Classical CD Reviews

16 Classical CD Reviews, Pt. 2


Published on May 1, 2005

May 2005 Pt. 2 of 2   [Pt. 1]

Mischa and Artha in Concert Kuerti plays Brahms Diane Walsh recital Penderecki's St. Luke Passion
Holocaust Composers Sept. 11 Sym. by Kilar
Rachmaninoff Vespers

Maisky & Argerich in ConcertMischa Maisky and Martha Argerich in Concert = STRAVINSKY: Suite Italienne from Pulcinella; PROKOFIEV: Cello Sonata, Op. 119; Waltz from The Stone Flower; SHOSTAKOVICH: Cello Sonata, Op. 40

DGG B0004047-02 72:22 (Distrib. Universal)****:

Recorded April 2003 in the Flagey Buiding, Brussels, this an electric, riveting concert by two past masters of their respective instrument – old colleagues collaborating in music they have long cherished without having committed their thoughts on record. Gregor Piatagorsky’s 1932 arrangement of the suite from Stravinsky’s Pulcinella was recorded by that artist (with Lukas Foss), but has yet to come back to CD format. The odd mixture of refined, 18th century melos with quirky, pungent 20th century harmony still raises an eyebrow, especially when plied by the sizzling combination of Miasky and Argerich, who apply all kinds of orchestral effects, tremolandi double and triple stopping, and fierce, broad glissandi. The Andante movements enjoy a limpid sincerity of expression. The C Major of Prokofiev (1949), despite having been written during troubling times for the composer (and others deemed anti-populist), has the energy and blithe urgency of Prokofiev’s most fertile period, especially with the spirit of his masterpiece ballet Romeo and Juliet not far from his motifs in the sonata.

Less sentimental in character than the approach taken by the sonata&Mac226;s dedicatee Rostropovich, Maisky’s razor-sharp account has the lines pulsating with nervous energy. Argerich has maintained her muscular devotion to Prokofiev, which revealed itself early, in her account of the C Major Concerto with Abbado. Spiky and impassioned, the Sonata makes a splendid centerpiece, followed as it is by the ironic grotesques of the Shostakovich Sonata. Conceived around the time of the gloomy, moody Fourth Symphony, the 1934 Sonata by Shostakovich had as its early acolyte Gregor Piatagorsky. An urge to stately lyricism, a suggestion of Jewish plainsong that haunts his later style, and a bit of raunchy good humor in the drunken reel of the finale mark the eclectic personality that was Shostakovich of the mid-1930s. The encore, a little waltz from Prokofiev’s last ballet (1948), its light delicacy seems to bequeath upon the entire concert the homage of a Piatagorsky imprimatur who had likely been a source of inspiration to these fastidious and ardent musicians.

–Gary Lemco

Anton Kuerti plays BrahmsBRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 15; Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 83; 3 Intermezzi, Op. 117; 8 Klavierstucke, Op. 76; 2 Rhapsodies, Op. 79; 4 Klavierstucke, Op. 119 – Anton Kuerti, piano Joseph Rescigno conducts Orchestre Metropolitaine du Montreal – Analekta AN 2 9205-7 (3 CDs) 48:52; 46:41; 72:47****:

The two concertos, recorded 5-6 July 1998, along with the Op. 117 Intermezzi, recorded 21 May 1998, have been prior issued by Kuerti’s Analekta label (FL 2 3139-40). The solo works are a relatively new addition to the Kuerti legacy, having been inscribed 28-29 June 2004. Kuerti says of the late piano pieces after 1892 that they “emanate tender wisdom, calm resignation, and even a hint of exhaustion.” Bearing a close relationship to Chopin and Schumann, the pieces look forward harmonically to Debussy and to the more deconstructionist elements of the Second Viennese School. Kuerti, who comes to this music naturally by way of Serkin and Horszowski, makes elegant sense out of the the Op. 76 collection of internezzi and caprices, perhaps not pushing hard enough on the appoggiatura in the B Minor Capriccio. But the A Major Intermezzo No. 6 has a liquid and dramatic pliancy of expression that is quite special.

The Rhapsodies, Op. 79 have girth and shape, a portentous sonority and melancholy, given that their romantic impulse suffers the cage of sonata-form. The middle section of the B Minor has the effect of a ballad, much like the Chopin Scherzo in the same key. Kuerti avoids the tendency to rush the tempo of the G Minor, letting it assert a kind of ineluctable fate-motive akin to Beethoven’s C Minor Symphony. The group of Four Klavierstucke Op. 119, elicit from Kuerti haunting probing of haunted music, especially the opening B Minor (a Glenn Gould staple) which Kuerti plays very slowly. The E Minor, chiseled out of one varied motif, has an autumnal grace that abuts on wistfulness. After a plastic, fluent C Major Intermezzo, the five-bar somewhat militant Rhapsody emerges robustly, assertively, and poetically.

The two Brahms concertos communicate more of intimacy than monumentality, with pianist and orchestra luxuriating in the post-Beethoven-Ninth harmonic progressions in the D Minor, and savoring the glitter and finesse of ensemble in the B-flat Concerto. Kuerti seems to exalt in the piano’s parlando writing, and he can shade chords with subtle degrees of nuance. The slow movement of each of the concertos has its own magical rhetoric: the First’s misty Adagio transposed from a dirge for Schumann; the Second’s gliding 6/4 Andante for cello and piano, with an improvisatory cadenza which has Kuerti musing in quietly nocturnal colors. Prior to these collaborations I had not known the art of conductor Rescigno, but he gets some heady response from the Montreal players in the big opening tutti to the D Minor Concerto, and in the clarion exuberance of the D Minor Scherzo in the B-flat Concerto. Analekta’s recorded sound, courtesy of Jean-Pierre Loiselle, is first-rate.

–Gary Lemco

Diane Walsh, pianoDiane Walsh, piano = BARBER: Sonata, Op. 26; MARTIN: 8 Preludes; PROKOFIEV: Sonata No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 14; BARTOK: Sonata – Bridge 9151 73:21 (Distrib. Albany)****:

Recorded at SUNY Purchase, 1990, this recital of relatively contemporary piano works–at least they all date from the first half of the 20th century–has a kind of Janus-face, since each of the pieces tends to look back as much as its individual voice carries forward into modernism. Diane Walsh plays each of the selections with obvious sympathy as well as pristine technical skills. Her Barber Sonata (1949) balances the percussive with the lyric, the avant-garde and the modal, with refinement and taste. The second movement Allegro vivo e leggiero is exactly that, quicksilver in touch and meter, and light of hand. The passacaglia third movement comes off as an uneasy, intricate journey into dark regions, with incursions in to Schoenberg&Mac226;s domains. The last movement staccato-motion fugue, with its alternately smooth and jazzy episodes, displays Walsh’s bravura style, an effortless, impulsive dash for the bleachers.

The Prokofiev D Minor (1912) is the earliest of the four works, chronologically; my old teacher Jean Casadesus was quite partial to it, especially its deft Scherzo, composed 1904 as a composition piece for a master class. The lively tarantella last movement moves briskly, even suavely, rife with bluster and virile confidence. Bartok’s Sonata (1926) gravitates around a tonal center of E, percussive and playful at once, with filigree reminiscent of the First Piano Concerto. Both the first movement and third engage in Magyar-style riffs and sudden dissonances that have peasant songs or even Messaien’s bird calls as their source. The ungainly second movement has Walsh lavishing tender care on its plodding, bizarre melancholy. Finally, a cult favorite, the 1948 set of Preludes Frank Martin composed in honor of Roumanian pianist Dinu Lipatti. Veronica Jochum captured their weird combination of 12-tone and modal techniques in her recording about ten years ago. Some askew allusions to Chopin and Bach, an ametrical march, a grueling tarantella, a canon, an etude for the left hand, each attests to Martin’s mix of tradition and innovation, with his own idiosyncratic part-writing. A kind of virtuoso’s tagbuch in modern syntax, this album makes a powerful demonstration for piano virtuoso Diane Walsh. An excellent reissue, taken from Music&Arts CD-4669.

–Gary Lemco

Penderecki St. Luke PassionPENDERECKI: St. Luke Passion – Izabella Klosinska, soprano; Adam Kruszewsi, baritone/Warsaw Boys Choir and Philharmonic Choir/Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra/Antoni Wit. Naxos 8.557149, 76:24 ***1/2:

Jarring. Ominous. Chordal, discordant, mellifluous, melismatic, microtonal. Pious. Doubt-racked. Doleful. Portentous. Scary. Dramatic, didactic, climactic. Macabre. Threatening. Jolting. Pleading, whining, evasive. Complaining and proclaiming. Decrescendo, diminuendo. Eruptive! Percussive, rumbling, grumbling. Tense. Vibrant. Vociferous. Clashing. Banging. Clattering. Resonant. Soft. Melodic. Crackling, cackling, hissing, echoic. Buzzing, humming, twittering, thumping. Daunting, quiet, high and low-registered, abrupt, vigorous, gaudy, tacky, and wordy. Gilded and guilt-ridden. Grave, elegant, effervescent. Well-intentioned. Long-winded. Busy, choppy, fragmentary. Bewildering. Purgative, punitive, penitent. Aleatory? Hallucinatory. Laudatory. Sycophantic, cathartic, cathectic, Catholic. Uncritical, uncomforting, unrelenting.

Treacherous. Confused. Intricate. Mocking. Regretful, remorseful, inaccessible, intractable, inspirational. Simple. Saved and forsaken. Bureaucratic, stubborn, fixated, sentimental, arch. Shocking. Calm. Soothing. Religious. Hysterical! Well-engineered. Well-conducted. Well-constructed. Fragmentary. Mythical. Glorious, celestial, earthbound, hidebound. Twelfth & twentieth century. Cramped and cavernous. Contained and sprawling. Ordinary and bizarre. Serene and distressed. Compact and diffuse. Torn and assembled. Lush and lean. Scrawny and buxom. Ugly. Harsh. Intense. Unforgettable. Graphic. Abrasive. Violent. Beastly, beaten, beatific. Beautiful.

– Peter Bates

Composers of the HolocaustComposers of the Holocaust = Isabelle Ganz, mezzo-soprano; Robert Paul Abelson, baritone; Marshall Cold, violin; Humbert Lucarelli, oboist; Mimi Stern-Wolfe, pianist and conductor – Leonardo LE 342, 77:57 ***1/2:

It’s been a long time since I stopped patting the cat in mid-stroke to listen to every word of a folk song. That happened with this collection’s Tsen Brider (“Ten Brothers”), sung by Robert Paul Abelson. It is a song about ten brothers being led to the gas chambers and it send shivers through me. The other songs vary widely in themes and styles: The sweetly lyrical Shtil, di Nakht iz Oysgeshternt is about a female partisan who disables an enemy caravan with one shot. Isabelle Ganz sings it (and three others), accompanied on piano in an echoey room, which unintentionally imparts an extemporaneous recital aura.

Ten years ago, during the resurgence of interest in Holocaust composers, most recordings featured the instrumental works of composers Erwin Schulhoff, Gideon Klein, and Pavel Haas; few, if any, included songs of sorrow and resistance. Schulhoff’s barbed and ironic Violin Sonata and Haas’ doleful Suite for Oboe and Piano are incorporated here with splendid renditions. A few songs are arrangements of older ones, such as Klein’s Wiegenlied, but most are original works by composers and writers whose careers were cut short by the Nazis. For example, composer Misha Veksler and writer Leyb Rozenthal collaborated on Yisrolik, a courageous piece about an orphan selling goods in the street. Producer Marnie Hall has assembled the definitive selection of these rare works, all well documented in the accompanying booklet. Unnecessarily, she reprises Zog Nit Keynmol, a militant marching song, at the end. While I appreciate why she reiterated its statement, I regret that she didn’t use the space to include one more of these stirring songs.

- Peter Bates

September Symphony - KilarWOJCIECH KILAR: September Symphony; Lament for a cappella choir – Chor Filharmonii Narodowej/Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra of Narodowej/Henryk Wojnarowski – Accord ACD 130-2 (Distr. by Universal), 54:47 ****:

This important import presents a major work by the Polish composer known for his many film scores. It is his own reaction to the tragedy of September 11, and in several ways I found it more touching and worthwhile listening than the recent work on the same theme by John Adams. Kilar says the event was a stronger shock to him because he grew up on American culture from Mickey Mouse to John Cage. In an interview provided in the note booklet he mentions similar works by other Polish composers such as Panufnik’s Tragic Overture (for the Warsaw uprising of WWII), and Penderecki’s Trenody to the Victims of Hiroshima.

Kilar’s style is directly accessible, with consonances, wonderful harmonies and a good feeling for how long repetitions can be extended without becoming annoying. There are many ostinatos in the first movement, which serves as a sort of introduction to the second and third. The latter shows the film score side of the composer as well as his fascination with things American. There are reminders of such echt-American-sounding composers as Barber and Schuman, and a motive from America The Beautiful. The tight-lipped might call this movement kitsch but I frankly loved it. In the Moderato finale the Hollywoodish superficiality and the serious more chromatic material – which have been kept separate previously – come together and permeate one another.

- John Sunier

Rachmaninoff VespersRACHMANINOFF: All-Night Vigil (Vespers) – Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir/Paul Hillier – Harmonia mundi HMU 907384, 53:56 *****:

This is I believe the fifth Rachmaninoff Vespers received for review here in the past couple years. That’s highly unusual. What’s even more unusual is that all the others were multichannel SACDs and this one is plain old two-channel CD and I find I prefer it!

Tchaikovsky was the first Russian composer to create a new choral liturgical work; the Russian Orthodox religion didn’t allow instrumental music at all and tightly controlled the type of choral music used in services. Rachmaninoff admired the Tchaikovsky work, The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, and decided to try his hand at the form. The Vespers or “All Night Vigil” was the magnificent result. There are 14 different sections, prayers or chants. The harmonic and melodic expression is of course far beyond the monodic or simple polyphony normally practiced in the Orthodox Church, but the Vespers were designed primarily for concert hall performance.

The last SACD version which appealed to me was the Pentatone 5.0 channel version with the St. Petersburg Chamber Choir conducted by Nikolai Korniev. However, it seems to lack the deep subwoofer-tweaking Russian male bassos that would be expected in the St. Petersburg Choir, while the Estonia Choir has those fellows in spades. Perhaps the problem was the recording technique used; I don’t know. I just find that the bass and baritone support in the lower regions greatly increases the appeal of these 15 affirmations of religious faith. Rachmaninoff uses a wide array of special tonal and harmonic effects that go way beyond the normal Orthodox chants. Thus his choral music has something of the same modern appeal as does that of Francis Poulenc, who also pushed the boundaries of what could be done in liturgical music. It’s difficult for me to believe I like this CD better than any of the SACD versions, but I do, and even without running it thru Pro Logic II – although it does add a welcome feeling of being in the church with the choir.

- John Sunier

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