Browsing: Lebrecht Weekly

****** (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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The anniversary year of Hans Pfitzner (1869-1949) is marked by the re-emergence of a piano concerto that he wrote at the height of his fame. Pfitzner, acclaimed for his 1917 opera Palestrina, delivered the concerto in 1923, with Walter Gieseking as soloist. If Palestrina echoes Wagner’s Meistersinger, the concerto nods repeatedly in the direction of Brahms’s B-flat – and the nodding is done mostly by the listener. Pfitzner’s fallen reputation is sometimes ascribed to his gruesome flirtation with the Nazis but this concerto suggests something more organically at fault. Each of four movements is introduced by a promising idea, which…

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In the painstaking task of reading page proofs for my next book, I needed something on in the background that would keep my rhythm going without distracting me with an excess of invention. Hindemith, who else? The German composer, damned by the Nazis as a dangerous modernist, was never other than a cerebral conservative with an ear for correct form. Exiled to Istanbul, then to Yale, he reduced students to tears with rigorous lessons in theory and any number of ruthless technical exercises designed to make them better human beings. The 1943 Ludus Tonalis set for solo piano, premiered by…

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Sally Silver – also known as ‘Silver Sally’ – died last November of cancer at 50 years old, casting a pall over the British opera scene, where she was a vibrant and ever-willing participant. Never a showy diva, Sally landed roles in any opera from Handel to Thomas Adès, pursuing a particular love for French chanson. This posthumous album – curated by Sally, accompanied by her friend Richard Bonynge and produced by her husband Jeremy Silver – is a delight from start to finish. It’s not just the sparkle she brings to Massenet’s somewhat timeworn drawing-room songs – though that…

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The Department of It Never Rains But It Pours has delivered us a set of premiere recordings of three Haydn symphonies, reduced for piano solo. Last week, we reviewed Mozart, shrunk to four instruments. What’s next – Wagner on the mandolin? There are two saving graces at play here. The transcription by Carl David Stegmann (1751-1826) is craftily inventive, leading the ear up paths never fully imagined by the original symphonist. And the interpretation by the Serbian-US pianist Ivan Ilic has a splash of fun – mischief, even – that tells us not to take classical music always at its…

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