Browsing: CD and Book Reviews

*/**/**** Something’s gone awry with Warner’s scheduling when they issue three violin-piano recitals at the same time (except one of them’s actually on cello). Something’s also skewed with the repertoire selection. Vilde Frang, the Norwegian violinist, returns after a hiatus with an album of Paganini and Schubert. Nobody should play Paganini’s opera transcriptions unless they can deliver shock and awe virtuosity. Frang is not that kind of artist. She chose wrong. Moving on, we try the Franck sonata, which was written for violin and piano, played by the cellist Gauthier Capucon. The pianist is the irrepressible Yuja Wang, who’s good…

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It can be good for an artist to take a break from a big label. The German counter-tenor Andreas Scholl has been recording faithfully for Decca for about a decade without ever giving an impression of calling the shots in his career. Yes, he left lovely tracks of Dowland, Purcell, Bach and Handel, but no more than you’d expect of someone as good as he is in the heart of his Fach and not really breaking new ground. In the past couple of years Scholl has been working with his Israeli wife, the pianist and harpsichordist Tamar Halperin, along with…

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Shostakovich plays Shostakovich Dmitri Shostakovich, Iosif Volovnik, Daniil Shafran, David Oistrakh, Maxim Shostakovich, Miloš Sádlo, Nina Dorliak, Zara Dolukhanova, Aleksei Maslennikov, Mieczysław Weinberg, Alexander Gauk, Samuil Samosud Melodiya MELCD1002596 Five CDs. Total time: 5:42:00 5/5 Most records are disposable. A few are memorable, a small handful are treasurable and every now and then now one comes along that is indelible. This box is something else. I think this is the first time I have ever described a record set as indispensable. The five CDs collect all the Russian state recordings of Dmitri Shostakovich playing his own music. The composer was…

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Jewish composers write violin concertos first, piano second. All other instruments are also-rans. Credit, then to Raphael Wallfisch for dusting off cello concertos by three Jews – the German-born Israeli Paul Ben-Haim, the Austrian-born film composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold and the Swiss-born American Ernest Bloch. Ben-Haim, in his 1962 cello concerto, performs his usual fusion act of west and east sonorities – though, on this occasion, not with Yemenite and Palestinian roots so much as Ladino-Balkan, and all the more mellifluous for it. The adagio is especially compelling. Bloch’s Symphony for cello and orchestra (1954 and his earlier Baal Shem…

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Recordings of these concertos begin with the composer himself and continue with Vladimir Horowitz, whom Rachmaninov acknowledged as the superior interpreter. The benchmark in modern times was set by Vladimir Ashkenazy with Andre Previn on Decca, an act of concentration and mutual challenge that few others could sustain across the series. My feeling is that Daniil Trifonov and Yannick Nézet-Séguin have set the benchmark for the next quarter-century. Outstanding in their previous release of the 2nd and 4th concertos, they deliver a performance of the first concerto that makes light of its difficulties and hesitations, lightening also its endemic morbidity…

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**/*** Two recordings arrive, both claiming to be Beethoven world premieres. At issue is a piano concerto the great man wrote in 1784 at the age of 13 or 14 and, after copious revisions, apparently forgot about. The autograph manuscript sits in the Berlin State Library and two pianists have had recourse to it, with a quick trip to the photocopier. First things first: is the concerto a significant work? Not in the sense that it reveals much we did not already know about Beethoven, music or humanity. The opening theme does not grip the ear and the development is…

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****** (6 stars out of 5) Most records are disposable. A few are memorable, a small handful are treasurable and every now and then now one comes along that is indelible. This box is something else. I think this is the first time I have ever described a record set as indispensable. The five CDs collect all the Russian state recordings of Dmitri Shostakovich playing his own music. The composer was a terrific pianist and the interpretations can be regarded as authoritative – a reference point for all future performances. But the recordings are imbued by place and time –…

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The near-symbiotic relationship between Mendelssohn and his older sister, examined in my forthcoming book Genius and Anxiety, was so central to both musicians’ lives that Felix was felled by a stroke on hearing of Fanny’s death and died before the year was out. Fanny, the first to evince musical talent, was silenced by their father as she neared puberty in order not to deflect attention from her genius kid brother. In her 30s she found a publisher and began – to Felix’s chagrin – to produce chamber music. His anger abated on finding that the music was of high quality.…

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Skye Consort & Emma Björling Leaf Music, LM225 4/5 Sentez l’air frais du nord s’insinuer dans vos oreilles avec cette rencontre remarquable entre la chanteuse suédoise Emma Björling et l’ensemble Skye Consort formé de Seán Dagher (bouzouki, banjo, voix), Alex Kehler (nyckelharpa, violon, voix) et Amanda Keesmaat (violoncelle, voix). Né grâce à la complicité des artistes et au retard fortuit de l’avion d’Emma lors d’un retour de concert au Québec, l’album Skye Consort & Emma Björling compile des airs traditionnels scandinaves, anglo-saxons et acadiens ponctués de compositions instrumentales. L’album est bien équilibré dans le choix des pièces; le groove fleuri…

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Sometimes the best records get made with no foresight whatsoever. As part of his label switch from Sony Classical it had been planned that Murray Perahia would record the five concertos for the Beethoven year, live in Berlin where he had concerts scheduled with the visiting Academy of St Martin in the Fields. Then Perahia suffered a recurrent hand injury and had to be replaced by the Canadian Jan Lisiecki. The DG team were already booked for the recording so they went ahead, And, what do you know, the results were better than expected. Much better. Lisiecki, 24, has been…

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