viernes, 30 de enero de 2015

Sonya Yoncheva / Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana / Frédéric Chaslin PARIS, MON AMOUR

A star was born when soprano Sonya Yoncheva made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Gilda in Rigoletto on November 21, 2013. The audience gave the Bulgarian singer a standing ovation and the New York Times hailed her "sumptuous, penetrating voice" that communicated all the "teeming emotion and sensual yearning" of Verdi's heroine. In the course of Yoncheva's quick rise to fame, French audiences have especially taken to her, and she to them. Her debut album as a Sony Classical exclusive artist, Paris, Mon Amour, reflects that love affair.
Sonya Yoncheva captured first prize in 2010 at the Operalia competition at Milan's La Scala, then began her love affair with France, starring first as Handel's Cleopatra at Versailles and then as Bizet's Leïla at the Opéra Comique. Then she burst on the scene in a really big way in Lucia di Lammermoor, her debut at the Bastille, after which the city of Paris acclaimed her in the 2014 Concert de Paris at the Eiffel Tower, an engagement she'll repeat in 2015. 
 Her brand-new album Paris, Mon Amour concentrates on French works of the Belle Époque (1871-1914) by famous composers like Jacques Offenbach, Jules Massenet and Charles Gounod along with undeservedly obscure works by Charles Lecocq and André Messager. The CD also includes Italian classics of the period by Verdi (La Traviata) and Puccini (La Bohème).

miércoles, 28 de enero de 2015

Daniel Müller-Schott / Angela Hewitt BACH Gamba Sonatas

With performances as intellectual as they are musical, Daniel Müller-Schott and Angela Hewitt unite to produce a very worthwhile rendition of the Bach Gamba Sonatas. Hewitt, already an esteemed interpreter of Bach who has performed or recorded the complete works for solo keyboard, branches out here in a collaborative effort. All of her skills as an interpreter of Bach's solo works are indispensable here as the Gamba Sonatas are truly a collaboration of equals. Her touch is light and graceful without seeming timid or weak. The soloistic nature of her right hand brilliantly matches both the sound and temperament of Müller-Schott, and her accompanimental left hand is steady and elegant. Although Müller-Schott's release of the six unaccompanied Bach suites is a welcome contribution to the field, he is not known as much as a Bach interpreter as his colleague. Still, through self-proclaimed study and investigation, he presents a very satisfying blend of a Baroque sound and right-arm articulation on a modern instrument. In many ways, his playing is reminiscent of Anner Bylsma, but with a more focused core to his sound. In addition to the three gamba sonatas of the senior Bach, this album also includes the much more virtuosic and showy D major Sonata of C.P.E. Bach. Coupled with the wonderful playing, listeners are also treated to an excellent set of liner notes making this album a very wise choice. (

lunes, 26 de enero de 2015

Anne Gastinel / Claire Désert FRANCK - DEBUSSY - POULENC

This is an excellent version of Poulenc’s Cello Sonata. It has a persuasive sense of direction and a well-judged series of tempo decisions. It’s also warmly played, and ensemble between Anne Gastinel and Claire Désert is watertight. If your classic recording of choice is that of Pierre Fournier with Jacques Février—and I suppose that 1971 LP disc looms large in the discography—then you should know that the newcomers have their own views about things, and they ensure a convincing milieu for the work. Maybe the older pair breathed more naturally at certain points in the first movement—one feels their paragraphal phrasing is the more natural—but that doesn’t limit admiration for Gastinel and Désert, who take a more incisive tempo for the slow movement and sustain it well. It’s a passionate point of view, but then it is a passionate movement and one of the most outspoken in all of Poulenc’s music. Witty badinage restores things in the Ballabile third movement, and while Fournier emphasizes some of the more spectral moments in the finale with greater impact and immediacy, the more up-to-date and natural dynamic range of this Naïve recording proves laudable. This then is a compelling and first-class account of the sonata.
The Debussy sonata reprises the virtues of the Poulenc, though it does so in a way that signals the players’ freedom from convention. They don’t play in as arresting a manner as those pioneering French musicians Maurice Maréchal and Robert Casadesus, who, in their 1930 recording, performed with unselfconscious directness. But they do abjure some of the more outré gestures that have accreted to, say, the Sérénade’s pizzicatos, which is well and good in my book. They play with assurance throughout, though my own preferences lie with the classic older statement and also with the more phrasally suggestive playing of Tortelier and Gerald Moore in their 1948 disc, now in a huge Paul Tortelier EMI retrospective box.
The last work is the transcription of the Franck Violin Sonata made by Jules Delsart, with the approval of the composer, in 1888. This has been an increasingly popular option for cellists, and Gastinel and Désert play with a canny appreciation of when to press on and when to fine-down tone. Gastinel’s vibrato speed is well judged, and the pianist, who shoulders most of the truly taxing demands, acquits herself estimably.
This fine recital has been warmly recorded, is well balanced and reflects well on all concerned. (Jonathan Woolf)

sábado, 24 de enero de 2015

Nareh Arghamanyan / Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin / Alain Altinoglu PROKOFIEV - KHACHATURIAN Piano Concertos

Nareh Arghamanyan's first recording for PENTATONE of solo piano works by Rachmaninov showed her to be an artist of surprising maturity who combines musical acuity with a prodigious technique. Her follow-up disc of the Liszt Piano Concertos confirmed one's favourable opinion of her potential in virtuoso repertoire.
Her latest release couples Prokofiev's 3rd Piano Concerto – his most popular and most recorded – with the Piano Concerto of her fellow Armenian Aram Khachaturian, a work rarely appearing on concert programmes and even less frequently on disc and as in the earlier Liszt recording she is partnered here by the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by the young French-born conductor Alain Altinoglu with whom she obviously has a close rapport.
Khachaturian's Piano Concerto dates from 1936 and attempted to revive the bravura pianistic traditions of Liszt while at the same time introducing material in the concerto that derived from Armenian folk sources, though the composer denied quoting directly from such sources.
The bass drum thwack that opens the work resonates impressively in PENTATONE's vivid recording made in the Haus des Rundfunks, RBB Berlin in October 2013 and Nareh Arghamanyan's decisive first entry illustrates both the physical strength of her playing and her virtuosity as the movement proceeds. She plays the first of the movement's two long solo passages with a relaxed improvisatory feel and brings great exuberance and stunning virtuosity to the second.
The haunting central 'Andante' begins and ends with the bass clarinet extemporising under soft chords on muted strings before the gentle entry of the soloist. Khachaturian's scoring calls for a most unusual, and frankly bizarre sounding instrument – the flexatone, to be used in this movement. For this recording, however, Alain Altinoglu, has replaced the flexatone by a musical saw which certainly blends better with the strings and sounds here little different from a theremin or an ondes martinot.
The jazzy and sometimes even orgiastic finale is given a terrific performance from both soloist and orchestra, the music only slowing for the brilliant cadenza before building to a restatement of the first movement's opening theme and then driving to its thrilling and emphatic final chords.
Though this concerto has often been accused of brashness and empty rhetoric it is still worth an occasional outing especially when heard in such a beautifully recorded and committed performance as this one by Nareh Arghamanyan.
The Prokofiev concerto that follows faces much tougher competition from countless rival recordings and though Arghaman's playing has all the necessary fire power her performance fails to match the best of the SACD alternative versions in this piece that include those from Byron Janis, Freddy Kempff and Denis Matsuev. Thanks to the rather cautious tempi adopted by Altinoglu and Arghamanyan her account lacks the flamboyance of those mentioned above and its slightly restrained quality, while sometimes appropriate in the slower section of the work, misses some of the composer's wit and panache in the outer movements.
It must, however, be said that the orchestral contribution could hardly be finer. I can't recall a recording that reveals so much subtle detail in Prokofiev's orchestral writing and needless to say PENTATONE's sound quality is beyond reproach.
Those seeking this release for the Khachaturian Piano Concerto need not hesitate. (2014 Graham Williams and SA-CD)

jueves, 22 de enero de 2015


The composition of Lachrimae Pavans, one of the great works in the canon of English chamber music, was begun in Denmark at the end of the 16th century, while John Dowland was working as a lutenist at the court of King Christian IV. A unique seven-part work developing a theme from Dowland’s famous song “Flow my teares” and exploring all its contrapuntal and harmonic possibilities, it is also music of persuasive emotional power. “How well he seems to have understood the power of music to move us,” writes John Holloway in the liner notes, and “to express otherwise inexpressible emotions. He called them ‘passionate pavans’, and within the stately constrained movements of the slow dance, passions are indeed to be found.”
The music, according to the title page of the folio volume, is “set forth for the lute,viols or violons”. Choosing to emphasize “violons” Holloway and company play the Dowland Pavans on four violas and bass violin; “As has been said of Dowland, his greatest works are inspired by a deeply felt tragic concept of life and a preoccupation with tears, sin, darkness and death. With that in mind, the choice of instruments made itself.”
In this recording, produced by Manfred Eicher at Zürich’s Radio Studio, John Holloway and his ensemble juxtaposed the Pavans with other pieces by Dowland’s contemporaries, in a programme with strong contrasts of character and sound colour – from Purcell’s extraordinary “Fantasy upon one note” to Thomas Morley’s haunting “Lament” – evoking the great flowering of English instrumental consort music of the late 16th and early 17th centuries.

martes, 20 de enero de 2015

Anne Queffélec SCARLATTI Ombre et lumière

‘This son of mine is an eagle whose wings are grown. He must not remain idle in the nest, and I must not hinder his flight.’ I have often dreamt about these words addressed to Ferdinando de’ Medici in Florence by an Alessandro Scarlatti conscious of the exceptional gifts of his sixth child, Domenico, then twenty years old, but who would nonetheless wait until the death of his highly attentive father before flying with his own wings. A bachelor until the age of forty-two, he married a sixteen-year-old girl and, severing all links in both substance and form with his paternal musical heritage, embarked on the composition of what he modestly called ‘exercises for the harpsichord’, which were gradually to grow into the unprecedented corpus of his 555 sonatas. It is with delight that the pianist, tempted by this treasure chest, obeys the words of Domenico himself, who invites his interpreter in a preface to be ‘more human than critical’ and thereby to share in the exhilaration of his creative freedom.
‘If you’re happy to play me on the piano, then you’ve grasped the spirit of my music’, which is human above all . . .
To move from the harpsichord to the piano is already to open the doors to the wide-open spaces of liberty. The radically different timbre invites one to different voyages. The substance changes with the sound. Yet this is no betrayal. Every musical text carries within it endless potentialities still to be discovered. Music is living matter, and how well Domenico Scarlatti knows that! The colour of the piano, which Scarlatti never heard, plays a revelatory role in many sonatas. It allows certain ‘Chopinesque’ melodic wanderings to assume a clearer contour; the vocal character blossoms thanks to the expressive possibilities of the instrument; the lyricism opens out. The wings are grown; the melody is free to sing!
My approach to the eighteen sonatas on this disc, chosen out of passion, is that of a lover, not a specialist. With the composer’s blessing, I have followed my performer’s intuition. Hence, for example, I have taken the liberty of not respecting the recommendation to combine the sonatas as far as possible in ‘pairs’ by key, devising my own dramaturgically contrasting ‘pairs’ (K32 and K517 in D minor, K54 and K149 in A minor). I have also dispensed with certain repeats: I play none in K279 in A major, the bucolic ingenuousness of which suggests to me an Italian version of the French folksong Nous n’irons plus au bois . . . I didn’t want to linger here, fearing it would overemphasise the subtle melancholy of the central section. Wishing to remain on the final interrogation, I did not repeat the second part of the enigmatic K147 in E minor, whose agitation foreshadows the era of Sturm und Drang. Similarly, in the noble unfolding of its sadness, the poignant K109 in A minor seems to me to sustain its gravity with greater force when the second part is not duplicated.
Scarlatti’s liberty is contagious in its dazzling rhythmic and melodic inventiveness, which sizzles, swarms, gambols, then suddenly leaps down from the stage and comes to rest; selfconfidence, imploration, pure desolation, solitude, autumn, winter, the four seasons of Scarlatti are in his sonatas. The man of the three suns, of Naples, Lisbon, and Madrid, is also familiar with the shadows. He goes off at a tangent in the midst of gaiety, exploring harmonic byways that touch the heartstrings. His perpetually renewed ludus musicalis, his decampments take us far away, into the territory of Mozartian ambiguity, limpidity with infinite hinterlands.
In music there are Tenebrae Lessons, ‘Lessons of darkness’. The sonatas of Scarlatti are ‘Lessons of
light’. (Anne Queffélec)

viernes, 16 de enero de 2015


This is great. Hitherto Cinquecento – that marvellous male-voice sextet in Vienna who have sung a 16th-century Mass almost every Sunday morning in the Rochuskirche for almost 10 years, alongside gorgeous chant-singing – have mainly recorded sacred music. But they are no less persuasive in the song repertory. It’s not just that their ensemble and tuning are flawless, nor that with six highly individual voices they can create an amazing range of colours, but that with their multicultural forces they can fit effortlessly into the style of the music, whether the texts are in Italian, French or German.
As in most of their previous records, they have chosen Viennese repertory – or rather, in this case, music by composers from the Low Countries who had major positions at the Imperial Chapel in Vienna. Monte and Regnart were unbelievably prolific: if we are miles from having either of them in complete modern editions, that is absolutely not because the music is in any sense feeble, as you can hear on this record. I am not aware that any of the 25 short pieces here has been recorded before: Monte (by far the most prolific madrigalist of all time) has here eight masterful pieces; Jean Guyot (so far as I can see, never previously recorded) has six charmingly gooey pieces in the manner of Gombert on speed; for the sovereign (and also prolific) Vaet we hear the only non-Latin pieces he composed, all three of them; and the record ends with a mouth-watering selection of songs in German and Italian by the more light-hearted Regnart. Don’t miss it. (Gramophone)

jueves, 15 de enero de 2015

Alexei Lubimov /SWR Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra / Andrey Boreyko ARVO PÄRT Lamentate

Written for large orchestra and solo piano, and commissioned for a series of live events at Tate Modern, “Lamentate” was inspired by Pärt’s encounter with the enormous sculpture “Marsyas”, by Bombay-born artist Anish Kapoor. 150 metres long, “Marsyas” filled the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall for a year. Named for the Greek satyr flayed alive by the god Apollo, the piece consists of three enormous steel rings joined by a single span of dark red PVC membrane. The colour was intended by the artist to suggest blood and the body, and the sculpture dwarfed the viewer, too large to be viewed in its entirety from any single position: “I wanted to make body into sky”, says Kapoor.
For Arvo Pärt the dimensions of the work were breathtaking: “My first impression was that I, as a living being, was standing before my own body and was dead – as in a time-warp perspective, at once in the future and the present. ... In this moment I had a strong sense of not being ready to die. And I was moved to ask myself just what I could still manage to accomplish in the time left to me.”
“Lamentate” then, is a lament not for the dead, but for the living, who must struggle “with the pain and hopelessness of this world.” The solo piano role is designated by the composer to represent “one”, the individual, buffeted by fate. It can be viewed, he writes, “as a first person narrative”. Pärt: “The work is marked by diametrically opposed moods... Exaggerating slightly, I would characterize these poles as ‘brutal-overwhelming’ and ‘intimate-fragile’.” In the present recording, the solo protagonist Alexei Lubimov sails the sea of circumstance with extraordinary fluency, negotiating ferocious tidal waves and ominous calms. The luminescent quality to his playing, which recently served Silvestrov’s “Metamusik” and “Postludium” so well is very much to the fore, sustaining the sense of quasi-improvisational freshness that was one of Pärt’s original goals for this work. Conductor Andrey Boreyko, marshalling the instrumental forces of the SWR Radio Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart, maintains the emotional pressure throughout a very engaged performance of a work that concludes in a dialogue of reminiscences, of laments and consolations.

miércoles, 14 de enero de 2015

Andrew Manze / The English Concert MOZART 3 Violin Concertos

Some say it's violinist Andrew Manze's tone that makes him distinctive, that there's a sweetness to his non-vibrato swells and a strength to his flexible bowing that make his playing so attractive. Some say it's Manze's phrasing that makes him distinctive, that there's a lyrical quality to his line and a molded quality to his dynamics that make his playing so appealing. Some say it's Manze's interpretation that makes him so distinctive, that there's a combination of fantasy, intensity, and effortless virtuosity that make his performances so persuasive. Some say it's all these things at once and this 2006 disc of the last three of Mozart's five violin concertos is the proof. For those who find Manze's distinctive playing attractive, appealing, and persuasive, his performances here as soloist and director of the English Consort will be equally convincing. The sweet tone of his line suits the G major Concerto's central Adagio. The lyrical intensity of his fantasy fits the D major Concerto's closing Rondeau Andante grazioso. The molded flexibility of his virtuosity matches the A major Concerto's opening Allegro aperto. The English Consort is light, lean, and wholly as one with Manze's direction. Harmonia Mundi's sound is essentially transparent and without blemish. (

martes, 13 de enero de 2015


Pianist Anna Gourari’s ECM debut – 2012’s Canto Oscuro, an album that channels the Baroque and its spirit reflecting darkly through the ages – earned praise far and wide. Gramophone declared her version of the Bach/Busoni Chaconne “one of the most riveting on record,” while The Absolute Sound judged the entire disc “devastating.” Visions fugitives, Gourari’s second ECM release, showcases the intense beauty of her sound in Prokofiev’s title work, a set of 20 “fleeting visions” whose moods swing wildly and evocatively. The album also features Medtner’s Fairy Tale in f minor (from his long series of skazki, or “tales”) and Chopin’s Sonata No. 3 in b minor, which includes a Beethovenian opening movement as well as a touching, songful Largo.
Born in Kazan, Tartarstan, Gourari is a musician steeped in the venerable Russian piano school, with its technical verities and Old World glamour. The great pianist Alexis Weissenberg found her playing “almost mystical” when he was on the jury with Martha Argerich, Vladimir Ashkenazy and Nelson Freire that deemed Gourari winner of the Clara Schumann Piano Competition in 1994.
With Visions fugitives, Gourari explores the ultra-dynamic, shape-shifting sound world of Sergey Prokofiev (1891-1953), whose rhythmic energy was declared “savage” by early U.S. critics but who was also one of the 20th century’s great masters of melody, as well as atmosphere. Beyond his nine important piano sonatas, the Russian wrote many shorter works for piano, prime among them his motoric Toccata, the Sarcasms and his set of Visions fugitives.

lunes, 12 de enero de 2015

Dudamel WAGNER

When I hear Wagner's music, I always think of the sunrise from Nietzsche's Zarathustra – the crescendo of colours, the epic naturalism, the illumination of a huge spirit. It sweeps you away, like great cinema. Metaphorically, of course, dawn also expresses an anticipation of the future. In the history of music, we have many great composers: Bach, Mozart, Brahms, some of the greatest geniuses of all humanity. But then, there were the composers who not only wrote extraordinary music, but whose music fundamentally changed the way we listen: Monteverdi, Beethoven, Stravinsky, the Beatles... and Wagner. Music after Wagner was never the same. With new approaches to melody, harmony, rhythm and orchestration, Wagner's operas pushed music to its physical and emotional limits, and, like a sunrise, provided a view into the future – paving the way not just for composers like Mahler and Richard Strauss, but for everything from Star Wars to Metallica.
Wagner is epic and powerful, modern and daring, yet can be loving and tender at the same time. The scores are so well written, so brilliantly conceived, the orchestration is amazing, the harmonies so full of expression. Every note means something - sometimes many things at once. The challenge for conductor and orchestra is finding the balance between the very big and very intimate. With this recording we have had the additional challenge of capturing, in just a few excerpts, the huge intellectual and emotional architecture of Wagner's dramas without singers, using only the voices of the orchestra.
For my family in the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela and for me, just as Wagner transformed music, music has transformed our lives. This fact makes it very special for us to perform and to record Wagner's music. We pay homage to the tradition of Bayreuth, while at the same time feeling the contemporariness of the ideas in the Ring and the passion of Tristan. These visions and expressions speak to us. For us, music is energy, that, like a river, is always moving forward, that never ends. Wagner's endless melodies and gripping harmonies tap into this infinite stream of energy with a unique, magical spirit. The great spirit and love we share for music is reflected in the spirit and love within these pieces. For the Bolivars and for me, sharing this spirit, with each other and with the world, is one of life's greatest joys. Thank you for joining us on our journey with Wagner. (Gustavo Dudamel)

domingo, 11 de enero de 2015

Marc-André Hamelin SCHUMANN Kinderszenen - Waldszenen JANÁCEK On The Overgrown Path I

Marc-André Hamelin’s normally genial features cloud at the description of him as a ‘super virtuoso’. For him such apparent praise implies limitation rather than virtue. But here, in his latest disc of music by Janáček and Schumann, he shows himself a virtuoso in a deeper sense, a virtuoso in sound, colour and poetic empathy, one who, to quote Liszt, ‘breathes the breath of life’. Using his prodigious command in music of a transcendental difficulty—the Chopin-Godowsky Études, the major works of Alkan, Albéniz’s Iberia, etc—he displays gifts which show him as first and foremost a musician’s musician. In music of an elusive rather than flamboyant challenge he is a master of simplicity, of music which, in Goethe’s words, proves that it is when working within limits that man creates his greatest work. The fewer the notes, the more subtle and exposed the task. Certainly you could never align Hamelin with, say, Horowitz’s teasing, lavishly tinted sophistication or Cziffra’s hysterical bravura. He is a virtuoso in another sense.
Linking Janáček and Schumann is both a natural and an enterprising choice. The seeds of Schumann’s final collapse are already present in Waldszenen's ‘Verrufene Stelle’ (‘Place of evil fame’, where flowers are nourished by human blood rather than the sun’s rays) or in ‘Fürchtenmachen’ (‘Frightening’) from Kinderszenen. Such things lead to a more oblique sense of desolation in Janáček's On the overgrown path, the very title evocative of the past, of a time long eclipsed by bitter adult experience; reflections of despair rather than tranquillity. Janáček's failed marriage, his unrequited passion for a younger woman and the death of his daughter Olga at the age of 20 are all mirrored in music of the darkest introspection. Of On the overgrown path, Janáček wrote ‘they are of all things most dear to me’, as if he cradled his own unhappiness. How else can you explain titles such as ‘Unutterable Anguish’ and ‘In Tears’? Such tortured music was predictably greeted with incomprehension; and, like Liszt before him (the titles of his later dark-hued utterances, Nuages gris, Unstern or La lugubre gondola tell their own tale) or Fauré after him, his profoundest creations were ignored, causing him serious doubts. Thus, he wrote, ‘I no longer saw any worth in my work and scarcely believed what I said. I had become convinced that no one would notice anything.’ Admirably described (by the Janáček scholar John Tyrrell) as ‘some of the profoundest, most disturbing music that Janáček had written, their interest is quite out of proportion to their modest means and ambition’. Again, these are pieces ‘which begin disarmingly but are emotionally derailed within the briefest of spans’.
Hamelin’s subtle inflection captures all of the opening ‘Our evenings’, his nuance and musical breathing somehow beyond such an academic term as rubato, the sudden disruptions like flashes of anger flawlessly contrasted. Time and again he makes you think vocally, of the range and flexibility of a great singer. Hear him drop from mezzo-forte to pianissimo despondency in ‘A blown-away leaf', a retreat as it were from Dylan Thomas’s Do not go gentle into that good night. He is no less sensitive to the polka of ‘Come with us!’, a brief memory of Moravian folk dance and happier times. Again, it would be difficult to imagine a more lucid yet evocative sense of ‘The Frýdek Madonna’, with its grave chorale offset by mystical shimmering. Hamelin makes the limping steps of ‘Unutterable anguish’ like a prophecy of Debussy’s painful progression in ‘Des pas sur la neige' (Préludes, Book 1), while in the octaves of ‘In tears’ lies an uncomfortable awareness of the contradiction behind an outwardly conciliatory conclusion.
Turning to Schumann, Hamelin is no less illuminating than in his previous recordings of music where poetry and introspection are combined (Fantasie, Carnaval, Études symphoniques, etc). In Waldszenen and Kinderszenen, inwardness and an interior magic are only occasionally contradicted with extroversion; there more of Eusebius (the man of dreams) than of Florestan (the man of action) and so, once more, the emphasis for the pianist is on a primarily interior world. How often have you heard the entrance (‘Eintritt’) to Waldszenen played with such poised rhythmic life or listened to the quizzical song of the ‘Vogel als Prophet’ (‘Prophet bird’) with such a great awareness of its oddity? Here, once more, the knife-edge between composer and interpreter, between creator and recreator is held in the finest balance. And you could hardly wish for a greater sense of wonder in Kinderszenen's opening ‘Von fremden Ländern und Menschen’ (‘Of foreign lands and peoples’) or a more unfaltering poise in the concluding ‘Der Dichter spricht’ (‘The poet speaks’).
Writing to his beloved Clara regarding Kinderszenen, Schumann told her, ‘you will have to forget you are a virtuoso’. On the contrary, and returning to my opening proposition, Hamelin shows that he is a virtuoso in another and richly inclusive sense. (Gramophone)

sábado, 10 de enero de 2015

Anna Netrebko / Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra / Emmanuel Villaume TCHAIKOVSKY Iolanta

Tchaikovsky’s last opera, written in 1891, is a work you can love deeply while knowing it really isn’t the greatest piece. Even the composer felt it was basically a rehash of earlier work, but it has an atmosphere all its own, and though not a great deal happens, the heroine is treasurable and there is much really gorgeous writing. 
Anna Netrebko wants to make it better known in the West and the result is this record of a concert tour made with Emmanuel Villaume and the Slovenian Philharmonic. It starts well, the rather constipated wind intro melting into lilting Schubertian strings that fix the score’s sweet longing. Netrebko starts beautifully too, low down with the softest grain to the voice, and this intimate mode works well. It’s when something more passionate is wanted that things fall short, with even Netrebko herself sounding strained at times. The other singers are pretty good – the lyrical Vitalij Kowalyow as René, Lucas Meachem a velvety Ibn Hakia, Sergey Skorokhodov’s beautifully smooth, masculine tenor Vaudémont full of romantic ardour – but the ensemble tends to get soupy and Villaume, for all the nice textures, cannot heat up his orchestra enough for the indulgent passion this work demands.

viernes, 9 de enero de 2015

Leonidas Kavakos & Yuja Wang BRAHMS The Violin Sonatas

Leonidas Kavakos and Yuja Wang here give a hearty, if rather cold, performance of Brahms’ much-loved violin sonatas. Wang has proven her virtuoso skills with her previous recital CDs, but this is the first recording she’s made of chamber music. It’s concerning, then, that this release feels a little like star players working well together, but not connecting as deeply as befits the repertoire.
 More could be made of many of the most ethereal moments in the music (some of them seem to pass without notice), and there’s an almost palpable sense of relief from the players when the big tunes kick in. Take, for example, the piano’s turn at the theme partway through the first movement of the Violin Sonata in G, accompanied by a delicate pizzicato violin. In other recordings, this return to the theme is a hushed and delicate remembrance, almost magical in its simplicity. Here, it’s merely pretty. 
Similar issues arise in the other sonatas. The A Major’s grazioso third movement sounds wooden, with none of the grace and lightness of touch that, for example, Arthur Grumiaux and György Sebo˝k give it. This is very heavy Brahms, then, played solidly and weightily. Kavakos and Wang fare better in Brahms’ more intense moments, with plenty of muscle in the C Minor scherzo from the collaborative F.A.E. Sonata. The disc is closed with a rather anticlimactic arrangement of the famous Wiegenlied, played serviceably. (Paul Ballam-Cross)

jueves, 8 de enero de 2015


Matshikiza's career would have been unthinkable two decades ago. Today, she is part of a new generation of black South African opera singers. Small and self-contained, she cuts a glamorous figure, not least on the cover of Voice of Hope, her debut recording for Decca. With its mix of Mozart and Puccini arias, smartly orchestrated Xhosa, Swahili and Zulu songs, and the anthem she performed to an audience of a billion in the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony last week, the album is aimed squarely at a crossover audience.
Matshikiza is pragmatic about the mix, pointing out that if she can bring "something a little bit different" to the market, why not? But she is frank about the technical challenges of finding a way of singing that is "not quite operatic", and pulls a face recalling the difficulty of working on the album while also preparing for the role of Nanetta in Verdi's Falstaff for Stuttgart Opera.
The pure, wistful voice that Matshikiza used to sing Freedom Come All Ye in Glasgow is about a quarter the size of her Puccini voice. On the album, her sound in the arias is opulent, glowing. She is reticent about her long-term ambitions, but it's difficult to imagine her following in the crossover footsteps of, say, Katherine Jenkins or Russell Watson. As to Thula Baba, Pata, Pata and the other African songs on the disc, there's both a nod to the chic fusion of jazz and calypso that was Miriam Makeba's signature style in the early 60s – and a sting behind the smile. In Iya Gaduza, an unemployed man paces alone in his house while his wife works for a white family. Even Freedom Come All Ye, written the year of the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, contains a reference to Nyanga, one of the townships where Matshikiza grew up. 
At the centre of the album is South African composer Kevin Volans's Umzi Watsha. Volans met the soprano when she sang in an opera he wrote for Cape Town's Handspring Puppet Theatre (the company behind War Horse's puppets). He urged Matshikiza to audition for the British conservatoires, paying her air fare. Her first stop in London was the Royal College of Music, where she was immediately offered a full scholarship. The Royal Opera House's young artists scheme followed, with roles in The Minotaur, Don Carlo and Hänsel und Gretel. The decision to take things slowly was hers: "I don't understand what the hurry is. I want to sing as best as possible. It doesn't matter when or to whom." At Covent Garden, observation was as vital a part of the learning experience as performance and coaching. Its music director Antonio Pappano remains her model of the ideal, collaborative singers' conductor: "Talking to the soloists, he would say, 'What do you want to do here? I'll follow you', and only then would he suggest what he thinks. When you are a singer that gives you so much security, so much energy." (

miércoles, 7 de enero de 2015

Franco Fagioli / Alessandro De Marchi / Academia Montis Regalis PORPORA Arias

Porpora (1686 - 1768) wrote operas from 1708 up until 1747 and was revising them until at least 1760 but it is with his works in the 1720's such as Meride e Selinunte (1726) that he came to prominence as part of the new Neapolitan style. The selection here includes Ezio, Semiramide riconosciuta, Didone abbandonata, Meride e Selinunte from the 1720's, Polifemo from 1735 and Carlo il Calvo from the same decade. Il verbo in carne is in fact an oratorios written for Christmas 1748 for Dresden.
Porpora taught two of the finest singers of his age, Farinelli and Cafarelli. Fagioli has explored arias by Porpora and others written for Cafarelli on his previous disc. Here, he includes two arias written for Farinelli from Polifemo which was written for London as a rival to Handel. As might be expected from a distinguished teacher, Porpora knows how to write for the voice and to show it off to its best advantage. The arias here often have a largeness of scale and can last up to eight minutes (with the aria from the cantata Vulcano lasting nearly 10). But that does not imply simplicity of scale, within these structures Porpora includes an astonishing number of notes and Fagioli copes superbly. The arias are all in the mezzo-soprano range and need Fagioli's style of high counter-tenor singing. But they also need his incredible facility with singing complex passage-work at high speed.
The results are breathtaking. Fagioli makes a very particular sound. He has a vibrato warmed voice with a soft-grained timbre, but he can move it with alarming dexterity. The more bravura items such as the opening Set tu la reggi al volo from Ezio or Gia si desta la tempesa from Didone abbandonata are done in a supremely bravura manner with style and expressivity. Listen and marvel. Often Porpora throws in trumpets and drums, and the orchestra contributes to the overall dazzling virtuoso sound.
In the slower items, Fagioli brings a shapely poise to the music. When writing the gentler pieces Porpora's style veers towards the galant, rendered stylishly by Fagioli, De Marchi and his ensemble. But the slower pieces are never simple, Porpora still includes a remarkable number of notes, and the vocal lines are often quite wandering.
Throughout Fagioli is accompanied with bravura and style by De Marchi and the Academia Montis Regalis who acquit themselves with no less virtuosity.
The CD booklet includes an article giving background to Porpora's career, with full texts and translations, but you will struggle to discover when and where each aria was first performed and by whom.
With a recital disc like this, you are never quite certain how representative of the composer's style these arias are. There are no simple pieces here, the sort of arias like Handel's Verdi prati which puzzled his Italian singers and required fits of temper from the composer to persuade them to sing. But the disc does give the lie to the idea of Porpora writing generic arias which are suitable for anything. There is some profoundly expressive music here, in stunning performances, and I now look forward to a complete opera by Porpora. In the mean time, we have this disc from Fagioli. Listen and marvel! (Robert Hugill)

martes, 6 de enero de 2015

Giuliano Carmignola / Concerto Köln BACH Violin Concertos

Giuliano Carmignola, we’re informed on the back of this CD’s case, ‘seeks to cast fresh light upon these much-loved masterpieces by imbuing them with all the joyfulness of his Venetian sound’. You could say this is as much a warning as it is a USP: if you like your Bach monumental and solemn, Carmingnola’s folky exuberance and springy bow may feel like too much of his personality foisted on the music. But with an open mind, it’s impossible not to enjoy this disc. It achieves exactly what it proudly sets out to, eagerly assisted by the twinkle-toed Concerto Köln.
It includes the two ubiquitous violin concertos (A minor and E major), the double concerto in D minor (with Carmignola well matched by Mayumi Hirasaki, stepping up from within the ensemble), plus two convincing new reconstructions of concertos which, though probably originally written for violin, survive only in harpsichord concerto versions (the G minor BWV 1056 and D minor BWV 1052). At over 70 minutes of music, it goes a fair way towards justifying its premium price.
If it is the fast movements which show off Carmignola’s pizzazz, he also has plenty of sweetly lyrical qualities to bring in the Largos and Adagios – the merest smidge of vibrato at the ends of long notes, everything else achieved by subtle phrase shaping and that nimble bowing arm. (Kimon Daltas, editor of Classical Music magazine)

lunes, 5 de enero de 2015

Julia Fischer & Martin Helmchen FRANZ SCHUBERT Complete Works for Violin and Piano

In this recording, Julia Fischer and Martin Helmchen skilfully reveal what can be achieved when Schubert's violin and piano duos are given the right treatment: a wonderful piece of music, expertly performed. The release uniquely features Fischer as a pianist in Fantasia for Piano Duet D. 940. She had previously performed as a pianist in concert, but this was her recording debut.

We asked them a few questions about their successful collaboration and their connection to Schubert.
What was it like to work together?
Martin: It is always both an enormous privilege and great fun to work with Julia, and I think most of our colleagues (and even conductors) would agree that you've learned a lot after every concert or rehearsal with her. And of course, a long-term collaboration like ours is something very valuable, because you get to grow together.
Julia: Martin and I met a very long time ago and we have played and enjoyed numerous projects together. What I admire most about Martin is his modesty and pure passion. If you want to repeat something 100 times, he will still agree to do it and probably ask for the 101st time. On tour that quality brings the real enjoyment to a partnership, you never get into routine, but you always keep looking for other options, other solutions for musical problems. The same way of working applies to recording together. We are still on a journey: the cd is not the final result. It only shows where we were in that moment in our interpretation of Schubert.
What was it like for both of you to have Julia also playing the piano for this recording?
Martin: Absolutely natural! I don't understand how it's possible to play a second instrument at such a high level… I personally have got a lot of troubles with one already!
Julia: Annoying for Martin I guess!! But I am grateful for the opportunity, he taught me fingerings and gave me technical tips.
What does it mean to you to play Schubert's sonatas?
Martin: Schubert is one of the composers I personally feel the closest to. The pieces for violin and piano are not amongst his better known works, and that is another thing that is a particular joy for me - exploring and presenting the lesser known masterworks.
Julia: Somebody said "Schubert in his last pieces touched the border between human and God. Afraid that the composer might cross, God finished Schubert'slife". That's how I feel when entering the C major Fantasy.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently in the recording?
Martin: I must admit I tend to forget the "crimes of the past" quite quickly. A recording is always a momentary document, so I don't think about that topic too much.
Julia: Yes. But it's not in any way frustrating. Simply put, I continuously think about the pieces and I naturally play them a little differently every time. (PENTATONE, Monday 15 September 2014)

domingo, 4 de enero de 2015

Lise de la Salle SCHUMANN

"I’ve always listened to a lot of Schumann. He fascinated me when I was a little girl of six or seven. I’ve always been attracted by the manic side of him, his very individual ‘touch’, and I’ve always loved surrendering myself to his music. I feel very close to it. But although Schumann is one of the composers I get most out of, I waited a long time before I played him ‘seriously’... I think I didn’t want to risk being disappointed by myself. I couldn’t bring myself to imagine that everything I had dreamt about this music might not take shape exactly as I wanted. So I waited until I was completely ready, and that moment came a few years ago. The Fantasie was the apotheosis of those dreams of mine. So I built this programme around it. As for the Kinderszenen, I often played the piece Der Dichter spricht as an encore; I think it’s extraordinarily evocative, yet without any trace of technical demonstration – the power it packs into just a few notes is deeply moving to me. In a recording, I especially like to take the listener by the hand and set out to show him or her the greatest possible number of things. I always try to find a trajectory in my programmes. That’s what we have on this disc: beginning with the Fantasie as my starting-point, I double back to the very start of Schumann’s career with the Abegg Variations, then I follow the course of the short pieces, very varied in atmosphere, that make up the Kinderszenen. A musical journey needs those contrasts, and Schumann draws the essence of emotion from them." (Lise de la Salle)

“Her selection is sufficiently individual to make comparison a marginal issue, and so too is her playing, which once more displays a distinctive personal eloquence...For Clara Schumann the Fantasie was beyond wonder. Such unbridled joy is reflected in de la Salle's bold and impassioned response.” (Gramophone)

sábado, 3 de enero de 2015

Sergey & Lusine Khachatryan BRAHMS Sonatas

When I listen to Khachatryan (b. 1985), I’m reminded of another young, award-winning violinist of approximately the same age, this one Russian, Ilya Gringolts (b. 1982). The reminder, however, is one of contrasts rather than of similarities. You see, I also have Gringolts’s recording of the Sibelius Concerto with Neeme Järvi and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, made not long after Khachatryan made his recording of the piece with Emmanuel Krivine and the Sinfonia Varsovia, and the differences are stark. Both violinists are virtuosos of the first order, nowadays something that almost goes without saying. But Gringolts belongs to what I call the “slash and burn” school of playing, which is to say that sheer beauty of sound is not infrequently sacrificed on the altar of go-for-broke risk-taking and the coarsening of tone that inevitably comes with the hard-driving performance approach.
That said, I’m fully aware that preferences in manners and styles of playing are largely a matter of taste, and so it’s with that in mind that I count Sergey Khachatryan a violinist much more to my personal liking than Gringolts. From the very opening strains of Brahms’s G-Major Sonata, I hear in Khachatryan not just a violinist with impeccable technique and radiant tone, but an artist of high intelligence and a musician of the highest ethical sensibilities. To no small degree, his Brahms reminds me of David Oistrakh’s, with Gina Bauer in the First Sonata and with Richter in the Second and Third sonatas.
Nothing is exaggerated, overstated, or pressed. No gratuitous portamentos interrupt the smooth flow of the lines. Only the natural ebb and flow of Brahms’s phrases, with which Khachatryan and sister Lusine rise and fall in sublime unanimity, are made manifest in these gorgeous readings. Just listen to the transcendent beauty of the second theme in the first movement of the G-Major Sonata, to how it expands to embrace an exalted state of ecstasy. In one breath, this has gone from being just another recording of Brahms’s violin sonatas to my absolute favorite, surpassing in wonder and glory even the Stefan Jackiw and Max Levison version on Sony whose virtues I extolled in 34:4.
Everything I’ve said and then some applies to the Khachatryans’ readings of the A-Major and D-Minor sonatas as well. Listen to and be gripped by the terrifying tale Brahms tells in the last movement of the D-Minor Sonata. Never have the parallels to the first movement of Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata been clearer. But for me, what makes Sergey’s performance so transfixing is that he delivers Brahms’s uncharacteristic outburst of spite and spleen with nary a scrape or scratch of the bow. How much sharper is the cut from a scalpel than from a blunt blade.
Even if you have half-a-dozen or more recordings of these sonatas on your shelf, shift them around, throw one out, do whatever you have to do to make room for this one; it’s truly special. (FANFARE: Jerry Dubins)

viernes, 2 de enero de 2015

Elsbeth Moser / Boris Pergamenschikow / Münchener Kammerorchester / Christoph Poppen SOFIA GUBAIDULINA

"Seven Words" addresses that most difficult of subjects, Christ's suffering and death on the Cross. Not many composers have felt equal to the challenge although Haydn's Seven Words of "Our Saviour on the Cross" is one of the enduring works to approach this theme.
Hermann Conen in the CD booklet: "Sofia Gubaidulina has accepted the challenge of attempting to capture the great mystery in sound. Although the seven movements are, at least initially, clearly separated by string passages, there is no parallelism of word and sound in the traditional sense. It is more a matter of the instruments 'uttering' what cannot be sung or said; they 'speak' with 'instrumental, metaphorical gestures' (Gubaidulina).The cross symbolism palpable throughout the 'Seven Words' begins on the instrumental level: the cello, coming from the art music of 'high culture', stands for what is 'lofty'; the bayan, a button accordion from the sphere of Russian folk music. Although the sound production is totally different (bowed strings, metal reeds vibrated by air), the two instruments reveal astonishingly similar sonorities, sometimes to the point of indistinguishability...The music of the string orchestra is devised as a contrast to the harsh chromaticism of the cello/bayan and remains clearly separated during the first two movements. The presto and pianissimo string passages soaring from a note played in unison open up a tonal sphere that rises and falls like the sweep of wings ... From the very first sound a ritualised musical meditation begins, its individual core elements unfolding almost imperceptibly at first and then growing inexorably towards one another."
Elsbeth Moser, who plays the bayan on this recording, is one of Gubaidulina's closest musical associates and dedicatee of several works (including the landmark "Silenzio") and understands the composer's intentions. Her performance of "De Profundis" (composed 1978) is astonishing. Writing of a recent concert, critic Richard Whitehouse noted that the bayan, "in the hands of Elsbeth Moser on the solo 'De Profundis', effortlessly combined the provocation of a new sound resource with the timelessness of a traditional instrument."
The "Ten Preludes" (1974, revised 1999) for cello began life as a set of teaching pieces, with each of the Preludes addressing a different technical consideration, but there is space in these fascinating pieces also for the interpreter to make his own mark. Gubaidulina: "Particularly the last prelude in the cycle gives performers an opportunity to make the work their own . There, improvisatory passages, which every player can interpret in a different way, are interposed in the composed score. I planned this deliberately, to illustrate how an instrumentalist's creative imagination alters musical content."
Boris Pergamenshikov gives his creative imagination free rein here. The Leningrad born cellist has been an important contributor to international concert activity since emigrating to the West in 1977. His varied soloist or chamber music experience has included work with Claudio Abbado, the Amadeus and Alban Berg Quartets, Gidon Kremer, Witold Lutoslawski, Yehudi Menuhin, Krzysztof Penderecki, Mstislav Rostropovich, Andras Schiff, and Sándor Végh.
Pergamenshikov first recorded for ECM in 1985, appearing on a recording from the Lockenhaus Festival where he played music of Shostakovich with Gidon Kremer, Thomas Zehetmair, and Nobuko Imai.