Browsing: CD and Book Reviews

One of the sadder casualties of the Covid shutdown has been the centenary plans for Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992), the Argentine composer whose music exquisitely captures the existential melancholia of our time. Piazzolla is so intimately identified with Buenos Aires that his wider relevance is often missed, but it is truly global. Raised by Italian parents in lower Manhattan, he absorbed jazz, gypsy music and Jewish theatre. Taught by a Rachmaninov pupil of Hungarian origin, he returned to Buenos Aires for lessons with Alberto Ginastera and Raul Spivak, before finishing up in Paris with , who infused him with the worship…

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Isaac Stern & Pinchas Zukerman Live. Works for two violins by Leclair, Prokofiev, Spohr and Wieniawski, and for violin and viola by Mozart Isaac Stern, violin. Pinchas Zukerman, violin and viola DOREMI DHR-8099  ★★★★★ In 1976 Isaac Stern was 56 and at the height of his fame, and his protégé Pinchas Zukerman was only 29 but already a star soloist. And how extraordinary it was that they should appear together Feb. 9, 1976 – just the two of them, no colleagues and no orchestra – in Toronto’s Massey Hall. As one might expect, it was an evening of superlative violin…

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Mahler: Symphony No. 7 Bayerisches Staatsorchester/Kirill Petrenko Bayerische Staatsoper Recordings BSOREC0001 ★★★★✩ This is the first recording to be released by the Bavarian State Opera on its own label. It is a live performance from 2018 by the house orchestra conducted by its music director. Petrenko has been highly praised for his performances both in opera and in concert in Munich, and this Mahler reading is excellent too. Just this summer Petrenko stepped down from his Munich post to spend more of his time in Berlin as music director of the Berlin Philharmonic. The Bayerisches Staatsorchester may not have the…

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Debussy: Violin Sonata. Szymanowski: Mythes Op. 30. Franck: Violin Sonata Marie Bégin, violin. Samuel Blanchette-Gagnon, piano ATMA Classique ACD2 2850 ★★★★✩ Non vibrato is well established as the modern default condition of early-music tone production. In this recording violinist Marie Bégin, concertmaster of the Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean Symphony Orchestra, applies a streamlined sound to works from the late 19th and early 20th century, including Franck’s Sonata of 1886, which might be regarded by many as a locus classicus for plush and resonant sonority. Remarkably, Bégin’s linear style (aided by a Carlo Bergonzi instrument on loan from Canimex) enhances rather than suppresses expression…

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Dutilleux: Le Loup; Sonatine for flute and orchestra (orch. Kenneth Hesketh). Sonate for oboe and orchestra (orch. Hesketh). Sarabande et Cortège for bassoon and orchestra (orch. Hesketh) Sinfonia of London/John Wilson Chandos CHSA 5263 ★★★★✩ French composer Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013) wrote music that in his early years showed the influence of Debussy, Ravel and Poulenc, but it was constantly evolving. He was still composing in his 70s and 80s and the later music was as fresh as ever but very much in touch with current trends, including serialism and improvisation. The music on this new recording was composed in his…

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Love songs. Transcriptions for piano of vocal works by Bach, Falla, Fauré, Gershwin, Gluck, Grainger, Grieg, Schubert, Schumann, Strauss; Mahler’s Adagietto Angela Hewitt, piano Hyperion CDA68341 ★★★★✩ Ubiquitous in the era of Hausmusik, transcriptions and arrangements for solo piano are not heard often on the concert stage owing to the depth and strength of the repertoire written originally for the instrument. Here Angela Hewitt gives us a frankly small-r romantic collection of love-song Lieder as rendered purely pianistic by various transcribers, including herself. Gentle selections (including Schubert’s famous Serenade) go well; sometimes pianistic elaboration (as toward the end of Liszt’s…

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Paris: La Belle Époque. Works by Widor, Mouquet, Enescu, Gaubert, Fauré, Debussy Robert Langevin, flute. Margaret Kampmeier, piano Bridge 9555 ★★★★★ Montrealers of a certain age will remember Robert Langevin as the associate principal flute of the OSM who went on to earn the top jobs in the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. In this 77-minute release the Sherbrooke native applies his broad and radiant tone to French music from the decades around the turn of the 20th century, when life in Paris was a sweet if occasionally bittersweet thing. We hear evocative performances of two Debussy…

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Emerging from the depths of Covid are some of the freshest ideas we have seen in years. Here, a newly formed string quartet takes a 2012 score by the British composer Thomas Adès and intersects it with works of their own making, very old and very new. The Adès piece describes the earth’s 24-hour rotation on its own axis – neat, but not stunningly original in either concept or content. Like his contemporary Young British Artists in the visual arts, Adès has amassed more eminence than admirers. His Four Quarters (sic) are eclectic to a fault: strongest in nocturnal echoes…

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We don’t hear much of Ignacy Jan Paderewski these days, let alone his friend Zygmunt Stojowski. The first prime minister of independent Poland has been overshadowed politically by the nation’s turbulence and musically by Szymanowski. Famed in his day as a virtuoso pianist, Paderewski enjoyed considerable reputation before 1914 as a popular symphonist in sub-Rachmaninov mode. His lifelong pal Stojowski was equally successful on both fronts. I can’t remember seeing either of them on a concert programme in recent years. This pairing of violin-piano sonatas by the two Poles comes close, at times, to revelation. The Paderewski sonata dates from…

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Nikolai Kapustin had to die before the world took note of his music. A love of jazz left him scratching a living in Moscow as house pianist for the radio orchestra, playing everyone else’s music but his own. His Toccata for piano and big band, written in 1964, declared his creatve intentions. The commissars were not impressed. Though Kapustin obtained a few performances and publications, it was only in the 21st century that a western edition took an interest. When he died a year ago, he left 161 works in print, including six piano concertos and 20 sonatas. To modern…

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