sábado, 30 de noviembre de 2013

The Florestan Trio SCHUBERT Piano Trio in E flat major D929

The estimable Florestan Trio completes its "cycle" of Schubert Piano Trios with this recording of the E-flat major trio, a performance as wonderfully incisive as its earlier rendition of the trio in B-flat major. While the present recording was made in late December 2001, a full year after the first, Hyperion still managed to secure the services of the same engineer (Tony Faulkner) to work his magic with these terrific players, so there is a uniformity to the sound that is comforting and will smoothly pave the way for a two-disc set at some point. In the meantime, anyone who loves this work may still want to shell out full price for this disc, as it represents Schubert performance at the highest level.
While the Florestan members play with impeccable unity, pianist Susan Tomes still stands out slightly, thanks largely to her amazingly graceful phrasing. Listen to the way she manages a pianissimo in the feather-light background triplets in the development of the first movement while gradually increasing the intensity of the bass line. Of course, her partners are no slouches either. Violinist Anthony Marwood's playful, lilting phrasing of the main theme in the Andante negates any sense of lethargy, and cellist Richard Lester's observance of dynamics (especially in the opening of the first movement) is letter-perfect. Besides the group's over-arching feel for this music, the unanimity of attack and the fastidious, carefully measured attention to dynamics marks their performance as being truly special and consistent with their fine account of the B-flat trio, offering a sort of reference model for avid score readers. For instance, in the second movement, they reserve enough power to distinguish the double- and triple-forte passages in a way that indicates without doubt the climactic moment, even if there is a tendency to want to bang out the earlier accented parts with some abandon.
As a filler item, the Florestans offer the first version of the finale, which was cut by Schubert most likely at the urging of performers and publishers concerned about the length of the work (itself already more than 43 minutes with all the repeats, as presented here). Ninety-eight bars in the development section have been restored, representing two cuts and adding about two minutes of music starting at 6:00 on track 5. Some of it is repetitive (the staccato eighth-note "cimbalom" passages) and while the rest adds some drama to the whole event, it doesn't alter the overall view that its exclusion makes little difference. A case against performing this original version at all is found in the liner notes, quoting a letter from Schubert to his publisher exhorting performers (and the publisher) to "scrupulously" observe the cuts in the last movement. So, to justify this full-price release, the Florestans perhaps had to push their luck and buck their muse's wishes. (Michael Liebowitz, ClassicsToday.com)

viernes, 29 de noviembre de 2013

Emmanuelle Haïm / Le Concert D'Astrée HANDEL La Resurrezione

Continuing the Handel series from Le Concert d’Astrée and Emmanuelle Haïm is La resurrezione, composed during the young Handel’s period in Rome and first performed there in 1708. The work recounts the events of Easter and the solo singers portray Lucifer, Mary Magdalene, an Angel, St John the Evangelist, and St Mary Cleophas.
It calls upon a large orchestra, led and directed at the first performance by the master violinist Arcangelo Corelli. The role of Mary Magdalene, here performed by the lush-voiced young British soprano (and EMI Classics artist) Kate Royal, was sung at the first performance by the celebrated Margherita Durastanti, even though the Pope had forbidden female singers to perform in public.
In April 2009, Emmanuelle Haïm led a performance of La resurrezione at London’s Barbican Centre, part of a tour which also covered Paris, Dijon, Aix-en-Provence, Lille, Pamplona, Valladolid and Salzburg. The Guardian reported that: “Emmanuelle Haïm's understanding of the relationship between sense and sensuality in Handel has marked her out as one of his finest interpreters, and her performance with her own Concert d'Astrée was notable for its immediacy and expression. The playing had touches of magic as recorders and flutes comforted the uncomprehending saints, and flaring brass heralded the arrival of a new dawn … Camilla Tilling's joyous Angel let fly volleys of flamboyant coloratura … while the great Sonia Prina was vocally spectacular and immensely moving as Mary Cleophas.”
The Salzburg performance led the Salzburger Nachrichten to describe the “springy mastery” of the ensemble, “with sparkling accents from the trumpets, lute and gamba … A Baroque highpoint in an Easter Festival dominated by Romanticism.” Drehpunkt Kultur described Luca Pisaroni’s Lucifer as “dangerously honed” and Toby Spence as “a master of subtle ornamentation”. Overall, the ensemble of singers was “technically and stylistically at the peak of today’s Handel interpretation”, while Haïm herself “knows how to ignite her ensemble to such powerful effect and then to restrain the emotion once more, so that the force of expression never runs wild.”

Anne-Sophie Mutter / Trondheim Soloists / Valery Gergiev BACH / GUBAIDULINA (CD 37 / ASM35)

In February 2007 the Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina – she was born in Chistopol in Tatarstan in 1931 and has lived in Germany since 1992 – was awarded Hamburg’s prestigious Bach Prize: as a “pioneer of contemporary classical music” who has forged a link between Eastern and Western music.
Her own music has been inspired by that of Johann Sebastian Bach in more ways than one, with the result that it seemed obvious for Anne-Sophie Mutter to record two of Bach’s concertos alongside her worldpremiere recording of Gubaidulina’s most recent violin concerto, a piece dedicated to Mutter. “There is a profound spiritual affinity between Gubaidulina and Bach,” says the violinist. “Like Bach, she too draws not only a great deal of strength from her faith in God, but ultimately also a musical language all of her own.”
Written in 2006 – 07, the violin concerto is the first piece by the Russian composer that Anne-Sophie Mutter has recorded. “I knew about Paul Sacher’s commission and have been waiting patiently for ‘my’ work since the 1980s. Not that this means that I haven’t taken every opportunity to follow Sofia Gubaidulina’s career very closely, although I got to know her personally only just before the first orchestral rehearsal in Berlin, when I played In tempus praesens for her. It was a very moving moment for me. She is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating of all composers, in that every note reveals such great depths of emotion. She truly lives to compose and doesn’t compose to live.”
Sofia and (Anne-)Sophie – the similarity between the two names inspired Gubaidulina. “During this whole time, I was accompanied by the figure of Sophia – divine wisdom. It was all entirely spontaneous: our names are the same – it was this that provided the basis for this association,” the composer explains. For Gubaidulina, Sophia is the figure revered by orthodox Christianity, the personification of wisdom who has laid the foundations for all creativity and intellectual effort in the history of creation, preparing the way for all that develops organically in the world. She is the fountainhead of art and of the artist’s engagement with the lighter and darker sides of human existence. (Selke Harten-Strehk)

jueves, 28 de noviembre de 2013

Angela Hewitt BACH arrangements

This delightful disc offers a selection from the wealth of piano transcriptions of Bach's music. The Bach revival that gathered momentum during the nineteenth century created a climate for many composer-pianists to interpret his works through their own piano transcriptions, whether of chorale preludes, organ works or other instrumental music. Much of Bach's music was made domestically available via such arrangements (and the tradition continued well into the twentieth century, even after Bach originals were well known). Indeed, the practice of such transcriptions was widely used by Bach himself, who freely adapted his own and others' music for different instrumental settings.
One of today's finest Bach pianists, Angela Hewitt concentrates primarily on those arrangements of Bach that keep pianistic elaboration and virtuosity in proportion: whatever instrument his music is played on, Bach should still sound like Bach. Eugen d'Albert's magnificent transcription of the C minor Passacaglia and Fugue for organ, BWV582, is included, as are five beautiful transcriptions by Wilhelm Kempff, and a number of arrangements by English composers that were included in A Bach Book for Harriet Cohen (a collection compiled for the pianist Harriet Cohen, who knew many English composers of the early twentieth century). Angela Hewitt also includes three transcriptions of her own. A fascinating companion to Angela Hewitt's acclaimed Bach recordings for Hyperion, this ravishing disc will appeal to lovers of Bach as much as connoisseurs of the piano.


The story of her success requires no further recounting here: beginning with a sensational Salzburg début in 2002 as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, she's become an almost unrivalled presence among classical artists. Her first aria recital entered the German pop charts, and with the video clips for this album she stands to become the first opera diva for the MTV generation. The clips have already provided her with a key to the gates of Hollywood. It is in the scene from the Traviata that Anna Netrebko will be making her feature film début in Garry Marshall's Princess Diaries II with Julie Andrews.
Anna Netrebko knows what she can do and where (at least for now) her limits lie. Most of all, she knows what the others can, or could, do. With the greatest respect she speaks of Callas (“She is and will remain unique, there's no one else like her"), of Mirella Freni (“After I've listened to her, I sing better"), and of Renata Scotto, from whom she has learned the essentials for interpreting bel canto roles.
The young Russian soprano's new album seems to invoke comparisons with those legendary singers: anyone who takes on roles like Violetta in La traviata, Amina in La sonnambula, Lucia or Desdemona in Otello has to reckon with being measured against Callas, Scotto, and Freni. Initially Anna Netrebko's new recording was to be a pure bel canto recital, but then Claudio Abbado suggested adding Desdemona's great scena. At first she was sceptical: she had never sung the part before, and, moreover, it lies considerably lower than her bravura bel canto roles. On the other hand, she felt so secure with Abbado and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra that she decided to take the plunge. In the recording, it sounds as though Desdemona has been a fixture of her repertoire for years.
Branching out from lyrical parts (like Susanna in Mozart's Figaro), Anna Netrebko has gradually taken on some heavier, prima donna roles. She made headlines in Los Angeles as Lucia (in a new production by Marthe Keller) and in Vienna and Munich as Violetta, which she has called her most demanding part to date: “First of all, in terms of vocal technique it's incredibly demanding, because you basically need four voices - a different one for each act and scene. And dramatically you need to give everything you've got. You have to love with her, suffer with her, and die with her. Whoever does that, however, will always have to pay a price with the voice - just ask anyone who's surrendered her heart and soul to this role."
Every interpreter of the Traviata must also completely surrender heart and soul to the audi-ence - especially in the crucial scene of Act I, the heroine's internal monologue. Violetta is confused. Is it really love that she feels for Alfredo? She yields to the emotion for a moment, but then pulls back. No, it's all an illusion! What's left of her life she will devote exclusively to the pursuit of pleasure. “Sempre libera!" - Ever free, ever free for new adventures.
“Sempre libera", this desperate hymn to sexual freedom, requires much more than a convincing actress: it demands a vocal virtuoso who has mastered all the fine points of classical bel canto. Verdi decorated the whirl of desire that Violetta evokes here with lots of little notes, and many a world-class diva has stumbled over them. Something else that makes this scene such a bugbear for every singer: at the end it goes up to top E flat. Although Verdi didn't actually notate the part with that extreme high note, it quickly became part of the performing tradition and still remains, despite all arguments against it, a “matter of honour".
Anna Netrebko has taken on this challenge as well. “I don't think I've sung as many high Eflats in my whole life as I did in these recording sessions. But Maestro Abbado and the wonderful orchestra helped me to sing better than ever before." (5/2004)

miércoles, 27 de noviembre de 2013

Jérôme Pernoo / Les Musiciens du Louvre / Marc Minkowski OFFENBACH Romantique

Familiarity with the famous galop from Orphée aux enfers and the finale of La Vie parisienne has tended to obscure Offenbach's early career. Failing to see the wood for the trees, we have all too often forgotten that before creating the French opéra bouffe, Offenbach was one of the greatest cellists of his day, and that far from restricting himself to making his Parisian audiences laugh, he was also an impassioned Romantic gifted with an astonishing melodic vein. His grand opera Die Rheinnixen, the delicate Fantasio, Les Contes d'Hoffmann of course, as well as the works included in the present release should be enough to convince listeners of this claim's validity.
Thanks to his almost fiendish virtuosity, Offenbach was known to his contemporaries as the "Liszt of the cello". Indeed, he even appeared on the same concert platform as Liszt, as well as with Anton Rubinstein and Friedrich von Flotow, both in Paris and in his native Germany. It was Offenbach, too, who introduced Beethoven's cello sonatas to France. But above and beyond the pleasure that he took in performing the music of others, his true passion was composition, and from a very early age he produced an impressive corpus of works for his favourite instrument, writing not only many shorter pieces but also countless studies and fantasias and a number of larger orchestral works, chief among which are a Danse bohémienne, a Grande Scène espagnole and, above all, the tremendous Concerto militaire, here recorded complete for the first time.
Offenbach himself gave the first performance of the concerto's opening movement at the Salle Moreau-Sainti in Paris on 24 April 1847 - it is unclear why the remaining movements were not performed at that time. It is likely that Offenbach played the work on a number of later occasions, although the only fully documented performance took place in Cologne on 24 October 1848. The work then fell into obscurity and it was not until a century later that the composer's grandson, Jacques Brindejont-Offenbach, unearthed it and entrusted the autograph score of the opening movement, together with a number of surviving piano sketches, to the cellist Jean-Max Clément. Clément prepared a new edition of the score based on these various sources, reserving for himself the right to perform the piece in the concert hall. He did what he could to reconstruct the second and third movements, which he orchestrated on the basis of the original piano sketches, while taking certain liberties with the material. In particular, he cut a number of passages in the opening movement that he judged to be too difficult.
In fact, both Clément and Jacques Brindejont-Offenbach were unaware that autograph copies of the Andante and final movement were lodged in the family archives, in both cases completed and orchestrated by Offenbach himself. Admittedly, neither manuscript was meaningfully headed and the introductions to both movements had been substantially developed and changed when compared to the piano sketches, so that it is difficult to detect any connection between the different pieces in the jigsaw without a detailed study of the sources.

The present recording begins and ends with two works - the rhapsodic overture to Orphée aux enfers (1874) and the "Snowflake Ballet" from Le Voyage dans la lune (1875) - that both bear witness to one of the most successful periods in Offenbach's life. By now he had become director of the Théâtre de la Gaîté, one of the most beautiful halls in Paris, and he finally had at his disposal a full-size orchestra with a proper pit and a genuine corps de ballet. He now revised two of his earliest successes - Orphée aux enfers and Geneviève de Brabant - to take account of these magnificent new surroundings and to offer his astonished audiences an entirely new type of opera, the opéra-bouffe féerie, a fairytale light opera in which nothing was too sensational - a work designed to fill his audiences with a sense of genuine wonderment. Pictorial poetry and Bacchian euphoria are combined in these snowflakes, which suffice to prove that the composer had no need of a pseudo-cancan, of a Gaîté parisienne or of assiduous arrangers to create orchestral magic. May the present recording contribute to the revival of an authentic Offenbach. (Jean-Christophe Keck)

martes, 26 de noviembre de 2013

Suzanne Stephens STOCKHAUSEN In Freundschaft / Traum-Formel / Amour

“In Freundschaft” (“In Friendship”) was composed as a birthday gift for Suzanne Stephens in 1977. It was already from the beginning envisioned as a solo piece for different instruments. On this CD Stephens performs on a clarinet, but the piece can also be played on bass clarinet, basset-horn, flute, oboe, bassoon, recorder, saxophone, violin, cello, horn & trombone! This makes it as applicable and easily utilized as, for example, “Tierkreis”, which has also been performed in numerous instrumental versions.
Stockhausen works with three layers in “In Freundschaft”. He calls his method here “horizontal polyphony”, and indicates that it requires “a special art of listening”. This is surely true, but you can also dip into the flow and enjoy without any special preparations. Any set of sensitive ears hooked up to a sensibly sensible brain and mind will open up the world of “In Freundschaft” to the splendor of Stephens’ garlands of spiraling clarinet tones, in waves and vibrations of compressions from the shifting pillar of air inside her instrument.
 The “special art of listening” that you can practice and train, leads to a deepened and furthered act of hearing, though, and is strongly recommended to those who care very much for music and their perception of it - and I suppose you wouldn’t read this if you weren’t one of those! It is rewarding on many levels. As always in Stockhausen’s music, there are many different levels of possible listening, and like the characters in Herman Hesse’s novels you can develop a deeper understanding by evolving through level after level. This quality of Stockhausen’s music, which always inspires to deeper study and more attentive listening, separates it from all other compositional acts that I have come across, and makes his music so much more meaningful, with implications that go well beyond any purely musical border lines that restrain most other composers, making Stockhausen’s music a universal music, opening up unknown worlds and connecting them in intricate, transparent patterns to our immediate local intellectual, emotional and spiritual neighborhood, in experiences wherein the distant and unknown feels familiar, and the familiar and well-known, on the other hand, strange and wonderful. His music is always, in a way, an educative event; a spiritual refining act. This quality immerses his compositional work, his rehearsals with the musicians - and the minds of those who listen!
“Traum-Formel” (“Dream Formula”) for basset-horn is the second work. It is a short piece with its barely 8 minutes. It starts off with a prolonged and elaborated, repeated note, bringing me reminiscences of Klezmer recordings of the 1920s, or the intense soloistic efforts of a Mosaic Central European and Middle Eastern – also Russian – tradition by Dror Feiler on his CD “Celestial Fire”, where Mr. Feiler improvises on different kinds of saxophones in glowing little pieces like “Hallel” and “Sei Yabe”. The fire, the small-scale playfulness is inherent also in Stockhausen’s “Traum-Formel”, brilliantly conveyed by the masterly musicianship and pure identification of Suzanne Stephens. The instrument itself gives off some side-effect-sounds from the valves, and the nearness is stark and naked in this music, which dances blotting-paper-close to your body.
“Amour” is the concluding work. “Amour” is in fact a common name for a whole group of small compositions. The subtitle is “5 pieces for clarinet”. The pieces are: “Sei wieder frölich” (“Cheer up!”) / “Dein Engel wacht über Dir” (“Your angel is watching over you”) / “Die Schmetterlinge spielen” (“The butterflies are playing”) / “Ein Vögelin singt an Deinem Fenster” (“A little bird sings at your window”) / “Vier Sterne weisen Dir den Weg” (“Four stars show you the way”).
The first melody – “Sei wieder frölich” – was presented to Suzanne Stephens in 1974. It’s a tenderly opening miniature, rolling out a carpet of loving music for the sorrowful lady to tread on. I’m sure it did cheer her up when she needed some consolation and inspiration.
The other four pieces were composed as Christmas gifts in December 1976.
“Dein Engel wacht über Dir” was presented to Mary Stockhausen-Bauermeister. She is the mother of two of Stockhausen’s children, and has meant very much to Stockhausen, both privately and professionally (though those two aspects are inseparable in Stockhausen!). We may just remember how “Originale” grew out of animated conversations between Stockhausen and Bauermeister in Erik Tawaststjerna’s summer cottage on Lake Saimaa in a particularly enchanted part of Finland (drawing its spiritual significance on the old myths of the Kalevala) in the summer of 1961, opening the Fluxus movement. (Finland was a haven for all kinds of diligent people of the arts at the beginning of their deeds in the early 1960s. Terry Riley was there, and Folke Rabe, Ken Dewey [Dancer’s Workshop] and others as well.)

lunes, 25 de noviembre de 2013

Hélène Grimaud / Esa-Pekka Salonen CREDO

Beethoven: Choral Fantasy op. 80
The piano's crashing opening chords herald what seems for the first three minutes like a solo work. Then comes a tentative dialogue with the lower strings, after which - equally tentatively - the woodwind enter. Human voices arrive almost as an afterthought. This was a fantasy indeed, written at such speed that the musicians got their parts with the ink wet. As the piano reworks the simple musical ideas on which the whole edifice is based, we get a strong whiff of what Beethoven's celebrated improvisations must have been like. In 1808 he'd earned little, and his friends encouraged him to put on a four-hour concert of his own works in order to refill his coffers. But this late addition was no mere space-filler: bringing order out of chaos, moving from darkness to light, and prefiguring the final theme of his Ninth Symphony, it reflects Beethoven's genius at full tilt. 
Beethoven: Sonata in D minor, op. 31 no. 2 "The Tempest"
Beethoven himself didn't give this work its name - according to his early biographer Schindler, the composer declared that the work could be understood by reading Shakespeare's play - but from the moment the first theme breaks free from the cavernous opening chord, it certainly is tempestuous. That chord seems to pose a question, to which - after a long journey through darkly dramatic landscapes - the last notes come like an answer. This sonata was one of three composed in the village of Heiligenstadt in 1802, at a time when Beethoven was growing deaf, and in near-suicidal despair. Here he was at his most heroic: on the one hand, his "Heiligenstadt Testament" confided his woes to posterity (while concealing them from his contemporaries); on the other, he was creating masterpieces of coiled energy like this. 
John Corigliano: Fantasia on an Ostinato
As one of the American composers finding a way forward without abjuring tonality, Corigliano is blazing a fascinating trail. In this work from 1985 his aim has been "to combine the attractive aspects of minimalism with a convincing structure and emotional expression". The foundation is the famous theme of the second movement of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, with Corigliano exploiting the repeated rhythmic motive as well as the harmonic pattern. (Michael Church)
Music is about emotional communication. Give it a try, and don't think you have taken the wrong road when perhaps you just have not gone far enough. After all, what is to come does not need to be discovered so much as invented. (Hélène Grimaud)

domingo, 24 de noviembre de 2013

Mojca Erdmann / La Cetra / Andrea Marcon MOSTLY MOZART

The Muses have been revered as a source of divine inspiration since the time of classical antiquity and are said to encourage artists to give of their exceptional best. From this point of view, the Hamburg soprano Mojca Erdmann seems like a figure from the distant past. Although she is still at the beginning of what promises to be a major international career, she has already inspired a number of contemporary composers, including Aribert Reimann and Wolfgang Rihm. Indeed, Rihm even wrote the main role in his operatic fantasy Dionysos with the young soprano in mind. Her performances in the world premiere at the 2010 Salzburg Festival proved a tremendous personal success.
For her debut with Deutsche Grammophon, however, Mojca Erdmann has chosen a very different type of programme in the form of works by Mozart and his contemporaries: “Mozart has accompanied me all my life. Although my father is a composer and contem­porary music has always played a major role in our lives, for me there is nothing to beat singing Mozart, even though I feel an immense respect for him. You know exactly how it should sound, but it’s insanely difficult to achieve this.”
No one listening to Mojca Erdmann’s singing would suspect for a moment that she finds Mozart difficult. Indeed, her voice is almost ideally suited to the Austrian genius’s music. Her lyric soprano voice is remarkable not only for its beauty but also for its great flexibility and bell-like tone. And she enchants her listeners not just with her voice itself but also with the unconcealed emotionality of her singing: “Mozart goes straight to my heart. That may sound a little dramatic, but that’s how it is. He touches something deep inside me, and some­times the tears come unbidden to my eyes. It’s impossible to say why this should be so, but this magic may well be the secret of his success.”
At the heart of the present album is Pamina’s famous aria, “Ach, ich fühl’s, es ist verschwunden!”, for which Mojca Erdmann has deliberately chosen a slow tempo: “I was keen to express something very inward, very vulnerable. The listener should be able to gaze into this woman’s soul, the soul of a woman who is at her wits’ end and no longer knows where to turn. Her only release seems to be death. What interests me most of all is how exactly he intended his tempo indications to be interpreted. Above all with Pamina I’d love to know whether it would have worked for him if the aria were taken really slowly. Although it says ‘Andante’, it has to be as slow as this for me. If I sang it any quicker, there would no longer be any emotional depth to it.”
The Mozart arias feature alongside works by some of Mozart’s contemporaries and forerunners, works that have been almost completely forgotten but which Mojca Erdmann discovered while preparing for this release. They immediately aroused her interest: “In a letter to his father, Mozart writes very enthusiastically about the music to Ignaz Holzbauer’s opera Günther von Schwarzburg, for example. For me, it was interesting to see what Mozart thought about his fellow composers and how his own music is related to theirs. There are certainly a number of similarities. The aria from Paisiello’s Nina, for instance, starts in exactly the same way as ‘Ruhe sanft’ from Mozart’s Zaide.”
Mojca Erdmann was also surprised by the two arias from Salieri’s Les Danaïdes. Ever since Miloš Forman’s film Amadeus, Salieri has been viewed by the wider public as the man who murdered Mozart. Less well known is the fact that as a composer he was for a time more successful than his younger colleague. Mojca Erdmann, too, is enthralled by the musical quality of Salieri’s works: “Both arias are very short, but in spite of their brevity they are wonderful masterpieces. What Salieri packs into these two minutes is simply incredible.”
The result is an album that avoids the well-worn paths of the standard repertory and introduces listeners to some of the most beautiful arias from the early-Classical and Classical periods. One such composer is Johann Christian Bach, the youngest son of Johann Sebastian and a great influence on the young Mozart’s style. Another is the Viennese composer Ignaz Holzbauer, who wrote over two hundred sinfonias and fifteen operas, most of which have now fallen into neglect. Giovanni Paisiello wrote more than one hundred operas and in his own day was one of the most famous composers in Europe. His works, too, have largely disappeared from the repertory, although they often dwarfed the compositions of his contemporaries with their melodic charm and dramatic intensity.
But the biggest surprise remains Mojca Erdmann’s voice. In her astonishing combination of technical mastery, tonal beauty and consummate expression she affords impressive proof of what Mozart singing can be like today. (Tristan Wagner 1/2011)

sábado, 23 de noviembre de 2013

Paul Agnew / Anne-Marie Lasla / Elizabeth Kenny / Blandine Rannou PURCELL The Food Of Love

When England was famously snubbed as the ‘land without music’ in the early 20th century, there was one name mentioned as our saving grace – Henry Purcell. He was, said one critic scornfully, the last great composer this country had produced in 250 years. This year’s 350th anniversary of his birth is, then, perhaps particularly special for the British – although this disc of Purcell songs, by the French label Naïve, has a noticeably French flavour.
As tenor Paul Agnew and violist Anne-Marie Lasla write in the sleeve notes, Purcell’s music comes with a “distinctly continental twist” – today, apparently, Purcell is very popular with the French, perhaps because in him they can hear something of their own style. On this disc, we hear the continental influence not only within the music, but in the programme: Purcell’s secular songs are punctuated with instrumental works by the composer’s contemporaries, one Italian, one French and one English.
Purcell’s songs are fantastically difficult to bring off – conveying that finely balanced partnership between music and words, but also taking them on an emotional journey. Do it properly and it’s unbearably moving; do it wrong and it’s agonisingly boring. Luckily Agnew gets it just right, and the ensemble behind him is flawless. There is the right blend of restraint and subtlety, with emotional guts – try I loved Fair Celia or the heartfelt Solitude with a wonderfully well-judged solo viol.
Very rarely – even in the long text settings – do attentions wander, such is the power of Agnew’s clear diction. But one small criticism has to be the tendency to over-floridity – such as Ah! How sweet it is to love, which would benefit from more purity and less vibrato. The famous Music for a While setting is a touch slow and static, although beautifully sung.
These are minor quibbles. Generally the performances are outstanding – and the idea of breaking up the Purcell songs with instrumental solos inspired. The guitar works meanwhile – by Corbetta and de Visée and performed by Elizabeth Kenny – are among the most atmospheric on the disc. (Katie Greening 2009) 

viernes, 22 de noviembre de 2013

Quartetto Prometeo STEFANO SCODANIBBIO Reinventions

Stefano Scodanibbio (1956-2012) was a musician active on many fronts. As an innovative virtuoso bassist and a pioneer of extended technique for his instrument he collaborated with composers including Luigi Nono, Iannis Xenakis, John Cage, Brian Ferneyhough and Terry Riley, inspiring each of them to new works. With Riley, with Markus Stockhausen and with others, he gave concerts of improvised music. He founded the Rassegna di Nuova Musica Festival in Macerata, his Italian hometown, and directed it for more than 30 years. He taught master classes from Darmstadt to Stanford. And as a composer his works for strings, for contrabass in particular were heard around the world: they were challenging pieces which – as Irvine Arditi wryly notes – avoided “traditional avant-garde trends”.
Arditti, a friend and associate of Scodanibbio, brought the present project to ECM’s attention. It documents a ‘dream project’ which fired Scodanibbio’s imagination in the last years of his life. The “Reinventions” comprise radical arrangements for string quartet of three Contrapunctus from Bach’s “Art of the Fugue” as well as string quartet settings of popular Mexican songs and Spanish guitar music. Scodanibbio, who loved Mexico, had gone there for extended periods to work on his compositions. Irvine Arditti: “The Mexican songs fascinated him, in particular ‘Bésame mucho’ by Consuelito Velásquez, which he considered the most beautiful song ever written. What is intriguing about these arrangements is that they are indeed ‘re-inventions’ as Stefano manages to impinge his own style of writing, in harmonics, so that they are unmistakably the work of his hand. He was also insisting on slow tempi so that every nuance of his arrangements could be understood.“
The Mexican songs are drawn together in “Canzoniere Messicano” (2004-2009) which embraces, in addition to the music of Velázquez, Scodanibbio’s recreations of pieces by José Alfredo Jiménez, José Lopez Alavéz, Germán Bilbao, and traditional music. The “Quattro Pezzi Spagnoli”, meanwhile, were shaped in 2009, and are based on Spanish compositions for guitar from the 18th and 19th centuries by Francisco Tárrega, Miguel Llobet, Dionisio Aguado, and Fernando Sor. Tárrega and Llobet, Paul Griffiths remarks, “came to prominence at a time of revival in Spanish music and of cultural renaissance in Barcelona, where Tárrega spent most of his life and Llobet was born. Fernando Sor, a Barcelonian of a century before, settled in Paris, where he befriended the visiting Dionisio Aguado in the 1820s and 30s. Scodanibbio, himself a touring virtuoso, may have felt he was in congenial company with all of them.”
“Reinventions” marks the first ECM appearance by Italy’s Quartetto Prometeo. Since its formation in the mid-1990s, the string quartet has emphasised both classical repertoire and the new musical expressions of our time. The group has had a close relationship with Salvatore Sciarrino who has dedicated works to them, including his “Esercizi di tre stili” and his Quartetto No. 8. They have recorded music of Sciarrino, Hugo Wolf, Schumann, Schubert Beethoven and more for labels including Kairos, Brilliant Classics, Amadeus and Limen Music. The group has won a number of awards including the Bärenreiter Prize of the ARD Munich Competition, and the City of Prague Prize as Best Quartet in the Prague Spring International Music Competition.

Magdalena Kožená LETTERE AMOROSE

Lettera amorosa is the name of a song by Monteverdi, but in plural form it provides an apposite title for this collection of Italian love songs from the 17th century. “I grew up with this music, and wanted to come back to it”, says Magdalena Kožená. As a result of the weight accorded to music education in communist Czechoslovakia, she was just six when she joined the Children’s Choir at the Philharmonic of her native Brno, where this repertoire was part of the programme. When she was 16 and studying at the conservatory in Brno, she teamed up with a lutenist to perform secular songs by Monte­verdi and his compatriots, and revelled in the creative freedom their music allowed her.
“I find its simplicity very attractive”, she says. “And a simple song can go very deep. This music speaks to people who don’t regard themselves as classical specialists. It comes from a time when there was no equivalent to our divide be­tween classical and pop music: it was simply the music everybody heard and sang. Some of these songs would have been performed in churches, but some are street music, and others were just intended for people to come together and play, rather than perform for an audience. It’s very much ensemble music, rather than about who is going to shine the brightest, and be the star. Because these songs are not difficult technically, one is able to get closer to the essence of what music is about. This is liberating: you’re singing for your own pleasure.” Finding the right ensemble with whom to record was crucial. The singer particularly liked the undogmatic approach of Private Musicke, and the effects it generated through its imaginative use of plucked and bowed period instruments. “The basic assumption with this repertoire is that everybody is free to make their own arrangements, and decide which instruments they will use. We experimented with a lot of different arrangements in concerts before the recording – and this is a freedom we are no longer used to in classical music. It’s got nothing to do with the usual rehearsed approach, where you try to perform it exactly the way you prepared it. It’s a completely different way of thinking about music.” They decided to switch the focus away from Monteverdi – who makes just one appearance – on to songs which many listeners will never have heard. This is a repertoire whose daring dissonances are sometimes closer to modern music than Handel, Vivaldi or even the Romantics. The instrumental selections recorded by Pierre Pitzl and his Private Musicke ensemble agreeably reinforce the period colour. (Michael Church)

jueves, 21 de noviembre de 2013


Anna Gourari is a young musician steeped in the venerable Russian piano school, its technical verities and Old World glamour. She has “a very physical, even visceral quality to her music-making that conjures the sound of such golden-age figures as Horowitz and Cortot,” declared Fanfare. With her ECM debut, Gourari offers a set of “Canto Oscuro”: dark songs. The pianist performs two of the most affecting of J.S. Bach’s chorale preludes – “Ich ruf’ zu Dir, Herr Jesu Christ” and “Nun komm’ der Heiden Heiland” – in arrangements of quiet sublimity by Ferruccio Busoni. Gourari also includes his iconic version of the gripping “Chaconne” from Bach’s Partita No. 2 for solo violin. From her native Russia, she adds Alexander Siloti’s Bach- transcription “Prélude in B minor”, as well as Sofia Gubaidulina’s early “Chaconne”, a vessel for ghosts of the Baroque. The album’s centrepiece is Hindemith’s Suite “1922”, a work influenced by both Baroque models and the Jazz Age; yet its “Shimmy”, “Boston” and “Ragtime” movements are given a dissonant, darkly ironic cast, and the Suite’s “Nachtstück” is night music as haunted and haunting, a very much “dark song”.
About the program, Gourari says: “Bach is a musical god for all of us. I can hardly imagine that someone wouldn’t adore him and his genius. I have been studying and playing a lot of his music: the Partitas, the Suites, ‘The Well-Tempered Clavier’. But along with all of his instrumental works, I have always loved his chorales. Busoni’s transcriptions are the ideal way for me not only to love this music but to play it, too. To me, Busoni’s transcriptions are incredibly intelligent and emotionally touching. One can hear Busoni’s devotion to Bach in every bar, and it took someone of Busoni’s historic stature – being a wonderful pianist, experienced composer and singular personality – to make arrangements such as these.”
For Gourari, combining the Bach-Busoni “Chaconne” on a recording with Sofia Gubaidulina’s “Chaconne” of 1962 has been a long-held desire. She says: “There are obvious influences from Bach in Gubaidulina’s work, but also from Busoni. Her piece has been dear to me since I was 16 years old. I have had the honor of meeting her several times, including working with her in Switzerland a few years ago. I think Gubaidulina’s “Chaconne” is one of those timeless works of art that will be played 100 years from now and beyond.”
At first glance, it might appear that Hindemith’s Suite “1922” is an odd man out in this program. Yet the early 20th century was a “dark age,” after all, something that the composer undoubtedly sought to convey with black sarcasm in his treatment of several popular dances from the 1920s, as he twisted them into what Gourari calls a “fantastic” – and perhaps from our vantage, phantasmal – neo-Baroque suite. Gourari adds: “Dark songs are not necessarily quiet. . .”

Carolin Widmann / Alexander Lonquich FRANZ SCHUBERT Fantasie C-Dur - Rondo h-Moll - Sonate A-Dur

This insightful recording of Franz Schubert’s music is also a first documentation of the musical alliance between violinist Carolin Widmann and pianist Alexander Lonquich, which has been gathering momentum over the last four years. They first came together to play Messiaen in Salzburg in 2008. The following year a Lonquich solo recital in Rome convinced Widmann that they should collaborate on Schubert’s music for violin and piano.
In this album, recorded at Historic concert hall Reitstadl Neumarkt, the duo plays the C-Major Fantasy of 1827 and the Violin Sonata in A-Major of 1817, as well as the B-minor Rondo of 1826. If the influence of Beethoven is still marked in the 1817 sonata, the 1826 and 1827 pieces remain striking in their originality. Written at the request of Viennese virtuosi Josef Slawik and Karl Maria von Bocklet, they are pieces that transcend ‘mere’ virtuosity.
Lonquich describes them as “paradoxical”, compositions conceived as technical which nonetheless feel “thoroughly metaphysical”: “Schubert is music’s great Wanderer. He goes through highs and lows and subtle harmonic progressions. He’s invariably spoken of as the great writer of melodies, yet there is always extraordinary harmonic tension at work as well.”
Carolin Widmann: “There is ambivalence in Schubert: pain and beauty expressed with the same intensity. I can hear the Austrian countryside in his music when I’m playing and at the same time this feeling of reaching for the heavens. Great art is made out of this combination of rootedness and transcendence…”
Widmann and Lonquich’s empathetic reading casts aside conventions of violin and accompaniment, responding instead to the changing needs of Schubert’s music.
Carolin Widmann, who received praise and awards both for her accounts of Schumann’s violin sonatas and for the recital disc “Phantasy of Spring” (with music of Feldman, Zimmermann, Schoenberg and Xenakis) now applies her acute interpretive sensibilities to Franz Schubert. Widmann and Alexander Lonquich (whose own New Series disc with music of Schumann and Holliger was also a critical success) play the C-Major Fantasy of 1827 and the Violin Sonata in A-Major of 1817, as well as the B-minor Rondo of 1826 (the only one of these works published in Schubert’s lifetime). This is duo playing at a very high level, as Hans-Klaus Jungheinrich emphasizes in the liner notes: “Not once does Carolin Widmann and Alexander Lonquich’s intelligent and empathetic reading devolve into the trivial state of music for a domineering violin with piano accompaniment. Instead we are treated to a magically iridescent poem of changing colours, melodies and counterpoints.”

miércoles, 20 de noviembre de 2013

Anthony Marwood / Thomas Adès STRAVINSKY Complete Music for Violin & Piano

Stravinsky’s relationship with the string section of the orchestra, and with the violin in particular, was a love-hate affair. For a long time during and after the First World War he more or less gave up writing for strings altogether, finding their tone ‘much too evocative’, as he put it after completing The Rite of Spring, ‘and representative of the human voice’. Then suddenly, in 1928, he came out with a ballet score, Apollo, written exclusively for strings and uninhibitedly tender and expressive in precisely the way he had previously so pointedly rejected. Apollo seems to have ‘corrected’ his attitude in general, and within four years he had composed two major works for violin solo, the concerto with orchestra of 1931 and the Duo concertant with piano of 1932. Soon after that he made most of the transcriptions recorded here.
Why Apollo turned out as it did is one of the great Stravinskian mysteries. But the violin works that followed had a clear and specific origin. Towards the end of 1930, Stravinsky’s German publisher, Willy Strecker, introduced him to a young Polish-American violinist by the name of Samuel Dushkin and invited him to write a concerto for Dushkin to play and Strecker’s firm, Schott, to publish. Dushkin was a fine, if not great, violinist; but above all he was an intelligent and cultivated musician who it transpired could give Stravinsky—not a string-player—sympathetic advice on technical matters. After the premiere of the Violin Concerto, in Berlin in October 1931, Stravinsky began work on a recital piece for violin and piano which he and Dushkin would be able to programme without all the expense and paraphernalia of orchestral concert bookings. There were undoubtedly complicated motives behind the Duo concertant, as the new work would be called. Dushkin had an exclusivity on the concerto for a certain period, but after that there was no way of forcing agents to prefer him to other, more famous virtuosos, with whom, on the other hand, Stravinsky (who was desperate for concert engagements) might not want to work. A recital, by contrast, could be offered as a package. Their first appearance in this form was in Milan in March 1932. But it was at once apparent that joint repertoire would be a problem. They played the concerto (with piano), and a suite Stravinsky had made from the ballet Pulcinella in 1925. But otherwise they played solos. Stravinsky had no interest in performing the standard duo repertoire. His own Duo was not yet ready and even if it had been they would have had barely fifty minutes’ music. How to remedy this crucial problem at a time when concert bookings were falling, politics and economics were starting to close in on orchestral planning, and Stravinsky needed to make the most of his personal notoriety and the relative popularity of his best-known works?
The answer he and Dushkin came up with is to be found on the present disc. Soon after the Milan concert Stravinsky wrote to Strecker that the two of them were at work on what he called ‘un joli Kammerabend’—a pretty chamber-evening—of violin pieces, including of course the Duo concertant, together with transcriptions of pieces from Petrushka (the ‘Danse russe’) and The Firebird (the ‘Berceuse’), and a completely new suite from Pulcinella which he christened Suite italienne. Later that summer they added further pieces from The Firebird and the early opera The Nightingale; and in the next year or two the little Pastorale (originally a vocalise composed in St Petersburg in 1907), and most notably the suite, or Divertimento as Stravinsky called it, from his recent Tchaikovsky-based ballet The Fairy’s Kiss. These various arrangements were pressed into service as they became available. The Duo concertant had its premiere in a Berlin radio concert in October 1932, and isolated recitals followed in 1933. In 1934 they undertook their first proper tour, in England as it happens, with concerts in Manchester, Liverpool (where Stravinsky found himself at a memorial lunch for Elgar the day after that master’s death), Cambridge, London and Oxford. Later that year there was a French tour, and in 1935 Dushkin accompanied Stravinsky on the composer’s second tour of the United States, playing recitals or the concerto (with orchestra) in cities as far-flung as Minneapolis, St Louis, San Francisco, Denver and Washington D.C., and baffling the frontiersmen with the discovery that the notorious composer of terrifyingly modern music which few of them had heard seemed on the whole to be a natural and rather gifted melodist. (Stephen Walsh)

martes, 19 de noviembre de 2013

Keller Quartett LIGETI String Quartets BARBER Adagio

An album that bridges musical worlds, with the Molto Adagio of Samuel Barber’s String Quartet No. 1 offered as tonal terra firma between György Ligeti’s restlessly shifting first and second quartets. Mid-20th century, Barber and Ligeti would have been considered aesthetic opposites. “Ligeti was all about leaving what for Barber was solid home”, Paul Griffiths notes in the liner text. From a contemporary perspective both composers are voices from the past, their present-day relevance emphasised in these committed performances. “Physically actualized in the recording, the music is being all the time remade by the performers searching for what a motif can convey and finding an abundance of expressive contours in Ligeti’s quartets as much as in Barber’s. The gesture of lament is common to both.” The first of the recordings heard on this album was made in 2007 on the first anniversary of Ligeti’s death, Hungary’s foremost string quartet paying tribute to the great innovator of modern Hungarian music. The 2011 recording of the second Ligeti quartet documents also a change in the line-up of András Keller’s ensemble, with Zsófia Környei, widely considered one of the outstanding violinists of her generation, replacing long-serving Keller Quartett member János Pilz.

Maria-João Pires J.S,BACH Partita No. 1 - English Suite No. 3 - French Suite No. 2

Acclaimed as one of the greatest interpreters of Mozart, Portuguese pianist Maria-João Pires is an artist who combines exquisite stylistic refinement with a serious effort to plumb the intellectual complexities and spiritual depths of music. Refusing to conform to the traditional image of a concert virtuoso, Pires emphasizes the spiritual dimensions of music, always searching for hidden meanings which may elude the analytical performer. This remarkable reverence towards works of music, clearly manifested in her performances of Mozart, was made explicit by her remark that, as a performer, she acts as a channel for the composer's ideas. Interestingly, Pires views both the composer and the performer as conduits for a transcendent force. However, while approaching the work of music with immense awe, Pires is acutely aware of its formal structure, finding a certain transparency in the most intricate formal constructions. In her performances of Romantic masters, particularly Chopin and Schumann, Pires masterfully reconciles her passionate experience of the music with an admirable appreciation for the inner logic of the work she is interpreting. Reflecting her vast emotional range, her tone, as critics have observed, encompasses a dizzying variety of intensities, from an almost imperceptible lightness to an imposing monumentality, with a rich scale of intervening nuances. Another hallmark of her style is her uncanny ability to capture, and convey, the precise variety of inner movement which constitutes the being of a particular musical creation. Pires started playing at the age of three, giving her first public performance two years later. Pires performed Mozart concertos when she was seven and received Portugal's major prize for musicians at nine. She studied with Campos Coelho and Francine Benoit at the Lisbon Conservatory, graduating at 16. Post-graduate studies took her to Germany, where she studied with Rösl Schmidt, in Munich, and with Karl Engel, in Hanover. In 1970, she won the Beethoven Bicentennial Competition in Brussels. Pires made her London debut in 1986, and she first played in New York three years later. She has performed with the major European and American orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Orchestre de Paris, and the Concertgebouw Orchestra. Often praised for her extraordinary renditions of Mozart's works, Pires has shown a remarkable affinity with several of the greatest composers, including Bach, Chopin, and Schubert. An enormously successful recording artist, Pires, who since 1989 records exclusively for Deutsche Grammophon, released several critically acclaimed discs, including a Bach disc, recordings of Chopin's Nocturnes and Schubert's Impromptus, and a recording of two Mozart concertos with Claudio Abbado. Her recording of Mozart's complete sonatas received the 1990 Grand Prix du Disque. Since 1989, Pires has been an enthusiastic performer of chamber music, touring Europe and the Far East with violinist Augustin Dumay. Forming a trio with Dumay and cellist Jian Wang, Pires toured the Far East in 1998, playing Beethoven's Concerto for piano, violin, cello, and orchestra in several European centers in 1999. In 2000, Pires decided to take several months off in order to concentrate on a variety of educational projects in Portugal. Several collections of her performances, including Artist Portrait: Maria-João Pires, appeared in the early 2000s. (Zoran Minderovic)

lunes, 18 de noviembre de 2013

Martha Argerich and Friends LIVE FROM LUGANO 2010

Martha Argerich's involvement with chamber music has dominated the later part of her career, so it's easy to think of her name with the words "and friends" tacked on, and to visualize the large and diverse retinue of famous musicians who have recorded with her. This triple-disc box set from EMI Classics presents live recordings from the 2010 Progetto Martha Argerich in Lugano, several of them collaborations with Argerich, notably in works by Robert Schumann, Franz Liszt, and Béla Bartók, as well as a performance of Frédéric Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, where she is the featured soloist with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana. Fans of Argerich, for whom money is no object, may buy this set on the strength of these four recordings, overlooking the eight other performances that do not include her. But other listeners may balk, feeling that the packaging is misleading and the program is lopsided, offering much less of Argerich than the title and cover photo suggest. In any event, these performances are a mixed lot in a program that includes loud, bravura playing and quieter pieces and subtler reflections, and from a roster of some of the leading musicians regularly performing in Europe. Violinist Renaud Capuçon and cellist Gautier Capuçon are perhaps the best known, and each performs with Argerich in pieces by Schumann. Celebrated pianist Stephen Kovacevich also joins Argerich in the Bartók Sonata for two pianos and percussion, so this certainly is noteworthy for the match-up. But the rest of the set should be sampled before purchase, because name recognition is not enough to guarantee satisfaction. EMI's sound quality is good, considering the concert venue. (Blair Sanderson)

Lisa Batiashvili ECHOES OF TIME

The sound of Shostakovich belongs to Lisa Batiashvili’s earliest memories. During her childhood, she often heard her father’s string quartet rehearse Shostakovich’s music, and at home and in concert his was the sound world which shaped her sense of cultural context. Lisa Batiashvili and her family left their Georgian homeland when she was eleven years old, but the music of Shostakovich travelled with them. Mark Lubotsky, her teacher in Hamburg, was a student of David Oistrakh, for whom Shostakovich wrote his violin concertos, and to the young Lisa Batiashvili, this felt like a direct line to the source. “When my teacher started telling stories about the First Violin Concerto, I completely fell in love with this piece. David Oistrakh had shared very emotional and precise information about every movement. Somehow the piece became symbolic of the time in the Soviet Union, which I had also experienced myself during the first ten years of my life. Musicians during Soviet times were also looking for the freedom that Shostakovich sought through his music. Music was an escape and a symbol of freedom at a time when it was so difficult to function in an incredibly brutal system. When I travelled to Moscow with my parents, we met many people, and I had a strong feeling that this music was a mirror of what they were going through.” So her debut recording for Deutsche Grammophon has Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto at its core. Under the title Echoes of Time, Lisa Batiashvili has assembled a collection of works which all cast light on Soviet Russia.

Her native Georgia is represented through Giya Kancheli’s haunting V & V, a small taste of a sound world which is markedly different from, yet somehow connected to, that of its massive northern neighbour. “Georgian people are actually not at all related to Russians”, explains Lisa Batiashvili. “In terms of climate, Georgia is a southern country, and the people are more like southern Italians or Greeks by nature – very alive, incredibly emotional and spontaneous. You have the mountains and the sea and great weather for eight months of the year. Russia is vast and lonely and full of isolated places, whereas Georgia is compact and everything is kind of burning. Of course, I cannot avoid sounding Georgian when I play. I spent my childhood there, and when you are in Georgia, you feel something very intense. It’s in my genes and in my veins, even if I’ve spent more than 20 years now in Europe.”

In 1994, Lisa Batiashvili and her family moved to Munich, where she stayed for 15 years. Since then she and her oboist husband have moved to France with their children, but the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra still feels like family. “It’s very special to record with them, because during my time in Munich I got to know three quarters of the orchestra personally”, she says. “I have friends in the orchestra and also colleagues with whom I play chamber orchestra. Recording with them was one of the most wonderful personal experiences – quite apart from the fact that this is one of the most fantastic orchestras in the world, with a tradition like few others.”

Through her spectacular win in the Sibelius Competition at the age of 16 and subsequent visits to Finland, Lisa Batiashvili also feels a cultural affinity with conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen. “When we began the first rehearsal of the Shostakovich, it already felt as if we had played together millions of times. With Esa-Pekka, everything seems so easy and natural. Everything falls immediately into place. He has amazing intuition.” And this recording also brought the long-awaited chance to work with pianist Hélène Grimaud, for Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel and Rachmaninov’s Vocalise. “We’ve been planning for years to play together. She loves this kind of repertoire. I admire her a lot, not only for her musicianship, but also as a person who is an incredibly serious musician.” While Pärt and Kancheli, like Shostakovich, both felt the weight of Soviet oppression, Rachmaninov’s music expresses a nostalgic yearning for his homeland that Lisa Batiashvili feels fits well with the other works on the recording. It balances the sweetness of Shostakovich’s Lyrical Waltz, written for the piano and arranged for violin and orchestra by her father, with echoes of another age, she says.

Germany, Finland, Georgia, Moscow, France – in the course of our conversation, Lisa Batiashvili has mentioned a surprising number of places which are almost, but not quite, home. “It has happened quite often over the past fifteen years that I was not really sure where I belonged”, she agrees. “Germany felt so different from my own country when I first arrived there. But when I went back to Georgia I found I didn’t understand anymore who I was or where I belonged. And at the same time I didn’t really integrate fully with the German way of life, I felt like a guest everywhere. On the other hand, for musicians it is a huge advantage to be able to make their home wherever they go. I have a French husband now, our children were born in Germany, and I no longer feel uncomfortable about this way of life. When you bring music to the whole world, it is important to have an easy connection to all kinds of people. And then, in the end, you are not really a stranger anywhere anymore.”
(Shirley Apthorp)

Martha Argerich and Friends LIVE FROM LUGANO 2011

The Martha Argerich Project, presented annually at Lugano, Switzerland, has yielded many exciting sets of live recordings for EMI, all starring its namesake but prominently featuring many musicians she enjoys working with, both established artists and rising talents. Live from Lugano 2011 encapsulates the tenth of these festivals, and this three-disc package offers selections by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Liszt, Rachmaninov, Shostakovich, Ravel, and a name new to many of the participants: Juliusz Zarebski. This 19th century Polish composer is represented by a piano quintet he composed a few months before his death in 1885 at age 31, and Argerich has recorded this piece for the first time here. The obscurity of the work may compel some listeners to play it first, and that's not a bad way to explore the set, which need not be appreciated in sequential order. Zarebski's music is not widely known, but the quintet's brooding Romanticism and passionate outpourings hold a special appeal that Argerich's fans will respond to immediately. Once the Zarebski work has been heard, the rest of the program can be absorbed at leisure. The mix of a piano concerto, chamber pieces, and keyboard works is evenly spread out, so there is little chance of aural fatigue, and the variety of musicians and styles keeps the tone of the proceedings fresh. Of course, there is a great deal of vigorous and splashy playing -- note especially Argerich's high octane performance of Ravel's Piano Concerto in G major -- and rough edges abound with all this virtuosity, so don't expect the most polished or refined performances. EMI's sound is quite good for concert recording, though the focus on the instruments is a little variable, due to the microphone set-ups.(Blair Sanderson)

Patricia Petibon MELANCOLÍA Spanish Arias and Songs

Spain, and its music and art, have long had a special appeal for Patricia Petibon: “From an early age I was intrigued and fascinated by Spanish culture, by the way the excessive and the subtle are inextricably linked. It glorifies emotions with pride and, at the same time, refinement. It’s a culture that comes from the earth, from the people. Everything about it appealed to me, and in my early recitals I liked to insert some Spanish songs into my American and French programmes. Then, when I went to Madrid to sing in Dialogues des Carmélites, I met the stage director Emilio Sagi, and that led to my opportunity to enter the world of zarzuela. It was Sagi who directed me in Torroba’s Luisa Fernanda in Vienna, where it was wonderful to be singing alongside Plácido Domingo. I found myself surrounded by performers from all kinds of Spanish-speaking backgrounds; they noticed how interested I was in their culture, and that’s how we made a connection, and I learned from real specialists. Spanish artists have a physical sense of the music: for them, it draws its strength from the body, and there I can’t resist making a connection with Baroque music, with dance, of course, and extreme characters – think of Médée or Armide. It also shares the same kind of quality of roughness, of rawness, and voices are used to express emotions, not just to make a lovely sound.”
“I spent a long time thinking about the programme for this disc, creating a mixture of music, and finally I settled on one unifying idea: the feeling of melancholy, which is a reflection of Spain itself. The disc is a journey through different styles, but through folk music as well, which has a strong presence on the disc. The theatrical element is very important, too, and at the centre is the character of Salud in Falla’s La vida breve. She embodies the melancholy of the title, the loss of hope. Melancholy is a balance in life, a sadness that binds us to death. Salud represents the darkest side of melancholy that tends toward tragedy. But this sort of melancholy can also depict the radiance of childhood, of joy and laughter. What I wanted to explore through this disc was the journey between these two poles.”

domingo, 17 de noviembre de 2013

Catrin Finch JOHN RUTTER Blessing

The greatest privilege for a musician such as myself is the opportunity to create and record wonderful music with fellow musicians and composers. I first met John one afternoon at a London hotel where we sat down for a cup of tea to discuss the possibility of his writing a work for me. Out of this conversation came the Suite Lyrique, which I performed shortly afterwards. It became obvious that we should record it and so I approached DG with the idea. We were overjoyed that they were keen to get involved. So this CD was born.
The music is a collection of some of John's more popular works, some traditional Welsh folk songs, two wonderful lullabies for my girls, and the Suite Lyrique. As we were discussing and preparing the recording, I had started work on a small concerto for harp and strings. It was the first time I had put pen to paper, as it were, and written some music down properly. I was naturally very excited when it was decided to include this work as well - the Celtic Concerto.
There is always a whole army of people who help along the way to make projects like this happen. But, to name just a few ... Thanks to John for all his work and musical inspiration; Elin for her sublime singing; Sinfonia Cymru for providing the fabulous young players that made up the strings and woodwind; Geraint and Elinor for their constant support and friendship; Lou Watson - finally the duet we were waiting for; the studio team for their engineering skills and making it all sound beautiful; and my family, who keep me pulsing on!
I hope you enjoy it. (Catrin Finch)

Magdalena Kožená SONGS

Magdalena Kožená's multi-lingual recital shows this singer's formidable talent for performing widely varying musical styles. Beginning with her idiomatic French (of which we had a substantial sampling on her previous French arias disc . . . she uses her light but well-placed and penetrating mezzo to illuminate Ravel's seductive Madagascar Songs. Listen to how Kožená creates a nearhypnotic effect with her passionate repeated cries of "Nahandove". In Shostakovich's Satires (5 Romances for Soprano and Piano ) Kožená embodies the composer's varied emotional states, from bemusement to sarcasm, and, in the concluding "Kreutzer Sonata", repressed frenzy . . . After Shostakovich's sharp edges, Respighi's lush romantic rhapsody "Il Tramonto" allows Kožená the opportunity to luxuriate in long, expansive melodic lines as well as in the resonance of pure Italianate vowels, for which the singer provides an engaging fullness of tone and depth of expression. From this we turn to Schulhoff's "Drei Stimmungsbilder" (for mezzo-soprano, violin, and piano), which begins with a lazy, quasi blues song about the sea and ends in a Debussian impressionistic haze. Kožená's creamy tone and gentle delivery make even the German language sound soft and inviting. In Britten's "Charm of Lullabies" . . . her sincerity and unerring musical instincts shine through, communicating the power and poignancy of Britten's songs. The well-chosen selections offer a variety of accompaniments, from the flute, cello, and piano trio in the Ravel, to the string quartet in the Respighi, with Malcom Martineau's sensitive pianism providing fundamental support throughout. DG's recording provides vividly realistic sonics, placing the singer and instrumentalists in natural, well-balanced perspective. In sum, this is an excellent recital disc that will please connoisseurs of the voice as well as collectors of uncommon repertoire.

sábado, 16 de noviembre de 2013

Martha Argerich and Friends LIVE FROM THE LUGANO FESTIVAL 2006

All too often, chamber music collaborations between established, accomplished soloists do not yield favorable results. Merely putting together virtuosic musicians does not mean they will play well together. Such is not the case with this recording of Martha Argerich's 2006 festival in Lugano. This album represents an amazing synthesis of well-known artists, musicians just coming into their own fame, as well as compositions ranging from standard repertoire to rarely heard works. Argerich's decision to include violinist Renaud Capuçon and brother Gautier Capuçon was wise indeed, as their energetic and fiendishly virtuosic playing is nearly enough to carry the CD on its own. All of the music-making is simply top-notch, yet there are still ensembles that truly stand out. The first such remarkable performance is of Schumann's Piano Quartet, Op. 47, with Argerich herself at the helm joined by brothers Renaud and Gautier Capuçon and Lida Chen. The quartet breathes amazing new energy and life into a composition that is frequently given a backseat to the piano quintet. Schumann receives another boost in the performance of his Piano Trio, Op. 63, this time by pianist Nicholas Angelich joined again by the Capuçon brothers. Both of these Schumann interpretations could stand alone as reference recordings of the works. As for lesser-known works, the Taneyev Piano Quintet is perhaps the weakest piece on the program primarily due to the slightly poorer sound quality. The three-disc set concludes with the Schnittke Violin Sonata and a concerto for cello (again with Gautier Capuçon) and wind orchestra by Friedrich Gulda. Anyone the least bit interested in chamber music should give this album a try. (

Jan Lisiecki CHOPIN Études

Young pianist Jan Lisiecki has been studying at the Glenn Gould School of Music in Toronto and it seems the Canadian genius’s flair and sense of adventure has rubbed off on the 18-year-old. When Deutsche Grammophon decided to record Chopin’s Études as a follow-up to his debut album of Mozart’s Piano Concertos Nos 20 and 21, the Calgary-born youngster felt firmly on home ground. He had already recorded Chopin’s Piano Concertos in F and E Minor in Poland for the Fryderyk Chopin Institute and has a natural affinity for the music. What showed Gould-like daring however was his decision to do each of the 24 pieces in one take. Not only that but he would warm up before each take by playing something completely different – a Bach Goldberg Variation or a little Messiaen. “That would change the mood, in the same way as a different piece would in a live performance,” Lisiecki says. This latest disc shows why he was so quickly snapped up by the German label. Lisiecki’s touch is light and fluid, much like Chopin’s was reported to be by his contemporaries. He manages a mysterious, distant feel in the Op 10, No 6, but still with a subtle sense of yearning. But the young Canadian muscles up for the many stormy challenges, registering a thrilling defiance in the so- called Revolutionary which closes the Op 10 set with four defiant chords, and chilling us to the bone in the Winter Wind Étude. The lovely Cello Étude (Op 25, No 7), the longest of the works, is played with beautiful balance. Sometimes described as a conversation between two lovers – with the male left hand getting all the best lines – Lisiecki brings out the mini-drama which plays out in just under six minutes: the love, the raised voices and then the consoling embrace. The listener is very much ‘in the moment’ as this glorious slideshow of works rolls out with a superb sense of freshness under Lisiecki’s fingers. First class. (Copyright © Limelight Magazine. All rights reserved)

Angela Hewitt FAURÉ Piano Music

For a long time I have wanted to record my favourite solo piano works by Gabriel Fauré. I was first introduced to his music at the age of fifteen when my teacher, Jean-Paul Sévilla, gave me the Ballade to learn. He was a great lover of Fauré’s music, and we were privileged to hear him perform so much of it in Ottawa, where I grew up. He introduced all his students not only to Fauré’s piano works, but also to the chamber music and especially the songs. I vividly remember buying the LPs of the complete mélodies and listening to them time and time again, following the words and translations (being an avid student of French). I passed many a happy hour in Fauré’s company. All of the works on this album I learned by my mid-twenties, and most of them much earlier. They are old friends.
When you mention the piano music of Fauré to people, whether they are professional musicians or not, you usually get one of two responses: either they don’t know it, or else they consider it to be little more than ‘salon’ music. Those who do know it, and who love it deeply, will defend Fauré’s artistry and achievements with great passion.
It is amazing to think that when Fauré was born in 1845 Schumann had just completed his Piano Concerto, Chopin had written his third Piano Sonata, and Berlioz La damnation de Faust. By the time Fauré died in 1924 Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire was already twelve years old. The world around him also became a different place during those eighty years. Fauré remained remarkably unaffected by political events, with the exception of World War I. In 1908, in a letter to his son, he wrote: ‘For me, art, and especially music, exists to elevate us as far as possible above everyday existence.
A musician will recognize, within a few seconds, the music of Fauré. It is unmistakable thanks to its harmonic language and melodic contours. Along with the music of Bach, his piano works are among the most difficult for pianists to memorize. Constantly shifting harmonies, enharmonic changes pushed to the extreme, slight variants in passages that are otherwise similar—all of these things, added to the sheer technical difficulties, probably put a lot of people off. It is an art that is made, as one of his best biographers, Jean-Michel Nectoux, puts it, ‘of grandeur and refinement, in the image of that of Marcel Proust who would “become intoxicated” by this music, as he once wrote to Fauré’.
(Angela Hewitt)

Rosemary Joshua / Sarah Connolly / The English Concert / Harry Bicket HANDEL Duets

CDs of opera and oratorio arias and duets by Handel are hardly a rare event. Last year’s 250th anniversary of the composer’s death lead to something of a glut in the market. In this respect, Chandos - under its early music Chaconne label - has made a wise choice in waiting until this year to release this recording of dramatic duets. It enables us to sit back and assess it on its own terms rather than as yet another anniversary act of homage.
And this disc really is worth considering closely. Superbly recorded, it sounds alive, clear and acoustically rich. It also features a well balanced programme, mixing operatic with oratorio duets that cover the full range of emotional experiences endured by Handel’s characters – from
painful separation to joyous reunion; and from loving harmony to malign scheming.
The playing from the English Concert under Harry Bicket is excellent. Their performance is a fully ‘authentic’ affair on original instruments, with the usual sections of the baroque orchestra augmented by organ, archlute and baroque guitar. The recording balance brings them more to the fore than is often the case in Handel recordings, and turns them from stage supporters, to fully fledged actors in each of the short scenarios. Take for example the painterly introduction to ‘To thee, thou glorious son of worth’ from Theodora (track 6), or the plaintive flutes that accompany ‘Vivo in te’ from Tamerlano (track 9).
And what of the two soloists – soprano Rosemary Joshua and mezzo Sarah Connolly? Both are experienced Handelians in the recording studio and, more importantly, on stage, and therefore bring an insight, vigour and commitment to each of their roles. Their voices are also sufficiently varied to enable the listener to differentiate between them: Joshua’s is bright and lithe; Connolly’s warm and supple. Occasionally their blend is a little indistinct – in ‘Notte cara!’ from Ottone, for example (track 5) – and Connolly’s characterisation of roles originally sung by male castrati could do with a little beefing up. But for sheer vocal beauty, there is very little to fault. (John-Pierre Joyce, MusicWeb International)

viernes, 15 de noviembre de 2013

JOHN CAGE Four minutes thirty-three seconds

4′ 33″, the silent piece, is easily John Cage’s most famous creation. I would say that anyone who recognizes Cage’s name knows that he wrote a piece of music that consists entirely of silence. It is a piece that has become a sort of icon in post-war culture, like Warhol’s soup cans: a punch line for jokes and cartoons; the springboard for a thousand analyses and arguments; evidence of the extremity of a destructive avant-garde that appeared in the 1950s and 60s.
It is not surprising that this piece would attract the kind of attention that it has. To begin with, it is a compelling dramatic gesture. At its first performance, virtuoso pianist David Tudor sat at the piano, opened the keyboard lid, and sat silently for thirty seconds. He then closed the lid. He reopened it, and then sat silently again for a full two minutes and twenty-three seconds. He then closed and reopened the lid one more time, sitting silently this time for one minute and forty seconds. He then closed the lid and walked off stage. That was all. With the right kind of performer, such an event can be riveting, and Tudor was absolutely the right kind of performer, possessing an understated mastery of the instrument and a seriousness of purpose that was palpable to everyone in attendance.
Part of what makes the drama so compelling is the utter simplicity of the concept. The composer creates nothing at all. The performer goes on stage and does nothing. The audience witnesses this very basic act, the act of sitting still and being quiet. All this takes place in a Western concert hall setting, lending a historical and artistic gravity to the proceedings that begs us to put this act into some kind of weighty context, fraught with importance.
The piece can be difficult for audiences (just as the empty room in the exhibition might have been). Sitting quietly for any length of time is not something to which people are accustomed in Western culture in general, much less in a concert hall setting. That tensions will arise, with controversy and notoriety following, is only natural. Confronted with the silence, in a setting we cannot control, and where we do not expect this kind of event, we might have any of a number of responses: we might desire for it to be over, or desire for more interesting sounds to listen to, or we might feel frightened, insulted, pensive, cultured, baffled, doubtful, bored, agitated, tickled, sleepy, attentive, philosophical, or, because we “get it”, a bit smug. But do we really think of 4′ 33″ as a piece of music? What did Cage mean when he made this piece? How are we supposed to take this music? I believe that the story of4′ 33″, of the circumstances in Cage’s life from which it arose, can help us to answer these questions... (Copyright 2009 by James Pritchett. All rights reserved.)