Browsing: CD and Book Reviews

In the early 1980s, the phenomenal Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer recorded for Philips an account of the Beethoven concerto that was almost universally reviled. It contained two cadenzas written at the soloist’s request by the Russian composer Alfred Schnittke, a self-styled polystylist who built some of his works from fragments of many others. Each of the cadenzas contained snippets of every major violin concerto from Bach to Berg, and the western music establishment recoiled as it if had been struck by a falling sputnik. The record was harshly reviewed and withdrawn by the label never to be physically reissued (though…

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The Czech composer Vitezlava Kapralova died in the early weeks of the German occupation of France, at the age of 25. Two months before, she had married Jiri Mucha, son of the fin-de-siècle poster artist. She had everything to live for and yet embraced agonies of death with great dignity. The mystery and tragedy of her existence has been explored in a couple of novels but her psychology remains an enigma and her music is hard to categorise. At first impression it falls midway between Leos Janacek – who was her father’s teacher – and Bohuslav Martinu, who was her lover; yet…

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Flûte passion: Mozart Nadia Labrie, flute; Antoine Bareil, violin; Isaac Chalk, viola; Benoit Loiselle, cello  Analekta AN 2 8925 ★★★★✩ For the third instalment of her Flûte Passion series, Nadia Labrie has chosen Mozart. With her fellow musicians, the flutist offers chamber music by this composer she is so fond of: four quartets, including the famous Quartet in D major K. 285, as well as the Andante in C major K. 315. We find typically Mozartian melodic lines, full of charm and insouciance. The music flows without interruption and the sounds of the instruments fit together perfectly. Labrie nicely captures…

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Tim Brady: Actions Speak Louder (3 CDs)  Act I: Solos and a Quartet Act II: v-Orchestra Act III: Voices  Various artists  Redshift records (2021) ★★★★✩ Tim Brady is an atypical electric guitar composer and performer. He seeks, in a way, to rehabilitate an instrument often confined to popular music, notably rock, and to make it a legitimate source of inspiration for so-called “serious” compositions. The COVID-19 pandemic has led him, like so many other musicians, to question his profession and his practices.  This process of reflection has given birth to a series of three albums grouped under the title Actions…

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Andrzej Pietrewicz, instrumentalist, composer; Laura and Caroline Joy Clarke, vocalists Self-produced EP ★★★✩✩ This EP brings together six exclusively instrumental pieces, excepting the last, which features female voices. The composer, Andrzej Pietrewicz, draws on various influences, from jazz to experimental music, including neo-classicism. In the third piece, Pietrewicz indulges in polyphony in the style of Baroque composers. The use of the flute from the very first piece creates a bright and playful tone. The sounds of cello, guitar and piano add to the mix. Despite the friction between instruments, softness predominates.

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The trouble with most music by unfamiliar contemporary composers is that the listener has no idea where it’s coming from. The Austrian Gerald Resch gets over this hurdle by rooting his third string quartet, ‘attaca’, in Beethoven’s first Razumovsky quartet, opus 59/1. The context works remarkably well. Resch, 46, is a former music journalist embedded in Viennese music, both historic and  modern. He works with ensembles as different as the period-instrument Concentus Musicus and the Aureum saxophone quartet. In creating ‘attaca’ he had a period of immersion with the trendy, Frankfurt-based Aris Quartet, among the most accomplished on the circuit.…

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A recording by violinist Andrew Wan and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra under Kent Nagano has taken double honours in the 2021 Juno Awards. The Analekta release from October 2020 won the Juno for Classical Album of the Year: Large Ensemble. One of the selections, the Violin Concerto “Adrano” by Montreal-born Samy Moussa, also won the Juno for Classical Composition of the Year. Other works on the MSO recording, both featuring the concertmaster as soloist, are Bernstein’s Serenade and Ginastera’s Violin Concerto. The orchestra was in the interesting position of beating itself. A BIS recording of Penderecki’s St. Luke Passion (led, like…

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Concert after concert, record after record, David Jacques continues to share “guitar stories” with his collection of instruments. In February, he was accompanied by I Musici de Montréal in a live webcast concert. On June 6, he will perform in recital at the Centre d’Art La Chapelle in Quebec City. A first volume was issued last year by ATMA Classique. Fourteen guitars were featured. This time, 15 guitars are presented, along with nearly 30 19th-century pieces to showcase them. Little-known composers Among the composers on this second solo album, the guitarist especially appreciates Ernest Shand, an Englishman from the end…

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In the early years of the 20th century, when Arnold Schoenberg jumped off the moving harmonic train into a ditch of atonality, his friends were still finding wriggle-room in the sounds that could be wrung from a 100-piece orchestra. Schoenberg’s brother-in-law and only music teacher Alexander Zemlinsky presented a suite called The Mermaid at a Vienna concert in 1905, then promptly withdrew the score from further performances for reasons, mostly psychosexual, that I shall examine in an essay later this month. Suffice it here to say that The Mermaid is an absorbing, lascivious, self-lacerating yearning for an inconsumable erotic fixation.…

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Latvia’s answer to Estonia’s Arvo Pärt, Vasks writes long, slow, contemplative works with a strong feeling for lakes, forests and landscape. The title piece, for string orchestra, is one of those Samuel Barber-like adagios that has no beginning, middle or end while offering an image of the universe that is at once recognizable and unthreatening. Much of Vasks’s music is filled with mourning – for his country’s occupation by Germany and Russia, for friends who died – but his signal achievement is never to be morbid. There is always hope somewhere on a Baltic shore. A double-bass player who was…

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