Browsing: Lebrecht Weekly

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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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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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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If I listen one more time to Andrey Gugnin playing DSCH I shall probably be locked up for my own safety, at least until after Brexit. But it’s going to happen. Like Brexit, I can’t stop it. The music on this compelling album comes from recesses of the composer’s soul, written at times when he was more troubled by personal issues than political. Aged 21, his percussive first piano sonata of 1927 runs alongside his second symphony and has much in common with Bartok’s sonata of 1926, though also with Alban Berg’s. The second sonata, written in the middle of…

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Most musicians go through life trying to avoid trouble, especially of the political kind. Gabriela Montero is an exception. Venezuelan by birth and an exile from childhood, she made her name as a flamboyant soloist in 20th century piano concertos. As encores she invented her own riffs on themes requested by the audience. Over time, these became full-length compositions. Unable to ignore the Government-impelled disintegration of her home country, she infused many of her musical thoughts with a political message of range and hope. The main item in this release is a piano concerto by Montero fusing Latin American tropes…

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At the end of the Second World War, Hollywood’s most influential composer turned his attention to recovering his lost prestige in the concert hall. Erich Wolfgang Korngold had taken the precaution of retaining copyright in his movie scores so that he could reuse their themes in symphonic works. He set to work on a violin concerto for Jascha Heifetz and an uncommissioned symphony in F, anticipating no shortage of interest from orchestras in search of popular music. His hopes were soon dashed. The concerto was derided by New York critics when it reached Carnegie Hall and the symphony, after a…

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