Gramophone Magazine Editor's Choice

May 2009

Disc of the Month

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Stephen Hough in recital

Awards:

Gramophone Magazine

Disc of the Month - May 2009

Label:

Hyperion

Catalogue No:

CDA67686

Discs:

1

Release date:

2nd March 2009

Barcode:

0034571176864

Medium:

CD

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Stephen Hough in recital


Beethoven:

Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111

Chabrier:

Feuillet d'album

Chopin:

Waltz No. 7 in C sharp minor, Op. 64 No. 2

Waltz No. 2 in A flat major 'Grande Valse Brillante', Op. 34 No. 1

Debussy:

La plus que lente

Liszt:

Valse oubliée No. 1, S.215/1

Mephisto Waltz No. 1

Mendelssohn:

Variations sérieuses in D minor Op. 54

Saint-Saëns:

Valse nonchalante, Op. 110

trad.:

Matilda’s Waltz

Arranged by Stephen Hough

Weber:

Invitation to the Dance, Op. 65


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The Hough discography is enhanced by this delightful recital disc from the winner of the Gramophone Gold Disc Award, acclaimed recently as ‘Britain’s finest pianist’ (Sunday Times), and as one of the six greatest pianists performing in the world today (The Guardian).

The selection of works reflects a concert programme which Stephen performed all round the world in the 2007/8 season, with a quirkily-addressed theme of Variations and Waltzes. These appear in many guises: for instance the ‘first half’ concludes with Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No 32 in C minor, with its extraordinary set of variations in the second movement. Then Stephen takes the listener on a whirlwind tour of the waltz, performing some of the triumphs of the genre with his trademark immaculate polish and unerring style. The disc ends with some typical Hough whimsy—as ever, utterly charming and full of surprises.

The Guardian

6th March 2009

****

“Though labelled as "Stephen Hough in recital", this is in fact a studio-made recording, though based on a recital that Hough toured in the first half of last year. It is a typically thoughtful piece of programme building, which Hough describes as "two highly contrasting mini-recitals". Works dominated by variation form - the Mendelssohn, the Beethoven sonata - are set again a collection of pieces built around the waltz, beginning with Weber and ending with Liszt's Valse Oubliée No 1 and first Mephisto Waltz, as well as an arrangement of Hough's own, and taking in examples by Chopin, Saint-Saëns, Chabrier and Debussy en route. The selection of works highlights different aspects of Hough's own versatile pianism, too. His clear-sighted path through both the Mendelssohn and Beethoven, every detail perfectly placed, belies the charm he brings to the bravura glitter of the Weber, the subtle ambiguities of Debussy's La Plus que Lente, and the more insidious allure of the Liszt. It's a beautifully accomplished sequence.”

BBC Music Magazine

April 2009

****

“The Mendelssohn Variations come over as truly 'sérieuses', on a par with anything by his friend Schumann, thanks to Hough's vivid characterisation and dramatic flair. And if the 'Arietta' of the Beethoven Sonata does not quite reach this level, it is partly because an over-brightness in the treble lends a somewhat strenuous edge to some of the loudest passages. But Hough's control of the different stands is little short of miraculous.”

Gramophone Magazine

May 2009

“…(what magically hushed pianissimos) and masterly pedalling… each element adjusted to each composer yet all unmistakably Stephen Hough - vintage Hough at that, for here is a pianist at the height of his powers. The "second half" is devoted to waltz time, beginning with Weber's pioneering Invitation (1819)... Hough's is the finest performance I have ever heard... exuberant, seductive and scintillating by turns with the repeats (all are given) subtly varied second time round. A great piano recording and front runner for instrumental disc of the year.”

Gramophone Classical Music Guide

2010

“The menu for this sumptuous banquet, with its tasty hors d'oeuvre, substantial classic dish as the main course followed by a variety of unexpected and nourishing desserts, is perfectly balanced – enough to fill you without being bloated, and nothing that is hard to chew or liable to give you indigestion. But it is the different wines accompanying each course that make this meal special, that is to say the discriminating premier cru tone, touch (what magically hushed pianissimos) and masterly pedalling to which the diners are treated, each element adjusted to each composer yet all unmistakably Stephen Hough – vintage Hough at that, for here is a pianist at the height of his powers.
This is the sort of programme and style of playing redolent of the so-called Golden Age of Rachmaninov, Hofmann, Godowsky, Cortot et al but which, in this earnest urtext era, is encountered all too infrequently. The Mendelssohn (with some seriously brisk tempi – try variations Nos 8 and 9) and a taut, crisply articulated account of Beethoven's Op 111 explore two aspects of variation form.
The 'second half' is devoted to waltz time, beginning with Weber's pioneering Invitation (1819), the earliest work in this recital. For some unaccountable reason it is rarely heard in its original form these days. Hough's is at his finest – exuberant, seductive and scintillating by turns with the repeats (all are given) subtly varied second time round. After two delectably suave Chopin waltzes, Hough offers three contrasted Gallic takes on 3/4 time, imbuing each with the kind of affection and charm for which Cherkassky was famous. After this he cleverly takes us gently by the ear via Liszt's nostalgic Valseoubliée No 1 to the pianistic diablerie of his Mephisto Waltz No 1. Rounding off this masterclass is Hough's own witty transformation of Waltzing Matilda from its normal duple time to triple time. A great piano recording.”

Click on any of the works listed above for alternative recordings.

Editor's Choice

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Vaet - Missa Ego flos campi and other works

Vaet - Missa Ego flos campi and other works


Clemens:

Ego flos campi

Vaet:

Antevenis virides ‘In laudem Illustrissimi Principis Albertis Bavariae Ducis’ 6vv

Missa Ego flos campi 6vv

Ecce apparebit Dominus 5vv

Magnificat octavi toni 4/5vv

Miserere mei, Deus 5vv

Filiae Jerusalem 5vv

Spiritus Domini 6vv

Musica Dei donum 5vv

Salve regina 6vv


The vocal sextet Cinquecento are rapidly becoming one of the most admired early music ensembles recording today. The lithe, clear yet rich and warm tones of the six singers are ideal for the complex polyphony from the 16th-century Hapsburg court which they have made their speciality.

This latest release presents the music of Jacobus Vaet, repertoire they began to explore in their first disc for Hyperion (Music at the Court of Maximilian II CDA67579). Vaet would undoubtedly be among the best-known composers of the sixteenth century had he not died at the age of about thirty-seven. In his short career Vaet produced, among other things, nine settings of the mass, and his Missa Ego flos campi, a parody Mass on an extraordinary motet by Clemens non Papa (which also appears on the disc), is a notable example of his particular artistry. A fascinating selection of motets demonstrates the composer’s vivid approach to word-setting and imaginative choice of texts.

“…these are really good singers, and when the construction of the music invites them to unwind (as in the wonderful Spiritus Domini) we are treated to a delicious feast of harmonic tension and inwardly-sensed architecture.” BBC Music Magazine, May 2009 ***

“Cinquecento's one-to-a-part approach, with countertenors on the top lines, is ideally suited to this repertory and really works wonders. At first they give the impression of remaining within the same broad dynamic range… But at telling moments they modulate their delivery to considerable expressive effect... This highly accomplished singing does not draw attention to itself... but focuses attention squarely on the composer.” Gramophone Magazine, May 2009

“The key work is Missa ego flos campi, a parody of a Jacobus Clemens non Papa seven-voice motet in which the composer explores textural variation to telling effect. Elsewhere, a choice selection of motets illustrates Vaet’s gift for moving and poetic word-setting.” Sunday Times, 29th March 2009 ****

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - May 2009

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Schumann - Music for cello and piano

Schumann - Music for cello and piano


Schumann:

Fantasiestücke, Op. 73

Adagio and Allegro in A flat major, Op. 70

Violin Sonata No. 3 in A minor, WoO 27

arranged by Steven Isserlis

Abendlied (No. 12 from Klavierstücke für kleine und große Kinder, Op. 85)

Romances (3), Op. 94

Stücke im Volkston (5), Op. 102


‘There is no composer to whom I feel closer than to Schumann. He has been a beloved friend since I was a child; I remain as fascinated today as I was then by his unique blend of poetry, ecstatic strength and confessional intimacy.’ Steven Isserlis’s own words give the background to this fascinating disc.

Schumann’s affection for the cello ran deep. It was an instrument he had played in his youth, and considered taking up again when, at the age of twenty-two, an accident to his hand forced him to relinquish his dream of being a virtuoso pianist. ‘I want to take up the violoncello again (one needs only the left hand for this) and it will be very useful to me in composing symphonies’, he wrote to his mother. The sound of the cello played without the right hand would have been somewhat minimalist; but his love for the instrument is clearly demonstrated by the cello parts in all four of his symphonies, as well as in the concertos for piano and violin, and of course throughout his chamber music. As the great musicologist Donald Francis Tovey put it: ‘The qualities of the violoncello are exactly those of the beloved dreamer whom we know as Schumann.’

“Isserlis’s passion for Schumann overcomes the composer’s threadbare cello repertoire with this selection of works. But Abendlied still charms, an octave down, and the Stücke im Volkston is a blast of untranscribed Technicolor, picked out with vigour, charisma and delicacy.” The Times, 28th February 2009 ***

“This music sings and soars, flying to the instrument's highest reaches with dreamy eloquence and a sense of rightness, even though some of the works were intended for other instruments...with pianist Dénes Várjon as equal partner, [Isserlis] plays with fierceness and soul.” The Observer, 21st February 2009

“The really exciting performance here is Steven Isserlis's transcription of Schumann's valedictory Third Sonata: it's as if he's been preparing all his life to launch into its dark storm. This fabulously virtuosic and psychologically complex work forces his musicianship up to a new level. It's full of fiendish passages, lying extremely awkwardly on the instrument, but, even in the Finale, Isserlis masters these explosive flourishes and has the vital impetus to make an eccentric work feel whole.” BBC Music Magazine, April 2009 *****

“Perhaps the most ravishing item on the disc is the poignant Abendlied, arranged by Joachim from its piano duet form but then further borrowed by Isserlis, playing it down an octave. In his hands it's as moving a wordless Lied as anything you could imagine. For all that Isserlis has made many wonderful recordings, not least his seminal Bach Suites, I think this might just be his finest yet, with warmly detailed sound... and a typically acute note from the cellist himself.” Gramophone Magazine, May 2009

“If the Five Pieces in Folk Mode, Op 102, actually written for the cello, stand out from the rest, the whole programme is a delight, as both artists catch the music’s poetic ebb and flow to perfection” Sunday Times, 15th March 2009 ****

“Steven Isserlis has long been a stalwart champion of Schumann, through his advocacy of not only the often-maligned Concerto but also the chamber works. For this disc he has had to beg, borrow and steal but the results absolutely justify the means.
In the wrong hands, a work such as the Fantasiestücke, Op 73 (which Isserlis plays in its earliest incarnation), can sound a touch seasick, with too much swelling through every phrase, and a loss of the overall shape as a result. But how well Isserlis paces everything; some of his tempi are quite spacious but this gives the music a wonderfully considered and luxuriant aspect; the results never ever sound contrived. That's partly to do with Isserlis's sound (extravagantly he uses not one but two Strads on this recording), which has a very focused centre to it, but also his utterly innate relationship with pianist Dénes Várjon.
Perhaps the most ravishing item on the disc is the poignant Abendlied, arranged by Joachim from its piano duet form but then further borrowed by Isserlis, playing it down an octave. In his hands it's as moving a wordless Lied as anything you could imagine.
The substantial work here, though, is the Third Violin Sonata. Two of its movements – the Intermezzo and finale – originated in the multi-composer 'FAE' Sonata written for Joachim (for which Brahms famously wrote the Scherzo). Schumann later added two more movements to form his last large-scale work. It decisively refutes the theory that he had – metaphorically and literally – lost the plot by this stage. While it certainly doesn't conform to standard 19th-century sonata form, in Isserlis's hands it's a work of compelling power, whether in the terrifying scherzo sections of the second movement or the dreamy Intermezzo, a muchneeded point of repose in a work of great tumult.
The disc ends with the Fünf Stücke im Volkston, and finds Schumann in a more folky idiom. Too often these pieces can sound like an awkward amalgam of styles, but Isserlis again is utterly inside them, revealing Schumann's innovation even at this late stage, from the edginess of the first, via the tender, Brahmsian second one to the spirited fifth piece, where Mendelssohn collides with Bartók.
For all that Isserlis has made many wonderful recordings, not least his seminal Bach Suites, this might just be his finest yet, with warmly detailed sound and a typically acute note from the cellist himself.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

“For any collector wishing to explore Schumann's music for cello and piano, Isserlis and Varjon are the obvious partnership of choice, and it is hard to imagine such superlative performances being easily matched, even less displaced.” International Record Review, July/August 2011

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - May 2009

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Handel: Alcina

Handel: Alcina


Joyce DiDonato (Alcina), Maite Beaumont (Ruggiero), Karina Gauvin (Morgana), Sonia Prina (Bradamante), Kobie Van Rensburg (Oronte), Laura Cherici (Oberto), Vito Priante (Melisso)

Il Complesso Barocco, Alan Curtis

Under baroque-pioneer conductor Alan Curtis, the sorceress Alcina bewitches as never before for Handel year 2009. Alan Curtis, lauded by Opera as “one of our finest conductors of Baroque opera,” illumines Handel’s masterpiece, Alcina, by casting, as heroine, the brilliant Joyce DiDonato. Since Alcina is historically dared by virtuosic sopranos like Sutherland and Battle, this innovative recording with a mezzo is a must-have not just for Alcina freaks but all who adore sensational vocalism. As Handel did in his time, Curtis arrays our era’s finest Baroque singers – such as Maite Beaumont and Karina Gauvin – in supporting roles around his star

“This Alcina is polished and passionate, the standard of da capo ornamentation unsurpassed. The acoustical environment of this recording is near-perfect. Every detail can be clearly heard, in part because of the minimal instrumental resources Curtis employs and his keen sense of architecture and pacing of Handel's music. Technically, DiDonato is superb: her Alcina is a complex, feminine creature, vain and vindictive - listen to her spine-tingling performance of "Ombre pallide" and the recitative that precedes it in Act 2.” Gramophone Magazine, May 2009

“…mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato brings firebrand fioritura (vocal embellishment), impeccably naturalistic recitative and an inimitable everywoman pathos to the soprano title-role.” BBC Music Magazine, June 2009 ***

“. Here Joyce DiDonato sings the marvellous title role with dramatic fire and unfailing musicality. Her suitors Ruggiero (Maite Beaumont) and Bradamante (Sonia Prina) are well contrasted, and there’s a delightful Morgana from Karina Gauvin. The scholar-conductor Alan Curtis leads his band Il Complesso Barocco to play with careful elegance and the performance as a whole is refreshingly crisp and disciplined.” The Telegraph, 28th April 2009 ****

“Joyce DiDonato takes the title role. Nothing about Alcina is quite what it seems, and here we have a mezzo singing a soprano's music with considerable finesse, but with occasional moments of telltale strain. This is also a performance of immense calculation, so that while we're aware of Alcina's allure, we're also continually questioning her emotional veracity...Karina Gauvin is to die for as Morgana, and Kobie van Rensburg is the best of all Orontes.” The Guardian, 10th April 2009 ****

“Joyce DiDonato’s velvety, sensuous mezzo is a surprising choice for Handel’s majestically tormented sorceress, darker of voice than Sutherland, and she might have trouble with higher-lying phrases in the theatre. She rises magnificently to the challenges of Alcina’s great, wrenching scenes of despair and is preferable both to Sutherland’s droopy wordlessness and Fleming’s smoochy, Handel-on-Broadway solecisms. Maite Beaumont’s Ruggiero is in the Berganza class, while Karina Gauvin (Morgana), Sonia Prina (Bradamante), Kobie van Rensburg (Oronte) and Vito Priante (Melisso) bring character and impeccable stylistic credentials to the supporting roles. This is the must-have Alcina on disc.” Sunday Times, 22nd March 2009 ****

“Handel's music is beyond magnificent and DiDonato's sorceress Alcina proves a triumph of dramatic fire. Karina Gauvin's Morgana suffers most beautifully; Maite Beaumont's hero Ruggiero less so. Yet no voice ruins the show, and Alan Curtis's Il Complesso Barocco creates orchestral beauty with every note.” The Times, 14th March 2009 ****

“Alan Curtis clearly welcomed the chance to add this masterpiece to the gradually expanding list of Handel operas he has recorded with Il Complesso Barocco. This Alcina is polished and passionate, the standard of da capo ornamentation unsurpassed. The acoustical environment of this recording is near-perfect. Every detail can be clearly heard, in part because of the minimal instrumental resources Curtis employs and his keen sense of the architecture and pacing of Handel's music.
Handel knew his singers' individual strengths and played to them. Curtis, too, knows how to coax the best from his singers. Joyce DiDonato, Maite Beaumont and Karina Gauvin have worked with him before and contribute vividly informed portrayals of the principal characters that stand comparison with the best performances on previous recordings. Technically, DiDonato is superb: her Alcina is a complex, feminine creature, vain and vindictive – listen to her spine-tingling performance of 'Ombre pallide' and the recitative that precedes it in Act 2.
Beaumont is at ease in Carestini's role as Ruggiero – heroic when required (as in 'Bramo di trionfar', the discarded aria, originally in Act 1 scene 7, that Curtis reinstated) – and more than equal to the demands of the much-loved 'Verdi prati' (Act 2). Gauvin, her silk-clad Morgana fully as manipulative as Alcina, and Prina, the ever faithful Bradamante, each bring tremendous spirit and sensuousness to their roles. If Van Rensburg's Oronte wavers momentarily in Act 3, Priante's steadfast Melisso and Cherici's courageous Oberto show the way. This could well be the Alcina we've been waiting for.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

“[DiDonato is] dramatically very impressive, while Maite Beaumont is a strong Ruggiero and Karina Gauvin a seductive Morgana.” Penguin Guide, 2010 ***

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - May 2009

Building a Library

Also Recommended - May 2016

DG Archiv Alan Curtis Handel Operas - 4777374

(CD - 3 discs)

$31.50

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Paganini: Caprices for solo violin, Op. 1 Nos. 1-24 (complete)

Paganini: Caprices for solo violin, Op. 1 Nos. 1-24 (complete)


Paganini’s 24 Caprices Op 1 were considered simply unplayable by most contemporary violinists, but the composer himself bestrode their difficulties with contemptuous ease. A forerunner and inspirer of his younger contemporaries Chopin, Liszt and Berlioz, Paganini was the archetype of the virtuoso performer. His technique was so phenomenal, and his saturnine presence so magnetic, that he was popularly believed to be in league with the Devil. He communicated a new vision of what the violin could achieve.

Virtuoso violinists are plentiful these days, but the challenges posed by the Caprices are still daunting and it is a rare performer who can achieve such insouciant brilliance in this repertoire as the young German violinist Tanja Becker-Bender has in her debut recording for Hyperion.

“If anyone is ever likely to convince you that there is more to Paganini's music than Rossini-in-technical overdrive melodramatics, it is Tanja Becker-Bender. …Becker-Bender gives the Italian's coruscating roulades more room to breathe, characterising each caprice as though it was microcosmic masterpiece of musical expression. Hers may not be the most viscerally exciting version ever recorded, but it is certainly the most satisfying.” BBC Music Magazine, November 2009 ****

“Becker-Bender’s performance is noteworthy for the nonchalance with which she glosses over these difficulties with enough mental effort left over to convincingly hold the musical thought and line...She plays with intensity and maturity, is brilliant of tone in the higher registers, and full-bodiedly gutsy lower down. The performance is impressive on every level” Charlotte Gardner, bbc.co.uk, 27th March 2009

“After nearly 200 years, the Paganini Caprices still present a formidable challenge to violinists. The character of the music may persuade them to adopt a bold, theatrical approach (without minding too much about small imperfections of tuning or passages of rough tone); others may prefer a more careful, considered attitude, striving for accuracy and beauty. Tanja Becker- Bender belongs to the second camp. For a few minutes you might wonder if she is missing something of the virtuoso thrill transmitted, but soon you'll be won over.
Adopting generally slower speeds, she has time to turn the music gracefully, articulate cleanly, achieve remarkable purity of tuning, and use variations of tone-colour to open up the music's expressive potential. This results in a sparkling, cleaned-up version of Paganini, sounding the more amazing for its polish and clarity, and bringing into focus the poetic, romantic sensibility that enthralled the composer's contemporaries.
Rarely have the flute and horn imitations in the Ninth Caprice been more persuasively performed, and in No 21, marked amoroso, Becker-Bender manages to retain a tender, intimate tone where many of her rivals equate amorousness with crude intensity. The more brilliant pieces are just as successful. Paganini himself would surely have been impressed and delighted.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

“Adopting generally slower speeds than Rogliano, she has time to turn the music more gracefully, articulate more cleanly, achieve remarkable purity of tuning, and use variations of tone-colour to open up the music's expressive potential. This results in a sparkling, cleaned-up version of Paganini, sounding the more amazing for its polish and clarity, and bringing into focus the poetic, romantic sensibility that enthralled the composer's contemporaries.” Gramophone Magazine, May 2009

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - May 2009

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Artur Rubinstein

Artur Rubinstein

Live, Moscow, Great Hall Moscow Conservatory, 1st October, 1964


Chopin:

Polonaise No. 5 in F sharp minor, Op. 44

Impromptu No. 3 in G flat major, Op. 51

Nocturne No. 8 in D flat major, Op. 27 No. 2

Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 35 'Marche funèbre'

Barcarolle in F sharp major, Op. 60

Étude Op. 25 No. 1 in A flat major 'Aeolian Harp'

Étude Op. 25 No. 5 in E minor

Étude Op. 10 No. 4 in C sharp minor

Étude Op. 10 No. 5 in G flat major 'Black Key'

Waltz No. 3 in A minor 'Grande Valse Brillante', Op. 34 No. 2

Polonaise No. 6 in A flat major, Op. 53 'Héroïque'

Debussy:

Préludes - Book 2: No. 8, Ondine

Schumann:

Fantasiestücke, Op. 12 No. 1 'Des Abends'

Villa-Lobos:

O Polichinelo (from Prole do Bebê, book 1)


Artur Rubinstein's charismatic personality and unique ability to connect with an audience made each of his concert appearances an event. Surprisingly, the vast majority of his recorded output - whether on record or film - was made in the recording studio.This rare film, preserved in the vaults of the Russian State television archives for nearly 50 years, shows Rubinstein at his prime playing in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory.This historic concert both testifies to Rubinstein's freer and risk-taking approach when in front of an audience and allows us to share the electric atmosphere of his live appearances. BONUS: 1928 footage accompanying a silent film

“From the archives of Russian state television, this astonishing film captures the great Rubinstein holding his Moscow audience spellbound.” BBC Music Magazine, May 2009 *****

“Considering his celebrity, longevity and huge studio recording legacy, there is very little film of Rubinstein in concert. Indeed, this is the only full solo recital I can recall and as such is immensely valuable… fine as are most of his studio recordings, Rubinstein played with a greater freedom and daring when in front of an audience. The playing, of course, is heart-warming... Everything seems so inevitable and right, whether in the caressing phrases of the Barcarolle or the bravura of the A flat Polonaise, the inevitable trademark conclusion to any Rubinstein recital.” Gramophone Magazine, May 2009

“Considering his celebrity, longevity and huge studio recording legacy, there is very little film of Rubinstein in concert. Indeed, this is the only full solo recital one can recall and as such is immensely valuable, not least because the printed programme is devoted entirely to the composer with whom he was most closely associated and because, fine as are most of his studio recordings, Rubinstein played with a greater freedom and daring when in front of an audience.
The film of the occasion, preserved in the vaults of the Russian State television archives for nearly 50 years, provides a vivid reminder of this great artist's idiosyncrasies – the dignified, immobile posture, the expressionless face and the little tug at his lapels before the start of each item.
The playing, of course, is heart-warming, the kind that can absorb the odd fluff, though the memory lapse in the Scherzo of the Sonata is disconcerting (he has to make an unwritten repeat before ad libbing his way into the Trio).
Everything seems so inevitable and right, whether in the caressing phrases of the Barcarolle or the bravura of the A flat Polonaise, the inevitable trademark conclusion to any Rubinstein recital. Aficionados will relish his only known performance of the Aeolian Harp Study, Op 25 No 1. (The bonuses are two short – 1'45” – silent films of excerpts from two études shot in slow motion in Canada in 1928.)”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

GGramophone Magazine

DVD of the Month - May 2009

DVD Video

Region: 0

Format: NTSC

Medici Arts Classic Archive - 3078548

(DVD Video)

$21.50

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Suk: Asrael Symphony, Op. 27

Suk: Asrael Symphony, Op. 27

Live recording


"I was saved by music," wrote Czech composer Josef Suk about his 'Asrael' Symphony, a work born out of tragedy and the loss of his teacher Antonín Dvorák in 1904. While composing the first part of a funeral symphony named after the biblical angel of death, who leads souls of deceased to the land of eternal blissfulness, Suk also lost his wife, and Dvorák's favourite daughter, Otilie. Suk's greatest work remains a masterpiece of the late-Romantic repertoire conducted in a masterful and intense performance, by Vladimir Askenazy. First SACD of this repertoire.

“Ashkenazy stresses the lyricism as well as the anguish of Suk's score; this is a performance of great dignity and nobility, with fine attention to detail, especially in the often complex woodwind writing. …the recording sound is outstanding: the effect of the first movement's coda, for instance, with its keening violins, minatory brass fanfares and remorseless bass drum beats, is overwhelming.” BBC Music Magazine, July 2009 ****

“If Asrael is Suk’s masterpiece, then here’s a recording to match it” Evening Standard, 28th Jan 2009 ****

“As Rafael Kubelík's uniquely powerful (and idiomatic) Bavarian Radio tape (see below) is currently elusive, there's certainly room for Ashkenazy's marginally fleeter, cleaner, texturally airier conception. He holds together the sometimes disjunct finale with skill, avoiding any hint of lassitude or bombast; the understated optimism and luminosity of the coda is most moving.
This hybrid SACD, a live recording from which applause has been excised, comes with helpful booklet-notes by Jan Smaczny. Helsinki's Finlandia Hall may look better than it sounds but its acoustic presents no problems to this production team.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

“As Rafael Kubelík's uniquely powerful (and idiomatic) Bavarian Radio tape… currently elusive, there's certainly room for Ashkenazy's marginally fleeter, cleaner, texturally airier conception. He holds together the sometimes disjunct finale with skill, avoiding any hint of lassitude or bombast; the understated optimism and luminosity of the coda I found most moving.” Gramophone Magazine, May 2009

“Vladimir Ashkenazy and the Helsinki orchestra give a searing account of this neglected masterpiece” Sunday Telegraph, 22 Feb 2009

“Ashkenazy and the Helsinki Philharmonic find their way through this sprawling landscape of grief with an impressive sensitivity but it's a long, painful journey to the calm of the C major resolution.” The Observer, 8th March 2009

“Finished in 1906, Josef Suk's symphony Asrael is one of the world's more neglected masterpieces. It's tumultuous, high-protein music, rich in grief yet life-enhancing, inspired by two deaths in the composer's family: first his father-in-law, Dvorák, then his wife. Ashkenazy's special feeling for Central European repertoire is much in evidence, and there's no Scandinavian cold about the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra” The Times, 7th February 2009 ****

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - May 2009

Super Audio CD

Format:

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Ondine - ODE11325

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Bernstein: Mass

Bernstein: Mass


Randall Scarlata (baritone)

Celebrant Absolute Ensemble, Chorus sine nomine, Company of Music, Tölzer Knabenchor & Tonkünstler-Orchester Niederösterreich, Kristjan Järvi

Chandos Disc of the Month – 2-CD set at mid-price

‘He was a great individual, totally unafraid to take risks and largely misunderstood because people didn’t see his universality,’ Kristjan Jarvi on Leonard Bernstein.

One of his most controversial compositions, Bernstein’s Mass was written at the request of Jacqueline Kennedy Onnassis for the opening of the John F.Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC and received its gala premiere at the venue’s opening on 8 September 1971. Bernstein declared that his intention in writing the piece had been ‘to communicate as directly and universally as I can a reaffirmation of faith.’ Recalling Britten’s War Requiem in its use of Catholic liturgical text interrupted with commentary, the work caused a storm of controversy particularly with its exploration of the concerns of the era – Nixon and Vietnam. Unlike Britten, however, as with many of his compositions, Bernstein brought together an embarrassment of riches of musical styles both classical and popular music at the start of the 1970s. The New York Times notes, ‘Bernstein left nothing of himself out of Mass, and like the man who wrote it, the piece demands to be noticed… beneath the original dramatic conception, the creative exuberance, the showbiz glitter and the ear-catching set numbers is a sophisticated, carefully controlled piece of musical craftsmanship that repays close scrutiny… an extravagant, exuberant and endlessly inventive creation…’ Mass is now recognised as one of the central works of Twentieth Century American music, and its political and cultural importance as well as amazing music extends its relevance to today.

The Times wrote of a recent performance by Kristjan Jarvi and the Tonkunstler Orchestra. ‘The conductor Kristjan Jarvi is bringing a bracing blast of Bernstein.’ Der Standard noted ‘… There has not been this much drama for a long time... conductor Kristjan Jarvi, together with his his Absolute Ensemble New York, the Tonkunstler Orchestra, Chorus sine nomine, Company of music and the Tolzer Boys’ Choir, presents the theme of modern man’s crisis of faith…’ ‘Kristjan Jarvi proves himself a perfect strategist with a real feeling for Bernstein’s tonal dramatisation. He creates a monumental theatre of sound …’ Kronen Zeitung.

Leading Baritone Randall Scarlata takes the role of the celebrant, a role he has performed on many occasions. He is especially recognised for his performances of American repertoire. The Boston Globe recently commented, ‘A triumph – this baritone has in his keeping the vocal wherewithal to do just about anything he wants.’

“Kristjan Järvi directs his forces efficiently but his no-nonsense approach diminishes the work's endearing stylistic and emotional sprawl. …overall the feeling is that of a work being acted, rather than lived through, particularly with Randall Scarlata's over-emphatic Celebrant.” BBC Music Magazine, March 2009 ***

“…Järvi and his celebrant Randall Scarlata are profoundly uninhibited are the instrumental playing - whether evoking Sousa, edgy rock or free jazz-like liberation - is proudly physical, and locks into whichever idiom Bernstein demands in the moment with horse-sure certainty.” Gramophone Magazine, May 2009

“It's a tour de force for conductor Kristjan Järvi, who, in addition to marshalling the enormous forces required - three choirs, two orchestras, soloists and a rock band - takes a speaking role as one of the cynics hounding Randall Scarlata's volatile Celebrant. Engineered over a colossal dynamic range, the sound is sensational.” The Guardian, 13th March 2009 ****

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - May 2009

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