756) was tragically short, but this CD, with five of Goldberg’s sonatas, shows us just what we were deprived of. Jörg-Michael Schwarz, playing a 1668 Jacobus Stainer violin, sets the scene with some beautiful playing in the Adagio of the B-flat Major Sonata. In the Allegro he is joined by Karen Marie Marmer playing a 1660 Stainer in a highly spirited Allegro. A Ciacona, at times stately and at others very lively, ends the sonata.

Goldberg’s Sonata in G Minor is thoughtful and involves the basso continuo much more than in the preceding sonata. There is a richness to John Moran’s cello playing in the Adagio before the violinists interpret the Allegro with a real passion and zest. The final movement of this sonata is the somewhat conventional Tempo di Menuetto.

Enter the viola of Risa Browder. The Largo in the Sonata in C Minor is indeed dignified, as the viola adds an element of complexity to the sonata. This is sustained in the cheerful Allegro and Giga.

The Sonata in A Minor features an Alla Siciliana movement, a dreamy composition which brings out both the violin playing and Goldberg’s own skills as a composer. It is movements like this and the following Allegro assai which bring home what was lost to us when Goldberg died so young.

Finally, there is the Sonata in C Major with its majestic Adagio worthy of any great Baroque composer. The Gigue which concludes the sonata also concludes this CD – again, an inspired introduction to the music of someone who could have generated a lifetime of wonderful music.

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06 Roberto OcchipintiStabilimento
Roberto Occhipinti
Modica Music MM0017 (modicamusic.com)

Review

In Stabilimento Toronto bassist and composer Roberto Occhipinti has produced a highly ambitious and coherent musical statement. The album’s repertoire combines Occhipinti’s wide-ranging compositions with imaginative interpretations of pieces by Caetano Veloso, Stevie Wonder and Beethoven. A strong world music vibe, a hallmark of Occhipinti’s varied musical career, serves as a home base for the album’s nine tracks.

Saxophonist Tim Ries is prominently featured on the first five tunes. His remarkable virtuosity and inventiveness is cast alongside Luis Deniz’s equally compelling alto playing on Tuareg, the opening cut. Pianist Manuel Valera creates a wide-open landscape for the horns to blow on and proceeds to take full advantage of this territory, starting with small rhythmic cells that expand into fleet double-time lines. Drummer Dafnis Prieto brings an Afro-Cuban edge to the groove and closes the track with a brief but explosive solo.

Ries’ rich soprano sound brings a bittersweet quality to Stevie Wonder’s Another Star, treated here as a ballad rather than the Latin/funk of Wonder’s original recording. The ensemble adds horns, strings and percussion for the title track, Occhipinti’s Stabilimento. The writing is lush and inviting with inspired blowing from Ries and Deniz as well as a challenging and expertly executed soli section. Valera conjures Herbie Hancock on the vamp out. Tenor saxophonist Quinsin Nachoff is featured on Wayne Shorter’s Penelope. The large-ensemble arrangement, this time including pianist Hilario Duran and drummer Mark Kelso, lends itself beautifully to the poignant waltz and Nachoff improvises fluidly and effortlessly.

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11 Keith Jarrett

A Multitude of Angels
Keith Jarrett
ECM 2500-03

Review

The ECM label is continuing to release high quality previously unissued live performances from master musician Keith Jarrett’s catalogue. Recent archival concert releases include Sleeper, Bregenz and Hamburg 1972 – all issued over the last few years. The latest in this series is A Multitude of Angels, a four-CD set encompassing consecutive concerts from his 1996 European tour. This was the final time that Jarrett would perform the extended solo improvisations – up to 45 minutes in length without a break – for which he had become famous. Following a several-year performing hiatus, Jarrett returned to the concert stage with a new approach and format that would instead feature shorter solo vignettes. As he would never perform his extended solos again, A Multitude of Angels gives us a glimpse into this fruitful period of his last documented lengthy solo improvisations.

Also, as all of these concerts were recorded within one week, the listener gets a rare view of Jarrett’s creative process on a nightly basis as he performs concerts in Modena, Ferrara, Torino and Genova. Modena Part 1 begins with a beautiful, reflective ballad structure through shifting tonal centres. One gets the sense of the artist finding his way over a long, winding path, as he takes his time exploring a continuous thematic arc. Midway through, Jarrett segues into one of his trademark pedal point vamps as he improvises over a funky gospel left hand figure. The pianist then subtly shifts into a stunning contrapuntal section of intersecting right and left hand lines, until he eventually returns full circle to a pristine ballad.

Other highlights of the set include Ferrara Part 1, in which the pianist moves from a powerful chant-like section into musical territory that is infused with rhythmic influences from central Asia and Africa. The crown jewel of the set, though, is the Genova concert. The concluding tremolo-based section of Part 1 and the hymn-like opening of Part 2 may be some of the most sublime music he has ever created. All told, A Multitude of Angels is a major masterpiece: a testament to the transformative power of music.

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03 Shirley Eikhard

I Am the Hero
Shirley Eikhard
Independent (shirleyeikhard.ca)

Review

Singer/songwriter/instrumentalist Shirley Eikhard has been a popular and successful mainstay of the Canadian music circuit for decades. In this, her “20th record of new performances,” she multitasks and does practically everything, from singing the lead and backup vocals to her own songs, playing all the instruments, producing, and painting the CD cover art, with help in artwork/design from Catherine Osborne, and mixing and mastering from George Seara.

This is a very personal musical journey and gift to us, the listeners, as Eikhard touches on her country, jazz, folk and reggae influences and weaves elaborate stories in her lyrics. The tragic love story of My Diego unwinds like a bestseller murder mystery novel set to upbeat toe-tapping music. Likewise the title track, I Am the Hero is an illuminating look at self-exploration. In contrast, the instrumental Carmen’s Revenge proves Eikhard is equally stunning in both lead and improvisational instrumentals in this funky, jazz-tinged track, though a list of what instruments are being played would have been greatly appreciated. Closing track Comforts of the Country is hit material as it combines great lyrics, vocals, upbeat melodies and grooves.

Eikhard is a master of creating satisfying sing-along, ear-worm musical hooks that resonate long after the CD is back on the shelf. It may be too pop for one’s tastes with looping melodic sections and the typical three-minute, radio-friendly track length, but this is really, really fun music!

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Author: Tiina Kiik
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01 Chopin DLX

The Complete Chopin - Deluxe Edition
Various Artists
Deutsche Grammophon 4796555

Review

 
The following is an excerpt from Old Wine in New Bottles - Fine Recordings Re-Released (February 2017) which can be read in its entirety here.
 
For The Complete Chopin – Deluxe Edition (DG 4796555, 20 CDs, one DVD, large 108 page book) DG has assembled an outstanding collection of well-chosen performances from its archives together with new recordings by many contemporary artists.

To celebrate the 200th anniversary of Chopin’s birth in 1810, DG issued Chopin, The Complete Edition on 17 CDs (DG 4778445) that certainly was complete as claimed and contained acclaimed performances of, well, everything. The contents of that edition are pretty well duplicated in this new one… with some changes and four extra discs of some interesting alternative performances. Changes to this set are: The Arrau/Inbal versions of the works for piano and orchestra are replaced by a new June 2016 recording by Canadian Jan Lisiecki conducted by Krzysztof Urbanski; The Rondo for two pianos in C Major Op. posth.73 passes from Kurt Bauer and Heidi Bung to Daniil Trifonov and Sergei Babayan; For the 19 Waltzes, Ashkenazy is replaced by Alice Sara Ott; The Grand Duo concertant on themes by Meyerbeer finds Anner Bylsma and Lambert Orkis replaced by Gabriel Schwabe and José Galiado.

CD 18 in the new set is a live recording from the XVII International Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 2015 of the winner, South Korean Seong-Jin Cho who was 21 years old at the time. His artistry came as a pleasant surprise for, unlike many technical wizards, he plays with understanding beyond his years without empty artifice. There are the 24 Preludes, the Nocturne in C Minor Op.48 No.1, the Second Piano Sonata and finally the Polonaise in A-flat Major Op.53. All adding up to an unexpected, insightful and thrilling 73 minutes.

CD 19 has 20 legendary Chopin pianists, the usual suspects and others – Halina Czerny-Stefanska, Adam Harasiewicz, Monique Haas, Julian von Karolyi, Géza Anda and Stefan Askenase – playing familiar shorter pieces from the repertoire. CD 20 has pianists from the younger generation: Lisiecki, Trifonov, Blechacz, Grosvenor, Grimaud, Uja Wang and others. Disc 21 is a DVD of Arthur Rubinstein playing the Second Piano Concerto with André Previn conducting the LSO in 1947 and the Second Scherzo from 1973. Both very worthwhile in very good video.

The new edition is an overtly opulent production in the form of a unique 11” wide x 8” tall “book” bound in burgundy vinyl moleskin, with gold embossed boards. Enclosed is an impressive, well-researched and illustrated 11” x 7 5/8” 108-page book. If you own the earlier set you may not consider this a reasonable purchase. If you don’t, the peerless new edition is certainly the one to have.

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04 Tchaikovsky Quartes 1 3

The Heath Quartet
Tchaikovsky String Quartets Nos.1 & 3

Review

The following is an exerpt from the November 2016 Strings Attached.

The British string ensemble the Heath Quartet has built an enviable reputation for itself since its foundation at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester in 2002, and garnered glowing reviews for its 2013/14 recording of the complete string quartets of Sir Michael Tippett that comprised its debut CD on the Wigmore Hall Live label last year.

Their new CD of Tchaikovsky String Quartets Nos.1 & 3 (HMU 907665) marks the start of a new relationship with the outstanding Harmonia Mundi label, and what a start it is!

The String Quartet No.1 in D Major Op.11 was written for a March 1871 concert intended to promote Tchaikovsky and his music, and includes the famous Andante cantabile slow movement which almost immediately achieved a life of its own. The Heath Quartet is in tremendous form from the outset, with full-bodied and passionate playing, a warm, rich tone, a lovely dynamic range and sensitive phrasing.

The players for the first performance, assembled from Tchaikovsky’s colleagues at the Moscow Conservatory, were mostly the same for the String Quartet No.2 in 1874. Ferdinand Laub, the Czech first violinist in both performances, died the following year at 43, and the String Quartet No.3 in E-flat Minor Op.30 was Tchaikovsky’s response to the loss. The third movement Andante funebre e doloroso was intended as an elegy to Laub, and not surprisingly made the biggest impression at the premiere. It really is played quite beautifully here.

The Heath Quartet’s next CD release will be the complete Bartók quartets in 2017, apparently recorded during its performance of the complete cycle at London’s Wigmore Hall this past May. That cycle won rave reviews in The Telegraph, and if this outstanding Tchaikovsky CD is anything to go by the Bartók issue should really be something to look forward to.

Concert note: The Heath Quartet will feature music of Bach, Beethoven, Bartók and Dvořák during its Canadian debut tour which includes performances at the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society on January 20 and Mooredale Concerts in Toronto on January 22.

 

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03 Papineau Couture

Jean Papineau-Couture - String Quartets 1-4
Quatuor Molinari
ATMA ACD2 2751

Review

The following is an excerpt from Editor's Corner (December 2016) which can be read in its entirety here.

I grew up understanding that John Weinzweig was the “Dean of Canadian Composers” but in my formative years came to the realization that, as with so many things Canadian, there are Two Solitudes and that Jean Papineau-Couture (1916-2000) was “The Dean” in La Belle Province. He was born into one of the most distinguished Quebec families and his forebears include the statesman Louis-Joseph Papineau and the composer Guillaume Couture, who was his paternal grandfather. As a matter of fact Papineau-Couture was named in honour of his grandfather’s masterwork, the oratorio Jean le Précurseur, John the Baptist.

There are many parallels between the two “deans.” After studies at home in Toronto, Weinzweig went to the USA to study at the Eastman School and Papineau-Couture left his native Montreal to attend the New England Conservatory and later studied with the iconic Nadia Boulanger who spent the war years in America. Both moved back to Canada to establish careers as composers and university professors. They were founding members of the Canadian League of Composers (CLC) and the Canadian Music Centre (CMC) and enjoyed a friendly rivalry over the decades. I had the pleasure of meeting Papineau-Couture on several occasions and the privilege of interviewing him for my program Transfigured Night at CKLN-FM in the 1980s. He was a charming man and a generous soul, a fierce champion of the rights of artists and staunch defender of serious culture. He was also an active administrator serving as the president of the CLC, the Société de musique contemporaine du Québec and the Canadian Music Council, dean of the music faculty at the Université de Montréal and the director of the Montreal office of the CMC.

I was delighted when I heard that Quatuor Molinari was recording his complete music for string quartet along with the string trio Slanó (ATMA ACD2 2751). And even more delighted to find that in addition to the String Quartets 1 and 2 with which I was familiar, there was a third from 1996 and an incomplete fourth recently found among his papers. So we are effectively presented with works spanning nearly half a century and all the periods of his mature career. String Quartet No.1 dates from 1953 and shows the influence of French composers of the early 20th century. By the centennial year when he composed String Quartet No.2, although eschewing the serial school of composition, he was exploring an expanded tonality using all 12 tones. It is the string trio from 1975 that is the most experimental, with its elaborate use of extended techniques and layering of timbres. Quartet No.3 is a one-movement work which presents a sense of stylistic transition, moving away from the somewhat abrasive world of the string trio, embracing a certain lushness while at the same time approaching the sparse lyricism with which we are presented in the posthumous final work. Although unfinished, I must say that it does not give the impression of being incomplete.

This is a wonderful retrospective of one of our most important composers on the occasion of his centennial and it includes two world premiere recordings. Kudos to founding first violinist Olga Ranzenhofer and the members of the Molinari Quartet for their ongoing commitment to the music of our time through recordings of some of the most significant works of the last half century and their efforts to develop new repertoire with the Molinari International Composition Competition, the sixth of which took place in 2015. Praise is also due to the designers of the attractive and informative package which includes some wonderful photos of Papineau-Couture throughout his life, from an adolescent in a sailor suit through to the pensive, but ever-smiling, grand old man.

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03 Bach Nemanja Radulovic

BACH
Nemanja Radulović
Deutsche Grammophon 479 5933

Review

The following is an excerpt from Strings Attached (December 2016) which can be read in its entirety here.

If you like your Bach bright, clean and with an abundance of energy, then you will really enjoy BACH, the new CD from the Serbian violinist Nemanja Radulović (Deutsche Grammophon 479 5933). It’s described as being in a way the continuation of his exploration of the Baroque repertory following his Vivaldi project, The Five Seasons, but it’s just as clearly a return to his roots and his earliest musical studies.

His former fellow student Tijana Milošević joins him in a performance of the Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor BWV1043 in which the outer Vivace and Allegro movements are just about as fast as you’re likely to hear them. There is lovely clean playing throughout, though. The string ensemble Double Sens provides a crystal clear accompaniment.

The Concerto in A Minor BWV1041 receives similar treatment, with a particularly lovely slow movement; Radulović really does have a beautiful tone.

The other J. S. Bach works on the CD are a mixture. The short Gavotte from the Partita No.3 BWV1006, the only solo piece on the disc, is clean and bright. The remaining three works are all presented in arrangements for violin and strings by Aleksander Sedlar: the Toccata & Fugue in D Minor BWV565 (where Les Trilles du Diable provide the accompaniment); the Air in D Major from the Orchestral Suite No.3 BWV1068; and the Chaconne in D Minor from the Partita No.2 BWV1004. There is more than a hint of the old Leopold Stokowski transcriptions here.

Radulović also learned the viola in his native Belgrade and studied the Viola Concerto in C Minor that was long thought to be by Johann Christian Bach but is now described as being “reconstructed” by Henri Casadesus. It is included here as a nod to his student days.

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05 Dompierre

François Dompierre
Concertango Grosso
ATMA Classique ACD22739

Review

The following is an excerpt from Strings Attached (December 2016) which can be read in its entirety here.

Concertango Grosso is a new CD from the ATMA Classique label featuring the music of the Quebec composer François Dompierre (ACD22739).

The 2015 title track was commissioned by and is dedicated to the pianist Louise Bessette and also features Denis Plante on bandoneon, Kerson Leong on violin, Richard Capolla on bass and the Orchestre de chambre Appassionata under Daniel Myssyk. It’s a highly enjoyable four-movement piece, clearly – and inevitably – influenced by Astor Piazzola, but always more than just simple imitation or pastiche. The bandoneon certainly imparts an air of complete authenticity.

Bessette is also the soloist in the Concerto de Saint-Irénée for piano and string orchestra, a classically structured work that takes its inspiration from popular music of North and South America, including jazz in the opening movement and Latin music in the third.

The terrific Kerson Leong was in fine form in the Concertango Grosso, so it’s no surprise to hear him join Bessette and do some great fiddling in Les Diableries. The five short movements were originally written (for violin and orchestra) as the required violin work in the 1979 Montreal International Music Competition, and the piece is heard here in a new arrangement for violin, piano and string orchestra.

La Morte de Céleste, the final track on the disc, is a rich, romantic and simply lovely short piece for string orchestra.

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05 Alice Sara Ott

Wonderland – Grieg Piano Concerto; Lyric Pieces
Alice Sara Ott
Deutsche Grammophon 479 4631

Review

The following is an excerpt from Keyed In (December 2016) which can be read in its entirety here.

Grieg’s mystical introspection is also pursued in a new recording by Alice Sara Ott, Wonderland – Grieg Piano Concerto; Lyric Pieces (Deutsche Grammophon 479 4631). By the time Ott made this recording, she’d had the Grieg Concerto in A Minor Op.16 in her repertoire for ten years. That’s enough time to come to own the music and weave its threads into the fabric of her own artistic being.

Her personal stamp on this work shapes it in unique ways. Phrasings are often quite unusual and the pace of the work is slower than often heard. She very deliberately lets us know that she is exploring something of natural mysticism. She calls it Grieg’s “wonderland.”

The orchestra too, under Essa-Pekka Salonen, is in full agreement with this approach. Nothing, absolutely nothing is hurried in this performance. Only the final movement is near the traditional tempo. The effect of this on the concerto is to take an already monumental piece to an even grander scale.

Ott’s quest for Grieg the mystic continues through her playing of selections from the Lyric Pieces and Peer Gynt where Notturno and Solveig’s Song, respectively, reflect this most poignantly. There’s plenty of raw folk energy as well though; March of the Trolls (Lyric Pieces Book V, Op.54) and In the Hall of the Mountain King (Peer Gynt Suite No.1) leave no doubt about the dark side of Nordic myths.

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06 Benjamin Grosvenor

Homages: Bach-Busoni; Mendelssohn; Franck; Chopin; Liszt
Benjamin Grosvenor
Decca 483 0255

Review

The following is an excerpt from Keyed In (December 2016) which can be read in its entirety here.

This new recording Homages: Bach-Busoni; Mendelssohn; Franck; Chopin; Liszt (Decca 483 0255) by Benjamin Grosvenor is youthful, powerful and profoundly exciting. At age 24 Grosvenor seems already to have conquered everything. Completely unhindered by technical challenges, he probes the alternating quiet and explosive episodes of Romantic works that look to the past for inspiration. Busoni’s arrangement of Bach’s Chaconne from BWV1004 is titanic yet floats soul searchingly through its many still moments. He plays Mendelssohn’s Fugue: Allegro con fuoco from Op.35 No.5 at an impossible speed with unbelievable clarity. Chopin’s Barcarolle in F-sharp Major Op.60 is voiced so superbly that it often sounds like two separate pianos. With selections from Liszt’s Années de pèlerinage, Grosvenor reaches the pinnacle of his Homages to conclude an astonishing program that sets the heart racing.

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Author: Alex Baran
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08 Perahia Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach – French Suites
Murray Perahia
Deutsche Grammophon 479 6565

Review

The following is an excerpt from Keyed In (December 2016) which can be read in its entirety here.

Deeper quests for meaning are becoming less rare among performers of all ages. In Johann Sebastian Bach – French Suites (Deutsche Grammophon 479 6565) Murray Perahia titles his notes “A Personal Devotion” and describes his lifelong love of Bach ignited by a performance of the St. Matthew Passion under Pablo Casals in the early 1960s. What moved the young Perahia was the humanity of Casal’s approach. It rejected the strict mechanical conventions of the time and channelled the composer’s voice through more modern sensibilities.

Perahia himself was greatly discouraged by the preference for the harpsichord and rejection of the piano as a legitimate instrument for Bach’s keyboard music. After two years of harpsichord study, he decided to return to his first keyboard love and bring to it some of the harpsichord technique he’d acquired. This hybridization has produced a style of Baroque piano playing that has all the lightness of the period instruments but brings to it the emotional palette of our present day.

 Perahia’s playing is consequently a product of considerable forethought. His application of the whole range of the piano’s expressive capability is carefully measured. He pedals very lightly, articulates immaculately and communicates superbly.

Review

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09 Alain Lefevre

Sas Agapo
Alain Lefèvre
Analekta AN 2 9297

Review

The following is an excerpt from Keyed In (December 2016) which can be read in its entirety here.

Alain Lefèvre is one of Quebec’s best-selling recording artists. A recent stay in Greece was the inspiration behind his newest CD Sas Agapo (Analekta AN 2 9297). Lefèvre is widely known for his creative and improvisational gift as well as his formidable keyboard technique. Combined, they ensure that his performances are highly engaging and entertaining. Sas Agapo is a collection of programmatic expressions for the piano – a musical album of Aegean experiences.

Lefèvre’s inspirations are both visual and emotional. Something as simple as watching an elderly couple enjoying a seaside picnic becomes the creative kernel for Promenade à Kavouri. The piece is melancholic yet light and drifts between numerous short episodes punctuated by beautifully placed dissonances.

The opening track Sas Agapo is highly stylized to reflect the modal nature of traditional Greek music. Its charged rhythms are instantly captivating and Lefèvre’s repeated keyboard runs are part of the electrifying experience of listening to this piece.

Romance, personal loss and the general future of humanity are some of the other musings that take shape in this recording. Its conclusion is the wonderfully colourful and impish character piece Grand Carnival in which Lefèvre shows off some of his most impressive skills as composer and performer.

Concert note: On January 21 Alain Lefèvre is featured in André Mathieu’s Rhapsody romantique as part of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s “Canadian Legacy” concert at Roy Thomson Hall.

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10 Bach Esfahani

Bach – Goldberg Variations
Mahan Esfahani
Deutsche Grammophon 479 5929

Review

The following is an excerpt from Keyed In (December 2016) which can be read in its entirety here.

The Goldberg Variations are most often heard performed on piano, and we’ve come to assume that new recordings of the work will, naturally, be played that way. So, while harpsichord performances have narrower appeal, it’s a delight to encounter one so completely engaging and satisfying as in Bach – Goldberg Variations, Mahan Esfahani (Deutsche Grammophon 479 5929). Here’s a performance with enough zest and colour to rival your favourite piano version.

Esfahani achieves this several ways. He plays with a clean and agile technique. He is tastefully impressive with his elaborate ornamentations. His phrasings benefit from tempo relaxation at critical points in the melodic line. And perhaps most of all, he’s just not in a rush to get to the end. Esfahani loves to explore the inner voices of these variations, challenging enough on a harpsichord, but skillfully managed with clever use of changing registrations between the instrument’s two keyboards.

The recording appears to be made with large parts of the work (possibly all of it) played direct to recording without stopping for more than a second or two between variations to change keyboard stops (sounds). Performers who do this argue for the impact of the interpretive continuity this creates. Efahani’s performance bears this out once again.

A fascinating feature of this recording lies in a brief note from the harpsichord technician who describes his tuning approach and explains his choices for sweeter major thirds in the keys of G and D, the home for most of the variations.

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02 Russian Piano 12 Bortkiewitz

Russian Piano Music Vol.12 – Sergei Bortkiewicz
Alfonso Soldano
Divine Art 25142

Review

The following is an excerpt from Keyed In (December 2016) which can be read in its entirety here.

Divine Art’s growing Russian Piano Music Series has a new addition in Russian Piano Music Vol.12 – Sergei Bortkiewicz (dda 25142). It features Italian pianist Alfonso Soldano playing the music of Bortkiewicz (1877-1952), who produced a substantial body of works, both large and small scale. The majority was for piano but he also wrote for violin, cello and piano trio. He opposed modernism and evolved his musical language using the vocabulary of the late 19th century. He demonstrated unwavering adherence to melody, harmony and structure. His piano writing reveals an affinity for Chopin and Liszt, yet there are occasional, if brief, references to 20th-century harmonies and resolutions of popular nature.

Pianist Alfonso Soldano takes on this music for what it plainly is, a form that refused to budge with the changing currents of its time. What emerges is not an apology for the music but an argument for its credibility. Soldano argues from the keyboard, that Bortkiewicz had a voice of his own, that subtly reshaped the familiar late Romantic sound. Bortkiewicz placed great importance on how his inner voices moved to create a richness of colour too often lost to virtuosic imperatives.

While this is evident in the short pieces on this disc, the Sonata No.2 in C-sharp Minor Op.60 is where the composer truly shows his respect for structure, applying his unique subtleties to show us that the late Romantics may have given up too soon.

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01 PalestrinaPalestrina – Missa Papae Marcelli; Motets
Sistine Chapel Choir; Massimo Palombella
Deutsche Grammophon 4796131

Review

David Olds’ notes in the November Editor’s Corner set the historical backdrop for Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli. This particular recording looks back to original Renaissance sources rather than existing editions. What is more, its authenticity is enhanced as it was recorded within the Sistine Chapel, the result being a more intimate sound.

So it is, with the initial Kyrie eleison and Credo, as the young boys of the Chapel bring a human, almost relaxed interpretation. Incidentally, the recording notes include some enchanting photographs of the choir off-duty and clearly happy in their choral responsibilities.

More solemn is the two-part Tu Es Pastor Ovium, taken from Matthew 16:19 and composed for the coronation of Pope Sixtus V in 1585. This motet has a dominant element of mercy, especially appropriate in the Holy Year of Mercy decreed by Pope Francis for 2016. The plea for mercy is reflected in Ad Te Levavi Oculos Meos, its second part expressing that plea at its most direct.

Palestrina’s works do not have to be long or complex: O Bone Iesu, at under two minutes, conveys an intensely spiritual message in a simple structure. Equally uplifting is the Sistine Chapel’s interpretation of Benedixisti, Domine, with its theme of God’s forgiveness for His people’s iniquities.

Last of the longer pieces in this selection is Jubilate Deo. This tests the abilities of the Sistine Chapel Choir – and its chief chorus master Massimo Palombella – more than any other piece on the CD. It goes without saying that its rendition of the Gloria Patri will revive even the most jaded of listeners.

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