01 LachrimaeLachrimae John Dowland
Nigel North; Les Voix humaines
ATMA ACD2 2761 (atmaclassique.com)

Nigel North. To whom else would you turn to play the lead lute part in a Renaissance consort? Fifty years of playing and teaching, whether or not for solo lute, continue to enhance his reputation. And so it is that ATMA Classique has engaged North to perform alongside Les Voix humaines, themselves a group of exceptional viol players. 

This CD interleaves Dowland’s seven passionate pavans, those prefaced Lachrimae, with some popular pieces, e.g., Captaine Piper his Galiard. The latter features skillful treble viol playing, belying the idea that this piece can only be played by the Elizabethan consort of six instruments. However, this collection is centred around the pavans. The players’ interpretation of the “usual” Lachrimae incorporates every possible nuance that Dowland could have introduced, North’s lute playing adding to the treble line’s existing intricacies. The introspective Lachrimae is followed by the sprightly Earle of Essex Galiard, giving our minds time to refresh before hearing the next pavan; this model is repeated throughout the CD.

Of course, which pavan is the most meaningful must be in the listener’s mind. Lachrimae Gementes does indeed have a tortuous, drawn-out quality, as does Lachrimae Tristes. Perhaps these two pavans are even more thoughtful than the aforementioned usual Lachrimae. Finally, bear in mind that two of the viols in this recording were created by Henry Jaye in the early-17th and by Barak Norman in the late-17th century. We are in exalted company, not to mention local, as the Jaye treble viol was loaned from Hart House, University of Toronto.

02 Bach baroque flute harpsichordJ.S. Bach – Sonatas for Flute and Harpsichord
Stephen Schultz; Jory Vinikour
Music & Arts CD-1295 (musicandarts.com)

Of the four sonatas on this disc, two are almost certainly by Bach: the B Minor and the A Major. The other two are given as “attributed to Bach.” The case of the E-flat Major is particularly interesting. It used to be attributed to Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel but it has since been established that the work is based on a trio sonata by Quantz. The B Minor sonata is the finest work on this disc with its long-breathed melodies and its large intervals. Schultz and Vinikour are fine players and in the B Minor sonata they are at their best.

03 Beethoven TripleBeethoven – Triple Concerto; Trio Op.11
Anne Gastinel; Nicholas Angelich; Gil Shaham; Andreas Ottensamer; Frankfurt Radio Symphony; Paavo Järvi
Naïve V 5418

Like a stepchild, Beethoven’s Triple Concerto in C Major from his middle period (Op.56) is much underrated and seldom played – but it is in fact the most difficult and challenging of all Beethoven’s concertos. One of the reasons is that there are three soloists working almost independently and it is very difficult to find a balanced sound, yet they are still very much a team, like soldiers in a battle. My perennial favourite has been the Karajan on EMI (Oistrakh, Rostropovich, Richter), one of the great recordings of the last century, but this new issue with a stellar team of soloists and up-to-date sound on the French Naïve label is a worthy successor.

In the long and arduous first movement the cello is the real hero. French cellist Anne Gastinel leads all the charges, introducing all the new themes that are always different and very beautiful. Gil Shaham is one the world’s best violinists today and he is the star in the heavenly Largo. The Finale, in Tempo alla Polacca, is delightful and intensely rhythmical in 3/4 time, where conductor Paavo Järvi is full of good humour and jollity (a bit unlike his world-famous but rather austere father Neeme Järvi). The piano part here serves as a connective tissue rather than a leader, but blends in gracefully as played by Nicholas Angelich, the third soloist.

Rounding out the CD, a delicious early Clarinet Trio (Op.11) interestingly includes Andreas Ottensamer, principal clarinet of the Berlin Philharmonic, and that’s no mean credit.

04 Schubert SymNovScoSchubert – Symphony No.3; Orchestral Songs
Andrea Ludwig; Symphony Nova Scotia; Bernhard Gueller
Symphony Nova Scotia SNSM001 (symphonyns.ca)

Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 3 (1815) initially struck me as too slight to be the main work on this Symphony Nova Scotia disc. But an early Romantic sensibility already animated the 18-year-old composer, and I have changed my mind. The light themes of the opening movement undergo minor-key twists in the development, and the Allegretto also contains interesting key digressions. The last movement’s perpetual motion for me anticipates the tremendous energy of Schubert’s finale to the Symphony No. 9 in C Major (featured in William Forsythe’s wonderful ballet The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude). Here, Symphony Nova Scotia conductor Bernhard Gueller brings out comparable energies, including confident, incisive playing from the excellent Symphony Nova Scotia strings. And congratulations to the solo winds for sensitive phrasing in the lyrical middle movements.

Orchestral song came to the fore later in the 19th century. Its early proponent Hector Berlioz’s tremendous orchestration of Schubert’s Der Erlkönig appears here, along with Max Reger’s more subdued version. In all the songs, mezzo-soprano Andrea Ludwig conveys text and mood movingly and unfailingly – just listen to the Anton Webern-orchestrated Du bist die Ruh! Canadian composers Brian Current (Im Abendrot/At Dusk) and Kati Agócs (Ständchen/Serenade) fulfilled orchestration commissions successfully for this disc. Current’s use of string tremolo harmonics gives an intriguing otherworldly effect to Im Abedrot, while Agócs deploys piquant winds and an orchestral buildup in her moving Ständchen. The disc is a triumph for all involved.

05 Vaughan Williams TSOVaughan Williams – Piano Concerto; Oboe Concerto; Serenade to Music; Flos Campi
Louis Lortie; Sarah Jeffrey; Teng Li; Toronto Symphony Orchestra; Peter Oundjian
Chandos CHSA 5201 (chandos.net)

I was present at the TSO concert in which these works were played. At that time a CD release was promised and here it is. It does not disappoint. There are four works on the disc: the Serenade to Music for four singers (performed here by Carla Huhtanen, Emily D’Angelo, Lawrence Wiliford and Tyler Duncan), chorus and orchestra; a concerto for oboe and strings; Flos Campi, a suite for solo viola (beautifully played by Teng Li, the TSO’s principal violist), small choir and small orchestra (based on the Latin translation of the Song of Songs); and a concerto for piano and orchestra. All of these had originally been dedicated to musicians admired by Vaughan Williams: the Serenade to Music to the conductor Sir Henry Wood, the oboe concerto to Leon Goossens, Flos Campi to the violist Lionel Tertis and the piano concerto to Harriet Cohen. That gives these works a semi-private quality.

Of the works on the disc I liked the piano concerto least. It struck me as loud and strident, an impression which even the virtuosity of the pianist (Louis Lortie) could not efface. On the other hand, I loved the oboe concerto. It needs a first class soloist to do it justice and we have such an outstanding player in Sarah Jeffrey, the TSO’s principal oboist.

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