This week in new classical music we highlight a big German post-romantic symphony, a piece of minimalist piano music presided over by a virtuoso pianist, and a compilation of works by a less-well-known German composer of songs.
Symphony No. 5, Mahler. Performed by the Minnesota Orchestra with Osmo Vänskä.
“Composed in 1902, [this] purely instrumental work followed upon three symphonies that had all included vocal parts. This and the opening trumpet motif, an allusion to the rhythm that begins Beethoven’s Fifth have been interpreted as Mahler’s return to a more conventional idea of the symphonic genre. Other features are less traditional, however a sometimes bewildering mixture of musical idioms reminds us of the melting-pot that Vienna was at the time, with allusions to Austrian, Bohemian and Hungarian styles. To an unsuspecting audience, the famous Adagietto for strings and harp probably the best-known of all of Mahler’s music must also have been surprising, appearing at the heart of a work which is otherwise lavishly scored and orchestrated.” (amazon.com)
For Bunita Marcus, Morton Feldman. Performed by Marc-André Hamelin.
“‘I have no problem with notes… none at all’, was Feldman’s cryptic comment on For Bunita Marcus. Throughout the seventy-two-minute duration of this extraordinary work, notes coalesce into wisps of melody which drift softly in and out of an immense silence. You are indeed, as pianist Marc-André Hamelin writes in the booklet notes, ‘about to enter a world unlike any other.'” (amazon.com)
Songs, by Robert Franz. Performed by Robin Tritschler.
“Highly regarded by such contemporaries as Mendelssohn, Schumann and Liszt, Robert Franz wrote 279 songs over the course of a long life. For this recital, Graham Johnson and tenor Robin Tritschler perform a selection of 47 of their favorites.” (amazon.com)
Our spotlight on new classical music additions is an eclectic bunch: a little-known 18th century Italian work featuring period instruments, an exciting performance of Mahler song cycles, and two contemporary trumpet concertos.
Mahler Song Cycles. Performed by Alice Coote and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra.
This compilation includes performances of Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Rückert-Lieder and Kindertotenlieder. The acclaimed mezzo-soprano Alice Coote gives a performance many are praising for its freshness (and idiosyncrasy) and she is well-matched by the orchestra, in the safe hands of Marc Albrecht.
Sonate da Camera Nos 1-6, Giovanni Stefano Carbonelli. Performed by The Illyria Consort.
“In certain respects, Giovanni Stefano Carbonelli does not quite fit the eighteenth-century mould. For a neo-Corellian, he is unusually fond of complexity, both technical and compositional, and also unusually open to other contemporary influences, such as those of Handel and Vivaldi. But the quality of his music speaks for itself – virtuosic and joyously melodic…” (cover).
Håkan Hardenberger plays Dean and Francesconi. Performed with the Gothenburg Symphony.
Two demanding contemporary works for trumpet, performed by a master soloist. Dean’s work, Dramatis Personae, is much praised for its theatricality. Interestingly, one of Francesconi’s inspirations is legendary jazz figure Miles Davis, and with this in mind the ear will listen out for any references!
This week we introduce an interesting compilation of works by, and inspired by, Schubert, a recital of intimidating Russian pieces performed by a 20 year old prodigy, and a couple of 20th century cello concertos.
In Schubert’s Company. Performed by Maxim Rysanov and Riga Sinfonietta.
“In Schubert’s Company presents violist Maxim Rysanov as a soloist, conductor, arranger and commissioner of new music. Alongside works including Schubert’s Symphony No.5, Violin Sonata No.3 and Polonaise for violin & orchestra are pieces from three contemporary composers who have drawn on Schubert as the source for their works. Winterreise, Erlkönig and his late Fantasy for violin & piano are among the inspirations behind this powerful recital that explores how the haunting beauty of Schubert’s music continues to influence on today’s performers, composers and music lovers alike.” (amazon.com)
À la Russe. Performed by Alexandre Kantorow.
“Not yet 20 years old, the French pianist and son of violinist and conductor Jean-Jacques Kantorow […] explores his Russian roots, in a recital that opens with Rachmaninov’s weighty First Piano Sonata, inspired by Goethe’s play Faust, and its three main characters, the scholar Faust, his beloved Gretchen and Mephistopheles, the Devil’s emissary. The nostalgic intimacy of Méditation and Passé Iointain, from Tchaikovsky’s Op. 72 collection, offers respite from the drama, but tension returns with Guido Agosti’s virtuosic piano arrangement of three extracts from Stravinsky’s Firebird. Kantorow closes his Russian recital with Mily Balakirev’s ‘oriental fantasy’ Islamey, one of the iconic works of the piano literature.” (amazon.com)
Cello Concertos, Shostakovich & Martinů. Performed by Christian Poltéra, Gilbert Varga and the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin.
“The two cello concertos by Dmitri Shostakovich were both written for his friend Mstislav Rostropovich but whereas the first is rhythmic and virtuosic, the second is subdued and introverted. Composed in 1966, it is often regarded as a watershed work, heralding Shostakovich’s final stylistic period marked by a certain sombreness and a trend towards more transparent scoring. The op. 126 concerto has become somewhat overshadowed by its older, more accessible sibling, something which also applies to the second work on this disc, for completely different reasons. Having completed his Cello Concerto No. 2 in 1945, Bohuslav Martinu was unsuccessful in his attempts to interest a leading cellist in promoting it [… and the work] didn’t receive its first performance until 1965, six years after Martinu’s death.” (amazon.ca)
This week we feature some large-scale recordings – a new recording of a Handel opera, and Mendelssohn’s complete symphonies for full orchestra – and a collection of concertos for multiple instruments by Telemann.
“Handel’s Ottone, re di Germania is presented here in a new recording by Max Emanuel Cencic and a superb cast, under the baton of George Petrou with Il Pomo d’Oro. Premiered in London in 1723, Ottone was one of Handel’s most successful operas in his lifetime. This rare recording breathes new life into one of the master’s greatest works and also features three ‘bonus’ arias performed in the 1726 revival” (cover).
Symphonies 1-5, Mendelssohn. Performed by the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.
“In 2016 the firebrand Canadian conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin led the Chamber Orchestra of Europe in a complete cycle of Mendelssohn’s five symphonies for full orchestra. Captured live in the magnificent acoustic of the Philharmonie de Paris, this album is a tangible record of those outstanding performances, praised internationally as much for the unity of spirit between conductor and performers as for their exquisite sensitivity and revelatory insight” (cover).
Concerti Per Molti Stromenti, Telemann. Performed by the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin.
“It has been said that Vivaldi wrote the same concerto 300 times. Could anyone possibly say that of Telemann? Not only do the specimens here feature every kind of weird and wonderful instrumental combination – three trumpets, three horns, two flutes and a calchedon (a kind of lute), and even mandolin, harp and dulcimer – they also display the most amazing variety of styles, from Vivaldian exuberance to elegant Ancian Régime dances by way of learned German counterpoint. If you ever wondered where Bach got the idea for the Brandenburg Concertos, you could do much worse than explore the concertos of Telemann…” (cover).
This week’s selection of classical music additions:
Piano concertos, Brahms. Performed by Sunwook Kim and Hallé.
“Hallé and Sir Mark Elder are reunited with Sunwook Kim in long awaited studio recordings of repertoire with which he won the Leeds Piano Competition. London-based Sunwook Kim came to international recognition when he won the prestigious Leeds International Piano Competition in 2006, aged just 18… His performance of Brahms’s Concerto No. 1 with Hallé and Sir Mark Elder in the competition’s finals attracted unanimous praise from the press… Sunwook Kim has also enjoyed an ongoing relationship with the Hallé Orchestra and Sir Mark Elder, performing in a variety of repertoire across a number of seasons. Here they return to Brahms’ two masterworks; pieces which were separated by two decades and which display very differing musical and emotional outlooks, from the more ardent First to the more rhapsodic Second. Elder and Kim perform the Second Concerto together at the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester in April 2017” (amazon.com).
Faust Symphony, Liszt; arranged by Tausig. Performed by István Liakó.
Carl Tausig was a student of Liszt’s, who transcribed his teacher’s orchestral work for piano. This is the world premier recording of that transcription, performed by the appropriately Hungarian pianist István Lajkó. Well-reviewed, this recording was an editor’s choice in the June edition of Gramophone Magazine.
Stabat Mater, Dvořák. Performed by Czech Philharmonic with the Prague Philharmonic Choir.
“Following his recent return as music director, Jirí Belohlávek and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra present a new Decca recording of Dvorak’s Stabat Mater. Praised by the Guardian for their unbounded lyricism and Czech melancholy as well as authenticity that only this orchestra can bring, Belohlávek and the CPO are joined by leading soloist Eri Nakamura, Elisabeth Kulman, Michael Spyres, and Jongmin Park” (amazon.com).
Coming soon: Handel’s Ottone; a compilation put together by Avi Avital and Omer Avital (not related); and a new recording by soprano Olga Peretyatko.
This week’s selection of new classical CDs is brought to you by the lute and the mandolin.
Bach Reimagines Bach: Lute Works, BWV 1001, 1006a & 995. Performed by William Carter.
“William Carter’s exemplary musicianship is showcased to its fullest on this new recording of Bach’s own transcriptions for the lute. Almost unplayable in parts, many musicians take certain liberties with the music so that it glows more naturally but William Carter’s determined approach to authenticity sees the lutenist achieve the near impossible: playing the music as it was originally written. The final piece undergoes the most extensive reimaginging as Bach expertly transforms the Fifth Cello Suite into a ‘new’ lute work: so successful is it that Carter considers it to be, in terms of understanding the essential nature and expressive qualities of the lute, ‘the most perfect piece of lute music in existence’.” (amazon.com)
Bach Trios. Performed by Yo-Yo Ma, Chris Thile and Edgar Meyer.
A trio of mandolin, cello and double bass sounds intriguing! The Observer suggests it takes a bit of getting used to but you will soon find yourself well-rewarded. The trio has arranged a variety of Bach works, from pieces from the Well-Tempered Clavier, through preludes, fugues and partitas, to a Sonata for viola da gamba. Worth a listen!
Heroines of Love and Loss. Performed by Ruby Hughes with Mime Yamahiro Brinkmann and Jonas Nordberg.
The lute is back in this collaboration which spotlights women in music. The women feature as subjects (for example Dido, Desdemona, the Virgin Mary) but also as composers; Barbara Strozzi, Francesca Caccini, Lucrezia Vissana. A rather neat raison d’être for a compilation!
In this week’s new classical CD additions we highlight a musical evocation of “homeland”, some large-scale Elgar, and two great pianists bumping elbows at the keyboard (a fortepiano, in fact).
Heimat. Performed by Benjamin Appl and James Baillieu.
“This is a song cycle for the twenty-first century, crafted out of works by the greatest composers of the nineteenth and twentieth. It is at one level an anthology of German Lieder and English songs, at another an intensely personal narrative. Like many song cycles, it tells the story of a young man, whom we follow from home and childhood in Germany, on his journey to new lands and – far more important – to new emotions” (Neil MacGregor, liner notes).
Symphony No. 1, Introduction and Allegro, Elgar. Performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Edward Gardner, with the Doric String Quartet.
“This new Elgar recording brings together some of Chandos’ finest exclusive British artists for the first time. The Doric String Quartet – highly praised for its series of Haydn and Schubert quartets – joins the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Edward Gardner in the ‘Introduction and Allegro’, one of Elgar’s masterpieces. Gardner here captures the subtle contrast between the solo quartet and the string ensemble, while also reconciling a wide variety of musical ideas and tempo fluctuations, not least the ever-popular ‘Welsh’ solo viola melody. The full Orchestra then appears in a passionate account of the majestic Symphony No. 1, a much-loved work ever since its premiere in 1906” (amazon.com).
Fantasie in F Minor and Other Piano Duets, Schubert. Performed by Andreas Staier and Alexander Melnikov.
“‘In Upper Austria, I find my compositions everywhere, especially in the monasteries of Sankt Florian and Kremsmünster, where with the help of a decent pianist I performed my four-hand variations and marches with great success.’ So wrote Franz Schubert in 1825, evoking the popular nineteenth-century genre that publishers were always pestering him to write. But the Viennese composer went much further than the traditional German dances and sets of variations, as is shown by the overwhelming Fantasie in F minor, one of the tragic masterpieces of his last year” (cover).
We have recently received some interesting new classical albums, and here’s a small selection of additions (more on the way!):
Elgar & Tchaikovsky. Performed by Johannes Moser.
“The profoundly moving, elegiac lyricism of Elgar and the wistful charm and brilliance of Tchaikovsky are on full display in this irresistible new release from Pentatone played with consummate virtuosity by the German-Canadian cellist Johannes Moser with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande under Andrew Manze. Composed at the end of the First World War, Elgar’s powerful Cello Concerto in E minor is one of his best-loved and most deeply-felt works…” (amazon.com). Tchaikovsky contributes four works for cello and orchestra to this compilation: Variations on a Rococo Theme; Nocturne; Andante Cantabile; and Pezzo Capriccioso.
Das Lied von der Erde, Mahler. Performed by Jonas Kaufmann.
“Gustav Mahler’s masterpiece Das Lied von der Erde (Song of the Earth) has always been subtitled as a Symphony for Tenor and Alto (or Baritone) and traditionally two voices have sung the six movements of the work. However Jonas Kaufmann felt differently about this and decided to sing both parts himself. This is the first time that one voice has sung both parts for a recording of this piece. Last June, in the tradition-steeped Great Hall of the Vienna Musikverein, where a number of outstanding Mahler performances have taken place, Kaufmann joined the Vienna Philharmonic under the baton of Jonathan Nott for this historic recording. According to the Kurier newspaper after the performance, ‘this experiment went far beyond the risky test phase and, in the end, became a complete work of art in itself. What would normally be considered pretentious is absolutely logical in the case of Kaufmann, who is able to showcase the splendor of his baritone as well as the radiant upper reaches of his range.'” (amazon.com)
Music for the 100 Years’ War. Performed by the Binchois Consort.
“This recording features music of predominantly royal association spanning the reign of Henry V, the Battle of Agincourt and its aftermath, and the coronations in England and France of the boy king Henry VI. The Binchois Consort under Andrew Kirkman bring this music vividly to life, while the copiously illustrated booklet is a pleasure in itself.” (amazon.com)
Coming soon: Heimat, performed by Benjamin Appl; Elgar, Symphony No. 1, performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Doric String Quartet.
This week we throw the spotlight on some new Bach arrivals, some astonishing pieces of great Baroque music.
Goldberg Variations, J. S. Bach. Performed by Beatrice Rana.
“In the wake of unanimous critical acclaim for her recording debut in concertos by Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky, Beatrice Rana responds with a courageous solo outing, exploring Bach’s masterwork in the variation form with a rewarding, personal journey through the composer’s incredible contrapuntal writing and the range of the emotional worlds distilled in each of the Aria’s 30 permutations” (cover).
St Matthew Passion, J. S. Bach. Performed by Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists together with various soloists, conducted by John Eliot Gardiner.
“It strikes me that Bach made a quite extraordinary imaginative leap when he conceived this dazzling, multi-dimensional piece of music theatre. In avoiding the typically saccharine, maudlin approach his contemporaries sometimes adopted in their Lutheran oratorio-Passions, Bach’s whole focus is on justifying Luther’s great claim for music, that its notes should ‘make the text come alive'” (John Eliot Gardiner, p14 of liner notes).
Organ Works, volume 2, J. S. Bach. Performed by Masaaki Suzuki.
“For [this volume], Suzuki returned to more familiar ground – the chapel of the Kobe Shoin Women’s University where the great majority of his recordings with Bach Collegium Japan have taken place. The chapel houses a French classical organ built in 1983 by Marc Garnier, and on it Suzuki performs a highly symmetrical programme with the large-scale chorale partita BWV 768 at its centre. The work is known as ‘Sei gegrüßet, Jesu gütig’, although the chorale text that it is structured upon most probably is that of ‘O Jesu, du edle Gabe’. On either side the partita is flanked by an arrangement by Bach of concertos by Vivaldi, and a chorale prelude on ‘Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier’. The album opens and closes with a Prelude and Fugue, in G major and C major respectively” (amazon.com).
This week we spotlight some new and interesting chamber compilations: an early Baroque exploration of the seasons on viola da gamba, Rachmaninov piano trios, and an arrangement of two Philip Glass études for piano and string quartet.
Preghiera: Rachmaninov Piano Trios. Performed by Gidon Kremer, Giedré Dirvanauskaitè, Daniil Trifonov.
“Legendary Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer celebrates his 70th birthday with an all-Rachmaninov recital in partnership with brilliant young Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov and Lithuanian cellist Giedré Dirvanauskaitè. The two Trios élégiaques are prefaced by Fritz Kreisler’s haunting arrangement of themes from the Piano Concerto No. 2″ (cover).
Piano Works, Philip Glass. Performed by Víkingur Ólafsson.
“Visionary Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson celebrates Philip Glass’s 80th birthday with his personal selection of pieces from the minimalist master’s two books of solo piano Études – works in which, Ólafsson says, ‘Glass seems to be exploring the very essence of his ideas’ – together with brand-new reworkings for piano and string quartet of two of the Études plus the hypnotic ‘Opening’ from Glass’s classic 1982 album Glassworks…” (cover).
New Era, Stamitz, Danzi, Mozart. Performed by Andreas Ottensamer.
“Andreas Ottensamer’s third solo album is dedicated to the Mannheim School: the 18th century melting pot of revolutionary musical experimentation. Attracting the best musicians from all over Europe, Mannheim became the birthplace of the modern orchestra and the source for the first great clarinet concertos. Featuring duets with his outstanding Berliner Philharmoniker colleagues Albrecht Mayer and Emmanuel Pahud, Andreas celebrates this new era of explosive, colourful and virtuosic music” (cover).
The Four Seasons, Christopher Simpson. Performed by Sirius Viols.
“Antonio Vivaldi was not the only composer of the Baroque who used the idea of the seasons to write his most popular work, they also inspired Christopher Simpson, the best viola da gamba virtuoso of the early English Baroque to use the theme for composition. Now Hille Perl and her ensemble, Sirius Viols, have recorded this colourful piece, a work abounding in dynamism, virtuosity and experimental verve. They guide the listener on a musical tour of icy winter, burgeoning spring and sultry summer all the way to multi-coloured autumn” (cover).