Classical CD Reviews
Classical CD Reviews, Part 3 of 3
Published on June 1, 2004
BEETHOVEN: Triple Concerto Op. 56 – SCHUMANN: Piano Concerto Op. 54 – Martha Argerich, piano. Renaud Capuçon, violin. Mischa Maisky, cello. Orchestra della Svizzera italiana conducted by Alexandre Rabinovitch-Barakovsky – EMI Classics 5-57773-2 (65 mins.):
If you are an aficionado of Beeethoven’s Triple Concerto, don’t miss this one. What can sound gawky or top heavy when it falls into the wrong hands here sounds swift and powerful, with swagger and style. It is one of the strongest recorded arguments ever that the composer knew what he was doing in risking such a structurally daunting task.
Best yet, instead of sounding like a cello concerto (with reason, the cello does get to introduce all the most important themes and has by far the most technically difficult part, to some extent requiring the dexterity of a Boccherini specialist more than that of a 19th century virtuoso), the three soloists make an exciting team dominated (without being domineering) by Argerich at the top of her game, combining sweep and passion with an amazing amount of internal energy. And while Maisky plays beautifully and with great virtuosity, and without going overboard as he often does, the real surprise is the young French violinist Renaud Capuçon who asserts himself early on with his sleek sound and life-affirming verve and, whenever necessary, leading his companions a merry chase.
As she usually does, Argerich plays the Schumann as if had been written for her, impulsively, self-gratifyingly, and spiritually in touch. It is at least her third live recording (including one with Harnoncourt) and it may be her best. In both concertos, the conductor formerly known as Alexandre Rabinovitch commands with purpose and flair.
The performances were recorded live during the Lugano Festivals of 2002 and 2003 and seem to benefit from the sense of occasion and the spontaneity which live concerts often provide. Aside from some orchestral scrappiness in the strings, there is little that would have needed to be corrected were these studio recordings. The soloists are highlighted a bit, but the orchestra sounds good and the woodwinds (particularly the bassoon) shine.
– Laurence Vittes
“Miroirs”- RAVEL: Miriors Suite, Sonatine; RACHMANINOFF: Ètudes-Tableux, Èlègie Op. 3 No. 1, Prelude in b, Lilacs – Robert Hamilton, piano – Summit Records DCD 382:
At first glance this appeared to be just another piano recital of works which – although being some of my personal favorites – didn’t promise anything new or exciting. I was wrong. Hamilton has a blazingly brilliant approach to this repertory, delivering very powerful and often breathtaking interpretations which are skillfully recorded. The very readable note booklet is by Paul Harvey Jr. and kept my interest such that I read every page of it. Pianist Hamilton says he worked harder on this project than any in his extensive recording career, and he was aided in a major way by his Siberian recording engineer Mark Fuksman. One exposure to these performances – especially of the Ravel works – will make any future hearing of the works seem pallid. Very highly recommended.
– John Sunier
Wind Chamber Music of Theodor Blumer, Vol. 2 = Swiss Quintet (Suite for Five Wind Instruments); Kinderspielzeug for Wind Quintet; Sextet (Chamber Symphony) Op. 92 – Moran Woodwind Quintet; Paul Barnes, piano – Crystal Records CD755:
The cover photo and title of this CD makes it seem like a reissue of some rather academic chamber music by an obscure German composer. The latter may be true but the music proves much more tuneful and interesting listening than expected. Blumer was based in Dreden and died in l964. He left a large body of varied works in many forms – all beautifully crafted and very accessible. These works for woodwinds reminded me of a sort of Germanic version of America’s witty Alec Wilder woodwind repertory. The works all sound like they would be a kick for the performers as well has providing great listening. The Swiss Quintet is seven variations on a pastoral Swiss folk song, rushing to a galloping “Hollywood” conclusion. The third work here, the Sextet, is at 36 minutes the major selection. Its soaring lines fit into thick orchestral-like textures, supporting its subtitle as a chamber symphony. Composed in 1941, the final Rondo of the work also makes use of folk song – this time a soldier’s song from Selesia. My enjoyment of this disc was such that it definitely stimulated me to pick up Vol. 1 of the series.
– John Sunier
CHRISTOPHER ROUSE: Der Gerettete Alberich (Fantasy for Solo Percussion and orchestra); Rapture; Violin Concerto – Evelyn Glennie, percussion/Cho-Liang Lin, violin/Helsinki Philharmonic Orch./Leif Segerstam – Ondine ODE 1016-2:
Rouse is one of the most-performed contemporary composers in the U.S. today, and he has had his works performed by nearly every major symphony orchestra around the world. On the faculty of Julliard, he has specialized in various concertos, two of which are heard on this disc. The Evelyn Glennie vehicle makes use of various leitmotivs from Wagner’s Ring Cycle and could be loosely translated “Alberich Saved.” It surmises a post-Valhalla world in which the dwarf of the opera has a more sympathetic nature but continues his hammering on rings and things – even steel drums – which ties in with the percussion soloist of course. The Violin Concerto was modeled after Bartok’s First Violin Concerto’s structure, and has several references to earlier composers in its strongly tonal design. The work was originally composed for violinist Lin, who is heard in this excellent-sounding discing.
– John Sunier
FRANK BRIDGE: String Sextet in E Flat Major; String Quintet in E minor; Lament for Two Violas – The Raphael Ensemble – Hyperion CDA67426:
Bridge began his career in music as a violinist at age six. He became an accomplished chamber music player, and these experiences informed his many later compositions for strings. The half-hour-length String Quintet dates from 1901 and is a colorful work showing some influences of Brahms, Dvorak and Elgar. It receives here its first recording. The Sextet shows the composer by 1912 expanding his harmonic writing with soaring melodies and rich development. The second movement combines slow movement and scherzo, and its emotional nature incorporates a folksong-inspired feeling, which was rare for Bridge. Good string tone in spite of being standard 44.1 CD format. A very worthwhile disc for anyone hankering for accessible British chamber music for strings.
– John Sunier
Orchestral and keyboard colors to burn in this pair of unusual offerings from Naxos…
EINOJUHANI RAUTAVAARA: Piano Concertos Nos. 2 & 3; Isle of Bliss – Laura Mikkola, piano/Netherlands Radio Sym. Orch./Eri Klas – Naxos 8.557009:
Don’t let the name of this renowned Finnish composer scare you off. Rautavaara (born 1928) continues the Nordic style of Sibelius and Nielsen but is influenced more strongly by folk music and by more recent composers such as Bartok and Shostakovich. In fact his Third Piano Concerto may remind you of Bartok’s No. 3. The Second Concerto attempts to meld both the traditional piano concerto and more modern experimental approaches. The composer wanted to stress what he called the “rich grandeur” of the instrument. Isle of Bliss is a sort of colorful fantasia, based on a Finnish poet’s vision of a mythical island paradise. This is all fascinating and accessible music brought to collectors at bargain rate; thanks again Naxos!
TONY BANKS: Seven – A Suite for Orchestra – London Philharmonic Orchestra/Mike Dixon – Naxos 21st Century Classics 8.557466:
In spite of its fancy slipcover, inside this is a standard Naxos-design disc with the title and a large white border surrounding a small illustration in the center. Banks is the keyboardist in the avant rock band Genesis and has long been interested in writing orchestral music, as a number of other figures in rock have done in the last several years. He took two pieces he had written some years ago and created five more movements to make up the orchestral suite (and also provide its title in the bargain). These are not symphonic arrangements of rock themes but genuine original symphonic scores intended to create a series of orchestral sound pictures, but without specific programs.
The project reminded me of a favorite classic of the mono LP era, Tone Poems of Color, which was financed and conducted by Frank Sinatra. Only that one had various composers such as Victor Young and Alec Wilder each writing a piece on one color. Banks has created soundtrack music for several films, usually starting with themes he devised on the piano and then had them orchestrated (Simon Hale orchestrated Seven). He mentions that sometimes his themes took on a whole different character when they were orchestrated, inspiring him to want to create more orchestral music this way. The opening Spring Tide features a major part for the piano but not up to a piano concerto situation. At ten minutes it is the second longest of the seven pieces, with the closing The Spirit of Gravity being the longest at over 11 minutes. Earthlight, which is at under five minutes the shortest of the set, is really a theme and variations. These are enchanting fantasy pieces to which you can listen and just let your mind go. Their range of emotion and moods is surprisingly wide. They hold more interest than the typical “light music,” yet do not require the concentration of, say, a more academic symphonic suite.
– John Sunier
More accessible 20th century British chamber music…
ARNOLD BAX: String Quintet in G; String Quartet in A Major – Divertimenti Ensemble – Dutton CDLX 7131:
These are both early works of Bax, dating from 1908 and 1902 respectively, before he found his mature style. The composer described himself as a “brazen Romantic,” and this can be heard in both works. The Quintet has in evidence his love of the west coast of Ireland, so much so that one critic wondered why the work was not titled something like “Scenes from the West of Ireland.” The Quartet is an inventive work with good melodies. Its finale has dance-like sections, but one writer felt Bax was unsure whether his dances were in Ireland or Bohemia.
YORK BOWEN: Sonata for Flute & Piano; Sonata for Oboe & Piano; Sonata for Clarinet & Piano; Sonata for Horn & Piano – Endymion Ensemble – Dutton CDLX 7129:
Bowen, who lived until l961, was a fellow student with Arnold Bax at the Royal Academy of Music. He was considered one of the most promising young British composers of the early 20th century. At age 22 he was playing his own piano concerto in Queen’s Hall, London, where a bit later his Second symphony was also performed. He fought in the First World War and afterwards his musical career failed to continue its ascension, although he continued composing to the end of his life. His sonatas for various instruments show that he had practical experience with each of them and wrote music perfectly suited to their various natures. The piano parts of each of the sonatas are also thoroughly pianistic and not just simple accompaniment to the solo woodwinds. The Oboe Sonata was written for Leon Goossens and is more pastoral-sounding than the other works here. This is the premiere recording of the lovely Horn Sonata, which was composed for Dennis Brain’s father Aubrey – also a hornist.
– John Sunier
A pair of discs in the New Music genre…
PHILIP GLASS: Tirol Concerto; Selections from “Passages” – Dennis Russell Davies, piano and conductor/Stuttgart Chamber orchestra/Rasher Saxophone Quartet (in Passages) – Orange Mountain Music 0011:
Davies has been playing and conducting Glass’ music for a quarter century, and this concerto was written especially for him and his Stuttgart orchestra. The work is in three movements of which the second is by far the longest at 16 minutes. The work was the first time Glass has used folk music elements, but they are subdued to his usual minimalist structures. However, with the interaction of piano and orchestra the piece would probably be one of the most accessible and enjoyable to Glass neophytes. Passages was a collaboration with Ravi Shankar and features one of the world’s leading sax quartets together with the orchestra and piano. Three movements are taken from the entire work: Offering, Channels and Winds, Meetings Along the Edge.
PHIL KLINE: Zippo Songs (Airs of War and Lunacy) – Three Rumsfeld Songs; Seven Zippo Songs; The Funeral of Jan Palach; The End – Theo Bleckmann, vocals/Todd Reynolds, violin/Phil Kline, guitars/David Cossin, percussion – Cataloupe Music CA21019:
Kline is one of those New Music composers who came out of the rock scene and now crosses the boundaries between rock, classical and ambient electronic music. He is known for his works for massed boomboxes which debuted in the streets of NYC, and for his participation in the Bang on a Can events there. The poetry he employs in his Zippo Songs originates with the inscriptions which American GIs inscribed on their lighters in Vietnam. The poems are short and so are grouped together into seven songs; they are about getting high, getting bored, dying. (One is titled “My Dead Ass.”) The Rumsfeld Songs are fairly straightforward settings of actual texts from the Secretary of Defense. Titles are: As We Know, That Many Vases, Near-Perfect Clarity. Kline’s intention is to show the similarities of the political speech of today to that of the Vietnam era. Vietnam is a primary concern of the composer, because even the final track turns out to be his rewriting of the famous Doors tune which was a hit of Vietnam protest music.
– John Sunier