Browsing: CD and Book Reviews

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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Composer of Albertine en cinq temps – L’opéra, Catherine Major is first and foremost a singer and pianist in Quebec popular music. Her latest album, released at the start of the pandemic, is the fifth of her career, following Par-dessus bord (2004), Rose Sang (2008), Le Désert des solitudes (2011) and La Maison du monde (2015). As in her previous recordings, we find rich textures and an interest in orchestration, both of which add value to the songs. We also find very poetic lyrics, which the author co-wrote with Jeff Moran. And as one expects in poetry, the meaning of…

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Covid has narrowed our outlook so severely that we are hardly aware of the world abroad. Brazil has suffered 19 million cases with more than half a million deaths, isolating the country as never before among the community of nations. Villa-Lobos, Its national composer, feted worldwide from the 1930s to the 1950s, has long since faded. His music always sounds fresh when I return to it after an absence, glistening with the swaying hips of a summer’s night on the Copacabana. The three Villa-Lobos violin sonatas, styled for an international audience are steamed with traces of Brahms, Debussy and Saint-Saens,…

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In the summer of 1943, and for reasons still unclear, Milan’s best young composer moved to the undeveloped south of Italy and stayed there for the rest of his life. Nino Rota, at 32, was content to be a teacher in Bari, later director of its Conservatorio. Had he not needed to earn a little extra money on the side in Rome’s dolce vita film industry, he might never have been heard of again. Rota’s symbiotic partnership with the director Federico Fellini, starting with The White Sheik in 1952, catapulted him to world fame and redefined the art of composing for film.…

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If  you are ever asked at Heathrow Airport to prove your residency by naming a work of English music, this album will do nicely. Leaving the arresting title track to last, this string trio recital contains a breathtaking account of the Prelude and fugue by Gerald Finzi (1901-56), a pre-War lament for his deceased teacher. A London Jew who composed like a country vicar, Finzi is hard to pin down but this is one of his truest moments and most perfect inspirations. Hugh Wood (b. 1932) can sound like an absentminded professor but his opus 61, titled Ithaka, has a…

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In the early 1980s, the phenomenal Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer recorded for Philips an account of the Beethoven concerto that was almost universally reviled. It contained two cadenzas written at the soloist’s request by the Russian composer Alfred Schnittke, a self-styled polystylist who built some of his works from fragments of many others. Each of the cadenzas contained snippets of every major violin concerto from Bach to Berg, and the western music establishment recoiled as it if had been struck by a falling sputnik. The record was harshly reviewed and withdrawn by the label never to be physically reissued (though…

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The Czech composer Vitezlava Kapralova died in the early weeks of the German occupation of France, at the age of 25. Two months before, she had married Jiri Mucha, son of the fin-de-siècle poster artist. She had everything to live for and yet embraced agonies of death with great dignity. The mystery and tragedy of her existence has been explored in a couple of novels but her psychology remains an enigma and her music is hard to categorise. At first impression it falls midway between Leos Janacek – who was her father’s teacher – and Bohuslav Martinu, who was her lover; yet…

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Flûte passion: Mozart Nadia Labrie, flute; Antoine Bareil, violin; Isaac Chalk, viola; Benoit Loiselle, cello  Analekta AN 2 8925 ★★★★✩ For the third instalment of her Flûte Passion series, Nadia Labrie has chosen Mozart. With her fellow musicians, the flutist offers chamber music by this composer she is so fond of: four quartets, including the famous Quartet in D major K. 285, as well as the Andante in C major K. 315. We find typically Mozartian melodic lines, full of charm and insouciance. The music flows without interruption and the sounds of the instruments fit together perfectly. Labrie nicely captures…

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