Recording of the Month
Franz Liszt: Mazeppa (Symphonic Poem No.6, S.100) & Sardanapalo (unfinished opera, S.687)
Joyce El-Khoury, soprano
Airam Hernández, tenor
Oleksandr Pushniak, baritone
Opera Chorus Nationaltheater Weimar
Conductor: Kirill Karabits
Recorded August 17-20, 2018, Congress Centrum Neue Weimarhalle
Released on February 8, 2019 by Audite
An immensely important issue, this is the first recording of the performing edition by British musicologist David Trippett of Sardanapalo, the only projected opera by the mature Liszt of which substantial material survives. Its genesis remains to some extent shrouded in mystery. Byron's 1821 play Sardanapalus, about the sensualist Assyrian king who immolated himself and his mistress after failing to quell an insurrection, was among the subjects that Liszt was contemplating, as early as 1842, to mark his return to opera, his only previous work in the genre being the juvenile Don Sanche of 1825. Why he chose Sardanapalo over, among others, Byron's Corsair and an opera about Spartacus, is seemingly unknown. We also have scant information about Sardanapalo's librettist, an unnamed Italian poet suggested by the Princess Cristina Belgiojoso after attempts failed to procure a text from the French playwright Félicien Mallefille. Nor has the full libretto survived: the only extant portions are those to be found in the manuscript.
Liszt seemingly began composition early in 1850 and was still working on the score in the winter of 1851-1852. At some point shortly afterwards, however, he abandoned the opera, probably because his librettist was either unable or unwilling to undertake revisions to the second and third acts. The manuscript itself, meanwhile, though familiar to Liszt scholars, was long deemed too fragmentary for reconstruction. Trippett's painstaking research, however, revealed that in essence what we possess is a draft piano-vocal score of the complete first act, albeit with some key signatures omitted and a handful of gaps in the accompaniment; there are also a number of cues for orchestration, which Liszt apparently intended to entrust to his assistant Joachim Raff. Trippett consequently decided there was "just sufficient" to undertake a performing version, and his edition caused something of a stir when it was first heard in Weimar last August, conducted by Kirill Karabits, with the cast we have here.
It is indeed extraordinary and in some respects unique. Commentators familiar with the manuscript have often dubbed it "Meyerbeerian". The opera might better, however, be described as through-composed bel canto, at times echoing Bellini, at others pre-empting 1860s Verdi (Forza in particular comes to mind), though the melodic contours and chromatic harmony are unmistakably Liszt's own. Dramatically straightforward and uncluttered, it falls into four distinct sections: an introductory chorus for Sardanapalo's many concubines; a colossal scena for Mirra, the king's slave-girl mistress; a love duet for the central couple; and a final trio in which Mirra and the Chaldean soothsayer Beleso attempt to persuade the unwilling king to go into battle after news of the insurrection breaks. Though the opening chorus repeats its material once too often, the rest of the act is beautifully shaped, while Liszt's fluid treatment of bel canto structures – blurring boundaries between recitative, aria and arioso in a quest for psychological veracity – reveals an assured musical dramatist at work.
He makes no concessions to his singers, though, and his vocal writing is taxing in the extreme. Joyce El Khoury is pushed almost to her limits in Mirra's scena, with its big declamatory recitatives, interrupted cavatina (it fragments as mounting desire for her captor obliterates memories of a life once lived in freedom) and vast closing cabaletta. Her dramatic commitment is never in doubt, though, and there's a ravishing passage later on when she pleads with the king to put aside his aversion to military conflict, her voice soaring sensually and ecstatically over rippling harp arpeggios. Airam Hernández sounds noble and ardent in the title-role, wooing El Khoury with fierce insistence and responding to Oleksandr Pushniak's stentorian Beleso with assertive dignity. The choral singing is consistently strong, the playing terrific, and Karabits conducts with extraordinary passion. Trippett has carefully modelled his orchestration on Liszt's works of the early 1850s, and it sounds unquestionably authentic when placed beside the exhilarating performance of Mazeppa that forms its companion piece. Throughout there's a real sense of excitement at the discovery and restoration of a fine work by one of the most inventive of composers. You end up wishing that Liszt had somehow incorporated operatic composition into his extraordinary career, and wondering what the course of musical history might have been if he had.
Source: Tim Ashley (Gramophone)
Gustav Mahler: Symphony No.3 in D minor
Sara Mingardo, contralto
Women's choir of Schola Heidelberg
Young singers of the Kölner Dom
Conductor: François-Xavier Roth
Recorded October 2018, Kölner Philharmonie
Released on February 8, 2019 by Harmonia mundi
From the powerful opening statement salvo by 8 French horns, to the incisive declamations by the solo principal trombonist, to the seismic tremors induced by the ranks of percussion instruments in the first movement, to the graceful interplay between woodwinds and strings in the second, to the beautifully alluring and deceptive (turns out to be a hunting horn) solo horn passages in the third, to the appropriately grim and heartfelt singing by contralto Sara Mingardo in the fourth, to the joyous bimm bamms by the children's choir in the fifth, to the highly emotional, quasi-hymnic extended crescendo that builds to celestial proportions that is the final movement, all aspects of the "Mahler" sound are laid bare in this intense account, and presented with demonstration quality engineering. Add to all this the number of finer expressive details benefitting from conductor François-Xavier Roth's focus along the way and I could go on and on...
Source: Jean-Yves Duperron (classicalmusicsentinel.com)
Roth and the Cologne orchestra have a knack of making the most familiar Mahler sound new, with vivid extremes of colour and dynamics. Hearing the prodigious Third makes me marvel afresh at it, and at the stupidity of critics who were deaf to its greatness. — Sunday Times
Ottorino Respighi: Roman Trilogy (Roman Festivals – Fountains of Rome – Pines of Rome)
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
Conductor: JoAnn Falletta
Recorded 30 May and 4 June 2018, at Kleinhans Music Hall, Buffalo, New York, USA
Released on February 8, 2019 by Naxos
Along with The Planets by Gustav Holst, the Alpine Symphony by Richard Strauss or the Grand Canyon Suite by Ferde Grofé, amongst others, the Roman Trilogy by Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936) certainly ranks as one of the top orchestral showpieces of the 20th century.
Conductor JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra may not quite convey the drunken revelry, vulgar frenzy, muscle and sonic savagery required during the final La Befana ("Epiphany") from the Roman Festivals, but they along with the Naxos sound engineers well capture and project many other facets of this work. The epic grandeur and barbaric brutality of the Circenses ("Circus Maximus"), the dark, sombre and stoic solitude of the Pini presso una catacomba ("Pines near a Catacomb") from the Pines of Rome. The delicate sparkle of the La fontana di Villa Medici al tramonto ("The Villa Medici Fountain at Sunset") from the Fountains of Rome, the paradisiacal portrayal of nature in the I pini del Gianicolo ("The Pines of the Janiculum") in which near the end, nightingale song and all, you can almost smell the fragrance of the evening. And last but not least, the relentless martial steps of the ancient Roman legion advancing in triumph in the I pini della via Appia ("The Pines of the Appian Way") where, starting at the 2:00 minute mark, you can't quite hear but you can feel the bottomless pipe organ pedal note driving them on to glory. Adrenaline rush achieved!
Source: Jean-Yves Duperron (classicalmusicsentinel.com)
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Symphony No.4 in F minor, Op.36 | Modest Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition (orch Maurice Ravel 1922)
London Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Gianandrea Noseda
Recorded live in DSD 128fs, 29 October & 1 November 2017 (Symphony No.4), and in DSD 256fs, 3 June 2018 (Pictures at an Exhibition) at the Barbican, London
Released on February 8, 2019 by London Symphony Orchestra Ltd
Widely recognized as one of the leading conductors of his generation, LSO Principal Guest Conductor Gianandrea Noseda presents the first release in a new series exploring Tchaikovsky's final three symphonies. Urgent, supercharged and violent in places, Tchaikovsky's Symphony No.4 is said to reflect the turmoil he found himself in while composing: a disastrous marriage, struggles with his sexuality and severe depression. Yet, despite the gloomy outlook, the symphony proves undoubtedly that Tchaikovsky knew how to fill his works with memorable melodies. Known for his mastery of Russian repertoire, for this album Noseda pairs Tchaikovsky with a masterpiece by his fellow countryman, Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, performed here in Ravel's iconic orchestration.
Vers l'ailleurs – Franz Schubert, Franz Liszt, Rodolphe Bruneau-Boulmier
Gaspard Dehaene, piano
Recorded November 2018 in Limoges
Released on February 1, 2019 by Collection 1001 Notes
Le pianiste Gaspard Dehaene confirme une sensibilité à part ; riche de filiations intimes. C'est un geste explorateur, qui ose des passerelles enivrantes entre Schubert, Liszt et la pièce contemporaine de Rodolphe Bruneau-Boulmier. Ce 2è cd est une belle réussite. Après son premier (Fantaisie – également édité par 1001 Notes), le pianiste français récidive dans la poésie et l'originalité. Il aime prendre son temps ; un temps intérieur pour concevoir chaque programme ; pour mesurer aussi dans quelle mesure chaque pièce choisie signifie autant que les autres, dans une continuité qui fait sens. La cohérence poétique de ce second cd éblouit immédiatement par sa justesse, sa sobre profondeur et dans l'éloquence du clavier maîtrisé, sa souple élégance. Les filiations inspirent son jeu allusif : la première relie ainsi Schubert célébré par Liszt. La seconde engage le pianiste lui-même dans le sillon qui le mène à son grand père, Henri Queffélec, écrivain de la mer, et figure inspirant ce cheminement entre terre et mer, « vers l'Ailleurs ». En somme, c'est le songe mobile de Schubert, – le wanderer / voyageur, dont l'errance est comme régénérée et superbement réinvestis, sous des doigts complices et fraternels...
Ludwig van Beethoven: Sonatas Op.110 & Op.111, Bagatelles Op.126
Yevgeny Sudbin, piano
Recorded November 2014 at St George's, Bristol, England (Bagatelles) and July 2016 at Hallé St Peter's, Manchester, England (Sonatas)
Released on February 8, 2019 by BIS
BIS ecopak Yevgeny Sudbin has previously recorded Beethoven's piano concertos – releases which have received international acclaim, for instance on the website ClassicsToday.com: "A Beethoven experience you will not want to miss". For his first disc featuring solo works by Beethoven, Sudbin has chosen the two final sonatas and the Six Bagatelles, Op.126 – late works written between 1821 and 1824, just a couple of years before the composer's death. There are numerous anecdotes that testify to the fact that Beethoven was highly temperamental. But in his liner notes to this disc, Sudbin writes of another, contrasting side to the composer: "warmth, generosity and wisdom – with unexpected outbursts of cheeky humour – are also unmistakably among Beethoven's qualities and particularly evident in the works on this recording". If Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas form one of the most important collections of works in the history of music, then the final ones belong to his crowning achievements. Various musicians and musicologists have commented on them, hearing a hard-won triumph of the spirit in the great fugue of the final movement of Op.110, and interpreting Op.111 – and especially its second movement, the famous Arietta – as a last farewell. The set of Bagatelles was composed only months after Beethoven had completed his monumental Ninth Symphony. It became the last work for piano to be published in his lifetime, and together the six brief pieces form a distillate of a lifetime of writing for and playing the piano.
Johann Sebastian Bach: Cantatas BWV 33, 17, 99
Julia Sophie Wagner, soprano
Stefan Kahle, alto
Wolframm Lattke, tenor
Tobias Berndt, bass
Thomaskantor: Gotthold Schwarz
Recorded 2018 at St Thomas Church, Leipzig
Released on January 1, 2019 by Accentus Music
"Dealing with the Bach cantatas is a lifelong and wonderful task and challenge. Despite decades of experience with the works, new aspects are being discovered every day", says Gotthold Schwarz, 17th Thomaskantor after Johann Sebastian Bach. The cantatas on this first recording of the Thomanerchor Leipzig under the musical direction of Schwarz, speak about the human certainty of being secure in/with God (BWV 17: "How a father has mercy on his young children") and the confidence that God will deliver man from all trouble (BWV 33: "I call on thee in whom I trust"). There is no better credo that the Thomanerchor Leipzig and their Thomaskantor could base their joint path on.
Ascent – York Bowen, Clarice Assad, Robert Schumann, Garth Knox, Dmitri Shostakovich, Franz Waxman
Matthew Lipman, viola
Henry Kramer, piano
Recorded American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, NY, October 1-3, 2017, and April 25-26, 2018 (Assad); July 7, 2018 at Oktaven Audio, Mount Vernon, NY (Shostakovich)
Released on February 8, 2019 by Cedille Records
Dmitri Shostakovich's long-lost Impromptu for Viola and Piano, Op.33, recently unearthed in the Moscow State Archives, receives its world-premiere recording on Matthew Lipman's Ascent, the acclaimed young American violist's solo debut album, featuring, in the artist's words, "music enraptured by flights of fantasy".
Recipient of a 2015 Avery Fisher Career Grant, Lipman has created an album of uplifting and spiritually transcendent works for viola and piano, dedicated to his late mother.
Hailed by The New York Times for his "rich tone and elegant phrasing", Lipman is heard in the world-premiere recording of Clarice Assad's fantasy piece, Metamorfose, which the violist commissioned. It's a poignant commentary on grief and acceptance. Robert Schumann's Fairy Tale Pictures is dreamlike and fanciful. York Bowen's richly expressive Phantasy draws on the Russian Romantic tradition. Garth Knox's free-flying Fuga libre transfigures Bach-like fugal fragments through modern, coloristic performance techniques. The album's finale is the first-ever recording on viola of Hollywood composer Franz Waxman's popular violin showpiece, Carmen Fantasie.
England's The Telegraph praised Lipman as "gifted with poise and a warmth of timbre" for his recording of Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante with violinist Rachel Barton Pine, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, and Sir Neville Marriner (Avie), which topped the Billboard classical chart.
Lipman's collaborator on Ascent is pianist Henry Kramer, winner of the Second Prize at the 2016 Queen Elisabeth competition and top prizes at the 2015 Honens International Piano Competition and 2011 Montreal International Music Competition. His first commercial recording, dedicated to Liszt oratorio transcriptions, was recently released on Naxos.
Franz Schubert: Impromptus (Op.142 D.935 & Op.90 D.899)
Kemal Cem Yilmaz, piano
Released on January 11, 2019 by Audite
Turkish-German pianist Kemal Cem Yilmaz instinctively throws into relief the vocal nature of these piano pieces (after all, Schubert was first and foremost a composer of lieder) and like a singer, knows when and where to slow down and breathe. Here and there, during the more passionate passages, you can even hear him hum along, à la Glenn Gould, when emotion takes over. But don't worry, it's so faint that at first I thought I was hearing things. He clearly "gets" the aforementioned shifts in mood and mode, and responds accordingly with warmth, tenderness or passion. And even though these are not technically challenging pieces, there are still quite a few passages that require clear and articulate phrasing, as well as proper dynamic balance between the left and right hand, all things that Kemal Cem Yilmaz does with natural ease. You most likely already have one or more recordings of the Schubert Impromptus in your music collection but should seriously consider this one as an alternative. And if not, don't hesitate.
In conclusion, we all know how many talented musicians or people with high degrees of education fail to make it and end up being taxi drivers. It turns out it's the other way around for Kemal Cem Yilmaz. He worked twelve years of his life as a taxi driver in Hannover, in order to support his musical studies and freelance recitals. This seems to be only his sophomore recording, the first being a release, on the same label, of Bach's Goldberg Variations. Let's hope there are many more.
Source: Jean-Yves Duperron (classicalmusicsentinel.com)
Franz Schubert: Symphonies, Vol. 1 – Nos. 3, 5 & 8
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Edward Gardner
Recorded 9 and 10 July 2018 at Town Hall, Birmingham
Released on February 1, 2019 by Chandos
Following the highly successful series "Mendelssohn in Birmingham", the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and its former Principal Guest Conductor Edward Gardner here present the first volume in a new surround-sound series devoted to Schubert's symphonies.
This first volume comprises three works spanning Schubert's short but exceedingly productive composing life. Symphony No.3, of 1815, notable for its extensive and evolving slow introduction modelled on late Haydn, is followed by a work that represents a distillation of Schubertian classicism: the "little" Symphony No.5, composed in 1816. Scored for chamber orchestra, it shows a greater influence of Mozart, for whom Schubert seems to have felt a special affinity around this time. Completing the album is Schubert's much more intense Symphony No.8 "Unfinished" of 1822. Only the first two movements – a turbulent opening movement and serene second – and a skeleton sketch of a third, Scherzo, movement were completed.
Songs of the Cello – Homage to Pablo Casals
Taeguk Mun, cello
Chi Ho Han, piano
Released on February 1, 2019 by Parlophone Records Limited
This debut album opens with cellist Taeguk Mun – winner of the 2014 Pablo Casals International Cello Competition and the 2016 János Starker Foundation Award – playing Bach's Suite for Solo Cello No.1. He is then joined by the pianist Chi Ho Han, another multi-award-winning musician from South Korea, for Beethoven's Sonata for Cello and Piano in A major and short pieces by Schumann, Schubert, Rubinstein and Pablo Casals.
The albums were chosen by the owner and blog editor of "Faces of Classical Music", Alexandros Arvanitakis.
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