Classical CD Reviews
14 Classical Standard CD Reviews Part 1
Published on April 1, 2005
April 2005 – Part 1 of 2 [Part 2]
HAYDN: Piano Concertos – Andreas Staier, fortepiano/Freiburger Barockorchester conducted by Gottfried von der Goltz – Harmonia Mundi HMC 901854 (64 mins.):
Andreas Staier and friends turn a trick on the usual coupling of three Haydn solo piano concertos by substituting the lovely, rarely heard Concerto for Violin, Piano and Strings. Coupled with a miracle of an audiophile recording, once again from Martin Sauer working in the Teldex Studio in Berlin, this is definitely a winner. If you’ve enjoyed pianist Leif Ove Andsnes’ brilliant recordings of the two solo piano concertos for EMI, this new CD will certainly open your eyes to a new range of delight.
The trick with fortepiano concertos is balance the sound of the instrument with that of the orchestra without seeming to add an artificial electronic boost to the soloist. Here, thanks to a totally natural transparence, Staier’s fortepiano project without losing its naturally sweet and gentle character. And make no mistake about it, Monika May’s 1986 copy of a Walther of 1785 is not one of those loud, obnoxious reproductions, but a thing of delicate beauty, transparent and wonderfully colored itself as if it were a piece of fine china. The orchestra also has been recorded to perfection, each attack, each nuance totally captured. And when, in the famous D major concerto, we get to hear the full orchestra instead of solo strings, it only takes a slight raising of the volume to recapture the magic.
The performances match the sound (including imaginative cadenzas, presumably by Staier). They are vivid, full of spunk or delicacy as needed. But while Andreas Friesenhagen’s booklet notes are authoritative the CD would have benefited from illuminating notes on the performances themselves.
- Laurence Vittes
A pair of multi-disc Mozart collections next…
MOZART: Complete Sonatas for Fortepiano and Violin, Vol. 2 – David Breitman, fortepiano/Jean-Francois Rivest, violin – Analektra AN 2 9823-4 (2 discs) 74:35 and 64:41****:
An ancient law among audio reviewers states that the better the performance, the worse the record. I am happy to report an exception: this is an excellent performance, preserved in vivid condition.
Period performance often means veneration, with a lot of effort spent on recreating old techniques, but with an absolute lack of spontaneity, personal expression or fun. There is so much effort to recreate the original style that enjoyment gets lost in the process. This double album shows Mozart at his most playful and witty, with sprightly rhythms and sly musical jokes. In this context the fortepiano contributes to understanding the composer’s intent and recovering the original effects. Although there are admirable violin/hammerklavier performances – Grumiaux/Haskil and Perlman/Barenboim, among others – they lose a degree of lightness in comparison with the present duet.
Breitman and Rivest share a common view of Mozart, and their enthusiasm for the pieces is clear. Their ensemble playing is impeccable. The listener has a sense, as with the Stern/Istomin/Rose trio or the original Budapest quartet, of overhearing old friends who are making music.
The recording technicians placed their microphones close to the performers, which preserves the intimacy of the performance – and the sense that this music was intended for small audiences. It preserves the clarity and lightness of the fortepiano, qualities which are often lost when a broader recording perspective is sought. Hall ambience is diminished.
– H. Richard Weiner
MOZART: Works for Wind Instruments: Grand Partita, K. 361; Serenades K. 375 and K. 388; 5 Salzburg Divertimenti; 12 Pieces for 2 Horns, K. 487 – Ensemble Philidor – Calliope CAL 33179 (3 discs) 49:41; 78:58; 49:11 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi)****:
Ensemble Philidor, established in 1992 on the initiative of Eric Baude and a group of professional musicians with a penchant for original-instruments aesthetics, is devoted to bringing their repertory in its urtext editions, current with musicological and instrumental scholarship. These inscriptions from 2001 bring together Mozart’s relatively youthful wind compositions written for Archbishop Colloredo (whom he detested) as well as his later mature wind pieces, composed in Vienna with no spirit of rancor whatsoever. As in all of his works, Mozart’s art conceals within the fabric of Tafelmusik and outdoor divertimenti the spirit and gamut of human passions, however carefree they may seem superficially.
The longest disc of the set, the Salzburg compositions, contains the relative rarity: the 1786 pieces for 2 horns, perhaps originally intended for basset horn companions at Mozart’s skittles diversions. The high registration of some of the entries has Pierre-Yves Madeuf and Cyrille Grenot straining hard, even occasionally cracking a note. The spontaneity of the sound, however, is not lost. The two great Serenades really move, and I found myself totally enchanted by the tempi set for the K. 270, with its marvelous gavotte. The Grand Partita for 13 Winds, K. 361 has caught the imagination of musicians as divergent in their sensibilities as Stokowski, Ansermet, Furtwaengler and Koussevtizky. Ensemble Philidor gives all the movements a wide panoramic girth and breadth. The piece is a marvelous synthesis of musical styles, including opera, dance, and cassation, each rife with instrumental vocalism of the highest order. The sweeping, symphonic character of the piece is on a scale closer to the Romantics than to Mozart contemporaries, its being possibly the finest example of Harmoniemusik in existence. Ensemble Philidor sells it as well as any group sporting original instruments that I have heard, a real coup for music lovers and audiophiles.
SCHUBERT: Die Schöne Mullerin. – Ian Bostridge, tenor./Mitsuko Uchida, piano – EMI 5 57827 2 *** 1/2:
When you perform a popular standard, there is bound to be a lot of competition. In this case, British tenor Ian Bostridge is competing with himself. In 1995 he recorded Die Schöne Mullerin for Hyperion, a well-received performance. He was hailed as a sensitive interpreter of the callow man at the core of the song cycle: melancholic, wan, and more than a bit resentful he didn’t get the girl. It didn’t hurt that the great Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau –perhaps the most legendary interpreter of this cycle—lent his voice, narrating the Muller poems that Schubert didn’t orchestrate. It was a brilliant programming touch and I still occasionally play this disk. In this new one, the sensitive youth Bostridge portrayed ten years ago has aged – perhaps more than ten years. There is edginess to his voice, particularly in tonally variegated pieces like “Am Feirabend,” in which the journeyman’s mood flips from furious yearning to impress the girl to lyrical resignation of his physical weakness. While the voice is sweeter in the earlier version, it conveys prickly desperation in the latter one. Bostridge enunciates with more staccato than portamento during the allegros. In Mein, he asserts himself like a young man who suspects his bravado can disappear like a trade wind at the horse latitudes. In the earlier edition, he is a skilled performer conveying exuberance without its instability. This time, rather than sing lieder, Bostridge creates a volatile character whose many mood shifts are artfully—and sometimes not prettily—reflected in the music. Even Mitsuko Uchida’s piano has more protean character than Graham Johnson’s solid but uninspiring workmanship. Bostridge isn’t the best interpreter of these songs—Peter Schreier and Fischer-Dieskau have more resonance and depth– but he is steadily ascending that wobbly ladder.
- Peter Bates
Here are two guitars times two…
Castellani & Andriaccio, Duo-Guitarists – The Early Recordings: 1685 – A Glorious Trilogy; Danzas and More – Fleur de Son Classics PDS 57966-2 (2 discs) **** (may be purchased at ArkivMusic.com):
This should probably have been in our reissues section but the sound is excellent thruout on these original recordings made from 1980 thru 1989. I wasn’t familiar with this guitar duo, but they formed in l975 in Toronto and have more than a half dozen CDs out by now. They have premiered and commissioned many new works, including a concerto for two guitars and orchestra by Roberto Sierra. They received a scholarship to the Master Class of Andres Segovia in Spain and they teach at the Chautauqua Institution and at the Rome Festival.
Some of the 29 tracks on the two CDs are works written especially for the duo or for two guitars in general, while many others are arrangements made by the Castellani-Andriaccio Duo themselves. The Bach English Suite No. 3 opens the program and works very well in the transition from harpsichord to two guitars. Transcriptions of four Scarlatti harpsichord sonatas, a popular item on programs for one or two guitars, are in the first half of the program. There are also three arrangements of Handel hits, including The Harmonious Blacksmith. The second disc is entirely modern composers, opening with Turina and closing with a smashing performance of Piazzolla’s Tango Suite for Two Guitars. Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s “Les Guitares Bien Temperées” was also composed for guitar duo, and we hear two Preludes and Fugues from this 24-piece collection. Cuban guitar master Leo Brouwer is represented by his Micro Piezas – four short pieces all under two minutes each. The Castle Innovation Tango is a delectable bon bon in the middle of the second program. I found this to be one of the most enjoyable classical guitar recordings I have heard in quite a while. If you would like to access more about the Duo you can visit www.fleurdeson.com
MARIO CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO: The Well-Tempered Guitars – 24 Preludes and Fugues for Two Guitars, Op. 199 – Duo Favori – Tacet 141 (2 CDs), 66:03, 57:18 ****:
If the two Preludes and Fugues from this work in the Castellani & Andriaccio Duo reviewed above whet your appetite for more, here is the whole enchilada. The monumental work – commissioned by the duo Presti and Lagoya – obviously is a bow to J.S. Bach in its structure of 24 Preludes and Fugues, but it deviates quite a bit from Bach’s WTC and Chopin’s model, the 24 Preludes Op. 28. Bach started with C Major, then C Minor and went thru all the keys chromatically in order. Chopin also started with C Major but went to the parallel minor key of A Minor etc. Castelnuovo-Tedesco begins in G Minor and then goes thru alternate major and minor keys in steps of a fifth. His plan finally makes sense at the very end because the final fugue ends in glorious C Major.
The wealth of musical styles and forms in these pieces is staggering and quite a contrast to both the Bach and Chopin works. One can hear touches of Beethoven, Stravinsky, Bartok’s quartets, even some jazz. The sounds produced by the two guitars occasionally approaches that of an orchestra in its richness and varied tone color. The performers are greatly skilled and seem to fly thru the technical difficulties of some of the pieces. Only two mics were used in this purist recording – one to a guitar. Very highly recommended!
- John Sunier
The Romantic Violin Concerto Vol. 5 = SAMUEL COLERIDGE-TAYLOR: Violin Concerto in G Minor; SIR ARTHUR SOMERVELL: Violin Concerto in G Major – Anthony Marwood, violin/BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Martyn Brabbins – Hyperion CDA67420, 65:03 ****:
Probably due to the success of their long-running Romantic Piano Concerto series, Hyperion launched a similar series on Violin Concertos and with this CD we are already up to Volume 5. It is the record premiere of the Somervell concerto. This composer is known in Britain mostlly as a song composer; his Violin Concerto, composed in 1930, was his last extended work. It is straightforward and in three movements. The composer came from a Germanic background – going there to study as did so many composers from Britain and the U.S. So that colors his music, but there is also a subtle English feeling to it, often seeming close to folk song. The pastoral sections of the concerto may remind one of Vaughan Williams or Delius.
Coleridge-Taylor had an English mother and a father from Sierra Leone. He began early on the violin and was a favorite composition student of Charles Villiers Stanford and Elgar suggested he be commissioned to write something for a festival in l989. Not long after the first performance of his Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast made his name in music. (Unfortunately he sold it to his publisher for L 15 rather than taking a royalty.) The Violin Concerto was also his final large work. His original idea was write a concerto working with black spirituals but that didn’t work out and he composed original themes, but not without an influence of Dvorak’s American-flavored works. The first movement is in classical sonata style with a rhapsodic feeling. The lyrical slow movement has a nocturnal mood, and finale is a free rondo.Violinist Marwood plays both concertos with great virtuosity and fine tone and Hyperion’s recording is tops in the 44.1 CD game.
- John Sunier