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.

01 Shakespeare
Shakespeare – The Complete Works
Marlowe Dramatic Society and Professional Players
Decca 4783506
 

Review

 
The following is an excerpt from Old Wine in New Bottles - Fine Recordings Re-Released (December 2016) which can be read in its entirety here.

For this 400th anniversary Decca has re-mastered and re-issued the celebrated Argo recordings as Shakespeare – The Complete Works, performed by the Marlowe Dramatic Society and Professional Players (4783506). The Marlowe Society was formed in 1907 as a student drama society of Cambridge University. For these Argo recordings made under the auspices of the British Council between 1951 and 1964, many familiar voices appear in both leading roles and lesser parts in the full cast recordings of 37 plays, also 154 sonnets and four narrative poems. Recognized voices include John Gielgud, Ian McKellen, Peggy Ashcroft, Derek Jacobi, Michael Hordern, Peter Pears, Ian Holm, Margaretta Scott, Prunella Scales, George Rylands, Toby Robertson, Clive Swift, Roy Dotrice, Geraldine McEwan, Miles Malleson, Richard Marquand and scores of others in roles of various importance. It is clear that correct enunciation and inflection are of predominant importance and sometimes dramatic tension may suffer in the pursuit of flawless articulation. However, the prime reason for assembling these enactments and recitations is to have all Shakespeare’s timeless words and his uses of those words at your fingertips. The impressive, luxury-boxed set of 100 CDs and an illustrated eight and a half by ten inch 224-page book that includes full cast listing, analysis of each work and fascinating engravings uniquely fills the bill. Could be a very nice seasonal present for the family.

01 Ehnes Bach
J.S. Bach: The Six Sonatas & Partitas for solo violin
James Ehnes
Analekta AN 2 8772-3
 

Review

The following is an excerpt from Strings Attached (November 2016) which can be read in its entirety here.
 
There’s a tendency among leading violinists to leave recording the Bach Six Sonatas & Partitas for Solo Violin until they have been living with them and performing them for some considerable time, given the soul-searching nature of the music. If they do revisit them at a much later date, it’s usually to offer a fresh interpretation that reflects their ever-evolving relationship with these astonishing works.

James Ehnes, who turned 40 this year, was only in his early 20s when he recorded the Sonatas & Partitas for Analekta just over 16 years ago, but his recent revisit (AN 2 8772-3) is a reissue, and not a re-recording. In his introductory note Ehnes acknowledges that his interpretations have evolved over the years, and will continue to do so throughout his life, so it’s perhaps a bit surprising that he didn’t take this opportunity to offer an updated version. Still, when you play them like this, who needs to?

This set often turns up in personal choice lists of the best versions available, and it’s easy to see – and hear – why: Ehnes plays with grace, ease and eloquence, and with complete technical mastery coupled with emotional warmth and intellectual insight. There’s a smooth, effortless and almost religious serenity to these performances (the recordings were made in a church) with towering fugues, achingly beautiful andantes and wonderfully rhythmic dance movements.

If you missed this set the first time around you might want to put that right – it’s one to treasure. And, oh, that 1715 “Marsick” Stradivarius violin!

02 Charles Richard Hamelin

Live: Beethoven - Enescu - Chopin
Charles Richard-Hamelin
Analekta AN 2 9129

Review

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

Quebec-born Charles Richard-Hamelin has added a second recording to his discography. Recorded in May this year, Charles Richard-Hamelin Live – Beethoven; Enescu; Chopin (Analekta AN 2 9129) opens with two Rondos by Beethoven. Because the pieces are so very Classical, they tend to be overlooked in favour of his later, more potboiling audience pleasers. Richard-Hamelin raises the emotional bar on these early works and plays them as Romantic flirtations. It’s very effective.

George Enescu’s Suite No.2 for Piano Op.10 dates from the turn of the 19th century and uses some surprisingly contemporary harmonies. Richard-Hamelin plays these short dance pieces with affection for the graceful nature of the suite’s four parts. Each is uniquely coloured. Pavane, especially, has a dark introspection that Richard-Hamelin explores with intimacy.

He uses the same inclination to begin the Chopin Ballade No.3 in A-flat Major Op.47 but rises to all the grandeur required as the Ballade builds to its finish. The following Nocturne in E-flat Major Op.55 No.2 requires getting deep inside Chopin’s intentions as he shifts tonalities and layers ornaments over very simple thematic ideas. Richard-Hamelin demonstrates a genuine understanding of this music and reveals more of its inner secrets in a gratifying way.

The recording concludes with Introduction and Rondo in E-flat Major Op.16 and the Polonaise in A-flat Major Op.53 “Heroique”. Each is a cauldron of technique but “Heroic” stands out for its less than traditionally punctuated phrases in favour of a more fluid approach.

03 Piano Cameleons

Piano Caméléons
Matt Herskowitz and John Roney
Justin Time JUST 257-2

Review

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

Fusing Classical and Jazz has been done before and its success always depends on the calibre of the musicianship brought to the keyboard. A new recording, Piano Caméléons (Justin Time JUST 257-2) features pianists Matt Herskowitz and John Roney recasting many of the classical repertoire’s best known melodies in a jazz voice. The project boasts Oliver Jones as its guide and mentor, and Jones writes glowingly about what the pianists have achieved. Jones also performs with them in the Minuet in G Major BWV 114 by Bach/Petzold.

The opening track uses the Bach Prelude No.2 in C Minor from the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I. After establishing key and rhythmic pattern, Herskowitz and Roney begin drifting from Bach’s melody into a descant that eventually develops into a catchy swing embellishment, all the while maintaining the original pulse of Bach’s keyboard idea. Very clever.

With Debussy’s Claire de lune, the approach changes. Here they use only the briefest motif from the opening measures and spend more creative effort sustaining the piece’s atmosphere. They never let go of the thematic fragment entirely, although they wander significantly before quoting it again at the close.

Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-sharp Minor Op.3 No.2 introduces some mysterious percussion at the outset, remains dark and ominous throughout and offers an impressive display of technique from both keyboards.

The track that emerges as a truly brilliant conception and performance is the Chopin Étude in C Minor Op.10 No.12 “Revolutionary. Starting with the familiar cascade of the work’s first idea Herskowitz and Roney create the turbulence of the “Revolution” and stay with its minor key almost entirely through their jazz treatment. It’s ingenious and impressively creative.

Mozart 225 3dMozart 225: W.A. Mozart – The New Complete Edition
Universal Music/Stiftung Mozarteum Salzburg, 200 CDs, Books, literature, etc.

Review

The following is an excerpt from Old Wine in New Bottles - Fine Recordings Re-Released (November 2016) which can be read in its entirety here.

Paul Moseley is Director of Mozart 225, in other words the man at Universal Music responsible for bringing together all the elements for Mozart 225: W.A. Mozart – The New Complete Edition (Universal Music/Stiftung Mozarteum Salzburg, 200 CDs, Books, literature, etc.).

In an interview with Barry Holden, VP of Classical Catalogue, Moseley responded to the question, why now? “In December, this year will be the 225th anniversary of Mozart’s death and it occurred to us that this was a chance in our lifetime to celebrate our relationship with one of the greatest creative minds that ever lived and look again at our recorded interpretation on disc and scholarship with this incredible genius.

The edition is, we think, the biggest CD box set ever put together. It would take you ten days to get through all the music on the set, I think there are 15,000 minutes which is something like 240 hours. 200 CDs, 4000 tracks, over 600 solo performers and ensembles, 60 orchestras. From a label point of view, to be able to include Decca which obviously is Decca and the old Philips label, Deutsche Grammophon with its wonderful catalogue of Mozart recordings – also the ASV catalog – so there are perhaps nearly 20 labels represented all together. We’ve gone one better even than the Philips’ Mozart edition which came out 25 years ago for the 200th anniversary by not only finding new music that wasn’t recorded before but also offering alternative interpretations of music to give the listener the ability to choose between a period instrument performance for example and a modern instrument performance. Just to give them that sense of the breadth of recorded interpretation of some of the great works.

“The first thing you’ll see when you open up is two very large hardback books. The first book is a new biography of Mozart by Cliff Eisen. Cliff Eisen is professor at King’s College London and I would say, probably the world’s preeminent Mozart scholar.

“The second book which Cliff has curated the editorial of, is just on the music contained in the boxes so follows you through each box and each work. Cliff was also the editorial consultant for the entire edition so he’s made sure that everything that’s written is up to date and scholarly.”

Fitting the two hardbound books, the new Köchel catalogue and 200 CDs into a 26 x 26 x 18 cm box is a tight fit. The bottom of the big inner box holds four smaller removable boxes: “Orchestral,” “Chamber,” “Theatre” and “Sacred/Private/Supplement,” each with a booklet with information on each disc in that group. I found it impossible to locate and remove a disc before easily removing the booklet. Also you don’t bring a 20-pound (9 kg) box to your chair…you go to it. That’s exactly what I have been doing for the past month, appreciating new versions of so many familiar works that restore their newness and originality. Performances of works as over-familiar as Eine kleine Nachtmusik, Piano Concerto No.21 or A Musical Joke (Ein musikalischer Spass K522) inspire close attention.

I cannot imagine that Universal expects this labour of love to hit the charts but those who acquire the invaluable set will be rewarded for a long time come. You may examine the complete edition for yourself at mozart225.com.

02 Haimowitz Bach

Overtures to Bach
Matt Haimovitz
Pentatone Oxingale Series (PTC 5186 561)

Review

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

Overtures to Bach is the latest CD from the cellist Matt Haimovitz on the Pentatone Oxingale Series label (PTC 5186 561). It’s yet another tour-de-force solo recital of Bach and Bach-inspired contemporary works from this outstanding performer.

Haimovitz’s continuing relationship with the Bach Cello Suites stretches back over a period of more than 30 years, and in this latest venture – which he calls a culminating moment in the relationship – he has commissioned six new overtures that reflect on and anticipate the six individual suites and, by expanding on the cross-cultural and vernacular references in Bach’s music, reach both forward and backward in time. Each new piece is followed by the Prelude to the relevant Suite. The new works, in Suite order, are: Overture by Philip GlassThe Veronica, by Du YunRun, by Vijay IyerLa memoria, by Roberto SierraEs War, by David Sanford; and Lili’uokalani for solo cello piccolo by Luna Pearl Woolf.

Haimovitz is superb in the wide range of technical challenges presented by the new works, and is as thoughtful and inquisitive as ever in the Bach Preludes. It’s a simply outstanding CD.

03 Lisitsa Love Story

Love Story, Piano Themes from Cinema’s Golden Age
Valentina Lisitsa
Decca 4789454

Review

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

Film music is a reliable audience pleaser for orchestras, and people never seem to tire of the great themes that slumber in the soundtracks of so many half-forgotten films. Since its early role as accompaniment to films, the piano has receded into more of a concerto relationship with orchestral film music. Still, many a good theme falls to the keyboard, and Love Story, Piano Themes from Cinema’s Golden Age (Decca 4789454) collects some of film’s most beautiful music for this instrumental combination.

The screen seems to require composers to write in a way that gives immediate access to emotion and drama. Valentina Lisitsa, whose controversial public stance on the turmoil in Ukraine compelled the Toronto Symphony to cancel her 2015 concerts, appears on this disc as the pianist. Her performance of these screen works with the BBC Concert Orchestra is superb. She brings all the requisite concert technique and expression to the service of the score. It’s all intensely Romantic and very lush, graphic music. You can almost smell the popcorn.

There’s a surprisingly conservative Classic/Romantic tradition to these scores. Richard Adinsell’s Warsaw Concerto is the best example of this. Hubert Bath’s Cornish Rhapsody from Love Story (1944) sounds remarkably like Rachmaninoff, while Nino Rota reveals his own voice in The Legend of Glass Mountain (1949). A delightfully unusual track is Dave Grusin’s New Hampshire Hornpipe from On Golden Pond (1981). Here Lisitsa, without orchestra, creates the convincing atmosphere of an early New England folk dance.

The title music from the 1985 TV series Pride and Prejudice, with its period feel, is an artful work by composer Carl Davis. Lisitsa takes her solo moments in this as though they were short solos in Mozart piano concertos. Pure delight.

01 Lets Do It

Let's Do it! 60 Years of Verve Records
Various Artists
Verve 4782558

Review

The following is an excerpt from Old Wine in New Bottles - Fine Recordings Re-Released (October 2016) which can be read in its entirety here.

A long-time fan of JATP through their concert recordings and individual albums of many of their artists, I was intrigued about the contents of Let’s Do It! (Verve 4782558, 4CDs), selections from across 60 Years of Verve Records. As it turns out, the choice of 47 memorable tracks, the earliest from 1953, could not be more pleasing or better sequenced. Featured artists include the Oscar Peterson Trio alone (C Jam Blues) or collaborating with Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Bill Henderson (in a haunting version of The Lamp Is Low), Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster and Milt Jackson. Listeners are reminded of, or introduced to, the artistry of Johnny Hodges, Stan Getz, Herbie Hancock, Tal Farlow, Kenny Barron, Jimmy Smith (The Cat), Cal Tjader, Count Basie, Roy Eldridge, Billie Holiday, Anita O’Day, Arthur Prysock, Diana Krall and, of course, Astrud and João Gilberto forever sighing over The Girl From Ipanema with Stan Getz.

The recorded sound should be mentioned. We are so accustomed to hearing recordings and video soundtracks that are a product of manipulations in the control room that it is like a breath of fresh air to hear exactly what the microphones heard, clearly, dynamically correct and distortion free. What one hears on these four discs is the real deal, deserving the highest recommendation.

 

02 Michael Gielen Vol.1

Michael Gielen Edition Vol.1 1967-2010
Various Artists
SWR19007CD

Review

The following is an excerpt from Old Wine in New Bottles - Fine Recordings Re-Released (October 2016) which can be read in its entirety here.

Michael Gielen, for those who may not recognize his name, is an Austrian conductor whose career has been an interesting one. He was born in 1927 in Dresden and two years ago this month he officially retired from the podium for health reasons. His family moved to Buenos Aires in the 1930s where he studied piano, introducing audiences there to the entire piano music of Arnold Schoenberg in 1954. His uncle was Eduard Steuermann, who was a recognized advocate for Schoenberg and remembered today for his arrangement of the sextet Verklärte Nacht for piano trio. Steuermann was a teacher of Alfred Brendel. Returning to Europe in 1950 Gielen became a répétiteur at the Vienna State Opera coming into contact with Karajan, Bohm and other luminaries of the era. In 1952 he conducted the Vienna Konzerthaus Orchestra and made LPs for American companies. 1954 found him conducting the Vienna State Opera in addition to concerts of contemporary music elsewhere. From 1960 to 1964 he was conductor of the Royal Opera in Stockholm and from 1964 to 1984 he was to be found in Stuttgart conducting the Radio Symphony Orchestra, working for a time with Sergiu Celibidache. During that period he was also principal conductor of the Belgian National Orchestra (1968-1973) and principal conductor of the Dutch Opera in Amsterdam (1973-76). He was first guest conductor of the BBC Symphony (1978-1981) and from 1980 to 1986 he was music director of the Cincinnati Symphony. Later he was principal conductor of the SWF Orchestra in Baden-Baden (1986-1999). He was professor of conducting in Salzburg from 1987 to 1995. He conducted his last concert with the NDR Orchestra in 2014.

Normally the above brief outline of his career would not belong here but as many casual music lovers and collectors are unfamiliar with Gielen, his recorded performances, even if they were noticed, could very possibly be passed by without a second thought.

SWR Music has issued the first of a ten-part series of Gielen performances, Michael Gielen Edition Vol.1 1967-2010 (SWR19007CD, 6 CDs), a good percentage of which are first releases. There are two pieces by Bach, the Prelude and Fugue Book 1 No.4 BWV849 and an excerpt from Cantata BWV50, followed by Mozart: Symphonies 3035 and 36German DancesOvertures and Minuets. Haydn’s Symphonies 9599 and 104, then Beethoven’s three Leonore Overtures and Coriolan followed by the Triple Concerto with Edith Peinemann, Antonio Janigro and Jörg Demus. Schubert is well represented by music from Rosamunde; the OvertureBallet Music and the Entr’acte after the third act; Mahler’s transcription for string orchestra of the quartet Death and the MaidenIntende voci – Offertorium for tenor, mixed chorus, organ and orchestra D963 sung by Thomas Moser, the Slovak Philharmonic Choir of Bratislava and the SWR Symphony of Baden-Baden and Freiburg followed by the Mass No.5 in A Major D678.

Usually, in any collection of this kind some performances are less interesting – they have to be. Not so here. Every performance is quietly engaging in tempi, choice of phrasing and subtle variations in volume – not for the sake of doing something differently from accepted practices but because it sounds exactly right, prompting one in each case to hang on to the work with fresh interest. These are performances that invite the listener in and hold her or his interest through to the last note, especially if that person is familiar with other versions. The sound is very good; only one or two pieces have that tight rundfunk studio sound to which the ear quickly adjusts.

The Gielen Edition is off to an auspicious start. Talk about great expectations!

02 Esther Yoo SIbelius

Sibelius Glazunov Violin Concertos
Esther Yoo; Vladimir Ashkenazy; Philharmonia Orchestra
Deutsche Grammophon DG40130

Review

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

There’s more superb violin playing on Sibelius Glazunov Violin Concertos, the debut Deutsche Grammophon CD by the young American-Korean violinist Esther Yoo with Vladimir Ashkenazy conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra (DG40130).

Still only 22, Yoo was 16 when she became the youngest-ever prize winner at the International Sibelius Competition in 2010, and two years later was one of the youngest-ever prize winners at the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels. In 2014 she was a soloist on the Philharmonia Orchestra’s tour of South America under Ashkenazy; the recordings here, however, predate that tour, having been made in October 2013 and May 2014.

Like Znaider, Yoo plays on a magnificent Stradivarius instrument, this time the 1704 “Prince Obolensky” violin, and, also like Znaider, has outstanding technique and a wonderful tone. The Glazunov Concerto in A Minor Op.82 gets a ravishingly beautiful performance here, as does the Sibelius Concerto in D Minor Op.47, with Ashkenazy finding some subtle and often unheard nuances in an exceptional orchestral accompaniment.

Two smaller works for violin and orchestra complete the CD. Sibelius’ Suite for Violin and Strings JS185/Op.117 from 1929 was the last concertante work he completed, although it lay undiscovered until the 1980s and was not published until 1995. The titles of the three short movements (in English in the manuscript) reflect the composer’s popularity in Great Britain: Country Scenery; Serenade – Evening in Spring; and In the Summer.

Glazunov’s Grand Adagio is taken from his Op.57 ballet Raymonda from 1898, and depicts the rapturous dance of the two lovers at the centre of the story. It’s a lovely end to a simply stunning debut.

RyanChoi IMAGE Three Dancers

Three Dancers
Ryan Choi
Accretions ALP-060

Review

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

Choi’s other disc Three Dancers (Accretions ALP-060 accretions.com) is quite a different offering including works for “prepared” baritone ukulele, percussion and electronics, all performed by the composer. The title of the 20-minute EP, again about 20 minutes in all (and of the third track,) refers to Picasso’s painting Les Trois Danseuses and the cover art is a line drawing by Choi. The brief opening track Preparations I and IV is percussive in its approach, seemingly achieved with preparations on the ukulele similar to those which John Cage developed for piano, rather than through the use of traditional percussion instruments. It is very rhythmic and pointillistic, but relatively tame compared to the dynamic second track, Apollon at Eros, which combines hand drumming and stilted string plucking which jumps erratically, although not randomly, around the fret board. The electronic treatments are subtly present in Three Dancers, with, as far as I can tell, textures produced by reversing recorded sounds which actually seem almost as if they could be created live in real time by this accomplished player. These two releases present a remarkable portrait of an instrument not previously known for its art music potential, and of an adventurous new voice on the contemporary scene.

03 Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger CD/DVD Set: "Pete-Pak"
Pete Seeger
Living Music LMUS 0032 & LMU-45

Review

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

One thing I did not mention in the Beauvais review was that several of the tracks put me in mind of the Paul Winter Consort and how classical guitarist Ralph Towner was integrated into the fabric of that seminal crossover band in the 1970s. I mention this now because another package that found my attention this past month was a reissue of the 1996 CD Pete (LMUS 0032) along with the DVD Living Music Festival 1982 (LMU-45) featuring Pete Seeger and the Paul Winter Consort, on Winter’s Living Music label (paulwinter.com). Released 20 years ago when Seeger was 77, Pete – Pete Seeger and Friends brings together Joanie Madden (pennywhistle), Howard Levy (harmonica), Paul Winter (soprano sax), Paul Preston (banjo, mandolin) and three different choirs, Gaudeamus, the Union Baptist Church Singers and the Cathedral Singers, in 18 songs showing the breadth of Seeger’s interest and experience. From straightforward folk songs like Kisses Sweeter Than Wine, through protest, pro-environment and pro-humanity offerings, GarbageTo My Old Brown Earth and My Rainbow Race, and to storytelling, Huddie Ledbetter Was a Hell of a Man, and traditional songs like The Water is Wide, we are presented with many facets of one of the most influential folk singers of the 20th century, someone who brought so many people together over the course of a career that spanned almost eight decades.

The DVD is a bit of a time capsule. Recorded at the Living Music Festival in 1982 when Seeger was a sprightly 63, the footage never saw the light of day until after his death in 2014 when Paul Winter sought out filmmaker Phil Garvin who fortunately still had the raw footage. The festival, organized by Winter in the Lichtfield Hills of northwest Connecticut, featured the Paul Winter Consort in selections from their album Common Ground, singer Susan Osborn and the Brazilian Pe de Boi Samba Band. Seeger performs an extended solo set singing in English, Yiddish, French and Spanish, accompanying himself on banjo, 12-string guitar and block flute. He also collaborates with the other performers and as you would expect there is lots of audience participation. It is vintage Seeger and a wonderfully nostalgic look at peace festivals of days gone by. There are bonus tracks recorded at the “Pete-nic” at Winter’s farm in 1997 and a five minute solo performance by Seeger for the Harriet Beecher Stowe Society in 2005 on the 40th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” Pettus Bridge March in Selma, Alabama. Although his voice had almost disappeared by that time, his energy and conviction had not flagged. It is a moving performance.

The CD/DVD set was supported by Music for the Earth, a non-profit foundation dedicated to “exploring ways that music can be used to enrich the lives of human beings and awaken a spirit of involvement in the preservation of wildlife and the natural environment of the Earth” – things to which Pete Seeger devoted his life and his art.

05 Rufus Wainwright

Take All My Loves: 9 Shakespeare Sonnets
Rufus Wainwright
Deutsche Grammophon 4795508

Review

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

I told you that Shakespeare would reappear later and here he comes. April 23, 1616 is the assumed date of the death of the Bard and to mark the 400th anniversary Deutsche Grammophon has released Take All My Loves (4795508), a setting of nine Shakespeare Sonnets by the above-mentioned scion of the Wainwright-McGarrigle dynasty, Rufus Wainwright. It is an eclectic offering, further exploring the singer-songwriter’s interest in blending the worlds of pop and high-art culture. There are readings by Siân Phillips, Frally Hynes, Peter Eyre, Carrie Fisher, William Shatner and Inge Keller, while the vocals are primarily shared by Austrian soprano Anna Prohaska and Wainwright himself, with the participation of Florence Welsh, Martha Wainwright, Fiora Cutler, Christopher Nell and Jürgen Holtz.

The project grew out of an invitation from director Robert Wilson back in 2009 – the 400th anniversary of the publication of the sonnets – to set some of them for a production of the Berliner Ensemble, a theatre company founded by Bertold Brecht in 1949. Although Wainwright’s interest in the poems dates back to his youth when he was encouraged to read them by his mother, they have been of ongoing interest in recent years. Following the cabaret style production in Berlin replete with garish costumes, the San Francisco Symphony commissioned Wainwright to orchestrate five of the sonnets for the concert hall, three of which appeared on his 2010 album All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu.

The current production is kind of a mixed bag, with lush full orchestral accompaniments featuring the BBC Symphony Orchestra, smaller settings with the Berlin String Section and a number of tracks with pop band instrumentation. All of the sung sonnets are introduced by a dramatic reading of the text, with the exception of Wainwright’s performance of Take All My Loves (Sonnet 40) which incorporates Marius de Vries’ recitation into the body of the song. Prohaska’s voice, celebrated across a repertoire that spans three centuries, is a highlight, especially in the gentle A Woman’s Face (Sonnet 20) and the wickedly dramatic Th’Expense of Spirit in a Waste of Shame (Sonnet 129). Wainwright’s distinctive voice is particularly effective in the title track, but his reprise of A Woman’s Face is something of a letdown with its straightforward pop arrangement and sensibility.

The extensive booklet includes an introduction by British actor Peter Eyre, full texts, translations and production credits. What is missing is an explanation of why two of the sonnets are presented in German necessitating the translations, or more properly the English originals, of All Dessen Müd (Sonnet 66) in a cabaret-like arrangement and Farewell (Sonnet 87) sung beautifully by Prohaska. I assume this has to do with the Berliner Ensemble origins of the settings, but it would have been nice if Eyre, whose English performance of Farewell with Wainwright can be found on YouTube, would have explained.

Concert note: Toronto audiences can catch Rufus Wainwright’s acclaimed recreation of Judy Garland’s 1961 Carnegie Hall show “Rufus Does Judy” June 23 and 24 at the Hearn Generating Station as part of this year’s Luminato Festival.

06 Stravinsky Soldier

Stravinsky – The Soldier’s Tale (Complete)
Tianwa Yang; Virginia Arts Festival Players; JoAnn Falletta
Naxos 8.573537

Review

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

Concert note: On June 18 another Luminato performance at the Hearn features soloists of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra with concertmaster Jonathan Crow and narrator Derek Boyes in Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du SoldatNaxos recently released a new recording of that work, Stavinsky – The Soldier’s Tale (Complete) featuring the Virginia Arts Festival Chamber Players with violinist Tianwa Yang, narrator Fred Child and actors Jared McGuire (The Soldier) and Jeff Biehl (The Devil) under the direction of JoAnn Falletta (8.573537).

I have always liked this pocket drama – an hour-long Faustian story of a young man who sells his soul – or in this case his violin – to the devil and in so doing loses the things and people he loves. Composed in 1917 while Stravinsky was living in Switzerland during the First World War, it is scored for a modest orchestra of seven players reflecting the ravaged ranks of musicians who survived that conflict. Of principal interest is the violin, so dear to the soldier – its themes will reappear in Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto some 14 years later. It is a different take on the story because it is not the soldier’s greed which leads him to his fateful error. He is actually perfectly content with his modest life and his fiddle but is tricked by the devil into making the trade. Although granted fortune through the book he trades for, which foretells the future, it was never his idea and he is never comfortable in the role. Eventually he finds a way to beat the devil – by letting him win at cards – and regain his life. Spoiler Alert: all does not end well when you play with the devil and in a scene reminiscent of Orpheus’ glance back at Eurydice, the devil regains the upper hand and the violin.

The story is narrated effectively and Yang’s violin playing is flawless and convincing in this new performance. It is a welcome addition to my collection.

10 Herbert Cello Cti

Victor Herbert - Cello Concertos Nos.1 and 2
Mark Kosower; Ulster Orchestra; JoAnn Falletta
Naxos 8.573517

Review

The following is a review from Strings Attached (June 2016) which can be read in its entirety here.

Victor Herbert was another composer who played cello, but in his case at full professional level. He was born in Ireland in 1859, but grew up in Germany, emigrating to the United States in 1886. By the late 1890s he was one of the most famous musicians in America, celebrated for his playing and conducting and for his operettas.

His Cello Concertos Nos.1 and 2 are featured on a new Naxos CD in performances by Mark Kosower and the Ulster Orchestra under JoAnn Falletta (8.573517). Not surprisingly, both works are typical of the late German Romantic school. The Concerto No.1 in D Major Op.8 was performed by the composer in Stuttgart in 1885, and again in New York in 1887, but remained unpublished and apparently unperformed for many years; it was first recorded in 1986.

The Concerto No.2 in E Minor Op.30 is the stronger of the two works. Dvořák attended its premiere in New York in March 1894, and was so impressed with Herbert’s balancing of the large orchestra and the solo cello that it led directly to the composition of his own B-Minor Concerto within the year.

Kosower is in great form in two really lovely performances, and Falletta draws spirited playing from the orchestra for which she was principal conductor from 2011 to 2014.

Herbert’s Irish Rhapsody for Grand Orchestra completes the disc; it’s the expected mix of Irish tunes, much like the Bruch Scottish Fantasy in mood and orchestration, and with some brilliant counterpoint to round it off.

05 Sudbin Scarlatti

Scarlatti – 18 Sonatas
Yevgeny Sudbin
BIS-2138 SACD

Review

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

Unapologetic about the highly pianistic approach he takes, Yevgeny Sudbin admits that playing Scarlatti on the piano is in reality a transcription for a new instrument. Consequently, Scarlatti – 18 Sonatas (BIS-2138 SACD) is fully piano, with sustain pedal wherever needed, generous dynamic expression and every other technique the modern instrument can offer. Sudbin makes no effort at historical performance practice and instead claims the freedom to do whatever the music leads him to do – on the piano.

The result of all this might be a little shocking but is, ultimately, very believable because of the quality of the musical decisions underlying these controversial choices. Scarlatti remains identifiably Scarlatti, albeit with a new voice. Sudbin’s playing is undeniably gorgeous, rich in colour and texture, and everything the piano wants it to be.

As a litmus test for open mindedness on this issue compare the familiar Sonata in C Major K159 to any other performance, especially the Beauséjour described above.

04 Beausejour Piano

Baroque Session on Piano
Luc Beauséjour
Analekta AN 2 9128

Review

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

In Baroque Session on Piano (Analekta AN 2 9128) harpsichordist Luc Beauséjour takes to the piano with pieces that he argues work well on that instrument for specific reasons. Beauséjour points out that much of the harpsichord repertoire does not play well on our modern keyboard because of the piano’s inability to deliver the clarity of complex ornamentation so often required by 15th- and 16th-century repertoire. He also points out that the darker colours of the piano’s middle registers can often obscure inner contrapuntal voices. Greater resonance is yet another factor that requires pianists to change phrasing techniques when playing harpsichord repertoire.

Selecting a program that avoids the worst of these problems, Beauséjour presents an attractive mix of frequently recorded works and others less well known. A couple of familiar Scarlatti sonatas and Rameau’s Les Indes Galantes deliver wonderfully clear and fluid runs. Bach’s Concerto in D Minor BWV974 after Marcello is an example of how the piano’s touch-based colours can make the second movement even more intensely expressive.

Other works by Louis Couperin and Georg Böhm, keep much of their harpsichord character with graceful arpeggios that Beauséjour retains more for a sense of period style than necessary technique. He includes a set of four Correnti by Frescobaldi and imbues them with a strongly rhythmic bounce and keyboard touch that suggests the crisp attack of the harpsichord’s plectra.

Baroque Session on Piano is a very fine recording commendable for its intelligence and musicality.

05 Florian

Luminosity
Florian Hoefner
Origin Records 82706

Review

The following is an excerpt from Something in the Air (June 2016) which can be read in its entirety here.

Musically, Luminosity (Origin Records 82706 originarts.com) may be the most straight ahead of the sessions here, but it’s also the one with the most varied cast. The program is eight compositions by German-born-and-raised pianist Florian Hoefner, who after a long period in New York, now teaches at Memorial University in St. John’s. The quartet is completed by American bassist Sam Anning, Austrian drummer Peter Kronreif and Vancouver-raised, Manhattan-based tenor and soprano saxophonist Seamus Blake. Obviously attracted to his new surroundings, Hoefner penned two fluid ballads The Narrows and North Country, which flow like the clear water in a Newfoundland harbour, and more obviously Newfound Jig. A frolicking piece that manages to bring in the tenth province’s old country musical history, Newfound Jig swings and swirls as Blake outputs John Coltrane-like slurs and slides and the pianist builds up intense modal chording. Ebullient, Blake adds the necessary crunch to the bossa-nova-like In Circles, working up a piston-driven head of steam without ever lapsing into screech mode. Dipping into the tenor’s lowest registers on Elements, Blake doubles the jazz-rock feel engendered by Kronreif’s scrambling thrusts. Overall though, Hoefner’s linear comping keeps the piece moving like a veteran sailor righting a scow in an ocean storm. Perhaps the key to the session is appropriately expressed on The Bottom Line. Pushed by tremolo piano chords and rattling drums, the melody expresses toughness without discontent. Those sentiments would seem to be the perfect way to adapt to the sometimes rugged life in Newfoundland – as well as describing the skills needed to be both a patient teacher and an innovating musician.

01 Bartok
Béla Bartók: Complete Works
Various Artists
Decca 4789311

Review

The following is an excerpt from Old Wine in New Bottles - Fine Recordings Re-Released (June 2016) which can be read in its entirety here.
 
Prior to the 1950s, when the name of Béla Bartók was mentioned it was only the Concerto for Orchestra that came to mind. Commissioned in 1943 by Serge Koussevitzky, conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, at the urging of violinist Joseph Szigeti and conductor Fritz Reiner, the work was a phenomenal success and was featured in performances around the world and enjoyed some prestigious recordings. RCA Victor documented the second evening of the world premiere under Koussevitzky on December 30, 1944. There is something unusual about this score: Bartók wrote two endings for the last movement. In addition to the more elaborate ending he wrote a shorter, less difficult one, suitable for less virtuosic ensembles.

Bartók’s early works for orchestra belong to the late Romantic era as heard in the two Suites for Orchestra (Op.3 & 4) in which the composer introduced a tangy Hungarian flavour for his Viennese audiences. An even earlier work, Kossuth, Op.1, was written in the shadow of another Hungarian. Kossuth, a red-blooded late-Romantic orchestral tone poem, is just the sort of conservative composition that we do not associate with Bartók the innovator. It is a frankly Lisztian tone poem in a lush romantic sense that Bartók was to put behind him as he forged his dissonant new style. One of the many strengths of Béla Bartók Complete Works (Decca 4789311, 32 CDs plus booklets) is finally having all his early works in stunning performances. For the first time we can handily trace Bartók’s development through the tonal phases of his compositions that were long suppressed by music critics and pundits alike who had sought to support the modernist agenda throughout the 20th century. Bartók never ever considered embracing the Second Viennese School, nevertheless his music became ever more difficult after his exhaustive ethno-musicological absorption, through which he embraced an evolving dissonant style that enabled him to completely sidestep the 12-tone idiom. His late masterpiece, the Concerto for Orchestra is the prime example, heard in this collection by the Budapest Festival Orchestra conducted by Iván Fischer who are also responsible for a brilliant performance of Kossuth.

Other conductors on the ten orchestral and stage works discs and elsewhere are György Lehel, Antal Doráti, Pierre Boulez, Georg Solti, Christoph von Dohnányi, Essa-Pekka Salonen, David Zinman and István Kertész. Six CDs contain the complete chamber works including the six string quartets played by the Takács Quartet. Four CDs hold the complete vocal and choral music, while the nine discs of piano works are dominated by Zoltán Kocsis who also joins mezzo Martá Lukin in the Mikrokosmos. Finally, three CDs of celebrated performances from an earlier time include the three piano concertos with Géza Anda conducted by Ferenc Fricsay; 28 tracks of piano music played by Andor Foldes, Julius Katchen, Stephen Kovacevich and Sviatoslav Richter; and the Violin Concerto No.2 played by Zoltán Székely with Mengelberg and the Concertgebouw Orchestra, Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta conducted by Fricsay and the suite from The Miraculous Mandarin under Dorati. All three are very listenable with allowances made for the 1939 Szekely/Mengelberg.

As Bartók devotees know already, here, for the others, is the evidence that there is a wealth of listener-friendly music beyond the usual repertoire pieces, the violin and the piano concertos, the Dance Suites, the volumes of piano works, the stage works and choral music. The first of the two fine booklets gives complete details of the recordings and a biography with timelines of Bartók’s compositions with lots of glossy photos of the artists. The second contains translations, Hungarian into English, of all the sung texts.

Decca has chosen to list the repertoire in the index by DD numbers, 1 through 128 and identifies the disc where the work is to be found. As identified above, the 32 CDs are in five easily seen groups; Orchestral and Stage Works, Chamber Works, Choral and Vocal Works, Piano Works and a fifth group of Celebrated Performances.

Bartók was one of the very greatest composers of the 20th century, a unique figure. Listening to his Complete Works has been and continues to be a constant pleasure. Except as noted, the sound throughout is exemplary. I haven’t seen it memorialized but in the 1950s and 60s the hippest members of the Beat Generation “dug the Bartók scene” and their enthusiasm may have got the ball rolling. Link to contents: deccaclassics.com/en/cat/4789311.

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