04 Baiba Skride

Sibelius & Nielsen Violin Concertos
Baiba Skride; Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra; Santtu-Matias Rouvali
Orfeo C 896 152 A


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

The Sibelius & Nielsen Violin Concertos make an excellent and natural pairing on the new 2-CD set from Latvian violinist Baiba Skride, with Finland’s Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra under Santtu-Matias Rouvali (Orfeo C 896 152 A). Both composers were born in 1865; both were violinists; both became the leader of their respective country’s Nationalist musical movement; and the concertos were written within a few years of each other in the first decade of the 20th century.

Skride is terrific in the Sibelius, with her rather fast and somewhat narrow vibrato providing a steely edge to the lush tone and phrasing and giving the work a real Nordic feel. The Two Serenades for Violin and Orchestra Op.69 complete the first disc; written in 1912-13, they are not heard all that often, and are a welcome addition here.

The Nielsen concerto is a lovely work that should really be more widely known; indeed, Nielsen’s music in general has never quite gained the recognition outside of his native Denmark that it deserves. In this case it may be the length and shape of the work that’s to blame: it’s almost 40 minutes long, and although ostensibly in four movements is actually in two sections, with the brief first and third “movements” – the latter the only slow movement – acting more as introductions for each half. Also, the simply glorious theme that appears after the brief flourish at the beginning of the work never reappears, and nothing else quite matches it. The performance here is outstanding, though.

03 History of Classical Music

The History of Classical Music in 24 Hours
Various Artists
Deutsche Grammophon 7494648


The following is an excerpt from Old Wine in New Bottles: Fine Recordings Re-Released (December 2015) which can be read in its entirety here.

I really had my doubts about a new collection, The History of Classical Music in 24 Hours (DG 7494648) claiming to be just that. When it was announced I expected a mishmash of bleeding chunks of this period or that, that would really limit its appeal to one audience and revolt another. Today it arrived. It is a 3” (73mm) box containing 24 CDs in 12 hinged double sleeves (called a “mint” in the trade) in chronological order, each devoted to one or two periods. Each mint is titled thusly: 1&2, Music of the Middle Ages/Music of the Renaissance; 7&8, A Trip to France/The Romantic Symphony; 11&12, The Virtuoso II/The Romantic Cello… and so on.

It’s funny that after a lifetime of listening to music in both concert and recorded contexts, some fresh experience will turn back the years and once again I become excited by something new or long forgotten. It is never too late to at least rethink certain eras or even artists when you hear them again or for the first time.

 The symphonies and concertos included are complete, as are symphonic works like Finlandia and The Planets. There are complete song cycles by Wagner, Mahler and Richard Strauss; string quartets, and a stunning array of arias and duets. All performed by the finest musicians and artists. 

The breadth of repertoire is enormous and the performances are taken from the DG catalogue in the latest mastering. In fact, there are more than 24 hours of music, closer to 30 hours. It comes to mind, that except for some complete operas, this package is a true basic repertoire performed by the world’s greatest artists. You can hear samples of every piece at historyofclassicalmusic24.com. Here is a unique basic library for you or a friend at three dollars or less per disc.

02 Stravinsky Complete

Stravinsky: Complete Edition
Various Artists
Deutsche Grammophon 4794650


The following is an excerpt from Old Wine in New Bottles: Fine Recordings Re-Released (December 2015) which can be read in its entirety here.

Over 100 years have elapsed since Stravinsky’s ballet, Le Sacre du Printemps precipitated near riots at its Diaghilev Ballet premiere in Paris. And yet it is still the very first work that comes to mind at the mention of Stravinsky, even though his style and compositions in different genres changed many times over his 88 years. DG has assembled a 30-CD cube set, Stravinsky Complete Edition (DG 4794650), containing, presumably, everything published.

 The first dozen discs are devoted to the 19 stage works on which his fame mostly rests, beginning with The Firebird (1909/10), Petrouchka (1910/11), Le Sacre (1911/13), The Nightingale (1908/09,1913/14) etc., through to The Flood, written for television in 1962. The list also includes The Rakes Progress (1951), an opera in three acts. Conductors include Boulez, Chailly, Abbado, Rozhdestvensky, Bernstein, Levine, Knussen, Nagano, Gardiner and Ashkenazy.

The six discs of orchestral music and concerted works include the Circus Polka for a young elephant, first performed by a ballet of elephants in the spring of 1942. With things being what they are, today it is performed without the elephants. The suites from Firebird and Petrouchka are here as is the Ebony Concerto from 1945 written for the Woody Herman band. Altogether some 36 shorter, jaunty pieces make entertaining listening. Conductors are Boulez, Mackerras, Ashkenazy, Pletnev, Davies, Craft, Bernstein, Bychkov and Knussen, with Rafael Kubelik minding the elephants.

Three discs of choral music include the Symphony of Psalms and 15 other works including Threni and Mass for mixed chorus and double wind quintet, conducted by John Eliot Gardiner, Craft and Bernstein.

There are two more discs devoted to solo vocals and two each for chamber music and piano music. Two discs of historic recordings plus a bonus disc of Le Sacre for two pianos played by Martha Argerich and Daniel Barenboim recorded in April, 2014. Watch the video trailer at youtube.com/watch?v=kEKZGnUZZec.

So there it is… splendid performances of all he wrote occupying only 133 mm of shelf space.

04 Alpha Moment cover 912x912Alpha Moment
Peter Hum


The following is an excerpt from Jazz 'eh (November 2015) which can be read in its entirety here.

Pianist/composer Peter Hum may be better known as a jazz and food critic for the Ottawa Citizen, but there’s nothing to suggest anything but full commitment to his art on Alpha Moment (peterhum.com). Hum leads a sextet here, and his group concept is almost orchestral. His compositions are well formed and subtly voiced, with solos arrayed against his own lush chords, Alec Walkington’s resonant bass and drummer Ted Warren’s constant sonic shadings. While the band’s members are currently spread out geographically, the group clearly came together at a special moment for the Ottawa jazz scene, much of the excitement coming from two Ottawa-raised saxophonists who have since moved on: Kenji Omae, now resident in Seoul, may be the most exciting tenor saxophonist to emerge in Canada in recent years, a powerful, impulsive player who’s also capable of lustrous ballad playing; Nathan Cepelinski, now a New Yorker, plays alto and soprano with quicksilver thought and phrasing. Along with glassy-toned Montreal guitarist Mike Rud, the six make up a terrific band, something that’s apparent everywhere here, but most pointedly on the aptly named title tune.

02 Solti RingWagner - Der Ring Des Nibelungen
Georg Solti
Decca 4783702


The following is an excerpt from Old Wine in New Bottles: Fine Recordings Re-Released (November 2015) which can be read in its entirety here.

For 50 years the most talked-about, best-known recording of Wagner’s Ring Cycle is the Decca set from Vienna conducted by Georg Solti (4783702). Decca initially took quite a gamble producing such a massive and expensive project, not exactly sure that there would be a market. However, under the care of producer John Culshaw, the recording was made, opera by opera, over a period of years and the four individual operas – rather, music dramas – and the complete Ring set, have not left the catalogue since. Decca has repackaged the set using the latest 2012 remastering plus the two-CD set of Deryck Cook’s, An introduction to Der Ring Des Nibelungen explaining the themes associated with characters and objects in the drama. A CD-ROM of the complete libretto with English and French translations and two booklets about the Ring and synopses complete the package. Most noteworthy is the price of these 16 CDs – around $50! A case of “it’s so cheap I can’t afford not to buy it.”

02_Lars_Vogt.jpgBach - Goldberg Variations
Lars Vogt


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

I’ve always enjoyed comparing piano performances of Bach’s Goldberg Variations because one learns so much about the essence that the pianist discovers in the opening Aria and how that informs the subsequent 30 variations. Lars Vogt brings an overall light touch to his performance and a highly disciplined tempo free of overly expressive rubato and dynamics. Instead he concentrates on pulling forward the contrapuntal material with satisfying clarity. On the few occasions where he does allow for pullbacks to emphasize contrast or underline an emotional point, he does so with measured reserve and the result is very effective. His Goldberg Variations (ONDINE ODE 1273-2) is   masterfully constructed with clear intent and informed by a rhythmic conviction that never wavers. The several toccata-like variations are delivered with speed and clarity at no cost to Bach’s inner voices. His performance of the closing Aria is possibly the most tender I have ever heard. A small point but one that made me smile was Vogt’s reversal of an arpeggio in the repeat of the Aria. An unexpected and lovingly cheeky moment. You should definitely add this CD to your Goldberg collection.

06_Schubert_Schiff.jpgFranz Schubert
Andras Schiff
ECM New Series 2425/26 481 1572


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

Pianist Andras Schiff has taken a historic approach to Franz Schubert (ECM New Series 2425/26 481 1572) and documents a wide variety of the composer’s works on a fortepiano. He deliberately begins his notes with an intriguing “Confessions of a Convert” chapter that lays out his rationale and passion for this choice. Using his own instrument, built by Franz Brodmann in Vienna ca.1820, Schiff launches into repertoire most of us have only ever heard on a modern piano.

Opening the 2-CD set with Ungarische Melodie in h-moll D817, Schiff cleverly gives his zither-like instrument a culturally Eastern selection that gets our immediate attention. Small action clicks and an intimate voice make this recording’s premise very persuasive. While capable of the softest pianissimos and mellowest hammer strikes, Schiff’s fortepiano still delivers some powerful full-throated chords and he uses this capability masterfully throughout his program.

The familiar Moments musicaux D780 and Impromptus D935 take some getting used to but hearing them this way eventually suggests that a smaller performance conception is actually credible and perhaps this is closer to what Schubert had intended. The Sonata in B-Flat Major D960, however, is perhaps the most difficult to accept in this sonically smaller way. Too many years of hearing it from large concert grands have left a mark not easily erased.

If this project and its argument were in the hands of someone less a pianist and musician than Schiff it would be far less persuasive. But it seems the 1820 Brodmann has become Schiff’s new muse and that he has found a new voice. We are bound to pay attention.

08_Kuhnau_Organ.jpgKuhnau Complete Organ Music
Stefano Molardi
Brilliant Classics 95089


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

Italian organist Stefano Molardi has undertaken an ambitious project with Kuhnau Complete Organ Music (Brilliant Classics 95089). The 3-CD set contains all the SonatasPreludesFugues and a single Toccata. Kuhnau was Bach’s immediate predecessor at the Leipzig Tomaskirche and made a significant impact on the music of his time.

The entire project was recorded in the summer of 2014 on two different instruments that might well have been known to Kuhnau. Both built by Gottfried Silbermann, the 1714 cathedral organ in Freiburg and the smaller 1722 organ of the St. Marienkirche in Rötha both show the typically bright mixtures and overtone-rich reeds of the German Baroque.

Molardi approaches the Six Biblical Sonatas in a way that exploits their highly programmatic content. Using all the colours and effects available on the Freiburg organ, he retells the numerous Old Testament stories that Kuhnau portrays. As late baroque style goes, there is an amazing freedom of expression in the writing that includes great fantasia-like sweeps as well as rigid fugal architecture. Kuhnau must have had a ball writing these.

Even more impressive are the individual Preludes, especially the Prelude in E Minor and the Prelude alla breve in G Major. Both are regal in presentation and use the full scale of their instrument to fill the Freiburg cathedral. Both organs are, of course, trackers and so give us some audible mechanical action noise during soft passages. This a wonderful document for serious organ buffs.

05_Quincy_Porter.jpgQuincy Porter - String Quartets Nos.5-8
Ives Quartet
Naxos 8.559781


The following is an excerpt from Strings Attached (October 2015) which can be read in its entirety here.

While he was on the faculty at Cleveland’s Mannes School of Music from 1917 to 1920 Ernest Bloch taught a number of young American composers, among whom was Quincy Porter. Porter’s String Quartets Nos.5-8 feature on a new CD from Naxos (8.559781), which continues to issue terrific recordings of music that, if not exactly off the beaten track, thrives along the sides of the main musical highways. Quartets Nos.1-4 were issued on Naxos 8.559305 in 2007, to glowing reviews.

Porter was a professional string player in the 1920s, and the four works here, written between 1935 and 1950, show just how well he understood the medium: they are idiomatic and immediately accessible, very appealing, strongly tonal and highly expressive.

Recorded between 2008 and 2012, the performances by the Ives Quartet are of the highest quality.

02_Soile_Isokoski.jpgChausson; Berlioz; Duparc
Soile Isokoski; Helsinki Philharmonic; John Storgårds
Ondine ODE 1261-2


Soile Isokoski was in Toronto last summer mentoring a program for young singers at Toronto Summer Music. It is good to have this new disc. The main work here is Les nuits d’été by Berlioz. These songs were originally published as a set for mezzo-soprano or tenor with piano accompaniment. Later Berlioz orchestrated the songs and in some cases changed their keys, making them more suitable for several singers in different voice categories. There is a modern recording conducted by John Eliot Gardiner (on Erato) which uses five different singers, including the Canadian mezzo Catherine Robbin. I myself am very fond of Janet Baker’s recordings, both the 1967 performance with Sir John Barbirolli (EMI) and the 1975 performance with Carlo Maria Giulini (BBC). It took me a while to get used to Isokoski’s interpretation, especially in the first song, Villanelle, where Baker is more impressive in giving a sense of ecstasy and where the words are much easier to follow. I think the latter point has a lot to do with the high keys in which Isokoski sings and in general I think these songs work better when performed by mezzos. But Isokoski’s renderings have their own merits and she is especially good in the middle songs, Sur les lagunes and Absence.

The Duparc songs were written for voice and piano and I don’t particularly care for the orchestration, first performed in 1897. Isokoski is at her best in Chausson’s somewhat Wagnerian Poème de l’amour et de la mer. She is generally described as a lyric soprano but she also has the fullness of sound needed to override Chausson’s orchestral textures.

01_Philidor.jpgFrançois-André Danican Philidor – Les Femmes Vengées
Debono; Beaudin; Staskiewicz; Thompson; Figueroa; Dobson; Opera Lafayette; Ryan Brown
Naxos 8.660353


Like the Singspiel in Germany and Austria and the Ballad Opera in England, the 18th-century French opera comique used spoken dialogue. These works were rather lightweight until Mozart’s Magic Flute and Beethoven’s Fidelio brought a new seriousness to the Singspiel. As for the opera comique, it was not until Bizet’s Carmen (1875) that the full potential of the genre was revealed.

François-André Danican Philidor, now perhaps better known as a chess player than as a composer, wrote a number of comic operas. Although it is good to have a recording of Les femmes vengées (1775), there are problems with its presentation. The booklet that comes with the CD carries a synopsis of the plot but no libretto. There is a note saying that the text can be accessed through the Internet, but, when I tried to do so, I received a reply that the libretto is not yet available. Clearly Naxos wanted the disc to be reviewed as early as possible but it was a mistake to send out review copies before it was possible to consult the text. Moreover, the CD contains only the music of the opera, not the spoken dialogue. I understand the reason for this: the inclusion of the dialogue would have meant two CDs and doubled the cost. But the effect of this is that we do not have the opera here but a series of ariettes and vocal ensembles.

Opera Lafayette, a company from Washington, D.C., was founded in 1995 and specializes in French opera ranging from Lully to Felicien David. They have a recorded a number of works, all on Naxos, including Philidor’s Sancho Pança. The singing on this recording is good and the artists include three Canadian singers: Pascale Beaudin (soprano), Antonio Figueras (tenor) and Alexander Dobson (baritone). I know Beaudin from a summer course at CAMMAC a few years ago: she is a fine singer and an outstanding teacher. She has previously recorded a disc of songs by Francis Poulenc, part of a five-disc set of Poulenc’s songs (ATMA). Dobson is well-known from his appearances in Toronto theatres and concert halls. It is good to find him in this international context.

01_Brahms.jpgBrahms – The Piano Concertos
Daniel Barenboim; Staatskapelle Berlin; Gustavo Dudamel
Deutsche Grammophon 479 4899


Seventy-two-year-old virtuoso Daniel Barenboim as soloist with conductor Gustavo Dudamel and the Staatskapelle Berlin make this live recording an important event. I have been moved by the sense of yearning and struggle, the feeling of sheer obsessive physicality in music-making that predominate. In the Concerto No.2 in B-Flat Major the piano echoes the opening horn-call’s ending, two octaves higher. A sense of wide-open spaces extends our comfort zone – in dynamic range and variability, pitch register (including note-to-note and between-hands distances in the piano part), and implied landscape. Barenboim displays complete confidence technically and musically. Stretched-out phrases convey longing; even over-emphasizing accents in the first movement’s exposition is justified by the weary climb of the melodic line. Dudamel and players equal Barenboim’s expressive level and finesse, including tender passages and delicate passage work. Of many highlights I will mention one: the magnificent “starry night” suggested by single, high piano notes over hushed strings towards the Andante’s end, paced beautifully by Dudamel and Barenboim.

The Concerto No.1 in D Minor is also a wonderful work of large dimensions and endless inventiveness. In the first movement the pianist has chosen the most apt structural points to broaden the tempo. Barenboim’s pedalling is clear throughout, including the rapid filigree passages. The slow movement is a model of expression and colour; in the finale, Barenboim and Dudamel capture well the serious rhetorical interplay within and between piano and orchestra parts.

02_Andrew_Staniland.jpgAndrew Staniland – Talking Down the Tiger
Various Artists
Naxos Canadian Classics 8.573428


Talking Down the Tiger is the latest release in the important CD series under the Naxos Canadian Classics masthead. Five world premiere recordings of as many works by Andrew Staniland, who has emerged as one of Canada’s foremost concert composers, are featured here. The subtitle and other works for solo instruments and electronics aptly describes the format these compositions, dating from 2007 to 2013, are cast in.

Opening the disc is the title work, scored for percussion and electroacoustic looping. The composer evocatively notes that for him, “percussion is a metaphorical tiger: possessing all at once ferociousness, beauty and mystery.” In Talking Down the Tiger (2010) he aimed to “explore a journey from a wild and ferocious sound world that gradually recedes into a mystical and beautiful sound world lying beneath.” Virtuoso Toronto percussionist Ryan Scott brings both the ferocity and lyrical sensitivity suggested by Staniland’s score alive in his musically sensitive performance. As for the electronics, they effectively extend the percussion sounds, bouncing them around the listening space, sometimes resulting in mysterious sonifications.

All five works receive terrifically musical and convincing performances. Each one – for guitar, flute, cello, and soprano saxophone, in addition to the percussion of the first track – has special musical felicities I would enjoy commenting on, if only space permitted.

Unfortunately there’s only room left to mention the impressive Still Turning (2011), thematically inspired by T.S. Eliot’s poem Four Quartets. Staniland’s expansive near-18-minute score is brought to vivid dramatic life by the celebrated cellist Frances-Marie Uitti, eliciting for this listener a wide range of emotional states. It’s a very satisfying musical experience, as is the rest of the album.

03_Lloyd_-_Wild_Man.jpgWild Man Dance
Charles Lloyd
Blue Note B002243302 (bluenote.com)


Charles Lloyd achieved tremendous success in the 1960s as the first jazz musician to bridge the gap between the new jazz and the new rock audience, combining strong melodies and hypnotic modal improvisations with a tenor saxophone sound that could traverse the ground between the hard metallic brilliance of John Coltrane and the airy sound of Stan Getz. In the decades since, Lloyd has sometimes taken extended leaves from public performance, but the lyric depth of his music only develops further. It’s clearly apparent in the six-part Wild Man Dance Suite commissioned by the Jazztopad Festival in Wroclaw, Poland and recorded there in November 2013.

Lloyd’s focus on sonority takes on fresh significance here as he expands his usual quartet to include two European masters, Sokratis Sinopoulos, playing a Greek bowed lyra, and Miklos Lukacs on a cimbalom, the Hungarian form of a hammered dulcimer. The themes are everywhere enriched by the vernacular instruments, each adding a certain brilliance to the group sound and a certain resonance to the melodies. It’s apparent immediately on River which is further highlighted by Lukacs’ glittering solo and the way his lines dovetail with Gerald Clayton’s rippling piano. There’s also a special concordance between Lloyd’s tenor saxophone and Sinopoulos’ cello-like timbre. Lloyd achieves a flute-like delicacy on Invitation, while Lark will suggest Coltrane’s Crescent in its meditative depth.

Folk inspirations fuel the band’s long, open modal improvisations, propelled forward by bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Gerald Cleaver’s surging rhythms. At 75 minutes, it’s a long suite, but inspiration seldom flags.

04_Imagine_Sound.jpgImagine Sounds Imagine Silences
Ocean Fanfare
Barefoot Records BFREC O40


The following is an excerpt from Something in the Air (October 2015) which can be read in its entirety here.

Another application of this international formula is the Ocean Fanfare quartet. Consisting of Polish trumpeter Tomasz Dąbrowski, two Danes, alto and tenor saxophonist Sven Dam Meinild and bassist Richard Andersson, and American drummer Tyshawn Sorey, the fusion results in an exceptional modern mainstream unit on its cleanly recorded CD Imagine Sounds Imagine Silences (Barefoot Records BFREC O40 barefoot-records.com), which consist of six Dąbrowski and three Meinild originals. Despite having composed the bulk of the material, Dąbrowski isn’t any more prominent in performance than other members. Like a new drawing superimposed over an existing one, Ocean Fanfare has the instrumentation and left-field orientation of an Ornette Coleman quartet plus the stamina of the Jazz Messengers. Crucially, Sorey’s broken time sense and cymbal swishes are less prominent than Art Blakey’s, leaving supple booms from Andersson’s bass to define the rhythmic bottom. Featuring the drummer’s time-clock-like pacing, a track such as Lotus positions crying split tones from the saxophonist and melancholic plunger work from the trumpeter for an emotional narrative. 7 Days to Go extends the Coleman-like comparison, starting off echoing Lonely Woman until the skirmish takes on the strength of a battle with a double bass vamp and interlocked horn bluster. On the other hand the crackling velocity that propels US 12 resembles that of a classic bop 78, with each player’s contributions tossed every which way, until a pseudo-march sequence introduces some spectacular brass plunger tones and climaxes with conjoined twin-like horn unison. By the final Meditation (on a Visit from France), the band appropriately trades in blunt reed smears, kazoo-like brass hums and popping bass and drum beats for a stable but buoyant ending. Following trumpet and saxophone tone slacking, the theme slips away leaving behind a bass string pluck and cymbal resonation.

01_Nocturne_guitar.jpgNocturne - Guitar Music of the 19th Century
Drew Henderson


The following is an excerpt from Strings Attached (September 2015) which can be read in its entirety here.

The Toronto-based Canadian guitarist Drew Henderson is probably best known as a performer as one half of the Henderson-Kolk Duo with Michael Kolk, whose Mosaic solo CD was reviewed in this column in March 2014. Nocturne – Guitar Music of the 19th Century is Henderson’s independent first solo release (classicalguitarist.ca). His playing puts me very much in mind of Kolk’s, which is saying a great deal: there’s the same outstanding technique with unerring accuracy and cleanness; a clear, rich tone across the board; lovely dynamics; virtually no finger noise; and above all a beautiful sense of line and phrase.

Henderson has chosen a varied and interesting recital program. Giulio Regondi was a child prodigy in the early 1800s, and is represented here by his Nocturne “Reverie” Op.19 and Introduction et Caprice Op.23. Henderson plays an eight-string guitar on the CD, which enables him to include the usually-omitted bass notes in Les Soirées d’Auteuil Op.23 by Napoléon Coste, who often wrote for a seven-string guitar. Four Capricci from Luigi Legnani’s 36 Capricci per la Chitarra Op.20 and a simply dazzling performance of Paganini’s Grand Sonata in A Major round out a superb disc.

The CD was recorded two years ago in the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Toronto, with Henderson handling the recording and editing himself; he did an outstanding job. Henderson has technique and musicianship to burn, and has produced a simply terrific CD.

12_Kremer_New_Seasons.jpgNew Seasons
Gidon Kremer
Deutsche Grammophon 4794817


The following is an excerpt from Strings Attached (September 2015) which can be read in its entirety here.

The always interesting Gidon Kremer is back with New Seasons, a CD featuring his own string ensemble the Kremerata Baltica in works by Philip Glass, Arvo Pärt, Giya Kancheli and Shigeru Umebayashi (Deutsche Grammophon 4794817). Kremer notes that he has always been interested in the subject of seasons in music, and feels that the composers here are all “saying something about a better world, creating new seasons that will remain valid forever.”

I’m not sure how much that relates to two of the works – Pärt’s Estonian Lullaby and Umebayashi’s Yumeji’s Theme from the 2000 movie In the Mood for Love are less than six minutes in combined length – but there’s no doubting the relevance of the main work here. Glass’s Violin Concerto No.2 “The American Four Seasons” is an attractive and accessible work in which the familiar repeated patterns and sequences, while still clearly Glass, seem to provide links to Vivaldi.

Kancheli’s Ex contrario is a hauntingly beautiful work in which Kremer and the ensemble are joined by solo cello, keyboard (sampler), bass guitar and performance CD; there’s a clear harpsichord sound, but nothing else from the latter three seems to stand out. Which is just the way it should be.

14_James_Horner.jpgJames Horner - Pas de Deux
Mari and Hakon Samuelsen
Mercury Classics 481 1487


The following is an excerpt from Strings Attached (September 2015) which can be read in its entirety here.

The movie world was shocked by the sudden death of James Horner this past June. Known almost entirely for his numerous movie scores, Horner was classically trained, and Pas de Deux, the debut CD of Mari and Hakon Samuelsen, the Norwegian sister and brother violin and cello duo, marked Horner’s first work for the concert hall in over 30 years (Mercury Classics 481 1487).

The title work is a double concerto for violin, cello and orchestra written specifically for the Samuelsens, and it clearly shows the two musical worlds that Horner could inhabit. I’m not sure how much development of material there is, but it’s a sweeping, rich and sonorous work, with strong themes and some beautiful orchestration. Perhaps inevitably, the movie world seems to predominate, although there are hints of classical influence – some Tchaikovsky-like wind writing, some string passages reminiscent of Vaughan Williams; in particular, the opening of the middle movement sounds for all the world like Henryk Górecki.

Mari Samuelsen goes solo in Arvo Pärt’s Fratres for violin, string orchestra and percussion, and her brother is joined by cellist Alisa Weilerstein in Giovanni Silloma’s Violoncelles, Vibrez! Paul Bateman’s arrangement of Ludovico Einaudi’s Divenire completes the discI ruffled some feathers recently with my comments about Einaudi’s music, so let’s just say that this is the somewhat repetitive but oddly beguiling piece with the abrupt ending that you hear a great deal on Classical FM radio, and leave it at that.

The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra is conducted by Vasily Petrenko in Pas de Deux, and by Clark Rundell in the remaining three works. Performances by all concerned are excellent throughout.

03_ZOFO.jpgZOFO Plays Terry Riley
Eva Maria-Zimmermann and Keisuke Nakagoshi
Sono Luminus DSL 92189


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

Composer Terry Riley has for years been an ambassador for Western musicians who find a strong attraction to a creative mélange of minimalism, eastern traditions, polyrhythms and generally “out there” edgy adventurism. His all-night improvisations in the mid-60s in Philadelphia are legendary. His many collaborations with the likes of Chet Baker, The Who, Philip Glass and the Kronos Quartet are equally so. It’s no surprise then, to find the piano duo (four hands) ZOFO recording an entire CD of his works. Eva Maria-Zimmermann and Keisuke Nakagoshi began their duo collaboration in 2009 and since then have issued four CDs. This latest, ZOFO plays Terry Riley (Sono Luminus DSL 92189) reflects their appetite for the unconventional. To be sure, their few discs do cover some standard repertoire but there is a strong drive in this pair of San Francisco-based performers to find and play the most challenging music they can handle. The result is never short of pure excitement.

Jaztine, the opening track, suggests what might have happened had Gershwin reinterpreted Ravel’s deconstructionist La ValseSimone’s Lullaby is remarkable for its hypnotic bell-like piano playing. G Song has the feel of a Bach fugue making new friends at a jazz/blues jam session, and Praying Mantis Rag is brilliantly light-hearted fun from start to finish.

05c_Fialkowska_Grieg.jpgGrieg - Lyric Pieces
Janina Fialkowska
ATMA Classique ACD2 2696


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

Janina Fialkowska takes a very different approach in Grieg – Lyric Pieces (ATMA Classique ACD2 2696). One searches in vain for some Eastern philosophical term to describe her artistic posture. The effect is, however, one of perfect calm, where no statement is rushed and there is no need to say anything until the music is ready. Her expression at the keyboard hints at understatement and reservation yet never lacks in rubato or dynamic expression. She plays with a subtle containment that is entirely satisfying even if we never hear the piano rattle mechanically under a maniacal fortissimo. Her opening track Arietta reflects this standard as does Sylph, and she never wavers from it.

Norwegian Dance sustains an entrancing left-hand drone while her right hand, with complete independence, plays out the folk tune. Brooklet is an example of brilliant, articulate playing which she carries even further in Puck for a memorable impish, elfish effect. She underscores Grieg’s German musical education in At Your Feet, reminding us of how Brahmsian this piece can sound. Finally, her March of the Trolls is completely unlike either the Hough or Perianes performance. Fialkowska takes the piece at a slower, more march-like pace. She also leaves plenty of breathing space around the beautiful central theme of the slow section. Fialkowska’s Lyric Pieces are very different and uniquely hers.

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