02 Bernstein Vol II

The Leonard Bernstein Collection Volume Two
Leonard Bernstein
Deutsche Grammophon 4795553


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.

There is no doubt that Leonard Bernstein’s later years were his very best, confirmed by all his recordings for Deutsche Grammophon, including those with the Vienna Philharmonic which had not played any Mahler for a long, long time until Bernstein stood before them. Volume One of The Leonard Bernstein Collection on DG (4791047, 59 CDs) covered composers from Beethoven to Liszt; completing his legacy on DG CDs, Volume Two (4795553, 64 CDs) takes us from Mahler to Wagner plus the earlier American Decca recordings.

Orchestras in this second volume are the Vienna Philharmonic, the Royal Concertgebouw, the Berlin Philharmonic (arguably the very best Mahler Ninth on record), the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony, Orchestre National de France, the Israel Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio Symphony and the Accademia Nazionale del Santa Cecilia. Collectors will be very happy to have the following assured performances, each followed by a spoken informative analysis, as recorded by American Decca in 1953 by Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic in Carnegie Hall: Beethoven’s Eroica, Dvořák’s New World, Schumann’s Second, Brahms Fourth and the Tchaikovsky Sixth. If you have a chance, compare this confident 1953 Pathétique to the searching 1986 version – two very different worlds.

The care and attention lavished on the two editions, including the illustrated enclosures, honours the late maestro. Link to contents: deutschegrammophon.com/en/cat/4795553.

02 Yundi Chopin

Chopin Ballades, Berceuse, Mazurkas
Deutsche Grammophon 4812443


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

I wrote about Yundi a few months ago and now have another Chopin disc by this prolific recording artist. to enjoy. A prolific recording artist Chopin Ballades, Berceuse, Mazurkas (Deutsche Grammophon 4812443) is his 19th CD. Yundi is a direct player who doesn’t venture far beyond the notes on the page unless Chopin suggests the risk promises some reward. Yundi seems to calculate his artistic risks carefully. In the Four Ballades we have impeccable playing through the first three but No.4 in F Minor Op.52 is altogether different. Here Yundi moves the expressive boundaries out further based on the potential of the emotional content of Chopin’s melodic material. It’s a brilliant and successful choice that speaks to Yundi’s maturity.

Similarly, the Four Mazurkas Op.17 give us the familiar rhythmic pulse of one of Chopin’s favourite dance forms. But Chopin expresses so much more than just dance. No.3 in A-Flat Major begins to open the languorous dark side of this music and Yundi exploits this with great care. No.4 in A Minor is, however, a powerful exploration of the rich melancholy Chopin weaves so skillfully. Yundi glides through this making the most of every possible hesitation and lingering idea. It’s a magical way to end the program.

04 Scriabin Lee

Scriabin – Piano Music
Soyeon Kate Lee
Naxos 8.573527


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

Korean-American pianist Soyeon Kate Lee has a modest discography but a talent that deserves more exposure. Her newest recording Scriabin – Piano Music (Naxos 8.573527) is a deliberate choice of the composer’s lesser known works, and as such, a wonderful find. Scriabin’s language for the piano has its well-known Chopinesque accent. Much of it is late 19th-century but a few pieces are from the early 20th. The Two Pieces, Op.57 (1908) are the most contemporary of the set and Lee delights in all the gentle angularities of Scriabin’s melodies. She is always completely certain of where the most important material lies and highlights it artfully, even if only a passing note. Lee is very generous with her rubato, taking all the time to exploit hesitant moments for their greatest effect. Her consistently fluid technique is a pleasure to experience, especially in the Nocturne in D-Flat Major Op.9 No.2, written for the left hand alone.

While Scriabin made little of the dance nature of his Mazurkas and Polonaises, Lee nevertheless chooses to underscore this with a subtle pulse on the beat of certain measures as if to remind us of the missing choreography. She closes her recording with a remarkable piece Scriabin wrote at age 11. This Canon in D Minor already bears the distinctive melancholy of its Russian composer. This is a very engaging recording for its fine repertoire choice and thoughtful playing.

07 Freire Bach

Bach Piano Works
Nelson Freire
Decca 478 8449


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

Now in his early 70s, Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire has recorded most of the classical and romantic repertoire. His latest recording Bach Piano Works (Decca 478 8449) is a reminder of how universal an artist he is. While not regarded as a specialist in the historical performance practice of baroque keyboard repertoire, he is nevertheless highly credible because of his interpretive maturity.

All the Bach on this recording is clean and unpedalled, as it should be. The wild sweeps of the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D Minor BWV903 are beautifully conceived, using only a minimum of the piano’s natural resonance. By contrast, Freire steeps himself in all the available tonal richness of the Andante from the Concerto in D Minor BWV974.

The unidentified instrument used in the recording surrenders a lovely mellow ring to Freire’s touch. His remarkable technique is at once light and fluid. He’s masterful in knowing how to culminate the hammer strike through each keystroke to achieve the precise colour he wants. The Allemande of the Partita No.4 in D Major BWV828 is an arresting example of this keyboard caress. The closing Gigue is a rapid cascade of crisp articulated notes impeccably phrased.

Equally impressive is his shift to the modern transcriptions of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring by Myra Hess and two chorales by Ferruccio Busoni. The stylistic shift is flawless while preserving the Germanic baroque discipline of Bach’s melodies and modulations. This is a performance of exceptional beauty.

02 Vivaldi

Les Violins do Roy, Mathieu Lussier
ATMA ACD2 2602


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

These qualities are more than captured in Vivaldi, the outstanding new CD from Les Violins du Roy under Mathieu Lussier (ATMA ACD2 2602). Moreover, the six concertos here display the wide range of solo combinations that Vivaldi used, as 16 of the orchestra members are featured as soloists. Just look at the range of works: the two Concertos in F Major for Violin, Two Oboes, Bassoon, Two Horns, Strings and Continuo RV569 and RV574; the Concerto in B Minor for Four Violins, Cello, Strings and Continuo RV580; the Concerto in G Minor for Violin, Two Recorders, Two Oboes, Bassoon, Strings and Continuo RV577; and the Concerto in E Minor for Four Violins, Strings and Continuo RV550.

There is a brief Sinfonia from the opera La verità in cimento, RV739 before the final Concerto in C Major for Two Trumpets, Strings and Continuo RV537, whose familiar opening three notes will immediately bring to mind the closing doors on a TTC subway car for Toronto residents; the dazzling third movement brings to a close a CD that is a pure delight from start to finish.

The orchestral texture is warm and bright, with a discreet and beautifully balanced continuo and a clear and resonant recorded sound.

01 Fialkowska Schubert

Schubert – Piano Sonata No.7; Four Impromptus
Janina Fialkowska
ATMA ACD2 2699


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

Janina Fialkowska’s new recording of Schubert – Piano Sonata No.7; Four Impromptus (ATMA ACD2 2699) is an example of familiar repertoire rethought, reconsidered and reinvented. Nothing has been turned on its head nor has Schubert been over-examined for missed content. The genius of his ideas lies in both their lyric value and in the exquisite nature of his supporting accompaniments. What Fialkowska has done is to redraw the emotional map that guides her playing through Schubert’s straightforward material. She plays the Impromptu No.2 in A-flat Major Op.142 D935 as if it were something sacred. The opening idea is delivered in utter simplicity and the middle section rises to a speed and intensity not often heard. This pulls the work’s emotional poles further apart and gives greater impact to the quiet ending. The other three impromptus, too, are wonderfully recast.

The Piano Sonata No.7 in E -flat Major Op.122 D568 benefits from a release of tempo strictures in the second and third movements. Fialkowska gives Schubert’s simple ideas an airy freedom that feels so completely right. She is, as ever, the mature interpreter we have come to admire.

Concert Note: On April 1 and 2 Janina Fialkowska performs Chopin’s Concerto in F Minor with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony at the Centre in the Square.

03 Grimaud WaterWater
Hélène Grimaud
Deutsche Grammophon CD 00289 479 3426


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

In her latest disc Hélène Grimaud – Water (Deutsche Grammophon CD 00289 479 3426), pianist Hélène Grimaud draws from the well of repertoire using water as its inspiration. Nearly every composer has written something depicting an aspect of water whether vast or minute. Her choices of works were guided by a live performance project incorporating art, music and architecture. Set in a New York armoury drill hall carefully flooded for added effect, the performance reflected her environmental concerns around the treatment of water as one of humanity’s most precious resources.

Grimaud immerses herself completely in the nature of the water theme. Aided by the cavernous acoustic of the armoury, she captures all the fluidness and sparkling images created by her chosen composers. Liszt’s Les Jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este is among the best tracks for its articulate shimmer in the upper registers. The Takemitsu Rain Tree Sketch II is beautiful for its deeply haunting reserve and Fauré’s Barcarolle flows with unbound rhythmic freedom throughout. The best track is, however, Debussy’s La Cathédrale engloutie. Here Grimaud evokes an architectural grandness and solemnity so appropriate to the composer’s image for the piece.

The recording produced at the art installation is combined with seven electro-acoustic compositions by Nitin Sawhney that act as transitions between her eight piano pieces. The contemporary works serve effectively as transitions between the traditional repertoire and are, in fact, titled as such, Transition 1, 2, etc. They alternate seamlessly from one track to the next and make for a truly fascinating listen.


05 Glassworlds 3

Philip Glass - Glassworlds 3; Metamorphosis
Nicolas Horvath
Grand Piano GP691


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

Young pianist Nicolas Horvath has a very impressive reputation as a Liszt interpreter. It’s no surprise then, that his approach to Glass in Philip Glass – Glassworlds 3; Metamorphosis (Grand Piano GP691) is strikingly different. His own liner notes to this recording reveal his inclination toward analytical detail. At the keyboard he extracts thematic material from the rotating structures that Glass sets spinning like so many Buddhist prayer wheels. In doing so he compels the listener to experience the music more melodically than its hypnotic patterns might otherwise allow. This sets his performance of the Metamorphosis I-V apart from most others. The melodic imperative that seems to drive Horvath’s interpretation of Glass’ music is even more powerful in Einstein on the Beach and the Piano Sonatina No.2 (1959). There’s even a hint of programmatic interpretation in the piano version of The Olympian – Lighting of the Torch and Closing.

By contrast, however, Horvath completely abandons all classical/romantic sensibilities in Two Pages (1968), choosing instead to favour the dominant mechanical nature of the repeating figures, leaving only Glass’ subtle changes to play with the listener’s mind. This kind of versatility makes Horvath a compelling interpreter and presents the repertoire in a deeply engaging and listenable way. This disc is the third volume in his Glassworlds series.

06 Khachaturian Poghosyan

Khachaturian - Original Piano Works and Transcriptions
Kariné Poghosyan
Grand Piano GP673


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

Kariné Poghosyan is an Armenian-American pianist teaching at the Manhattan School of Music. With a scholarly thesis on the piano music of Aram Khachaturian to her credit, her latest recording Khachaturian – Original Piano Works and Transcriptions (Grand Piano GP673) demonstrates the affinity she has for this composer’s work.

The disc includes a new piano transcription of the Masquerade Suite with its familiar Waltz, and the Suite No.2 from the ballet Spartacus, in a new arrangement by Matthew Cameron. Both performances are world premieres but the latter is impressive for the way it presents the ballet’s well-known main theme, particularly in its wide, sweeping orchestral gestures.

Also on the disc is Poem, a very early and somewhat troubled work that Poghosyan performs with conviction, finding great serenity in the quieter sections to balance the work’s darker passages.

The recording’s finest piece is, however, the Piano Sonata from 1961, one of Khachaturian’s few formal efforts in larger forms. The opening movement is breathtaking for its relentless motion that only has a brief respite midway through. Poghosyan plays this brilliantly and brings it to an edge-of-your-seat close. The second movement is remarkable for its unfamiliar and sometimes experimental language. The final movement brings back the energy of the first but with more intensity. This must be an exhausting piece to perform live. It is excitement combined with mystery and Poghosyan plays it masterfully.

03 Valerie MilotOrbis
Valérie Milot
Analekta AN 2 9880


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

Quebec harp virtuoso Valérie Milot’s latest CD Orbis (Analekta AN 2 9880) is an eclectic release of 20th century fare. Minimalist offerings by Marjan Mozetich and Steve Reich are featured along with works of John Cage and Antoine Bareil plus Bareil’s arrangements of music by Gentle Giant and Frank Zappa. Mozetich’s El Dorado for harp and strings opens the disc in a dramatic performance with Les Violons du Roy under Mathieu Lussier’s direction. The quiet, almost ominous, opening gradually builds like an ancient steam locomotive coming into town – you can almost see the smoke chuffing into the sky on the horizon – but over the 15 minutes of the work the textures gradually lighten and change into what Mozetich describes as a dreamscape. Commissioned by New Music Concerts for Erica Goodman back in 1981, El Dorado has become something of a modern classic and this is the third recording that I’m aware of. Goodman’s performance with the Amadeus Ensemble and Caroline Léonardelli’s with the Penderecki String Quartet are available from the Canadian Music Centre (musiccentre.ca).

The locomotive relentlessness of the opening of the Mozetich is mirrored in a gentler way in Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint. Originally written for jazz guitarist Pat Metheny, the work is scored for solo guitar, 12 guitars and two bass guitars. As in many works by Reich it can be played by an ensemble or by a single musician overdubbing the multiple parts. In her arrangement for harps, it is this latter approach taken by Milot, giving her an opportunity to showcase “the distinctive colours of the harp’s different registers and its exceptional resonance.” The result is very effective and the hypnotic rhythms are tantalizing in this performance.

John Cage’s In a Landscape is hypnotic in a different way, with dreamlike arpeggiated melodies spiralling gently and only occasionally punctuated by belling chords in the bass. Composed in 1948 for the choreography of Louise Lippold it was conceived for performance on either piano or harp. Milot’s depiction of the meditative landscape is exquisite.

Composer/violinist Antoine Bareil’s Castille 1382 continues the mood with a meditation on Jacob de Senleches’ fourteenth-century virelai La harpe de mélodie. Bareil’s title recalls the year of the death of Eleanor of Aragon, Queen of Castile. It is in two sections, an extended harp solo in which the medieval melody is presented unadorned and then in a harmonized rendition; and in the final minutes the haunting soprano voice of Marianne Lambert joins the harp in canon. It’s otherworldly.

At this point the disc takes a hard left turn and we are immersed in the world of pop music. But the transition is seamless as the solo harp introduction of Bareil’s arrangement of the Gentle Giant song As Old as You’re Young is in a lilting folk idiom. Harp is soon joined by an edgier violin statement of the melody (played by Bareil) and as the piece develops it gets harder and harder with the addition of marimba and raunchy bowed double bass. This sets us up for the culminating storm, Frank Zappa’s iconic G-Spot Tornado. Zappa initially conceived it as an electronic piece for his album Jazz from Hell because he felt that live musicians could simply not perform its complexities at the desired tempo. He was later proved wrong and there is YouTube video of an athletically choreographed performance with modern dancers and the Ensemble Modern conducted by Zappa in 1992. Since that time G-Spot Tornado has received myriad live performances and here it is vigorously and very effectively played by Milot and Bareil with Jocelyne Roy, flute, François Vallières, viola, and Raphaël Dubé, cello, providing a tornadic finale to a very fine disc.

Concert Note: Valérie Milo and Antoine Bareil can be heard in recital on March 18 at Convocation Hall, McMaster University in Hamilton. On March 19 at 5pm they will give a free performance at the Consulate of the Republic of Poland, 2603 Lake Shore Blvd W. here in Toronto (limited seating, first come first served). Soundstreams will present a performance of Electric Counterpoint and other works by Steve Reich on March 19 at the Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St. W.

01 Collectif9Volksmobiles
Independent (collectif9.ca)


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

Volksmobiles is the quite fascinating first CD from collectif9 (collectif9.ca), the Montreal string ensemble that made its debut in 2011 and is composed of four violins, two violas, two cellos and a bass. The players met through their studies at McGill University and the Université de Montréal, and their assertion that the ensemble size enables them to combine the power of an orchestra with the crispness of a chamber ensemble is more than justified by the results here.

Two arrangements by the group’s bass player Thibault Bertin-Maghit open the program: a simply dazzling version of Brahms’ Rondo alla zingarese (check out the video on their website!) and a short but effective transcription of the Allegretto from Alfred Schnittke’s Violin Sonata No.1.

The central work on the disc is the title track, a short three-part piece commissioned by the group from the Guelph composer Geof Holbrook. Its opening movement has more than a hint of Marjan Mozetich about it (no bad thing!) and the third movement is a clever mixture of percussive effects and pizzicato.

A condensed Allegro assai from Bartok’s Divertimento is a more substantial piece played with a great sense of style, and André Gagnon’s really short but exuberant Petit concerto pour Carignan, an homage to the legendary Quebecois fiddler Jean Carignan, rounds out the disc with a wicked cross-mixture of Bach and fiddle music.

I have only one complaint, and although it’s a big one it’s also a positive one: clocking in at just over 29 minutes for the seven tracks, the disc feels more like a sampler CD than a debut disc, and it certainly leaves you really wanting to see what the group does with a more substantial program. Hopefully we will be hearing a great deal more – in both quantity and length – from this dynamic ensemble in the not-too-distant future.

Concert Note: You can hear collectif9 live courtesy of Music Toronto at Jane Mallett Theatre on March 10. The program will include the Holbrook mentioned above and works by Brahms, Shostakovich, Bartók, Schnittke, Hindemith and Prokofiev. collectif9 also performs at Cairns Recital Hall in St. Catherines on May 4, 2016 at 7:30 and the Burlington Performing Arts Centre on May 5 at 8.

03 Seong Jin Cho

Winner of the 17th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition
Seong-Jin Cho
Deutsche Grammophon 4795332


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

South Korean pianist Seong-Jin Cho won the 17th International Chopin Piano Competition last year, taking top prize after five rounds of competitive performance. 163 pianists began the odyssey that is now the world’s oldest piano competition – six emerged as finalists. Winning this event is a career-making achievement, especially at age 21.

This recordingSeong-Jin Cho – Winner of the 17th International Chopin Piano Competition (Deutsche Grammophon 479 5332) is Cho’s live performance at the Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall in October last year. He delivers all the bombast and meets the blazing technical demands of the repertoire with confidence. It’s also a very moving listening experience for its mature approach to the familiar fragilities that Chopin requires. Cho spends critically important fractions of seconds delaying passing notes and dissonances to intensify each moment of uncertainty.

The Préludes Op.28 contain a universe of emotions beautifully portrayed with complete conviction. The Piano Sonata No.2 in B-flat Minor Op.35 demonstrates Cho’s command of Chopin’s rich vocabulary. This is particularly evident in his treatment of the third movement’s central passage where the simple melody moves slowly, unhurried and with minimal accompaniment. Cho lingers courageously creating a powerful contrast to the gravity of the surrounding Marche funèbre.

The recording ends appropriately with the Polonaise in A-flat Major Op.53 (Polonaise héroïque) upon whose closing chord the audience erupts in cheers and applause.

04 Castelnuovo TedescoCastelnuovo-Tedesco Piano Music
Claudio Curti Gialdino
Brilliant Classics 94811


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

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco occupies that sparse region of Italian composers whose works were not principally operatic. Perhaps best known for his guitar and film works, his small body of piano compositions is often overlooked. Claudio Curti Gialdino’s recent discCastelnuovo-Tedesco Piano Music (Brilliant Classics 94811) offers a fine example of how this composer blended his own voice with the French and Russian influences of the early 20th century. The repertoire represents the composer’s early work before he fled fascist Italy in 1939, to settle in the US.

Alt Wien Op.30 has a strong feel of Ravel’s La Valse about it. While it’s not nearly as deconstructionist, it does share a similar scale and language. The work’s unique feature is the anti-rhythmic way the composer has cast the dances of the opening and closing movements. Gialdino captures this wonderfully by holding back the Waltz and Fox-Trot, never letting them emerge as quite the dances we expect.

Despite its programmatic title, Le danze del Re David Op.37 is a freely impressionistic collection of eight rhythmic caricatures. It’s clever writing and fine playing. Gialdino brings a distinctive bounce to this set that is very appealing. He goes even further in his performance of Piedigrotta Op.32 (Rapsodia napoletana). Here, an underlying sense of Russian grandness supports a series of five colourful vignettes that concludes with some serious keyboard muscle.

Gialdino plays a Kawai in this recording, and I suspect it might be less than full concert size. It’s brightly voiced and delivers the music well.

01 Dutoit

Dutoit Montréal
Charles Dutoit; Orchestre symphonique de Montréal
Decca 4789466


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

The Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal was known as the best French orchestra outside France, thanks to their conductor, Charles Dutoit and Decca Records. With the death of Ernest Ansermet in 1969 Decca had lost their man-about-French-repertoire and were very concerned about having no long-term exclusive replacement. Ray Minshull, a producer for Decca was visiting an artist in Montreal in February 1980 and, fortuitously, attended a rehearsal with the Montreal Symphony. “Immediately” he writes, “it was apparent that our search was over and that I had stumbled upon the solution to our problem. Within two days an exclusive contract was agreed and the following July we recorded the OSM in a CD of violin concertos with Kyung-Wha Chung, another of Rodrigo’s guitar concertos and Ravel’s complete Daphnis and Chloe. When the new recordings were launched, the reception from both critics and public was so enthusiastic…especially in France and Great Britain that we knew that, at last, we had found what we had missed for so long.” Decca has issued a boxed set of their recordings, simply titled Dutoit Montreal (4789466) comprised of 35 CDs in replicas of the original cover art, an 83-page booklet with recording details, two essays by Ray Minshull and an appreciation by Andrew Stewart.

Decca proceeded with its original intention, recording the orchestra playing mainly works by French composers while leaving the German repertoire to others in their stable. In this really impressive collection, therefore, there is no Bach, Beethoven or Brahms although there are four Mendelssohn overtures from 1986 and a 1983 reading of Orff’s Carmina Burana.

The discs are arranged by date of recording and here are but some of the highlights. The complete Daphnis et Chloé (1980); Boléro, Rapsodie Espagnole and La Valse (1981); The Three-Cornered Hat and El Amor Brujo (1981); Saint-Saëns Symphony No.3 (1982) and Chausson Symphony in B-Flat Op.20 (1995); the two Ravel Piano Concertos with Pascal Rogé (1982); Respighi Pines of Rome, Fountains of Rome and Roman Festivals (1982); Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade (1983); Gaîté Parisienne (1983); Le Sacre du Printemps [1921 version], The Firebird, etc. (1984) and Petrouchka (1986); the Fauré Requiem with Kiri Te Kanawa and Sherrill Milnes (1987); The Planets (1986); Bartók Concerto for Orchestra and Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (1987); Debussy Images and Nocturnes (1988); Franck Symphony in D Minor and D’Indy Symphony on a French Mountain Air with Jean-Yves Thibaudet (1989); two Tchaikovsky complete ballets, Swan Lake (1991) and The Nutcracker (1992); Piazzolla Tangazo (2000), etc.

In addition to the above, there are other major works and about 50 other pieces ranging from Hugo Alfrén’s Swedish Rhapsody No.1 to Ambroise Thomas’ once-popular Raymond Overture. A most desirable and attractive collection. Last year Decca signed a five-year contract with Kent Nagano and the OSM.

07 Beethoven Giltburg

Beethoven Piano Sonatas No.8 “Pathétique,” No.21 “Waldstein” and No.32
Boris Giltburg
Naxos 8.573400


The following review is an excerpt from Keyed In - February 2016 which can be read in its entirety here.

Little more than a year into his exclusive contract with Naxos, Boris Giltburg has recorded his second CD, Beethoven Piano Sonatas No.8 “Pathétique,” No.21 “Waldstein” and No.32 (Naxos 8.573400). Whether he aspires to recording all 32 sonatas remains to be seen. Still, his first Beethoven disc gives us a good sampling of the early, middle and late periods and of Giltburg’s understanding of how Beethoven’s expression in this form evolved.

His overall approach is one of rather intense carefulness. Giltburg is patient. Never rushing unnecessarily, he takes his time, pausing and hesitating to highlight the intimacy of the music. Speed and power are, however, no obstacle to him and he shies away from nothing.

The opening of the Pathétique is quite deliberative and in considerable contrast to the speed of the final movement. He begins the Waldstein with barely contained energy that spills out quickly over the rhythmic pulse of the left hand. The second movement seems wonderfully expanded in time as if he wants us to find something new in the open spaces between the notes. Giltburg then crafts some lovely sounds around the final movement’s bell-like main idea.

The Sonata No.32 Op.111 is Beethoven in completely new territory. Giltburg delights in the moments that appear unstructured and so modern for the period but he also plunges with feverish delight into the passages with fugal elements that Beethoven wrote for effective contrast. The jewel in this crown is unquestionably Giltburg’s performance of the final movement. The long opening arietta is memorably tender and the movement’s close, even more so.

02 Quartetto Italiano

The Complete Decca, Philips and DG Recordings
Quartetto Italiano
(Decca 478884)


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

A most unexpected sequence of events occurred last week … I opened the 37-CD reissue of the Quartetto Italiano intending to check out the repertoire and listen to a piece or two for now, intending to get into it later. My big mistake was that I started with the Beethoven Op.132 and Grosse Fuge Op.133. Later became sooner, and sooner became now, and immediately I found myself embarking on the complete Beethoven cycle, all 16 quartets. From the very first bars their security, their astonishing togetherness and sonorities announce that they are not simply four musicians playing but an entity: a perfect string quartet. The group first met in Sienna in 1942 and in 1945 they came together as the Nuovo Quartetto Italiano, later dropping the Nuovo. They toured extensively and in 1951 they played in Salzburg where they impressed Wilhelm Furtwängler. The conductor convinced them to play with a greater freedom of expression by running through a performance of the Brahms F Minor Quintet with Furtwängler himself at the piano. This was a critical turning point in their career following which they introduced new rhythmic freedoms to their innate classicism. In 1965 they began their long association with Philips recording the Debussy and Ravel quartets. Included in this collection of superlative performances are the complete quartets by Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Schumann and Webern together with quartets by Haydn, Schubert, Boccherini, Dvořák, etc. and the Brahms F Minor Quintet with Pollini in 1980. The Quartetto Italiano disbanded in 1987.

Find complete details of Quartetto Italiano – The Complete Decca, Philips and DG Recordings (Decca 478884) here.

12 The Bab

The Báb: Piano Sonatas and Ballades
Afshin Jaberi
Grand Piano/Overtone GP694


The following is an excerpt from Keyed In (December 2015) which can be read in its entirety here.

Iranian pianist and composer Afshin Jaberi has recorded THE BÁB – Piano Sonatas and Ballades (Grand Piano/Overtone GP694). Born in Bahrain and raised in Qatar, Jaberi received his musical education at the Franz Liszt Academy in Hungary and his doctorate from the Almaty Conservatory in Kazakhstan. His language is solidly Western and his discipline solidly Russian. One immediately hears the influences of the major 19th-century European composers on his keyboard language. There is however, a distinctively Eastern modality and shape to his musical ideas. Titles like The SeekerThe Bedouin and Eroica offer some idea of Jaberi’s personal quest in his music. Much of it is programmatically linked to historical episodes of the Bahai’ faith but all of it is delivered through the keyboard vocabulary of Liszt, Chopin and Schumann. Jaberi is a gifted player and composer. His work offers a rare glimpse in an unusual direction.

11 Reinventions

Reinventions: Rhapsodies for Piano
Tanya Ekanayaka
Grand Piano/Overtone GP693


The following is an excerpt from Keyed In (December 2015) which can be read in its entirety here.

Reinventions – Rhapsodies for Piano (Grand Piano/Overtone GP693) is an unusual CD and difficult to describe. Composed and performed by Tanya Ekanayaka, these works are in part improvisational and in part more formally crafted. The main inspiration for them comes from pieces preceding them in live performance. Key relationships, tonal centres and thematic fragments all serve as points of creative departure for this Sri Lankan pianist and composer.

Her keyboard technique is formidable. Massive arpeggios seem completely effortless as she weaves together traditional Sri Lankan melodies with inspirations taken from composers like Bach, Debussy and Chopin. She is capable of both the smallest nuance as well as the grandest gesture the keyboard can afford. Her works carry evocative titles such as In Lotus, Labyrinth and Dhaivaya. Her descriptions and rationales for the content of the Rhapsodies is highly detailed and musically rich. Even the most fanciful works e.g. Of Scottish Walks, Vannam & Sri Lanka’s Bugs Bunny require more than one listening. One begins to wonder if she is perhaps the Keith Jarrett of the subcontinent.

05 Grieg Evju

Grieg & Evju: Works for Piano
Carl Petersson; Prague Radio Symphony; Kerry Stratton Orchestra
Grand Piano GP689


The following is an excerpt from Keyed In (December 2015) which can be read in its entirety here.

The recording Grieg; Evju – Piano Concertos (Grand Piano GP689) offers a performance of Grieg’s familiar work but based on subsequent changes to the manuscript made by the composer and his friend Percy Grainger. The casual listener may not detect the revisions but they are occasionally evident in the piano part where familiar chordal structures appear to have been changed.

The recording is remarkably clear. The Prague Radio Symphony under Canadian Kerry Stratton is not especially large but always sounds full and balanced. Pianist Carl Petersson performs beautifully and seems especially committed to this revised edition.

The other work on the disc is a concerto based on a thematic fragment by Grieg. It’s a bit of an oddity but warrants several hearings before moving into the concerto that Helge Evju has crafted from it. Although in five movements, the work’s performance time is only 20 minutes. It contains many strong allusions to the A-Minor concerto. That work is said to have been one of Rachmaninov’s favourites and curiously, one also hears a few passages that are obviously reminiscent of his piano concertos.

Overall it’s a wonderful and unusual recording. The orchestra and pianist are excellent.

01 Charles Richard Hamelin

Charles Richard-Hamelin
Analekta An 2 9127


The following is an excerpt from Keyed In (December 2015) which can be read in its entirety here.

The 2015 International Chopin Piano Competition boasted Canada’s Charles Richard-Hamelin as the second place prize winner, the first time a Canadian had won a prize in that prestigious event. His May 2015 recording was timed perfectly for this victory. Charles Richard-Hamelin – Chopin (Analekta An 2 9127) presents a very powerful player who can push the instrument right to its limits without losing or distorting the sound. It’s clear that Richard-Hamelin understands the colouristic capabilities of the piano. He is able to recede to the softest pianissimos and able to shape notes through the mechanics of the keyboard.

He is also very comfortable using wide variations in tempo without interrupting the flow of the musical idea. This is evident in the Largo of the Sonata No.3 in B minor, Op.58 where one encounters the impressive interpretive depth of this player after being dazzled by his performance of the preceding Scherzo.

The disc also includes the Polonaise-Fantasie in A-Flat Major Op.61 and two Nocturnes from Op.62 played with an especially haunting beauty.

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