Sophia Bacelar

Sophia Bacelar
Sophia Bacelar, cellist. Photo by Dovile Sermokas

Monday, March 25, 2019

Ludwig van Beethoven: String Quartet No.5 in A major, Op.18 No.5 – Quatuor Ébène (HD 1440p)

The French Quatuor Ébène string quartet plays Ludwig van Beethoven's String Quartet No.5 in A major, Op.18 No.5. Recorded at La Nef, le relais culturel de Wissembourg, on August 27, 2018.

Despite its numbering, this quartet was probably the fourth of the six that comprise Beethoven's Opus 18 set, dedicated to Prince Lobkowitz. The composer reordered the entire group upon its completion in 1800. The musicologist Brandenburg claimed that the chronological order of the six works was 3, 1, 2, 5, 4, and 6. Beethoven's rearranging was logical, based apparently on the character of the quartets. In general, the first three (in the final numbering) are fairly faithful to classical forms, while the second three tend to be unorthodox and somewhat experimental. In certain respects, the latter trio of quartets might be viewed as a significant part of the composer's transition to the methods and styles of his so-called middle period.

The String Quartet No.5's first movement, marked Allegro, opens with a theme that is more than vaguely Mozartean. But much of the music here is also reminiscent of parts of Beethoven's own Sonata for violin & piano No.2 in A major, Op.12 No.2 (1797-1798), written in the same key. The main theme is joyous and the mood optimistic, though the second subject contains material that is a bit more serious. The development section is noteworthy for what it mostly lacks – development. Only the latter half contains substantive development, but in a manner that looks backward in style, or, rather, aims toward the simple. The recapitulation includes some delightful changes in the material.

The second movement Menuetto features an attractive, lively dance theme whose simplicity is beguiling for its grace and subtle character. If the first movement stands as the least progressive panel in this work, then the trio of this Menuetto may be the most advanced. Yet, it too, is rather simple, and more than one commentator has heard in it a foreshadowing of the music of Schubert. Beethoven puts on display some interesting canonic writing when the main dance melody returns. The next movement is marked Andante cantabile, and its Mozartean character has often been noted. Mozart's Quartet in A, K.464, has been cited as the work Beethoven chose as a model, and the corresponding movements in that work divulge many similarities with the third and fourth movements here. Beethoven presents a simple slow theme and follows with five variations. As suggested above, the finale, too, is indebted to Mozart. Indeed, Beethoven borrows a theme, placing it near the end of the development section. But "imitation" would be too strong a word to use in describing the relationship between the two composers' music in the finale. In fact, the main themes clearly come from the pen of Beethoven, and the development section, muscular and anxious, is also easily recognized as his, despite the thematic foray into Mozart's world. This Allegro movement features a recapitulation and closes with an attractive coda.

A typical performance of the quartet lasts around a half hour.

Source: Robert Cummings (

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

♪ String Quartet No.5 in A major, Op.18 No.5 (1798-1800)

i. Allegro
ii. Menuetto – Trio
iii. Andante cantabile con variazioni
iv. Allegro

Quatuor Ébène:
Pierre Colombet, violin
Gabriel Le Magadure, violin
Marie Chilemme, viola
Raphaël Merlin, cello

La Nef, le relais culturel de Wissembourg, August 27, 2018

(HD 1440p)

"A string quartet that can easily morph into a jazz band", wrote the New York Times after a 2009 performance by the Quatuor Ébène. The ensemble opened with Debussy and Haydn and then improvised on a film music theme – with exactly the same enthusiasm and passion.

What began in 1999 as a distraction in the university's practice rooms for the four young French musicians has become a trademark of the Quatuor Ébène, and has generated lasting reverberations in the music scene. The four breathe new life into chamber music through their consistently direct, open-minded perspective on the works. Regardless of the genre, they approach the music with humility and respect. They change styles with gusto, and yet remain themselves: with all the passion that they experience for each piece, and which they bring to the stage and to their audiences directly and authentically.

There is no single word that describes their style: they've created their own. Their traditional repertoire does not suffer from their engagement with other genres; rather, their free association with diverse styles brings a productive excitement to their music. From the beginning, the complexity of their oeuvre has been greeted enthusiastically by audiences and critics.

After studies with the Quatuor Ysaÿe in Paris and with Gábor Takács, Eberhard Feltz and György Kurtág, the quartet had an unprecedented victory at the ARD Music Competition 2004. This marked the beginning of their rise, which has culminated in numerous prizes and awards. The Quatuor Ébène's concerts are marked by a special elan. With their charismatic playing, their fresh approach to tradition and their open engagement with new forms, the musicians have been successful in reaching a wide audience of young listeners; they communicate their knowledge in regular master classes at the Conservatoire Supérieur Paris.

The quartet was one of the award winners of the Borletti-Buitoni Trust in 2007 and received support from the BBT between 2007 and 2017. In 2005, the ensemble won the Belmont Prize of the Forberg-Schneider Foundation. Since then, the Foundation has worked closely with the musicians, who are performing on instruments chosen with and loaned by Gabriele Forberg-Schneider since 2009.

Pierre Colombet: Violin by Francesco Rugeri, Cremona (ca.1680), Bow by Charles Tourte (Paris, 19th century)

Gabriel Le Magadure: Violin with a Guarneri label (mid 18th century), Bow by Dominique Pecatte (ca.1845)

Marie Chilemme: Viola by Marcellus Hollmayr, Füssen (1625), prior possession of Mathieu Herzog

Raphaël Merlin: Violoncello by Andrea Guarneri, Cremona (1666-1680)

The Quatuor Ébène's CDs, featuring recordings of music by Haydn, Bartók, Debussy, Fauré, Mozart and the Mendelssohn siblings have won numerous awards, including the Gramophone Award, the ECHO Klassik, the BBC Music Magazine Award and the Midern Classic Award. Their 2010 album "Fiction" with jazz arrangements, has only solidified their unique position in the chamber music scene, as well as their 2014 crossover CD "Brazil", a collaboration with Stacey Kent, and their recent recording with Michel Portal, "Eternal Stories" (May 2017). In fall 2014, Erato released "A 90th Birthday Celebration", a live recording (on CD and DVD) of Menahem Presslers birthday celebration concert with the Quatour Ébène in Paris. In 2015-2016 the musicians focussed on the genre of the "Lied". They collaborated with Philippe Jaroussky for the CD "Green (Mélodies françaises)" which won the BBC Music Magazine Award 2016 and published a Schubert CD. On the one hand, it includes Lieder, recorded with Mathias Goerne (arranged for string quartett, baritone and bass by Raphël Merlin) and on the other hand, the string quintett, recorded with Gautier Capuçon.

The fundamental classical repertoire for string quartet will remain a cornerstone: this season, the Quatuor Ebène will focus on Ludwig van Beethoven's String Quartets. The quartet will indeed present the complete Beethoven cycle in 2020 for their 20th anniversary as well as for 250th jubilee of the composer.

From April 2019 through January 2020 the Quatuor Ebène will go on a world tour with the theme "Beethoven Live Around the World" with concerts in North America, South America, Africa, India, Australia & New Zealand, Asia and Europe. The Quartet will guest in concert halls including the Perelman Theater Philhadelphia, Sala São Paulo, Melbourne Recital Centre, and the Konzerthaus Vienna.


Friday, March 22, 2019

The best new classical albums: March 2019

Recording of the Month

Johann Sebastian Bach: Violin Concertos, Sinfonias, Overture and Sonatas

Isabelle Faust, violin Jacobus Stainer (1658)
Bernhard Forck, anonymous violin, South Germany (1725)
Xenia Löffler, oboe and recorder
Jan Freiheit, cello
Raphael Alpermann, harpsichord

Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin

Bernhard Forck, concert-master

Recorded December 2017 and September 2018, Berlin, Teldex Studio Berlin
Released on March 15, 2019 by Harmonia mundi

Having already set down her accounts of the solo violin Sonatas and Partitas, as well as the accompanied Violin Sonatas with Krystian Bezuidenhout, Harmonia Mundi's star violinist Isabelle Faust now turns her attention to the concertos. This is repertoire she recorded some years ago for Hänssler Classics with the more "mainstream" accompaniment of Helmut Rilling and his Bach Collegium Stuttgart. This time, however, working with the superb period instrumentalists of the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, it's with bells on: not just the sheer quality of the playing, but the music itself. For, in addition to the usual fare of the two Violin Concertos in A minor and E major plus the D minor Concerto for two violins and the Concerto for oboe and violin, there's a veritable plethora of reconstructed concertos, cantata sinfonias and trio sonatas, even an orchestral suite in an unusual guise, all featuring notable concertante parts for solo violin. Two discs' worth of sparkling music, and generously priced to boot!

Proceedings kick off with the mighty D minor Concerto, BWV 1052, which survives as  a keyboard concerto and has long been a favourite with pianists and harpsichordists from Lipatti and Gould to Rousset and Staier. But, as Bach specialist Peter Wollny explains in his booklet notes, it has for some years been thought that the work originated in a lost violin concerto. Faust is far from being the first violinist to tackle this reconstruction (Szigeti and Ricci were among the earliest), but she is surely the most convincing, dashing off the virtuoso – and persuasively violinistic – figuration with tremendous flair and naturalness. Given the faultless intonation elsewhere on the album, the perceptible note of sourness introduced by soloist and orchestra in the slow movement seems a deliberate interpretative strategy, emphasising the mournful, lament-like Affekt of the music, and it certainly works a treat.

The other two concertos on CD 1 are a beautifully poised account of the E major Violin Concerto – outer movements pert, central Adagio wonderfully dreamy – and the well-known C minor Concerto for oboe and violin, itself a reconstruction from a concerto for three harpsichords. Here Faust is partnered by oboist Xenia Löffler, and they make an excellent team, not least in the glorious interweaving lines of the Largo ovvero Adagio second movement, while they rise magnificently to the demands of the closing Allegro, which is taken here at quite a lick. Peppered in between these three concertos are two cantata sinfonias: the heart-stopping opening movement of Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis, BWV 21, and the dazzlingly expanded version of the first movement of Brandenburg Concerto No.3 (with added horns and oboes!) that opens Cantata BWV 174. For a complete change of scale there's also some chamber music: the Organ Trio Sonata in C major, BWV 529, rescored for two violins (Faust and Bernhard Forck, the AAM Berlin's concertmaster) and continuo, captivating in its intimacy.

On disc two, Löffler and Forck exchange roles, with Löffler now the trio sonata partner in a chamber transcription of the D minor Organ Trio, BWV 527 (with a slow movement that was later incorporated into the A minor "Triple" Concerto for flute, violin and harpsichord), and Forck playing second fiddle to Faust in the much-loved Concerto for two violins in D minor, BWV 1043, including a beautifully inflected account of the central Largo. The disc opens with the famous Orchestral Suite No.2, BWV 1067, transposed down from its normal B minor to A minor and with solo violin replacing the familiar flute. As a reconstruction, it's less plausible than the others included in this collection, for one misses the distinctive timbre that a wind instrument brings to the top line; but in the virtuoso passages (and above all in the concluding, racy Badinerie) Faust gives it her all, so that there's always plenty to enjoy. More convincing as a piece of reconstruction is a G minor version of the F minor Keyboard Concerto, BWV 1056, a brooding work that gains much from Faust's bright-toned playing and the ever-alert accompaniments of her colleagues. And it's the sweetness of tone that Faust coaxes from her 1658 Jacobus Steiner instrument that is the chief glory of the A minor Violin Concerto, BWV 1041. Too often turned into a dramatic, hard-edged showpiece, this masterpiece is here treated to a gentler touch that enhances its expressiveness and forms one of the undoubted highlights of the album. As throughout, Faust's ornamentation is tasteful and unintrusive, so that it well withstands the repeated listening her playing so readily invites.

Two more cantata sinfonias, the gentle opening movement from BWV 182 featuring recorder and violin, and the jaw-droppingly spectacular D major Sinfonia, BWV 1045, from an unknown lost work, scored for solo violin trumpets, oboes, timpani, strings and continuo, round off this splendid collection of "Violin Concertos Plus". Recorded at Berlin's Teldex Studio in a slightly boxy-sounding acoustic that favours the soloist(s) without undue prominence, and with unfailingly stylish playing from the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, this spellbinding album deserves to be on every Bach lovers shelf. Enthusiastically recommended to all and sundry!


Johann Sebastian Bach: St Matthew Passion, BWV 244

Georg Poplutz, tenor (Evangelist)
Matthias Winckhler, bass (Jesus)
Julia Kleiter, Jasmin Maria Hörner, sopranos
Gerhild Romberger, Nohad Becker, altos
Daniel Sans, Christian Rathgeber, tenors
Christian Wagner, Daniel Ochoa, basses

Mainz Bach Choir
Mainz Bach Orchestra
Conductor: Ralf Otto

Recorded 26 March to 4 April 2018 at the Christuskirche, Mainz, Germany
Released on March 8, 2019 by Naxos

Johann Sebastian Bach's St Matthew Passion is widely recognised as one of the greatest masterpieces in Western sacred music. With its double orchestra and chorus this is a work of enormous proportions in every sense, and Bach was extremely resourceful in treading a fine line between creating the almost operatic spectacle valued by the secular authorities in Leipzig, and the elevated religious atmosphere sought by the clergy. This inspired mix of moving drama and theological discourse led Leonard Bernstein to declare that "there is nothing like it in all of music".

Ralf Otto's recordings of J.S. Bach for Naxos have been widely acclaimed. The St John Passion released in March 2018 was admired by MusicWeb International: "The Bachchor Mainz is a fine ensemble: it shows great flexibility in those turbae which are performed at a high speed, and produces a surprisingly transparent sound, also thanks to the good acoustic of the Christuskirche in Mainz". The Christmas Oratorio released in October 2018 was admired by Pizzicato: "There is a lot of gorgeous playing and singing in this new recording... the soloists... are outstanding".

Tenor Georg Poplutz (Evangelist) is renowned for his more than 40 recordings and expressive performances of lied and oratorio, performing at festivals and leading venues all over Germany and Europe with conductors including Hermann Max, Sir Roger Norrington, Ralf Otto, Hans-Christoph Rademann, Ludger Rémy, Michael Schneider, Masaaki Suzuki, Winfried Toll, and Roland Wilson.

Baritone Matthias Winckhler (Jesus) was awarded the First Prize as well as the Special Prize of the Mozarteum Foundation Salzburg at the International Mozart Competition Salzburg 2014. He has taken numerous acclaimed operatic roles and has also recorded for OehmsClassics.


Ombra mai fu – Francesco Cavalli: Opera Arias

Philippe Jaroussky, countertenor

Emőke Baráth, soprano
Marie-Nicole Lemieux, contralto

Ensemble Artaserse

Recorded Église Notre-Dame-du-Liban, Paris, 26 June - 3 July 2017
Released on March 8, 2019 by Erato

"Beyond the great musical interest that Cavalli offers, his operas are notable for their richness and modernity, and for the diversity and complexity of their characters", says countertenor Philippe Jaroussky. "Stage directors and opera houses are increasingly keen to stage his works. His operas are full of fantasy, craziness, humour and emotion. They offer a variety we don't find in the opera seria of the 18th century."

Francesco Cavalli (1602-1676) is an important figure in the history of opera and his works, which first experienced a revival in the 1960s, have been growing in currency in recent years. The most prominent successor to Monteverdi, Cavalli was active in Venice at a time when opera was moving out of aristocratic palaces and into public theatres. Musically, his operas are notable for the fluid expression of their recitar cantando ("acting in song"), and dramatically for their variety of tone, combining noble, mythical or tragic drama with teasing or bawdy comedy.

As Philippe Jaroussky explains: "Cavalli played a major role in establishing opera – the new genre created by Monteverdi and others – as popular entertainment. He composed many operas for the Teatro San Cassiano, which was the first theatre in Venice to stage opera".

Cavalli was also active in the field of religious music. As a boy, he had sung under Monteverdi's direction in the choir of St Mark's Basilica. He went on to become the cathedral's organist and eventually, in 1668, to follow in Monteverdi's footsteps and become its maestro di cappella, the equivalent of a modern-day music director.

When preparing this album, Ombra mai fù, Jaroussky was able to study the manuscripts of most of Cavalli's 37 surviving operas. "I really wanted to use the album's playing time to show all the variety and all the qualities of Cavalli's music. It can sometimes appear disarmingly simple, but it has a very special and distinctive melodic and harmonic flavour. The album is designed to illustrate the contrasts in his operas as they move from one scene to the next, where a lamento might be directly followed by something very humorous."

Jaroussky has included vocal and instrumental numbers from more than a dozen of Cavalli's operas, ranging from comparatively well-known works such as Calisto, Ercole amante, Ormindo and Giasone through Eliogabalo, which was recently staged in both Paris and Amsterdam, to such rarities as Statira, principessa di Persia and La virtù dei strali d'Amore. He is joined for the love duets by soprano Emőke Baráth (whose recent Erato recital, Voglio cantar, highlighted the music of Barbara Strozzi, a student of Cavalli) and contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux, who spars with him in the comical duet "Ninfa bella" from Calisto.

The title track is taken from the opera Xerse, which dates from 1654 and is set to the same libretto that Handel used for his Serse more than 80 years later. Outside the world of opera, Handel's version of Emperor Xerxes' ode to a plane tree is known simply as "Handel's Largo". Cavalli's version, while less famous and less dignified, is more graceful and lilting.

"Curiously there are similarities between Cavalli's and Handel's settings of Ombra mai fù", explains Philippe Jaroussky. "Both are quite short and in triple time. Did Handel knew Cavalli's Xerse? It's a possibility. An interesting difference between the two arias is that in Handel's version the first violin plays along with the voice. In Cavalli's version the violin parts are higher and fill in the harmonies, changing constantly and creating a very beautiful effect of iridescence and colour." On this recording those violins belong to Ensemble Artaserse, which Jaroussky launched in 2002 in collaboration with other leading musicians in the field of Baroque music.


Camille Pépin: Chamber Music

Ensemble Polygones, L. Margue, L. Hennino, T. Lepri, F. McGown, R. Moreau, C. Oneto Bensaïd, A. Tourret

Recorded April 2018 at the Studio de l'Orchestre national d'Île-de-France, Alfortville
Released on February 22, 2019 by NoMadMusic

Rising star from the young composer's generation, Camille Pépin chose to record her first album with the artists who have been accompanying her since her debut. She is taken by numerous extra-musical influences: from English literature to Japanese etchings, mythology to astronomy. These disparate elements all converge on travel as their common theme, wanderlust and dreams of elsewhere. A fusion of all these ingredients, Camille Pépin's music sets itself apart above all through its rhythmic aspect, at once dancing and almost incantatory, presided over by lyricism.


William Alwyn and Doreen Carwithen: Music for String Quartet

Tippett Quartet

Recorded May 10-11, 2018, at Parish Church of St Nicholas, Thames Ditton, Surrey, England
Released on March 15, 2019 by SOMM Recordings

SOMM Recordings' coupling of string quartets by teacher and pupil William Alwyn and Doreen Carwithen offers a revealing glimpse – in illuminating performances by the Tippett Quartet – into the relationship between a master composer and his promising student who became one of the great "what might have beens" of British 20th-century music.

Alwyn's position as a leading British composer was cemented by his prolific output (totalling more than 500 scores) while Carwithen abandoned composing altogether to act as Alwyn's amanuensis and secretary, eventually becoming his wife in 1975. Composed in 1948, Alwyn's atmospherically charged Three Winter Poems are charming works that benefit from the evocative, emotional immediacy that characterised his cinema scores.

His last major work, 1984's String Quartet No.3, was a valedictory celebration of what the composer called "this most perfect of mediums". Unexpectedly animated (Alwyn was 79 at the time), it ends, says the William Alwyn Foundation's Andrew Knowles in his authoritative booklet notes, "in peaceful serenity, providing a moving and fitting swansong to Alwyn's composing career".

While the prolific Alwyn composed 16 string quartets, Carwithen produced just two, both early in her career, both displaying, says Knowles, "a remarkably sound technique and a natural sense of warm emotion and drama", and both heard here in only their second recording.

Composed in 1945 while she was still a student at the Royal Academy of Music, the String Quartet No.1 is a work of striking contrasts, the restless key signatures, variegated rhythms and stretched dynamics of the first movement complemented by its chiaroscuro-like companion conveying, by turns, moods of gentle tranquillity, passion and austerity. From 1950, Carwithen's Second String Quartet is also an exercise in contrast, although more vividly realised and acutely articulated.

The Tippett Quartet's earlier recording for SOMM of Alwyn's String Quartets Nos. 10-13 was praised by Gramophone for its "really excellent playing" and hailed as a disc that "constitutes essential listening".


Johann Sebastian Bach: Forgotten Arias

Maarten Engeltjes, countertenor & director

PRJCT Amsterdam baroque orchestra

Recorded December 5-7, 2018, at Grote Kerk, Elburg, The Netherlands
Released on February 22, 2019 by Sony Classical

"...They are not really forgotten, but after all ‘the old wig’ composed so much that not everything could become a ‘hit’. Out of context, in the voice of Engeltjes they now sound like gems on a bed beautifully made by the young orchestra..." — Hans Visser, Leids Dagblad, March 13, 2019

"...Engeltjes sings them with an incredible sense of text, a fireproof timing and a sound as clear as the stars in a cold winter sky..." — De Standaard, March 6, 2019

"...In the fine selection of arias from Bach cantatas, the musicians give all the space to Engeltjess, to whose voice – round and with a beautiful harmonic saucer in the height – you want to keep listening. Highlight: the last aria Schläfert aller Sorgenkummer from Cantata BWV 197..." — Merlijn Kerkhof, February 28, 2019

"...The delicious ‘Kommt, ihr angefochtnen Sünder’ from Cantata BWV 30, which nestles in your ear like a worm with a beautiful lucid and airy accompaniment of the orchestra. But Bach is Bach and in fact all these ‘forgotten’ arias are highlights. With his sovereign and supple voice, Engeltjes himself remains imposingly above the material..." — Peter van der Lint, Trouw, De Verdieping, February 22, 2019

"...How beautifully do the oboes meander around each other to unite eventually with the voice in a unified cadence. Or take the sunny aria Kommt ihr angefocht'nen Sünder. The alto soars lightly above the enchanting accompaniment of flute and strings..." — Winand van de Kamp, Haarlems Dagblad, November 13, 2018

"...The same attention to detail characterized ‘Kommt, ihr angefocht'nen Sünder’, from Bach's gallant later years. With subtle changes in dynamics and tempo, the musicians added a little extra to the almost swinging rhythm. But without breaking the feathery charm of flute and pizzicato playing strings, Engeltjes gave the words ‘ruft und schreit!’ their full, voluminous weight..." — Martin Toet, Place de l’Opéra, November 11, 2018

Claudio Monteverdi: Madrigals Book 9 & Scherzi Musicali

Delitiæ Musicæ
Marco Longhini, director

Recorded May 14-18, 2006, at the Chiesa di San Pietro in Vincoli, Azzago, Verona, Italy
Released on March 18, 2019 by Naxos

Monteverdi's Ninth Book of Madrigals, published posthumously, and the 1632 Scherzi musicali ("Musical Jokes") are thematically linked by the recurring theme of war for the sake of love. Prefaced with a Sinfonia by Biagio Marini and featuring one of Monteverdi's towering masterpieces, Zefiro torna, the Ninth Book comprises the few remaining late madrigals, a number of canzonette, as well as works with the same titles and verses from the earlier Eighth Book, here performed in completely different musical settings. Recorded complete, and in historically informed fashion, this is the final volume in this series.

This release sees the conclusion of Delitiæ Musicæ's monumental project of recording Monteverdi's complete Madrigals in nine volumes, with the first volume goes back to 2002.

Many of the releases in this series were highly acclaimed by critics. Vol. 2 received a 10/10 score from "These unusual all-male Monteverdi madrigal performances are turning out to be the versions of choice – definitely worth serious attention".

The sixth and seventh volumes were both American Record Guide Critic's Choice awardees. Commenting on Book 6, critic Catherine Moore said the "performances are compelling, simultaneously controlled and imaginative. Delitiæ Musicæ goes beyond a ‘fine rendering’ of Monteverdi's intentions".

The group has also recorded Carlo Gesualdo's complete Madrigals for Naxos (available as a seven-album set). Of the first volume wrote: "Delitiæ Musicæ's unity of expression and steady control help keep the music coherent and within the bounds of communicable feeling". Of the boxed set, Lynn René Bayley of Fanfare asked: "Do you really need to have this complete set? Based on both the high quality of the music as well as the performances, I would say yes..."


Johann Sebastian Bach: Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin, BWV 1001-1006

Jaakko Kuusisto, violin

Recorded January 2015, May 2016 and May 2017 at Österåker Church, Sweden
Released on March 1, 2019 by BIS

There are many questions surrounding Johann Sebastian Bach's "Six Solos for violin", or the Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin, as they are usually called today. When did he compose them, and why, and for whom? In what circumstances were they performed? And why would a master of polyphony choose to write for a melody instrument with limited scope for polyphony or chords? We can only guess at the answers – which makes the works all the more fascinating. The legendary violinist George Enescu famously described the set as "the Himalayas of violinists", but for more than 200 years they were primarily regarded as pedagogical exercises rather than compositions worthy of the concert hall. Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann tried to popularize them by making versions with piano accompaniment, while Busoni did away with the violin altogether in his transcription of the famous Chaconne from Partita No.2. But since Yehudi Menuhin made the first complete recording of the Sonatas and Partitas, between 1929 and 1936, they have become a staple during violin recitals, on disc and in concert. Fascinating performers and audiences alike with their architectural perfection as well as their emotional range, these are works that lend themselves to very different interpretations, and on this recording it is the Bach of Finnish violinist Jaakko Kuusisto we hear. Himself a composer – as well as violinist and conductor – Kuusisto remembers beginning to study individual movements from the set at the age of ten. The music has been with him ever since, and to him "no other works for the violin provide a higher challenge or greater beauty".


Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphonies Nos. 6 & 7 – Incidental Music to "King Lear"

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Andris Nelsons

Recorded February 2017
Released on February 22, 2019 by Deutsche Grammophon

You don't have to speculate as to whether Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons' interpretations of Shostakovich have been shaped by his having grown up in the Soviet Union; he has said himself that they are. And you can get a start on understanding how with this excellent release, part of a complete Shostakovich cycle by Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. If you're not going for the whole cycle immediately, you might well pick this album to start. It contains one offbeat symphony and one of the big epoch-makers, together with some lesser-known orchestral works, and each piece comes alive. The title "Under Stalin's Shadow" applies to Nelsons' entire series, and it's more applicable to some works than to others. It might work for the Symphony No.6 in B minor, Op.54, a light, quirky, rather sardonic work from 1939. It was written after Shostakovich had been condemned by Joseph Stalin in 1936 and had rehabilitated himself with the Symphony No.5 in D minor, Op.47. The Symphony No.6, the composer said, was intended to convey moods of "spring, joy, youth", but it is anything but neoclassic with its odd shape and its mood of jibe, beautifully brought out by Nelsons and the BSO. In the Symphony No.7 in C major, Op.60 ("Leningrad"), Shostakovich was not under Stalin's shadow but, for once, on his side: the symphony is the 20th century's great response to war, with its ominous first-movement march of advancing Germans. Sample this to hear how the great sweep of Shostakovich's more epic works ought to be done. The slow movement of this work is profound, and existential in this performance. There are plenty of chances for the BSO to show off their high level of playing under Nelsons in the Festive Overture, Op.96, a fine barn burner of a work. If you hadn't seen the title or heard the work before, you'd be hard pressed to identify the subject matter of the often jaunty King Lear suite, Op.58a, but it somehow adds balance to the program. The recordings, from Boston's Symphony Hall, are designated as live, but no live audience is present; the use of the hall's distinctive acoustic is beautifully in sync with the program. A major Shostakovich release.

Source: James Manheim (

Innovators – Bartók, Beethoven, Debussy

Benyounes Quartet

Recorded January 2018 at the Music Room, Champs Hill, West Sussex, UK
Released on March 1, 2019 by Champs Hill Records

The Benyounes Quartet, formed 10 years ago at the Royal Northern College of Music, are: Zara Benyounes (violin), Emily Holland (violin), Sara Roberts (viola), and Kim Vaughan (cello). Recipients of the Royal Philharmonic Society's Julius Isserlis Scholarship, the quartet's international accolades also include prizes at both the 2014 Orlando International String Quartet Competition and the International Sándor Végh String Quartet Competition in Budapest.

The quartet studied with Professor Gábor Takács-Nagy at the Haute École de Musique in Geneva. They have also worked closely with Peter Cropper, Quatuor Ébène, Eberhard Feltz, Andràs Keller and David Waterman, at centres such as Pro Quartet, Aldeburgh and IMS Prussia Cove. The quartet held the Richard Carne Junior Fellowship at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance (2011-13) and is currently resident at Bangor University.

This is their first full recording for Champs Hill Records, having contributed to the critically-acclaimed complete Mendelssohn cycle.


The Nutcracker, Petrushka, Cinderella, The Firebird

Alexander Ullman, piano

Recorded July 4-6, 2018, Wyastone Concert Hall, Wyastone Leys, Monmouthshire, UK
Released on March 15, 2019 by Rubicon Classics

The winner of the 2017 Franz Liszt Competition, British pianist Alexander Ullman has appeared at many of the world's great venues and with some of the world's major orchestras – The Philadelphia Orchestra, Norwegian Radio Orchestra, St Petersburg Philharmonic, Montreal Symphony, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic and the Royal Philharmonic. He has worked with Vladimir Ashkenazy and Markus Stenz to name just two conductors, and performed at the Wigmore Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Concertgebouw and Gewandhaus, Kimmel Center and Kennedy Center. For his debut album Alexander has chosen Russian ballet repertoire arranged either by the composers, or in the case of The Firebird by Busoni pupil Guido Agosti, and Mikhail Pletnev for Tchaikovksy's Nutcracker Suite. This is a highly virtuosic programme that showcases Alexander's extraordinary technique. His is a name to watch!


The albums were chosen by the owner and blog editor of "Faces of Classical Music", Alexandros Arvanitakis.

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See also

The best new classical albums: February 2019

The best new classical albums: January 2019

The Faces of Classical Music Choose the 20 Best Albums of 2018

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Sergei Rachmaninov: Vocalise – Sophia Bacelar, Daniela Hlinková (HD 4K)

Cuban-Chinese-American cellist Sophia Bacelar and the extraordinary and sensitive Slovak classical pianist Daniela Hlinková perform Sergei Rachmaninov's Vocalise, Op.34 No.14. Recorded live at the Berliner Philharmonie, on January 22, 2017.

"Vocalise" is a song by Sergei Rachmaninov, composed and published in 1915 as the last of his 14 Songs or 14 Romances, Op.34. Written for high voice (soprano or tenor) with piano accompaniment, it contains no words, but is sung using any one vowel of the singer's choosing. It was dedicated to soprano Antonina Nezhdanova.

Although the original publication stipulates that the song may be sung by either soprano or tenor voice, it is usually performed by a soprano. It is sometimes transposed into a variety of keys, allowing performers to choose a vocal range more suitable to their natural voice, so that artists who may not have the higher range of a soprano can perform the song.

"Vocalise" has been arranged for many different instrument combinations.


Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943)

Vocalise, Op.34 No.14, arr. for cello and piano (1912)

Sophia Bacelar, cello
Daniela Hlinková, piano

Berliner Philharmonie, January 22, 2017

(HD 4K / 2160p)

Cuban-Chinese-American cellist Sophia Bacelar is quickly gaining recognition as one of classical music's young rising stars. Recent seasons saw her debuts as soloist at renowned venues such as The Berliner Philharmonie and The Tonhalle Zürich, a series of six concerts broadcast by at the auditorium of La Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris as one of the laureates of the prestigious "Classe d'Excellence de Violoncelle" of Gautier Capuçon, and various solo performances throughout North America, South America, and Europe.

Sophia has performed at Carnegie Hall, The Berliner Philharmonie, The Tonhalle Zürich, Le Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Victoria Hall, Cité de la Musique, and Alice Tully Hall, among others, and has appeared in several renowned festivals, including Festival Napa Valley, The Seiji Ozawa International Academy, The Mendelssohn Festival, and The Piatigorsky International Cello Festival. She has also been a laureate of several international competitions, with most recent prizes including 2nd Prize at the Berliner International Competition (2017), 2nd Prize at the Janigro International Competition (2016), and the Mondavi Center's Career Development Award (2015).

Sophia is passionate about promoting classical music to a new, younger generation of listeners, as well as bringing it to less-reached communities throughout the world. After being inspired by the positive response of audiences during her experiences performing in South America and after concerts broadcast online, Sophia decided to aim to broaden the reach of her music by introducing it in alternative venues and through contemporary mediums. Among her past and current projects include a series of live-streamed concerts in cooperation with Classeek Music, community outreach projects and concerts with children in South America, performances in nightclubs such as Le Poisson Rouge, and collaborations with musicians outside the traditionally classical sphere, including Jazz pianist/composer Dan Tepfer and various electronic musicians. In addition, she maintains an active social media presence on her Instagram account, @sophiabacelar.

Born in 1996 in the United States, Sophia began her musical studies at the age of two. At the age of ten, she was accepted to The Juilliard School, where she studied under the tutelage of Clara Kim for six years. After graduating at age 16, Sophia went on to further her studies at Le Conservatoire National Supérieur de Paris in the class of Philippe Muller, from which she graduated two years later. During the 2016-2017 season, she also worked under the mentorship of Gautier Capuçon at La Fondation Louis Vuitton as part of the "Classe d'Excellence de Violoncelle". She is currently pursuing her graduate studies at the Hochschule für Musik Hanns Eisler in the class of Nicolas Altstaedt. Other close musical mentors have included composer Kendall Durelle Briggs, pianist Noreen Polera, and Bernard Greenhouse, with whom Sophia studied privately for several years.

In addition to music, Sophia studied visual arts for several years, is an avid reader, and is enthusiastic about food, health, and fitness; when not occupied with her musical activities, she devotes the majority of her spare time to these interests.


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Monday, March 18, 2019

1985 (2018) – A film by Yen Tan – Cory Michael Smith, Virginia Madsen, Michael Chiklis, Jamie Chung (Download the movie)

A sensitive drama that slowly builds in power, "1985" feels like a missing minor classic from the decade that preceded the rise of the so-called New Queer Cinema, when independent filmmakers had to struggle to cobble together budgets that let them tell their stories in the form of modest art house movies. Although it builds on decades of similar movies, this tale of a young gay New Yorker (Cory Michael Smith of TV's "Gotham") who comes home to North Texas at Christmastime never plays like an exercise in stylistic mimicry. It feels immediate and rings true, thanks to the performances of its lead actors, and the storytelling of director Yen Tan and his co-writer, co-editor, and cinematographer, the single-named Hutch.

Hutch's Super 16mm photography – with its pointillistic film grain dancing beneath the characters and their environments – instantly situates the viewer in 1985. This is how low-budget art house movies looked in the '80s and '90s. The lighting, clothes, and production design all further the sense that we're seeing a missing artifact from that era – along with 1985 signifiers like Walkmans and synth drums and references to Madonna, The Cure, Ronald Reagan, and Walter Mondale. But the filmmakers' attention to detail and deep respect for how these specific people would have communicated with each other are what put "1985" over the top. Despite the film's gay-themed story, its North Texas, working-class-suburban setting, and its constant talk of football and Jesus, the movie it most strongly evokes is "Ordinary People", a classic about repressed suburban white folks whose social conditioning stopped them from discussing their pain...

1985 (2018)

A film by Yen Tan

Directed by Yen Tan
Story by Hutch and Yen Tan
Screenplay by Yen Tan

Cory Michael Smith..........Adrian
Virginia Madsen..........Eileen
Michael Chiklis..........Dale
Jamie Chung..........Carly
Aidan Langford..........Andrew
Ryan Piers Williams..........Marc
Michael Darby..........Leo
Bryan Massey..........Pastor Jon

Cinematography: Hutch
Edited: Yen Tan
Music: Curtis Heath

Production companies: Floren Shieh Productions, MuseLessMime Productions, RainMaker Films, Cranium Entertainment
Distributed: Wolfe Releasing, Peccadillo Pictures
Release date: 9 March 2018 (SXSW)
Country: United States
Language: English
Running time: 85 minutes

...Adrian is back home in Fort Worth, Texas, visiting his parents, Dale and Eileen (Michael Chiklis and Virginia Madsen), and his kid brother Andrew (Aiden Langford), a middle schooler. Right away we sense that unspoken tension clouds the family's ability to communicate. We also deduce that the major characters know more about one another than they let on. There are strong hints that Adrian's fundamentalist Christian parents know that their eldest son is gay even though they haven't discussed it with him and are in no hurry to. We sense it in the way that Dale, a Vietnam veteran turned repairman who drives a pickup truck, awkwardly stands next to his son at the airport's baggage claim area, and in the hopeful, almost pleading way Eileen lights up when Adrian reveals that he's been hanging out with his high school girlfriend Carly (Jamie Chung), a Korean-American standup comic.

There are intimations that Andrew might be gay, too, and that he senses his own sexual orientation even though he doesn't have the language (or maybe the courage) to label it. Andrew is initially resentful of Adrian for reneging on an offer to host him in New York – the result of Adrian getting cold feet about the prospect of letting his kid brother see him living as an openly gay man – but he forgives his older brother the minute he starts talking about the new pop music they both love, and that their father has forbidden Andrew to listen to.

A climate of fear and repression clouds the home. Adrian's family are politically conservative religious people living in North Texas in 1985. They are enamored of a particular view of scripture that's hostile to anyone who isn't straight. Their preferred radio station talks of sin, damnation and salvation. Dale's Christmas gift to Adrian is a new Bible. During a supermarket shopping trip, another high school classmate of Adrian's who is now an assistant manager follows him outside and offers him a pumpkin pie in order to create an opening to apologize for past bad behavior. We don't need to hear the specifics to figure out that the classmate was cruel to Adrian for being gay, and feels bad about it now. Like so much in "1985", this moment shows us the outer edge of a confrontation or epiphany, then lets us fill in the rest with our imaginations, because that's how almost everybody in this world deals with each other.

The specter of AIDS looms over every scene. Adrian's lover recently perished of complications from the disease, and there are suggestions (which the film takes its time confirming or denying) that Adrian might've contracted it as well. A lot of Dale's (and to a lesser extent, Eileen's) discomfort with Adrian can be explained as basic homophobia, inherited from mainstream culture and amplified by their religion and geographic surroundings. But they're also scared that one of their sons will die from (in their minds) being gay. Their fear and hatred is fused to sincere and abiding love, and this sparks contradictory emotions that they can't even begin to deal with.

The lead performances are all thoughtful and honest, and Tan's direction is subtle. Adrian's drawl becomes more noticeable when he settles back into his old hometown. Dale's jawline sharpens when Adrian gives the family a series of lavish gifts at Christmas, hoping to prove how happy and comfortable his New York life is, but succeeding mainly in making his father feel poor. The camera keeps zooming into scenes very, very slowly, as if the film doesn't want its characters to realize that somebody is watching them.

There are perhaps a few too many wordless lyrical interludes, and they go on a shade longer than they needed to in order to make their point – something you could also say about the movie, which is in a hurry not to hurry – but these are small flaws. Each choice, small or large, furthers the film's story, themes, and sense of life – especially visually. Notice how whenever the characters open up, to the degree that they're able, Tan and Hutch's camera keeps its distance for as long as it can, as if to respect their privacy during a difficult time. A trio of intimate conversations between Adrian and Carly is conveyed mainly in medium shots. One of the most wrenching scenes – a backyard heart-to-heart talk between Adrian and Dale, who's drunk on beer and feeling both sentimental and resentful – spends four minutes framing the characters from head-to-toe before finally jumping into a closeup of Dale. When these characters break down and cry, the sight feels almost obscene, like a form of blasphemy.

Different as they are, Dale, Eileen and Adrian are united by a desire to return to a sentimentalized past that preceded the now. That's why Eileen's favorite secret spot to sleep in is Adrian's impeccably preserved bedroom, the place where she used to read to her sweet son before he hit puberty and started to figure out that he was different from the other boys at school. But you can't go back. After a certain point, you can't go forward anymore, either. Which means that the moment that matters most is the moment you're in, no matter what year it is.

Matt Zoller Seitz, October 26, 2018 (

Watch the trailer

Download the movie using torrent


(Select 1985.2018.LiMiTED.1080p.BluRay.x264-CADAVER | Size: 6.56 GB | 
With English subtitles | Video: x264, 10180 Kbps | Frame Rate: 24 fps | Resolution: 1808x1080 | Audio: English 5.1ch DTS, 768 Kbps)

Download Greek subtitles

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Border (2018) – A film by Ali Abbasi – Eva Melander, Eero Milonoff, Jörgen Thorsson, Sten Ljunggren, Ann Petrén (Download the movie)

Eastern Boys (2013) – A film by Robin Campillo – Olivier Rabourdin, Kirill Emelyanov, Danil Vorobyev (Download the movie)

Die Wand / The Wall (2012) – A film by Julian Roman Pölsler – Starring Martina Gedeck (Download the movie)

Mr. Gaga: A True Story of Love and Dance (2015) – A film by Tomer Heymann – Ohad Naharin and the Batsheva Dance Company (Download the movie)

Out in the Dark (2012) – A film by Michael Mayer – Nicholas Jacob, Michael Aloni, Jamil Khoury, Alon Pdut, Loai Nofi, Khawlah Hag-Debsy, Maysa Daw, Shimon Mimran (Download the movie)

Call Me by Your Name (2017) – A film by Luca Guadagnino – Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garrel, Victoire Du Bois – James Ivory, Sayombhu Mukdeeprom (Download the movie)

Seashore (Beira-Mar), 2015 – A film by Filipe Matzembacher and Marcio Reolon – Mateus Almada, Maurício Barcellos, Elisa Brittes, Fernando Hart, Ariel Artur, Francisco Gick (Download the movie)

mother! (2017) – A film by Darren Aronofsky – Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer (Download the movie)

Okja (2017) – A film by Bong Joon-ho – Ahn Seo-hyun, Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Steven Yeun, Jake Gyllenhaal, Giancarlo Esposito, Lily Collins, Shirley Henderson (Download the movie)

Im Keller / In the Basement (2014) – A film by Ulrich Seidl (Download the movie)

Maurice (1987) – A film by James Ivory – James Wilby, Hugh Grant, Rupert Graves (Download the movie)

Shostakovich Against Stalin: The War Symphonies – A Documentary by Larry Weinstein – Netherland Radio Philharmonic, Kirov Orchestra, Valery Gergiev (HD 1080p)

Florence Foster Jenkins (2016) – A film by Stephen Frears – Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, Simon Helberg (Download the movie)

Son of Saul (2015) – A film by László Nemes – Géza Röhrig, Levente Molnár, Urs Rechn (Download the movie)

Amour (2012) – A film by Michael Haneke – Emmanuelle Riva, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Isabelle Huppert, Alexandre Tharaud (Download the movie)

Dmitri Shostakovich: Katerina Izmailova (Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk), 1966 – A film by Mikhail Shapiro – Galina Vishnevskaya, Konstantin Simeonov

The New Babylon (Novyy Vavilon), 1929 – A film by Grigori Kozintsev & Leonid Trauberg – Music by Dmitri Shostakovich (HD 1080p)

Farinelli (1994) – A film by Gérard Corbiau – Stefano Dionisi, Enrico Lo Verso, Elsa Zylberstein (Download the movie)

Eroica (The Movie, BBC 2003) by Simon Cellan Jones – Ian Hart, Leo Bill, Claire Skinner, Frank Finlay – John Eliot Gardiner (HD 1080p)

Tous les Matins du Monde / All the Mornings of the World / Όλα τα Πρωινά του Κόσμου (1991) – A film by Alain Corneau (Download the movie)

Death in Venice (1971) – A film by Luchino Visconti – Dirk Bogarde, Björn Andrésen, Silvana Mangano – Music by Gustav Mahler (Download the movie)