05_kleiberg_concertiTreble & Bass - concertos by Ståle Kleiberg
Marianne Thorsen; Göran Sjölin; Trondheim Symfoniorkester; Daniel Reuss
Lindberg Lyd AS 2L59SACD

The Norwegian composer Ståle Kleiberg was born in Stavanger in 1958 and now lives in Trondheim. Several of his works have been commissioned by the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra, including the two excellent Concertos recorded here featuring Trondheim native Marianne Thorsen on violin and the orchestra’s Swedish principal bass player Göran Sjölin, sensitively accompanied by conductor Daniel Reuss and the excellent Trondheim ensemble.

Kleiberg’s two string concertos are both cast in a traditional three movement fast-slow-fast framework yet exhibit a very individual melodic approach that is remarkably compelling. Restricting himself for the most part to easily comprehensible two part counterpoint, Kleiberg composes long lines of chromatically inflected strands of ever-evolving melodies that captivate the listener through a process of seamless organic metamorphoses. Decidedly post-modern in their allegiance to tonality, these concertos exhibit highly effective and idiomatic string writing. This is especially evident in his double bass concerto. For such a burly fellow, the soul of the contrabass is at heart rather melancholy, intimate and a bit clumsy, and a real challenge to compose for. Soloist Sjölin performs miracles in the many extended passages in the highest register and is rock-solid in his performance of the luminous sections composed entirely from the natural harmonics of the instrument. There’s never a dull moment in either of these eminently accessible works. Highly recommended.

Daniel Foley

04_secluded_gardenLorenzo Palomo - My Secluded Garden
Maria Bayo; Pepe Romero; Romero Guitar Quartet; Seville Royal Symphony Orchestra; Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos
Naxos 8.572139

The two glorious vocal collections by Spanish contemporary composer Lorenzo Palomo feature many influences from traditional Spanish, Sephardic or Arab roots to more modern day contemporary and quasi jazz tonalities. The rich tonal colours and harmonies are only surpassed by the ever present musical “surprise” lurking around every corner.

The eleven songs comprising My Secluded Garden are composed to the Spanish love poems of Celedonio Romero, the late “grand maestro of the guitar”. Love with all its surprises offers Palomo the opportunity to superimpose the above mentioned styles. Soprano Maria Bayo’s voice is occasionally too shrill but she is confident in her attitude, while guitarist Pepe Romero (Celedonio’s son) provides a perfect backdrop. Callen los pinos, is the melodic gem of the collection with an unforgettable fortissimo climax and a sudden sweet ending.

Love is still the lyric theme in Madrigal and Five Sephardic Songs. The composer sets the traditional texts to a more uniform musical influence, this time the melodies of Jewish songs. Now Bayo’s voice is rich and deep, her intonation flawless, while the guitar setting allows Romero to display his mastery.

Concierto de Cienfuegos for four guitars and orchestra is given a superb rendition by The Romero Guitar Quartet and the Seville Royal Symphony Orchestra. With many musical surprises, this three movement work with Spanish flavours is easy on the ears though deeply rooted in contemporary harmonies and rhythmic variations.

The biggest surprise of the day however was how much I enjoyed “My Secluded Garden” and Lorenzo Palomo’s music. Ole!

Tiina Kiik

03_korngoldKorngold - Violin Concerto
Philippe Quint; Orquestr Sinfoinica de Mineria; Carlos Miguel Prieto
Naxos 8.570791

Erich Wolfgang Korngold is now chiefly remembered for his outstanding Hollywood movie scores of the late 1930s and early 1940s, but 20 years earlier he had been an established and much-admired young prodigy in Europe, even managing to impress Mahler with his music when only 9 years old. His return to a completely changed European concert scene after the Second World War failed to repeat his earlier successes, however, and he died, scarcely remembered, in 1957.

His Violin Concerto, though, has never left the repertoire, probably because it so successfully combines both of Korngold’s musical worlds. Written in 1945 at the behest of Bronislaw Huberman and premiered by Heifetz in 1947, it is a rich and tuneful late-Romantic work, at times strongly reminiscent of the Barber concerto, with the main themes in all three movements taken from the composer’s own film scores.

Philippe Quint is, as usual, in wonderful form in a warm and beautifully recorded performance. If you don’t yet know his brilliant playing, then take advantage of the great Naxos price to discover it now!

Two early orchestral works complete the CD. Overture to a Drama, from 1911, was the first work the 14-year-old Korngold orchestrated on his own; the influence of Mahler is clearly apparent. The Much Ado About Nothing Suite dates from 1918, and is perhaps better-known in the arrangement the composer made for violin and piano, also available on Naxos.

Terry Robbins

02_kissin_prokofievProkofiev - Piano Concertos 2 & 3
Evgeny Kissin; Philharmonia Orchestra; Vladimir Ashkenazy
EMI Classics 2 64536 2

For his third release on the EMI label super-star pianist Evgeny Kissin finds himself in convivial company with a program of Prokofiev concertos conducted by his compatriot Vladimir Ashkenazy. Prokofiev’s Second Concerto is new to Kissin’s extensive discography and will no doubt be eagerly sought out by his many fans. There is no question that his steely technique is up to the task of this technically demanding work with its crushing, heaven-storming passages, though there is poetry as well in his relatively restrained, rubato-inflected opening movement. Alas, the London-based Philharmonia Orchestra has seen better days, and Ashkenazy’s direction is, perhaps understandably as he has famously recorded all of Prokofiev’s concertos himself, exceedingly deferential to the soloist. The EMI recording balances the piano far to the fore, with unrealistic results, while excessive filtering meant to obliterate audience noises in these spliced-together concert performances create a rather dry, bass-deficient ambience.

The album also features Kissin’s third recording of Prokofiev’s ever-popular Third Concerto, following previous discs dating from his earlier contracts with RCA and Deutsche Grammophon. Again, fans of the pianist may care to invest in this newer, curiously humourless version, though Kissin’s earlier Abbado-led Berlin Philharmonic DG recording features a superior orchestra and more sensitive direction. Even better, seek out the classic Martha Argerich performance with these same forces, which remains far more compelling.

Daniel Foley

01_StravinskyStravinsky and the Ballet Russes - The Firebird; The Rite of Spring
The Mariinsky Orchestra and Ballet;
Valery Gergiev
BelAir classiques DVD BAC041

This is an outstanding and important document of an historic event. The celebrated riot that occurred on the 6th of May, 1913 during the first performance of the new ballet, Le Sacre du Printemps was the expression by the outraged audience at being assaulted visually and aurally by Sergei Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes. A year earlier Diaghilev had delighted them with a work commissioned from Ravel, Daphnis et Chloë, choreographed by Michel Fokine. Earlier Vaslav Nijinsky had caused a minor riot with his languid, homo-erotic vision of Debussy’s Prelude à l’apres-midi d’un faune, which he was obliged to secretly choreograph in his room. But Le Sacre was something new, unheard of and unexpected in every respect. Pounding and brutal rhythms with rapid time changes drove the dancers to unrefined movements and inelegant poses. In a complete reversal of the usual order of things, Le Sacre began with the music for which a storyline had to be devised. It became the rites of an ancient Slavic tribe attempting to alter their destiny. The night of May 6, 1913 was the beginning of the end of Le Belle Epoch. WW1 didn’t help.

If you buy this DVD, as you really should, be sure to watch and absorb the bonus features, including an interview with art historian Kenneth Archer and Millicent Dodson whose re-construction of Nijinsky’s undocumented choreography was certainly a labour of love. This is a fascinating account as Dodson outlines and particularises on the search for documents, evidence, and people to illuminate this seemingly impossible task. Along with that, the costumes, their colors and the scenery presented further enigma. We also witness Dodson and Archer supervising the 120 hours of rehearsals in St. Petersburg. Now, one can grasp what is happening on the stage featuring up to 47 dancers, often with individual choreographic roles. The huge Kirov Orchestra under Gergiev plays with extraordinary vehemence and savagery, the like of which one would never hear in an orchestral concert. It certainly works here.

Also included is The Firebird, presented as originally staged with the choreography of Michel Fokine and the sets designed by Fokine, Alexander Golovin and Leon Bakst. These live performances were captured in high definition, wide screen video. The extraordinarily wide dynamic range is thrilling in 5.1 audio.

Bruce Surtees

Editor’s Note: See Old Wine in New Bottles elsewhere in these pages for a newly released version of Le Sacre du Printemps from a conductor admired by the composer.

01a_bamberger_sacreStravinsky - Le Sacre du Printemps

Bamberger Symphoniker; Jonathan Nott

Tudor 7145



01b_bamberger_mahlerMahler - Symphony No.4

Mojka Erdmann; Bamberger Symphoniker; Jonathan Nott

Tudor 7151



01c_bamberger_janacekJanáček - Sinfonietta; Taras Bulba

Bamberger Symphoniker; Jonathan Nott

Tudor 7135

Nestled near the remote eastern border of Bavaria, Bamberg is the home of an orchestra founded in 1946 from the post-war remnants of the former German Philharmonic of Prague. It was lead for many years by old school worthies including Joseph Keilberth, Eugen Jochum and Horst Stein. The English conductor Jonathan Nott, best known for his devotion to contemporary music through his work with Ensemble Modern and IRCAM's Ensemble Intercontemporain, assumed the directorship in 2000 and has since energized the orchestra, introducing more contemporary repertoire and touring with it throughout the world to critical acclaim. Recently the Swiss-based Tudor records, in conjunction with the Bavarian Radio network, began distributing recordings of the orchestra in the audiophile SACD format.

The orchestra ably demonstrates its prowess and keen rhythmic precision in a hard-driven performance of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, coupled with a surprisingly genial interpretation of that composer's Symphony in Three Movements. Nott seems to me to be less convincing in the Mahler disc (part of a projected complete cycle), where his use of rubato is not fully thought out, though otherwise quite engaging. The Janáček disc is the most problematic, largely due to the manipulation of the SACD soundstage by the producer of these albums, Bernhard Albrecht, whose stated intent is to produce a centred sound as heard from the conductor's perspective, with little sense of the ambience of the concert hall. Consequently the antiphonal effects of the eleven trumpets in the Sinfonietta, as well as the organ passages in Taras Bulba, fail to make much impact in conventional stereo. In addition, the close microphone placement and mixing-board manipulations consistently rob the performances of dynamic nuances. Fans of the SACD format (I'm not one of them) may be willing to trade these shortcomings for their surround-sound glories.

Daniel Foley


Harry Somers - The Fool; Death of Enkidu

Various artists

Centrediscs CMCCD14209


02b_somers_pianoHarry Somers - Piano Works

Darrett Zusko; Karen Quinton; Jacinthe Couture; Reginald Godden; Paul Helmer; Andre-Sebastien Savoie; John McKay; Antonin Kubalek

Centrediscs CMCCD 14509


Harry Somers is so often referred to as the leading composer of his generation in Canada that I have to wonder why his music is heard so rarely. But these new sets in the ongoing Somers Recording Project should help change that.

Somers was 28 when he wrote his opera The Fool in 1953. It is an eclectic work. But Somers was acutely sensitive to both the meaning and sounds of Michael Fram's text, so never let his various vocal techniques get in the way of the words. There's a great deal of earnest discussion about freedom, and the constraints placed on it by the rule of law. But for me the most effective passage occurs when the King and the Fool step aside from their conversation. Each admits to himself what he really wants to hear from the other about the Fool's plan to jump off a tower to his certain death. But they can't tell each other, and the results are tragic.

As the Fool, Darryl Edwards handles Somers' demanding vocal lines with charm and fluency. Gary Relyea brings much-needed warmth to his role as the King, his mellifluous bass-baritone managing to sound both authoritative and vulnerable. Tamara Hummel and Sandra Graham are terrific, and the instrumental ensemble under David Currie shines, with Roman Borys' cello a standout.

The Death of Enkidu was written twenty-four years later. Here Somers responds to the mythological story, based on the ancient Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, with colouristic effects. But Martin Kinch's libretto, set in both English and ancient Akkadian, fails to reveal the dramatic heart of the tale. In fact, Somers' score is at its most vital in the passages of wordless chant. David Pomeroy brings character to the role of Enkidu and Julie Nasrallah - familiar to CBC listeners as the host of Tempo - is a moving Old Woman. Les Dala leads the capable ensemble.

This series is being called "A Window on Somers", and indeed the collection of his solo piano music offers a view of the composer at his most personal. These nine works - even the grandiose Sonata no. 3, here stylishly played by André-Sébastien Savoie - all sound distinctly intimate.

At the same time they present a mystery. Why did Somers stop writing solo piano music when he was just thirty-two years old? Following the fifth sonata, there was nothing for forty years. Then two years before his death in 1999, Somers was enticed back by the young Canadian pianist Darrett Zusko, who gives a characterful performance of Somers' last piano work, Nothing Too Serious. Of the earlier pieces, Reginald Godden, who was Somers' own piano teacher, is represented here by an elegant performance of the virtuosic first sonata, Testament of Youth. Antonin Kubalek gives a memorable performance of the Sonata no. 5, conveying a keen sense of its dramatic momentum.

These two important new sets leave me hoping for the future release on CD of Somers' iconic opera Louis Riel - whether in a new performance, or even the original recording which has been unavailable for far too long.

Pamela Margles


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