01 Hope SeasonsFor Seasons
Daniel Hope; Zurich Chamber Orchestra
Deutsche Grammophon 479 6922

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Strings Attached (May 2017) which can be read in its entirety here.

For Seasons is the new CD from violinist Daniel Hope with the Zurich Chamber Orchestra and 11 individual collaborators (Deutsche Grammophon 479 6922). The album’s title is carefully chosen, as the disc contains not only Hope’s first recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons but also 12 short pieces linked to the months of the year, a concept Hope came up with 20 years ago and which he calls a very personal celebration of the seasons.

It’s fascinating to see how the Vivaldi concertos retain their freshness despite what seems like a neverending series of new recordings. The performances here are simply lovely – crisp, clean and warm, with some brilliant playing from Hope and an excellent continuo sound from the harpsichord, theorbo and baroque guitar. It’s another terrific interpretation to add to the already extensive list.

The rest of the CD is an absolute delight, although the connections with the months of the year – if they exist at all – are somewhat tenuous. Only Aphex Twin’s Avril 14th, Tchaikovsky’s June, Chilly Gonzales’ Les doutes d’août and Kurt Weill’s September Song are specifically linked to the appropriate month, with the remainder of the brief tracks apparently intended to convey the feelings and emotions associated with the changing seasons.

No matter, for they’re all real winners, with the January of Nils Frahm’s beautiful Ambre and the December of Chilly Gonzales’ Wintermezzo framing music by Rameau, Max Richter, Robert Schumann, Bach and his contemporary Johann Molter, and a particularly striking improvisation on Amazing Grace with Dom Bouffard on electric guitar. The Zurich Chamber Orchestra provides the accompaniment on four of the tracks. Hope’s lovely solo violin arrangement of Brahms’ Lullaby, Guten Abend, gut’ Nacht, provides a beautiful close to an outstanding CD.

The CD booklet, incidentally, includes the accompanying artwork produced by 12 visual artists in response “to the music and to the seasons” in Hope’s For Seasons project.

02 Rachmaninov TriosPREGHIERA Rachmaninov: Piano Trios
Gidon Kremer, Giedrė Dirvanauskaitė, Daniil Trifonov
Deutsche Grammophon 479 6979

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Strings Attached (May 2017) which can be read in its entirety here.

Another terrific Deutsche Grammophon CD, PREGHIERA Rachmaninov: Piano Trios features outstanding playing by violinist Gidon Kremer (celebrating his 70th birthday with this release), cellist Giedrė Dirvanauskaitė and pianist Daniil Trifonov (479 6979).

The CD’s title is taken from the opening track, Fritz Kreisler’s Preghiera, a violin and piano collaboration between Kreisler and Rachmaninoff that reworked the Adagio sostenuto from the composer’s Piano Concerto No.2. It’s a short but beautiful work that serves as an effective curtain-raiser to the two piano trio works.

Dedicated to “the memory of a great artist,” the Trio élégiaque No.2 in D Minor was Rachmaninoff’s response to the death of Tchaikovsky, whom he revered; it was started on the very day of Tchaikovsky’s death in 1893. Rachmaninoff said that all his thoughts, feelings and powers were devoted to it, that he tormented himself the entire time and was “ill in spirit.” Those sentiments are certainly reflected in the music, for this is a large-scale work written in what the booklet notes call “a musical idiom of almost unbridled emotionality.” The performance here is outstanding, perfectly capturing the melancholy and passion of the work and with a particularly ravishing piano sound.

The Trio élégiaque No.1 in G Minor is a short, one-movement student work that again features a prominent role for the piano and that offers more than a hint of Rachmaninoff’s mature elegiac style. Another fine performance rounds out a top-notch CD.

01 Chopin LisieskiChopin: Works for Piano & Orchestra
Jan Lisiecki; NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester, Krzysztof Urbanski
DG 479 6824

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Keyed In (May 2017) which can be read in its entirety here.

One of Canada’s brightest young talents is Jan Lisiecki. The Calgary-born pianist has been astonishing audiences since his orchestral debut at age 9. Now 22, his list of international performances with major orchestras and conductors grows yearly. His newest recording Chopin: Works for Piano & Orchestra, NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester, Krzysztof Urbanski (DG 479 6824) is his fourth for Deutsche Grammophon.

Lisiecki’s playing is unerringly precise with a lightness of touch that gives him astonishing tonal control, speed and clarity. He approaches Chopin with calm introspective depth unusual for an artist so young. The Nocturne in C-sharp Minor Op.Posth. demonstrates this with its mellow left-hand accompaniment of a brighter line in the right. Lisiecki’s finish is astonishing in its balanced perfection.

Every track on this CD is extraordinary. But what really emerges as the showpiece is the set of Variations on “Là ci darem la mano” from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Op.2. Speed, technique, astonishing rapid octaves and other devilish Chopinesque devices make this performance an example of genius running joyously amok.

Lisiecki plays beautifully with orchestra. A natural ease keeps him in step with the ensemble through the Rondo à la Krakowiak in F Major Op.14 and the Andante Spianato & Grand Polonaise Brillante Op.22.

Almost all of this disc also appears as part of DG’s 20-CD set The Complete Chopin, featuring Lisiecki along with other performers.

02 SokolovMozart, Rachmaninov Concertos & “A Conversation That Never Was” A Film by Nadia Zhdanova
Grigory Sokolov
DG CD/DVD479 7015

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Keyed In (May 2017) which can be read in its entirety here.

Grigory Sokolov is legendary for his rejection of celebrity. He gives no interviews and for some years now has stopped performing with orchestras. He also dislikes and avoids recording studios. It’s something of an achievement therefore, for Deutsche Grammophon to have obtained Sokolov’s agreement to reissue two live performances from 2005 and 1995 in Mozart, Rachmaninov Concertos & “A Conversation That Never Was” A Film by Nadia Zhdanova (DG CD/DVD479 7015). The addition of the film (on DVD) makes this set unusual. Zhdanova interviews Sokolov’s friends and colleagues and adds newly found archival material to create a portrait of this very private and sometimes reclusive artist.

The Mozart Piano Concerto No.23 in A Major K488 is the more recent performance. Recorded in 2005 in Salzburg with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra under Trevor Pinnock, it’s an intimate reading with Sokolov’s characteristic crisp, clear staccatos punctuating the opening of the final movement.

The other performance is with the BBC Philharmonic at the Royal Albert Hall in 1995. The Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No.3 in D Minor Op.30 is loved by audiences and equally feared by pianists for its technical challenges. The speed at which Sokolov takes the opening of the final movement is scarcely believable. The same rapid repeats of chordal passages appear in the first movement, where Sokolov gives the piano such a pounding that some notes in the upper register begin slipping out of tune and make for a few interesting effects as the performance proceeds without a pause to correct the matter. Still, the scale of Sokolov’s interpretive conception is awesome and often startling.

06 Benelli Mosell RachmaninovRachmaninov Piano Concerto No.2, Corelli Variations
Vanessa Benelli Mosell, London Philharmonic Orchestra
Decca 481 393

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Keyed In (May 2017) which can be read in its entirety here.

With a handful of recordings already in her discography, 30-year-old Italian pianist Vanessa Benelli Mosell has now added her orchestral debut with the London Philharmonic Orchestra on Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.2, Corelli Variations (Decca 481 393). The concerto is a staple in the repertoire. The sheer beauty of Rachmaninoff’s writing makes it a good choice for a young performer breaking into the market. The real test of this work is, however, the second movement and it’s here that Mosell truly proves herself as a musician. This movement is much less dense than the outer ones and leaves the performer quite exposed with sparse lines and slow tempos. What holds this movement together for Mosell is the honesty of her playing. Nothing’s contrived. Her phrasings are straightforward but clearly the product of much thought. She and Rachmaninoff are the perfect match.

The disc also includes Rachmaninoff’s Variations on a Theme of Corelli Op.42. The 20 variations are an extremely demanding set to perform. Mosell plays through them with impressive ease, meeting every demand for big powerful sound as well as the deepest introspection. It’s obvious she has invested a great deal in her interpretation and the impact is even more profound than her performance of the Concerto No.2. It’s quite surprising that the small filler piece on the recording’s program steals the show so convincingly.

01 Rafal BlechaczJohann Sebastian Bach
Rafal Blechacz
Deutsche Grammophon 479 5534

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Keyed In (April 2017) which can be read in its entirety here.

Words fail spectacularly in trying to describe Rafal Blechacz’s performance on Johann Sebastian Bach (Deutsche Grammophon 479 5534). Playing Bach demands rigour, stamina, discipline. It also requires a profound intellectual grasp of Bach’s contrapuntal intentions. Critical too, is an innate ability to draw from Bach’s writing that unique idea that can be credibly shared by composer and performer as jointly original. In some speechlessly wondrous way, that happens on this disc.

The Partitas Nos.1 in B-flat Major and 3 in A Minor are the familiar collection of Baroque dances. They are, however, raised to a remarkable standard of exhilarating technical display, framed by tasteful expression. Blechacz plays them with emotional vulnerability and unmatched lyricism. Each set concludes with a memorably blazing Gigue.

Blechacz plays the Italian Concerto in F Major BWV 971 at a sustained speed that hasn’t been matched since Alexis Weissenberg broke the sound barrier with his recording in the mid 1960’. Still, there is striking clarity throughout the first and third movements that offers every opportunity to discern the inner counter melodies racing past each other to the final measure.

The Fantasia and Fugue in A Minor BWV 944 offers an unbelievably long and complex fugal subject that cascades through its development section with ease under Blechacz’s hands. He ends the disc with a rapturous performance of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring – Dame Myra Hess’ arrangement.

02 Andras SchiffEncores after Beethoven
Andras Schiff
ECM New Series 1950 B0025872-02

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Keyed In (April 2017) which can be read in its entirety here.

Blechacz was the winner of the 15th International Chopin Piano Competition. This is his sixth recording for Deutsche Grammophon in addition to a handful of others. You might as well start collecting them now. Andras Schiff presented his cycle of the 32 Beethoven sonatas at the Zürich Tonhalle from 2004 to 2006. His choice of encore after each concert was quite deliberate and they have now been compiled into Encores after Beethoven (ECM New Series 1950 B0025872-02).

Schiff sought to link the encore in some musical way to the sonatas he’d played on the program that night. These live recordings document his choices. Although now separated from their original context, they still carry a residual connection to the music that preceded them, and Schiff uses his notes as a brief outline to explain these relationships.

The opening selections by Schubert, from Three Piano Pieces D946 and Allegretto in C Minor D915 are linked by a strong conceptual kinship to Beethoven’s Sonatas Op.2 and Op.7 as well as Op.10 and Op.13. The Mozart encore Eine Kleine Gigue in G Major K574 is a humourous study in fugal form like the finale of Beethoven’s Sonata Op.10 No.2 on that evening’s program.

Beethoven had originally intended the Andante Favori in F Major WoO57 to be the second movement of the Waldstein Sonata Op. 53, before eventually setting it aside. Schiff used it as the encore for his performance of the Waldstein.

The final movement of the Hammerklavier is an enormous fugue, understood to reflect Beethoven’s admiration for Bach and his evolution of the form. Schiff’s choice of encore for that performance was Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in B Flat Minor BWV867.

The encores are presented on the disc in the date sequence of their performance and show the program information that preceded them. The Zurich audiences listen in rapt silence and reveal themselves only to applaud enthusiastically.

05 Glass OlafssonPhilip Glass – Piano Works
Vikingur Olafsson
Deutsche Grammophon 479 6918

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Keyed In (April 2017) which can be read in its entirety here.

Mid-30s Icelandic pianist Vikingur Olafsson is a Juilliard graduate and a busy concert performer with a passion for contemporary music. His acquaintance with Philip Glass makes for fascinating reading in the liner notes of his new recording, Philip Glass – Piano Works (Deutsche Grammophon 479 6918).

The recording is largely devoted to 11 of the 20 Études that Glass wrote between 1999 and 2012. Olafsson plays them from a personal place of detachment but with all the subtlety and nuance they require. His performance of the final Étude No.20 is striking for its otherworldly feel. He relates the story of asking Glass how this one étude came to be so different and how the composer answered that he didn’t know, he just somehow found himself out in space.

The disc also includes the now well-known Opening from Glassworks as its first track. The same piece appears again as the final track, but reworked for piano and string quartet. It’s a very satisfying comparison. The reworked version comes across with richer sonority, and with the piano taking on a much lesser role than might be expected.

Olafsson has produced a very fine performance in a field growing ever more populous. The calibre of his playing assures he will always stand out.

03 Chopin ChoChopin – Piano Concerto No.1; Ballades; London Symphony Orchestra; Gianandrea Noseda
Seong-Jin Cho
Deutsche Grammophon 4795941

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Keyed In (March 2017) which can be read in its entirety here.

Seong-Jin Cho won the 17th International Chopin Piano Competition in 2015, the first Korean to do so. His latest recording Chopin – Piano Concerto No.1; Ballades; London Symphony Orchestra; Gianandrea Noseda (Deutsche Grammophon 4795941) shows how his focus on the singing qualities of Chopin’s ideas won him that coveted prize. Cho’s treatment of the principal melodic ideas in the opening movement is fluid and lyrical. Even his ornaments come across more as small eddies in a current than clusters of notes on a page. The second movement Romance is exquisite. Cho manages to retain a fragility about his playing, even through the slightly more assertive middle section. His technical display in the final movement is flawlessly clear.

The Ballades too, reveal Cho’s fascination with the singing qualities of Chopin’s ideas. Much of the Ballade No. 1 in G Minor Op.23 is remarkably understated, making for a starker contrast with the outburst of the middle section as well as the closing measures. The Ballade No.2 follows in a similar vein. The effectiveness of Cho’s playing lies as much in his virtuosity as in his ability to fall into Chopin’s moments of repose with a delicacy that transcends the pianissimo markings. He’s a tall young man whose interviews reveal a shyness, a non-star-like simplicity that seems to suit him perfectly for this music.

09 Jack GallagherJack Gallagher - Piano Music
Frank Huang
Centaur CRC 3522

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Keyed In (February 2017) which can be read in its entirety here.

American composer Jack Gallagher claims the piano is not his principal instrument, but his apology evaporates as soon as you hear his music. In Jack Gallagher Piano Music (Centaur CRC 3522) pianist Frank Huang captures the colour and imagination of Gallagher’s writing whether in works lighthearted or those more cerebral.

Gallagher writes with a great care for structure. Form and planning are important to him. This makes his works easy to navigate for both listener and performer while he evolves his more complex musical material.

Huang plays this repertoire with ease and familiarity. Works like the Sonata for Piano are very technically demanding as is Malambo Nouveau. Others like Six Bagatelles and Sonatina for Piano, less so. Still, works like Six Pieces for Kelly, written specifically for young performers, never lack for a mature and profoundly musical touch. Every so often a Gershwin-like harmony slips by, leaving an echo of Broadway and a reminder of how American this music is.

Huang’s performance is confident, bold and celebratory; Gallagher’s writing seems to induce those qualities. This recording is a perfect match between composer and performer.

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.

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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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