lunes, 30 de septiembre de 2013

Maria João Pires - Abbado MOZART Piano Concertos Nos. 27 and 20

 It's a recording that just a few years ago would have been mainstream: a "name" pianist (albeit one much less well known in the U.S. than elsehwere), who has been playing Mozart's piano concertos since childhood, joins forces with a name conductor with whom she has frequently collaborated, leading a modern-instrument orchestra of some 70 players, with the results released on a major international-conglomerate label. Now it's distinctly unusual. But lo, there's value in the old ways. Portuguese-Brazilian pianist Maria João Pires is a lifelong Mozart specialist, but she still has new things to say in two of Mozart's most popular piano concertos. You can chalk it up to her Buddhist outlook if you like: her readings of the Piano Concerto No. 27 in B flat major, K. 595, and Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466, might be described as detached without being lifeless. Her approach is most startling in the Piano Concerto No. 20, where her no-drama shaping of the material runs sharply counter to type. Sample the piano's entrance in the first movement, where it offers a twisting, tense elaboration of the main theme that is far removed from its source material. Generally pianists use this to raise the tension level, but Pires lets the unusually shaped, chromatic line speak for itself with fine effect. In the Piano Concerto No. 27, Mozart's last, Pires emphasizes the music's evanescent quality in a really lovely, gentle performance. As for Abbado, he apparently failed to get the memo about how proper balance in Mozart's concertos is impossible with a large modern orchestra, for the interplay between Pires and his Orchestra Mozart Bologna is subtle and detailed. The only problem comes with Deutsche Grammophon's engineers, who give Pires' left hand too much prominence, perhaps more so in one of the recording's two locales (we don't learn which concerto was recorded in Bologna and which in Bolzano) than in the other. In general, an absolutely distinctive release of the old school. (

domingo, 29 de septiembre de 2013

Janine Jansen SCHUBERT String Quintet - SCHOENBERG Verklärte Nacht

Even though violinist Janine Jansen appears alone in the cover photo of this 2012 Decca release, and her name is featured in large letters, no one should mistake this album as a solo effort. The recordings of Franz Schubert's String Quintet in C major and Arnold Schoenberg's sextet Verklärte Nacht are ensemble performances, and the musicians who play with Jansen form an artistic bond that seems utterly at odds with the star-oriented artwork. Jansen is certainly behind the choice of works, because they were programmed on her critically praised concert at Wigmore Hall. But beyond Decca's marketing decision emphasizing Jansen as the main performer, equal attention should be given to her colleagues, violinist Boris Brovtsyn, violists Amichai Grosz and Maxim Rysanov, and cellists Torleif Thedéen and Jens Peter Maintz, who are all comparable in technical skill and expressive abilities. The performance of Verklärte Nacht is impassioned and dark, and the richness of the lower strings contributes greatly to the nocturnal atmosphere of the piece. However, this is also a dynamic work, and Schoenberg's nearly orchestral counterpoint gives intense activity to all six players, with no single part standing out. Schubert's quintet is a trickier piece to get right, because the writing is exposed and transparent in virtually every area of the piece, so no one can get away with inferior playing. On balance, the Schoenberg shows the musicians as a cohesive team that can forge ahead, confronting dense textures and complex harmonies with a forward impetus that makes sense of the tone poem's turbulent emotional imagery, while the Schubert gives the musicians an opportunity to achieve sublime expressions of beauty and transcendence through their control and cooperation. Decca's sound is quite close-up, so practically everything is audible, including the breathing. (Blair Sanderson)

sábado, 28 de septiembre de 2013

Alison Balsom SOUND THE TRUMPET Royal music of PURCELL & HANDEL

It would seem that Alison Balsom has become about as popular as a classical trumpet player can be. She has a half dozen well-received recordings. She plays the Haydn with warmth and grace, with a clear, penetrating tone. Her cadenza in the first movement is ideal in demonstrating her virtuosity without distracting us from the (eventual) flow of the movement. In this new disc, expertly accompanied by Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert, she plays mostly transcriptions and all on natural, valveless trumpets. She calls such instruments “an adventure.”
One of her adventures, which does sound entirely natural, is taking the second countertenor part on Purcell’s Sound the Trumpet, playing alongside the countertenor Iestyn Davies. As the part was meant to have trumpet-like phrases as well as introduce a trumpet later, this transcription seems virtually to be taking Purcell at his word. Not so inevitable is Handel’s Oboe Concerto with the trumpet taking the solo part. It’s hard to hear this concerto without an oboe echoing in one’s head, but, according to Balsom, the performance is meant to extend our understanding of the emotional range of the trumpet. Davies is also heard to great effect on Handel’s Eternal source of light divine, where Balsom sounds virtually heavenly in her responses. Lucy Crowe is heard in “The Plaint” from The Fairy Queen. Again, Balsom is a sensitive second voice. Balsom and Pinnock have assembled suites of music from Purcell’s longer works, and made a somewhat new thing out of Handel’s Water Music. At times they make the trumpet sound like a plaintive voice: Mostly it is celebratory and outgoing, or dignified and martial, as in the Overture to Atalanta. The recorded sound is excellent; the playing superb. I am sure that these performances won’t replace the original settings, but they cast a fresh, charming light on music many of us already know.(
Michael Ullman)