Browsing: CD and Book Reviews

In the spring of 1943, with millions being murdered across the continent of Europe, Germany’s wealthiest conductor summoned the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra to rehearse a symphony he had written in B minor, his first. Furtwängler had been writing it, on and off, since 1908 and had lately added a fourth movement for which he had high hopes. These aspirations were dashed on first play-through. ‘Am very depressed,’ he told his wife. Of all things to get depressed about at this darkest moment in modern history, a symphony seems relatively trivial, but such was the size of the maestro’s ego that…

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Introspection: Solo Piano Sessions Music by Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Rachmaninoff, Shostakovich, etc. Yannick Nézet-Séguin, piano Deutsche Grammophon DG 289 48606184 ★★★★★ The lockdowns and restrictions have been trying for all. For those who care about classical music not to be able to hear music live has been frustrating. And for those who make music for a living it can be soul-destroying or even career-destroying. Yannick Nézet-Séguin has seen his usual whirlwind of concerts in Montreal, New York, Philadelphia and elsewhere reduced to a trickle. Last summer, when he was able to do almost no conducting he reverted to the piano…

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Jan Järvlepp: Concerto 2000 & Other Works Pascale Margely, flute. Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra/Stanislav Vavřínek;, Zagreb Festival Orchestra/Ivan Josip Skender; Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra/Petr Vronský Navona Records NV6291 ★★★★✩ Enfant terrible of the Canadian contemporary music scene, the Ontario composer Jan Järvlepp last year released Concerto 2000 & Other Works on the Navona label. Known to the general public for his audacious Garbage Concerto (1995), this composer delivers an impressive array of works that affirm the postmodern character of his approach by rejecting the dogmas of new music. Freed from these conceptual shackles, Järvlepp returns unabashedly to tonality and offers accessible…

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Summertime is an ideal moment to break a new artist, a time when big names are out of town and the flow of label releases dries up. Randall Goosby, 25, is Decca’s new poster-boy violinist. With an African-American father and Korean mother, he has been groomed for a stage career by Itzhak Perlman and the Juilliard fame school. He has major-league management in London and New York and a pleasant way of engaging with media. What could possibly go wrong? On first impression – this is his debut album – Goosby has all the technique anyone could need and an off-the-shoulder phrasing…

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Schubert: Winterreise Joyce DiDonato, mezzo-soprano, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, piano Erato 190295284138 ★★★★★ Schubert’s late song cycle Winterreise (Winter’s Journey) is based on poems by Wilhelm Müller (1794-1827), one of the composer’s contemporaries. Like Schubert, he died young, at the age of only 32. The poems and the song cycle tell no story as such; they simply express the pain of unrequited love. While the composer intended the song cycle for a tenor voice, it has sometimes been performed by women. In fact, there are outstanding recordings by women of the stature of Lotte Lehmann, Brigitte Fassbaender, Christa Ludwig and our own…

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Matthew Larkin plays the organ of St. Paul’s Anglican Church Music by Couperin, Bach, Mendelssohn, Franck, Reger, Howells, Willan, Duruflé, Messiaen, MacMillan, Jongen, Jarrett, Ager and Mallory ATMA Classique ACD2 2857 (two CDs) ★★★★✩ This two-disc recital by the British-born Ottawa organist Matthew Larkin covers a vast stylistic territory but sits you squarely in the centre of a resonant Canadian church – St. Paul’s Anglican in Toronto, to be precise. Many Casavant instruments have a majestic sonority but Op. 550 of 1914, also called the Blackstock Memorial Organ, is particularly admired for its “scope and beauty,” to quote the title…

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Francisco Coll: Violin Concerto, Hidd’n Blue Op. 6, Mural, Four Iberian Miniatures Op. 20, Aqua Cinerea Op. 1 Patricia Kopatchinskaja, violin; Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg/Gustavo Cimeno Pentatone PTC 5186951 ★★✩✩✩ Spanish composer Francisco Coll (1985-) is the only student to date of Thomas Adès. Coll has had some considerable success with his orchestral work Hidd’n Blue Op. 6. Violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja and conductor Gustavo Cimeno have been actively championing his music, and both will appear with the Toronto Symphony next April for two performances of Coll’s Violin Concerto. Cimeno was appointed music director of the TSO last year but so…

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Soleil noir. Arias written by and for Francesco Rasi Emiliano Gonzalez Toro, tenor; I Gemelli Naïve V 5473 ★★★★✩ Francesco Rasi (1574-1620) is generally characterized as a tenor of the Florentine school who dabbled with some success in composition and poetry, created the title role of Monteverdi’s Orfeo and beat a murder rap thanks to the protection of the Gonzaga family – a troubling biographical detail that links him to another killer, Carlo Gesulado, in whose service Rasi might actually have done some singing. In this recital Emiliano Gonzalez Toro, a Swiss tenor of Chilean descent, combines some melancholy and…

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Brahms: Piano Sonatas Op. 1 and Op. 2; Rhapsodies Op. 79 Garrick Ohlsson, piano. Hyperion CDA68344 ★★★★✩ Most of Brahms’s published output is familiar through repeated performance. Oddly, his first two Piano Sonatas – Op. 1 in C Major and Op. 2 in F Sharp Minor – are generally ignored, though their only crime as evidenced by this valuable recording is a failure to rise quite to the level of the altogether admirable Sonata Op. 5 in F Minor. The veteran American virtuoso Garrick Ohlsson renders both the heroic first movement of Op. 1 (where the influence of Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier”…

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In a decade when no-one is writing new symphonies – depressed, no doubt, by Covid performance constraints – we are having to make do with new violin concertos commissioned by the likes of Patricia Kopatchinskaya and Pekka Kuusisto. The Finnish virtuoso turned for his premiere to Nico Muhly, a New York composer who used to assist Philip Glass, and has augmented this album with works by his minimalist master. Fearing this might sound samey and predictable, I found myself in for a pleasant surprise; more than one, in fact. Muhly’s concerto, titled Shrink, has repetitive tropes but they are mitigated…

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