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


01_langaardRued Langgaard - The Symphonies

Danish National Symphony Orchestra,

Vocal Ensemble and Choir;

Thomas Dausgaard

Dacapo 6.200001

At one time, many music lovers and record collectors, including myself, believed that the record companies were archivists who (I say who because we thought of them as people), from the beginning of the 20th century had recorded and preserved the art of both performer and composer for the present and for posterity. There were performers whose name on the label, regardless of repertoire, translated to money in the bank, particularly for EMI, RCA and Columbia who had just about everyone and everybody of significance under contract.

As CD sales diminish, the majors’ output is almost exclusively artist driven. Today, it is the smaller, lesser known companies that explore new repertoire played by musicians who know and illuminate the scores. Except for Naxos, Chandos, and some others who conscientiously record new repertoire, companies, by and large, are merely replacing familiar repertoire with new performances. To record and issue works by obscure composers amounts to artistic heroism, no matter how they are funded. Such an undertaking is this omnibus collection of orchestral works by Rued Langgaard assembled from performances recorded from 1998 to 2008.

The ninth edition of The International Cyclopedia of Music and Musicians (1964, completely revised) has no entry for Rued Langgaard, the Danish composer who lived from 1893 to 1952. It does mention his father, Siegfried, a pianist and composer who had studied with Franz Liszt. Siegfried, it seems, was also immersed in Theosophy, a religious philosophy based on meditation and mysticism, which in turn was deeply embraced by Rued. His music attempts and, depending on the listener’s frame of mind, succeeds in conveying his belief in dimensional realities beyond empirical perceptions.

Langgaard was an ingenuously inventive and highly skilled composer and orchestrator. He was not a Stravinsky, a Schoenberg or a Shostakovich but his lack of originally is compensated by an ingenious and inspired invention within the established Late Romantic style.

His first symphony, written in 1911, was premiered by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Max Fiedler. This hour-long work is already indicative of his later symphonic development and his individual rhapsodic, drama driven output, sounding for all the world like epic film scores which clearly puts him ahead of his time. This is certainly not a deprecating characterisation but these are the impressions of today, not then. A group of five named orchestral pieces of special character, deeply moving in the Liszt-Wagner genre, round out the collection.

Will Rued Langgaard’s career now take off? Will his symphonies become standard repertoire? Will musical dictionaries now enlarge their coverage? Will we hear his tunes whistled in the subway? Not a chance.      But by the same token I commend the colossal and patient undertaking by DACAPO to bring Langgaard’s music to our attention in such superlative performances as these and their many other CDs and DVDs of the music of this undeservedly obscure composer.

This set is a generous appetiser. In addition to his symphonic scores, Langgaard wrote operas, music for the stage, chamber music including string quartets, etc.

I intend to explore his music further.

Bruce Surtees

02_ragomaniaRagomania - Music of William Bolcom

and Clare Fischer

Richard Stoltzman; Lancaster Festival Orchestra; Gary Sheldon

Marquis 81397


William Bolcom, the eclectic American composer, is an enigma for me. Either I love his work or I just cannot fathom it. He draws on a multitude of sonic styles to construct his pieces, resulting in the ever present threat that a huge aural surprise is patiently waiting around the corner.

“Ragomania” features three works by Bolcom. The opening track of the same name is an interesting documentation of Bolcom’s musical experiments. Bolcom discusses his decision on a “heavy percussion part” in the liner notes. Buried in volume and sudden dynamic shifts, his music charm is sadly lost in the noise, in this first recording of the work. His Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra is a three movement, well constructed work played with passion by soloist Richard Stoltzman and the Lancaster Festival Orchestra under the direction of Gary Sheldon. Undoubtedly, Bolcom’s Commedia for (almost) 18th-century orchestra is the highlight here. Drawing on commedia dell’arte, the orchestration was limited by the quasi 18th century type ensemble of the work’s 1971 commissioner, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. The snippets of ideas are fun and intriguing; there is never a dull musical moment here. No wonder Bolcom writes that is “by far my most-played orchestral work”.

The release is rounded out by Clare Fischer’s The Duke, Swee’Pea and Me. Using a number of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn tunes as a basis, clarinettist Stoltzman gives a stellar rendition, whether playing his part or even more surprisingly, improvising.

Just like trying a new dish at your favourite restaurant, “Ragomania” is worth the effort of sampling the unique music of William Bolcom.

Tiina Kiik

01_southamAnn Southam - Pond Life

Christina Petrowska Quilico

Centrediscs CMCCD 14109


This disc features piano music by Ann Southam, one of Canada’s most important - and most interesting - composers. The titles of the works on this disc refer to natural bodies of water, not just ponds but rivers and creeks as well. So, while the ten movements of Soundstill capture the calm surface of a windless pond, Noisy River, Fidget Creek, and Commotion Creek ripple and dance along. But whether these exquisite compositions are smooth or turbulent on the surface, underneath they teem with life.

The distinctiveness of Southam’s sound world lies in her ability to create a sense of space around the notes. A simple motif can emerge from the layers of sound, and, with a rhythmic or harmonic twist change the course of the music. It’s moving, and it encourages contemplation of what lies beyond the sounds.

Most of these works were written for Canadian pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico, who in 2005 recorded Southam’s Rivers (also on Centrediscs). Her virtuosic command of the keyboard brings these works to life. With theatrical flair she balances the fine gradations in pitch and rhythm to create subtle shifts in mood, from nostalgic contemplation to irrepressible joy.

The cover art is lovely. But a reproduction of the painting by Aiko Suzuki which inspired Southam to write Spatial View of Pond I and II would also have been meaningful. The recorded sound is clear yet resonant, helping to make this disc such a delight.

Pamela Margles

Concert Note: Christina Petrowska Quilico will launch this CD on Tuesday, May 12 in Glenn Gould Studio with performances of the music of Ann Southam.

02_sayFazil Say - 1001 Nights in the Harem

Patricia Kopatchinskaja; Luzerner

Sinfonieorchester; John Axelrod

Naïve V5147 (www.naiveclassique.com)

At Grigorian.com

The Turkish pianist and composer Fazil Say has achieved great success in both classical and jazz fields, with frequent concert hall and jazz festival appearances and a discography ranging from Bach to Stravinsky. As an accompanist, he toured with Maxim Vengerov in 2004, and in 2006 formed a duo partnership with the Moldovan violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja.

His violin concerto was written for Kopatchinskaja, and this CD is a live recording of the world premiere performance in Lucerne in February 2008. It is a very accessible and extremely satisfying four-movement work, the title of which suggests that in this particular meeting of East and West the ‘East’ is going to be the dominant partner, as indeed it is. Turkish percussion instruments add colour to a rich and warm orchestral score full of sensuous oriental sonorities that reaches its peak in a wonderfully lyrical third movement.

Kopatchinskaja interprets the music superbly, with great support from Axelrod and the LSO. This is one concerto I’ll be playing over and over again.

Three other works by Say complete the disc. Patara, a quartet for soprano, ney flute, piano and percussion that was originally a ballet, and Alla turca Jazz, for piano, are both built on material from Mozart’s A major Piano Sonata K331, while Summertime Variations is Say’s third arrangement of the Gershwin song, here conceived as a dazzling solo piece suitable for use in both his classical and jazz appearances.

Terry Robbins

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